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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Interview With Comedian and Actor Darrell Hammond; Interview With Former Lobbyist and Convicted Felon Jack Abramoff; Interview with Sen. Richard Lugar
Aired November 12, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, the poster boy for everything that's wrong with Washington. Jack Abramoff comes clean.
What adjective would you use about Jack Abramoff before you got caught? What was that man really like?
JACK ABRAMOFF, AUTHOR, "CAPITOL PUNISHMENT": He was somebody who didn't know any boundaries, really, that didn't quite clearly see the lines, the lines that all of us need to see in the light, a line between right and wrong.
MORGAN: Plus, the Senate's senior Republican, Richard Lugar, on his party's chances to retake the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Romney appears to be the strongest person vis-a-vis Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: And an extraordinarily emotional and revealing interview with Darrell Hammond, the dark, dangerous side of the "Saturday Night Live" funnyman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: It was pretty damn bad, you know? It involved being taken from there in a straightjacket.
MORGAN: A childhood with an abusive mother and a troubled father.
Why did you feel differently about your father?
HAMMOND: I think because he -- he tried.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
I've interviewed many comedians on this show and always had a suspicion that there's been dark stuff in their lives that makes them chase humor and a laugh. I've never had anything quite like this, Darrell Hammond from "Saturday Night Live."
When I finished your book, it was one of the most, I don't know, moving, inspiring, in many ways, depressing, sad...
DARRELL HAMMOND, COMEDIAN: Yes.
MORGAN: ... shocking things...
MORGAN: ... I think I've ever read.
MORGAN: Did you feel that when you finished it, that you -- when you closed the book and thought, That's my life?
HAMMOND: Yes, I did. I thought -- I thought it was probably going to be a little bit -- a little bit too dark for people to handle. But look, it's my story and I told it the best that I could.
MORGAN: There's a quote there, which I think probably sums everything up in terms of what happened to you as a young man. "I'm 3 or 4 years old. My mother is holding me close to her with one arm. In her free hand, she holds a serrated steak knife."
MORGAN: "Slowly, she sticks it into the center of my tongue, make an incision about one quarter inch to one half inch long."
MORGAN: And I couldn't believe what I was reading!
MORGAN: Because I just thought of you as this funny guy who does Donald Trump and Bill Clinton on "Saturday Night Live." And then I'm reading this, thinking, why would your mother do this? What effect would that have on you? What -- what's that done to your life?
HAMMOND: Well, it's -- that's a lot -- that's a lot of -- that's a lot to think about. What's it done to my life? I spent most of my life, I guess, recovering from moments like that, you know? MORGAN: And it went on. I mean, she hit you in the stomach with a hammer.
MORGAN: She gave you electric shocks. I mean, she basically tortured you.
MORGAN: Your father is a war veteran and an alcoholic who just wants to end his life, and you're just surrounded with this unrelenting misery...
MORGAN: ... it seems.
MORGAN: Do you remember it vividly, or have you been able to...
HAMMOND: I don't -- I don't. I mean, I really only put in the book about 5 or 10 minutes of the first 18 years of my life. I don't remember all of it. You know, I've been to lots and lots of shrinks and I've been to some pretty august institutions who were telling me that, We can't handle this case here, you know?
But it's not like I'm the only person in the United States or on this planet that has to enter into an agreement with a perpetrator to remain quiet. It does happen, you know?
MORGAN: Do you have any theories yourself about why your mother...
HAMMOND: Because the same thing happened to her, I think.
MORGAN: She'd been abused?
HAMMOND: I think she was abused. I think -- I did take pains in the book to point out that I did spend some time meditating over that idea, that my mother had once been very innocent, just like everybody else, you know? I had this sort of vivid dream about that one night. And I took it to heart, you know? I was trying to find a way to not be angry about my life anymore, you know?
MORGAN: As you got older, what was your relationship with your mother like?
HAMMOND: Well, I -- I called her and said, I'm -- I'm in therapy for trauma and child abuse and -- and worse. And she dropped her Southern accent, and in a very husky tone and deliberately and permanently said, Don't ever call here again, and hung up.
MORGAN: What age were you then?
HAMMOND: I was already on "Saturday Night Live," so I was getting up there already, you know? I think that the thing about -- what I wanted to write about was when a victim to some kind of abuse stays quiet -- agrees to stay quiet about it, and that's -- that's kind of what happened in our house.
You know, I mean, you think that it's because, A, they could make it much worse on you, but B, really, your mom might abandon you if you -- if you confront her on this. And that's -- it ended up -- it ended up being what happened, and then I...
MORGAN: Did you have any more contact with her?
HAMMOND: Not until her deathbed.
MORGAN: And how did that make you feel, when she died?
HAMMOND: I felt nothing. I was very moved by my father, you know?
MORGAN: Well, it's not surprising to me that you're so emotional about this.
HAMMOND: I didn't feel anything. You know, I didn't feel anything at all. I -- I felt like I'd never met her, you know? She was a very gifted and confusing and attractive type of person who knew how to work the room that she was in to convince the people in the room that they were right about Jesus and things -- good things were on the way, you know?
MORGAN: Why did you feel differently about your father?
HAMMOND: I think because he -- he tried.
MORGAN: And because he'd been through -- through so much in the war.
HAMMOND: Yes. I think he tried to apologize and explain himself.
HAMMOND: Can I have a tissue or something?
MORGAN: Yes, sure.
HAMMOND: He tried as best he could. I mean, he -- the best that he could do was put war medals on his chest when he was dying. I got these and these and here's what happened, and here's who I was while I was alive. I wasn't so good at a lot of stuff, you know?
MORGAN: Was he aware of what your mother was doing?
HAMMOND: I don't think so. He -- he was never there, you know?
MORGAN: He was apologetic for his own negligence towards you.
HAMMOND: For not -- for not being there as good as he wanted to be.
MORGAN: Here's some tissues.
HAMMOND: Thank you. Thank you. Yes, not being as good as he wanted to be, yes. I think that, you know, he was genuinely obsessed with the war that he had fought in Europe and he never ever recovered from it, and I'm not sure he ever really did. I think he saw things there that he thought were cautionary tales of what can happen on earth, yes. I mean, he was afraid to go to church for a long time, you know, because I guess he killed a lot of people.
MORGAN: When I see you now, never having met you before, I can see that this -- you know, all the time, you must have been living with this kind of searing pain through all this. How did you juggle it?
HAMMOND: Well, when I got old enough, I started drinking, you know? When I left my parents' home when I was 19, I went to the University of Florida, and within 24 hours was in the mental health department. And within 20 minutes, I was being told by the director there that they didn't have what I needed there. And this is a massive university, you know?
So, it -- I just -- they loaded me up on drugs, antipsychotics, all kinds of weird drugs and -- and I drank. And that's how I survived for a long time.
MORGAN: We're going to take a break and get into "Saturday Night Live," which, I guess in many ways, may have saved you. I mean, this came...
MORGAN: ... along at a time when you needed something.
MORGAN: Be interesting to see how you feel about that.
HAMMOND: Thank you so much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
HAMMOND: Who can propel America out of this economic freefall and put us back on track? And I tell them Barack Obama is the only Democratic nominee for president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That doesn't exactly sound like a ringing endorsement.
HAMMOND: I don't think I could be any more clear.
HAMMOND: I belong to the Democratic Party. Barack Obama is also in the Democratic Party. And I'm not a party wrecker. I love parties.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That was Darrell Hammond's impeccable impersonation of Bill Clinton on "Saturday Night Live." I mean, I guess Bill Clinton became the -- you know, the standard-bearing Hammond impression.
HAMMOND: I guess so.
MORGAN: Although there were other great ones -- Donald Trump, Ted Koppel, Sean Connery. Which was your favorite?
HAMMOND: I guess Clinton is the one that -- that you get the most mileage out of. He's the one that people care about the most. I mean, I've had people ask me to do Clinton in the most bizarre possible...
MORGAN: Come on! Where?
MORGAN: I want to hear this.
HAMMOND: Are you kidding me? Like getting a colonoscopy.
HAMMOND: Oh, sure.
MORGAN: While you're having a...
MORGAN: ... colonoscopy?
HAMMOND: No, just right before it. Like, they're just getting ready to insert that object in that place that God never designed for that object.
HAMMOND: And I mean, the woman, like, puts the needle in my arm and she starts to -- and she starts it so that you can feel the medication starting to come in. They're going to move me to twilight. And just before I'm about to black out, she leans in and she goes, "What would Clinton say?"
HAMMOND: And I said, What is a nice girl like you...
HAMMOND: ... doing in a place like this?
MORGAN: So you do do it, you say?
HAMMOND: Once in a while. MORGAN: You're going to wish you'd never said that because now everywhere you go, or however embarrassing, you're going to be asked to do the Clinton.
HAMMOND: Oh, you know, yes. Sure. I mean, but really, just before a colonoscopy? I think that's the most extreme example.
MORGAN: It's the only chance she was ever going to get here in life.
HAMMOND: What would Clinton say?
HAMMOND: Wow! Really?
MORGAN: My favorite was Donald Trump. And that's only because I love Donald Trump.
MORGAN: So can I have a bit of Trump, please?
HAMMOND: Trump? Gosh, what a -- what was the line I used to do? I'm Donald Trump. Well, you know, Trump is -- home base with Mr. Trump is -- is this. You know, like, you're over there going, So, I was over there at "SNL" yesterday and we had a sandwich and then we went over and we went to a game. And the whole time, he's going...
HAMMOND: And then he starts, like, going -- I remember this one time...
HAMMOND: You know? But it's -- (INAUDIBLE). Yes.
MORGAN: I think we should play you something now. Got a tribute to you...
MORGAN: ... from the great man.
HAMMOND: All right.
MORGAN: Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: So, I'm interviewing Darrell Hammond, who does a very good Donald Trump, I have to say. What do you make of his impression?
DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Well, he's been amazing. He was on "Saturday Night Live" for years. And really, I don't think anybody ever hit me like him. But I think he's amazing. He's a great guy, and he has me down to a T -- and others. But people think he does it the best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Rare praise, indeed.
HAMMOND: Super (INAUDIBLE)
MORGAN: Actually, your head cut in there -- I mean, you could be brothers.
HAMMOND: You know, well, I have this bland face that the makeup artists say you can paint on because they say that you can't make everyone look like someone, but you can always make me -- I mean, look at it, it's very bland. And then it just can be transformed around.
MORGAN: Where go you get the ability to do impressions from, do you think?
HAMMOND: I guess from my mom. My mom was great at it.
HAMMOND: Really good. I think really good, yes. We used to do...
MORGAN: Wow! But after all we've discussed, that's fascinating.
HAMMOND: Yes, it transported her. It -- it -- it mesmerized her to talk like other people and...
MORGAN: Who would she do?
HAMMOND: Coaches, teachers, people in the neighborhood.
MORGAN: Anyone, anyone that she picked up on.
HAMMOND: She was, yes, pretty incredible and...
MORGAN: And would make you laugh?
HAMMOND: No. I didn't laugh too much. I just realized that she was being transported. And you -- her state could be changed by doing my seven or eight-year-old version of Paul Scofield and Ralph Richardson in "A Christmas Carol."
HAMMOND: It just would change her. I mean, and -- and in the same way playing Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony transported her. I mean, her eyes would get dreamy and trippy.
MORGAN: She was very talented, as well as being very damaged.
HAMMOND: I mean, you know, growing up in the '50s in the South, and you're a woman, I don't care what color you were, you might as well be, you know, a whore, if you have any aspirations of showing all your colors and being everything that God made you to be. I mean, it's a hellish life. It could have been, I think.
MORGAN: Do you think she -- with that and your father being the way he was, was she incredibly frustrated, as well as being...
HAMMOND: Well, she did say that the only reason she got married was because her father was going to, quote, "beat the living daylights" out of her. I mean, those were prearranged existences with moral checklists and, Here's how you live. Here's where you go to church. This is what Jesus is. This is the kind of job you have. These are the kind of sports you have. These are the hand gestures you use.
Innately, she understood all of that, and she knew how to make the room about the other person and not about herself.
MORGAN: Have you been able to forgive her, in your mind?
HAMMOND: Yes. I've been able to stop dwelling on it and hating on it. And I've been able -- I mean, once I reached the point where I realized that she had once been an innocent little girl, it seemed to me that that's when the flashbacks stopped. That's when the -- the nightmares stopped. That's when the cutting stopped. That's when people -- instead of being on seven medications, I was reduced to one or two, you know? I mean...
MORGAN: Was she...
HAMMOND: ... it happened fast.
MORGAN: I mean, you -- you're talking about cutting. I mean, you self-harmed a lot. You did it while you were on "Saturday Night Live."
MORGAN: You took cocaine. You even got to crack at one stage.
HAMMOND: But not on air. I never went on high.
MORGAN: Well, I was going to ask you, were you ever high when you were on the air?
HAMMOND: No. Never.
MORGAN: This was just during...
HAMMOND: I would not fly that airplane under the influence. It's ridiculous.
MORGAN: Never tempted?
HAMMOND: No! It's too hard.
MORGAN: I've seen some people do it.
MORGAN: They get -- they get it right. Pretty amazing.
HAMMOND: Not me, baby. And no one liked to imbibe more than me, but I wasn't going to walk out there in front of millions of people and -- and have to hit my mark under the influence. It's ridiculous.
MORGAN: Are you clean now?
MORGAN: You don't drink or take drugs at all?
HAMMOND: Well, I haven't done as well as I wanted to with that, but it's been going pretty well.
MORGAN: Let's take another break and come back. I want to talk to you about how you got back on your feet. You left "Saturday Night Live." You've got a whole new world ahead of you, what you intend to do with it.
HAMMOND: Thank you.
MORGAN: Back now with Darrell Hammond.
Darrell, it's been a roller-coaster interview, to put it mildly...
HAMMOND: Thank you.
MORGAN: ... for me and for you, I think. Tell me about your life now. Are you happy? Are you happier than you've been before?
HAMMOND: I think so. I think sometimes I even have good nights. Yes. Sure. I'm a lot happier than I was. I mean, I am involved with groups that deal with the things that I've been through, and that's the best part of my life.
MORGAN: Do you think "Saturday Night Live" co-stars will be shocked by this book?
HAMMOND: I don't know. I -- there must have been rumors floating around, you know, back when I was melting down once a week over there.
MORGAN: Did they know about your background? Did they know about your mother and stuff?
HAMMOND: I don't know. I know that Lorne did, and you know, the producers over there knew. I mean, they went pretty far out of their way to help me. I think on some level, they understood that, as you mentioned off the air, that probably the job saved my life.
And also, you know, we did have a discussion after one particularly virulent event, where we said, You know, if this happens again, you can't be on the show anymore. You know, we did have one of those discussions.
MORGAN: How bad was the incident?
HAMMOND: It was pretty damned bad. You know, it involved being taken from there in a straitjacket, you know? And who wants to...
MORGAN: From the studio?
HAMMOND: Actually, from -- I think that in the book it says the offices. I was taken to the office -- this actually was the clinic underneath the theater, yes.
MORGAN: I mean, again, it's this extraordinary kind of parallel life going on...
MORGAN: ... where I just know you, like most people...
MORGAN: ... as the guy that does "The Donald"!
MORGAN: And then I'm reading this stuff, going, Wow!
MORGAN: How could this have been going on with this guy, who just seems like he's the happiest, funniest guy you'd ever meet?
HAMMOND: It did. I don't know how. You know, I've been to enough hospitals that -- I don't know. I don't know if I could have paid for all that, to be honest with you, without, you know, "SNL" money.
MORGAN: What are you doing career-wise now?
HAMMOND: Well, I'm doing "Are We There Yet?" the Ice Cube sitcom on WTBS. I'll be doing that next season. I'm doing -- I have a movie with Johnny Knoxville called "Scoutmasters." I'm going to start working with Will Farrell's Internet company, "Funny Or Die." And I think that's a lot right there.
MORGAN: What ambitions do you have professionally and personally?
HAMMOND: I just want to play Truman Capote on Broadway.
MORGAN: You'd be great as Truman Capote!
HAMMOND: Well, you know, I did him this summer.
HAMMOND: I did him this summer and it seemed to go pretty well, and I got some pretty good reviews. I did almost everything I wanted to do, except play Truman Capote. Yes. And look, you know, a guy like Trump, I wouldn't mind doing a job with him sometime. I like him a lot.
MORGAN: I could probably fix that for you.
HAMMOND: I wish you would.
MORGAN: I could see you and Donald working very well together.
HAMMOND: I'd love that.
MORGAN: Can you imagine, in the morning (ph), Boring! (ph) Boring!
HAMMOND: Except he's a foot taller than me and...
HAMMOND: ... which is kind of difficult. I look like a mini-me version of him.
MORGAN: I can imagine the joy of walking in and hearing him go, You are a special, special guy.
HAMMOND: You know, the first time I met him, I didn't get a, Hey, how are you, I'm Donald. I got a, You're going to make big money because of me, big money because of me.
MORGAN: You've got to love The Donald!
HAMMOND: You've got to.
MORGAN: Darrell, it's been a real pleasure.
HAMMOND: Thank you so much.
MORGAN: And it's -- it's a very inspiring book, in many ways.
HAMMOND: Thank you.
MORGAN: And I hope people read it in that way.
HAMMOND: I hope so.
MORGAN: Thank you very much.
HAMMOND: My pleasure.
MORGAN: For years, Jack Abramoff was one of Washington's most influential power brokers, a prominent lobbyist with the friends and cash to help people get what they wanted, until he went too far and took a huge fall, sentenced to four years in prison for fraud, corruption and conspiracy. The once all-powerful lobbyist then helped the Justice Department clean up influence-peddling in the nation's capital. He's now out of prison, has a new book called "Capitol Punishment," and he joins me now.
JACK ABRAMOFF, AUTHOR, "CAPITOL PUNISHMENT": Thank you.
MORGAN: The book's curious, in the sense that there aren't large dollops of contrition, necessarily. It's more a, Look, this is what Washington was like, I got caught. But a lot of it is kind of not vainglorious, but you're certainly pumping up the good times more than I perhaps would have done if I had done a book for you, in the sense that, you know, a lot of it is, Wow, it was great, and we were going on golfing trips and I was meeting all these people.
And there are pictures of you with presidents and governors and celebrities, and so on, when actually, at the heart of all this, people will be reading it, going, Well, hang on a second, one of the reasons many people believe America is in the shambles it's in now financially and politically is because of people like you. And I would have expected a bit more mea culpa.
ABRAMOFF: I think the book has an extraordinary amount of mea culpa.
MORGAN: Do you?
ABRAMOFF: Yes. I basically -- what I try to do with the book is tell the story of what happened. Not necessarily to give an editorial but to talk about what I did, what I went through in part as a way to teach people what goes on there.
And I didn't intend for the book to be some sort of cheer leading book for lobbying, quite the contrary. Or even for what I did. I made mistakes, I crossed the lines, I did stuff that I shouldn't have done, I stuff I regret immensely and I talk about that and for which I was severely punished -- and properly so. However, this is going on still and I thought it was important that people should know what does go on, at least in terms of my experience.
MORGAN: What adjectives would you use it about the Jack Abramoff before you got caught? What was that man really like?
ABRAMOFF: He was somebody who didn't know of any boundaries really, that didn't quite clearly see the lines, the lines that all of us need to see in life, the line between right and wrong.
MORGAN: I mean, the contradictions I guess are that you're clearly a strong family man, that resonates through in the book. You're clearly a very religious man, a good-fearing man. That, too, resonates in the book.
What went wrong? ABRAMOFF: Well, I think that with me, a couple things went wrong. I entered the arena to achieve certain things, I didn't set out certainly to break the law or do things that were wrong. I set out to achieve paths and goals that were consistent with my philosophies as a conservative and as a free marketeer and limited government person and eventually participating within the system, having success, having an ability to have power, got to me as it gets to others.
And I stopped thinking about, again, where those lines in the sand were. And as a consequence, I, in a tragic sense set myself up for the grand fall and I'm not the first that that's happened to and I won't be the last.
MORGAN: That's certainly true. I mean, what people said about you at the time was -- well, he had this coming. He used to strut around the place like he owned it. You know, you're kind of like a Mafioso version of a lobbyist it was sense that it was all about patronage, you'd have these restaurants and the great and good would come pay homage. And in return, out went the cash and out went the freebies and out went the golf trips and so on, and that was how you played that system.
ABRAMOFF: I think that's partially accurate. That was in small part how this was played. I think when my career became a headline and when my e-mails were exposed to the press, I sent 850,000 e-mails during the course of the few years that I was a lobbyist. Virtually everything I did was on email. When that first became available to the media, there was a sensation of look what's really going on inside the factory (ph) that makes sausages.
MORGAN: On the emails, what people were more offended by was the contempt you appeared to have for your own clients. I mean, here are people paying you 10 times the going rate for your services and not necessarily getting a bad job, you were certainly helping them but then they were being described as morons in your emails. I mean, that to me was -- it isn't worse than the corruption, but it certainly left a pretty bad taste when you read that, you know?
ABRAMOFF: I'm not going to defend my e-mails. I'm embarrassed about some of the things I wrote on the email. I'm ashamed of some of the things I wrote. I regret them and will regret for the rest of my life.
I wound up using my e-mail, my primary communicator. And I was a very emotional and passionate advocate of my causes. My clients I love, and just as I love my children and would give my life for them. At times my wife and I would exchange e-mails talking about our children doing things that were idiotic or things that we disagreed.
I sent 850,000 e-mails, a hundred of them were taken that were a little salacious and jocular and stupid and I can't un-ring the bell. They were sent.
MORGAN: What do you think was the worst thing you did?
ABRAMOFF: Well, a number of things. First of all, I entered a system that I think inherently has structural issues. And because of my personality, I'm a hyper-competitive individual. I operated within a system where some of the rules are vague and some of the rules are made purposely vague by the way in terms of the gifts and how a lobbyist can interact with legislatures and I pushed them --
MORGAN: They have now been changed -- I mean, 2007.
ABRAMOFF: In part. There was some tweaking. But the truth is all of the reform efforts to date are effectless.
They're not -- they're not exactly things -- do we think there's no corruption in the system any longer? Do they think just because Jack Abramoff went to prison and Tom DeLay, who is constantly picked on as the archetype legislator who's is evil is sitting in Houston that corruption is gone? It's not.
The system still contains vast, vast amounts of loopholes.
MORGAN: Did you know as you were doing it you were breaking the law?
ABRAMOFF: I didn't consciously feel I was doing that.
MORGAN: Really? Because you're a smart guy.
ABRAMOFF: Well, even brilliant people, not that I am one, but even brilliant people can go over the line. I'm an aggressive person. I'm somebody who wanted to win. I wanted to win for my clients.
I felt the greatest dishonor was defeat. So, therefore, when I took client and when I was their advocate, nobody was going to hurt them, nobody was going to beat them. And in doing that, as a consequence, I went over the line.
MORGAN: H many other people at the time were crossing the line do you really think?
ABRAMOFF: Well, there are a lot of lines and a lot of these lines --
MORGAN: I mean breaking the law.
ABRAMOFF: I don't know.
MORGAN: What would you guess from your knowledge of the system?
ABRAMOFF: A healthy percentage.
MORGAN: What kind of percentage?
MORGAN: Twenty percent of every lobbyist was doing the same kind of thing?
MORGAN: And how many have actually been held to account? ABRAMOFF: Have been held to account?
ABRAMOFF: Well, none. Not a lot yet.
There's a difference and I think a lot of people become critical of why aren't more congressmen in prison, why were there --
MORGAN: Only one congressman went to jail.
ABRAMOFF: My experience with the Justice Department is they are very careful to not proceed with prosecutions, based on what I know, unless they have actual evidence that somebody's broken the law and it's very difficult to get. They happen to have my emails, every one of my emails, 850,000 e-mails. So, it's not hard to paint a picture --
MORGAN: The crime sheet there was for you.
MORGAN: Let's take a short break. I want to come back to you and talk about the moment you were caught.
ABRAMOFF: All right.
MORGAN: How you felt then. And also the moment you knew you were going to prison because that must be pretty much the worse moment of your life I would think.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.
Here are your headlines:
For the first time in 46 years, the Penn State Nittany Lions took to the field today without Joe Paterno as their coach. Paterno was forced out this week after allegations of child rape rocked the football program. His former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is accused of sexually abusing eight boys.
Penn State loss today's game against Nebraska 17-14.
Many Italians are celebrating the resignation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tonight. The billionaire leader was widely blamed for the country's failure to confront its economic woes. His resignation came after lawmakers agreed to a package of spending cuts and proposals to spur growth.
Investors have also pushed Italy's borrowing costs to dangerous levels, threatening the entire Eurozone.
President Barack Obama is in Hawaii tonight. He's hosting the economic summit with leaders from across the Asia-Pacific Region. Part of the agenda is looking at ways the United States can tap into Asia's economic potential. The summit begins a nine-day trip for the president, that also includes stops in Indonesia and Australia.
In Washington, the National Cathedral reopened to the public today. It had been closed sense August after an earthquake centered in Virginia damaged the structure. Repairs are still under way.
Those of your headlines this hour. I'm Don Lemon. I'll see you back with a full report on the day's activities on Penn State campus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 2006)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I frankly don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don't know him. And this investigation will -- needs to look into all aspects of his influence on Capitol Hill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That was President George W. Bush talking about Jack Abramoff, my guest, in 2006. So he didn't even remember meeting you, George Bush. What was your reaction to that?
ABRAMOFF: He's the leader of the free world. I was in the middle of one of the biggest political scandals since Watergate. What's he supposed to do? Come out and say he's my best friend and, you know, I was hand in glove with him?
MORGAN: It's completely implausible he wouldn't have been aware with you.
ABRAMOFF: He's a politician.
MORGAN: And you were the Republican Party's top lobbyist. How could he not know who you were?
ABRAMOFF: Well, I -- yes, I can't speak for him but he's a politician. And at the end of the day, politicians are politicians, whatever Republican, Democrat. There's a certain characteristic politicians have and often they're with you when they need you and often when you need them, they're not there.
But he was also the leader of the free world and he had other things to do besides stand around and talk about how he remembers the good old times with Jack Abramoff.
MORGAN: Take me back to the moment you knew the game was up. What was that moment? Where were you, how did you know?
ABRAMOFF: I guess what happened was there was an article in "The Washington Post" and then immediately after the article, the Congress called for hearings and the Justice Department to get involved. I guess the moment when I knew that it was over for me was when my law firm that I worked for didn't stand with me. MORGAN: The Senate hearings were pretty brutal. John McCain led them and he seemed to really have it in for you. Let's see him in action at the Senate hearings, this little clip here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Today's hearing is about more than contempt, even more than greed. It's simply and sadly a tale of betrayal. Mr. Abramoff betrayed a longstanding client, betrayed his colleagues, betrayed his friends.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Pretty strong stuff. You decided to take the Fifth Amendment. You got in the end convicted. You served three and a half years in prison. I mean, it was corruption on a big scale. I mean, $4 million, sloshing around Washington, you know?
ABRAMOFF: You mean in terms of campaign contributions and things like that?
MORGAN: Yes, but the general level of corruption that was going on, this is very bad for American politics.
ABRAMOFF: I agree.
MORGAN: For America, for the reputation.
MORGAN: People will be watching this going, we don't feel sorry for you.
ABRAMOFF: I'm not asking people to feel sorry for me. I'm not running for office, I'm not basically -- I'm not asking anything of anybody.
MORGAN: What do you want people to feel?
ABRAMOFF: I want people to feel is I want them to know what this system is. This is a system that I took advantage of, that I was in the middle of that I was perhaps at the lead of at times but that system is still there. The system is toxic for the United States. It has to be changed.
So what I have done is as somebody who was at a certain level of that system, I've broken Omerta. I basically -- I'm not part of system any longer. Frankly, I don't know of anyone else who reached the level I did who is now coming out and saying, OK, this system is wrong, here's how to change the system, here are the real reforms that immediate to be made.
Whether America wants to make them or not is a different matter. But I feel that if I have a mission in life, part of my way to perhaps offer some recompense for what I was doing is to say, OK, here is how to stop that. I'm never going to do it again. I'm not going to be a lobbyist. I'm not going to return to that world.
But I can return to that world in the sense of educating people and showing people what's going on.
MORGAN: What kind of thing do you think is going on that is criminal in your mind?
ABRAMOFF: Well, whether it's criminal or not, or it should be criminal maybe is the question. There are things that are not technically against the law because the law is made by Congress and Congress has interests in keeping many of the roles basically the same. They'll change a rule, they'll say that instead of feeding a congressman a meal, he can't be sitting down, he has to be standing up or he has to use his fingers instead of a fork or something ridiculous like that.
Real change has to come to Washington to stop the revolving door and the power of money in the system. That is where I as a lobbyist and other lobbyists exercise real power and real control over Congress and other offices there.
MORGAN: What are you going to now? What are you doing with your life at the moment?
ABRAMOFF: Well, I just finished writing a book. I'm going to -- I hope -- speak and talk about what goes on there.
MORGAN: Do you have a job at the moment?
ABRAMOFF: I don't -- I have a job doing that.
MORGAN: That's it?
ABRAMOFF: That's it, right now. I'm working on some other projects that are somewhat related but, you know --
MORGAN: All gone?
MORGAN: How much did you make in the entire period as a lobbyist? You're aware of that?
ABRAMOFF: I haven't added it all up, but it was tens of millions.
MORGAN: All gone?
MORGAN: What did you learn about plan, which was a clearly a massive, motivating factor for you for so long. What do you feel about it now that you don't have any?
ABRAMOFF: I mean, money is a tool. I used the money I got to do things that I thought were right. We gave away a lot of our money. I mean, my wife and I, this is all public record. I gave away pretty much 80 percent of the money we made. We didn't live an extravagant lifestyle, we lived a comfortable lifestyle.
MORGAN: Why did you give it away?
ABRAMOFF: Because I felt I got this money to do good things with it. And so, we give it to educational services.
MORGAN: I mean, you weren't doing good things with it, were you? So --
ABRAMOFF: Wasn't I? What was I doing with my money --
MORGAN: I just find out you were giving away 80 percent of all the money that you were making in a vaguely corrupt way. It seems a bit perverse. Why would you break the law to make millions of --
ABRAMOFF: Piers, I wasn't -- while I was deeply into it, it wasn't I was sitting back thinking I'm corrupt or breaking the law. Frankly, I thought I was doing good.
MORGAN: What I was getting at is weird contradiction between charging 10 times the going rate, making tens of millions of dollars --
ABRAMOFF: First of all, let me correct something with you. There was no going rate in lobbying. The amounts that I charged compared to the value that we delivered I think was very fair. Now that we charge more than other lobbyists at that time had a lot to do with the fact that we delivered on a lot more. We did add up what the value of the services that we provided and they were in the billions, for which we charged in the millions.
MORGAN: The really sad thing for you is in the end, everyone ended up hating you. The clients hated you. They felt betrayed and let down, the business you were in hated you, the politicians -- I mean, everyone turned on you, didn't they?
I'll also play a clip from a Jon Stewart "Daily Show" at the time, which kind of summed it up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: If you thought you new corrupt politicians buying off politicians, you don't know Jack. Yesterday, scandal- ridden lobbyist Jack Abramoff pled guilty to several felony charges including conspiracy, tax evasion, mail fraud and impersonating a 1930s gangster. I'm guilty, see? It's curtains for me, Copper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: How did you feel being the butt of the jokes?
ABRAMOFF: Well, I have a I have a sense of humor, so most of the time I laughed, if they were good jokes. Some of the jokes were pretty funny. Some of them were lame. But what can I do?
You know, Piers, when this was going on, don't forget, I was in the paper in virtually every section of the paper almost every day. And there was so much going on and so many people were attacking me and making fun of me and, you know, just everything that I didn't make a list. I wasn't Nixon. I wasn't making an enemies list or something like that. I was trying to get through this and stay focused on my family and children and trying to survive.
MORGAN: How have you explained it to your children?
ABRAMOFF: Well, I didn't have to explain it to my children. They were there the whole time. They knew who their father is. I didn't have to sit them down and say, listen, daddy's not really Hitler. They knew who -- they know who I am.
But they were hurt, of course, by the way our name became synonymous with evil and corruption and things like that. I don't think they understood that. I'm not sure I understood it at some level.
MORGAN: What was the single thing you regret most?
ABRAMOFF: Well, I don't know that there's a single thing I regret most. But I regret a series of mistakes and a series of -- when you set off on a voyage, if you're off by one degree, at the end of the voyage, you'll be on another continent. And I regret those one degrees at the beginning, that I let myself get off course and wound up, unfortunately crashed somewhere I didn't know where I was.
MORGAN: Jack Abramoff, thank you very much.
ABRAMOFF: Thank you.
MORGAN: Richard Lugar is the Senate's most senior Republican and the longest serving member of Congress in Indiana history. He's also the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and joins me now.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Thank you, Piers.
MORGAN: In all the time that you've been in Congress, how many years now?
LUGAR: I'm in my 35th.
MORGAN: Incredible career that you've had. Have you ever known a year quite like this one where we've had the Arab Spring uprisings, the end of Mubarak, the deaths of Bin Laden, of Gadhafi. It's been an extraordinary time for foreign relations with America in particular at the forefront of this.
We've seen a change in American foreign policy, haven't we, where you know, from the gung-ho steaming into Iraq to very much the behind the scenes manipulators in Libya. What do you make of it all? Put it into context for me.
LUGAR: Well, I believe the context is one in which we are engaged really in quarrels and basic arguments on domestic politics. The rest of the world has been left to fend for itself. Now, that's not true.
MORGAN: Is that a good thing?
LUGAR: No, it's not. But it's an observation at least about our politics in this country now. It does affect the rest of the world because the rest of the world understands that too, is watching our politics. It's watching our economic problems.
And so as a result, the question is, what kind of influence will America exert on the rest of the world? Will armies, navies, air force head toward specific countries?
The answer appears to be no, and in large part it's because we're constrained by the fact that we are heavily engaged now still in Iraq, although withdrawing, Afghanistan, still for quite a bit -- awhile, and we have troops all over the world from previous situations. We have a fleet that really holds the high seas open for everybody in the world.
And this is a real strain on a defense budget which is under some constraints too in our domestic quarrels as well as in the fact that in due course, we probably cannot afford the foreign policy we have.
So, this is leading to foreign policy specialists now to begin talking about so-called networking. How America remains strong in the Middle East or anywhere else through intelligence forces, through drones, as opposed to armies that march that occupy territory.
MORGAN: Isn't that in the long run better for America? I mean, America's had to be through choice or otherwise, the world's policeman now for a very long time. Certainly my whole lifetime, America has been the go-to country for help for either aid in disaster or for military intervention, whatever it may be. And whatever the merits of each of the individual interventions, there comes a point, doesn't there, when if America wants to compete with the likes of China, India and so on, then this constant marching around the world helping everyone has to take a bit of a back seat to helping America?
LUGAR: Well, I think we'll continue, but it will be done in a much more sophisticated and differently organized manner. In other words, I believe we are still going to be a people that will cherish democracy and that try to feed the world, and have humane views. But we're going to do so probably with less conventional military means, less expensive military means. And this is inevitable. Just as we starred the conversation, the number of countries in which we are involved is such, it's impossible to conceive we would invade a country and try to rearrange its government one by one and in essence, we're looking first of all to our own strategic defense against al Qaeda, against terrorists, against others that may bring harm into the United States. But this is a more sophisticated intelligence procedure.
MORGAN: Who do you think is the biggest threat currently to America?
LUGAR: I suspect the problems that are embedded in terrorism -- in other words, cell groups, smaller groups of people who may, in fact, try to transport either a nuclear chemical or biological weapons in some form to the United States and create havoc in one or more of our major cities or through plagues or other diseases.
MORGAN: Your party is going through a fairly roller coaster ride in terms of this nomination process. Five front-runners now have come and gone. Who do you think is emerging, perhaps nobody is yet, as a genuine front-runner candidate?
LUGAR: Well, I think Governor Romney has been the front-runner throughout this situation.
MORGAN: Give me two one-word answers to these questions. Is Mitt Romney going to be the nominee do you think? And can -- if he is, can he beat Barack Obama?
LUGAR: I would say yes to both. Of course, having said that, you want to offer all sorts of footnotes.
MORGAN: No footnotes, I'm afraid.
LUGAR: I understand.
MORGAN: Senator, a pleasure to meet you.
LUGAR: Thank you, Piers.
MORGAN: Thank you.