Sunday, September 4, 2011

Abramoff and the Northern Marianas Islands

At the start of the Bush administration, the Mariana Islands were a top client of Jack Abramoff’s lobbying firm. The string of 15 islands between Hawaii and the Phillipines has been a part of the U.S. since World War II. The islands get to use the "Made in the USA" label, though the garment industry there, dependent on a female labor force, is notorious for sweatshops and human-rights abuses.  Abramoff flew former House Majority Leader Tom Delay and some of Delay’s staff to the islands to push for federal labor law exemptions for his client. The House enforcer and his staff had a tropical holiday in the process., snorkeling in the calm Pacific waters and playing golf at the four championship courses.

The Abramoff report released today by the House oversight committee lays out the astonishing extent of the disgraced lobbyist’s influence on the islands. Abramoff was, in essence, human resources manager for the policy arm of the U.S. government on the islands — the Dept. of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs — that coordinates federal policy in the islands.

The committee obtained a bunch of emails showing that White House personnel officials would fax resumes of potential Insular Affairs employees to Abramoff. Two Insular Affairs employees were not appointed after Abramoff, and Karl Rove, then the White House’s senior adviser, said their re-appointments were not a good idea. Moreover, Abramoff appears to have gotten the Bush administration not to endorse the Republican running for governor of the islands in 2002. A Republican White House not endorsing a GOP candidate is rare — but that’s apparently what happens when Abramoff favored the third party candidate.

All these Mariana Islands-White House-Abramoff shenanigans took place between 2001-2002. We’re just learning about them now due to a few White House officials agreeing to be interviewed by the oversight committee.

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