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Context of '(8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 77 Veers Off Course'

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Before 9/11, New York City was scheduled to have a major terrorism training exercise on this day, in a large commercial warehouse on the Hudson River. Called Tripod, it was intended to test how well the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) could administer treatment in the event of a biological-terrorism attack. More than 1,000 Police Academy cadets and Fire Department trainees were recruited to act the parts of terrified civilians afflicted with a range of medical conditions. Various individuals were invited to watch, including Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the police and fire commissioners, and representatives of the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Presumably many have already arrived for the exercise when the 9/11 attacks occur (see 7:00 a.m. -9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Because Pier 92, where Tripod was due to take place, has been set up ready for the exercise, OEM staff are able to move there and quickly convert it into a large emergency operations center when their original command center (in WTC Building 7) is evacuated and later destroyed during 9/11. Thus, within 31 hours of the attacks, OEM has a functional facility able to manage the search and rescue effort, just four miles north-northwest of the WTC site. [New York Magazine, 10/15/2001; Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 20 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] Tripod is the follow-up to a previous training exercise in New York, called RED Ex (see May 11, 2001). [New York Sun, 12/20/2003] Due to the 9/11 attacks, Tripod is called off, but will eventually take place on May 22, 2002. [City of New York, 5/22/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Office of Emergency Management, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Tripod, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Carl Levin.Carl Levin. [Source: Publicity photo]Air Force General Richard Myers is questioned about the US military’s response to the 9/11 attacks when he appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but his answers are vague and confused, and he claims, incorrectly, that no fighter jets were scrambled in response to the hijackings until after the Pentagon was hit. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 119; Farmer, 2009, pp. 241-243] Myers has been the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since March 2000. [US Air Force, 9/2005] With General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flying toward Europe on the morning of September 11 (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he served as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 9/11 attacks. [Myers, 2009, pp. 10; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431-433]
Myers Says Fighters Were Only Scrambled after the Pentagon Attack - During the hearing, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) asks if the Department of Defense was contacted by “the FAA or the FBI or any other agency” after the first two hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), but before 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Myers replies, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” Levin then asks if the military was “asked to take action against any specific aircraft” during the attacks. Myers answers, “When it became clear what the threat was, we did scramble fighter aircraft, AWACS, radar aircraft, and tanker aircraft to begin to establish orbits in case other aircraft showed up in the FAA system that were hijacked.” Myers elaborates later in the hearing, telling Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL): “[A]fter the second tower was hit, I spoke to the commander of NORAD, General [Ralph] Eberhart (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And at that point, I think the decision was at that point to start launching aircraft.” But he tells Levin that “to the best of my knowledge,” the order to scramble fighters was only given “after the Pentagon was struck.”
Flight 93 Was Not Shot Down, Myers Says - Myers addresses the military’s response to Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He says: “[I]f my memory serves me… we had launched on the one that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania. I mean, we had gotten somebody close to it, as I recall.” However, he adds, “I’ll have to check that out.” When Levin mentions that there have been “statements that the aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania was shot down,” Myers responds, “[T]he armed forces did not shoot down any aircraft.” He says, “[W]e never actually had to use force.” Although Myers appears unclear about when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) launched fighters in response to the hijackings, he is more confident when he states: “At the time of the first impact on the World Trade Center, we stood up our Crisis Action Team. That was done immediately. So we stood it up. And we started talking to the federal agencies.” [US Congress, 9/13/2001]
NORAD and the 9/11 Commission Contradict Myers's Account - Myers’s claim that fighters were only launched in response to the hijackings after the Pentagon was hit will later be contradicted by the accounts of NORAD and the 9/11 Commission, which state that fighters were ordered to take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) and from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at 9:24 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 27] The 9/11 Commission will also contradict Myers’s claim that the military launched fighters in response to Flight 93 and “had gotten somebody close to it.” “By the time the military learned about the flight,” the 9/11 Commission Report will state, “it had crashed.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34]
Myers's Testimony Prompts Criticism in the Media - Journalist and author Philip Shenon will question why Myers, a veteran Air Force fighter pilot, would give such an inaccurate account of the military’s response to the 9/11 attacks during the hearing. “It seemed obvious that Myers, of all people at the Pentagon, would want to know—would demand to know—how jet fighters under NORAD’s control had responded on the morning of September 11 to the threat in the skies,” he will write. [US Congress, 9/13/2001; Shenon, 2008, pp. 119] John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will comment that “Myers’s evident confusion about precisely what had occurred prompted criticism in the media and a quick, if contradictory, response from the administration.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 243] Major General Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, will provide a more detailed account of the military’s response to the hijackings in an “impromptu hallway interview” at the Pentagon on September 14 (see September 14, 2001). [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001] And four days later, NORAD will release a timeline of its response to the hijackings (see September 18, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, Clarence W. (“Bill”) Nelson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Major General Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, provides reporters with details of the 9/11 attacks and the US military’s response to the hijackings. Speaking at the Pentagon, Weaver gives reporters a detailed account of what happened on September 11. He says Air National Guard planes responded to the hijackings on orders from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), which was alerted to the hijackings by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Fighters Took Off Too Late to Catch Flight 175 - Weaver says that at 8:53 a.m., seven minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), two F-15 fighter jets took off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in pursuit of Flight 175, the second plane to be hijacked (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, Weaver says, the FAA had only told NEADS that “there was an airplane that had a problem,” and at that time it was unclear if Flight 175 had been hijacked. He says that although the fighters flew at over 500 miles per hour, they were unable to catch up with Flight 175 before it hit the South Tower of the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
More Fighters Were Launched Just before Pentagon Was Hit - Weaver says Flight 77, the third aircraft to be hijacked, flew west for 45 minutes and then turned east, and its transponder was turned off. He does not claim that the military received notice that it had been hijacked, but says NEADS scrambled F-16 fighters that were on alert at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at 9:35 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Two minutes later, at 9:37 a.m., the Pentagon was hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). The F-16s, he says, subsequently remained on patrol over the Pentagon.
No Fighters Took Off to Intercept Flight 93 - Weaver says no fighters were scrambled to chase after Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). “There was no notification for us to launch airplanes,” he tells the reporters. “We weren’t even close.” [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 244] (However, also on this day, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz contradicts Weaver’s claim. He tells PBS’s NewsHour, “[W]e were already tracking in on that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania,” and adds, “[T]he Air Force was in a position to do so [i.e. shoot Flight 93 down] if we had had to.” [NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, 9/14/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 245] ) Weaver says that even if fighters had caught up with the hijacked planes, they may have been unable to stop them reaching their targets. “You’re not going to get an American pilot shooting down an American airliner,” he says. “We don’t have permission to do that.” According to Weaver, only the president can issue an order to shoot down an American airliner. [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001]
Weaver's Account Is the 'Most Accurate' Prior to the 9/11 Commission's Investigation - The account he gives to reporters today, according to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will be “the last public statement uttered by General Weaver on the subject and proved to be the most accurate account of events issued until the 9/11 Commission’s investigation.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 245] Apparently after Weaver issues his statement to the reporters, an Air Force spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, adds that no regular Air Force planes were scrambled during the 9/11 attacks, “because continental air defense is the mission of the Air National Guard.” He says regular Air Force fighters “have air superiority as their mission,” which means they train “to deploy somewhere where we are engaged in hostile action and secure the skies.” These fighters, according to the spokesman, “ordinarily are not ready to fly on short notice and their pilots are not on standby to defend the United States.” [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001]
Pentagon Has Been Slow to Answer Questions about Response to Hijackings - The Washington Post will comment, “Questions about the time it took US military planes to respond to the threat of several hijacked aircraft speeding toward the nation’s financial and military centers have dogged the Pentagon since the attacks.” It will add, “Top Pentagon officials have been slow to respond to press inquiries for a timeline that would establish the exact times that civil aviation authorities became aware of the hijackings, when US military commanders were notified, and when US fighter jets took to the air.” [Washington Post, 9/15/2001] The previous day, Air Force General Richard Myers was questioned about the military’s response to the attacks before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but his answers were vague and confused (see September 13, 2001). [US Congress, 9/13/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 241-242] NORAD will release its own timeline of the events of September 11 and its response to the hijackings on September 18 (see September 18, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Weaver

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) produces a chronology of the events of September 11, which it uses when it briefs the White House today, but the document fails to mention when NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to two of the hijacked planes. The FAA’s chronology, titled “Summary of Air Traffic Hijack Events,” incorporates “information contained in the NEADS logs, which had been forwarded, and on transcripts obtained from the FAA’s Cleveland Center, among others,” according to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission.
Document Includes Notification Times for First Two Hijacked Flights - The chronology refers “accurately to the times shown in NEADS logs for the initial notifications from FAA about the hijacking of American 11 and the possible hijacking of United 175,” according to the 9/11 Commission. It gives 8:40 a.m. as the time at which the FAA alerted NEADS to Flight 11, the first plane to be hijacked (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and 9:05 a.m. as the time when the FAA alerted NEADS to Flight 175, the second plane to be hijacked (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, it makes no mention of when the FAA alerted NEADS to Flight 77 and Flight 93, the third and fourth planes to be hijacked. The FAA’s omission of these two notification times is “suspicious,” according to the 9/11 Commission, “because these are the two flights where FAA’s notification to NEADS was significantly delayed.”
Document Omits Notification Times for Flights 77 and 93 - The chronology, as Farmer will later point out, “makes no mention… of the notification to NEADS at 9:33 that American 77 was ‘lost’ (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001) or of the notification to NEADS at 9:34 of an unidentified large plane six miles southwest of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), both of which are in the NEADS logs that the FAA reviewed” when it was putting together the timeline. It also fails to mention the call made by the FAA’s Cleveland Center to NEADS in which, at 10:07 a.m., the caller alerted NEADS to Flight 93 and said there was a “bomb on board” the plane (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001), even though this information was also “duly noted in the NEADS logs” that the FAA has reviewed.
Chronology Omits Other Key Information - The chronology, Farmer will write, reflects “a time at which the FAA was notified that the Otis [Air National Guard Base] fighters were scrambled” in response to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), but it gives “no account of the scramble of the fighters from Langley Air Force Base” (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). It also fails to mention the report that NEADS received after Flight 11 crashed, in which it was incorrectly told the plane was still airborne and heading toward Washington, DC (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). Despite lacking information about the times when the FAA alerted NEADS to Flights 77 and 93, the FAA’s chronology is one of the documents used to brief the White House about the 9/11 attacks today (see September 17, 2001).
Investigators Were Told to Determine Exact Notification Times - The chronology is the product of investigations that began promptly in response to the 9/11 attacks. According to senior FAA officials, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and Deputy Administrator Monte Belger “instructed a group of FAA employees (an ‘after-action group’) to reconstruct the events of 9/11.” This group, according to the 9/11 Commission, “began its work immediately after 9/11 and reviewed tape recordings, transcripts, handwritten notes, logs, and other documents in an effort to create an FAA chronology of events.” The group, according to one witness, “was specifically asked to determine exactly when the FAA notified the military that each of the four planes had been hijacked,” and “[s]everal people worked on determining correct times for FAA notifications to the military.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 245-247] NORAD will release a timeline of the events of September 11 and its response to the attacks a day after the FAA chronology is published (see September 18, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) releases a chronology of the events of September 11 and its response to the terrorist attacks that day, but the accuracy of this account will later be challenged by the 9/11 Commission. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004]
NORAD Learned of First Hijackings Too Late to Defend the WTC - The chronology provides the times at which NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the hijackings and when fighter jets were scrambled in response to the hijackings. It states that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) notified NEADS about Flight 11, the first hijacked aircraft, at 8:40 a.m. In response, the order was given to scramble two F-15 fighters from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), the same time that Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and the fighters were airborne at 8:52 a.m. (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA notified NEADS about Flight 175, the second hijacked aircraft, at 8:43 a.m., according to the chronology. When Flight 175 crashed into the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), the chronology states, the Otis fighters were 71 miles away from New York.
Fighters Were Scrambled in Response to Flight 77 Hijacking - NEADS was alerted to Flight 77, the third hijacked aircraft, at 9:24 a.m., according to the chronology. In response, the order was given to scramble two F-16 fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) and these were airborne at 9:30 a.m. (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But the F-16s were 105 miles from the Pentagon when it was hit at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Regarding the fourth hijacked aircraft, Flight 93, the chronology gives “N/A” as the time the FAA alerted NEADS, but it also states that the FAA and NEADS discussed the flight on “a line of open communication.” At 10:03 a.m., when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the chronology states, the F-16s launched from Langley Air Force Base in response to the hijacking of Flight 77 were “in place to protect DC.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]
9/11 Commission Disputes NORAD's Account - The 9/11 Commission Report, released in 2004, will highlight what it says are inaccuracies in NORAD’s timeline of the events of September 11. It will state that NORAD’s claim that NEADS was alerted to Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. was incorrect. The notice NEADS received at that time, according to the report, was the incorrect claim that Flight 11 “had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington, DC” (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). “NEADS never received notice that American 77 was hijacked,” the report will state. “It was notified at 9:34 that American 77 was lost (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Then, minutes later, NEADS was told that an unknown plane was six miles southwest of the White House” (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). The report will state that NORAD’s claim that the Langley fighters were scrambled in response to the notification about Flight 77 is also incorrect. Instead, it will state, the fighters were scrambled in response to the incorrect report that Flight 11 was still airborne and heading south. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34]
9/11 Commission Disputes NORAD's Account regarding Flights 175 and 93 - Furthermore, whereas NORAD’s chronology claims that NEADS discussed Flight 93 with the FAA on “a line of open communication,” the 9/11 Commission Report will state that NEADS “first received a call about United 93 from the military liaison at [the FAA’s] Cleveland Center at 10:07,” by which time the plane “had already crashed” (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30] And while NORAD states that the FAA notified NEADS about Flight 175 at 8:43 a.m., according to the report, the first notification came “in a phone call from [the FAA’s] New York Center to NEADS at 9:03” (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23]
Military Has Been Slow to Provide Details of Its Response on September 11 - US military officials, according to the Washington Post, “have been slow to respond to press inquiries for a timeline that would establish the exact times that civil aviation authorities became aware of the hijackings, when US military commanders were notified, and when US fighter jets took to the air.” [Washington Post, 9/15/2001] On September 13, Air Force General Richard Myers was questioned about the military’s response to the 9/11 attacks before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but his answers were vague and confused (see September 13, 2001). [US Congress, 9/13/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 241-242] A day later, Major General Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, provided reporters with details of the military’s response to the hijackings in an “impromptu hallway interview” at the Pentagon (see September 14, 2001). [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Less than two weeks after 9/11, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets up an interagency group to design a strategy for prosecuting terrorists, and specifically asks it to suggest military commissions as one viable option for prosecution of suspected terrorists.
Membership - The initial participants include Gonzales; White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan; Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; the vice president’s chief counsel, David Addington; National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger; and State Department lawyer Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former career prosecutor who now serves as State’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues and who will head the group.
Various Options - The group spends a month in a windowless conference room at State, bringing in experts from around the government, including military lawyers and Justice Department lawyers. The Justice Department advocates regular trials in civilian courts, such as the trials of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers (see February 26, 1993). However, many in the group object, noting that terrorist trials in regular courthouses on US soil pose security risks. The military lawyers propose courts-martial, which can take place anywhere in the world and would have military protection. A third option, military commissions, would offer the security of courts-martial without the established rules of evidence and procedure courts-martial have; setting up such a system might offer more flexibility in trying suspected terrorists, but many in the group wonder if President Bush would require Congressional authorization. Prosper will later recall, “We were going to go after the people responsible for the attacks, and the operating assumption was that we would capture a significant number of al-Qaeda operatives.” In addition to the use of military commissions, the group begins to work out three other options: ordinary criminal trials, military courts-martial, and tribunals with a mixed membership of civilians and military personnel. The option of a criminal trial by an ordinary federal court is quickly brushed aside for logistical reasons, according to Prosper. “The towers were still smoking, literally. I remember asking: Can the federal courts in New York handle this? It wasn’t a legal question so much as it was logistical. You had 300 al-Qaeda members, potentially. And did we want to put the judges and juries in harm’s way?” Despite the interagency group’s willingness to study the option of military commissions, lawyers at the White House, according to reporter Tim Golden, grow impatient with the group. Some of its members are seen to have “cold feet.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 135]
Parallel Process at White House - Unbeknownst to Prosper’s group, the White House is crafting its own version of military commissions or tribunals (see Late October 2001). When President Bush issues his executive order creating military tribunals (see November 13, 2001), Prosper and his group will first learn about it by watching the nightly news. [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of State, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan, Pierre-Richard Prosper, John Bellinger, Beth Nolan, Alberto R. Gonzales, Scott McClellan, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

In an op-ed column for the neoconservative Weekly Standard, writers Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt state that the US’s enemies “want to push the United States out of the Middle East. Our response must be to prevent that.” Donnelly and Schmitt, members of the Project for the New American Century think tank (PNAC—see January 26, 1998 and September 2000), say that such an effort “will require more than a vague, unfocused ‘war on terrorism.‘… Last week’s strikes represent a new and more complex phase of this war. But this is not a new war. This is a ‘theater war’ in the classic sense. Neither [O]sama bin Laden nor Saddam [Hussein] cares much about America’s role in Europe or East Asia. They want us out of their region.”
Reasserting Dominance in Middle East - The US can win this “struggle for power in the Persian Gulf” by “reasserting our role as the region’s dominant power; as the guarantor of regional security; and as the protector of Israel, moderate Arab regimes, and the economic interests of the industrialized world.” Donnelly and Schmitt trace the US’s problems in the region back to the decision not to overthrow Hussein in 1991 (see January 16, 1991 and After). “As Saddam has crawled back from defeat,” they write, “bin Laden has grown increasingly bold. Meanwhile, our regional allies have begun to hedge their bets, not only with the terrorists and Iraq, but with Iran as well.” The US should focus on routing both bin Laden and Hussein from the region, they say. It is unclear if Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, they say, though they assert that Hussein was “implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993 and October 2000).… But as with bin Laden, we have long known that Saddam is our enemy, and that he would strike us as hard as he could. And if we have learned anything at all from [the] past week, it is that adopting a defensive posture risks attacks with unacceptable consequences. The only reasonable course when faced with such foes is to preempt and to strike first.” Overthrowing Hussein “is the key to restoring our regional dominance and preventing our enemies from achieving their war aims.… When Bush administration officials speak of ‘ending’ regimes that participate in the war against America, they must mean Saddam Hussein’s Iraq” (see Before January 20, 2001).
Cowing Other Nations, Restoring 'Global Credibility' - Overthrowing the Iraqi government will also cow Iran, Syria, and other regional threats, the authors say, and “will restore the global credibility tarnished in the Clinton years. Both our friends and our enemies will be watching to see if we pass this test.” Although attacking Afghanistan is not necessary, toppling the Saddam regime will not be difficult in a military sense, and “the larger challenge will be occupying Iraq after the fighting is over.”
Surpluses Will Pay for Effort - The so-called “lockboxes”—Social Security funds and others—previously kept from being spent on other government programs are, the authors write, “yesterday’s news,” but the sharp increases in defense spending that this war effort will require will not be difficult to fund: “given the surpluses that exist, there is no impediment to such increases.” [Weekly Standard, 9/24/2001]

Entity Tags: Thomas Donnelly, Gary Schmitt, Weekly Standard, Project for the New American Century

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

National Review editor Jonah Goldberg announces that the magazine has dropped conservative pundit Ann Coulter’s column over her incendiary column that advocated the US indiscriminately bombing Muslim countries, slaughtering their leaders, and forcibly converting their populations to Christianity (see September 13, 2001). According to Goldberg, it was Coulter, not the National Review, who chose to sever the relationship through her unprofessional behavior. Goldberg calls Coulter a “smart and funny” writer who lost control of her emotions in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the loss of her friend Barbara Olson (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001) in the attacks. In retrospect, Goldberg says, it was a “mistake” to have run the column in the first place. Her response to the outpouring of criticism towards her column was what Goldberg calls “a long, rambling rant… that was barely coherent.” What Coulter needed was a good editor, Goldberg says, and National Review refused to run the response. Coulter responded angrily, denying that she hates Muslims and advocated forcible conversion. But, Goldberg says, the dispute was never over her content, but over her writing style. “Ann didn’t fail as a person—as all her critics on the Left say—she failed as WRITER [sic], which for us is almost as bad.” According to Goldberg, Coulter refused to continue the discussion with the National Review editors; instead she “proceeded to run around town bad-mouthing [the magazine] and its employees” and claimed to be the victim of censorship. At that point, Goldberg writes, it became incumbent to fire Coulter. “What’s Ann’s take on all this?” Goldberg continues. “Well, she told the Washington Post yesterday that she loves it, because she’s gotten lots of great publicity. That pretty much sums Ann up.” [National Review, 10/2/2001]

Entity Tags: Ann Coulter, National Review, Jonah Goldberg

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

On the first night of the Afghan war, an unmanned Predator drone identifies a convoy of vehicles fleeing Kabul. Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, is determined to be inside this convoy. The CIA is in control of the Predator attack drone and wants to use it to kill Omar, but they have to ask for permission from military commanders who are based in Florida. General Tommy Franks decides not to fire any missiles or launch an air strike against the building in which Omar takes shelter. Eventually fighters attack and destroy the building, but by then Omar and his associates have moved on. One anonymous senior official later says of this failure to kill Omar, “It’s not a f_ckup, it’s an outrage.” According to one senior military officer, “political correctness” and/or slow bureaucratic procedures are to blame. [New Yorker, 10/16/2001] It is later revealed that this is part of a pattern of delays that will hinder many attacks on al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders (see Early October-Mid-November, 2001).

