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tv   Q A  CSPAN  June 13, 2010 11:00pm-12:00am EDT

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afghanistan. 7:00 a.m. easterr on c-span. >> this week on "q&a", our guest is a writer and director of a new documentary called casino "jack" about jack abramoff, who went to prison n 1996 and was released last week. he pled guilty to three felony counts of defrauding an bribing public officials. . .
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>> well, i heard some of the post," and i was astounded really by sort of the audacity of the story and how colorful it was. so thought it would make a good movie because i'm always interested in stories per se, and jack is a fascinating character. very colorful, very outrageous. at the same time, the other interesting to me was it was a story that seemed to me to point out the most fundamental problem in our democracy right now, which is theeway that money rules our democracy. it's become so unbalanced that i think it's become the fundamental problem in our socieey. >> let's run a clip just so the auddence can get some sense of
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where you're going with this, and this is about a minute, 25 seconds. ii's near the beginning of the documentary. >> it was immediately apparent that it was going to be a much bigger deal, because he was such a well-known figure on capitol hill, really an uber lobbyist, and his connections were so widespread both in the republican party itself and in the republican congress. >> the government says abramoff has admitted to bribing as many as 20 members of congress. >> his activities went far beyond lawful obbying. >> he waa the number one lobbyist in washington. he could get you in touch with the best and most influential members of congress. >> it was amazing how many members of congress wanted in with jack. >> when the story broke, presiient bush tried to distance himself from jack abramoff. >> i frankly don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. >> all of a sudden, nobody remembered jack abramoff. >> i don't know him. >> of course bush knew him. absolutely. >> it's just amazing how close
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abramoff and his people got to the leaders of power in washington. >> we had no idea that it would lead to the resignation of tom delay, to the conviction of bob ney, to tony rudy, to neil volz, so many people were pulled into this web. ralph reed, john doolittle, karl rove, dick armey, conrad burns, don young. it was all about the money. >> almost everyone on that%+ screen is gone from where they were when they either got in trouble or they were in office. a couple of them are till ttere. who did we just see and why did you start with those people? >> i started with those people because it was interesting to me to show that jack abramoff wasn't on the periphery,,that he was at a certain moment in time, his moment, the late 1990's, early 2000's, that he was at he center of washington. and so you saw a lot of people
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there, ralph reed, karl rove and others, and george w. bush who were right at the center of power in washington, because i think there have been a pretty concerted attempt to use abramoff in a way to be the scapegoat. not that he didn't do things wrong. he did a lot that was dead- prong. but to lay all the blame at his doorstep as if to say jack was a unique character whoooperated onnthe fringes of government, didn't have much affect on somebody. he was at the center, thht's why i showed a lot of those people. >> you've done several other the beginning of when youk to%- personally got interested in politics. >> i was always interested in politics. way in.always about finding aa i think some years back, something happened. i've done a number of tv documentaries, and then at a certain point in time, it seemed like there was an opportunity to say things in a
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more interesting way by doing documentaries that might be seen first in theaters. the first one of those i did was one i wrote and produced called "the trials of henry kissinger." then i did one that broke through called "enron: the%+ smartest guys in the room," which was about that famous scandal at enron. then i did a film called "taxi to the dark side," which was about the bush administration's policy of torture, which was a very important projecc to me because my father had been a navy interrogator in world war ii. and i did a film called "gonzo: the life and work of dr. huuter s. thompson" about the famous gonzo journalist. and recently "casino jack and tte united states of money." >> how would you define your politics? >> hard to say. a skeptic. i wouldn't -- i tend to look at things skeptically. i try to seek out stories that have a kind of moral component rather than here's to the democrats or here's to the
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republicans. i think it's fair to say that i often give republicans a hard time, but at the same time, in the film "taxi to the dark side," some of the heroes of that film are republicans. so i tend to look at things from the point of view of a moralist. >> your father frank gibney, is he still alive, and what does he doo or what did he do for a living? >> my father frank gibney is no longer with us. he died a few years ago. he was a writee, an editor. he was vice chairman of the board of editors at britain ca. -- encyclopedia britannica. he worked at "time" and "newsday," "life" magazine. he was a journalist. and during world war ii, he learned japanese as part of his experience to become an interrogator. that set him off as a journalist. he bbcame the youngest bureau chief i think in tokyo. he had a big influence on me bbcause he never lost his
