a picture is worth a thousand words.
If so, the photograph taken of President George W.
Bush and embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was
priceless—the windswept DeLay strutting down the
tarmac beside the president, two Republican leaders
rankled by political setbacks joined at the hip.
There’s a backstory that lurks behind Bush’s
decision to stand by DeLay. It involves Greenberg Traurig,
the firm that employed the powerful lobbyist who paid
for palatial DeLay junkets, and Abramoff staffers, who
were footsoldiers in the Florida recount. Greenberg
Traurig has yet to receive more than $314,000 in legal
fees charged to a Bush committee during the 2000 Florida
recount, RAW STORY
As a corporation, Greenberg’s unpaid
tab represents a massive in-kind campaign contribution,
far larger than anything that went unreported by DeLay.
But it appears to be legal: corporations are allowed
to donate any amount to the nebulous type of committee
employed during the recount. It would, however, violate
the committee's self-imposed $5,000 contribution limit
from individual donors.
Bush’s recount committee doled out some $8 million,
much of it to Hill staffers who made the jaunt to the
Florida battlefield. But they couldn’t find the
money for their telegenic counsel.
Greenberg’s leadership has apparently declined
to press the issue. Jill Perry, Greenberg’s director
of marketing and public affairs, declined to comment.
A White House official, who declined to be named, referred
questions to the Republican National Committee.
“These are campaign issues,” the official
said. “We work on doing the people’s business.
The RNC handles all campaign-related [expenses].”
“We are funded through taxpayer funds, so we
don’t deal with any campaign related issues,”
the official added.
The RNC did not immediately return a call seeking comment
Greenberg had 39 lawyers and 13 paralegals on the ground.
Tallahassee partner Barry Richard, a Democrat, was their
leading man—a snow-haired, tireless attorney who
impaled Gore witnesses. After Newsweek ran a piece in
2001 detailing the $800,000 unpaid tab, the Bush team
ponied up another $374,000.
A Newsweek piece in 2001 quipped: “Whether
Richard and company collect or not, that $800,000 could
end up being a smart investment.”
Newsweek said Richard was not among the lawyers
at the firm griping over not being paid. He did not
return a call for comment placed Thursday.
Steven Weiss, communications director for the Center
for Responsive Politics, said the unpaid tab raises
questions, though it isn’t surprising.
“To me it sounds emblematic of the way Washington
works,” Weiss said. “If you’re trying
to buy influence, you’re probably not going to
raise a stink about an outstanding bill.”
“It certainly creates an appearance problem,”
he added. “One would have to ask: Is the Bush
Administration going to be more lenient on a firm that
appears to have forgiven a $300,000 bill? The same question
can be raised with regard to any company that’s
responsible for any kind of campaign contributions.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if [Greenberg]
said, don’t worry about it, and in return hope
for an even better relationship with the Administration
than it already has,” he remarked.
After the recount, Bush’s team complained Greenberg
charged exorbitant fees.
"What you've got here is a bunch of rich lawyers
bellyaching," one former Bush official told Newsweek.
"Yet these guys got huge in-kind contributions
to their reputations out of this."
Abramoff partners bragged of
Indeed, some members of the firm mention their roles
in the recount in their biographies to this day. In
a release last year, Greenberg dubbed themselves “the
international law firm that successfully represented
President George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election
Four of Abramoff’s colleagues—all of whom
have left Greenberg in the wake of investigations surrounding
Abramoff’s activities—were foot soldiers
in the Florida recount. Two of them bragged of their
recount work on their official online Greenberg biographies,
which have since been removed.
Shawn Vasell noted that he was a “team leader”
in Broward and Duval counties in his bio; Duane Gibson
photographed in the acclaimed “Brooks Brothers
riot” of Republican operatives outside the Miami-Dade
County polling headquarters; Todd Boulanger boasted
of being on the Broward and Duval recount team in his
profile. Also on the ground was former DeLay deputy
chief of staff Tony Rudy.
Boulanger drafted a letter DeLay signed urging the
Interior Department to favor Abramoff’s client
in June 2003—a letter cosigned by the House Republican
leadership, including Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO).
Boulanger married Blunt’s press secretary earlier
Bush’s decision to employ Greenberg took flak
from some Democrats at the time. Shortly before the
case came before the Supreme Court, the firm announced
the hire of John Scalia, son of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Gore’s attorneys and ethics experts didn’t
press the issue at the time, saying John Scalia wasn’t
directly connected to the case.
The formal announcement of Scalia’s hire came
on Jan. 9, 2001, after the court had ruled. Abramoff’s
hire was announced two days before—along with
the former DeLay deputy Rudy, Vasell, and Boulanger.
Abramoff hired in strategy to
Upon Abramoff’s enlistment in 2001, Greenberg’s
government affairs chairman said he planned to double
the firm’s lobbying receipts, seeking to bring
lobbying revenues to more than $9 million. In the same
article, published in Influence and highlighted on Abramoff’s
biography on the Greenberg website (which has been taken
down), a lawyer familiar with the firm said the culture
sought out aggressive talent.