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, Central Intelligence Agency, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Wayne Allard.Wayne Allard. [Source: Publicity photo]General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee and gives NORAD’s account of the events of September 11 and the military’s response to the terrorist attacks that day, but the 9/11 Commission will later find that some of the information he provides is incorrect. [US Congress. Senate, 10/25/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 248] Eberhart was at NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and then went to NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain when the 9/11 attacks were taking place. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004] NORAD released a timeline of its response to the hijackings on September 18 (see September 18, 2001) and Eberhart’s testimony is consistent with that account. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]
Eberhart Says Fighters Were Scrambled in Response to First Hijacking - During the hearing, Eberhart tells Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) that after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) alerted NORAD to the first hijacking, of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), NORAD ordered two F-15 fighter jets to take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), “almost simultaneously to the first crash” at the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Eberhart says that after he learned a plane had hit the WTC, he was initially unsure if that plane was Flight 11. “I’m sitting there hoping that someone has made a mistake; there has been an accident; that this isn’t the hijacked airplane [that hit the WTC], because there is confusion,” he recalls. He says he was informed that “it was a light commuter airplane” that hit the WTC, although, he says, it “didn’t look like that was caused by a light commuter airplane.”
Fighters Didn't Have Enough Time to Stop Second Crash - Eberhart says the FAA notified NORAD that there was “a second hijacked plane”—referring to Flight 175—“somewhere in there,” but although the Otis fighters were “flying toward New York” after being scrambled, they were still eight minutes away from the city when Flight 175 crashed into the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Tragically, there was just too much distance between Otis and New York City to get there in time,” Eberhart comments.
Eberhart Says NORAD Learned Flight 77 Was Hijacked before It Crashed - Eberhart says the first documented instance NORAD has of the FAA notifying it about Flight 77, the third aircraft to be hijacked, was at 9:24 a.m. After the hearing, in responses submitted for the record, Eberhart adds that the FAA notified NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that Flight 77 “was headed towards Washington, DC.” NEADS, he states, “then passed this information to NORAD’s Air Warning Center and Command Center in Cheyenne Mountain, and to the Continental US NORAD Region’s Regional Air Operations Center.”
Fighters Were Scrambled Too Late to Prevent the Pentagon Attack - Eberhart says NORAD launched two F-16 fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia “as soon as” the FAA alerted it to the hijacking of Flight 77 (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, he says, these fighters were still “approximately 13 minutes away from Washington, DC, when that tragic crash [at the Pentagon] occurred.”
Eberhart Is Unaware of Reason for FAA's Delay in Contacting NORAD - Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Eberhart: “The timeline that we’ve been given is that at 8:55 on September 11, American Airlines Flight 77 began turning east, away from its intended course. And at 9:10, Flight 77 was detected by the FAA radar over West Virginia heading east. That was after the two planes had struck the World Trade Center towers. Then 15 minutes later, at 9:25, the FAA notified NORAD that Flight 77 was headed toward Washington.” In light of this, he asks, “[D]o you know why it took 15 minutes for the FAA to notify NORAD?” Eberhart replies: “I do not know, sir, why it took that amount of time for FAA. I hate to say it, but you’ll have to ask FAA.” Senator John Warner (R-VA), who has an extensive military background, tells Eberhart he is “a little bit stunned that you don’t know why that delay occurred.” He continues, saying, “I would have thought by now all of you in this chain would have gone back, rehearsed these things, figured out what happened, what went wrong, so that we ensure it won’t happen again.” In his responses submitted for the record, Eberhart suggests possible reasons for the delay, stating that after the FAA lost radar contact with Flight 77, it “began to receive calls from outside agencies with reports of a possible downed aircraft. Additionally, the loss of radio contact with the aircraft added to the confusion.” Consequently, he states, “I believe the FAA was faced with conflicting information, which hindered them from making an accurate assessment of the actual location of the aircraft.”
Eberhart Says NORAD Was Following Flight 93 before It Crashed - Eberhart says NORAD was aware of the problems with Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, before it crashed in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He tells Allard that the FAA “knew before it deviated its flight pattern” that Flight 93 “was hijacked.” He says NORAD had been “trying to decide, initially, if that flight was going to continue west and if there was some other target for that flight. Was it Chicago? Was it St. Louis? And what might we do to launch an aircraft to intercept it.” But he says that after the FAA reacquired Flight 93 on radar, NORAD thought the plane “was headed probably for Washington, DC, but maybe New York.” He says NORAD decided at that time to keep the Otis and Langley fighters in place over New York and Washington. If another suspicious plane was approaching, he says, “our intent was to go out and meet that aircraft and destroy it if we needed to, if it entered either Washington, DC, or New York City airspace.” However, in his responses submitted for the record, Eberhart states that the “data/log entries received by NORAD from the FAA [after September 11] do not show a time or entry indicating the FAA specifically notified the Pentagon that United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked.” He also states that NORAD “did not notify” the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that Flight 93 had been hijacked.
9/11 Commission Disputes Some of Eberhart's Claims - Several claims Eberhart makes in the hearing will be contradicted by evidence uncovered by the 9/11 Commission during its investigation of the terrorist attacks. Whereas Eberhart says the military was first notified about the hijacking of Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. and implies that this notification prompted the scrambling of fighters from Langley Air Force Base, according to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, “[T]he first notification regarding American 77 occurred at 9:34, when it was reported ‘lost’” (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. Senate, 10/25/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 248-254] The notice NEADS received at 9:24 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report, was the incorrect claim that Flight 11 “had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington, DC” (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34] Consequently, Farmer will write, “the scramble of the Langley fighters did occur as an immediate reaction to a notification about hijacking, but that notification was not, as [Eberhart’s] testimony implies, a report that American 77 was hijacked, but the report that American 11 was still airborne and heading for Washington.” And while Eberhart claims the FAA told NEADS that Flight 77 was heading toward Washington, according to Farmer: “The FAA never notified NEADS that American 77 was heading for Washington, DC. There is no such notification recorded on any tape or in any log maintained at NEADS or at NORAD.” Furthermore, while Eberhart claims the military was following Flight 93 on radar before it crashed and was in position to shoot it down if it approached Washington, Farmer will write that “in fact, NEADS never located United 93 on radar, because the plane had already crashed by the time NEADS was notified.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 251, 254-255]

Entity Tags: John W. Warner, Carl Levin, Ralph Eberhart, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Senate Armed Services Committee, Wayne Allard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Robert Bartley, conservative editor of The Wall Street Journal, writes an editorial in his newspaper strongly suggesting that Iraq is behind the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). He cites former CIA Director James Woolsey, who says the possibility should be considered that “the attacks—whether perpetrated by bin Laden and his associates or by others—were sponsored, supported, and perhaps even ordered by Saddam Hussein.” He also draws on the controversial and eventually discredited theories of Laurie Mylroie, for instance claiming that Iraq was behind the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), and the controversial and eventually discredited reports that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi spy in Prague. He concludes, “Saddam Hussein has the motive, means and opportunity to mount terrorism, and the anthrax attacks fit his modus operandi. There is plenty of reason to presume he’s behind the current attacks, with bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network as a front or ally. In any event, given his capabilities and intentions, he remains a threat to American lives as long as he’s at large.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Laurie Mylroie, Robert Bartley, James Woolsey

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The man in the picture on the left is supposed to be bin Laden in October 2001. The picture on the right is undisputendly bin Laden in DecemberThe man in the picture on the left is supposed to be bin Laden in October 2001. The picture on the right is undisputendly bin Laden in December [Source: Reuters]Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), some commentators question its authenticity, as a number of strange facts about the video soon emerge. For example, all previous videos had been made with the consent of bin Laden, and usually released to the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera. This video was supposedly recorded without his knowledge, found in a house in Afghanistan, and then passed to the CIA by an unknown person or group. Experts point out that it would be possible to fake such a video. So many people doubt the video’s authenticity that President Bush soon makes a statement, saying it was “preposterous for anybody to think this tape was doctored. Those who contend it’s a farce or a fake are hoping for the best about an evil man.” [Guardian, 12/15/2001] Some commentators will suggest that the person thought to be bin Laden is not actually the al-Qaeda leader. For example, arabist Kevin Barrett will say that the person in the video is “at least 40 or 50 pounds heavier, and his facial features [are] obviously different.” [Capital Times (Madison), 2/14/2006] The man said to be bin Laden also makes some questionable statements in the video:
bullet “I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building…” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] The jet fuel spilled from the planes burned up about 10 minutes after impact (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001), the towers’ structure did not melt (see September 12, 2001-February 2002), and the towers were not made of iron, but steel. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] Bin Laden had studied civil engineering at university and had experience as a construction contractor. [Burke, 2004, pp. 47; Laden, 2005, pp. xii-xiii] It is unclear why he would think the towers were made of iron.
bullet “We did not reveal the operation to [the brothers who conducted the operation] until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] All the hijackers purchased tickets for the 9/11 flights about two weeks in advance (see August 25-September 5, 2001). The six plot leaders had flight training (see July 6-December 19, 2000, (June 28-December 2000), January-February 2001, and May 5 and 10, 2000), and some of the other 13 are thought to have assisted with target surveillance and casing flights (see May 24-August 14, 2001, August 1, 2001, June 2001 and August 2001).
bullet “Those who were trained to fly didn’t know the others. One group of people did not know the other group.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] The opposite is true: the pilots intermingled with the muscle and the teams for the various planes mixed (see April 23-June 29, 2001, April 12-September 7, 2001, and June 27-August 23, 2001).
There are reports that bin Laden had from four to ten look-alike doubles at the time. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2001; London Times, 11/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Kevin Barrett, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Joseph Trombino.Joseph Trombino. [Source: Family photo]An armored truck that was parked in the basement of the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11 is discovered by recovery workers, who find that diamonds and bonds worth over a million dollars are inexplicably missing from it. The Brink’s armored truck was driven down to the underground receiving platform of the North Tower sometime before 8:46 a.m. on September 11, to deliver $14 million in cash. As well as this cash, the vehicle was carrying negotiable bonds and diamonds.
Driver Stayed with His Truck after Flight 11 Hit the WTC - Its driver, Joseph Trombino, waited while his three fellow guards dropped off the cash with some Bank of Nova Scotia guards, who put the money into canvas carts to be taken to a vault. Trombino was still in his vehicle when Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). His fellow guards were subsequently evacuated from the tower. But instead of leaving, Trombino stayed with his vehicle, perhaps to protect the cargo or because he expected his colleagues to return. At 9:15 a.m., he called Brink’s and reported that a police officer had told him to move his truck because the tower was unstable. He also reported that the building was shaking and water was cascading down. He was killed when the North Tower collapsed, at 10:28 a.m. (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Recovery Workers Discover the Armored Truck - Now, over three months later, a recovery team unearths part of the roof of Trombino’s truck in the wreckage of the WTC. Sergeant Kevin Murphy of the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) calls Lieutenant William Keegan, who is in charge of the PAPD’s nighttime rescue and recovery operation at Ground Zero, and tells him about the find. Keegan, in turn, contacts Brink’s to alert it to the discovery of one of its vehicles. Brink’s says it will send someone to the WTC site as soon as possible and mentions that the truck contains over a million dollars’ worth of valuables, comprising $250,000 in diamonds and $750,000 in negotiable bonds. The company also says the truck’s driver—Trombino—is still missing. Keegan then heads to the WTC site and a Brink’s supervisor also goes there.
Diamonds and Bonds Are Missing from the Truck - Once enough rubble has been removed to see inside the truck, Keegan and the other workers notice that the cab is empty. Keegan will later wonder if Trombino sought refuge under his truck when the Twin Towers collapsed, got into the back of it for safety, or left the vehicle and tried to get up to the street. Keegan wants to get into the back of the truck to remove the valuables from there. To get inside, the workers cut into a section of the roof with a circular saw and peel it back to create an opening. PAPD officer Tony Demeri is then lowered down through the hole. But after he carries out a full inspection, Demeri reports that the truck is empty, with no bonds or diamonds to be found. [New York Times, 9/17/2001; Chicago Tribune, 9/22/2001; Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 147-149] Trombino’s wife, Jean Trombino, will say in January 2002 that although her husband’s body has been recovered, she hasn’t been told where it was found. [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 1/2/2002] Brink’s will report in 2014 that the body was found near the water fountain between the Twin Towers, in the WTC plaza, along with Trombino’s messenger bag. [Brink's Blog, 9/10/2014] The canvas carts filled with the $14 million that Trombino delivered on September 11 will be discovered in the rubble of the WTC in February 2002. However, Keegan will write in 2006, “Neither the bonds nor the diamonds have ever been recovered.” [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 149]

Entity Tags: Jean Trombino, Joseph Trombino, Brink’s, Kevin Murphy, Tony Demeri, William Keegan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Jordanian suspected of involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) and 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995) is arrested but apparently only charged with minor offenses. Hadi Yousef Alghoul had been arrested in the Philippines in March 1995 and accused of involvement in the Bojinka plot there. (see April 1, 1995-Early 1996). He apparently is the cousin of bomber Ramzi Yousef. [Ressa, 2003, pp. 25] On December 26, 2001, he is arrested in the Philippines again. He is found with nearly 300 sticks of dynamite and other bomb making materials. A police colonel says Alghoul had been under surveillance for years. [CNN, 12/28/2001; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] Police say he is one of the United States’ 25 most wanted terrorists with a $25 million reward for his arrest in connection with the 1993 WTC bombing. His “fingerprints perfectly matched those of a terrorist tagged in the World Trade Center bombing.” He is also wanted for plotting the assassination of Americans. [Manila Bulletin, 1/6/2002] Yet despite all these accusations, he is not extradited to the US as other Bojinka suspects were, and he is merely charged in 2002 with the illegal possession of explosive devices. There have been no further news accounts about him. [Manila Sun-Star, 11/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Hadi Yousef Alghoul, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Three of the men convicted for the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993)—Mohammed Salameh, Mahmud Abouhalima, and Nidal Ayyad—are allowed to write about 90 letters from inside the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, encouraging fellow extremists around the world. Some of the letters are sent to Morocco and some to a militant cell in Spain. In one, addressed to cell leader Mohamed Achraf, who will be arrested in late 2004 for attempting to blow up the National Justice Building in Madrid (see July-October 18, 2004), Salameh writes, “Oh, God, make us live with happiness. Make us die as martyrs. May we be united on the day of judgment.” Other recipients have links to the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). One of Salameh’s letters, in which he calls Osama bin Laden “the hero of my generation,” is published in a newspaper in July 2002, but this does not result in any new security attempts to stop other letters. The letters urge readers to “terminate the infidels” because “Muslims don’t have any option other than jihad.” Former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wonders, “He was exhorting acts of terrorism and helping recruit would-be terrorists for the jihad from inside an American prison.” Terrorism specialist Hedieth Mirahmadi says the letters would have been especially useful for recruitment because the convicted bombers have “a power that the average person or the average imam in a mosque doesn’t have.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will later comment, “I was surprised. Didn’t seem to make any sense to me and I’m sure the average American would have to wonder, ‘How could this happen?’” Staff at the prison noticed the letters were unmonitored and complained in 2003, but it apparently took management several months to impose a tighter regime. [MSNBC, 3/1/2005; MSNBC, 3/9/2005]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Prisons, Mohamed Achraf, Mohammed Salameh, Hedieth Mirahmadi, Andrew McCarthy, Alberto R. Gonzales, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmud Abouhalima

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After years of battling Republican filibuster efforts and other Congressional impediments, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 is signed into law. Dubbed the “McCain-Feingold Act” after its two Senate sponsors, John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), when the law takes effect after the 2002 midterm elections, national political parties will no longer be allowed to raise so-called “soft money” (unregulated contributions) from wealthy donors. The legislation also raises “hard money” (federal money) limits, and tries, with limited success, to eliminate so-called “issue advertising,” where organizations not directly affiliated with a candidate run “issues ads” that promote or attack specific candidates. The act defines political advertising as “electioneering communication,” and prohibits advertising paid for by corporations or by an “unincorporated entity” funded by corporations or labor unions (with exceptions—see June 25, 2007). To a lesser extent, the BCRA also applies to state elections. In large part, it supplants the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980). [Federal Election Commission, 2002; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file]
Bush: Bill 'Far from Perfect' - Calling the bill “far from perfect,” President Bush signs it into law, taking credit for the bill’s restrictions on “soft money,” which the White House and Congressional Republicans had long opposed. Bush says: “This legislation is the culmination of more than six years of debate among a vast array of legislators, citizens, and groups. Accordingly, it does not represent the full ideals of any one point of view. But it does represent progress in this often-contentious area of public policy debate. Taken as a whole, this bill improves the current system of financing for federal campaigns, and therefore I have signed it into law.” [Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; White House, 3/27/2002]
'Soft Money' Ban - The ban on so-called “soft money,” or “nonfederal contributions,” affects contributions given to political parties for purposes other than supporting specific candidates for federal office (“hard money”). In theory, soft money contributions can be used for purposes such as party building, voter outreach, and other activities. Corporations and labor unions are prohibited from giving money directly to candidates for federal office, but they can give soft money to parties. Via legal loopholes and other, sometimes questionable, methodologies, soft money contributions can be used for television ads in support of (or opposition to) a candidate, making the two kinds of monies almost indistinguishable. The BCRA bans soft money contributions to political parties. National parties are prohibited from soliciting, receiving, directing, transferring, and spending soft money. State and local parties can no longer spend soft money for any advertisements or other voter communications that identify a candidate for federal office and either promote or attack that candidate. Federal officeholders and candidates cannot solicit, receive, direct, transfer, or spend soft money in connection with any election. State officeholders and candidates cannot spend soft money on any sort of communication that identifies a candidate for federal office and either promotes or attacks that candidate. [Legal Information Institute, 12/2003; ThisNation, 2012]
Defining 'Issue Advertisements' or 'Electioneering Communications' - In a subject related to the soft money section, the BCRA addresses so-called “issue advertisements” sponsored by outside, third-party organizations and individuals—in other words, ads by people or organizations who are not candidates or campaign organizations. The BCRA defines an “issue ad,” or as the legislation calls it, “electioneering communication,” as one that is disseminated by cable, broadcast, or satellite; refers to a candidate for federal office; is disseminated in a particular time period before an election; and is targeted towards a relevant electorate with the exception of presidential or vice-presidential ads. The legislation anticipates that this definition might be overturned by a court, and provides the following “backup” definition: any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication which promotes or supports a candidate for that office, or attacks or opposes a candidate for that office (regardless of whether the communication expressly advocates a vote for or against a candidate).
Corporation and Labor Union Restrictions - The BCRA prohibits corporations and labor unions from using monies from their general treasuries for political communications. If these organizations wish to participate in a political process, they can form a PAC and allocate specific funds to that group. PAC expenditures are not limited.
Nonprofit Corporations - The BCRA provides an exception to the above for “nonprofit corporations,” allowing them to fund electioneering activities and communications from their general treasuries. These nonprofits are subject to disclosure requirements, and may not receive donations from corporations or labor unions.
Disclosure and Coordination Restrictions - This part of the BCRA amends the sections of FECA that addresses disclosure and “coordinated expenditure” issues—the idea that “independent” organizations such as PACs could coordinate their electioneering communications with those of the campaign it supports. It includes the so-called “millionaire provisions” that allow candidates to raise funds through increased contribution limits if their opponent’s self-financed personal campaign contributions exceed a certain amount.
Broadcast Restrictions - The BCRA establishes requirements for television broadcasts. All political advertisements must identify their sponsor. It also modifies an earlier law requiring broadcast stations to sell airtime at its lowest prices. Broadcast licensees must collect and disclose records of purchases made for the purpose of political advertisements.
Increased Contribution Limits - The BCRA increases contribution limits. It also bans contributions from minors, with the idea that parents would use their children as unwitting and unlawful conduits to avoid contribution limits.
Lawsuits Challenge Constitutionality - The same day that Bush signs the law into effect, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) file lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the BCRA (see December 10, 2003). [Legal Information Institute, 12/2003]