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ability to be curious. >> from your documentary, here is jack abramoff and the college republicans. >> you can't get a 35-year-old to teach the republican party how to get to yyung people. you just can't rely upon it. young people have got to reach other young people, and that's what we're seeking to do. first of all, voter registration is probably the most important function we're undertaking now. >> this is a generation that came on to campus in the 1970's rebelling against the whole ethos of the 1960's. >> we are hoping that mr. nixon through his past, we have seen that he is at least more anti- communist than the last administration. >> i was a young american for freedom. we were always working in coordination with the college republicans, but they weren't idaho logically conservative -- a ideologically conservative
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enough for us. until jack abramoff became involved. then they became ideologically conservative. >> in vermont -- abramoff. >> abramoff is a little older than i am, but i was a college republican in the early 1980's. when the college republicans took that sharp turn to the right, that's the same direction i was going in. a lot of the same heroes. i thought ronald reagan was the greatest man who ever lived. >> in thisspresent crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. government is the problem. >> where do you find things like that clip of karl rove or dan roorabacher? >> oh, man, we just dig and dig and dig. our eyes when we saw those things. that's one of the fun things3 you start looking and you start believing that stuff is out there that hasn't been seen something. you usually find >> how do you find it? if i were sitting in your shoes, who would you call to
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find something like that? >> well, the first place you start is you go to the networks and you say, you know, send me all your material that has stuff about either jack abramof3 sometimes you get stuff. but then someeimes there's certain incidents you're interested in, and there's another incident in the film about this famous sort of right-wing woodstock that jack abramoff held in ngola. we knew about it, the networks had a tiny clip, but we kept asking people who had been there if they knew of anybody who was shooting it. and lo and behold, we got a name, we tracked that name down, we found a person in london. we asked him if he still had footage. lo and behold, he had 20 hours of it. it's a lot of shoe leather. >> where were you based and how many people would work on something like this documentary? >> i'm based in new york city. i live in the great state of new jersey. and i have an office in chelsea+
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in new york city. we have a very small core of dedicated crew. i'd say the core group is about six people. it stands massively to be about 50 by the time you bring in cinnmatographers, assistant editors, the people who mix the film, some of the outlying researchers. we employ people sometimes in different places all over the world to do this or that for us as we're putting something together. >> here's some more familiar faces. it's a republican national convention. don't have the year. maybe you can remember it. and some faces that we haven't seen for a while. let's watch this and ggt your reaction to it. >> ladies and gentlemen, the republican national committee, jack abramoff for purposes of addressing the convention. >> part of me wanted to give a rah rah rah, we're all young people.
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they rejected my speech, and i got up to the podium, and their speech went up on the teleprompter. >> fellow republicans, i come before you today representing american students, the future of our republican party. >> and as i deviated from that text and went back to my text, which i memorized, the teleprompter fellow was looking for this on the speech, so the teleprompters are going up and down, up and down. >> the firrt political experience of my generation was an america drooping with hostage shame and shoulders burdened with the democrats' no- growth, no-win future. >> all of a sudden, i felt rumbling on my feet. i was told hey're going to lower the floor to get rid of me. po i'm grabbing hold of the podium, holding it as hard as i am to give the speech. >> the support of anti-soviet freedom fighter and victory over communism guarantees us security for our nation. thank you.
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[applause] >> did you have to manipulate that video to show that?? >> you mean the little shakinn of the podium? >> either the shaking of the podium or the fact that they were lowering the podium. >> the shaking of the podium i think was there. the lowering was a little bit of poetic license. >> why did you pick that? >> again, it was interesting to me to see young jack. this was a guy who didn't just pop on to the scene. this was a guy who was a very confident, political activist. really a zealot. you can kind of see both the poise he had, his willingness to go before a big crowd, but also the sense he wasn't going to play by the rules or do what other people said. i thought those were the two interesting things about that. he was very interesting in power, very interesting in politics, but not willing to play by other people's rules. it seemed a pretty instructive episode.
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>> as you know, when he went to prison, he was supposed to be there i guess according to what i read until 2012. how well do you know him and why did he get out early? >> well, my understand is the sentence was revised to a four- year sentence with time already served, so he was supposed to be in for another six months and he went through a drug rehab program and got out early to go to a halfway house near baltimore. i think that -- i mean, i knew him. i had met him very briefly long ago prior to going into prison. but i did in fact go visit him while he was in prison. we had a number of very long talks. it was very interesting and instructive for me. i tried very hard to interview him on camera, but the department of justice took a very dim view of that and intervened. >> why? >> i don't know why.
