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a.k.a. Hillary Rodham Clinton
In a radio broadcast, President Clinton and his wife, First Lady Hillary Clinton, address the nation’s children and their parents, giving advice and reassurance. President Clinton says: “We know that what happened in Oklahoma is very frightening, and we want children to know that it’s okay to be frightened by something as bad as this. Your parents understand it. Your teachers understand it. And we’re all there for you, and we’re working hard to make sure that this makes sense to you and that you can overcome your fears and go on with your lives.” To the parents, he says: “Tell [your children] there are a lot of people in this country in law enforcement who are working hard to protect them and to keep things like this from happening. Tell them that they are safe, that their own school or day care center is a safe place, and that it has been checked and that you know it’s safe. And make sure to tell them without any hesitation that the evil people who committed this crime are going to be found and punished. Tell them that I have promised—every child, every parent, every person in America—that when we catch the people who did this, we will make sure that they can never hurt another child again, ever. Finally, and most important of all, in the next several days, go out of your way to tell your children how much you love them. Tell them how much you care about them. Be extra sensitive to whether they need a hug or just to be held. This is a frightening and troubling time.” Hillary Clinton tells the children listening: “I also want you to know that there are many more good people in the world than bad and evil people. Just think of what we have seen in the last few days. Think of all the police officers, and the firefighters, the doctors and the nurses, all of the neighbors and the rescue workers, all of the people who have come to help all of those who were hurt in Oklahoma. Think about the people around the country who are sending presents and writing letters. Good people live everywhere in our country, in every town and every city, and there are many, many of them.” Afterwards, the president and his wife hold a “town hall” with a gathering of children who ask questions and make observations, mostly about what can be done to help the victims. (Center 4/22/1995)
David Bossie, an investigator for Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), is fired from his position. Bossie recently leaked transcripts of prison conversations featuring former Clinton administration official Webster Hubbell, who will be convicted of defrauding clients and sentenced to prison in 2004. Bossie fraudulently edited the transcripts to have Hubbell imply that First Lady Hillary Clinton broke the law while the two worked together in an Arkansas law firm. Bossie cut out portions of Hubbell’s conversations exonerating her from any wrongdoing, and sometimes rewrote Hubbell’s words entirely. In response to the controversy, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says of Burton and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “I’m embarrassed for you, I’m embarrassed for myself, and I’m embarrassed for the [House Republican] conference at the circus that went on at your committee.” (In late April, Burton had called President Clinton a “scumbag,” further embarrassing Gingrich and the Republican leadership.) Bossie came to Burton’s staff from Citizens United (CU), which he joined in 1994 and soon rose to become director of government relations and communications. In 1988, as a member of Floyd Brown’s Presidential Victory Committee (PVC), Bossie helped produce the infamous Willie Horton ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). In 1992, as executive director of the PVC, Bossie oversaw the release of a fundraising letter accusing then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton of having an affair with an Arkansas woman, for use in an ad that falsely suggested it was the product of President Bush’s re-election campaign. Then-President Bush accused the PVC of engaging in “filthy campaign tactics,” and his son and campaign aide George W. Bush sent a letter asking donors not to give to the organization. Bossie has encouraged Burton to open an investigation into the suicide of Clinton administration aide Vince Foster (alleging that Foster was murdered as part of some unspecified White House plot, or perhaps an Israeli intelligence “black op”). While an aide to Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), Bossie was found to have tried to intimidate a federal judge during a Whitewater-related investigation. Bossie has earned a reputation as a “Whitewater stalker,” combing Arkansas for “evidence” of crimes by the Clintons, and repeatedly making false and lurid allegations against the president and/or his wife. For a year, Bossie has promised that Burton’s committee would soon produce evidence of Chinese espionage and White House collusion, but any evidence of such a scandal has never been produced. A former lawyer for the Oversight Committee, John Rowley, has called Bossie’s actions “unrelenting self-promoti[on]” and challenged Bossie’s competence. Bossie says his transcripts were accurate (though the tapes of Hubbell’s conversations prove he is wrong), and blames committee Democrats for the controversy. (Bresnahan 5/7/1998; Corn 5/7/1998; Media Matters 5/11/2004) WorldNetDaily reporter David Bresnahan writes that according to his sources, Bossie “was either extremely incompetent or was intentionally trying to sabotage” Burton’s investigations into the Clinton administration. Bresnahan also says that Burton allowed Bossie to resign instead of firing him, as other media sources report. (Bresnahan 5/7/1998)
Presidential candidate George W. Bush meets with Abdurahman Alamoudi and other suspected Islamic militant sympathizers. US intelligence has suspected Alamoudi of ties to bin Laden and other militant figures since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994), but he has nonetheless grown in importance as a Muslim political activist. It will later be reported that Alamoudi “sought to secure the support first of the Clinton administration in seeking to repeal certain antiterrorist laws, but when Bill Clinton failed to deliver, Alamoudi defected to Bush, then governor of Texas.” (Waller 10/23/2003) Alamoudi and other Muslim leaders meet with Bush in Austin, Texas, in July 2000, just one month before the Republican presidential convention. They offer their support to his presidential campaign in exchange for his commitment to repeal certain antiterrorist laws. A photo of the meeting shows Bush with Alamoudi, several open supporters of the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups, the former head of the Pakistani Communist Party, and other unknown individuals. One photo likely taken at this meeting shows Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove there as well (see June 22, 2001). Bush and Rove also met with Alamoudi in 1999 (see 1999). (Waller 10/23/2003) Some of Alamoudi’s radical connections are publicly known at the time, and in October 2000 the Bush campaign will return a $1,000 contribution from Alamoudi shortly after Hillary Clinton returned an Alamoudi contribution to her senate race. (Hickey 10/29/2001) Muslim activists like Alamoudi are hinging their political support on the repeal of the use of secret evidence in terrorism cases. The Bush campaign had already been strongly pushing for support from Muslim American voters (see 1998-September 2001 and March 12, 2000) and such ties continue to grow. During the second presidential debate on October 11, 2000, Bush will come out strongly for repealing the use of secret evidence, saying, “Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what’s called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we got to do something about that.” (Unger 3/15/2004) Later in 2000, Alamoudi will meet with two suspected associates of the 9/11 hijackers (see October-November 2000), and in early 2001 he will attend a public conference attempting to unite militant groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, to wage holy war against the US and Israel (see Late January 2001). Nonetheless, Bush will appear with Alamoudi several times even after 9/11(see September 14-26, 2001). Alamoudi will be sentenced to a long prison term in 2004 (see October 15, 2004).
