Perhaps the clearest indication that lobbyist Jack Abramoff inhabited an ethical no-man's-land devoid of conscience was the contempt with which he privately described the Indian tribes he bilked out of $20 million in fraudulent fees.
Chortling in e-mails about the "monkeys," "morons" and "idiots" he duped in his "Gimme Five" scam that pitted the gambling interests of various tribes against each other, Mr. Abramoff revealed that his rapid rise to become one of the most powerful lobbyists on Capitol Hill was charted without interference from a moral compass.
His guilty plea yesterday to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud as part of an agreement to cooperate with an influence-peddling investigation signals that Congress may soon be awash in one of the largest political corruption scandals in decades. If Mr. Abramoff - master wheeler-dealer trafficking in gifts, jobs and cold cash disguised as charitable contributions - is not the big fish, who is?
According to some reports, as many as 20 lawmakers could be involved. Most prominently mentioned are former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Ohio Republican Bob Ney and Montana Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, who was recently quoted as saying he wished Mr. Abramoff had "never been born."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was quick yesterday to blame a "Republican culture of corruption." But the GOP has no monopoly on the Abramoff scandal or the special-deals-for-special-friends-and-sp ecial-interests mentality that infects so much of what Congress does.
Lawmakers often argue there's nothing illegal about accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists or voting the way they wish. Charity golf trips that allow lawmakers to conduct official business on the side are a good bargain for taxpayers, Mr. DeLay once maintained. Yet those grab-bag special interest goodie bills that resulted - and that masqueraded as budget measures - are not far removed from direct payoffs.
Mr. Abramoff now faces a restitution bill of $25 million and as much as 30 years in prison because he pushed standard operating procedures in Washington so far over the line that federal investigators could barely disguise their disgust.
So the sordid saga of Mr. Abramoff and his cronies comes full circle. Who looks like monkeys, morons and idiots now?