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we tried very hard to get an answer from the department of justice to say why woold you resist us? and of course their point of view would be they didn't resist. officially, jack -- at one time jack said yes, we want to do it, anddwe put everything in motion. and then the word came back from abramoff, no, i do not wish to be interviewed by mr. gibney. i discovered in the interim, the department of justice had leaned very hard on abramoff and said, you know, you do the interview, and we're going to make life difficult for you. so, you know, a little abuse of power in my view. also i think something that did not accrue to the best public interestt i think the department of justice's view is we want our truth to emerge from jack abramoff. we don't want other people to be able to get their hands on testimony that jack abramoff may have givee to somebody else besides our lawyers. you know, that's a traditional lawyer's point of view. i don't think in this instance
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it served the public interest very well because, you know, jack had been sentenced and there were no -- there was no abridgemmnt on his freedom of speech, his first amendment rights, so he should have been able to talk to us by all accounts, and i think the public interest would haveebeen served. >> describe how far it is from washington to tte prison and exactly what you saw when you got there. is he in a cell? how big is it if he is? and how much time could you spend talking to him when you would drive out there? >> for me from new jersey, it took about six hours, maybe a little bit more. it's a long way. it's in a funny sliver of maryland that is way west. it's a very antiseptic prison. it looks almost like a mini mall. as you go in, you go by some officers and you enter a visiting room area, which is a
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bunch of chairs unadorned, many of them facing each other. they call the prisoner, the prisoner comes in, and you talk. i went and visited him a number of times, maybe three times, i believe, and each time talked with him for about two or three hours. >> ow would you describe his attitude about all this at this point? >> about all what? >> what's happened to him, the sentence he got. was it fair? the restitution, he has to give back $25 million? all that kind of thing. >> look, i ttink he felt victimized. but i also -- at least to me, he seemed very contrite. i think he felt he paid a heavy price. i'm not sure that the price was so heavy. you know, prison is not a nice place. and, you know, so -- but the way -- his point of view on it was that he had been unfairly
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singled out. and i must say to some extent i agree with that. i think that there were many people involved in what jack abramoff did who didn't pay a price, and it surprises me. you know, iidon't know everything the department of justice knows, but i think even jack abramoff was surprised that certain people weren't innicted, particularly some congress people and senators. but i think jack felt contrite. he felt very deeply burdened. you know, i think there was a certain amount of rather unglamorous self-pity. he got himself into this mess, nobody else did. and i think he accepted that to some extent, though there were otter times he felt victimized. >> if you look at the list, and i thhnk there have been something like 18 people or 19 people that have either pled guilty to a felony or charged. there was a former aide to don
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young, former tom delay aide, a former aide to senator thad cochran. senator kit bond, dick armey aide. all that. former aide to istook. most of those are gone from the congress. were those the people you thought should have been indicted? anyyof those? >> not really. to me i'm surprised that only -pthe minnows showed up in cour, that the really big fish got away. now, you know, i can't be the judge of whether or not there were indictable ffenses for people like former congressman john doolittle, for tom delay, for former senator conraddburns. but some of these people i think were at the heart of jack abramoff's dealings, and it's a
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little surprising to me that more of the ig fish didn't get netted by the federal investigation. >> from your documentary "casino jack and the united states of money," here's a one-minute clip. you're introducing us to neil volz. >> this is truly a wildly historic night. [applause] >> ♪ >> i was a college student, and i was a true believer in the %+ole republican revolution. >> neil volz came toowashington with bob ney from ohio. >> the move was electric. -- mood was electric. this was probably one of the most exciting elections in 40- some years, of democrat control which i and otters at one point in time said it won't change in our lifetime, and it did. >> the democrats had run the congress for 40 years. there was a certain level of corruption that had taken hold,
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so we're rallying against that. and it's so ironic that years later, i would be a face a similar type of corruption to a whole different group of people. down the house ♪ >> neil volz said there was a certain kind of corruption that -phad taken hold. was there ever a documentary done on them? >> no, and i think it long, it would be a good thing to do. anytime there is an interception of money and power, it was deeply corrupt. a former senator from new jersey was in the corruption scandal. there were other democrats who were. >> pete williams? >> no. >> but he went to jail.
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>> are you talking about seller? steve went to jail. >> right. >> we're talking about a documentary now. i think it will be a healthy and useful documentary to dig into that kind of institutionalized corruption on the part of the democrats. more power to somebody to do it. >> do you have a hero in your life in politics? somebody that was in elected office? >> martin luther kkng. sorry, that's not elected office. it was more of a ground swell. i like - in terms of hero, i mean, that's a good question. and i should have a better answer. there are some people in congress now i like. but a hero, i don't know. i guess i still go with the outsider. >> could you give us an example of somebody you like now? >> well, you know, i was very impressed with carl levin's investigation when he was on the armed services committee into the torture scandal.
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i felt that was very impressive. i think dick durbin and some of his recent attempts to try to staunch the flowwof money in politics have been interesting. those would be two examples of a couple of people that i think >> we go back to the last clip, you saw the young man neil volz. tell us about him. why did he talk to yoo, where did he talk to you, and why did bob ney who was a congress whman who went to prison talk to you? >> those are good questions. neil volz was bob ney's chief of staff. he came to bob -- you know, as he said, veey idealistically, which was interesting to me and important for me to hear. they were rightfully trying o run against the kind of institutionalized corruption in washington.
