Is the recent spate of corruption cases a growing problem for the Republicans, or is that just Democratic spin?
You had Duke Cunningham say he's really, really sorry he took a Rolls-Royce, a yacht and other goodies from a contractor. You've got the Jack Abramoff probe raising questions about his relationship with a number of lawmakers, including Tom DeLay (who's got his own indictment to deal with) and Robert Ney (who is Representative No. 1 in the indictment of Abramoff associate Michael Scanlon). Throw in the Frist stock investigation, the Scooter Libby indictment and the Abramoff-related charges against former White House procurement chief David Safavian, and you've got a bunch of GOPers in trouble.
Are Nancy Pelosi & Company determined to make political hay over this for the '06 elections? Absolutely. Several of the cases may be unconnected, but this issue is certainly fair game, especially for Dems who remember how the Republicans painted them as the party of unethical excess in seizing control of the Hill in '94 (and went after Jim Wright and Tony Coelho back in the '80s). And the Democrats would love nothing more than to tie these cases to the misleading or misguided (take your choice) Bush administration intel on Iraq.
Of course, the Democrats don't have totally clean hands. Abramoff was friendly with some D's as well. Ohio's Jim (Beam Me Up) Trafficant is in jail on a 2002 bribery conviction. And Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson is under investigation over a telecommunications deal in Niger.
The larger point is that both parties in Washington engage in what critics have called legalized bribery: taking money from special interests while voting on the legislation that affects them; taking golfing and other trips with lobbyists and then doing their bidding on the Hill. The scandal here is what's legal, not the relative few who have run afoul of the law. If Republicans are doing more of it, that may reflect the fact that they run Washington these days.
Journalists who live here tend to become inured to much of this stuff until a high-profile pol or two gets in trouble. The press has done a good job on some of these cases. The San Diego Union-Tribune and Roll Call broke the story about Cunningham getting an inflated price for his home from a military contractor. The Washington Post has broken a lot of ground on the Abramoff tale. But it's only recently that the media focus has turned from particular investigations to the culture of Beltway corruption. It is, after all, an old story. The only thing that changes is that the sums of money get larger and larger.
That sound you hear is Republicans running away from the Duke:
"Concerned that the stain of former Representative Randy Cunningham's admission that he took bribes and evaded taxes could damage the party's prospects, President Bush and other Republican leaders issued strong denunciations of Mr. Cunningham's actions on Tuesday," says the New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/11/30/national/30indict.html?hp&ex=1133326800&en=d0ef1cda50266303&ei=5094&partner=homepage.
"With several investigations focusing on top Republican officials and growing public unease over the war in Iraq and economic policy at home, party leaders moved to distance themselves and their party from Mr. Cunningham's felony plea.
"Though some Republican officials said Democrats in Congress were equally guilty of questionable behavior, including lobbyist-paid trips and underreporting of campaign contributions, they acknowledged that Republicans, because they control the White House and Congress, are being held to a higher standard by many voters. They also expressed shock and embarrassment at the extent of Mr. Cunningham's wrongdoing, which the president described on Tuesday as 'outrageous.' "
In American Prospect, Terence Samuel | http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=10667 sees political significance in the Abramoff probe:
"Scanlon, of course, is the 35-year-old Hill aide-turned-public relations executive-turned-con man, who teamed up with one-time uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to shake down unsuspecting Indian tribes for millions of dollars. Abramoff has been indicted and Scanlon has cut a deal. But what sounds like a run-of-the-mill Washington tale of abuse of power in the pursuit of money will turn out to be a story about the moral collapse of a political movement. The Scanlon deal is really the death knell for the Republican Revolution of 1994.
"A trial, whether involving Abramoff or whoever else may fall into the abyss created by Scanlon's cooperation, will present a conga line of superstars from the days of the revolution: DeLay, of course; Ralph Reed; and Grover Norquist, among others. This will not happen just because these people knew each other, did business together, or were friends; it will be because they were central to an enterprise that came to see itself as immune to the usual rules of the game. It is hubris writ large. And that, ultimately, is the basic problem afflicting the GOP today.
"While they may seem like disparate and disconnected story lines, the problems facing the White House and the GOP leadership in Congress are the result of the same mindset that got Scanlon and Abramoff in trouble. Republican successes at the ballot box (and Democratic bumbling in response) created not just a sense of validation for the GOP but a sense of entitlement and an urgency to seize the moment."
