FOO Fighter

We're re-posting this Oct. 10, 2005, post because:

a) A reader wondered why the Weekly had never connected slime-ball GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to our smurfin' Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach). As the post shows, Clockwork had (and Moxley will mention it in Thursday's edition). 2) For reasons only the gremlins of cyberspace know, the item, "FOO Fighter," never got transferred over from our old database to our--cough, cough, cough--new improved database.

thirdly) You'll need what we reported fresh in your noggin' for a post that'll soon follow on the Times Orange County finally connecting those obviously Abramoff-Rohrabacher dots--in their typical, sucking-off-Dana way, natually.

Build a fire, snuggle up next to it with your hot cocoa and enjoy!

Posted Oct. 10, 1:30 p.m. FOO Fighter Before George W. Bush elevated him to run the Securities & Exchange Commission, Christopher Cox was Newport Beach's man in the House of Representatives -- and Dana Rohrabacher's evil twin. Despite his long-running support for term limits, Rohrabacher has represented the congressional district next door in Huntington Beach since 1988, and with Cox moving on -- he'll be replaced in a Nov. 8 special election -- we're wondering whether Rohrabacher will be next to go.

That's because Rohrabacher, it turns out, is closely -- you might say uncomfortably -- tied to two Republicans facing federal investigations: former House majority leader Tom DeLay and super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

We recently blogged on this curious simultaneity: DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority political action committee (ARMPAC) has funneled at least $20,660 into Orange County's congressional delegation and that OC Republicans turned around and gave $20,000 to DeLay's defense fund. (Rohrabacher did so within weeks.) Those five OC congressmen have voted with the disgraced Texan more than 90 percent of the time. Married couples should display such loyalty.

Rohrabacher hasn't been the biggest California beneficiary of ARMPAC's gifts -- that honor goes to Rep. Gary Miller, whose 42nd District includes Anaheim, Brea, La Habra, Mission Viejo, Placentia, Rancho Santa Margarita and Yorba Linda; Miller received $11,017. The $8,583 ARMPAC gave Rohrabacher places him fourth on the group's Golden State gift list, and he has responded by constantly standing by DeLay, and not just when it comes to voting with him 90.95 percent of the time.

"Everyone is grateful to Tom," Rohrabacher recently -- and unapologetically -- told USA Today while describing DeLay's financial aid to Republican House campaigns.

That sort of gratitude can be written off as politics as usual. And keep in mind that the grand juries are still out. But it's Rohrabacher's less-obvious ties to Abramoff that may prove more troubling to voters in his 46th District, which includes Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Seal Beach, Avalon, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills, Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills Estates and portions of Long Beach, Westminster, Santa Ana and San Pedro.

Abramoff has made $1,000 campaign contributions to Rohrabacher in every election cycle stretching back several campaigns. But their relationship goes beyond that. Abramoff has paid for many of Rohrabacher's trips abroad, and they have an unusual dining arrangement. Three years ago, Abramoff opened Signatures, an upscale restaurant in Washington, D.C. From his private corner spot, Table 40, Abramoff courted GOP lawmakers and lavished them with $74 steaks and a $140 tasting menu. Abramoff billed these meals to clients who hired him to lobby Congress on their behalf. Lawmakers allowed to dine for free -- even in Abramoff's absence -- were designated "FOO Comp," Friend Of Owner.

Rohrabacher was a FOO Comp, and has argued that his free meals at Signatures -- once or twice a month, he figures -- fall under the friendship exemption in House rules.

"Just because you are a member of Congress doesn't mean you have to give up your friendships," Rohrabacher told the New York Times in April, adding "it was dinner with a friend and I didn't think of it as a gift."

Now, facing the media about the federal indictments and investigations plaguing Abramoff, Rohrabacher steadfastly stands by his man.

"Jack has made some mistakes," he told the Houston Chronicle in April, "but he is not the dishonest, malevolent, arrogant, wheeler-dealer that people are portraying. He is a fine man."

That fine man and his friend, Dial-A-Mattress franchisee Adam Kidan, were indicted in August on five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy in their purchase of the Fort Lauderdale SunCruz casino cruise line. It's a deal that was smelly from the start, with allegations that the Greek immigrant who owned the business was pressured to sell, and that he didn't know Abramoff, who was arranging the sale, was also a partner to buy SunCruz. And then there's this: as the SunCruz deal was unraveling four years ago, the Greek immigrant, who was threatening to foreclose, turned up dead in a late-night, gangland-style hit in Fort Lauderdale.

Meanwhile, during one three-year period, Abramoff took in $82 million in lobbying and public relations fees from six Indian tribes -- and lived to brag about overbilling the tribes. He's being investigated for that, too. And once again Rohrabacher is rushing to his defense.