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but the relationship of neil and bob was a very interesting one in the film because you can gnaws away at them and their relationship, you know, it's like something out of "lord of the rings" where frodo and sam begin to go at each other's throats because of the corruption of the ring. so did neil and bob. what's really instructive about their relationship too is that in the case of neil, he did the classic washington journey where he comes to congress as a staffer with a congressperson, oh, my god, i really need more money, i need to do beeter with my life, so he crosses to k street where he can make the really big bucks. he starts to work for jack abramoff. then even though he's not supposed to, he starts immediately lobbying his former boss, bob ney.
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and it's the use -- it's the corrupt use of those personal relationships that lobbyists%+ excel at. and so it was very important to have in the midst of the story. in terms of how i got him to talk, i mean, i went to neil right after he had been sentenced and just said, look, let's go out and have a beer and let's talk off the record, let's just talk. and i told them about what i was trying to do. i said i was interested in him. and would he be interested in talking to me in sort of a broad way about his own experience, but with a larger context involved. and i think after a number of conversations, we got to a kind of trust level where he felt that would be a good idea. i think the same thing happened with bob ney. when i initially wrote him, i wrote him in prison. he tried to shred my letters. he was very scared. prison is a scary placc. if you do thingg that the prison officials don't like, you he didn't want to have anything to do with me. after he got out, one of my
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producers met him and talked to him about it. he then actually went and watched some of my films, and i was able to persuade him with dana's help that i would honor his testimony in a way that would not try to cheapen it and to give him sort of vent to what he wanted to say and put him in a broader perspective. i think also after having spent that much time in prison, bob was interested in trying to find a way to tell his story in a way that would have some larger impact. it was not just here's some juicy jack abramoff story. really wrong with washington. for all those reasons, i think bob and neil came forward. i'm glad they did. they're the beating heart of the film. >> where did you interview them and where are the two of them today? >> i interviewed neil in washington, d.c., and bob came to new york. bob is still in ohio. he has a radio show. he's a radio show host.
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neil lives in florida now and he has a -- he works for a community group and also works at a restaurant, i believe. >> a minute and 32-second clip for you from your documentary on the background of abramoff >> abramoff gave up movieay. producing to become a lobbyist. a republican in washington, jack was the right man attthe right time. >> his credentials with the conservative movement gave him access and entree with the new leadership, and instantly, he saw how he could build a client base and then that client ase in turn could fund the leadership politically with campaign contributions.
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it became sort of symbiotic relationship. >> the relationship became ever more important. his campaign costs began to soaa. >> theecost of campaigns went through the roof in the modern era in the last 35 years. it's just a staggering increase. -pthe trouble is the new technology of politics, commercials on television, polls and focus groups to design the commercials for television, are just very expensive. and no serious candidate or incumbent can say, no, i'm not going to do that, that's beneath me, i'm not going to put myself into 30-second spots. they all do it. one of the dirty little secrets in washington today is how much time members of the house and senate spend every week, not just in the election season, but all the time, year-round, o3 got time to shake your hand ♪
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>> a question about the -ptechnique there. you often have an interviewee with a shadow on one side of their face. what's that technique? >> to some extent, it's a photographic technique, a sculpting of the face, hich makes the face more interesting. it's not a technique uncommon to still portraiture. there's something about that that brings out the face a little bit more. also to some extent, there is a+ way in which that shadow emphasizes a sense of moral ambiguity, that people -- i don't want to get too symbolic about it, but that there is a shadow, there is a light. i'm interested in that. but i didn't really do it particularly for those syybolic reasons. i think it's beautiful actually to look at. but there is in the elements of the shadow a sense that things happen in the shadows that we don't always know about. >> the music, where does that come from? >> the music, you know, one of the most fun things about my
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job really is picking the music for these films. i generally have a lot of music in my films. it often acts in two waas. one is a kind of toe-tapping greek chorus, and it stands in for my point of view sometimes. sometimes it acts as a way of revealing character, of being a kind of theme song for character. and i ffnd it also gives the film a little bit of nergy. in terms of where i get it, i spend a lot of time listening to all sorts of music from all sorts of different genres, everything from hip-hop to blues to country to regular old jazz and try to find songs that seem to fit both the mood and the character and sometimes my own point of view. >> who's the narrator? >> i am. >> jack abramoff was born in atlantic city in 1959.
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pis father dabbled in the casino business and then moved to beverly hills when abramoff was 10. surrounded by children of the movie industry, jack was a film buff at beverly hills high where he was also active in student politics. a tough competitor, jack was an all-conference lineman on the football team, and a championship weight liffer. he could power squat 510 pounds. >> that may be the biggest flaw in the film. it started for me with "taxiito the dark side," and, you know, we were going to get a celebrityynarrator foo that film, but then i included a short clip of my father at the very end of the film, a video of him just before he died, and that made that film very personallto me, so i decided to do the narration on that film myself. in fact, i often do the temp narration before the actor comes in. on this one, i worked on it a long time. i just decided to do it myself as well.
