Jack Abramoff, the infamous lobbyist, was slumped over a table in a dimly lit Clear Channel studio on a recent Sunday evening when a voice came crackling over his headphones. “I’m going to play ‘Hot Blooded’ coming out of the break,” his producer said. “I want you to live the song and give me some hot blood!” Soon, jagged guitar riffs from Foreigner’s 1978 hard-rock anthem began blaring over the airwaves (I got a fever of a hundred and three …). Abramoff swigged some iced tea and leaned into his microphone: “Welcome back to The Jack Abramoff Show, live from Washington, D.C.!”
Billed as an insider’s view of Washington, the program focuses on the nexus between lobbying and politics. This episode’s main target was Barack Obama. “We have a president who came into office pledging to wipe out lobbyists,” Abramoff said, before reeling off the ways Obama had fallen short of his promise. “Americans are sick of the special interests,” he added. “They’re sick of everything I used to be.”
Abramoff—the man at the center of a sprawling corruption scandal that led to 21 convictions and tarred large swaths of the Republican establishment—is hardly the first person you might expect to be scoring the president’s ethics, much less on his own radio show. But, then, American life is littered with unlikely redemption stories. Since 2010, when Abramoff was released from prison (where he served three and a half years for fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion), he has refashioned himself as a reformer, and emerged as one of the most visible faces of the good-government movement. He is a frequent cable-news commentator, with a best-selling book (Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist), the radio program (on XM Satellite Radio), and a pair of reality-TV-show concepts in development.