By now many folks have heard the name Trent Franks. He is the typical Republican douchebag who told Mike Stark that slavery was a better situation for African Americans than the life they live in America today. Franks is batshit crazy and he was just named the most conservative member of the House Republicans. And it should also come as no surprise that along with his racism, he is also a corruptionist.
In the trail transcripts of one of Jack Abramoff’s key team members it came out that Trent Franks turned to Team Abramoff to get earmarks slipped into a Transportation Appropriation Bill. And from the easy familiarity of the emails discussed in the trial, it is clear that Franks had a close “working” relationship with Jack and his gang of thieves.
Trent Franks is one of those Conservatives who rail against spending in Washington in their public comments and do the opposite in their day to day activities. It is an act that seems to be very popular in Arizona (perhaps the conservatives in that state are especially gullible).
Back in 2003 the Republicans were in control of everything and that meant it was time to raid the Federal treasury. The Chosen pathway for much of the graft was the Appropriation process and especially earmarks. Naturally being connected to–and influencing–this process was a very important part of the work done by Jack Abramoff and his team. By 2003 Kevin Ring was Abramoff’s right hand man. Kevin led Jack’s Team of grifters as they bought Staffers, Senators and Members of Congress with gifts, donations and favors. Last year Kevin Ring went on trial for a long list of crimes (you can read his indictment here).
Because most of this influence peddling in Washington was (and still is) legal, it has been hard to bring cases of Congressional corruption (and corporate corruption) to trial. The tool that prosecutors use most often is Honest Services Fraud (and it is a tool that the SCOTUS will rule on later this year–overturning this law will open a floodgate of corruption especially when paired with unlimited corporate money, but I digress).
Many of the folks who have plead guilty in the Abramoff Scandal (including Jack) admitted violating the Honest Services Fraud laws of the land. Kevin Ring, like the true grifter he is, decided to fight on the basis of:
a) everybody does it, and
b) as a lobbyist he does not owe ‘honest services’ to anybody
It was a throw sand in the air defense that confused enough Jury members to lead to a mistrial. Ring is scheduled to be retried later this year. The transcripts of the Kevin Ring trial are very interesting and tell many stories about how lobbying and corruption work in DC. One of the stories told in the transcripts is how Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona turned to Team Abramoff to get an earmark in a Transportation Appropriation Bill back in 2003.
According to the Kevin Ring Indictment Congressman Ernest Istook (R-OK) was Team Abramoff’s conduit for earmarks to Transportation Appropriation Bills. Requests for earmarks were passed from Team Abramoff to Istook through his Chief of Staff, John Albaugh:
15. John Albaugh worked for a then-Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Representative 4–AKA Istook) for approximately fourteen years, eventually rising to the position of Chief of Staff and serving in that position from approximately 1998 until December 2006. From in or about January 2003 through in or about January 2005, Representative 4 served as the chairman of a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee before which defendant RING’s clients had pending and anticipated matters. As Chief of Staff, Albaugh’s primary responsibilities included oversight of issues relating to the subcommittee, including appropriations requests.
38. On or about March 19, 2003, shortly after Abramoff spoke to Representative 4, Abramoff sent an email to defendant RING and other members of the lobbying team in which Abramoff told them that Representative 4 had “basically asked what we want in the transportation bill” and instructed them to “make sure we load up our entire Christmas list.”
43. On or about July 14,2003, defendant RING emailed Abramoff that they had secured money for various clients in the transportation appropriations bill, including $2 million for the New Mexico tribe, and asked Abramoff to call Representative 4 to thank him for his “help with our client priorities in the” bill and say, “Your staff, especially John Albaugh, has been very responsive and helpful in working with Kevin Ring on our team.”
One of those ‘projects’ was an earmark for Trent Franks.
In 2003 Franks pissed off some of his fellow Republicans by publicly complaining about earmarks while he sought them for himself. To teach him a lesson the word came down that he was not to get any of his requests. This was discussed in the Ring Transcripts (you can review these sections here) during the testimony of John Albaugh at the trial:
Q Tell the jury how he angered the committee.
A He shot his mouth off against the appropriations committee. I don’t know the specifics of what he did. And the full committee chairman instructed the appropriations committee staff to ensure that he would receive no earmarks unless they first checked with him.