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it may not be the world's greatest voice, but it has the virtue of being authentic, as to say it is truly my voice. >> and how long is this documentary? >> 118 minutes. >> here's some more. tom delay. >> jack abramoff was a ccmmitted conservative. he was well-known in he conservative movement, and i dealt with him no differently than i dealttwith any other lobbyist. >> jack was not like any other lobbyist. he had a very special relationship with tom delay. he took him on trips to russia, scotland, and the south pacific. he made sure that his clients showered money on delay's foundation and employed his wife. in return, delay let jack market himself as the man who >> the first time i met jack abramoff was in the majority whip's office at an event. >> jack is one of a kind.
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he comes in for five minutes, sits down next to somebody who is willing to spend miilions of dollars to lobby washington, minutes. he leaves in five and the guy or the woman thinks that jack's talking to the president, but he's probably playing solitaire on his computer,,and then he comes back in and he's like, sorry about that, but he's got two more minutes. by the way, i need about p250,000 a month. and thhn walks out the door. one of a kind. one of a kind. >> has jack abramoff seen this documentary, and if so, what's his reaction to it? >> i don't know if he's seen it. and now that he's in a halfway house, i'm going to see if i can get him a copy. his lawyer abbe lowell saw it. said he liked it. said there are a few issues he had with it, but he never told me exactly what they were. so i don't know yet.
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i know a number of people close to jack have seen it. some like it, some don't. >> if they don't like it, what's the reason? >> well, some people like jack feel it's too tough on him. it doesn't go very easy on jack, but i think that's fair and just. >> is it accurate to describe the prosecution of jack abramoff as coming from a justice department that was run by republicans? >> yeah. i think that's accurate. there's no doubt that the department of justice ttat came after jack abramoff was during the -- was during the period of george w. bush. that's a republican administration. >> we heard a lot of criticism of the justice department during george bush's administration. have we heard any positive things about the fact that inside that justice ddpartment, jack abramoff and the rest of these people we've been talking about were prosecuted?
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and if so, if we haven't heard it, why not? >> i think to be honest, i have to say that it's a mixed bag in terms of the prosecution. there was an attempt to go after this influence pedaling, but i'm not sure they did the world's best job. i know alberto gonzalez of bob ney told me aavery funny story about how he was in prison when they were broadcasting the hearings of alberto gonzalez bragging bought how he put bob ney in jail. it's true, bob ney is a republican congressman and he's in jail, but i'm not sure that thh depaatment of justice really got to the bottom of the abramoff scandal. i should say got to the top of the abramoff scandal. at the same time, the department of justice is a funny place. there are a lot of career people who are there. do a very good job.
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and yet there is a lot of i think that was one of the things we saw in the bush administration, particularly with the attorney scandal, and i would say the torture scandal. >> i watched your documentary in a theater, and it wasn't very crowded. and i've seen most of your documentaries at one time or another.3 big crowds. what's your reaction? did you make money off of this? i know it's early in the how much did your need for making money drive you in making the documentary in the first place? >> well, i always hope that my documentaries will make money because in a way, that's what keeps me going. if they don't make any money at all, then i don't make them. i think it's fair to say that "casino jack" is not one of my more financially successful documentaries, at least so far. you know, i think the subject for people is tough. it's a little bit mystifying to me. most people i know who actually go see the film call me and
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tell me how much they like it. they could be flattering me, i don't know. but it's been hard to get people to go to this film. with a film like "enron: the smartest guys in the room," that made quite a bit of money for investors, and that was a good thing for them and for me. thatway, i don't believe the market is the only force that we should pay attention to, but the market is an important force, and i think to some extent, the market has given me freedom, because some of my films really have made money. >> here's a clip on the relationship between jack abramoff and the commonwealth of northern mariana islands. >> we were told that nobody could go through tom delay without going through jack abramoff, and it cost us millions of dollars. ♪ >> for theer services, abramoff and his firm preston gates charged the cnmi over $200,000 a month. part of the plan was to mount tours to cnmi for conservative
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writers to sympathetic congressmen. like john doolittle and dana rohrabacher. >> we went out there to take a look at some of these clothing factories that had come in from order to set up operation there, and it looked like to me that it was working. >> what they would do is take a quick tour of the garment factories and emerge in the front doors of the factory saying, hey, there's nothing going on out here. we don't see any abuses. so what are you guys talking about? >> and what would they do the rest of the time? >> r&&. generally they would stay at the hyatt regency hotel, five stars. there are at least five championship golf courses. >> at some point, jackkmust have realized that that's how you sell the mariana islands. this abominable labor basically.
