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Life after Crime and Punishment

Binyamin Rose

Superior preparation and unbounded aggression made Jack Abramoff into one of Washington’s sharpest lobbyists. His win-at-all-costs philosophy led his boss to level a stiff warning that if he kept it up, he would end up either dead, disgraced, or in jail. Abramoff suffered both disgrace and the purgatory of jail. Back home in Silver Springs, Maryland, after almost four years in jail, Abramoff told Mishpacha how he worked to uproot the corruption from his own heart and how Washington needs to do the same.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Listening to Jack Abramoff speak, you can still hear the force and authority in his voice and sense the determination and intestinal fortitude that he plied to open doors in Congress, closing them only when he emerged with his client holding the winning hand.

These days, he employs that same fighting spirit when offering ideas to reform Washington DC, where lobbyists outnumber members of Congress and their staffs by two-to-one.

A day before we spoke, Abramoff had addressed the annual conference of Kentucky’s legislative ethics commission, where attendance is mandatory for all state legislators.

Abramoff chuckled heartily when I asked if “legislative ethics” was an oxymoron.

“It was probably the first time they heard from someone who was actually involved on the ground,” said Abramoff. “I told them how lobbyists think, and how the people who can get them into trouble think.”

The way Abramoff thought, and operated, led to an indictment on multiple counts of conspiracy, bank fraud, and tax and mail fraud, stemming from his decade of activities on Capitol Hill. He served 43 months of a nearly 10-year jail term before his early release.

At his peak, Abramoff was able to command lobbying fees of up to $150,000 a month. Today, he is scrambling to repay debt incurred as a result of civil lawsuits filed against him. His jail term served as punishment in the eyes of the law, but has Jack Abramoff also done teshuvah, I ask?

“Can anyone look at themselves and say they’ve done teshuvah, in the sense of having completed teshuvah?” he answers. “We have to do teshuvah every day, and I’m trying every day. I hope I’m in a better place than I was, but as the Rambam says, we have to be put back in the same circumstances to ultimately be tested.”

Since Abramoff has not, and will not return to his former profession, he will never be put to that ultimate test. But he insists that the win-at-all-costs attitude that dominated his worldview from his youth is a vestige of the past.

“In that respect, I hope I’ve done teshuvah,” he said. “I believed that I could change situations no matter what. That was my kochi v’otzem yadi. Now I realize, more than ever, that HaKadosh Baruch Hu is in charge and that my kind of self-confidence and aggressive ambition was not helpful. I’m assiduously working on this and trying to root out the thought processes behind it. It’s a full-time business for me, because unfortunately it was a very devastating part of my life.”


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