Entity Tags: Russell D. Feingold, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, National Rifle Association, George W. Bush, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

FEMA’s World Trade Center Building Performance Study.FEMA’s World Trade Center Building Performance Study. [Source: FEMA]FEMA releases its report of the WTC collapses. It concludes, “[W]ith the information and time available, the sequence of events leading to the collapse of each tower could not be definitively determined.” On Building 7: “The specifics of the fires in WTC 7 and how they caused the building to collapse remain unknown at this time.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says he is “gravely concerned” to learn that President Bush “received a warning in August about the threat of hijackers,” referring to a CBS News report revealing that Bush had been warned about a possible hijacking over a month before the 9/11 attacks (see August 6, 2001). Daschle calls on the White House to provide the classified briefing to Congressional investigators. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says, using the language of Watergate investigators, “I think what we have to do now is find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, when they knew it, and, most importantly, what was done about it at the time.” White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that, as objectionable as the White House finds these statements, “the Democrat who most aroused the ire of the White House and Republicans was New York’s Democratic senator, Hillary Clinton.” Clinton takes the floor of the Senate and says, “We learn today something we might have learned at least eight months ago: that President Bush had been informed last year, before September 11, of a possible al-Qaeda plot to hijack a US airliner.” She displays a New York Post headline that reads, “BUSH KNEW” (see May 15, 2002) and “9/11 BOMBSHELL.” “The president knew what?” Clinton asks. McClellan will write that he and his White House colleagues are “incensed” at Clinton’s rhetoric: “To us, such grandstanding appeared to be a return to the ugly partisan warfare that had come to define Washington and its culture during the 1990s. Politics as war, the innuendo of scandal, and the egregious implication that the president had deliberately neglected the country’s safety—it was all in service of the November election results. All the familiar elements were there. The story and the partisan accusations that followed provided great controversy for the media to cover.” (In this passage, McClellan fails to note that White House political guru Karl Rove had, months before, advised Bush and Republican candidates to use the war to attack Democrats in the November 2002 elections—see January 2002). McClellan will complain that Clinton “had not even bothered to call [the White House] to find out more about the facts behind the headlines before delivering her speech,” and will note: “To us, the disingenuous way the leaders rushed to create a damning story line about the president and his administration crossed a line. Republicans objected vehemently and aggressively in a counteroffensive led by the White House,” with Vice President Dick Cheney calling the Democrats’ questions “incendiary” (see May 16, 2002) and Bush declaring, “Had we any inkling, whatsoever, that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America.” Bush adds: “And I’m confident that President Clinton would have done the same thing (see September 7, 2003). Any president would have.” McClellan will call Bush’s statement “a gesture toward the rapidly vanishing spirit of bipartisanship.” He will write that Democrats did not, by themselves, break the bipartisanship that had supposedly reigned before CBS broke the news of the August 6 briefing: “Democrats were responding in part to perceived efforts by Republicans seeking political advantage from the president’s aggressive efforts to wage war against Islamist terrorists,” and will note that in 1998, Republicans accused President Clinton of “wagging the dog”—launching military strikes against Iraq to distract the nation from the Monica Lewinsky scandal (see December 16-19, 1998). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 117-118]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Tom Daschle, Scott McClellan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—an agency of the US Commerce Department’s Technology Administration—announces details of its forthcoming investigation into the collapses of the World Trade Center Twin Towers and Building 7 on 9/11. The NIST investigation aims “to investigate the building construction, the materials used, and the technical conditions that contributed to the outcome of the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster.” It also aims to examine the activities of building occupants and emergency responders on 9/11, studying such issues as emergency communications within the WTC, the movement of people during the evacuations, and issues around persons with disabilities. Leading technical experts from industry, academia, and other laboratories, alongside NIST’s own expert staff, will participate in the investigation. Expert professionals from the private sector will also be involved. Glenn Corbett, a fire science professor at John Jay College, says, “This is going to be the most extensive building disaster investigation ever performed.” [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/3/2005] The investigation is formally authorized in October 2002, when the National Construction Safety Team Act is signed into law. The act, which gives NIST authorization to investigate major building failures in the US, is written largely as a result of the World Trade Center collapses. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 10/2/2002; New York Times, 5/8/2003] NIST’s investigation is originally proposed to last two years, with a budget of $16 million. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2002] However, it eventually will last three years, with its final report into the collapses of the Twin Towers being released in October 2005 (see October 26, 2005). A previous analysis of the WTC collapses conducted by FEMA and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) was completed earlier in 2002 (see May 1, 2002), but this had a budget of just $1.1 million. By the time NIST starts its investigation, much of the crucial steel debris from the WTC collapses has already been destroyed (see September 12-October 2001). They later refer to there being a “scarcity of physical evidence that is typically available in place for reconstruction of a disaster.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. xxxvi]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Glenn Corbett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the story of what President Bush did on that day is significantly rewritten. In actual fact, when Chief of Staff Andrew Card told Bush about the second plane crash into the WTC, Bush continued to sit in a Florida elementary school classroom and hear a story about a pet goat for at least seven more minutes (see (9:08 a.m.-9:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001), as video footage later broadcast in the 2004 movie Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004) shows. But one year later, Card claims that after he told Bush about the second WTC crash, “it was only a matter of seconds” before Bush “excused himself very politely to the teacher and to the students, and he left the Florida classroom.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/11/2002] In a different account, Card says, “Not that many seconds later the president excused himself from the classroom.” [Newsweek, 9/9/2002] An interview with the classroom teacher states that Bush left the class even before the second WTC crash: “The president bolted right out of here and told me: ‘Take over’.” When the second WTC crash occurred, she claims her students were watching television in a nearby media room. [New York Post, 9/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, World Trade Center, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

One of the key variables in the computer simulations used by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) (see (October 2002-October 2005)) to explain the WTC collapses is the speed of the aircraft that hit the towers. However, there is no consensus on how fast the planes were traveling. The first estimate was contained in an initial research paper by engineers Zdenek Bazant and Yong Zhou, who stated that the planes were traveling at 342 miles per hour. [Bazant and Zhou, 1/2002 pdf file] However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report said that the plane that hit the North Tower was traveling at 470 miles per hour, whereas the plane that hit the South Tower was traveling at 590 miles per hour (see May 1, 2002). [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 31] NIST initially estimates speeds of 435 miles per hour for the plane that hit the North Tower and 497 miles per hour for the plane that hit the South Tower. These estimates closely match figures produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which finds speeds of 429 miles per hour and 503 miles per hour for the two planes. However, NIST is dissatisfied with these results and does a second study, which finds speeds of 466 and 545 miles per hour. It then uses speeds of 472 and 570 miles per hour in its severe case model, on which its final report is based. In this model, the simulation of the planes traveling faster means greater damage to the towers’ structure, making them more unstable. [Kausel, 5/2002 pdf file; National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 152-165 pdf file; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109]

Entity Tags: Zdenek Bazant, National Institute of Standards and Technology, World Trade Center, Yong Zhou, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, American Society of Civil Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Matthys Levy.Matthys Levy. [Source: PBS]A report is made publicly available, which the Engineering News-Record calls the “most comprehensive study yet on the destruction of the World Trade Center.” The study was commissioned by WTC leaseholder Silverstein Properties Inc. to support a $7 billion insurance claim, and conducted by a team of engineers from several leading firms, including Weidlinger Associates, LZA Technology/Thornton-Tomasetti, and ARUPFire. It is intended to build on a previous study sponsored by FEMA (see May 1, 2002). The report’s findings are based on an analysis of original structural drawings, thousands of photos, and dozens of videos. Investigators used fire evaluation techniques and powerful computer software to simulate the condition of each tower at critical times between the planes’ impacts and the towers’ collapses. The earlier FEMA investigators had no access to such computer modeling. Matthys Levy, the chairman of Weidlinger Associates and one of the engineers on the study team, says, “The buildings had tremendous reserve capacity and that was reflected in all of the elements we analyzed. In fact, because there were so much excess capacity, the columns even in the impact floors did not buckle immediately, but failed as the result of the fire.” The report states that failure of the WTC’s steel floor supports (“trusses”) did not contribute to the collapses. Instead, the collapses were caused by the failure of steel structural columns that were either destroyed when the planes hit or lost fireproofing, leaving them vulnerable to the weakening effects of the ensuing fires. It says that debris and dust distributed by the plane crashes inhibited the fires, such that the average air temperatures on the impact floors were between 400 and 700°C (750-1,300°F): significantly lower than those associated with typical “fully developed” office fires. However, says Matthys Levy, “By the time the temperature inside the buildings reached 400 degrees, the steel would have lost approximately 50% of its strength. Eventually, gravity took over and the towers began to fall.” Then, according to the analysis led by researchers from LZA Technology/Thornton-Tomasetti, “Once collapse initiated in each tower, essentially all of the interior structure of the tower fell straight down with floors pancaking on top of one another. The network of perimeter steel columns and spandrels acted like a chute to funnel the interior contents into the tower footprint.” According to the computer simulations, the damage to the South Tower’s steel core columns was so severe that the tower should have collapsed immediately after the plane hit. Civil engineer John Osteraas says this incorrect result casts doubt upon some of the study’s predictions. The report concludes that the collapse of the South Tower did not cause or contribute to the subsequent collapse of the North Tower, thus supporting Silverstein Properties’ claim that the terrorist attack represented two occurrences, entitling it to two $3.5 billion insurance policy limits. A separate study commissioned by the insurers contradicts this (see October 23, 2002). The Silverstein report apparently does not examine the collapse of WTC Building 7, a 47-story skyscraper that also collapsed on 9/11 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). It has been passed on to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is undertaking its own investigation of the WTC collapses (see August 21, 2002). [New York Times, 9/30/2002; Business Insurance, 10/23/2002; Silverstein Properties, Inc., 10/23/2002 pdf file; Engineering News-Record, 10/25/2002; New York Times, 10/29/2002; Engineering News-Record, 11/4/2002; Real Estate Weekly, 4/30/2003]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Silverstein Properties, Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers, Weidlinger Associates, Matthys Levy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The cover of ‘Bush at War.’The cover of ‘Bush at War.’ [Source: Amazon (.co.uk)]Author and famed reporter Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War is published.
Unprecedented Access - Woodward, who made his reputation uncovering the Watergate conspiracy from 30 years before (see June 15, 1974), is no longer an unknown young reporter working to find sources that will confide in him. Now he is an established Washington insider. For this book, Woodward was granted “unprecedented access” to Bush administration officials, including notes from National Security Council meetings and two long interviews with President Bush himself, far more access than even that granted to the 9/11 Commission and Congressional inquiries into other events of interest. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich will find this level of access inexplicable, saying that “it makes no sense for an administration that has jealously guarded its executive privilege to allow a reporter the access it denies to members of Congress.”
Hagiographic Account - The Observer’s Peter Preston calls Woodward’s book a “more-or-less instant study of the White House after 9/11,” and writes that while Woodward could have created “a classic of investigative journalism,” instead he gave us a compendium of “painful, obsessively useless detail” that generally paints the picture the White House wants painted. If Woodward’s book is to be believed, Preston writes, the Colin Powell moderates and the Dick Cheney hawks “had their snappy moments, but they’re OK-ish now.” CIA Director George Tenet “is a far-sighted man” who not only immediately divined that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, but while the towers were still burning, wondered if the attacks had anything to do with “that guy taking pilot training,” Zacarias Moussaoui. Iraq war planner General Tommy Franks usually feels “finer than the hair on a frog’s back.” Former President Clinton’s “weak-willed men used to ‘pound the desert’ ineffectually, while his brilliant successors like to hit something, if at all possible.” And President Bush “is bright and talented and eloquent and decisive,” who runs National Security Council meetings himself and knows all he needs to know about the state of the world (Woodward quotes Bush as saying, “I’m not a textbook player—I’m a gut player”). Both Preston and author Frank Rich accuse Woodward of “burnishing” Bush’s image at the expense of the truth. A few potentially embarrassing tidbits manage to poke their way through what both Preston and Rich call the “hagiography,” mostly relating to senior administration officials’ lack of knowledge about Afghan tribal politics and the lack of evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. But all told, the book seems to tell a clear story: where Clinton was indecisive, Bush is forthright; where Clinton muddled around with bin Laden and Middle East terrorism, Bush is taking the war straight into the heart of the Islamist redoubt. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] The book gives such a favorable impression of Bush and his administration that the Republican National Committee will recommend it on its Web site. [New York Times, 11/12/2006]
Selective Reporting - The administration officials who talked to Woodward are painted in largely glowing terms, while those who did not (including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge) are, in Preston’s words, “written out of the script.” Potentially embarrassing incidents such as the administration’s complete failure to find the source of the anthrax mailings of 2001 (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 5-November 21, 2001) and the ineffective roundup of thousands of Middle Eastern “terror suspects” after 9/11 (see Late November, 2001) are ignored entirely. The pivotal Afghan battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was allowed to escape US clutches (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001), gets two paragraphs. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] Guardian reviewer Peter Symon notes that Woodward even fails to ask the most “obvious questions” about the 9/11 attacks, instead accepting the administration’s accounts of events and its responses as absolute and unquestionable. [Guardian, 1/29/2003] Rich notes that Woodward grants Bush and his officials tremendous individual credence, taking their word on one issue after another without question: for example, when Bush calls investigative journalist Seymour Hersh “a liar,” Woodward takes Bush’s word without giving Hersh a chance to respond. More generally, Woodward never asks the obvious follow-up questions. Bush explains why the US didn’t attack Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously after the 9/11 attacks: “If we tried to do too many things… militarily, then… the lack of focus would have been a huge risk.” Rich notes, “The follow-up question that was not to be found in Bush at War was simple enough: If it was a huge risk to split our focus between Saddam and al-Qaeda then, why wasn’t it now?” Preston concludes: “Maybe the Woodward of three decades ago would have given [the Bush administration more intense scrutiny]. No longer. Today’s Woodward, eight bestsellers later, skates breathlessly from interview to interview and notepad to notepad without ever, seemingly, stopping to think, ‘Why am I being told all this? What does it mean?’ It isn’t investigation, just cross-referenced compilation.” [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67]

Entity Tags: Peter Preston, National Security Council, John Ashcroft, Frank Rich, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), Newt Gingrich, Thomas Franks, Peter Symon, George W. Bush, Republican National Committee, Seymour Hersh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The Los Angeles Times reports that, ironically, the man in charge of security for the nation where the US bases its headquarters for the Iraq war is a supporter of al-Qaeda. Sheik Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani is the Interior Minister of Qatar. US Central Command and thousands of US troops are stationed in that country. In 1996, al-Thani was Religious Minister and he apparently let 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) live on his farm (see January-May 1996). Mohammed was tipped off that the US was after him. Some US officials believe al-Thani was the one who helped KSM escape, just as he had assisted other al-Qaeda leaders on other occasions. [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2003] Another royal family member has sheltered al-Qaeda leaders and given over $1 million to al-Qaeda. KSM was even sheltered by Qatari royalty for two weeks after 9/11 (see Late 2001). [New York Times, 2/6/2003] Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, who has ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and also attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), was sheltered by al-Thani’s religious ministry in 2000. [Newsweek, 9/30/2002] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says al-Thani “had great sympathy for Osama bin Laden, great sympathy for terrorist groups, was using his personal money and ministry money to transfer to al-Qaeda front groups that were allegedly charities.” However, the US has not attempted to apprehend al-Thani or take any other action against him. [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Osama bin Laden, Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, United States, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission holds a public hearing at which it takes testimony from military officials about the timeline of events on the day of 9/11. The key witness is retired Air Force General Larry Arnold, who commanded NORAD’s Continental US Region on the day of 9/11. Under questioning from commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, Arnold says, “I believe that to be a fact: that 9:24 was the first time that we had been advised of American 77 as a possible hijacked airplane.” However, the Commission will later conclude that the military was not notified of the hijacking at this time, although it had been mistakenly advised Flight 11 was inbound to Washington three minutes previously (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Arnold adds that if the military was slow in responding to Flight 77, it was because “our focus—you have got to remember that there’s a lot of other things going on simultaneously here—was on United 93.” However, Flight 93 was not hijacked until a few minutes after 9:24 (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Arnold adds: “It was our intent to intercept United Flight 93. And in fact, my own staff, we were orbiting now over Washington, DC, by this time, and I was personally anxious to see what 93 was going to do, and our intent was to intercept it.” However, the Commission will later conclude that the military did not learn that Flight 93 had been hijacked until around 10:00 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Prior to the hearing, the Commission’s staff had been concerned about the inaccuracy of timelines offered by the military. Author Philip Shenon will write: “It seemed all the more remarkable to [Commission staffer John Farmer] that the Pentagon could not establish a clear chronology of how it responded to an attack on the Pentagon building itself. Wouldn’t the generals and admirals want to know why their own offices—their own lives—had been put at risk that morning?” Therefore, Farmer thought that the hearing should clear things up, but, according to Shenon, he and his colleagues are “astonished” when they analyze what Arnold says, although he is not under oath on this day. Shenon will add, “It would later be determined that almost every one of those assertions by General Arnold in May 2003 was flat wrong.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 119-121]

Entity Tags: John Farmer, 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon, Richard Ben-Veniste, Larry Arnold

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Judith Yaphe testifies before the 9/11 Commission. Yaphe, a CIA veteran who now teaches at the Pentagon’s National Defense University, is considered one of the agency’s most experienced and knowledgeable Iraq analysts. Yaphe states that while Saddam Hussein was indeed a sponsor of terrorism, it is improbable, based on what is currently known, that Hussein and Iraq had any connections to the 9/11 attacks, nor that a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda is believable. [National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 7/9/2003] Yaphe is disturbed by the commission’s apparent acceptance of the testimony of Laurie Mylroie (see July 9, 2003), whose theories about connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda have long been discredited by both intelligence analysts and outside experts. She wonders why Mylroie’s “crazed theories” were being heard at all, and why the commission would risk its credibility by giving Mylroie this kind of exposure. She even speculates that Mylroie’s testimony is some sort of setup by the commission or the staff, and hopes that her own testimony can offset Mylroie’s theories and help discredit Mylroie before the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Yaphe tells the commission, in apparent reference to Mylroie, that the use of circumstantial evidence is “troubling” and that there is a “lack of credible evidence to jump to extraordinary conclusions on Iraqi support for al-Qaeda.” She also calls Mylroie’s theories of Iraqi spies using false identities to help execute the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see February 26, 1993) worthy of a fiction novel and completely unsupported by fact. [National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 7/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Commission, Central Intelligence Agency, Judith Yaphe, Laurie Mylroie, National Defense University