"Jack replaced a lot of lobbyists who had made money in the past treating the Indians as incompetents," Rohrabacher reportedly said, adding that even though "it's clear that greed played a role in this . . . I've seen nothing that wasn't done 100 times more when the Democrats were in charge. This is standard operating procedure."

I'll tell you what's SOP: the they-did-it-so-we-can-do-it-too defense. Works around Washington every time.

Rohrabacher has so stridently defended Abramoff that good-government blogger Ellen Miller has included Dana as one of The Abramoff 6. Other teammates are Reps. DeLay, Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Conrad Burns (R-Montana), Dave Vitter (R-Louisiana) and Tom Feeney (R-Florida).

So slimy are Rohrabacher's ties to Abramoff that even Fox News -- let that sink in: FOX NEWS!!! -- has weighed in, citing Dana as among a close-knit group of three congressmen who enjoyed island vacations bought and paid for by Abramoff's lobbying team.

Additional unwanted attention came April 12 when the New York Times revealed that Federal Elections Commission reports and separate records in Texas disclosed that DeLay PACs and campaign committees have paid DeLays wife and daughter more than $500,000 since 2001. The habit of paying family members for campaign work was common among the Abramoff 6: FEC records show Rhonda Carmony, Rohrabacher's wife, is still pulling down $40,000 a year as his campaign manager. According to those reports, she has been receiving bi-weekly payments of $1,169.85 since the conclusion of his last campaign in 2004. She is the only "staffer" still drawing a salary, and the only one that we know of who has borne Rohrabacher triplets.

* * *

So howd these two crazy kids -- Rohrabacher and Abramoff -- get together? You have to go way back to the earliest Reagan White House years. Fresh from writing right-wing/libertarian opinion pieces for what was then called the Santa Ana Register, Rohrabacher got a gig as a speechwriter for Reagan. He was sort of the cool, idolized older brother to younger men in the College Republicans/Youth for Reagan/Young Americans for Freedom crowd. He was on the phone one day in 1983 with Youth for Reagan buddy Jack Wheeler, who was back home in Malibu after several world travels as a self-styled adventurer, when Wheeler mentioned that "a spontaneous outbreak of revolts in the Soviet colonies" was in progress and that nobody had grasped its potential. Properly nurtured, he told Rohrabacher, such revolts could destroy the Evil Empire's "very core."

"There was silence for several seconds," Wheeler later recounted to a magazine writer. "Then Dana said, 'Nobody here where I work has ever said anything like that before.'"

Rohrabacher urged Wheeler to book a flight to Washington and begin studying "these people fighting the Soviets." With funding from the libertarian Reason Foundation, Wheeler set off to visit anti-communist insurrections. After six months among the Nicaraguan contras, Afghan mujahedin, and African rebels, he landed at Washington's National Airport, where Rohrabacher picked him up and drove him straight to the Old Executive Office Building. It was during Wheeler's subsequent meetings with Reagan officials that the term "freedom fighters" was born. It was also the birth of the Reagan Doctrine.

Jack Hume was one of Reagan's informal advisers at the time, a central California millionaire who made his fortune as the world's largest processor of dehydrated onions and garlic. He leveraged his wealth to become part of a small coterie of conservative Californians who backed Ronald Reagan -- encouraged his entry into public life, hired political polishers, bankrolled his campaigns. Years later, during a meeting at the Reagan White House with Lew Lehrman, four years removed from his partnership with George W. Bush in the failed Texas oil operation Arbusto, Lehrman and Hume founded Citizens for America (CFA) to sell the public on Reagans pet projects, among them Star Wars and the savage terror campaign to topple the Nicaraguan government. Lehrman was CFA's first chairman. (He would later go on to lose bids to become Reagan's treasury secretary -- because of his insistence that America return to the gold standard -- and New York's governor -- because he was not Mario Cuomo. Lehrman is now a big wig at the right-wing Heritage Foundation.)

In 1985, while Congress was debating aid to the Nicaraguan contras, CFA officials flew with Reagan's blessing to Angola to organize international terrorists from four countries the Democratic International. Attendees included Jonas Savimbi, head of UNITA (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, then supported by the CIA and South Africa's apartheid government); Adolfo Calero, leader of the 15,000-man terrorist army called the Nicaraguan Democratic Force; Ghulam Wardak of the Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahedeen, then fighting the Soviet Red Army; and Pa Kao Her of the Ethnic Liberation Organization of Laos.

The White House point man on the deal was none other than Dana Rohrabacher, with heavy lifting from two young Republicans/future powerful lobbyists: Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff.

Abramoff was an odd man in the Republican Party. An Orthodox Jew and former high school weightlifter, the then-wet-behind-his-ears true believer had parlayed his stewardship over College Republicans into a gig as CFA's executive director. The CFA, leaning on such wealthy right-wingers as Joseph Coors and Ivan Boesky, would go on to steer millions in U.S. taxpayer funds to terrorists in Angola and apply force to Congress to support the contras.