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it's one step from slavery. but you bring people over there. it's beautiful, the golf courses, nice hotels. they fell for it. p> we've been out here a week now, and i think the first day will help us maybe enlighten some of the others that haven't been pushing in our direction. -- in the right direction. >> by day, there were sports and games. by night, cocktails, cockfights, and clubs. >> this hing about the marianas is absolutely preposterous. we didn't find anything that was described. to suggest that i'm for slavery and human trafficking is ludicrous. >> one member of congresssafter another was going out there looking aaound saying, looks good to me. jack abramoff said, i can help you. >> by the way, all that video, directly related to northern mariina islands?
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or when you saw an asian there, the prostitutes obviously, was that from theee or from somewhere else? >> it was all from the marianas. there was sooe production footage we took out there. >> did you ever ask anybody why they would go that far to play golf? >> well, i did sk congressman rohrabacher. he said it was a iserable experience for me because i'm a surfer and the surf wasn't that good. i don't know. but it didn't look like from the footage that we had that they were suffering that much. i think they went out there because it was fun. it was a long way, but it was fun. they got to play golf, they got to go snorkeling, go out to the clubs at night, and they got a little take-home gift usually in the form of some kind of know, a reminder that this you would help them down the line in terms of influence with tom
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delay. >> did you find out whether or not they flew out there on an air force plane? >> i didn't. i didn't find that out. >> and did you find out how much jack abramoff made off of that whole event out there? >> you know, i'm not going to remember the figure, but it was millions of dollars. it's kind of an ironic thing really for a free market ideologue like jack abramoff, or an anti--ig-government ideologue like jack, because a lot of the federal dollars flow into the commonweallh of the northern marianas and they were using in many ways some of those federal dollars to pay jack abramoff to lobby against federal influence. it's kind of ironic. but also there was a certain amount of money from the factory owners that was going to congress people and senators. >> can you give us a ballpark figure on how much this documentary cost you? >> sure. the documentary cost about $1.6 million. >> and where do you get
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financed for something like that? >> well, in this case, the film was co-financed by two people. magnolia pictures, which is a film distribution and production company that's owned by todd wagner and mark cuban, the guy who owns the dallas mavericks, and they distributed "enron: the smartest guys in the room" and also "gonzo," so we have a relationship. also participant, which is a group that has ffnded a number of fiction and non-fiction3 truth" by al gore. not by al gore. starring al gore. and "good night and good luckk" those were the two key partners that came onboard. to the articipant's credit, they've put together a website that people can investigate to explore the issue of money and politics in a way that i think is very helpful. that outreach aspect of this
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enterprise is very interesting to me. >> you mentioned guggenheim, is that the charlie guggenheim family? >> yes, i believe it is. >> and you also mentioned mark cuban. i saw your documentary at his theater here, the landmark theaters in washington, and he's got theaters as you know in over 15 cities in the united states. businessn't in this and if he wasn't financing something like this, would you still be doing documentaries? would there still be places in this country to go see these things? >> i think there would be, but i'm glad he's out there. i think he's doing a great job. i also like the landmark theater chain. it's a good, healthy outlet for independent films. he's not the only one doing it, but he's an important force. >> back to yoor documentary. this is ralph reed, a name that peopll watching this network will remember. let's watch it. it's a minute and 30 seconds. >> abramoff got ralph reed to not only mount public opposition to this plan, but to
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put pressure on members of congress who then put pressure on the department of interior to prevent the yana tribe from opening that casino. >> it was very interesting to us in indian country when a letter came out signed by a number of representatives to department of interior saying please stop what they were trying to achieve. >> most of them got campaign checks from competing casinos. ♪ [slot machhne] >> ultimately, the yana lost. -- the jena lost. the yana did not get their casino. abramoff lost. ♪ >> jack used tribal money from all his indian clients as a piggybank to send over $5 million to political causes and candidates, mostly republican. some of the biggest recipients
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were top names. tom delay, john doolittle. j.d. heyward, patrick kennedy, conrad burns. jack abramoff was so skillful at convincing a lot of indian tribes or companies to donate all kinds of money to political candidates and political parties as he saw fit. so yeah, jack abramoff was a huge rainmaker, one of the largest rainmakers in town. >> you know, there are a lot of names that popped up on there. first of all, how did you do that? >> how did i do what? >> that whole scene with the slot machine. >> oh, well, we worked with a great design firm called big star in new york, and we had the concept, and they helped us to execute it, to actually put the photographs in, to composite it and put the shadows so it has a -- we actually shot a real slot machine, which turned out to be more difficult to do than i thought, and hen we put it