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

At the end of a two-day meeting to discuss the progress of their investigation of the WTC collapses on 9/11, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) investigators say that early tests on steel beams recovered from the World Trade Center showed they met or were stronger than design requirements. NIST has collected 236 pieces of steel from the wreckage of the towers. Tests have found that the steel beams exceeded requirements to bear 36,000 pounds per square inch, and were often capable of bearing around 42,000 pounds per square inch. Lead investigator Shyam Sunder says that if further testing corroborates these findings, this will rule out weak steel as a factor in the collapses. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/26/2003; Associated Press, 8/28/2003] The final report of the NIST investigation, released in 2005, will corroborate this finding: “Overall, approximately 87 percent of all perimeter and core column steel tested exceeded the required minimum yield strengths specified in design documents. Test data for the remaining samples were below specifications, but were within the expected variability and did not affect the safety of the towers on September 11, 2001.” It also will point out: “Of the more than 170 areas examined on 16 perimeter column panels, only three columns had evidence that the steel reached temperatures above 250°C.… Only two core column specimens had sufficient paint remaining to make such an analysis, and their temperatures did not reach 250°C.… Using metallographic analysis, NIST determined that there was no evidence that any of the samples had reached temperatures above 600 °C.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 89-90]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’ [Source: Internet Movie Database (.com)]Showtime broadcasts a “docudrama” about the 9/11 attacks and the White House’s response, entitled DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. According to New York Times author and media critic Frank Rich, the film drastically rewrites history to portray President Bush as “an unironic action-movie superhero.” In the movie, Bush—portrayed by actor Timothy Bottoms, who played Bush in Comedy Central’s satiric That’s My Bush!—is shown overruling his Secret Service detail and ordering Air Force One to return to Washington immediately, an event which never happened (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me!” the movie Bush shouts. “I’ll be at home, waiting for the b_stard!” The movie Bush has other lines that establish his desire to get back to Washington, including, “The American people want to know where their damn president is!” and “People can’t have an AWOL president!” In one scene, a Secret Service agent questions Bush’s demand to return to Washington by saying, “But Mr. President—” only to be cut off by Bush, who snaps, “Try ‘Commander in Chief.’ Whose present command is: Take the president home!” In reality, most of the orders on 9/11 were given by Vice President Dick Cheney and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, but in the movie, Bush is the man in charge. “Hike military alert status to Delta,” he orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “That’s the military, the CIA, foreign, domestic, everything,” he explains. “And if you haven’t gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” To Cheney, he barks: “Vice? We are at war.” The White House team are, in Rich’s words, “portrayed as the very model of efficiency and derring-do.” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003; New York Times, 9/5/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26] New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley notes that Bush is the unquestioned hero of the film, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair portrayed as “not very eloquent” and Cheney depicted as “a kowtowing yes-man.” [New York Times, 9/5/2003]
Conservative Pundits Influenced Script - The movie is produced by Lionel Chetwynd, whom Rich calls “the go-to conservative in B-list Hollywood.” For the movie script, Chetwynd was given unprecedently broad access to top White House officials, including Bush. He also received the assistance of conservative Washington pundits Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, and Fred Barnes, who cover the Bush White House for such media outlets as Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post. Rich later writes that much of the film seems based on Bob Woodward’s “hagiographic [book] Bush at War (see November 25, 2002).” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26]
Propaganda Effort? - Before the movie airs, Toronto Sun columnist Linda McQuaig called the film an attempt to mythologize Bush in a fashion similar to Hollywood’s re-creation of the Wild West’s Wyatt Earp, and wrote that the film “is sure to help the White House further its two-pronged reelection strategy: Keep Americans terrified of terrorism and make Bush look like the guy best able to defend them.” Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower added that the movie would present Bush as “a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.… Instead of the doe-eyed, uncertain, worried figure that he was that day, Bush-on-film is transformed into an infallible, John Wayne-ish, Patton-type leader, barking orders to the Secret Service and demanding that the pilots return him immediately to the White House.” Chetwynd himself has acknowledged that he is a “great admirer” of Bush, and has close ties to the White House. In late 2001, Bush appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “This isn’t propaganda,” Chetwynd insisted during the shooting of the movie, adding: “Everything in the movie is [based on] two or three sources. I’m not reinventing the wheel here.… I don’t think it’s possible to do a revision of this particular bit of history. Every scholar who has looked at this has come to the same place that this film does. There’s nothing here that Bob Woodward would disagree with.… It’s a straightforward docudrama. I would hope what’s presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation.” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003] Rich will later write that the film is “unmistakably a propaganda effort on behalf of a sitting administration.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26]
Blaming the Clinton Administration - Perhaps most questionably, Stanley writes, the film “rarely misses a chance to suggest that the Clinton administration’s weakness was to blame for the disaster.” Bush, she notes, is portrayed as a more decisive leader than his predecessor: in the film, he tells Blair over the telephone: “I want to inflict pain [on the attackers]. Bring enough damage so they understand there is a new team here, a fundamental change in our policy.” [New York Times, 9/5/2003]
9/11 Widow Unhappy with Film - Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center, calls the film “a mind-numbingly boring, revisionist, two-hour-long wish list of how 9/11 might have gone if we had real leaders in the current administration.” She adds: “It is understandable that so little time is actually devoted to the president’s true actions on the morning of 9/11. Because to show the entire 23 minutes from 9:03 to 9:25 a.m., when President Bush, in reality, remained seated and listening to ‘second grade story-hour’ while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers, would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.” Breitweiser questions numerous aspects of the film: “Miscellaneous things that surprised me included the fact that the film perpetuates the big fat lie that Air Force One was a target. Forgive me, but I thought the White House admitted at the end of September 2001 that Air Force One was never a target, that no code words were spoken and that it was all a lie (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-March 2004). So what gives?… Not surprisingly, there is no mention of accountability. Not once does anyone say, ‘How the hell did this happen? Heads will roll!’ I was hoping that, at least behind closed doors, there were words like, ‘Look, we really screwed up! Let’s make sure we find out what went wrong and that it never happens again!’ Nope, no such luck.” [Salon, 9/8/2003]

Entity Tags: Charles Krauthammer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, Showtime, Alessandra Stanley, Tony Blair, Bob Woodward, Morton Kondracke, Lionel Chetwynd, Timothy Bottoms, Kristen Breitweiser, Donald Rumsfeld, Clinton administration, Fred Barnes, Frank Rich, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Linda McQuaig, Jim Hightower

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald testifies before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary about post-9/11 legislative changes, and says that the removal of the “wall” was a significant step forward for US counterintelligence. The wall was a set of procedures which regulated the passage of intelligence information within the FBI and from the FBI to prosecutors (see July 19, 1995). Fitzgerald says the removal of the wall represented “the single greatest change that could be made to protect our country.” He cites four cases that he says are examples of how the wall and other such obstacles have hampered counterterrorism efforts:
bullet The arrest of Ali Mohamed. Fitzgerald claims it would have been “far less difficult” to arrest al-Qaeda operative Ali Mohamed for his involvement in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see September 10, 1998) had it not been for the wall. [US Congress, 10/21/2003] However, author Peter Lance will point out, “But Fitzgerald neglected to tell the senators that… prosecutors and FBI agents had been monitoring the bombing cell members for two years or that they’d had multiple face-to-face meetings with Mohamed himself.” Mohamed, who was called a “key figure” in the Day of Terror plot in the US press in early 1995 (see February 3, 1995), had actually met Fitzgerald a year before the arrest and told him that he had trained bin Laden’s bodyguards, lived in bin Laden’s house, loved and believed in bin Laden, and that he didn’t need a fatwa to attack the US, as it was obvious the US was the enemy (see After October 1997). [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-6, 299-300]
bullet The Day of Terror conspiracy. After the partial success of the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the conspirators planned to attack other targets in New York, but were arrested by the FBI, which had penetrated their cell. All of the arrested plotters were successfully convicted. However, Fitzgerald tells the committee, “Prosecutors were in the dark about the details of the plot until very late in the day.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 118-9]
bullet The Millennium Alert. Fitzgerald says that in 1999, investigations into suspected millennium plots were hampered because “criminal prosecutors received information only in part and with lag time so as not to breach the wall.” All attacks planned for the millennium failed, including one plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000).
bullet Sharing Wadih El-Hage’s grand jury interview. In 1997, Al-Qaeda operative El-Hage provided information about bin Laden and his associates to a grand jury. Fitzgerald wanted to pass some of this information along to intelligence investigators (see September 24, 1997) but was unable to because grand jury information cannot be shared with intelligence investigators. To get around this restriction, an FBI agent had to get El-Hage to repeat the information outside the grand jury room. (Note: this example is not directly related to the “wall” under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but rather to a similar obstacle governing the passage of information in the opposite direction—from criminal agents to intelligence agents). [US Congress, 10/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Mohamed, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Peter Lance

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Supreme Court rules in the case of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission. The case addresses limitations on so-called “soft money,” or contributions to a political party not designated specifically for supporting a single candidate, that were imposed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), often known as the McCain-Feingold law after its two Senate sponsors (see March 27, 2002). A three-judge panel has already struck down some of McCain-Feingold’s restrictions on soft-money donations, a ruling that was stayed until the Court could weigh in. Generally, the Court rules that the “soft money” ban does not exceed Congress’s authority to regulate elections, and does not violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The ruling is a 5-4 split, with the majority opinion written by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens and his conservative colleague Sandra Day O’Connor. The opinion finds that the “minimal” restrictions on free speech are outweighed by the government’s interest in preventing “both the actual corruption threatened by large financial contributions and… the appearance of corruption” that might result from those contributions. “Money, like water, will always find an outlet,” the justices write, and the government must take steps to prevent corporate donors from finding ways to subvert the contribution limits. The majority is joined by liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter, and the four other conservatives on the court—Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—dissent. [Legal Information Institute, 12/2003; Oyez (.org), 2011] The case represents the consolidation of 11 separate lawsuits brought by members of Congress, political parties, unions, and advocacy groups; it is named for Senator Mitch McConnell, who sued the FEC on March 27, 2002, the same day the bill was signed into law. Due to the legal controversy expected to be generated by the law and the need to settle it prior to the next federal election, a provision was included in the BCRA that provided for the case to be heard first by a special three-judge panel and then appealed directly to the Supreme Court. This District of Columbia district court panel, comprised of two district court judges and one circuit court judge, was inundated with numerous amicus briefs, almost 1,700 pages of related briefs, and over 100,000 pages of witness testimony. The panel upheld the BCRA’s near-absolute ban on the usage of soft money in federal elections, and the Supreme Court agrees with that finding. However, the Court reverses some of the BCRA’s limitations on the usage of soft money for “generic party activities” such as voter registration and voter identification. The district court overturned the BCRA’s primary definition of “noncandidate expenditures,” but upheld the “backup” definition as provided by the law. Both courts allow the restrictions on corporate and union donations to stand, as well as the exception for nonprofit corporations. The Court upholds much of the BCRA’s provisions on disclosure and coordinated expenditures. The lower court rejected the so-called “millionaire provisions,” a rejection the Supreme Court upholds. A provision banning contributions by minors was overturned by the lower court, and the Court concurs. The lower court found the provision requiring broadcasters to collect and disclose records of broadcast time purchased for political activities unconstitutional, but the Court disagrees and reinstates the requirement. [Legal Information Institute, 12/2003] McConnell had asked lawyer James Bopp Jr., a veteran of anti-campaign finance lawsuits and the head of McConnell’s James Madison Center for Free Speech, to take part in the legal efforts of the McConnell case. However, before the case appeared before the Supreme Court, McConnell dropped Bopp from the legal team due to a dispute over tactics. [New York Times, 1/25/2010] The 2010 Citizens United decision will partially overturn McConnell (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, David Souter, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Sandra Day O’Connor, National Rifle Association, Mitch McConnell, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, James Bopp, Jr, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), makes some surprising comments about the US military’s response to the 9/11 attacks during an interview with the 9/11 Commission. Marr played an important role in NEADS’s response to the 9/11 attacks. A memorandum summarizing the interview will reveal some hints by Marr that others in the US military doctored the data describing the Air Force’s response to the hijackings, perhaps to show that the US military did not shoot down Flight 93.
Log Doesn't 'Look Right' - For instance, the memorandum will state: “Marr noted that one of the chat logs presented to him by Commission staff ‘doesn’t look right.’ [Commission staff noted this beforehand, but did not present to Marr as such.]” There is no further explanation in the interview account to explain what this means.
Timelines Conflict - After Marr is presented with a transcript of the 9/11 Commission’s May 23, 2003 hearing (see May 23, 2003), “Marr noted that the Dictaphone DAT times are off, and this led to a misconception with the time frame. He commented that NORAD asked for details to prove that they did not shoot down [United Airlines Flight] 93 shortly after 9/11. He noted that [two military officials] worked towards putting the initial information together. But because of the damage that occurred to the tapes during the transcription process (see September 21, 2001) they did not re-examine the tapes until very recently. Commission staff presented Marr with a timeline that was created by NORAD. Marr speculated that some of the discrepancies on this timeline were because of inaccurate computer timing.”
Mistakes Were Made to Show Flight 93 Was Not Shot Down - The memorandum will conclude, “Marr was emphatic that the mistakes in the data points were specifically made to show that they did not shoot down Flight 93.” [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file] However, there will be no hint of these allegations in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, and no hint about any data manipulation or discrepancies.

Entity Tags: Robert Marr, 9/11 Commission, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) runs a television advertisement featuring the father of a firefighter killed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The father, Jimmy Boyle, says in the ad: “On September 11, terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, including 346 firefighters, one of which was my son, Michael. I lost my son. I spoke to him that day. He went to work that morning, and he had died for a reason: because somebody hates America. And that day, George Bush became a leader, a war president.” CU is spending $100,000 to run the ad for a week in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington, DC. CU is led by Republican political operative David Bossie (see May 1998). [Washington Post, 5/11/2004; Media Matters, 5/11/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Boyle, Citizens United, George W. Bush, Jimmy Boyle, David Bossie

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

The 9/11 Commission’s staff team that is investigating the emergency response on 9/11 comes to the conclusion that New York City was, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “shockingly ill-prepared for the attacks.” It is clear to the investigators that former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was largely responsible for what went wrong.
Two Major Problems - One problem was that New York’s emergency command center, based on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center 7, was knocked out early in the attacks, leaving the emergency response without a focal point, and the police and fire departments set up separate command posts (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001). The command center, sometimes referred to as “Rudy’s bunker,” was criticized when it was built precisely because this problem was foreseen (see June 8, 1999). In addition, the radios used by firefighters in the World Trade Center failed to work on 9/11. The same problem was encountered during the response to the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), but the solution that was implemented—a repeater to boost the radios’ signal—did not work on the day of the attacks. This problem was especially grave, as many firefighters were instructed to flee the about-to-collapse towers, but did not hear the instruction due to the poor radio system and died as a result (see (Between 9:59 a.m. and 10:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Tempering Criticism - However, the team, led by former New Jersey attorney general John Farmer, is aware that Giuliani’s image as a global hero after the attacks could complicate matters. Shenon will describe their thinking: “But would the Commission be willing to take on the most popular political figure in the country—the president-in-waiting, it seemed?… [Giuliani] was a hero, the embodiment of everything Americans wanted to believe about themselves about 9/11.” Therefore, “Farmer and his team always qualif[y] their criticism of the former mayor.” Nevertheless, the Commission’s two staff statements issued during the hearings about this topic in New York will be extremely critical of Giuliani. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 347-350]

Entity Tags: John Farmer, 9/11 Commission, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Vincent Cannistraro, the former head of the CIA’s counterterrorism office, says that no evidence has ever been found to support a tie between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks. Nor has any evidence shown that any connections exist between Iraq and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). Instead, those ties were postulated for purposes of political manipulation. Cannistraro says: “The policymakers already had conceits they had adopted without reference to current intelligence estimates. And those conceits were: Saddam was evil, a bad man, he had evil intentions, and they were greatly influenced by neoconservative beliefs that Saddam had been involved with the sponsorship of terrorism in the United States since as early as 1993, with the first World Trade Center bombing.… None of this is true, of course, but these were their conceits, and they continue in large measure to be the conceits of a lot of people like Jim Woolsey” (see February 2001). The intelligence and law enforcement communities have a different view: “The FBI did a pretty thorough investigation of the first World Trade Center bombing,” Cannistraro says, “and while it’s true that their policy was to treat terrorism as a law-enforcement problem, nevertheless, they understood how the first World Trade Center bombing was supported… and had linkages back to Osama bin Laden. He was of course, not indicted… because the FBI until recently believed that you prosecuted perpetrators, not the sponsors. In any event they knew there was no Saddam linkage. Laurie Mylroie promoted a lot of this (see Late July or Early August 2001), and people who came in [to the Bush administration], particularly in the Defense Department—[Paul] Wolfowitz and [Douglas] Feith (see June 2001)—were acolytes, promoting her book, The Study of Revenge (see October 2000), particularly in the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002), and the Secretary’s Policy Office (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). In any event, they already had their preconceived notions.… So the intelligence, and I can speak directly to the CIA part of it, the intelligence community’s assessments were never considered adequate.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Fahrenheit 9/11 movie poster.
Fahrenheit 9/11 movie poster. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Fahrenheit 9/11, a film by well-known documentarian and author Michael Moore, is released in the US. Amongst other things, this film reveals connections between the Bush family and prominent Saudis including the bin Laden family. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; New York Times, 5/17/2004; Toronto Star, 6/13/2004] It reviews evidence the White House helped members of Osama bin Laden’s family and other Saudis fly out of the US in the days soon after 9/11. [New York Times, 5/17/2004; Toronto Star, 6/13/2004; New York Times, 6/18/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004; Newsweek, 6/30/2004] It introduces to the mainstream damning footage of President Bush continuing with a photo-op for seven minutes (see (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001) after being told of the second plane hitting the WTC on 9/11. [New York Times, 6/18/2004; Washington Post, 6/19/2004; Newsweek, 6/20/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] Disney refused to let its Miramax division distribute the movie in the United States, supposedly because the film was thought too partisan. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Guardian, 6/2/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/11/2004; Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004] The film won the top award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival—the first documentary to do so in nearly 50 years. [BBC, 5/24/2004; Guardian, 5/24/2004; Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004] It is generally very well received, with most US newspapers rating it favorably. [Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004; Editor & Publisher, 6/27/2004] The film is an instant hit and is seen by tens of millions. [Associated Press, 6/27/2004; BBC, 6/28/2004; Associated Press, 6/28/2004; CBS News, 6/28/2004] There are some criticisms that it distorts certain facts, such as exaggerating the possible significance of Bush and bin Laden family connections, and gripes about a $1.4 billion number representing the money flowing from Saudi companies to the Bush family. However, the New York Times claims that the public record corroborates the film’s main assertions. [New York Times, 5/17/2004; New York Times, 6/18/2004; Newsweek, 6/30/2004] Shortly before the film’s release, the conservative organization Citizens United tried to block the film’s distribution (see June 27, 2004). The effort failed (see August 6, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bin Laden Family, Michael Moore, Osama bin Laden, Citizens United, Walt Disney Company, Miramax

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

David Bossie (see May 1998), the head of the conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU), accuses liberal filmmaker Michael Moore of improper involvement in the presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Moore and the production company Lions Gate have released a new documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, that is highly critical of the Bush administration (see June 25, 2004). Bossie says the film’s commercials, airing on network and cable television, are little more than campaign commercials devised to attack President Bush and assist Kerry. One commercial shows Bush on the golf course, talking about terrorism. In the clip, Bush tells a group of reporters, “We must stop these terrorist killers,” then turns his back, hefts his golf club, and says, “Now watch this drive.” The New York Times writes that “[t]he scene is one of many featured in the film that paint the president as cavalier, cynical, and insincere in the war against terrorism.” Republicans have for the most part ignored the film until recently, when ads for the film began drawing what they consider unwarranted attention. Bossie says: “There’s only a very small percentage of Americans that are going to go and see this movie. A much larger number are going to be bombarded by these political ads run by Michael Moore, potentially all the way through the election.” CU has run ads supportive of Bush (see (May 11, 2004)). Bossie has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking that agency to classify the film’s ads as political, and restrict their broadcast according to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003). The law says that if found to be political, the ads must not be aired within 30 days of the start of the Republican National Convention on August 30. Legal experts say the FEC is unlikely to rule on the complaint for months, and even if the agency finds the ads to be political, the film could qualify for an exemption from the restrictions for news and commentary. Tom Ortenberg of Lions Gate says, “If we are still running television ads [by July 30], we will make certain that they are in full compliance with any and all regulations.” If they must remove Bush from the ads to remain in compliance, Ortenberg says “we can market this film without him.” Ortenberg denies that the ads have any political agenda. [New York Times, 6/27/2004] After Lions Gate agrees not to show ads for the film after July 30, the FEC will dismiss the complaint (see August 6, 2004).

Entity Tags: Lions Gate, David Bossie, Citizens United, Federal Election Commission, John Kerry, New York Times, George W. Bush, Tom Ortenberg, Michael Moore

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

Wisconsin Right to Life logo.Wisconsin Right to Life logo. [Source: Dane101 (.com)]After the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002), also known as the McCain-Feingold law after its original sponsors, and the 2003 McConnell Supreme Court decision that upheld the law (see December 10, 2003), corporations and labor unions are prohibited from airing ads that attack candidates but avoid specific language that turns the ads from general commercials into “campaign” ads within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a federal election. Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) comes to anti-abortion and anti-campaign finance lawyer James Bopp Jr. (see November 1980 and After) with a dilemma. The WRTL wants to run ads attacking Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), a powerful advocate of abortion rights, for his record of opposing President Bush’s judicial nominees. It intends to use the ads as campaign attack ads against Feingold, but skirt the BCRA’s restrictions by not specifically discouraging votes for him, thereby giving the appearance of “issue” ads and thusly not running afoul of the BCRA. Bopp is worried that the McConnell decision, just rendered, would make the Court reluctant to reverse itself so quickly. Bopp knows that the McConnell decision was in response to a broad challenge to the BCRA that argued the law was unconstitutional in all circumstances. Bopp decides to challenge the BCRA on behalf of the WRTL on narrower grounds—to argue that the specific application of the BCRA in this instance would violate the group’s First Amendment rights. He decides not to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) because of that agency’s notoriously slow response time, but instead files a preemptive challenge in court objecting to the BCRA’s ban on “issue advertisements” in the weeks before elections. Bopp is encouraged by the prospects of a court challenge that may wend its way to the Supreme Court, as the “swing” vote in McConnell was Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been succeeded by the more conservative Samuel Alito (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Bopp will prove to be correct, as the Supreme Court will find in WRTL’s favor (see June 25, 2007).

Entity Tags: Russell D. Feingold, Federal Election Commission, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, George W. Bush, Samuel Alito, James Bopp, Jr, Wisconsin Right to Life, US Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismisses the complaint “Citizens United v. Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11.” The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see (May 11, 2004)) had complained to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that liberal documentarian Michael Moore released a movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), that was so critical of the Bush administration that it should be considered political advertising. If the movie is indeed political advertising, under federal law it cannot be shown within 30 days before a primary election or 60 days before a general election. The FEC dismisses the complaint, finding no evidence that the movie’s advertisements had broken the law. The movie’s distributors, Lions Gate, assure the FEC that they do not intend to advertise the movie during the time periods given under the law. [Federal Election Commission, 8/6/2004; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] In the aftermath of the FEC decision, CU leaders Floyd Brown (see September 21 - October 4, 1988) and David Bossie will decide that they can do what Moore did, and decide to make their own “documentaries.” Bossie realized after Fahrenheit 9/11 aired that it, and the television commercials promoting it, served two purposes—attacking President Bush and generating profits. Having already conducted an examination of the career of former First Lady Hillary Clinton (D-NY), now a sitting senator with presidential aspirations, the organization will decide to make its first “feature film” about her (see January 10-16, 2008). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Citizens United, Bush administration (43), David Bossie, Floyd Brown, Michael Moore, Federal Election Commission, Lions Gate

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

The DVD cover for ‘Celsius 41.11.’The DVD cover for ‘Celsius 41.11.’ [Source: Citizens United]The Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) to advertise on television its upcoming film Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die, a documentary that the group intends as a refutation of the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The FEC also refuses to allow CU to pay to run the film on television. The FEC bases its decision on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold—see March 27, 2002), and its restrictions on nonprofit groups such as CU using unregulated contributions to pay for “electioneering communications” to be shown within 60 days of a federal general election. CU would broadcast the film in late September, less than 60 days before the November 2 elections. CU argued, unsuccessfully, that it is a member of the news media and therefore can use a legal exemption provided for news, commentary, and editorial content. In a 4-0 vote, the FEC rejects the argument, saying that CU intends to buy air time instead of being paid to provide content, and that its primary function is as an advocacy group and not a film production organization. FEC vice chair Ellen L. Weintraub, one of the commission’s three Democrats, says: “You don’t want a situation where people are airing campaign commercials and they are exempt from commission rules because they are considered a media event. The danger is that the exemption swallows the rules.” CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he is “clearly disappointed” with the ruling, and adds, “They [the FEC] want to limit free speech, and that’s what this issue is about for us.” The company marketing Fahrenheit 9/11 was not allowed to run advertisements promoting the film within 60 days of the elections, and a CU complaint against that film was dismissed after its distributors promised not to air such advertisements (see August 6, 2004). CU has helped fund the publication of a book by Bossie attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), and has released numerous documentaries attacking the Clinton administration and the United Nations. The current film contains some material attacking Kerry, though that material is not the primary focus of the film. Bossie says the group will attempt to show the film in theaters to paying audiences within a few weeks (see September 27-30, 2004). [New York Times, 9/9/2004; New York Times, 9/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Bush administration (43), Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Clinton administration, John Kerry, Michael Moore, David Bossie, United Nations, Ellen L. Weintraub

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) releases a documentary intended as a refutation of the popular documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The CU film is entitled Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die. CU spent six weeks making the film, and is releasing it in small venues around the nation after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied the organization permission to broadcast it on television (see September 8, 2004). (In August, the FEC dismissed a complaint against Moore over Fahrenheit 9/11 filed by CU—see August 6, 2004.) The slogan for the movie is “The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11!” The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who has written and produced a number of Hollywood feature films and documentaries. Chetwynd, a vocal conservative, produced the September 2003 “docudrama” 9/11: Time of Crisis, which portrayed President Bush as a near-action hero during and after the 9/11 attacks, and took significant liberties with the actual events (see September 7, 2003). Of this film, Chetwynd says: “We could have gone wall to wall with red meat on this, but we purposely didn’t. The cheap shots may be entertaining in Moore’s film, but we wanted to make the intellectual case and go beyond lecturing to the converted.” New York Times reporter John Tierney describes the movie as overtly intellectual, sometimes appearing more as a PowerPoint presentation than a film made to appeal to a wider audience. It features a point-by-point defense of Bush’s actions during the 9/11 attacks, and features “politicians, journalists, and scholars discoursing on the legality of the Florida recount in 2000, the Clinton administration’s record on fighting terrorism, and the theory of American exceptionalism.” There are a few “red meat” moments, Tierney notes, including the juxtaposition of the Twin Towers burning as Moore says in a voiceover, “There is no terrorist threat.” It also includes a few slaps against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), mostly in the form of a country song where the singer Larry Gatlin sings, “John boy, please tell us which way the wind’s blowing,” a reference to the Bush campaign’s attempt to portray Kerry as a “flip-flopper” who goes back and forth in his views on various issues. The Georgetown premiere of the movie attracts some 300 viewers, almost all Republicans, according to Tierney. The audience, according to Tierney, views the film as more “thoughtful and accurate” than Moore’s film, and unlikely to make anywhere near the profits the earlier film garnered. Chetwynd says he resisted the temptation to launch an all-out assault on Kerry “the way that Moore did with Bush.” Filmgoer Jerome Corsi, who has written a bestselling book attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record, praises the film, as does Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). Burlingame, a founder of a group of 9/11 victim relatives that supports Bush, says: “Michael Moore actually used footage of the Pentagon in flames as a sight gag. It was really hard to sit there in the theater listening to people laugh at that scene knowing my brother was on that plane. I wish more people would see this film instead.” [New York Times, 9/30/2004] In October, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott will dismiss the film as “generat[ing] heat but no new light,” calling it “sad in a sad sort of way… dull, lazy, and inconsistent,” and suffused with an “unabashed idolatry of the Great Leader (in this case, George W. Bush)” in the same way that Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl made her documentaries (he wonders, “Has the conservative worldview really been reduced to a slavish worship of authority?”). Kennicott will ask if the film is an attempt to refute Moore’s documentary or an “overlong attack ad on John Kerry,” and concludes that the film is little more than a combination of “dreadful political advertisements and dreadful political talk shows.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh will call the film a “shrill, repetitive screed” obviously released just in time to influence the 2004 presidential election, and bearing “all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush.” [TV Guide, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Jerome Corsi, Debra Burlingame, Clinton administration, Citizens United, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Philip Kennicott, Lionel Chetwynd, Federal Election Commission, Larry Gatlin, Leni Riefenstahl, John Tierney (New York Times), Maitland McDonagh, John Kerry, Michael Moore

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

Shyam Sunder.Shyam Sunder. [Source: NIST]The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) releases nearly 500 pages of documents, detailing the latest findings of its investigation of the WTC collapses on 9/11. These include its hypotheses for the collapse sequences of each of the Twin Towers; details of their analysis of interviews with nearly 1,200 building occupants, emergency responders, and victims’ relatives; and information from their analysis of the emergency response and evacuation procedures. Their investigation into the collapses is based upon an analysis of thousands of photos and videos, examination of many of the elements used to construct the towers, and computer-enhanced modeling of the plane impacts and the spreading of the fires. Their hypothesis is that the towers collapsed ultimately due to the fires they suffered: As the fires burned, the buildings’ steel core columns buckled and shortened. This shifted more load to the buildings’ perimeter columns, which were already affected by the heat of the fires, and caused them to give way under the increased stress. Investigators have conducted a test with a reconstructed section of the WTC floor, and found that the original fireproofing was sufficient to meet the New York City building code. They say that had a typical office fire occurred in the towers, without the structural damage and the loss of some fireproofing caused by the plane impacts, it is likely the buildings would have remained standing. Lead investigator Dr. Shyam Sunder says, “The buildings performed as they should have in the airplane impact and extreme fires to which they were subjected. There is nothing there that stands out as abnormal.” NIST’s theories of why the WTC buildings collapsed conflict with an earlier investigation by FEMA, which claimed the collapse of the North Tower had begun in its core, rather than its perimeter columns (see May 1, 2002). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 10/19/2004; New York Times, 10/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Shyam Sunder, National Institute of Standards and Technology, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is conducting an investigation into the WTC collapses on 9/11, releases three new reports. Investigators say that the Twin Towers would probably have remained standing if the fireproofing material that surrounded the buildings’ structural steel had not been stripped away when the planes hit. Their report states that “[t]he jet fuel, which ignited the fires, was mostly consumed within the first few minutes after impact. The fires that burned for almost the entire time that the buildings remained standing were due mainly to burning building contents and, to a lesser extent, aircraft contents, not jet fuel.” However, they claim, without the loss of fireproofing during the planes’ impacts, the heat from the fires would have been insufficient to cause the buildings to collapse. They say that although the architects had in 1964 tested the impact of a Boeing 707 airplane crashing into the 80th floor of one of the towers, they never envisioned the intense fires that ensued. NIST also reports that the time taken by survivors from the North Tower to descend a flight of stairs was about double the slowest evacuation speed estimated in a standard fire engineering text. They state: “approximately 87 percent of the WTC tower occupants, including more than 99 percent below the floors of impact, were able to evacuate successfully.” However, they say, if each tower had been full when they were hit, as many as 14,000 people could have died. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 4/5/2005; Associated Press, 4/5/2005; New York Times, 4/5/2005; Associated Press, 4/6/2005]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Based upon its three-year investigation of the WTC collapses, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) calls for changes in the planning, construction, and operation of skyscrapers. NIST releases 43 draft reports, totaling about 10,000 pages, for public comments. These include 25 pages of recommendations, intended to learn from 9/11 and make building occupants and emergency responders safer in any future disasters. NIST’s inquiry has been conducted by more than 200 technical experts and contractors, and had two main parts: to look at the causes of the collapses and to identify weaknesses in building codes. Their recommendations include specific improvements to building standards, codes and practices; changes to evacuation and emergency response procedures; and research to help prevent future building failures. NIST does not have the authority to change building codes, but hopes to influence the policies of local authorities. The cost of implementing their recommended changes would add an estimated extra 2 to 5 percent to the development costs of buildings. Some are critical of their recommendations. Structural engineer Jon Magnusson, whose firm is the descendant of the company that designed the Twin Towers, says, “They are leading the public down the wrong path. They are saying we are going to fix the codes in order to deal with Sept. 11th. The physics say that you can’t do that.” [New York Times, 6/22/2005; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 6/23/2005; Associated Press, 6/24/2005] The New York Times points out that between 1989 and 1999, only five civilians had been killed in some 6,900 reported high-rise office building fires within the US. [New York Times, 6/24/2005] NIST will release its final report on the Twin Towers collapses four months later (see October 26, 2005).

Entity Tags: National Institute of Standards and Technology, World Trade Center, Jon Magnusson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Right-wing commentators react to the sudden media presence of antiwar activist and bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) with vitriolic criticism. (Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write of his belief that the anti-Sheehan campaign is orchestrated from the White House: “The attack was especially vicious because there was little the White House feared more than a critic who had more battle scars than a president or a vice president who had avoided Vietnam.”) Weekly Standard writer Fred Barnes tells Fox News viewers that Sheehan is a “crackpot.” Right-wing bloggers begin spreading lurid, and sometimes false, stories of her recent divorce and the opposition Sheehan receives from some of her family members. Because some of the Camp Casey protesters showed the recent Iraq documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), many right-wing commentators and pundits accuse Sheehan of being a tool of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin accuses Sheehan and other bereaved family members opposing the war of using their losses to promote their ideological agenda, and calls them “grief pimps.” The American Spectator says Sheehan’s own peace organization, Gold Star Families for Peace, “seeks to impeach George W. Bush and apparently to convince the US government to surrender to Muslim terrorists.” Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh makes the extraordinary claim that Sheehan is making up the entire story of her son’s death (see April 4, 2004), claiming that her loss “is nothing more than forged documents—there’s nothing about it that’s real.” Rich later notes that what he calls “the Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan” has “failed, utterly.” He will continue: “The hope this time was that we’d change the subject to Cindy Sheehan’s ‘wacko’ rhetoric and the opportunistic left-wing groups that have attached themselves to her like barnacles. That way we would forget about her dead son. But if much of the 24/7 media has taken the bait, much of the public has not.… The public knows that what matters this time is Casey Sheehan’s story, not the mother who symbolizes it.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005; Washington Post, 8/13/2005; New York Times, 8/21/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 194-195]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Gold Star Families for Peace, Frank Rich, Casey Sheehan, Bush administration (43), Michael Moore, “Camp Casey”, Fred Barnes, Cindy Sheehan

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Both towers of the World Trade Center tilted to one side before beginning to fall on 9/11 (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which investigated the collapses (see August 21, 2002), states that the South Tower, which was hit on its south side, tilted about 7-8 degrees to the east and 3-4 degrees to the south, and the North Tower, which was hit on its north side, tilted about 8 degrees to the south, before starting to fall. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 300, 308 pdf file] However, these findings are criticized by Canadian scientist Frank Greening. After examining photo and video evidence, Greening says that the South Tower tilted by no more than two degrees and the North Tower by no more than three degrees before collapse initiation. Greening also says that the tilt angles NIST gives cannot correspond to the downward movement of the towers’ walls NIST claims before they started to fall, and points out that the tilt angles NIST uses are inconsistent throughout its reports. Though Greening agrees with NIST that the towers were destroyed by the plane impacts and fire damage, he concludes that its computer model is “highly inaccurate and therefore of no value in explaining the demise of the Twin Towers.” [Greening, 11/2005 pdf file] Greening is a leading figure in the post-9/11 dispute over why the WTC collapsed and publishes a series of papers dealing with various aspects of the Twin Towers’ collapse. For example, a CBC documentary uses Greening for analysis of the WTC’s fall. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/25/2005]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Frank Greening, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) releases a 12-page appendix to its final reports on the WTC collapses (see October 26, 2005) detailing tests it conducted on samples of the type of fireproofing used in the WTC. An earlier NIST report had concluded that loss of fireproofing was a major factor in the collapses (see April 5, 2005). The appendix was not included in earlier drafts of the report (see June 23, 2005) [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 6/23/2005 pdf file; National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 263-274 pdf file; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 149] NIST conducted a series of fifteen tests. In the tests projectiles were fired at fireproofing mounted on 12 inch x 12 inch plates, and steel bars with a one inch diameter. The fireproofing used in the tests was Blazeshield DC/F, one of the two grades of fireproofing used on the impact floors. In thirteen of the tests the projectiles were buckshot, which was fired at the steel samples from a modified shotgun at a distance of 29.5 ft. The other two tests used steel bolts and hexagon nuts, fired with less velocity and at closer range. According to NIST, “The test results support the assumption that, within the debris field created by the aircraft impact into WTC 1 and WTC 2, the SFRM [i.e., fireproofing] used for thermal insulation of structural members was damaged and dislodged.” [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 83, 263-274 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Institute of Standards and Technology, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton.Former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton. [Source: CBC]Lee Hamilton, the former co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, gives a wide-ranging interview to the CBC about Without Precedent, a book he recently co-authored about his time on the 9/11 Commission (see August 15, 2006). In the interview he discusses the various “conspiracy theories” surrounding the events of 9/11. The interviewer, Evan Solomon, mentions to him a recent Zogby poll (see May 17, 2006) that found that 42% of Americans agreed that “the US government, and its 9/11 Commission, concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts the official explanation of September 11th.” Hamilton calls this lack of trust in the Commission’s report “dispiriting,” but attacks the “conspiracy theory people,” saying, “when they make an assertion they do it often on very flimsy evidence.” He addresses some of the various “conspiracy theories” that have been put forward about 9/11:
bullet In order to contradict the allegation that the Twin Towers were brought down deliberately with pre-planted explosives, Hamilton says the WTC collapsed (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001) because “the super-heated jet fuel melted the steel super-structure of these buildings and caused their collapse.” He adds, “There’s a powerful lot of evidence to sustain that point of view, including the pictures of the airplanes flying into the building.”
bullet With regard to the collapse of WTC Building 7 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001), which some people claim was also caused by explosives, he argues, “[W]e believe that it was the aftershocks of these two huge buildings in the very near vicinity collapsing. And in the Building 7 case, we think that it was a case of flames setting off a fuel container, which started the fire in Building 7, and that was our theory on Building 7.” However, the interviewer points out that the 9/11 Commission’s final report does not actually mention the collapse of Building 7, and Hamilton says he does not recall whether the Commission made a specific decision to leave it out.
bullet In reply to a question about why the debris of Building 7 were moved quickly from the scene without a thorough investigation, even though nobody died in Building 7 and there was no need for rescue operations there, Hamilton responds, “You can’t answer every question when you conduct an investigation.”
bullet When asked whether Saeed Sheikh sent Mohamed Atta $100,000 for the 9/11 plot (see Early August 2001 and Summer 2001 and before), Hamilton replies, “I don’t know anything about it.” When the interviewer presses him about whether the Commission investigated a possible Pakistani Secret Service (ISI) connection to the attacks, Hamilton replies, “They may have; I do not recall us writing anything about it in the report. We may have but I don’t recall it.”
bullet Asked about Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta’s claim that Vice President Dick Cheney was in the presidential bunker beneath the White House at 9:20 a.m. on 9/11 (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), almost 40 minutes earlier than the Commission claimed he had arrived there, Hamilton replies, “I do not recall.” When pressed, he expands, “Well, we think that Vice President Cheney entered the bunker shortly before 10 o’clock. And there is a gap of several minutes there, where we do not really know what the Vice President really did. There is the famous phone call between the President and the Vice President. We could find no documentary evidence of that phone call.”
bullet When the interviewer points out that Richard Clarke’s account conflicts with the Commission’s over what time authorization was received from Dick Cheney to shoot down Flight 93 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Hamilton retorts, “Look, you’ve obviously gone through the report with a fine-toothed comb, you’re raising a lot of questions—I can do the same thing.”
The interviewer also asks Hamilton whether he has any unanswered questions of his own about 9/11. Hamilton’s response is: “I could never figure out why these 19 fellas did what they did. We looked into their backgrounds. In one or two cases, they were apparently happy, well-adjusted, not particularly religious - in one case quite well-to-do, had a girlfriend. We just couldn’t figure out why he did it. I still don’t know.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Saeed Sheikh, World Trade Center, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Commission, Richard A. Clarke, Mohamed Atta, Norman Mineta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A photo of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly taken during his capture in 2003 (there are controversies about the capture).A photo of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly taken during his capture in 2003 (there are controversies about the capture). [Source: FBI]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) attends his combat status review tribunal at Guantanamo Bay (see March 9-April 28, 2007), where he admits participating in the 9/11 attacks and numerous other plots, and offers a defense of his actions. He claims responsibility or co-responsibility for a list of 31 plots, including:
bullet The 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993);
bullet The 9/11 operation: “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z”;
bullet The murder of Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002): “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl”;
bullet The late 2001 shoe bombing operation (see December 22, 2001);
bullet The 2002 Bali nightclub bombings (see October 12, 2002);
bullet A series of ship-bombing operations (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001 and June 2001);
bullet Failed plots to assassinate several former US presidents;
bullet Planned attacks on bridges in New York;
bullet Various other failed attacks in the US, UK, Israel, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, India, South Korea, and Turkey;
bullet The planned destruction of an El-Al flight in Bangkok;
bullet The Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and assassination plans for President Clinton (see September 18-November 14, 1994) and the Pope (see September 1998-January 1999); and
bullet Planned attacks on the Library Tower in California, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, and the “Plaza Bank” in Washington State (see October 2001-February 2002). [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 pdf file] However, the Plaza Bank was not founded until 2006, three years after KSM was captured. The bank’s president comments: “We’re confused as to how we got on that list. We’ve had a little bit of fun with it over here.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007]
On the other hand, KSM denies receiving funds from Kuwait or ever heading al-Qaeda’s military committee; he says this was a reporting error by Yosri Fouda, who interviewed him in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002). In addition, he claims he was tortured, his children were abused in detention, and that he lied to his interrogators (see June 16, 2004). He also complains that the tribunal system is unfair and that many people who are not “enemy combatants” are being held in Guantanamo Bay. For example, a team sent by a Sunni government to assassinate bin Laden was captured by the Taliban, then by the US, and is being held in Guantanamo Bay. He says that his membership of al-Qaeda is related to the Bojinka operation, but that even after he became involved with al-Qaeda he continued to work with another organization, which he calls the “Mujaheddin,” was based in Pakistan, and for which he says he killed Daniel Pearl. [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 pdf file] (Note: KSM’s cousin Ramzi Yousef was involved with the militant Pakistani organization Sipah-e-Sahaba.) [Reeve, 1999, pp. 50, 54, 67] Mohammed says he was waterboarded by his interrogators. He is asked: “Were any statements you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?” He responds, “CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning, when they transferred me.” [ABC News, 4/11/2008] He goes on to compare radical Islamists fighting to free the Middle East from US influence to George Washington, hero of the American War of Independence, and says the US is oppressing Muslims in the same way the British are alleged by some to have oppressed Americans. Regarding the fatalities on 9/11, he says: “I’m not happy that three thousand been killed in America. I feel sorry even. I don’t like to kill children and the kids.” Although Islam prohibits killing, KSM argues that there is an exception because “you are killing people in Iraq.… Same language you use, I use.… The language of war is victims.” [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 pdf file] The hearing is watched from an adjoining room on closed circuit television by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL). [US Congress, 3/10/2007] KSM’s confession arouses a great deal of interest in the media, which is skeptical of it (see March 15-23, 2007 and Shortly After).

