They say that Washington DC, particularly when it comes to the insular world of Capitol politics and lobbying, is a small town. Even so, it isn't quite small enough to explain away as happenstance the tight-knit circle of politicos, lobbyists, Congressional staff, and bagmen that were long shared between lobbyist-cum-scam-artist Jack Abramoff, House Republican leader Tom Delay, and Missouri's own Roy Blunt. Abramoff and Delay, of course, have each been indicted on multiple counts.
While Fired Up has been beating the drum on this front for some time, Roy Blunt's ascension to the post of Majority Leader has caused the media to try with renewed vigor to peel back the curtain of corruption and reveal the unsavory connections between Blunt, Delay, and Abramoff. And folks are finding that, when you look close, you can see that the Blunt, Delay and Abramoff contingents are all a part of the same little club.
Take Todd Boulanger for instance. You may remember Boulanger as the "Team Abramoff" lobbyist who drafted an unprecedented letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton on behalf of the client Louisiana Coushatta tribe --a letter ultimately signed by Speaker Hastert, Republican Leader Tom Delay, and Republican Whip Roy Blunt. Abramoff, with Boulanger's help, took the Coushattas for about $32 million.
As it turns out, Boulanger was not only able to get Blunt to put pen to paper on behalf of Abramoff's client, but there were far more personal ties as well. You see, Abramoff deputy Boulanger is married to Jessica Incitto, a former Delay staffer who happens to be Press Secretary to --you guessed it-- Roy Blunt.
And in case you're thinking that perhaps Boulanger's connection with Abramoff was only fleeting, consider this blurb from a 2005 profile in The Hill newspaper:
In 1999, [Boulanger] joined Preston Gates & Ellis, an emerging GOP lobbying firm that was founded by Bill Gates Sr.
Jack Abramoff, the GOP superlobbyist, also worked at Preston Gates.
"I started working on his business because he had all of it," Boulanger said, and in 2001 he followed Abramoff to Greenberg Traurig. Boulanger joined Cassidy & Associates last year.
The blurb implies but fails to mention that Boulanger joined Cassidy in 2004 after the firm had already brought Jack Abramoff aboard. Given their strikingly identical work histories, it would appear that either Jack Abramoff and Todd Boulanger were joined at the hip, or that Boulanger was a loyal Abramoff acolyte. But coincidence is out. (Indeed, two different accounts list Boulanger, along with Jim Hirni, Kevin Ring, Neil Volz, Duane Gibson, Pat Wilson, Shawn Vasell, former Delay CoS Tony Rudy, and Stephanie Leger Short as Abramoff lieutenants at either Greenberg, Preston Gates, or both.)
Also of interest is a subscription only story in Roll Call that describes how Abramoff wound up at Cassidy:
A longtime confidant of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and the GOP leadership, Abramoff was brought into Cassidy by Gregg Hartley, a former top aide to House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
And while Abramoff ultimately wound up working with Boulanger and longtime Blunt consigliere Hartley at Cassidy & Associates in 2004, he had spent serious time working Blunt's staff for years before. This AP timeline of Delay-Blunt transactions indicates that in November of 2000, Abramoff's team charged its client, the Marianas Islands, for a meeting it held with Roy Blunt staffer Trevor Blackann.
Blackann, now a lobbyist, served on the legislative staff of Roy Blunt and later on that of Missouri Sen. Kit Bond (R-Knob Creek). And, it seems, Blackann took quite a liking to some of the Abramoff crew that lobbied him while he was on the Hill, as the press accounts indicate that he likes to spend free time sailing the Chesapeake with our old friend Todd Boulanger:
Last year, he and three friends were sailing from Annapolis to Washington in cold and rainy weather and 10-foot swells when they came across a houseboat that was being rescued by the Coast Guard.
"It was literally horrendous,: said Trevor Blackann, a former aide to Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) who is now a lobbyist. "I thought the boat was gong to roll over several times, but Captain Todd was carrying us through the weather."
Unfortunately, that clipping doesn't indicate whether Blackann --like Captain Todd-- has also married a member of the Blunt Congressional staff. Luckily, this story in The Hill clues us in to the fact that while Blackann didn't snare a Blunt staffer --though I'm sure not for lack of trying-- he did win the hand of Laura Brookshire, a former staffer to ...wait for it... Tom Delay.
Earlier I suggested, for rhetoric's sake, that the various cronies of Blunt, Delay and Abramoff were all a part of "the same little club." Truth is that the club analogy goes beyond mere rhetoric. In fact, a check of the website of the embarassingly self-important (and exclusively male) Capital Club yields a number of familiar names among its members.
Any guesses? Does Todd Boulanger ring a bell? How about Trevor Blackann? Maybe you remember the names Jim Hirni and Shawn Vasell from our tour of other Abramoff proteges? And, for good measure, we see that on the Executive Board of the
Cringeworthy Capitol Club is Jonathan Grella --longtime spokesman for Tom Delay.
These assorted connections, of course, aren't the kind that will, on their own, indict or convict Roy Blunt. They serve as a simple reminder that when Tom Delay relinquished his leadership post to Roy Blunt, concerns about ethics and impropriety did not just vanish in DC's heavy swamp air. The binds between them are too thick, the shared roots running too deep, just to dissipate when one is brought to justice.
Eleven years ago Republicans like Delay offered to give Americans a new culture in Washington. For better or worse, they have. It's a club culture that affords no admittance to you, me, or the grand majority of our fellow citizens.
But for lobbyists married to press secretaries, and for those who learned their trade at Abramoff's knee, and for those who pled the fifth when the law got interested, and --at least right now-- for Roy Blunt, DC is a small town and for them that's a pretty damned good deal.
UPDATE, 10/6/05 9:36am: The interactive AP Graphic just posted by Roy sheds even more light on some of the links. That graphic identifies Kevin Ring as the lobbyist who met with Blunt staff multiple times during September 2001 to lobby on behalf of the Marianas Islands. Ring, of course, was one of the handful of Abramoff loyalists identified by the Raw Story and The Hill stories in the above post. The AP piece also identifies the staffer with whom Ring met as John Dutton, who is now a lobbyist for Manatt, Phillips and Phelps.
UPDATE, 10/18/05 12:15pm: Jessica Boulanger, identified above as press secretary to Roy Blunt, took a leave of absence beginning in the summer of 2005 to work as spokesperson for Progress for America.