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all together in a post- production process. it was fun. >> i know i')e said this a couple times, but it's amazing how many eople in your documentary are no longer in politics, noolonger in power. but some are. john doolittle was on that list. thad cochran. harry reid. j.d. heyworth. congressman kennedy is leaving office. on and on. did you get any sense as you saw all these names come by you that this scandal had the impact of chasing people out of congress? >> i think it did have the impact of chasing people out of congress. that was probably a positive development. so i don't want to minimize or overdue the idea that jack -- over do the idea that jack abramoff was scapegoated in the sense that there was no other impact. i think the abramoff scandal so called really did have an impact and people left. on the other hand, what's
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interesting about washington is you see them coming bark and -- back and j.d. hayworth would be a good example of that. he may unseat john mccain, who was the guy that went after abramoff, in a kind of bitter irony. j.d. hayworth now touts the fact that mccain's committee didn't find anything wrong with what he was doing during this influence pedaling scandal. maybe jjhn mccain wishes he had dug a little deeper and released a few more e-mails that might have revealed more about j.dd hayworth's role. but anyway, there's no doubt, your question is very good, and there was definitely an impact and a lot of people lost thhir jobs. >> there are a lot of connections and names that you've been using, and there's another one i want to ask you about. that's the name william sloane coffin. yournd tha it in background. explain that connection. >> the activist minister was my stepfather. he was the chaplain at yale. he married my mother when i was
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around 14. 196, he was charged with -- 1968, he was charged with conspiracy, i believe, with dr. spock, the famous baby doctor. he had known my mother before. he came up to be in the trial they fell in love and they got maaried, and i moved to new haven and ultimately went to yale, and bill was a big influence on my life. i remember he also was -- he died as it happened right around the same time that my father died. it was a big blow. i think in the obituary of "the washington post," my father was on the top of the page and william sloane coffin was on the bottom of the page. my father would have been annoyed that bill booted him off the obituary page of "the new york times." but, you knoww there you go. influence on my life and he also, when i was making "taxi to the dark side," urged me to
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hurry up. he felt very ssrongly about that issue. >> another quick connection here. your father had seven children, i understand, and one of themm is a brother that's here at the "national journal" -- the "atlantic monthly"? >> that's right. he's an editor at the atlantic monthly, james gibney. and i have another brother, frank gibney jr. who is also a journalist. so three out of the seeen went -- and i'm not a print journalist, i work in film, but nevertheless, i have, i am told, so journalistic tendencies. so three of us followed in our father's footsteps, and i have i think three sisters and one other brother. >> another name in your documentary, we haven't seen much of him yet, but it's michael scanlon, who is awaiting sentencing, i understand. let's watch. >> in washington, jack's huge fees angered rival lobbyists. they began to leak information to "the washington post's" sue schmidt. >> i got a call from a well-
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known lobbyist in washington, a republican, and he told me, you ought to look into jack abramoff. he's representing these indian tribes, and charging millions of dollars and he's working with this young guy mike scanlon, who came off tom delay's staff, and scanlon is, you know, living like a sultan. scanlon because jack's go-to go-to became jack's guy for selling grass roots political campaigns to the indian tribes. >> what we have built is a political grass roots data base. say, for example, we had a problem with a particular state senator. let's say you wanted to make sure that somebody didn't win. we might not have enough to get our candidate enough votes guaranteed to win it, but we can certainly, certainly prevent somebody from getting elected. \[laughter] >> scanlon's political work paid off. only a couple years after he was flying in private jets,
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dressing in hand-tailored european suits, and buying more than $20 million in real estate, including a sprawling compound once owned by the duponts. >> michael scanlon. where is he today? >> michael scanlon, so far as i am aware, ii still living there in rehoboth. one of my producers actually briefly, not to any consequence. but last i looked, he was still there.+ and he's awaiting sentencing. i believe one of the reasons that's taking so long is they're waiting for the result of the anna service fraud case that's going up before the supreme court very soon, as i understand it. so that would be a tough irony, i think, for jack abramoff, if the supreme court overturns anna service's fraud. it's possible he might go free and not serve any time, which if i were jack abramoff would be a bitter pill to swallow.
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because i think -- jack abramoff, in my view, was a zealot who became corrupt. scanlon was closer to a kind of washington criminal. >> we're going to show a clip, and haa a lot of debate whether or not to run it. i want to tell the audience, it's bad language. if you don't want to hear it, please turn this off now. we're doing it because it shows the strength of the language behind tte scenes that you found in e-mails. it's only a minute 10 seconds. hear it,n't want to turn it off. >> everyone should learn one thing, don't put all this in writing. ♪ >> they are ripe for the picking. we have to figure out how. can you meet me tomorrow? >> it's a cakewalk.