Captain Ed Morrissey | http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/mt/ says this is more of a bipartisan scandal:
"Democrats have tried painting Jack Abramoff's sleazy and allegedly criminal lobbying efforts as a strictly Republican scandal for the last several months, tying Abramoff chiefly to Tom DeLay. However, as the investigation into Abramoff continues, more and more ties to Democrats have emerged, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Now it appears that the ranking Senate Democrat on the committee that has taken the lead in investigating Abramoff has more than a oversight connection to Abramoff himself:
"New evidence is emerging that the top Democrat on the Senate committee currently investigating Jack Abramoff got political money arranged by the lobbyist back in 2002 shortly after the lawmaker took action favorable to Abramoff's tribal clients.
"A lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians told The Associated Press that Abramoff instructed the tribe to send $5,000 to Sen. Byron Dorgan's political group just three weeks after the North Dakota Democrat urged fellow senators to fund a tribal school program Abramoff's clients wanted to use.
"The check was one of about five dozen the Coushattas listed in a tribal ledger as being issued on March 6, 2002, to various lawmakers' campaigns and political causes at the instruction of Abramoff, tribal attorney Jimmy Fairchild said Monday.
"So now Byron Dorgan is the fox in the henhouse, passing judgment on Abramoff after passing his checks along to the bank."
On Real Clear Politics, conservative Bruce Bartlett | http://www.realclearpolitics.com/Commentary/com-11_29_05_BB.html lets his party have it:
"One of the most important political developments in America today is the creeping corruption of the Republican Party. Increasingly, there is little meaningful difference between Republicans in Congress and the Democrats they replaced a little over 10 years ago. Unless they clean up their act fast, Republicans are going to suffer major losses in next year's congressional elections.
"There is no question that Democrats had become deeply corrupt during the 40 years after 1954 when they controlled the House of Representatives continuously. . . . That is why the House bank scandal involving bounced checks was so politically potent -- it personified petty Democratic corruption in a way that average people could relate to.
"Republicans pounded the bank scandal mercilessly and promised to overhaul House procedures and operations if they took control in 1994. . . .
"It was only a matter of time before the petty abuse of power morphed into actual corruption. That is the significance of the growing scandal involving lobbyists Jack Abramoff, Mike Scanlon and others."
New York Post columnist John Podhoretz | http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/58508.htm says the Democrats aren't likely to win the House, "but an X-factor may place the GOP's majority in great jeopardy. Not Iraq or the president's low standing -- it all has to do with a really disgusting Republican lobbyist named Jack Abramoff.
"Abramoff is under indictment on charges of fraud, as are two of his closest associates. The question is whether the growing scandal swirling around Abramoff will soon ensnare a number of GOP House members. This may prove to be the worst Washington corruption scandal since the Abscam sting nailed six congressmen and a senator 25 years ago.
"According to press reports, six Republican congressmen may land in seriously hot water over their ties to Abramoff. The most prominent is former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (who's now battling an outrageously politicized indictment by a run-amok prosecutor in Texas).
"The most deeply implicated appears to be Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who actually used his time on the House floor to deliver speeches attacking a Florida businessman who was in the midst of difficult negotiations with Abramoff over the price of a casino-boat company. . . .
"Disgust is a powerful force in politics, and the Abramoff case is one that seems to be churning the stomachs of those Republicans and Democrats alike who know about it. If the whole country comes to know about it, watch out, GOP."
Shades of Armstrong Williams: Doesn't this strike you as the way the White House really wants the press to work?
"As part of an information offensive in Iraq," says the LAT | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-infowar30nov30,0,5638790.story?coll=la-home-headlines, "the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
"The articles, written by U.S. military "information operations" troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times."
"Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country."
And look here: Another Bush aide has decided to tell the truth after leaving the administration.
"Glenn Hubbard, former chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, says the Bush-backed expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs was 'unwise,' " says the WSJ.
". . . . In the exchange on fiscal policy, Mr. Reich criticized the Bush administration for proposing to make Mr. Bush's tax cuts permanent in light of new federal spending commitments. 'Much of its new spending -- especially on national defense, homeland security, and Medicare prescription drugs, will go on for years. The drug benefit is a new entitlement. This isn't sustainable over the long haul and I don't think it's sustainable even over the next five years,' he said."
Now he tells us.
Have you caught the flap over Time Warner and Nino Scalia? Jack Shafer | http://www.slate.com/id/2131126/ explains in Slate:
"What on earth did Time Warner Chairman Richard D. Parsons have in mind when he waited until the last minute to declare the Nov. 21 interview of Justice Antonin Scalia by Time Inc. Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine before 100 journalists and businessmen at Time Warner's New York headquarters as 'off the record'?