Entity Tags: Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Carl Levin

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Newsweek’s Jonathan Darman reports that Citizens United (CU), a conservative lobbying and advocacy group headed by activist David Bossie, is producing an unflattering documentary on Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. The title of the story highlights Clinton’s “likability gap,” but the story itself focuses on the “grudge” borne by Bossie and CU against Clinton and the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton. The documentary is scheduled for release in theaters in the fall of 2007, Darman reports. One of its potential targets is a generation of young voters who know little about the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals that dogged the Clinton administration. Bossie says, “There’s an enormous market for Hillary Clinton information.” R. Emmett Tyrell Jr., the editor of the American Spectator and the author of numerous books purporting to tell the truth behind the Clinton allegations, says there are “active research teams” working to expose Clinton. “They’re out there,” he says. “I get calls all the time.” Clinton’s campaign says the documentary is “old news” and “cash for rehash.” Darman notes: “For all the charges through the years, none has ever stuck. Arguably the most-investigated woman in contemporary American life moved from tabloid target in the White House to winning a Senate seat in one of the nation’s most contentious states. It’s her resilience and capacity to survive and thrive against all comers that partly fuels the haters’ fury.” However, some voters still harbor distrust and resentment towards Clinton, stemming in part from her reputation as “secretive, controlling, and paranoid,” as Darman characterizes her critics’ feelings towards her, as first lady. Her negative perception polling is remarkably high for a potential presidential candidate. Darman writes: “[T]he real problem many Democratic voters have with Clinton is the sneaking suspicion that with so much of the country against her, she can never win a general election. Clinton’s fate may well come down to her ability to deal with a vexing question: what is it about me that so many people don’t like?” Clinton is, Darman writes, “a comic-book villain for her detractors—a man-eating feminist, they claimed, who allegedly threw lamps at her husband, communed psychically with Eleanor Roosevelt, and lit a White House Christmas tree adorned with sex toys. The narrative of depravity—a tissue of inventions by conservatives—was often hard to follow. Was she, as they imagined her, a secret lesbian who fostered a West Wing culture of rampant homosexuality? Or was she the duplicitous adulteress who slept with former law partner Vincent Foster, ordered his death, and then made it look like a suicide? Disjointed as they may have been, Hillary horror tales soon became big business on talk radio.” But the attacks have not weakened her appreciably, and may have strengthened her as a candidate. [Newsweek, 6/17/2007] The liberal watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Darman fails to alert his readers to what it calls Bossie’s past “slimy tactics” (see May 1998). [Media Matters, 6/11/2007] The documentary will not be released until the summer of 2008 (see January 10-16, 2008), and will become the focus of a landmark Supreme Court decision regarding campaign finance (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Media Matters, Clinton administration, Citizens United, David Bossie, Jonathan Darman, R. Emmett Tyrell Jr, Hillary Clinton, Newsweek

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former Reagan Justice Department official and constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein and former civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald applaud the recent ruling requiring the government to overturn alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’s military detention status (see June 11, 2007). Fein writes that the decision “rebuked President Bush’s frightening claim that the Constitution crowned him with power to pluck every American citizen from his home for indefinite detention without trial on suspicion of preparing for acts of international terrorism.” Other terrorist acts, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see February 26, 1993), “were tried and punished in civilian courts,” Fein notes, adding that Bush bypassed the USA Patriot Act to classify al-Marri as an enemy combatant, although the Patriot Act “provides a specific method for the government to detain aliens affiliated with terrorist organizations who are believed likely to engage in terrorist activity.” Al-Marri was denied that procedure due to his classification as an enemy combatant. [Washington Times, 6/19/2007] Greenwald writes, “How extraordinary it is—how extraordinarily disturbing it is—that we are even debating these issues at all. Although its ultimate resolution is complicated, the question raised by al-Marri is a clear and simple one: Does the president have the power—and/or should he have it—to arrest individuals on US soil and keep them imprisoned for years and years, indefinitely, without charging them with a crime, allowing them access to lawyers or the outside world, and/or providing a meaningful opportunity to contest the validity of the charges? How can that question not answer itself?… Who would possibly believe that an American president has such powers, and more to the point, what kind of a person would want a president to have such powers? That is one of a handful of powers that this country was founded to prevent.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 6/17/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Glenn Greenwald, Bruce Fein, USA Patriot Act

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’ [Source: New York Times]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see May 1998 and (May 11, 2004)) releases a film entitled Hillary: The Movie. The film is a lengthy diatribe attacking the character and career of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Large portions of the film are comprised of conservative critics launching attacks against the personalities and character of Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he based his film on a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, released in 2004 by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (see August 6, 2004), and calls it “a rigorously researched critical biography” comparable to the material presented on political talk shows such as Meet the Press. [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Bossie intended for the film to be released in late 2007 and impact the 2008 race in the same way that he believes Fahrenheit 9/11 impacted the 2004 race. A cable company made the film, at a cost of $1.2 million, available for free to viewers on “video on demand.” Bossie also scheduled a small theater run for the film, but his primary focus was always cable television and the accompanying television advertisements. Knowing the film will probably run afoul of campaign law, he hired lawyers, first James Bopp Jr. (a former member of the far-right Young Americans for Freedom—YAF—and the former general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee—see November 1980 and After) [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] and later Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under the Bush administration. Olson will later say the film is “a critical biographical assessment” that provides “historical information about the candidate and, perhaps, some measure of entertainment as well.” The New York Times calls it “a scathingly hostile look at Mrs. Clinton” replete with “ripe voice-overs, shadowy re-enactments, and spooky mood music.” The film also contains interviews and material from mainstream media reporters, and interviews with figures such as former CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a “tell-all” book about the Clinton administration, and with Kathleen Willey, who has claimed that Bill Clinton once made an unwelcome sexual advance towards her. Reviewer Megan Carpentier of Radar Online will trounce the movie, saying that it “scrolls through more than a decade of press clippings and a treasure trove of unflattering pictures in its one-sided romp” and will advise potential viewers to watch it “while inebriated in the manner of your choosing, and only if you don’t pay $10 for the privilege.” [New York Times, 3/5/2009] Bossie claims the movie has nothing to do with the impending primary elections. CU intends to show the movie in a small number of theaters but primarily on “video on demand” cable broadcasts, with accompanying television advertisements. In return for a $1.2 million fee, a cable television consortium has agreed to make the movie freely available to its customers as part of what CU calls its “Election ‘08” series. (CU has another negative documentary on Clinton’s Democratic challenger Barack Obama in the works—see October 28-30, 2008—but apparently has no plans to air any documentaries on Republican candidate John McCain or any other Republican presidential candidates.) However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the film to be aired on cable channels, or advertised for theater release, because the FEC considers the film “electioneering” and thus subject to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002) restrictions. Moreover, the film and its planned distribution are funded by corporate donations. [United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Bossie claims the film takes no position on Clinton’s candidacy, and says that if he had to vote between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he would vote for Clinton. [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Court Fight - Bopp, CU’s original lawyer, decides to pursue the same general aggressive course that he took in a recent successful Supreme Court campaign finance case, the Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) decision (see Mid-2004 and After). The Hillary film was envisioned from the outset to serve multiple purposes: to advance conservative ideology, damage Clinton’s presidential chances (despite Bossie’s claims), and generate profits. Bopp knows that the FEC would likely classify the film as a political advertisement and not a work of journalism or entertainment (see August 6, 2004), and therefore would fall under campaign law restrictions. Before the film is officially released, Bopp takes the film to the FEC for a ruling, and when the FEC, as expected, rules the film to be “electioneering communication” that comes under campaign law restrictions, Bopp files a lawsuit with the Washington, DC, federal district court. The court rules in favor of the FEC judgment, denying CU its request for a preliminary injunction against the FEC’s ruling. The court specifically finds that the WRTL decision does not apply in this case. “[I]f the speech cannot be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote for or against a candidate, it will not be considered genuine issue speech even if it does not expressly advocate the candidate’s election or defeat,” the court states. The court also questions CU’s statement that the film “does not focus on legislative issues.… The movie references the election and Senator Clinton’s candidacy, and it takes a position on her character, qualifications, and fitness for office.” Film commentator Dick Morris has said of the film that it will “give people the flavor and an understanding of why she should not be president.” The court rules, “The movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” (During arguments, Bopp says that the film is much like what a viewer would see on CBS’s evening news show 60 Minutes, and Judge Royce Lamberth laughs aloud, saying: “You can’t compare this to 60 Minutes. Did you read this transcript?” Other judges find it problematic that one of the film’s central “issues” is its assertion that Clinton is, in Bopp’s words, “a European socialist,” but still claims not to be overtly partisan.) [Mother Jones, 1/13/2008; United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Supreme Court Appeal - CU appeals the court’s decision directly to the Supreme Court. Bossie soon decides to replace Bopp with Olson, a far more prominent figure in conservative legal circles. Toobin will write: “Ted Olson had argued and won Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and was rewarded by President Bush with an appointment as solicitor general. Olson had argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, and he had a great deal of credibility with the justices. He knew how to win.” [Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Previous Attempt - In September 2004, Bossie and CU attempted, without success, to release a similar “documentary” supporting President Bush and attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on television, just weeks before the presidential election. The FEC turned down the group’s request. The FEC did allow the film to be shown in theaters (see September 8, 2004 and September 27-30, 2004).
'Ten-Year Plan' - Bopp will later reveal that the lawsuit is part of what he will call a “10-year plan” to push the boundaries of campaign finance law, and that he urged Bossie and other CU officials to use the documentary as a “test case” for overturning the body of law (see January 25, 2010).

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kathleen Willey, Megan Carpentier, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, New York Times, Michael Moore, John McCain, Royce Lamberth, James Bopp, Jr, Dick Morris, Gary Aldrich, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Hillary Clinton, Citizens United, David Bossie, Federal Election Commission, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

Republican political strategist Dick Morris falsely claims that “Clinton appointees” on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) are preventing the advocacy group Citizens United (CU) from airing its new documentary, Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). However, the head of CU, David Bossie (see May 1998), says that the organization can indeed show the documentary. Morris, appearing as a guest on Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes, tells co-host Alan Colmes that the FEC “won’t let us run” the film “in movie theaters.” He explains, “The Clinton appointees [on the FEC] are blocking it.” However, Bossie tells a Washington Times reporter, “I can put it in theaters, I just can’t let anybody know it’s there.” The FEC requires CU to comply with disclosure requirements under campaign finance law if it wishes to advertise the movie, a requirement the organization is unwilling to meet. (The day after Morris’s appearance, a court rules that CU must disclose its donors in order to advertise the film—see January 15, 2008.) Morris was originally a producer of the film before stepping away from the project, but has said that he appears in the film as a commentator. [Media Matters, 1/16/2008] CU will release the film in theaters the next day (see January 10-16, 2008).

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Alan Colmes, Citizens United, Washington Times, David Bossie, Dick Morris

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

The Supreme Court dismisses an appeal by the political advocacy group Citizens United (CU) that argued the group’s First Amendment rights had been violated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The Court had agreed to hear CU’s case that it should be allowed to broadcast a partisan political documentary about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Hillary: The Movie, on cable television networks in the days before critical primary elections (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court did not rule on the merits of the case, but instead ruled that CU should have filed its case first with the federal appeals court in Washington. The ruling does not dismiss the case entirely, but makes it unlikely that the Court will rule on the campaign law issues surrounding the case (see March 27, 2002) before the November 2008 elections. Lawyer James Bopp, representing CU, says, “It is our intention to get the case expeditiously resolved on the merits in the district court, and then if we are unsuccessful there, to appeal” again to the Court. Bopp accuses Justice Department lawyers of trying to slow down the case to prevent it being resolved before the election. CU also wants to release a similar documentary about the other leading Democratic presidential contender, Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008), in a similar fashion to its planned widespread release of the Clinton film. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Court’s more liberal members, says in the order dismissing the appeal that had the case been taken up, he would have affirmed the previous decision in favor of the FEC. None of the other justices made any public statement about the case. The case will be heard by the Washington, DC, federal appeals court. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/24/2008] The appeals court will find against CU, and the organization will reapply to the Court for a hearing, an application which will be granted (see March 15, 2009).

Entity Tags: James Bopp, Jr, Barack Obama, Citizens United, Federal Election Commission, Hillary Clinton, US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Cover illustration of the ‘Hype’ DVD.Cover illustration of the ‘Hype’ DVD. [Source: Amazon (.com)]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU) distributes hundreds of thousands of DVDs in newspapers throughout Ohio, Florida, and Nevada, all considered “swing states” in the upcoming presidential election. The DVDs contain a “documentary” entitled Hype: The Obama Effect and are characterized by CU as “truthful attack[s]” on Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Previous advertisements for the film said the film portrays Obama as an “overhyped media darling,” and quoted conservative pundit Tucker Carlson as saying: “The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush.” The DVD distribution takes place just days before the November 4 election. CU says it is spending over a million dollars to distribute around 1.25 million DVDs, which are included with delivery and store-bought copies of five newspapers: the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The film attacks Obama’s record on abortion rights, foreign policy, and what the Associated Press calls his “past relationships” with, among others, his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). The DVD also attempts to tie Obama to political corruption in Illinois, and lambasts the news media for what CU calls its preferential treatment of Obama. CU president David Bossie says: “We think it’s a truthful attack. People can take it any way they want.” Bossie was fired from his position on a Republican House member’s staff in 1998 for releasing fraudulently edited transcripts of a former Clinton administration official to falsely imply that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had committed crimes (see May 1998). Among those interviewed about Obama for the film are conservative columnist Robert Novak, conservative pundit Dick Morris, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and author and pundit Jerome Corsi, whom the AP terms a “discredited critic” of Obama. Obama campaign spokesman Isaac Baker calls the DVD “slash and burn politics,” and says the DVD is another tactic of the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) to “smear” Obama with “dishonest, debunked attacks from the fringes of the far right.” [New York Times, 7/22/2008; Associated Press, 10/28/2008; Media Matters, 10/29/2008]
Newspaper Official Defends Decision to Include DVD - Palm Beach Post general manager Charles Gerardi says of his paper’s decision to include the DVD in its Friday distribution: “Citizens United has every right to place this message as a paid advertisement, and our readers have every right to see it, even if they don’t agree with it. That we accepted it as a paid advertisement in no way implies that this newspaper agrees or disagrees with its message.” [Palm Beach Post, 10/31/2008]
Falsehoods, Misrepresentations, and Lies - Within days, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters finds that the DVD is riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and lies.
Claim that Obama 'Threw' Illinois State Senate Election - On the DVD, author David Freddoso claims that in 1998, Obama managed to “thr[o]w all of his opponents off the ballot” to win an election to the Illinois State Senate, a claim that has been disproved.
Claim that Obama Refuses to Work with Republicans - Freddoso also asserts that there are no instances of Obama’s stints in the Illinois State Senate nor the US Senate where he was willing to work with Republicans on legislation, an assertion that Freddoso himself inadvertently disproves by citing several instances of legislation Obama joined with Republicans to pass.
Claim that Obama Wants to Raise Taxes on Middle Class and Small Business - The DVD’s narrator misrepresents Obama’s campaign statements to falsely claim that Obama has promised to “irrevocabl[y]” raise taxes on citizens making over $100,000 to fund Social Security; the reality is that Obama’s proposed tax increase would affect citizens making $250,000 or more. The DVD narrator makes similarly false claims about Obama’s stance on raising the capital gains tax, and on raising taxes on small business owners. Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams tells viewers that Obama will raise taxes on small businesses that employ only a few workers, when in fact Obama has repeatedly proposed cutting taxes on most small businesses. Huckabee makes similar claims later in the DVD.
Claim that Obama Supports Immigration 'Amnesty' - The narrator misrepresents Obama’s stance on immigration reform as “amnesty for the 12 to 20 million people who violated US immigration law,” a position that Obama’s “Plan for Immigration” rejects.
Claim that Obama Wants 'Centralized Government' Health Care - Blackwell, now a contributing editor for the conservative publication TownHall, falsely claims that Obama wants to implement what he calls “a centralized government program that hasn’t worked in Canada, hasn’t worked in England, that has actually taken the freedom from the consumer and limited the choices.” Organizations such as PolitiFact and the New York Times have called claims that Obama supports government-run “single payer” health care false.
Claim that Obama Refused to Protect Lives of Infants - Conservative columnist and anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek claims that Obama opposed legislation that would have protected the lives of babies “born alive” during botched abortion efforts, when in fact no such legislation was ever proposed—the law already protects babies in such circumstances—and the Illinois Department of Public Health has said no such case exists in its records. (Stanek has claimed that she has witnessed such incidents during her time as an Illinois hospital worker.) Stanek has said that she believes domestic violence against women who have had abortions is acceptable, claimed that Chinese people eat aborted fetuses as “much sought after delicacies,” and claimed that Obama “supports infanticide.”
Claim that Obama Supported Attack on Petraeus - The DVD narrator claims that as a US senator, Obama refused to vote for a bill that condemned an attack by liberal grassroots activist organization MoveOn.org on General David Petraeus. In reality, Obama did vote to support an amendment that condemned the MoveOn advertisement.
Claim that Obama Supported Award for Farrakhan - The DVD narrator claims that Obama has aligned himself with the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and cites the 2007 decision by Obama’s then-church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to award a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan. In reality, Obama denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and stated that he did not agree with the Trinity decision to give Farrakhan the award.
Claim of Suspiciously Preferential Loan Rate - The DVD narrator claims that Obama received a suspiciously “preferential rate on his super-jumbo loan for the purchase” of a “mansion” in Hyde Park, Illinois, from Northern Trust, an Illinois bank. A Washington Post reporter did make such a claim in a report, but subsequent investigation by Politico and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that the rate Obama received on the loan was consistent with other loans Northern Trust made at the time and not significantly below the average loan rate.
'Citizen of the World' - Corsi claims that Obama does not consider himself an American, but a “citizen of the world.” Media Matters has found numerous instances where Obama proclaims himself a proud American as well as “a fellow citizen of the world.” In 1982, Media Matters notes, then-President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly by saying, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.” Media Matters notes that Corsi’s anti-Obama book Obama Nation was widely and thoroughly debunked (see August 1, 2008 and After), and since its publication, Corsi has made a number of inflammatory and false accusations about Obama and his family (see August 15, 2008, August 16, 2008, September 7, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). [Media Matters, 10/30/2008]

