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October 12, 2006

Senate Abramoff report names Mercer Island group

Posted by David Postman at 2:32 PM

The Washington Post is reporting that five conservative nonprofit organizations, including a Mercer Island religious group, "perpetrated a fraud" on taxpayers by selling their clout to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

That comes from a report issued today by Senate investigators who have been looking into the Abramoff scandal.

Senate investigators said in a report issued today:

The groups are (Grover) Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform; the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which was co-founded by Norquist and Gale Norton before she became Secretary of the Interior; Citizens Against Government Waste; the National Center for Public Policy Research, which was a spinoff of the Heritage Foundation; and Toward Tradition, a religious group founded by Abramoff friend Rabbi Daniel Lapin.

The Post says that Lapin "told the committee that he was shutting down the Seattle-based nonprofit because of negative news coverage related to Abramoff."

But Lapin just told me by e-mail that's not true:

I can assure you that Toward Tradition is alive and healthy with a brand new Web site only one week old and a vibrant program for 2007.

He said he hadn't read the Post story and didn't comment on the Senate report.

The Post said that Toward Tradition was "at the center of some of the most infamous lobbying schemes with Abramoff." Hal Bernton and I wrote about Toward Tradition's connection with Abramoff in January.

The Post says:

The report states that the groups probably violated their tax-exempt status "by laundering payments and then disbursing funds at Mr. Abramoff's direction; taking payments in exchange or writing newspaper columns or press releases that put Mr. Abramoff's clients in a favorable light; introducing Mr. Abramoff's clients to government officials in exchange for payment; and agreeing to act as a front organization for congressional trips paid for by Mr. Abramoff's clients." ... Though the report was issued by Democrats on the Finance Committee, Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) endorsed its findings of wrongdoing by the nonprofit groups. An aide to Grassley said the senator did not co-author the report because he had hoped it would have included Democratic groups that he believes also breached their tax status.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the full report.

The report says that "email
communication indicates that Mr. Abramoff planned how best
to use Rabbi Lapin as a resource."

For example, in an e-mail exchange with Amy Berger, an associate at Preston Gates, Mr. Abramoff suggested that they avoid having Lapin write a letter on behalf of a client, Channel One Network. Ms. Berger already had a copy of such a letter and wanted to ''get them to Jeff [Ballabon, with Channel One] for his approval.'' Mr. Abramoff's response indicates that he needed to use Lapin for another purpose to benefit the same client: ''I don't want Rabbi Lapin to do this. We are going to need him to discreetly call [James] Dobson to get Jeff a meeting, so I don't want to put him out publicly again yet.''

In a telephone call with Minority staff, Rabbi Lapin said Toward
Tradition is in the process of shutting down as a result of negative
publicity related to the investigation of Mr. Abramoff. He said the
corporation had not ''folded'' yet but that legal steps were being
taken to do so.

Lapin just told me:

Although unfounded allegations by Democratic members of some committees and others during the first part of 2006 certainly hurt Toward Tradition, the organization at the present time has no intention of ceasing its work and is engaged in its plans and activities for the remainder of this year and 2007.

MORE: The Minority Staff Report delves into one of the oddest pieces of the Abramoff/Lapin relationship: The lobbyists' request to the rabbi to create some prestigious awards for him to put on an application for an exclusive D.C. club.

E-mails between the two were made public last year that had Abramoff asking, and Lapin assuring him it could be done. But Lapin has consistently maintained that he was joking.

He said in an August letter to the minority counsel of the Senate Finance Committee:

Neither I nor Toward Tradition ever issued an award to Jack Abramoff at any time, neither was the matter of any award for Jack Abramoff ever raised at any Toward Tradition board meeting. There was some well publicized emails between Jack Abramoff and myself in which he humorously inquired as to whether I Could create an award for him to which I responded equally frivolously along the lines of filling a wall of awards for him. No steps were ever taken to facilitate or produce any award for him.

But in the report released today is a copy of an e-mail from Lapin to Abramoff from October 2000, that looks to be the rabbi's list of awards for Abramoff. It says:

Dear Jack,
No need to apologize; I know how long it can take to unpack movers boxes, especially when all they contain are unused knick knacks and long forgotten (but well deserved) award plagues and citations. In any event, the records were fairly easy to access at all three organizations so it was no problem at all.
Here they are:
Pacific Jewish Center, Los Angeles, California.
President: Michael Medved. Rabbi: Daniel Lapin.
In February 1988 you were honored with the award that
recognized you as PJC Distinguished Professor of Talmudic
Law in recognition of the lectures you delivered during
1987. Very pretty blue granite looking type of plaque
if I recall correctly.

Toward Tradition, Mercer Island, Washington.
President: Daniel Lapin. National Director: Yarden
In the summer of 1994 you were given the award that
identified you as Toward Tradition's Scholar of Biblical
and American History.

Canadian Business Institute, Seattle and New York City
President: Lewis Kaufman. Director: Julian Hurst
In October 1999 you accepted the award that recognized
your service in establishing CBI's course in Biblical Mercantile
Law in which you served as adjunct professor.

Hope that helps

Medved, the talk show host and prominent conservative cultural critic, is listed as the president of the Pacific Jewish Center that gave Abramoff an award. Lapin and Medved were both involved in the center when they lived in Southern California and have remained close as they both moved to the Seattle area. Medved says there was no award and that the e-mail shows only Lapin's sense of humor. Medved told me in a phone conversation:

"It is a joke. It never happened. Distinguished Professor of Talmudic Law? It's a joke.