"Did Parsons mean, as some define the phrase, that the information could be used but not attributed to the speakers? Or did he intend the ultra-literalist's meaning -- that the information could not be used in any way? Whatever Parsons' intention, Daily News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove undid the ridiculous sourcing demand two days later with a column that sieved the talk for its news value and ridiculed the chairman of the media conglomerate that owns movie studios, an online service, cable news and entertainment channels, a TV broadcast network, and publishes 155 magazines, including Time, People, Sports Illustrated, and Fortune.
"Grove -- rightly -- figured he wasn't obliged to honor Parsons' demands because those weren't the terms under which he was invited. Besides, Grove writes, 'the place was crawling with journalists.'
"Lost in the dust-up was a discussion about why Parsons would impose any conditions, well-conceived or otherwise, on the invited audience."
Did you, like me, slap your forehead at the sight of Ramsey Clark joining the Saddam Hussein defense team?
"It is nearly impossible to think of any other Attorney General -- whether Janet Reno or John Ashcroft -- showing up to defend a tyrant such as Saddam at all, let alone with the regularity that Clark appears to criticize the U.S. government and side with those accused of the most horrific crimes," says ABC's Jake Tapper | http://blogs.abcnews.com/downanddirty/.
"He's defended Serb tyrant Slobodon Milosevic, Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, Liberian leader Charles Taylor, PLO leaders sued by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, and a leader of the Rwandan genocide.
"So who is this guy and how on earth did he become attorney general?"
Rich Lowry | http://nationalreview.com/lowry/lowry200511290829.asp isn't buying Bush's immigration plan:
"The late Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it 'boob bait for bubba' -- tough-sounding rhetoric designed to placate conservative voters. Moynihan applied the phrase to Bill Clinton's 1992 pledge to 'end welfare as we know it,' which it later became clear that he had no intention of following through on when he became president (eventually, Republicans pressured him into it). President Bush is offering his own 'boob bait' in the form of speechifying at the border about a crackdown on illegal immigration
"It's not that Bush doesn't intend to use better technology to police the border and end the 'catch and release' policy that waves illegals into the country, as he is now saying. But these steps are primarily meant to diminish opposition to a new guest-worker program and what would effectively be an amnesty for illegal aliens. It's a crackdown as prelude to a letup; in other words, Rove bait for red-staters.
"A Republican close to the White House has told Time how Bush wants to lull his conservative supporters into swallowing some sort of amnesty and a guest-worker program, i.e., a 'comprehensive' approach: 'Bush decided to give these guys their rhetorical pound of flesh. In return, he wants a comprehensive bill, which is what he has always wanted. He's just going to lead with a lot of noise about border security.' "
National Review's Stephen Spruiell | http://media.nationalreview.com/ takes issue with my conclusion that you can't really blame the media for neglecting New Orleans, even though the coverage lacks the urgency of the DeLay, Miers and Plame stories:
"Since you can't blame the media, Howie, allow me. Once the mainstream news organizations lost their ability to use Hurricane Katrina as a cudgel to attack the Bush administration, they lost interest. Have dedicated reporters remained on the case, filing important stories about the recovery efforts? Yes. But the editors who put the national dailies and nightly newscasts together aren't as interested in those stories as they are in Tom DeLay's indictment, Harriet Miers' nomination or the Valerie Plame investigation."
I'm not buying the partisan interpretation. Yesterday alone, the New York Times and Washington Post had front-page stories on New Orleans, and NBC's Brian Williams, ABC's Bob Woodruff, CBS's Kelly Cobiella and CNN's Anderson Cooper reported from there. On Monday, USA Today led the paper with a New Orleans story and the L.A. Times also ran a front-pager. Time did a cover package last week. The sustained intensity isn't there, but it's a stretch, I think, to link it to Bush.
Yesterday I noted that Arlen Specter had time to get involved in the Terrell Owens/Philly Eagles brouhaha. Now other members are weighing in on the new LAT edit page editor's decision to drop liberal columnist Robert Scheer:
"Twenty-four Democratic members of Congress signed a letter objecting to the Los Angeles Times' dismissal of Robert Scheer earlier this month," says Editor & Publisher | http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001571467. "The letter -- addressed to Times Publisher Jeffrey Johnson -- was posted on HuffingtonPost.com in a blog entry from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)."
Scheer won't be on food stamps-- he's been picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle.