Oh what a tangled web these no-longer-young Republicans weave when first they practice to deceive!

The plumb line that runs down through the cesspool of the festering Abramoff-DeLay scandal is the conceit that the scions of the Reagan Revolution, a generation of young Republican activists summoned by God and party, were morally superior creatures who had only pure ideological motives for cutting the country’s social safety nets in the name of “small government.”

More than two decades before he pleaded guilty to felonies in two jurisdictions, Jack Abramoff was the hard-nosed chairman of the College Republicans, and his lieutenants were Harvard graduate Grover Norquist, who rose to political power as president of the American Taxpayers Association, and a young Georgia student named Ralph Reed, who would later become the face of the Christian Coalition. “Today, our party readies itself to mount the wave of the future,” Abramoff sermonized as a 25-year-old at the Republican National Convention in 1984, as reported in Mother Jones magazine. “Will we ride that wave to glory, or will it send us crashing ashore? If we’re the party of tax cuts, and not the party of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts,’ then we’re riding our wave…. If we try to outspend big fat Tip O’Neill, or rush to Geneva to cut a deal, we’ll crash ashore.”

Now, however, Abramoff has crashed and he threatens to take down Tom DeLay, who announced last week he will not attempt to regain his GOP leadership post in the House, even as he continues to fight his own indictment in Texas, which an all-Republican appeals court has just refused to dismiss.

Meanwhile, two others who came up through the ranks of Republican youthful activism, Edwin A. Buckham and Brent Wilkes, can now be added to the web — growing with each new indictment and investigative news article — of DeLay-affiliated lobbyists, politicians and public officials who employed or benefited from a series of what appear to be front groups, slush funds and political money-laundering operations.

Wilkes is up to his eyeballs in the case of disgraced Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-San Diego), who pleaded guilty in December to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors trying to sell stuff to the Pentagon. Wilkes, in turn, was a client of Buckham, a key figure at the center of an influence-peddling investigation into his work at the phony front organization, the U.S. Family Network, that serviced Abramoff’s clients.

On Monday, Buckham announced that due to recent bad publicity, his prominent Alexander Strategy Group (ASG) lobbying firm was shutting down. It was ASG that paid DeLay’s wife at least $115,000 in consulting fees while selling the company’s widely proclaimed access to her super-powerful husband. The lobby firm also provided office space to “Americans for a Republican Majority,” DeLay’s fundraising organization.

No surprise, then, that when Wilkes wanted to gain influence in Congress in support of his quest to get the Pentagon to invest in products he was selling — but for which the Pentagon’s inspector general found no real demand — he turned to ASG, paying at least $630,000 for the firm’s services.

President Bush, as he did with Enron and its politically well-connected execs, is reportedly looking to distance himself from these big-time GOP players going down like a house of cards in a Category 5 hurricane. And, as with Enron, whose company chief Kenneth “Kenny Boy” Lay was tight with Bush and was a key financial supporter of his campaigns, such protests will ring hollow to those paying attention because of the perpetrators’ prominent work on the president’s campaigns, transition teams, fundraising and even in his administration. Abramoff was a “patron” fundraiser for the Bush 2004 campaign and served on the Department of the Interior transition team, while Wilkes was Bush’s California campaign finance co-chair.

The scope of the scandal swirling around DeLay was perhaps best described by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, now a lobbyist: “Tom DeLay sent Buckham downtown to set up shop and start a branch office on K Street,” Armey told The New York Times, referring to the row of lobby firms famously headquartered there. “The whole idea was: ‘What’s in it for us?’ ”

Sounds accurate enough. But Armey’s candid comment raises the question of why he and others in the Republican establishment didn’t blow the whistle on this operation before the indictments came down. After all, bilking the Pentagon for millions, bribing officials and breaking campaign-finance laws is hardly small potatoes.

What irony that those once young Republicans, who hectored their elders about being more vigilant in defending the nation’s taxpayers and security forces, should now end up accused of deeply betraying both.

See Related:

  • “Jack Abramoff’s ‘Cesspool of Corruption'” by Robert Scheer — with updated links
  • Uncovered File: “Pay to Play with Jack”
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