"Obviously, in retrospect it was a very bad idea for Rabbi Lapin to make light of something like this with the likes of Jack Abramoff. But this is very clearly his sense of humor. ... I think Jack was serious about actually wanting something for the Cosmos Club but Lapin wasn't serious about getting back to him. How pathetic is it to have a guy like Jack Abramoff, making this much money -- much of it improperly -- and he cares about some Mickey Mouse, meaningless awards."

For more, Michael Hood at blatherwatch has a post up with links to several things he has written about Lapin in the past.

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Candidates on North Korea

Posted by David Postman at 11:34 AM

Maria Cantwell and, Mike McGavick disagree on how the United States should deal with North Korea and its increasing nuclear threat.

McGavick is more aligned with the Bush administration, which has ruled out direct talks with North Korea. McGavick spokesman Elliott Bundy said that McGavick believes "it is right to be emphasizing that at least China be involved in any talks because that is where the most leverage is — the wedge between China and North Korea. We shouldn't do anything to lessen the potential of using that relationship as leverage."

McGavick told KIRO TV's Essex Porter:

"North Korea is an unstable bunch and we're going to have to isolate and isolate and isolate that community."

Cantwell supports bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea. She said on KIRO:

I think the United States should engage in direct talks with North Korea. I think that we should continue to pursue at the U.N. sanctions and continue to work with the six partner countries that we have been dialoging with in the past. But I also think we should start a direct dialog.

In the 8th Congressional District, Congressman Dave Reichert, said his spokeswoman Kimberly Cadena, supports sanctions by the U.N. and "diplomatic efforts to diffuse the situation."

As to direct talks, Cadena said, "That's been tried in the past. There were bilateral talks in previous administrations." But Reichert's not ruling it out. He doesn't want that to be the first option, but Cadena said he's willing to consider it.

Darcy Burner had the most detailed response to the question. She supports direct talks with North Korea. She said through an e-mail forwarded by her campaign:

North Korea's test of a nuclear weapon is another indication that George Bush's policies have made us less secure. North Korea has been a dangerous threat throughout the Bush administration and yet Bush has not succeeded in stopping them. Bush's plan has failed.

It's time for a new approach.


We also need to conduct strong diplomacy with countries in the region, particularly China. North Korea depends on China for food and fuel shipments, as well as trade; we should ask China to step up and apply pressure on North Korea.

Burner says 9/11 Commission recommendations on securing nuclear materials around the world also need to be implemented. She supports a national missile defense system "that has been tested and actually works" as well as sharing missile technology with Japan and South Korea "to help blunt the new threat North Korea now poses."

There is an echo in Burner's comments from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's statement on North Korea which said in part:

The President's policies are not making the American people safer. Staying the course won't change that. It's time for a new direction.

The North Korean situation was very quickly politicized. The Republican National Committee "issued a statement calling U.S. policy toward North Korea a ``failure'' during the administration of former President Bill Clinton."

Madeleine K. Albright, a secretary of state for former President Bill Clinton, issued a statement on Wednesday defending his administration and striking back at Mr. Bush.

"During the two terms of the Clinton administration, there were no nuclear weapons tests by North Korea, no new plutonium production, and no new nuclear weapons developed in Pyongyang," Ms. Albright's statement said.

Also, in the Newsweek International edition just out there is a fascinating story about a series of events last year that reporter Selig S. Harrison says led to North Korea's threatened nuclear test explosion.

I haven't seen this elsewhere, and it's worth a read to see what Harrison heard on a trip to Pyongyang:

On Sept. 19, 2005, North Korea signed a widely heralded denuclearization agreement with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Pyongyang pledged to "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs." In return, Washington agreed that the United States and North Korea would "respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations."

Four days later, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sweeping financial sanctions against North Korea designed to cut off the country's access to the international banking system, branding it a "criminal state" guilty of counterfeiting, money laundering and trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration says that this sequence of events was a coincidence. Whatever the truth, I found on a recent trip to Pyongyang that North Korean leaders view the financial sanctions as the cutting edge of a calculated effort by dominant elements in the administration to undercut the Sept. 19 accord, squeeze the Kim Jong Il regime and eventually force its collapse. My conversations made clear that North Korea's missile tests in July and its threat last week to conduct a nuclear test explosion at an unspecified date "in the future" were directly provoked by the U.S. sanctions.

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I-933 ad would look familiar to voters in other states

Posted by David Postman at 8:52 AM

At the Slog Sarah Mirk dug into the new Sopranos-like TVweb ad from the pro-I-933 campaign and found it only slightly modified from ads showing in Arizona, Nevada and Idaho, to back property rights measures in those states.

I don't know what's worse: the moving piano music as the mobster/politicians evict minorities from businesses while cracking "eminent domain" puns, the squeaky "ethnic" voices of said minorities or the fact that the Statue of Liberty is prominently featured in all four ads. You'd think if you were going to stage a nation-wide campaign disguised as a local grassroots effort, you'd have the decency to edit out the image of Lady Liberty rising outside what is supposed to be, alternately, Seattle, Sun Valley and Phoenix.

Of course, the other problem, as Mirk points out, is the ad is also wrong. As The Columbian first reported, the 933 campaign said that's "Because it's parody, it's meant to be entertaining as much as factual information."

Also, the Times today reports on whether the intiative would also cover personal property.

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