The US Supreme Court hears the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refused to let the conservative lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) air a film entitled Hillary: The Movie during the 2008 presidential primary season (see January 10-16, 2008). The FEC ruled that H:TM, as some have shortened the name, was not a film, but a 90-minute campaign ad with no other purpose than to smear and attack Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as being unfit to hold office. A panel of appeals judges agreed with the FEC’s ruling, which found the film was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” As a campaign ad, the film’s airing on national network television came under campaign finance laws, particularly since the film was financed by corporate political donations. CU was allowed to air the film in theaters and sell it in DVD and other formats, but CU wanted to pay $1.2 million to have the movie aired on broadcast cable channels and video-on-demand (pay per view) services, and to advertise its broadcast. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) hired former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Bossie denies that he chose Olson because of their shared loathing of the Clintons—they worked together to foment the “Arkansas Project,” a Clinton smear effort that resulted in Congress unsuccessfully impeaching President Clinton—but because Olson gave “us the best chance to win.” Bossie dedicated the Clinton film to Barbara Olson, Olson’s late wife, who died in the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] “I just don’t see how the Federal Election Commission has the authority to use campaign-finance rules to regulate advertising that is not related to campaigns,” Bossie told reporters last year. [Christian Science Monitor, 2/1/2008]
Uphold or Cut Back McCain-Feingold? - Observers, unaware of the behind-the-scenes machinations, believe the case gives the Court the opportunity to either uphold or cut back the body of law stemming from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or McCain-Feingold) campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002), which limits the ability of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising before elections. CU is arguing that the BCRA is unconstitutional, having argued before a previous court that the the BCRA law was unconstitutional in the way it was being enforced by the FEC against its film. In its brief to the Court, CU denies the film is any sort of “electioneering,” claiming: “Citizens United’s documentary engages in precisely the political debate the First Amendment was written to protect… The government’s position is so far-reaching that it would logically extend to corporate or union use of a microphone, printing press, or the Internet to express opinions—or articulate facts—pertinent to a presidential candidate’s fitness for office.” The Justice Department, siding with the FEC, calls the film an “unmistakable” political appeal, stating, “Every element of the film, including the narration, the visual images and audio track, and the selection of clips, advances the clear message that Senator Clinton lacked both the integrity and the qualifications to be president of the United States.” The film is closer to a political “infomercial” than a legitimate documentary, the Justice Department argues. The film’s “unmistakable message is that Senator Clinton’s character, beliefs, qualifications, and personal history make her unsuited to the office of the President of the United States,” according to a Justice Department lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, who filed a brief on behalf of the FEC. The Justice Department wants the Court to uphold FEC disclosure requirements triggered by promotional ads, while Olson and CU want the Court to strike down the requirements. Olson says financial backers of films such as H:TM may be reluctant to back a film if their support becomes publicly known. Kneedler, however, writes that such disclosure is in the public interest. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is joining CU in its court fight, stating in a brief, “By criminalizing the distribution of a long-form documentary film as if it were nothing more than a very long advertisement, the district court has created uncertainty about where the line between traditional news commentary and felonious advocacy lies.” Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which supports the BCRA, disagrees with RCFP’s stance, saying, “The idea that [the law] threatens legitimate journalism and people who are out creating documentaries, I think, is a stretch.” [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] The RCFP has said that the movie “does not differ, in any relevant respect, from the critiques of presidential candidates produced throughout the entirety of American history.” And a lawyer with the RCFP, Gregg P. Leslie, asked, “Who is the FEC to decide what is news and what kind of format news is properly presented in?” [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Filled with False Information - The movie was relentlessly panned by critics, who found much of its “information” either misrepresentative of Clinton or outright false. CU made several other films along with the Clinton documentary, which included attacks on filmmaker Michael Moore, the American Civil Liberties Union, illegal immigrants, and Clinton’s fellow presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009]
Arguments Presented - Olson and his opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, present arguments in the case to the assembled Court. Traditionally, lawyers with the Solicitor General (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Toobin later writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and is a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative justice with a penchant for asking tough questions that often hide their true intentions behind carefully neutral wording, is interested in seeing how far he can push Stewart’s argument. Does the BCRA apply only to television commercials, he asks, or might it regulate other means of communication during a federal campaign? “Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth?” Could the law limit a corporation from “providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all those as well?” Stewart says that the BCRA indeed imposes such restrictions, stating, “Those could have been applied to additional media as well.” Could the government regulate the content of a book? Alito asks. “That’s pretty incredible. You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?” Stewart, who tardily realizes where Alito was going, attempts to recover. “I’m not saying it could be banned,” he responds. “I’m saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its—” Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a “swing” justice in some areas but a reliable conservative vote in campaign-spending cases, interrupts Stewart. “Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book,” Kennedy says. “Your position is that, under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60- and 30-day periods?” Stewart gives what Toobin later calls “a reluctant, qualified yes.” At this point, Roberts speaks up. According to Toobin, Roberts intends to paint Stewart into something of a corner. “If it has one name, one use of the candidate’s name, it would be covered, correct?” Roberts asks. Stewart responds, “That’s correct.” Roberts then asks, “If it’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, ‘And so vote for X,’ the government could ban that?” Stewart responds, “Well, if it says ‘vote for X,’ it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by the preexisting Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980) provisions.” Toobin later writes that with their “artful questioning, Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts ha[ve] turned a fairly obscure case about campaign-finance reform into a battle over government censorship.” Unwittingly, Stewart has argued that the government has the right to censor books because of a single line. Toobin later writes that Stewart is incorrect, that the government could not ban or censor books because of McCain-Feingold. The law applies to television advertisements, and stems from, as Toobin will write, “the pervasive influence of television advertising on electoral politics, the idea that commercials are somehow unavoidable in contemporary American life. The influence of books operates in a completely different way. Individuals have to make an affirmative choice to acquire and read a book. Congress would have no reason, and no justification, to ban a book under the First Amendment.” Legal scholars and pundits will later argue about Stewart’s answers to the three justices’ questions, but, as Toobin will later write, “the damage to the government’s case had been profound.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Behind the Scenes - Unbeknownst to the lawyers and the media, the Court initially renders a 5-4 verdict in favor of CU, and strikes down decades of campaign finance law, before withdrawing its verdict and agreeing to hear rearguments in the fall (see June 29, 2009). Toobin will write that the entire case is orchestrated behind the scenes, by Roberts and his fellow majority conservatives. Toobin will write of “a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case” that “reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court.” Toobin will write that although the five conservatives are involved in broadening the scope of the case, and Kennedy actually writes the majority decision, “the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.” The initial vote on the case is 5-4, with the five conservative justices—Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—taking the majority.
Expansive Concurrence Becomes the Majority Opinion - At the outset, the case is decided on the basis of Olson’s narrow arguments, regarding the issue of a documentary being made available on demand by a nonprofit organization (CU). Roberts takes the majority opinion onto himself. The four liberals in the minority are confident Roberts’s opinion would be as narrow as Olson’s arguments. Roberts’s draft opinion is indeed that narrow. Kennedy writes a concurrence opining that the Court should go further and overturn McCain-Feingold, the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), and end the ban on corporate donations to campaigns (see 1907). When the draft opinions circulates, the other three conservatives begin rallying towards Kennedy’s more expansive concurrence. Roberts then withdraws his draft and lets Kennedy write the majority opinion in line with his concurrence. Toobin later writes: “The new majority opinion transformed Citizens United into a vehicle for rewriting decades of constitutional law in a case where the lawyer had not even raised those issues. Roberts’s approach to Citizens United conflicted with the position he had taken earlier in the term.” During arguments in a different case, Roberts had “berated at length” a lawyer “for his temerity in raising an issue that had not been addressed in the petition. Now Roberts was doing nearly the same thing to upset decades of settled expectations.”
Dissent - The senior Justice in the minority, John Paul Stevens, initially assigns the main dissent to Justice David Souter. Souter, who is in the process of retiring from the Court, writes a stinging dissent that documents some of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the case, including an accusation that Roberts violated the Court’s procedures to get the outcome he wanted. Toobin will call Souter’s planned dissent “an extraordinary, bridge-burning farewell to the Court” that Roberts feels “could damage the Court’s credibility.” Roberts offers a compromise: Souter will withdraw his dissent if the Court schedules a reargument of the case in the fall of 2009 (see June 29, 2009). The second argument would feature different “Questions Presented,” and the stakes of the case would be far clearer. The four minority justices find themselves in something of a conundrum. They feel that to offer the Kennedy opinion as it stands would be to “sandbag” them and the entire case, while a reargument would at least present the issues that the opinion was written to reflect. And there is already a 5-4 majority in favor of Kennedy’s expansive opinion. The liberals, with little hope of actually winning the case, agree to the reargument. The June 29, 2009 announcement will inform the parties that the Court is considering overturning two key decisions regarding campaign finance restrictions, including a decision rendered by the Roberts court (see March 27, 1990 and December 10, 2003) and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Court observers will understand that the Court is not in the habit of publicly asking whether a previous Court decision should be overruled unless a majority is already prepared to do just that. Toobin will call Roberts and his four colleagues “impatient” to make the decision, in part because an early decision would allow the ruling to impact the 2010 midterm elections. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Created to Give Courts Shot at McCain-Feingold - Critics, as yet unaware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, will later say that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign will say: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” Bossie himself will later confirm that contention, saying: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010] CU’s original lawyer on the case, James Bopp, will later verify that the case was brought specifically to give the Court a chance to cut back or overturn campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010). The Court will indeed overturn McCain-Feingold in the CU decision (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Scott Nelson, US Supreme Court, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Barbara Olson, American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Kennedy, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Michael Moore, Hillary Clinton, Gregg P. Leslie, Nick Nyhart, Edwin Kneedler, David Souter, Federal Election Commission, James Bopp, Jr, John Paul Stevens, David Bossie, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Malcolm Stewart

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The New York Times, in an unsigned editorial, warns of the possible ramifications of an upcoming Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case was argued on March 15, eight days before the Web publication date of the editorial (see March 15, 2009) and nine days before the editorial is published in print; it is unclear in retrospect why the editorial is written as if the arguments have not yet taken place, or whether the dates of the published version are accurate. The Times sums up the case—a conservative nonprofit organization, Citizens United (CU), planned to air a 90-minute film that was highly critical of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the days before 2008 presidential primary elections, in violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or “McCain-Feingold”—see March 27, 2002) that bans “electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary election. CU was aware of the law, and filed a suit claiming that the law unconstitutionally violated its First Amendment rights. “The Supreme Court should affirm that ruling,” the Times states. The CU briefs “mak[e] a wide array of claims,” the “most dangerous” of which is a request to overturn the 1990 Austin Court decision (see March 27, 1990) that banned corporations from using monies from their general treasuries. The Times states: “If Citizens United prevails, it would create an enormous loophole in the law and allow corporate money to flood into partisan politics in ways it has not in many decades. It also would seriously erode the disclosure rules for campaign contributions.” [New York Times, 3/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Citizens United, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, US Supreme Court, Hillary Clinton, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court says it will schedule a hearing on the controversial “Citizens United” case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (see March 15, 2009), for September 2009, in an unusual second presentation before the Court (see September 9, 2009). According to the justices, the lawyers for both Citizens United (CU) and the federal government should argue whether previous Court rulings upholding federal election law should be overturned based on First Amendment grounds. Both sides are asked to argue whether the Court should overrule the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), which upheld restrictions on corporate spending on political campaigns, and/or the 2003 McConnell decision (see December 10, 2003), which upheld the bulk of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). Law professor Nathaniel Persily says of the directive: “The Court is poised to reverse longstanding precedents concerning the rights of corporations to participate in politics. The only reason to ask for reargument on this is if they’re going to overturn Austin and McConnell.” The New York Times observes, “The Roberts court [referring to the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts] has struck down every campaign finance regulation to reach it, and it seems to have a majority prepared to do more.” Previous lower court rulings have found that CU’s attempt to air a film attacking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was an attempt to engage in “electioneering,” and thus came under the restrictions of the McCain-Feingold campaign law (see March 27, 2002). The film was financed in part by donations from corporations and individuals whom CU has refused to identify. [United Press International, 6/29/2009; New York Times, 6/29/2009] CU previously attempted to have its case heard by the Court, but the Court sent the case back to a federal appeals court, which ruled in favor of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and against CU (see March 24, 2008). Law professor Richard Hasen agrees with Persily and the Times that the decision to reargue the case a second time indicates that the Court’s conservative majority is prepared to overturn both Austin and McConnell, and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Hasen writes that if the Court does indeed rule in favor of unlimited corporate spending, it will be in response to the fundraising advantage currently enjoyed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) over his Republican counterpart, John McCain (R-AZ). [Slate, 6/29/2009] The decision will indeed overturn both Austin and McConnell, and gut most of the BCRA (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Federal Election Commission, US Supreme Court, New York Times, John G. Roberts, Jr, Richard L. Hasen, Nathaniel Persily, John McCain, Citizens United

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The second round of arguments in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, and June 29, 2009) is heard by the US Supreme Court. The first round of arguments, which unexpectedly focused on an unplanned examination of government censorship, ended in a 5-4 split, with the majority of conservative justices readying a decision to essentially gut the entire body of federal campaign finance law in the name of the First Amendment (see March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), but an angry dissent by Justice David Souter that accused Chief Justice John Roberts of failing to follow the procedures of the Court in rendering the opinion prompted Roberts to temporarily withdraw the opinion and offer a rare second argument (see May 14, 2012). Newly appointed Solicitor General Elena Kagan argues her first case before the Court. Citizens United, the plaintiff, is represented by former Bush administration Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, a veteran of Court arguments, quickly discerns from the new round of “Questions Presented” that the Court is prepared to not only find in the plaintiff’s favor, but to use the case to render a broad verdict against campaign finance law as a whole. Olson argues cautiously, not wanting to extend the case farther than the Court may desire. The four minority liberal justices, knowing the case is lost, try their best in their questioning to raise awareness in the public once news reports of the arguments are made public. One of those justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, asks: “Mr. Olson, are you taking the position that there is no difference” between the First Amendment rights of a corporation and those of an individual? “A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights. So is there any distinction that Congress could draw between corporations and natural human beings for purposes of campaign finance?” Olson replies, “What the Court has said in the First Amendment context… over and over again is that corporations are persons entitled to protection under the First Amendment” (see January 30, 1976, April 26, 1978, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). Ginsburg follows up by asking, “Would that include today’s mega-corporations, where many of the investors may be foreign individuals or entities?” Olson replies, “The Court in the past has made no distinction based upon the nature of the entity that might own a share of a corporation.” Kagan then takes her turn, and begins: “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, I have three very quick points to make about the government position. The first is that this issue has a long history. For over a hundred years, Congress has made a judgment that corporations must be subject to special rules when they participate in elections, and this Court has never questioned that judgment.” She begins to make her second point before Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the conservative majority, interrupts her. In 2012, author and reporter Jeffrey Toobin will write that Kagan almost certainly knows hers is a legal “suicide mission,” and can only hope that her arguments may sway the Court to narrow its decision and leave some of the existing body of campaign finance law intact. She tells Roberts later in the questioning period, “Mr. Chief Justice, as to whether the government has a preference as to the way in which it loses, if it has to lose, the answer is yes.” Justice John Paul Stevens, the most senior of the liberal minority, attempts to assist Kagan in making her argument, suggesting that the Court should content itself with a narrow ruling, perhaps creating an exception in the McCain-Feingold law (see March 27, 2002) for the plaintiff’s documentary (see January 10-16, 2008) or for “ads that are financed exclusively by individuals even though they are sponsored by a corporation.” Kagan agrees with Stevens’s proposal. Stevens then says: “Nobody has explained why that wouldn’t be a proper solution, not nearly as drastic. Why is that not the wisest narrow solution of the problem before us?” Kagan, with help from Ginsburg, undoes some of the damage done by Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart during the first argument, where he inadvertently gave the conservative justices the “censorship” argument by which they could justify a broader verdict. Ginsburg asks: “May I ask you one question that was highlighted in the prior argument, and that was if Congress could say no TV and radio ads, could it also say no newspaper ads, no campaign biographies? Last time, the answer was yes, Congress could, but it didn’t. Is that still the government’s answer?” Kagan replies: “The government’s answer has changed, Justice Ginsburg. We took the Court’s own reaction to some of those other hypotheticals very seriously. We went back, we considered the matter carefully.” Unlike Stewart, Kagan specifically says that the government cannot ban books. But the censorship argument remains. After the arguments, the justices render the same verdict: a 5-4 split favoring Citizens United. Roberts, Scalia, and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas vote in the majority, while Ginsburg, Stevens, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor vote in the minority. The second round of questioning, with its much broader scope, gives Roberts and his conservative colleagues the justification they need to render a broad verdict that would gut existing campaign finance law (see January 21, 2010). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Elena Kagan, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, David Souter, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Federal Election Commission, Sonia Sotomayor, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malcolm Stewart, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy.Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that corporate spending in political elections may not be banned by the federal government. The case is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205. The Court is divided among ideological lines, with the five conservatives voting against the four moderates and liberals on the bench. The decision overrules two precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, and rules that corporate financial support for a party or candidate qualifies as “freedom of speech” (see March 11, 1957, January 30, 1976, May 11, 1976, April 26, 1978, January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, June 26, 1996, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). The majority rules that the government may not regulate “political speech,” while the dissenters hold that allowing corporate money to, in the New York Times’s words, “flood the political marketplace,” would corrupt the democratic process. The ramifications of the decision will be vast, say election specialists. [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010] In essence, the ruling overturns much of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold law (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). The ruling leaves the 1907 ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates and national party committees intact (see 1907). The ban on corporate and union donors coordinating their efforts directly with political parties or candidates’ campaigns remains in place; they must maintain “independence.” Any corporation spending more than $10,000 a year on electioneering efforts must publicly disclose the names of individual contributors. And the ruling retains some disclosure and disclaimer requirements, particularly for ads airing within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The Los Angeles Times writes: “The decision is probably the most sweeping and consequential handed down under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. And the outcome may well have an immediate impact on this year’s mid-term elections to Congress.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; OMB Watch, 1/27/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 2/2/2010; National Public Radio, 2012]
Unregulated Money Impacts Midterm Elections - The decision’s effects will be felt first on a national level in the 2010 midterm elections, when unregulated corporate spending will funnel millions of dollars from corporate donors into Congressional and other races. President Obama calls the decision “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising, says the Court “took what had been a revolving door and took the door away altogether. There was something there that slowed the money down. Now it’s gone.” [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010; Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/21/2010]
Broadening in Scope - According to reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin, CU lawyer Theodore Olson had originally wanted to present the case as narrowly as possible, to ensure a relatively painless victory that would not ask the Court to drastically revise campaign finance law. But according to Toobin, the conservative justices, and particularly Chief Justice Roberts, want to use the case as a means of overturning much if not all of McCain-Feingold (see May 14, 2012). In the original argument of the case in March 2009 (see March 15, 2009), Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart unwittingly changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation, and gave Roberts and the other conservative justices the opportunity they may have been seeking. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Majority Opinion Grants Corporations Rights of Citizens - The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, reads in part: “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.… The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.” In essence, Kennedy’s ruling finds, corporations are citizens. The ruling overturns two precedents: 1990’s Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates (see March 27, 1990) in its entirety, and large portions of 2003’s McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (see December 10, 2003), which upheld a portion of the BCRA that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions. Before today’s ruling, the BCRA banned the broadcast, cable, or satellite transmission of “electioneering communications” paid for by corporations or labor unions from their general funds in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The law was restricted in 2007 by a Court decision to apply only to communications “susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate” (see June 25, 2007).
Encroachment on Protected Free Speech - Eight of the nine justices agree that Congress can require corporations to disclose their spending and to run disclaimers with their advertisements; Justice Clarence Thomas is the only dissenter on this point. Kennedy writes, “Disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.” Kennedy’s opinion states that if the restrictions remain in place, Congress could construe them to suppress political speech in newspapers, on television news programs, in books, and on the Internet. Kennedy writes: “When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
Fiery Dissent - Justice John Paul Stevens, the oldest member of the court, submits a fiery 90-page dissent that is joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Kennedy is joined by Roberts and fellow Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Thomas, though Roberts and Alito submit a concurring opinion instead of signing on with Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas. “The difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind,” Stevens writes in his dissent. “And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf.” Stevens writes that the Court has long recognized the First Amendment rights of corporations, but the restrictions struck down by the decision are moderate and fair. “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Speaking from the bench, Stevens calls the ruling “a radical change in the law… that dramatically enhances the role of corporations and unions—and the narrow interests they represent—in determining who will hold public office.… Corporations are not human beings. They can’t vote and can’t run for office,” and should be restricted under election law. “Essentially, five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
Case Originated with 2008 Political Documentary - The case originated in a 2008 documentary by the right-wing advocacy group Citizens United (CU), called Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). The film, a caustic attack on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Democrats in general, was released for public viewing during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. When the Federal Election Commission (FEC) won a lawsuit against CU, based on the FEC’s contention that broadcasting the film violated McCain-Feingold, the group abandoned plans to release the film on a cable video-on-demand service and to broadcast television advertisements for it. CU appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and most observers believed the Court would decide the case on narrow grounds, not use the case to rewrite election law and First Amendment coverage. [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010; Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/21/2010; Associated Press, 1/21/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 2/2/2010]
Case Brought in Order to Attack Campaign Finance Law - Critics have said that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, an opponent of the decision, says: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” CU head David Bossie confirms this contention, saying after the decision: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Citizens United, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, New York Times, Nick Nyhart, Evan Tracey, David Bossie, Hillary Clinton, Jeffrey Toobin, Federal Election Commission, John Paul Stevens, Malcolm Stewart, John G. Roberts, Jr, Los Angeles Times

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Wall Street Journal celebrates the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) as a victory for “free speech” (see January 21, 2010). In an unsigned editorial, the Journal celebrates the decision by stating that the Court used the Constitution to “rescue” the political system from “marauding government” elements, particularly a “reckless Congress.” The Journal claims that the Citizens United case rested on the Federal Election Commission (FEC)‘s refusal to allow the airing of a 90-minute political attack documentary on presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) because the film was “less than complimentary” of her. In reality, the FEC considered the film “electioneering” by the organization that released the film, Citizens United, and prohibited it from being shown on pay-per-view cable access (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court rejected campaign finance law’s limitation on corporate spending, prompting the Journal to state, “Corporations are entitled to the same right that individuals have to spend money on political speech for or against a candidate.” Any other state of affairs, the Journal writes, constitutes censorship. The Journal criticizes President Obama for speaking out against the decision (see January 21, 2010), saying that Obama put “on his new populist facade to call it ‘a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies,’ and other ‘special interests.’ Mr. Obama didn’t mention his union friends as one of those interests, but their political spending will also be protected by the logic of this ruling. The reality is that free speech is no one’s special interest.” The Journal dismisses promises by Congressional Democrats to pass legislation or even bring forth a constitutional amendment limiting corporate donations by stating, “Liberalism’s bullying tendencies are never more on display than when its denizens are at war with the speech rights of its opponents.” The Journal concludes by advocating that the Court overturn its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision (see January 30, 1976) that placed modest limits on corporate spending, in essence advocating the complete deregulation of campaign financing. “The Court did yesterday uphold disclosure rules, so a sensible step now would be for Congress to remove all campaign-finance limits subject only to immediate disclosure on the Internet,” the Journal states. “Citizens United is in any event a bracing declaration that Congress’s long and misbegotten campaign-finance crusade has reached a constitutional dead end.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: Citizens United, Barack Obama, Wall Street Journal, US Supreme Court, Hillary Clinton, Federal Election Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