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>> it's at least 100k. >> how can i say this strong enough? you is the man. >> i couldn't believe he was talking about this through e- mail. >> i can't believe they're e- mailing back and forth about something like this. >> they are cheap motherfuckers's that don't want to pay our fee. i say fuck them. let's get a different tribe which appreciates hard work. >> i almost dropped to the floor. i couldn't believe it. >> 2.75 is chump change. what the hell were we thinking? >> according to your e-mails, youuand mr. scanlon referred to tribes as morons, stupid enemies, which you say is a -- stupid idiots, monkeys, which you say is a lower form -- llwer form of existence. >> i told cheeokee to come up with the dough or prepare for another trail of tears. >> why did you use that? >> because i thought very much like the audiotapes of the enron traders who took down the
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caaifornia grid that it betrayed -- the language itself betrayed a kind of lawful bankruptcy, really. and you can hear the viciousness -- it's the viciousness of the language that i think is telling, and that's why it was important to use it and not just bleep it. sometimes it'')s hard to hear te face of immorality, but that would be it. >> people want to buy this and watch the whole thing. what's it cost and can they do it now? >> i don't think they can do it yet. it will be out on video. it's still depending on where you live makinn the rounds in theaters around the country. and the best place to find out website, magnolia pictures website. i think it's >> you had a lot of reviews. one is rather critical. i'm sure you read it, by gary chafetz. you know him? >> sure. i know ary. i played tennis with him.
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>> and this was on june 5 is when we pulled it down. he's a former boston globe recorder, on the "the huffington post," which you've also wwitten forr >> i have. >> he prior to that says that manye are so disappointing things -- he says you're both hardcore libeeall. put all thht into context for us. >> i'm not sure hhw to put it into context. gary and i had long arguments about this. gary wrote a book about this called "the perfect villain" in which he tried to make the argument that jack abramoff was wrongly accused, shouldn't have gone to jail, and fundamentally didn't do anything terribly wrong. and i just disagree.
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in terms of was it objective or balanced, i think you have to say that, you know, a lot of sides were represented in this. tom delay is interviewed for the film. bob ney is interviewed for the film. neil volz is interviewed for the film. i went out to the marianas. pue schmidt, who helped to break the whole monica lewinsky scandal is interviewed for the film. this is not like a packet of liberals ganging up on republicans. it's just the opposite. it's actually more or less from the inside-out of the republican party. and i did i think what gary didn't do. gary didn't go out to the marianas. gary didn't go to speak with the tribe in el paso, texas. he didn't go to l.a. he didn't talk to bob ney. he didn't talk to adam kidan. he didn't talk to a lot of people. my view is that i did a pretty thorough job of reporting and
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filming this story, and i just >> by the way, he calls -- in here, the work that susan schmidt did sleazy. what's his point on that one? >> that's a good question. gary, in his book, is very angry about sue schmidt's reporting. he believes that she grossly misrepresented the tigua affair. that was the attempt to lobby for the tigua indians of el paso. i think gary's argument is overwrought. susan schmidt and her colleagues won a pulitzer prize. i don't think it was sleazy. >> lasttclip before we say goodbye. you use "mr. smith goes to washington." let's watch. >> it has become so accepted, so part of our political culture now that it's normal. your average citizen doesn't
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would expect to have because these voices are much louder and they're much better financed. ♪ >> this is the story about human failure. i mean, i don't thhnk that corrrption as a part is an issue. the corruption i was involved in as the human failure. it's an issue of power. i became just a machine. a cog in the machine. like hey, get up, go do your thing, get yours. iijust lost track of what brought me here. >> abramoff couldn't have flouuished if the system itself was not corrupt. were the need for money, the members of congress and their need for money is so huge that they don't have their guard up.
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>> this has all gone into a feeding frenzy with money. >> what do you expect me to do? >> i don't know what the solution is. i would have loved to have here's your money and here's your money. you don't have to raise any. this would end all of that if you had a different system. but right now, we don't. >> there's no place out there for greed or lies or compromise of human liberties. great principles don't get lost unless they come to light. they're all here. >> the price for a free society i think is to be vigilant about our democracy. they were only able to be influenced by jack abramoff and take advantage of the money he was offering because we let them. >> "mr. smith goes to washington." anything changed since that came out with jimmy stewart? >> the french have an expression.
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the more things change, the more things stay the same. i think things have gotten a lot worse in terms of the influence of money in politics, a lot worse. but corruption was always there. that's why i think melanie sloan's comment about how we have to be eternally vigilant is the right one. but jefferson smith is a really interesting figure and character because he embodies the american naivety, but it's important -- naivete, because the urge to create out of moral wreckage something good. ironically, i think he's also kind of an argument against term limits. one of the reason that jefferson smith in thattgreat camera fflm "mr. smith goes to washington" gets manipulated is because he comes in and doesn't know that much. and who knows more and who knows how the machinery works? the lobbyists, the ones who always stay there. so if you have a rotating crop of congrrss people and senators, it's


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