Alex Wong/Getty Images
File: Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff participates in a discussion at Public Citizen February 6, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Jack Abramoff went to prison for three-and-a-half years for his role in a major corruption scandal on Capitol Hill. Now the former high-powered lobbyist has a book, a new attitude and a message for young people. Abramoff brought that message to his alma mater: Beverly Hills High School.
At the peak of his power, Jack Abramoff says he didn’t think all that much about right and wrong.
“I didn’t consciously feel like I was breaking the law," he said. "I mean, my problem was that I didn’t think some of the laws were laws... I just thought, 'well, who cares about that?' And that’s the problem for me. My attitude was one of 'I gotta win here.'”
Since his release from prison last year, Abramoff has been pushing political reform, and his book. It’s called “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption from America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist.”
Students packed the Beverly Hills High Auditorium to welcome Abramoff. They listened intently as Abramoff, a rich, successful lobbyist for a decade, described a scathing 2004 Washington Post article that set off the investigation into his questionable practices, including lawmaker payoffs.
“Why is it that I’m on the front page of the Washington Post more than John Kerry, who’s the Democratic nominee for president in a presidential year?" Abramoff asked the students. "Why is that happening? I didn’t understand."
Abramoff represented Indian casinos and numerous other clients. He says his team was playing to win when it showered public servants with perks like sporting event tickets, free golfing trips, even high-paying jobs.
Abramoff says he realized he’d crossed the line into bribery when he looked back at the hundreds of thousands of emails he'd written — just as the feds did.
Beverly Hills High School senior Tyler Neman was skeptical.
“For someone to be as good at his job as he was, you would think he had an idea of what was going on, you know what I mean?”
Senior Madison Grossan had a question about politics. She asked Abramoff, "Would you advocate for a third party, possibly?"
Abramoff responded, “I don’t think it’s realistic in America to have a third party.”
Later, Grossan expressed how she felt about Abramoff's comments to the assembly.
“I disagreed with him on certain points," Grossan said. "I think you can kind of see how his past is still sort of in his ideology, but at the same time I feel like obviously being in prison probably has changed him."
Abramoff talked about prison life, his efforts to stop lobbyists from giving gifts to public officials and the two films based on his life, both called "Casino Jack." He liked the movie starring Kevin Spacey. The documentary, not so much. He says it was biased.