As Reagan left office in 1988, Rohrabacher also packed his bags for Huntington Beach, where he won his congressional race -- thanks to an assist from Iran-Contra figure Ollie North. Abramoff founded and chaired the aggressive right-wing think tank International Freedom Foundation and ran the Conservative Caucus PAC until the early 1990s. He took a brief break from politics in the 80s to produce the action movie Red Scorpion, which featured U.S.-backed guerrillas fighting Soviet agents in Africa.

Abramoff, Rohrabacher and the gang would go on to fight the Right cause from their respective corners for the next several years.

Then Greek millionaire Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis turned up dead in Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 6, 2001. Months before his slaying, Boulis had sold his fleet of casino ships to a partnership that included Abramoff. But SunCruz Casinos ran aground shortly after Abramoff and his partners bought it in September 2000.

Then came the revelations: that Gus Boulis never really wanted to sell SunCruz in the first place. That Abramoff and Kidan, the Dial-a-Mattress merchant who'd formerly worked with the super lobbyist in the College Republicans national office, secretly negotiated to buy SunCruz. That DeLay and other members of the Abramoff 6 helped the deal along. When Boulis learned that his prospective buyers did not have the $145 million it would take to buy his ships, he renegotiated to keep himself on as a consultant. The Abramoff 6 sprang into action. Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay spokesman Abramoff had just hired at his lobbying firm, asked Ohio congressman Bob Ney to insert remarks into the Congressional Record that would pressure Boulis: "Mr. Speaker, how SunCruz Casinos and Gus Boulis conduct themselves with regard to Florida laws is very unnerving," Ney said in the March 30, 2000, Congressional Record. "I don't want to see the actions of one bad apple in Florida, or anywhere else . . . affect the business aspect of this industry or hurt any innocent casino patron in our country."

The SunCruz negotiations dragged on. When the partners tried to secure financing, Abramoff's list of loan references included -- wait for it -- Dana Rohrabacher.

"I don't remember it, but I would certainly have been happy to give him a good recommendation," Rohrabacher later told the Washington Post. "He's a very honest man."

Like all honest men embroiled in fraudulent deals, Abramoff watched this one unravel. The press reported on Kidan's alleged links to the New York mob (and the possible Boulis murder suspect, if you're real good at between-the-lines reading). The Boulis estate settled its differences with Abramoff and Kidan by having them declare bankruptcy and relinquish most of their SunCruz interest to the estate. A federal Court of Appeals tossed that settlement out, claiming there were too many conflicts of interest and that Kidan's management was "riddled with fraudulent and dishonest transactions." New owners picked up SunCruz after a bankruptcy auction. Banks are still suing Abramoff and Kidan over the $60 million they were lent using folks like Rohrabacher as their references.

And when the shit really hit the fan, DeLay claimed he did not know about Abramoff's ties to casinos, said he felt betrayed by his lobbyist friend and that he was now cutting all ties with him. This was somewhat strange given that casinos had always been one of DeLay's largest source of campaign cash, that he'd hosted events in Washington for SunCruz and that his staffers had all flown -- on Abramoff's dime -- to the Super Bowl in Tampa followed by a night on a SunCruz ship.

Must've forgot.

A postscript: We began this tale by wondering whether Rohrabacher's run in Congress will be jeopardized by his ties to DeLay and Abramoff. Perhaps voters in his district will never know. Rohrabacher has always received the kid-glove treatment from his former employer, the now Orange County Register, and it's the world's worst-kept secret that he's the primary local politics source for Jean Pasco, the Orange County political reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

Despite stories in the national media, on the web and -- natch -- in the Weekly, the Times and Register have reported nothing on Rohrabacher's alarming ties to Islamic terrorist groups, even when local challengers have raised this on the congressional campaign trail. And while with the Register in 1996, Pasco for four months failed to identify Carmony, then a Rohrabacher aide, as being among the central organizers of a local GOP plot to plant a decoy candidate in the Assembly race eventually won by Scott "Slime" Baugh, who is now the party's Orange County chairman. After pleading guilty to two charges of falsifying campaign papers, Carmony was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and a $2,800 fine. Pressed by the Weekly, Pasco eventually blamed her editors for the omission.

Pasco did include Rohrabacher in an April 14 Times story on California politicians who, like Tom DeLay, keep family members on their payrolls. Rohrabacher said his wife was on the campaign payroll because he needs a campaign manager he can trust. The Register weighed in three days later with "Rohrabacher feels for, supports DeLay." The pull quote there had Rohrabacher calling Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Connecticut) a "jerk" for urging DeLay to do what he ultimately did anyway: step down as House majority leader.

Despite coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, major dailies in Texas, wire services around the country and all over the world wide web, a recent database search turned up zero-zippo-nada hits for Register or LA Times stories that mention Rohrabacher and Abramoff in the same article.


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