Elsewhere in the transcript, Ring’s lawyers suggest that Franks had publicly complained that the Transportation Bill had too many earmarks, which he did. But here is the funny thing, even as he complained about too many earmarks, Trent Franks was working to get his in despite being in the GOP House Leadership ‘doghouse’ for breaking ranks. Naturally, Franks turned to Super lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his team to get his earmark funded. Now, this could have been a worthwhile project and perhaps it was. Franks’ earmark was for a road project on the Hopi Nation Reservation and despite the spin many earmarks were and are for worthwhile projects.
But what was interesting in the transcripts was the amount of high level effort Team Abramoff spent to go to bat for Trent Franks. It was a successful effort and I have no doubt that it was a chit that Jack and the gang called in when they needed Franks to carry some legislative water for them over the years–this is how lobbying worked and still works in Washington. The Franks earmark came up often as prosecutors questioned Albaugh, for example:
Q Can you remind the jury what happened with Franks from Arizona?
A Congressman Franks shot his mouth off against the Appropriations Committee, and the chairman of that committee instructed the staff not to provide any earmarks to him unless they checked with him first.
Q Can we turn to — what did you do as a result of that?
A I informed Congressman Istook of this. And he went to the leadership of the Appropriations Committee and was able to secure this earmark.
Q Why did you inform Congressman Istook of this?
A Because of the relationship with Kevin Ring.
And later in the questioning Albaugh points out that Congressman Franks was a client of Team Abramoff:
Q Can we blow out the top two e-mails, please. Can you read those into the record.
A Kevin responds, “Woo-hoo. Tell me when you can. Thanks.” I respond, “Franks is now at 1.25 million, Bono 1 million, Saginaw 1.2 million, Choctaw 1.4 million. Who’s the man?”
Q Franks, Bono, Saginaw, Choctaw, what are those?
A Those are clients of Kevin Ring’s.
And the questioning from Ring’s attorney shows that by the time the money was earmarked that Team Abramoff had delivered the goods for their clients, including Congressman Franks:
Q Do you see the Franks project on the bottom?
A Yes, I do.
Q So, the initial request was three million. And after the give and take with you and the subcommittee, we’re at 2.533, correct?
A That’s the number down there, yes.
Q Okay. Do you recall that at some point in the process, you hit a snag because there had been a change in the 60/40 rule?
Q Because Mr. Istook had wanted to go to 65/35?
Q And the Democrats pushed back at some point?
Q And so, at that point, you had to reset some of the earmarks because of the objections, right?
A Ultimately, we did not reset the earmarks. We increased spending.
I included the last few questions because they are illustrative of how Republicans operated when they were in charge. They had decided that funds for transportation projects would be split 60% for Republican requests and 40% for Democratic ones. Then they decide to revise that to a 65%/35% split. Democrats pushed back and the Republicans went back to the 60/40 split but they did not cut any of their earmarks or projects. Instead, as Albaugh mentions elsewhere in his testimony they just declared ‘an emergency’ and got more money to spend:
A In this situation, the initial version we had of the transportation appropriations bill gave the Republicans more project money than typical. So the Democrats balked at that, and we were not able to move that bill.
So, to be able to remedy that, instead of cutting some projects, we declared an emergency and increased spending, generally providing the Democrats with extra money. And we received some extra money in that case as well.
Fiscal responsibility Republican style and now they want folks to think that they’ll do thing differently if given power again. Their hypocrisy is stunning and at the lead of the parade is Trent Franks. The evidence of Franks’ involvement with Jack Abramoff that came out in this trial should be enough to call for an ethics investigation of him. After all, how many other sitting Congressmen hired Team Abramoff to insert earmarks for them. Most just did that dirty work themselves, but Franks wanted to be able to rail about earmarks in public and cash in on them through back room deals.
As I’ve mentioned before there are millions of pages of evidence gathered by the DOJ in their Abramoff investigation. We can be certain that Trent Franks is mentioned in quite a few of them. It is also likely that Grifter Franks is mentioned in the 750,000 pages of Abramoff documents that John McCain collected and is keeping hidden from the public. Perhaps this is why Trent Franks is endorsing McCain over his wingnut brother JD Hayworth.
So yeah, Franks is a wingnut xenophobic racist. There are good reasons for folks to be concerned that a man with his world view is in Congress, but I think it is his corruption and hypocrisy that should be even greater concerns. I mean, how many other Congressmen hire lobbyists to place earmarks for them?