Jack Abramoff, aka Casino Jack, who until Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme imploded was the most famous Jewish felon in America, is stepping out. Now on the far side of prison and a halfway-house stint working at a kosher pizza parlor in Baltimore, Abramoff has a new book, Capitol Punishment, a new Twitter feed, and a new mission: to pull the curtain back on a Washington system that still enables other Jack Abramoffs to flourish.
“To the degree that I can educate people about what happened and how to fix it, I want to do it,” he said this morning in a brief phone interview with Tablet Magazine, part of a media blitz that started last week with a 60 Minutes interview and continued this weekend with a story in the New York Times detailing Abramoff’s plans for a Facebook app, a feature film, and maybe a TV show.
It’s partly a form of teshuva, or repentance, something Abramoff says he thought quite a lot about in prison. “As someone who is religious, every day, you do teshuva,” he said. “But the question is, what do you notice that you’re doing wrong?” At the time, he says, he thought he was a moral lobbyist: “The clients were benefiting, we were winning all our battles,” he said. “I didn’t set out to break the law, and I didn’t focus on it, which was the problem.”
But Abramoff also needs to make money, fast: he owes millions in damages to his former clients, and readily admits he doesn’t have it. “I can hardly survive now,” he told me. Will he, I asked, consider responding to the frequent laments of Washington’s observant Jewish political class and reopening one of his shuttered kosher restaurants in the city? “No,” Abramoff replied ruefully. “I lost millions on Stacks. I did it willingly, but that’s in the past. It’ll have to be someone else.”