The Senate Indian Affairs Committee’s 357-page final report on its two-year investigation into the activities of former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff goes easy on few of the lobbyists, companies and other assorted characters in Abramoff’s orbit during the time he tried to bribe a congressman, bilked his Indian clients out of millions and set up sham charities and companies to disguise his actions.
But the one party close to Abramoff that escapes with few scratches is Greenberg Traurig, the Miami-based law and lobby firm that served as Abramoff’s base while he carried out the bulk of his misdeeds.
Abramoff’s schemes, the report states, “required Abramoff to deceive his former employer, Greenberg Traurig.” But even as the report portrays the firm — and particularly Fred Baggett, the head of its national lobby practice — as victims of Abramoff’s machinations, it raises new questions about Greenberg’s role in the affair.
Among the new issues the report raises are the firm’s knowledge of Abramoff’s financial arrangements with Michael Scanlon, Abramoff’s one-time partner who pleaded guilty to defrauding Abramoff’s tribal clients last year; Scanlon’s relationship with the firm; and the billing practices of two lawyers who worked under Abramoff.
Most of the new information in the report comes from the committee’s closed-door interviews with Baggett and the so-called Team Abramoff members — the former lobbyists who worked closely with Abramoff at Greenberg. Accounts of those interviews had not previously been made available by the committee. Greenberg declined to comment on the report, citing “ongoing government investigations.”
Though questions are raised about Greenberg, few are answered. In fact, the report goes out of its way to separate Abramoff’s activities from those of the firm. It’s a sympathy for the firm that the committee has held from the beginning, when, at its first hearing into Abramoff’s tribal lobbying, in October 2004, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said, “Credible law firms were taken advantage of.”
Greenberg’s role in the Abramoff affair has been one riddled with contradictions: It employed Abramoff from 2001 to 2004, taking in more than $22 million in lobby fees from Abramoff’s tribal clients and, lobbyists there say, gave him all of the deference that comes with being an eight-figure rainmaker. Few direct questions were asked of Abramoff, say lobbyists who worked with him at Greenberg. And according to accounts in the report, the firm did not push very hard when Abramoff provided it with improbable answers to its inquiries.
But that the committee has treated Greenberg with kid gloves may come as no surprise: In the early phases of the committee’s investigation, the firm turned over three years’ worth of Abramoff’s e-mails — missives that have served as the committee’s smoking gun against Abramoff and, by their locker-room character, turned a dull political scandal into something with character development (and language) more reminiscent of a Hollywood screenplay.