Former prominent lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who spent several years in prison convicted of corruption-related crimes, told Breitbart News that Democratic Party mega-donor Dr. Salomon Melgen and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez have followed the corruption playbook with which he is so familiar.
“This is virtually the standard playbook for somebody who is trying to worm his way in with government contracts, and it’s pretty clear by Menendez’s actions on his behalf that he’s doing this for business purposes,” Abramoff (pictured, right) said in a Wednesday phone interview, adding that the alleged pay-for-play relationship between Melgen and Menendez (pictured, left) is nearly identical to how things worked when he was atop Washington’s lobbying world.
Abramoff pled guilty to multiple felonies in 2006 and 2008 for charges relating to his lobbying work, including trading various gifts for political favors. He was sentenced only to six years in prison because he cooperated with law enforcement on other investigations. He ended up serving only four years in prison. Upon his release from a halfway home where he served his last two years, he blasted the lobbying industry as corrupt in his memoir Capitol Punishment.
“The same thing never stopped happening,” Abramoff told Breitbart News. “Ninety-nine percent of what I did was legal; that’s the problem. Not the one or three things that I did that were illegal. That wasn’t the issue. The real issue is not necessarily what I went to prison for, but the real issue is the sleaze of it all is legal.”
Late Tuesday evening, Politico uncovered that Melgen cozied up to President Barack Obama by posing for a photo with him and flew Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his private jet. Abramoff said that the photo with Obama is more than it appears on the surface.
“Just getting your picture with the president – a lot of people look at that and go ‘eh, you know, who cares?’ – well, I’ll tell you who cares: He cares,” Abramoff said. “Now I don’t know him and I don’t know exactly what he was doing but I’ve seen it many times where somebody will literally use a picture of themselves with the president of the United States as a calling card of credibility to be able to move along in the bureaucracy."
"He’s already got a powerful senator, chairman of the foreign relations committee now but has always been very powerful, in Menendez doing his bidding," Abramoff continued. "While it’s unlikely that Obama would personally get involved to help him, [Menendez and his cohorts] all knew what he was up to. They're all involved in politics. They all know what guys like this use pictures with the president of the United States for.”
As for Reid’s connections to Melgen, Abramoff said the Senate Majority Leader is “one of the dirtiest players in the Senate,” so it does not surprise him at all. “He knows how to sniff money out of anywhere,” Abramoff said. “It’s par for the Harry Reid course. He’s been doing it for years and he gets away with it because he’s got a media that’s complicit, except for you guys in new media."
Abramoff reminisced, "Even in my day, Harry Reid was very involved. I wrote about it in my book, he was very involved in a lot of the scandal, but he just doesn’t get punished by anyone.”
When Abramoff was on his way down, then-Senator Obama said the scandals emanating from the K street magnate “have shaken the very foundation of the American people’s faith in a government that will look out for their interests and uphold their values, because they just don’t lead to morally offensive conduct on the part of the politicians.” He asserted that these lobbying relationships “lead to morally offensive legislation that hurts hardworking Americans.”
Obama went on to run for president on a similar anti-corruption message, but Abramoff points out that nothing has changed. “Obama came in promising to be the great reformer and he would change everything and would be greatly transparent,” he said. “It’s nonsense. He has done the exact same things as everyone else.”
In addition to the hundreds of thousands Melgen has spent on Menendez's campaigns over the years, the Democratic donor has given $700,000 to Reid’s Super PAC, Majority PAC, and more to other prominent Democrats, including Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He has also given to two Florida Republicans: Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
None of those politicians who have received donations, including the Republicans, have given the money back yet. But Abramoff thinks that “at a mininum” they should all cut Melgen checks returning the donations.
“They need to be giving back the money that this guy gave them,” Abramoff said. "But we haven’t seen that.”
Abramoff also said Reid’s choice to allow Menendez to remain chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is telling. “At a minimum, Menendez should be suspended as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee,” Abramoff told Breitbart News.
“If this were a Republican, the guy probably would have already resigned from the Senate," he speculated. "But the Democrats get to play with this double standard, and there’s a very good chance barring some federal indictment for corruption that Menendez will just ride this through.
"Democrats don’t react the same way Republicans do, because they are not forced to react the same way Republicans are forced to react. They get to be as corrupt as, basically, they want, and just ignore it.”
Abramoff added that, like when Obama chastised him for his corruption, the president owes it to the American people to come out against the Menendez-Melgen relationship. “Obama should say something,” Abramoff said.
And he does know what’s going on now; he may not have [at the time of that photo] and I don’t know whether he did or he didn’t, and the odds are he did not know – how many people does the president take pictures with at a fundraiser? Hundreds, if not thousands. He’s not going to know peccadilloes of every one of them, but I can tell you this much: Menendez's people certainly knew. And Menendez's people, frankly, had an obligation to tell the White House people. If they didn’t explain who he [Melgen] is and what he was doing and what he was involved in so the White House people then allowed Melgen to get in a photo frame with the president? I mean, Obama’s the one who should cut off Menendez’s head.
Abramoff said Menendez should get ready for more scandal to come out. “There are going to be more shoes dropping here,” he predicted. “Where people might want to start looking is what other trips Menendez has been on. You’ve got a pattern of behavior; people who behave like that don’t just behave like that in the Dominican Republic."
"We aren’t going to see prostitutes in other locations being told to recant what they said," Abramoff said, referring to prior allegations made that Menendez had relations with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. "This is not going to get better for Menendez. They are probably scurrying about trying to keep this as tamped down and quiet as possible, but this is starting to leak into the mainstream media slowly and you’re responsible for that. And, I think we’ll start seeing a lot more stuff.”
Abramoff also charged that, “100 percent,” what Melgen has been accused of doing amounts to “bribery.”
“They [the mainstream media] won’t say it, and by the way the legal standard of bribery in this country is laughable,” he said. “It’s basically that you have to have a quid pro quo that both parties agree and it has to be proven that it’s quid pro quo."
He retorted, "That doesn’t mean that nothing’s being bought. Of course they’re being bribed. If you try to give a public servant something of value and get something back, it’s a bribe."
"There is no question about it that this is bribery in the traditional, common law sense of the word, not in the statutory ‘these guys protecting their own hides’ United States law sense," Abramoff concluded. "Every citizen of the United States outside the Beltway knows this is a bribe.”