In D.C., 'We Don't Know Jack'

Jack Abramoff arrives at the federal justice building in Miami where he is expected to plead quilty to criminal charges stemming from the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2006. Abramoff pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington Tuesday to mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion charges.
The current Washington scandal featuring lobbyist Jack Abramoff is sad and disgraceful. Fortunately, there is some comic relief attached to the shamefulness. It's fun to watch Jack's one-time pals distance themselves from the guy. The rats started jumping off this ship before it even started to sink. American history hasn't had a similar instance of running far away from another individual since Typhoid Mary.

I'll bet those who depended on Tom DeLay to help get something passed in Congress didn't send him Christmas (or Happy Holiday) cards this year. And those who spent time watching the Washington Wizards play from Abramoff's skybox are now saying, "I really didn't know Jack."

The most entertaining aspect of the Abramoff scandal is watching the dozens of politicians struggle with what to do with the money they took. Some have decided to only keep a portion of the money. (I guess they're really good in math and are able to calculate what percentage of the money they received was tainted.) And some are keeping the money, saying that to return it would be admitting that they did something wrong. The problem with this logic is, they probably did do something wrong.

Most of them just want to get rid of the money. But what should they do? They can't just leave their house unlocked and hope that some burglars steal the right amount of cash. They can't just bet it all on a horse in the hope that the nag will lose. They can't just throw it away in the garbage or in a river. How would that look on the news? And they certainly can't hand it back to Jack. So, what's a politician who wants to look good supposed to do with "dirty money?" He or she gives it to charity.

Although Abramoff helped raise more than $100,000 for President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, Abramoff only personally donated $6,000 to the campaign. So the president is donating $6,000 to the American Heart Association. I don't know what he's doing about the other $94,000.

The beacon of virtue, Tom DeLay, has said he'll donate $15,000 to local charities. Elizabeth Dole will give $1,000 and New York's Charles Rangel and Hillary Clinton will each give $2,000 to local charities. Dennis Hastert plans on ridding himself of $69,000 worth of "dirty money" and Sen. Conrad Burns refunded $150,000 to Native American charities.

It's nice that politicians are giving money to charity. It's just a shame that their motives aren't all that pure. Do they really think that once they get this money out of their bank accounts or shoeboxes, that means that nobody will wonder why they took the money from this guy? Were they all so stupid or naïve as to think that Abramoff & Company were legitimate? Abramoff is being called "The Man Who Bought Washington." But in order for him to have bought, somebody had to be selling.

Some people feel that the press and crazy conspiracy theorists are often responsible for stirring up scandals. The media are accused of making a big deal out of nothing just to have controversial headlines to talk about. While this might be true more than it should be, I think the opposite is true when it comes to scandals in government. We are so used to scandals in Washington that we tend to ignore most of them. It takes a really big one to get our attention.

To prove my point, I can give you an example of something that headline-crazed conspiracy theorists seemed to have ignored. It was Jan. 4, right before the big football game between the University of Texas and the University of Southern California. Retiring Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor tossed the coin that decided which team would get the ball first. And where was Justice O'Connor born? El Paso, Texas. And who won that coin toss? Texas. And who went on to win the game and the National Championship? Texas. Was all this a coincidence or something that should be looked into?

The prudent thing would have been for Justice O'Connor, who was probably rooting for Texas, to have recused herself from the coin toss. I'm not saying that she slipped in a coin that had the Texas Longhorn logo on both sides, but that was the only side they showed the TV audience.

It was bad enough when the Supreme Court was asked to settle a presidential election. But aren't you just a little surprised that nobody has investigated why a Supreme Court justice was involved in something as important as deciding which football team would kick off to start the National Championship game? Now, that would be a fun investigation to watch on C-Span.

Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver