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Inside the Beltway

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Still lobbying?

"Please do not share this e-mail or forward it to anyone. I have sent it [to] a limited number of friends and hope you will honor this request. Thanks."

So reads a Sunday-night missive received (that much we can confirm) by an acquaintance of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff (requesting anonymity, we can tell you the recipient is a high-profile politico in Washington who, given the lobbying atmosphere these days, smartly washed his hands of the correspondence and forwarded it to Inside the Beltway).

"My dear friends," it reads, "I am saddened and embarrassed to have to write to you under these circumstances and hope that you will forgive my not calling, as unfortunately the matter is urgent, and (as you will see) I must reach out to as many friends as possible very quickly ...

"As you may have seen in the recent press accounts, the judge on my case in Florida has denied the motion of the government and my attorneys to have my sentencing delayed until after I have completed my cooperation with the government. Since that period may take a few years, the judge did not want to leave the matter hanging and set March 29, 2006, as the date of sentencing.

"While the judge is unlikely to incarcerate me while I am still cooperating, the sentence he imposes will have a direct bearing on a possible more sympathetic re-sentencing when my cooperation has ended," it explains. "My attorneys have advised me to seek help from friends in the form of letters to the judge on my behalf ...

"The reason letters from friends are so important is that Judge Paul C. Huck in Florida has not been privy to much of my background and life. He probably only knows of me through the harsh media caricature which has plagued me for the past two years. It may only be through letters of friends that any compassion and balance can be achieved."

The once-powerful lobbyist, who has pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and wire fraud in a wide-ranging corruption probe, asks that any letters of compassion include "suggestions for alternatives to or reduction of amount of incarceration and any reference to any redeeming character trait or actions of mine."

He then provides the judge's court address in Miami.

Straw pol

"I'm nothing," said John, "if not cunning,"

Before an upset that was stunning,

"But, now that I see

No one's voting for me,

I'll pretend that I'm not even running."

-- F.R. Duplantier, on Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain

Telling my friends

It is with genuine relief, following a most terrifying flight from Minneapolis to Washington late Sunday night, that I file today's column.

Given that day's deadly late-winter storms that tore through the Midwest, the pilot of Northwest Airlines Flight 1712, scheduled to arrive at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport at 10:01 p.m., warned passengers ahead of takeoff to expect strong turbulence.

But it was the explosive "bang" and flash of fire that scared the writer's ink out of me.

As the packed Airbus 320 climbed through dark and turbulent skies en route to a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, there suddenly was a loud explosion and fireball that shot out from beneath the right wing barely feet from the cabin (I had an amazing view, buckled as I was into window seat 17-F, just one row behind the wing.)

Startled passengers held hands and began praying. A Washington lawyer in my row began to cry. Still, from the cockpit, only eerie silence.

Seated next to me, it so happened, was Dr. Moqim Rahmanzai, president of the Afghan Medical Relief Foundation (we'll tell you more about his organization tomorrow), who when not consoling the counsel next to him politely listened to my suggestion that one of us get up to alert the flight crew in the front of the plane. Sadly, he knew better.

Finally, after several agonizing minutes of not knowing whether an engine blew or if there was an explosion of sinister sorts in the belly of the plane, the bouncing Airbus emerged above the clouds and the calming voice of the captain came over the intercom.

He told passengers that in all of his years as a professional pilot -- "since 1969" -- he could count on one hand the number of times his plane took such a direct hit from lightning.

"It certainly got our attention up here," he assured passengers. "But fortunately this airplane performed as it was designed to, and now you have something to tell your friends about."

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.