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Abramoff breaks silence and talks to magazine

Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has broken his veil of silence and given an exclusive interview to Vanity Fair magazine. The author of that piece, David Margolick discussed the details with Keith Olbermann on Countdown.
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One part of the Tom DeLay career rehab plan was ending his friendship with the convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the former majority leader, who once called Mr. Abramoff one of his closest and dearest friends.   Now many of Mr. DeLay's colleagues on Capitol Hill are taking it one step further some insisting never to have known him at all.

Mr. Abramoff, disputed that quite vehemently and told Vanity Fair magazine in an exclusive interview that he once worked very closely with some of the most powerful Republicans in Washington, despite any claims to the contrary.

“Vanity Fair” contributing editor David Margolick, joined Keith Olbermann on ‘Countdown’ to talk about the article.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, ‘COUNTDOWN’:  From your interchange with him, how much does it appear to rankle Mr. Abramoff, anger him, perhaps, that all these politicians he used to associate with are not just distancing themselves, they're claiming never to have met him?

DAVID MARGOLICK, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, “VANITY FAIR”:  Well, I think it really gets under his skin.  I mean, he's somebody who's generally very careful about what he says these days.  He doesn't give many interviews.  He's very concerned about the sentencing that he's going to get from the judge.  Everything hangs in the balance.  And he's a man who measures his words.  But clearly, he's very annoyed when people pretend never to have met him.

OLBERMANN:  Why not, then, prove that he has met them, prove his association?  Certainly he could do that with the president if he released the photographs of the two of them together, even selling them for what would be a huge sum of money?  Did Mr. Abramoff offer a reason to you why he has not done that, or at least has not yet done that?

MARGOLICK:  Well, this is an interesting thing.  I mean, despite everything, Jack Abramoff is still a very partisan man.  He's a partisan Republican.  And when the Democrats said they were going to make great hay out of any White House picture showing him with Bush, he promptly changed his mind about selling the pictures.  He was originally tempted to do it, but he instantly decided that, you know, why give aid and comfort to the enemy?  So he decided not to do it.

I mean, another interesting dimension to that is that he would not get to keep the money, any money that he made from the pictures.  There was—there were offers in the low seven figures for these pictures, but the money would go to the Indians, who are owed restitution under Abramoff's plea agreement.

OLBERMANN:  Now, as to this other symbolism here, as we're seeing again with this endless videotape, and the hats and the weight gain, did he talk about this, about the 50-pound weight gain and the, and the, the wearing the black fedora to, to court that day, that, that, that this becomes his image?  Did, did, did this come up in your conversations with him?

MARGOLICK:  Well, we talked about it a lot, because the symbolism in this case is very important.  I mean, the weight gain, I think, is personally very embarrassing to him.  This is a seriously physical fit guy, generally.  I mean, he was a weight lifter in high school, he set records that stood in his high school for many, many years.  He's somebody who has always taken care of himself, and he's gone to seed.  And I think he's embarrassed by that.

The black hat business is really kind of a bum rap.  And on this, I feel very sympathetic to him.  He's an Orthodox Jew, he's been an Orthodox Jew for 40 years, or almost 40 years.  Orthodox Jews cover their heads when they go out, they wear yarmulkes or they wear hats.  And in fact, he put on a black hat because he thought that wearing a yarmulke would subject him to charges that he was excessively and recently pious.

So he put on his black rain hat instead, and he got pilloried for it.  And I think that part of it all is rather a bum rap.

OLBERMANN:  And the way you phrase it, it certainly sounds that way.

MARGOLICK:  Well, you know, in fact, he didn't, you know, he didn't subject his clothing to a focus group.  He put on what was in the closet.

OLBERMANN:  Let me ask you about this upcoming sentencing.  You wrote in the article that, quote, “The best guess is that Abramoff will be sentenced in a year or two and spend at least a few years behind bars.”  But since your article, closed, there were changing events in this, a judge Monday refused to delay the sentencing by more than to weeks, it's going to go to the 29th of this month, even though the lawyers for both sides favored a longer delay, Mr. Abramoff's lawyer now threatening to name names unless the sentencing is in fact postponed.

And two questions are necessary about that.  Do you feel the Jack Abramoff you met is ready to follow through on his lawyer's threat to sell out, even though those are his fellow Republicans, get those names out there completely?  And would Mr. Abramoff be adequately prepared for the possible long prison term might begin sooner rather than later?

MARGOLICK:  Well, Jack Abramoff at this point doesn't have a lot of cards to play.  I mean, basically, he's exchanging all of the information he knows for a more lenient sentence.  And I don't think anything is going to deter him from that.

I mean, the reason that these events in Miami throw things off is because the prosecutors and Abramoff have a deal.  And if there's kind of a maverick judge in Miami, as opposed to the sentencing judge, the other sentencing judge, in Washington, it could throw a monkey wrench into the whole deal.

But Jack Abramoff's deal requires him to talk, and talk freely and fulsomely, and that's what he's doing.