Friday, December 16, 2005

Circling the Wagons in Washington

A hundred years after the last Indian wars, they’re circling the wagons again, this time in Washington. There’s more than a little poetic justice in all that historic neglect and abuse, thievery and double-dealing coming home to roost on the shoulders of the Congress of the United States.

But enough even-handed criticism, let’s get down to cases.

There’s a Democrat on the hot-seat at the moment, lest we think that spot is reserved primarily and exclusively for Republicans. He’s shoveling money back in the direction of the Indian tribes who bought him off, to the tune of $67,000. Please, take it. I didn’t mean it. Who would have expected anyone to find out? This sticky-fingered legislator sits on the Senate committee that’s currently investigating lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Not only does he sit there, he’s the senior Democrat on the committee. Naughty, naughty.

Our guy-who-didn’t-mean-it is also vice-chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. Vice is a handy word in the United States Senate, handier by the day it seems. In addition to the Webster definition designating an officer or an office that is second in rank or authority, it is also defined as moral weakness, a specific form of evildoing. In fact, moral evildoer is the preferred usage, preferred by two out of three Senators and Representatives.

But enough fun. The envelope, please!

SenbyrondorganSenator Byron L. Dorgan of the great state of North Dakota (where they have their share of Indians) is the mystery-man, fingered recipient of the sixty-seven grand. Dorgan said, without either blush or stutter, that “he has never met Abramoff, nor did he advocate any program backed by Abramoff's tribal clients that he would not have otherwise embraced.”

Never even met Jack Abramoff? It’s entirely possible of course that Dorgan isn’t a golfer and that might explain it. Not everyone in Congress feels comfortable in pastels and two-tone shoes. Even so, he is probably the only man in Congress who hasn’t had that honor, particularly strange as he’s vice-chairman of a committee very close to the dreams and schemes of the former King of Lobbyists.

Caught somewhat red-handed with the 670 Franklins, Dorgan is quoted,

"I have returned all contributions to my campaign committee and my leadership political action committee from tribes represented by Mr. Abramoff's law firm and from individuals employed by his law firm during the time he was at the firm. Even though those contributions were legal and fully reported as required by law, I will not knowingly keep even one dollar in contributions if there is even a remote possibility that they could have been the result of any action Mr. Abramoff might have taken."

Do I smell a loophole in during the time he was at the firm? Do I smell another in knowingly keep, or am I being too hard on the Honorable Senator? If so, then how is it, according to the Jonathan Weisman and Derek Willis Washington Post article, Dorgan’s “Aides conceded that the senator did advocate for programs pushed by Abramoff's clients around the time he was accepting tens of thousands of dollars from associates and clients of the lobbyist.”

The Justice Department is leading a wide-ranging investigation of Abramoff and his cronies, the second of whom has recently copped a plea. Accordingly, there’s been a landslide of congressional members frantically giving back cash and checking their e-mail address books, fingers crossed and hoping his address is mercifully absent.

But there are tens, maybe hundreds of millions out there jingling in congressional pockets and every week another guy-in-the-know close to Abramoff cops a plea. If you do the arithmetic, there’s fifteen times sixty-seven grand in a single million.

Who’d of thought that after centuries of neglect and abuse, American Indians would pull off another Little Big Horn?

Justice, when it comes and if it comes, often takes strange and embarrassing paths.

For more comments on Washington at work, see my personal web site.

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