James Bopp Jr.James Bopp Jr. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]A former lawyer for Citizens United (CU), James Bopp Jr., confirms that the organization had a “10-year plan” that culminated in the recent Citizens United ruling that overturned most of US campaign finance law (see January 21, 2010). Bopp has been battling government restrictions on abortion (see November 1980 and After) and campaign finance (see Mid-2004 and After, January 10-16, 2008, and March 24, 2008) for much of his 35-year career. He calls his opponents, including President Obama, “socialists,” and justifies his views by citing the First Amendment. Bopp did not argue the case before the Supreme Court; Citizens United replaced him with what the New York Times calls “a less ideological and more experienced Washington lawyer” (see March 15, 2009). But Bopp is the lawyer who advised CU to use its documentary about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY—see January 10-16, 2008) as a test case to push the limits of corporate spending. He says his strategy continues, with the ultimate goal of deregulating campaign finance completely. “We had a 10-year plan to take all this down,” Bopp says. “And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law.… We have been awfully successful, and we are not done yet.” Law professor and campaign finance law expert Richard Hasen says the CU case “was really Jim’s brainchild.” Hasen explains: “He has manufactured these cases to present certain questions to the Supreme Court in a certain order and achieve a certain result. He is a litigation machine.” Bopp has other cases on appeal with various courts, all designed to do what the Times says “chip away at some of the disclosure laws left intact by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case.” One of Bopp’s main goals is to end the ban on direct donations by corporations to candidates, a goal law professor Nathaniel Persily says is logical in light of Bopp’s earlier efforts: “If you cannot ban corporate spending on ads, how is it that you are allowed to ban corporate contributions to candidates? That is the next shoe to drop.” He also wants to end all disclosure requirements, explaining, “Groups have to be relieved of reporting their donors if lifting the prohibition on their political speech is going to have any meaning.” Forcing groups who buy political commercials to disclose their donors is nearly as punitive, he says, “as an outright criminal go-to-jail-time prohibition.” Bopp says he harbors no ill will towards CU from replacing him with another lawyer to argue the case before the Court. “I understand that law is art,” he says. “Picasso, Van Gogh, Michelangelo—they are all very different, but all create masterpieces.” [New York Times, 1/25/2010]

Entity Tags: Nathaniel Persily, Barack Obama, Citizens United, New York Times, Hillary Clinton, US Supreme Court, James Bopp, Jr, Richard L. Hasen

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The retired director of the ACLU, Ira Glasser, writes a detailed editorial in support of the recent Citizens United ruling that opened the way for corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited money in campaign activities (see January 21, 2010). The ACLU supported the case throughout its progression (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009), and filed briefs in support of the plaintiff, the conservative advocacy group Citizens United. Glasser says that the “screaming dismay” that “most liberals” evinced on hearing of the decision was unwarranted. Corporations are still banned from directly contributing to political campaigns, and President Obama’s assertion that the decision “reversed a century of law” is incorrect; the 1907 Tillman Act that banned corporations from contributing to campaigns or candidates is still in effect (see 1907). Instead, Glasser writes, the decision is “a huge victory… for freedom of speech and against government censorship” (see January 21, 2010, January 22, 2010, and February 2, 2010). Corporations, he writes, have the same right to speech as individuals, and they exercise that speech by spending money promoting issues and candidates, or criticizing those issues and candidates. He cites two instances in which the ACLU was stopped by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) from engaging in “political free speech,” one in 1972 when the FEC stopped the ACLU from taking out an ad in the New York Times criticizing President Nixon’s opposition to school busing to implement integration, and in 1984, when the FEC barred the ACLU from making public statements critical of President Reagan. Both instances took place inside the “window” of time before an election (30 days before a primary, 60 days before a general election) in which such utterances were considered supporting a candidate. Nonprofit groups such as Citizens United have been victimized for decades by campaign finance restrictions, Glasser writes. Later in the article, he derides the idea that restricting or controlling speech creates equality between rich and poor in elections, curbing the propensity for the rich to wield more influence and be heard more broadly than less wealthy citizens or organizations. “Money isn’t speech, but how much money one has always determines how much speech one has,” Glasser writes. “Most if not all of you reading this have never had as much speech as, say, the New York Times or George Soros or Nelson Rockefeller or George Bush or, as we recently discovered in my city, Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg. The inequities of speech that flow from the inequities of wealth are certainly a big and distorting problem for a democracy, and have always been so, and not just during elections. No one knows how to remedy that, short of fundamental re-distributions of wealth. But I’ll tell you what isn’t a remedy: granting the government the power to decide who should speak, and how much speech is enough. Nothing but disaster flows from that approach, and that was what was at stake in this case.” He concludes by advocating public financing of elections entirely, writing: “Liberals and Democrats have been the chief offenders… favoring equity in the abstract but never seeing how the particular reforms they advocated made the problems they wished to remedy worse, and never seeing that giving the government the authority to regulate speech was not a good thing. Maybe now this result, which has steamed up liberals and Democrats, may at last shift their attention to the kind of public financing that equitably provides money for more speech instead of pretending to create equity by granting the government the authority to restrict speech. We shall see.” [Huffington Post, 2/3/2010]

Entity Tags: Citizens United, American Civil Liberties Union, Federal Election Commission, Barack Obama, Tillman Act, Ira Glasser

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lawyer James Bopp Jr. forms a super PAC, Republican Super PAC Inc., in order to make unlimited financial contributions towards “independent” expenditures in support of Republican candidates in the November 2012 elections. Bopp is joined by Roger Villere, the chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party. Bopp is known for arguing high-profile cases against abortion rights (see November 1980 and After and Mid-2004 and After) and campaign finance regulations (see December 10, 2003 and Mid-2004 and After). He was the lawyer who first worked with the lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United, whose lawsuit gave the Supreme Court the opportunity to greatly deregulate campaign finance law (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, and January 21, 2010). According to an email from Bopp and Villere, the Republican Super PAC will coordinate with other independent groups “to bridge gaps in the independent campaigns supporting Republican candidates.… The best way to neutralize President Obama’s unprecedented $1 billion political war chest and the political spending by labor unions and wealthy Democrats is to build a super fund-raising infrastructure for independent expenditure spending.” [New York Times, 5/16/2011] The majority of the money raised and spent on behalf of candidates by super PACs has gone to support Republicans, and not President Obama or Democratic candidates (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), and May 5, 2011).

Entity Tags: Roger Villere, James Bopp, Jr, US Supreme Court, Republican Super PAC Inc, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jeffrey Toobin in 2007.Jeffrey Toobin in 2007. [Source: Wikimedia]Author and political pundit, Jeffrey Toobin, publishes an in-depth article for the New Yorker showing that Chief Justice John Roberts engineered the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), moving it from a case that could well have been considered and decided on a relatively narrow basis to a sweeping decision that reformed the nation’s campaign finance structure. Toobin writes that the underlying issue was quite narrow: the conservative advocacy organization Citizens United (CU) wanted to run a documentary attacking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) on “video on demand” cable broadcast (see January 10-16, 2008). Under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation (see March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003), the Federal Election Commission (FEC) disallowed the broadcast because it would come 30 days or less before primary elections. CU challenged the decision in court (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Toobin’s article is an excerpt from his forthcoming book The Oath: The Obama White House vs. The Supreme Court. It is dated May 21, but appears on the New Yorker’s Web site on May 14. [Tom Goldstein, 5/14/2012]
Oral Arguments - During the initial arguments (see March 15, 2009), attorney Theodore Olson, the former solicitor general for the Bush administration, argued a narrow case: that McCain-Feingold’s prohibitions only applied to television commercials, not to full-length documentary films. Olson argued, “This sort of communication was not something that Congress intended to prohibit.” Toobin writes: “Olson’s argument indicated that there was no need for the Court to declare any part of the law unconstitutional, or even to address the First Amendment implications of the case. Olson simply sought a judgment that McCain-Feingold did not apply to documentaries shown through video on demand.… If the justices had resolved the case as Olson had suggested, today Citizens United might well be forgotten—a narrow ruling on a remote aspect of campaign-finance law.” However, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most vocal opponents of campaign finance restrictions on the Court (see September 26, 1986, December 15, 1986, March 27, 1990, June 26, 1996, June 16, 2003, December 10, 2003, and June 25, 2007), seemed disappointed in the limited nature of Olson’s argument, Toobin writes. The oral arguments expand the case far beyond Olson’s initial position. Olson’s initial intention was to narrow the case so that the Court would not have to expand its scope to find in favor of CU.
Change of Scope - Ironically, the government’s lead lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, may well have changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation. Traditionally, lawyers with the solicitor general (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. Toobin writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who had clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. But, Toobin writes, Stewart fell into a trap, prompted by Justice Samuel Alito’s pointed questioning about the government’s ability to ban or censor printed materials—i.e. books—under McCain-Feingold—and follow-up questions by Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, that led him to claim incorrectly that the government could indeed censor books under the law. Stewart’s incorrect assertion gave Roberts and his colleagues the chance to overturn McCain-Feingold on the grounds of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Second Arguments - The second arguments were held on September 9, 2009 (see September 9, 2009). The concept of “money equals speech” goes back at least as far as the 1976 Buckley decision (see January 30, 1976), and the five conservative justices were poised to stretch that definition much farther than has previously been done.
Majority Opinion - Toobin writes that Roberts’s decision was then to decide “how much he wanted to help the Republican Party. Roberts’s choice was: a lot.” Roberts assigned the opinion to Kennedy, the “swing” justice who had already written an expansive opinion gutting almost a century’s worth of campaign finance legislation. Kennedy tends to “swing wildly in one direction or another,” Toobin writes, “an extremist—of varied enthusiasms.” In the area of campaign finance, he has consistently “swung” to the conservative side of the argument. He is, Toobin writes, “extremely receptive to arguments that the government had unduly restricted freedom of speech—especially in the area of campaign finance.” Moreover, Kennedy enjoys writing controversial and “high-profile” opinions. Toobin says that Roberts’s choice of Kennedy to write the opinion was clever: Roberts came onto the Court promising to conduct himself with judicial modesty and a respect for precedent. Kennedy, with his draft opinion at the ready, was a better choice to write an opinion that lacked either modesty or a respect for Court precedence. Roberts, Toobin writes, “obtained a far-reaching result without leaving his own fingerprints.” Kennedy, in an often-eloquent opinion that did not deal with the gritty reality of the Citizens United case, stated that any restraint of money in a campaign risked infringing on free speech. “Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.… By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” Kennedy also reaffirmed the Court’s perception that corporations deserve the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by individuals. Kennedy’s opinion found, in Toobin’s words, that “[t]he Constitution required that all corporations, for-profit and nonprofit alike, be allowed to spend as much as they wanted, anytime they wanted, in support of the candidates of their choosing.” One of the only provisions remaining in McCain-Feingold after Kennedy’s opinion was the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates.
Fiery Dissent from 'Liberal' Stevens - Toobin reminds readers that the elder statesman of the “liberal” wing of the Court at the time, John Paul Stevens, is a “moderate Midwestern Republican,” one of the last of a “vanishing political tradition.” Though Stevens’s views have migrated left on some issues, such as the death penalty, Toobin writes that the perception of Stevens as a Court liberal is mostly because of the Court’s steady progression to the right. Toobin writes that the 90-year-old Stevens has grown dispirited in recent years, as the conservative wing of the Court, led by Scalia, Alito, and Roberts with Clarence Thomas and often Kennedy in tow, overturned one Court precedent after another. “The course of Citizens United represented everything that offended Stevens most about the Roberts Court,” Toobin writes. Much of Stevens’s objections to the Roberts Court are rooted in procedure; he is deeply troubled by the Citizens United case being transformed by Roberts and his conservative colleagues from a narrowly focused case about a single McCain-Feingold provision to what Toobin calls “an assault on a century of federal laws and precedents. To Stevens, it was the purest kind of judicial activism.” Stevens wrote in his angry dissent, “Five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” A simple change in the McCain-Feingold law to disallow its application to full-length documentaries the CU case was sparked by, or even to nonprofit organizations such as CU, would have been appropriate, Stevens wrote. He penned a 90-page dissent, the longest of his career, blasting almost every aspect of Kennedy’s decision, starting with Kennedy’s ignoring of precedent and continuing with a refutation of Kennedy’s perception of the Constitutional definitions of “censorship” and “free speech.” Stevens was angered by Kennedy’s equivocation of corporations with people. “The Framers thus took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare,” he wrote. “Unlike our colleagues, they had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.” Congress has drawn significant distinctions between corporations and people for over a century, he wrote: “at the federal level, the express distinction between corporate and individual political spending on elections stretches back to 1907, when Congress passed the Tillman Act” (see 1907). He even challenged Kennedy’s stated fear that the government might persecute individuals’ speech based on “the speaker’s identity,” sarcastically noting that Kennedy’s opinion “would have accorded the propaganda broadcasts to our troops by ‘Tokyo Rose’ [a famed Japanese propagandist] during World War II the same protection as speech by Allied commanders.” According to Toobin, Stevens’s law clerks disliked the dated reference, but Stevens, a Navy veteran, insisted on keeping it. Toobin writes that “Stevens’s conclusion was despairing.” Stevens concluded: “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.… It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Toobin notes that as “impressive” as Stevens’s dissent may have been, it was Kennedy’s opinion that “was reshaping American politics.”
Reaction - In his State of the Union address six days after the verdict, President Obama referenced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concerns about foreign influence in American politics by saying, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections” (see January 27-29, 2010). Democrats cheered as Obama said, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities.” Alito’s mouthing of the words “not true” stirred some controversy; Toobin notes that Alito was technically correct, as “Kennedy’s opinion expressly reserved the question of whether the ruling applied to foreign corporations.” However, Toobin notes, “as Olson had argued before the justices, the logic of the Court’s prior decisions suggested that foreign corporations had equal rights to spend in American elections.” With the Citizens United decision and a March 2010 decision that allowed for the formation of “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010), the way was clear for what Toobin calls “presidential campaigns in 2012 that were essentially underwritten by single individuals.” He notes the billionaires that almost single-handedly supported Republican presidential candidates (see February 21, 2012, February 16-17, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, and April 22, 2012), and the efforts of organizations like Crossroads GPS that have to date raised tens of millions of dollars for Republican candidates (see May 2, 2012). Toobin believes that the Court will continue to deregulate campaign finance, noting the 2011 decision that invalidated Arizona’s system of public financing that state enacted after a series of campaign finance scandals (see June 27, 2011). He concludes, “The Roberts Court, it appears, will guarantee moneyed interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Criticisms of the Article - Toobin’s article will engender significant criticism, from nuanced questioning of particular elements of Toobin’s story (see May 14, 2012) to accusations of outright “fictionalizing” (see May 17, 2012) and “libelous” claims (see May 15-17, 2012).

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Barack Obama, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, American Crossroads GPS, Tillman Act, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, John G. Roberts, Jr, Malcolm Stewart, Jeffrey Toobin, Republican Party, Hillary Clinton, Samuel Alito, Federal Election Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) writes an article for the Stanford Law Review discussing the dominance of “big money” in the nation’s elections in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), documenting his belief that the rise in small-donor contributions that put Democrats in office in 2006 and 2008 led to the Citizens United backlash, and calling for sweeping campaign finance reform. Feingold writes, “Without a significant change in how our campaign finance system regulates the influence of corporations, the American election process, and even the Supreme Court itself, face a more durable, long-term crisis of legitimacy.” Feingold heads Progressives United, an advocacy group that pushes for the overturning of the Citizens United decision and campaign finance legislation.
Background - Feingold gives the background of campaign finance reform in America: the 1907 Tillman Act which banned corporations from spending their money in elections (see 1907), which he says was spurred by the realization that “corporate influence corrupts elections”; the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which extended the Tillman ban to labor unions (see June 23, 1947); and more recent legislation, including the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002), which Feingold co-authored with Senator John McCain (R-AZ). “And for several election cycles, between 2004 and 2008, our system seemed headed towards more fair and transparent elections,” he writes. “But Citizens United changed everything.” The “road to corruption” in modern elections, he says, began when Democrats in the early 1990s began exploiting a loophole in finance regulation that allowed the creation of “soft money” groups (see January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, and December 10, 2003) that allowed parties to solicit unlimited amounts of donations from corporations, labor unions, and individuals. “This system was corrupting,” Feingold writes. “Senators would solicit gigantic, unregulated contributions from the same corporations that had legislation pending on the Senate floor. Both parties were guilty.” The BCRA plugged the “soft money” loophole. Even as the BCRA began to reform campaign finance practices, Feingold writes, “the same corporate interests that fought McCain-Feingold set to work to dismantle it. In what was clearly an orchestrated effort by opponents of campaign reform (see January 25, 2010), a group called Citizens United produced a movie savaging the record of then-Senator Clinton (see January 10-16, 2008). Ostensibly intended to educate the public about conservative concerns regarding Clinton’s run for the presidency, the film was little more than a legal vehicle to challenge some of the common-sense restrictions enacted by the BCRA (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). Specifically, the creators of the film sought to challenge the BCRA’s requirement that electioneering communications—commonly known as ‘phony issue ads’ that attack a candidate in the days before the election, but don’t explicitly advocate voting for or against that candidate—be subject to the same disclosure requirements and contribution limits as other campaign ads.” The case was argued on narrow grounds about a specific provision of the BCRA, but the Court’s conservative justices, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, “manipulated the Court’s process to achieve that result” (see May 14, 2012). Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent to the majority opinion, “[F]ive justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” The ruling, Feingold writes, “created a framework for corruption parallel to ‘soft money.’” Instead of “soft money” organizations, Citizens United led to the creation of the “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, November 23, 2011, January 4, 2012, January 4, 2012, January 13, 2012, and February 20, 2012). It has also called into doubt the legitimacy of US elections themselves, due to the “increasing skepticism about the campaign finance system.” Many voters now believe “that the average participant’s small contribution is irrelevant, and that the average person’s vote is grossly outweighed by the gigantic contributions now allowed.”
Internet Politics and Small-Donor Contributions - In part due to the BCRA, Feingold writes, “[f]or three election cycles, in 2004, 2006, and 2008, our system of campaign financing began to take shape in a way that channeled citizen participation and provided incentive for candidates to turn to the democratic support of online activists and small-dollar contributors.” He cites the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean (D-VT), who went on to chair the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as the first powerful instance of “online organizing,” using the Internet to garner millions of dollars in small donations from individual citizens. In 2008, the presidential campaign of Barack Obama (D-IL) pushed the Dean innovation even further. The Obama campaign “raised a historic amount in small-dollar contributions,” Feingold writes, and created an online platform to engage supporters. All told, the Obama campaign raised $500 million online.
An Ineffective FEC - By 2008, he writes, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was completely impotent. The agency “has been fatally flawed since the time of its creation—any administrative law professor will point out that a law enforcement commission with an even number of commissioners [six] is probably designed specifically not to enforce the law at all,” he writes. By 2008, the FEC only had two seated commissioners, and in effect was not enforcing campaign laws whatsoever. Even after eventually receiving a full complement of commissioners, he writes, the agency “remains ineffective, as even Democratic violators go unpunished as conservative commissioners remain unwilling, philosophically, to enforce any campaign finance law.”
2012: Corporations Trump Citizens - In 2012, corporate contributions far outweigh small-dollar donations by individuals. “[T]he most prominent actors in the 2012 election cycle are unnamed corporations and a small group of influential—primarily conservative—billionaires.” Seventy percent of registered voters think super PACs should be illegal, according to polls, and the favorability rating of the Court has dropped a significant amount. Overall, Feingold writes, the public is firmly against the Citizens United paradigm of campaign finance. He advocates strong legislation from Congress, fixing the “broken system of presidential public financing,” and replacing the “dysfunctional” FEC “with a true enforcement agency.” The ultimate repair of campaign finance lies with the Court, he says, noting that the Court has a chance to do some early repair with the Montana case it is now considering (see June 25, 2012). Regardless of what the Court does or does not do in the Montana case, he concludes, “[t]oday’s framework for corruption cannot stand.” [Stanford Law Review, 6/14/2012]

Entity Tags: Howard Dean, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Citizens United, Hillary Clinton, Russell D. Feingold, Federal Election Commission, John McCain, John G. Roberts, Jr, Stanford Law Review, John Paul Stevens

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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