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Media Life: TV’s “60 Minutes” explores Abramoff’s murky Placer connection

By: Gus Thomson/Media Life
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Placer County’s perception of Washington, D.C. politics has been getting a workout in recent weeks with the build-up to and sentencing of lobbyist Kevin Ring, a former top-level aide to ex-Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville. If the advance publicity to this Sunday’s “60 Minutes” on CBS is any indication, be ready for a warped ride into a political landscape that has already chewed up and spit out Doolittle and Ring – but keeps on chugging along. Ring was sentenced to 20 months in prison on corruption charges last month and is attempting to lodge an appeal on both the sentence and the verdict. Doolittle, who chose not to run again in 2008, and is now a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. was named as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Ring case but has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. He has also never been charged with a crime in connection with the Abramoff scandal. Abramoff will be giving his first TV interview since serving a three-year prison term. What he shared with interviewer Lesley Stahl provides a telling look through his own particular prism at how lobbyists worked. And despite new rules since his conviction, he says they continue to work virtually unfettered. Abramoff’s take on new regulations? They don’t work – and lobbyists can always find ways around them. “We’re smarter than they are and we’ll overcome it,” Abramoff tells Stahl in an excerpt released in advance of the telecast. “Yeah … the system hasn’t been cleaned up at all. There’s an arrogance on the part of lobbyists … that no matter what they come up with … we’ll just find another way through.” Good friend but no crime Doolittle stated before leaving office that Abramoff was a good friend and Ring continues to consider Doolittle one of his best friends. Doolittle wrote a letter in support of no prison time for Ring and was in the D.C. courtroom to support him during sentencing. Abramoff readily admits that whether it’s an expensive gift, a job, event tickets, vacations or straight cash, it’s bribery and his opinion is that all politicians are guilty of it. “I am talking about giving a gift to somebody who makes a decision on behalf of the public and at the end of the day that’s really what bribery is,” Abramoff said. “But it’s done every day and it’s still being done … There were very few members (of Congress) … who didn’t at some level, participate in that.” Don’t be surprised to see Doolittle’s photo splashed across the screen at some point, as well as Ring’s, who also worked as a lobbyist for the city of Lincoln while employed by Abramoff’s firm. Abramoff will be estimating that his lobbying firm had an influential presence in the offices of about 100 congressional representatives. “I would view that as a failure, because that leaves 335 offices that we didn’t have strong influence in,” Abramoff said. Particularly chilling – in light of the Ring-Doolittle connection and Abramoff firm’s employment of Doolittle’s wife, Julie – is the disgraced lobbyist’s take on the No. 1 weapon that he feels can influence a congressman. It’s the promise of a future, high-paying job to a member’s top staffers. “Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to them, that was it. We owned them,” Abramoff said. “And what does that mean? Every request … of our clients, everything that we want, they’re going to do. Not only that, they’re going to think of things we can’t think of to do.” Is Abramoff telling the truth? Or just spinning a yarn to boost his own sense of self-esteem by entwining others - like the Doolittles and Ring - in a web of deceit? His story will be out there for all to see on Sunday and worth a look – particularly with a strong Placer County connection to consider in the mix of verbiage. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at (530) 852-0232 or gust@goldcountrymedia.com.