"It’s a very entrepreneurial place,"
one lawyer familiar with the firm told Influence. "They
do not have their noses in the air, so to speak. They
don’t say ‘We don’t like this client’
or ‘We’re afraid of the image it may create.’"
With Abramoff, Greenberg Traurig did even better than
they had hoped. The firm’s lobbying receipts leapt
fourfold, from $3 million in 2000, to $16 million in
2001. At the peak in 2003, the firm grossed $26 million
on lobbying alone, which plummeted to $6 million in
2004, the year of Abramoff’s departure.
The scandal hounding Abramoff isn’t the first
fracas the firm has faced. In 1998, the Federal Election
a $77,000 fine against Greenberg for soliciting
illegal contributions from a German real estate developer
while having knowledge of his status as a foreign national.
The fine given developer Thomas Kramer, $323,000, was
the largest of its kind ever assessed by the FEC. The
Greenberg staffers sanctioned for the solicitations
were intimately connected with the Democratic National
Committee, one of them a close political associate of
Abramoff is currently being investigated by Department
of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service and the Senate
Indian Affairs Committee. In a prepared statement, Greenberg’s
Perry wrote in an email his style was “antithetical”
to the firm’s practices.
"Greenberg Traurig accepted Jack Abramoff's resignation
from the firm, effective March 2, 2004, after Mr. Abramoff
disclosed to the firm personal transactions and related
conduct which are unacceptable to the firm and antithetical
to the way we do business,” Perry asserted. “In
addition, conduct and comments by Mr. Abramoff which
have come to light since he left Greenberg Traurig are
contrary to our firm's values and culture.”
“We are conducting a comprehensive internal investigation
of these matters and are cooperating with all government
investigations," she added.
Pressed for more, Perry said the firm was constrained
from commenting because of ongoing investigations.
Abramoff relationship with Bush
Bush has largely ducked the scandals surrounding Abramoff,
but he was certainly a beneficiary of the lobbyist’s
fundraising: Abramoff was a Bush Pioneer, raising more
than $120,000 for the 2004 presidential campaign.
He had the largest lobbyist accounts of any Pioneer,
at $26 million.
In his Greenberg Traurig biography, which has since
been stripped, the firm wrote, “Jack is directly
involved in the Republican party and conservative movement
leadership structures and is one of the leading fund
raisers for the party and its congressional candidates.”
Those close to Abramoff—including his partner
Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay press secretary who
is also being investigated for lobbying deals—bragged
about their access to the president.
"Jack has a relationship with the President,"
Scanlon told the New Times Broward-Palm Beach
in February 2001. "He doesn't have a bat phone
or anything, but if he wanted an appointment, he would
Abramoff was a member of the Republican National Committee
executive body from 1981-1985. The tribal lobbyist advised
the Interior Department—which oversees Indian
affairs—during the Bush transition in 2001. His
tribal clients gave more than $300,000 to a conservative
environmental group founded by Secretary of the Interior
A lawyer for the Saginaw Chippewa tribe, one of the
clients allegedly bilked by Abramoff, told Newsweek
Monday that tribal leaders had "three or four"
meetings at the White House—including one with
Bush and a second with Rove—after making a $25,000
donation to Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform
at Abramoff's request. Norquist’s group later
confirmed that he had arranged White House meetings
for tribal leaders.
Another tribe, the Louisiana Coushattas paid Greenberg
Traurig $1.76 million in the latter half of 2001. According
to the New York Times, a month after Greenberg received
the payment, the Bush White House blocked a rival tribe's
attempt to construct a gaming facility near the Coushatta
A Coushatta official told the Times he thought
the administration’s decision was a direct result
of Abramoff’s fees.
A third tribe, Abramoff’s former client the Mississippi
Choctaws, gave $25,000 five days after the inauguration
to the Bush inaugural committee.
Abramoff’s spokesman did not return an email
seeking comment Thursday.
A criminal investigation into Abramoff’s affairs
is ongoing, and indications suggest queries are heating
up. Norquist and Ralph Reed were recently subpoenaed
by Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) Senate Committee
on Indian Affairs.
The paper trail, many believe, is in email messages
retained by Abramoff and his former firm. Greenberg
Traurig has provided a spate of emails to McCain.
Through it all, Greenberg has effectively flown below
the radar. A 5,278-word profile in last Sunday’s
New York Times Magazine failed to name Abramoff’s
former employer once. But the fallout for the firm has
been sizable: revenue has halved, and Abramoff’s
exit was followed by an exodus of other lobbyists.
Information about Abramoff’s relationships with
the Interior Department and members of Congress continues
to trickle out from various sources, primarily to the
Both McCain and the Bush Justice Department are keeping
a low profile; each is treading carefully what could
be a potential political minefield.
and Brad Friedman, of BradBlog.com,
contributed research for this piece.
The original version of this article used the figure
$320,000. To ensure the number was sound, Raw Story
reduced the number to $314,000, the minimum Greenberg
Traurig could be owed if their entire legal bill was
$800,000. Some believe the total outstanding bill is
actually greater than $400,000.
Article originally published May 5, 2005.