Fed by stories from unnamed White House officials, the media reports that Air Force One was vandalized and looted by Clinton officials during the aircraft’s last trip with Clinton and former Clinton staffers on board. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell tells viewers, “The Air Force will replace Air Force One glasses and four hand towels, apparently pilfered by passengers traveling with the Clintons on their last plane ride home.” Fox’s Brit Hume says: “The raid that was conducted aboard that Air Force plane, the presidential plane, although it’s not called Air Force One because the president was no longer—Mr. Clinton, Mr. Clinton was no longer president—on the last flight to New York… was stripped bare. The plane’s porcelain, china… and silverware, and salt and pepper shakers, blankets and pillow cases, nearly all items bearing the presidential seal, were taken by Clinton staffers who went along for the ride. The Washington Times quoted a military steward as saying that even a supply of toothpaste was stolen from a compartment under a sink.” CNN’s Kate O’Beirne tells viewers: “During Bill Clinton’s final flight, the plane was stripped bare and not by sentimental staffers seeking mementos. Air Force One souvenirs were quickly posted for auction online. Why not make a final buck off the White House? Outrageous, but not surprising.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001; Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001) Weeks later, the story will be debunked by an Andrews Air Force Base spokesman (see February 8, 2001) and by President Bush himself (see February 14, 2001).
Conservative pundit Tony Snow, who was a speechwriter for the first President Bush, alleges that Clinton aides rampaged through the White House and through Air Force One in the last days of the Clinton administration, leaving wholesale wreckage in both sites—giving Washington “one last White Trash Weekend,” he writes. The White House “was a wreck,” he alleges: “They trashed word processors, left obscene messages on voice-mail machines, cut some phone lines and re-routed others, tinkered with computers, scrawled obscenities on walls, soiled rugs and carpets, tipped over desks, vandalized file cabinets, left nasty messages for their successors—and generally went that extra mile to prove Team Clinton, for all its good and decent public servants, included a record number of punks.” Snow also repeats allegations that Air Force One was subjected to systematic theft, writing that after the presidential plane took former President Clinton and some aides to New York following the inauguration (“loaned graciously by President George W. Bush [after] Clinton insisted on the grand transport because he wanted something befitting his personal grandeur”), the aircraft “looked as if it had been stripped by a skilled band of thieves—or perhaps wrecked by a trailer park twister.” Snow alleges that many items, including silverware, porcelain dishes with the presidential seal, pillows, blankets, and even candy and toothpaste, were stolen from Air Force One by Clinton aides and perhaps the Clintons themselves. “It makes one feel grateful that the seats and carpets are bolted down,” he says. “Nothing better expresses the narcissistic tackiness of the Clinton years than the last-day exit, complete with its kangaroo-court justice, graceless self-celebration, opportunistic abuse of the gift-receiving privilege, and wanton desecration of the nation’s most important political shrine, the White House.” Snow’s assertions are contradicted by officials at Andrews Air Force Base, home of the presidential jets, who tell reporters that nothing is missing from Air Force One. Weeks later, President Bush will acknowledge that nothing was taken from Air Force One (see February 8, 2001 and February 14, 2001). (Snow 1/26/2001; Goldstein 5/18/2001) Snow also passes along allegations that the Clintons were given hundreds of thousands of dollars of illicit gifts and contributions, and that First Lady Hillary Clinton posted “a weird variation on a bridal registry, establishing password-protected sites in which contributors could pledge to purchase specific items selected in advance by the Clintons’ design teams for their his ‘n’ hers palazzos.” (Snow 1/26/2001) As with the Air Force One allegations, the allegations of vandalism and theft, and the gift registry, will prove to be almost entirely false (see May 18, 2001).
Media stories that President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton accepted an inappropriate amount of gifts in the final days of the Clinton administration prove to be false. NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell led the story, claiming that Clinton supporters gave the first family approximately $190,027 of gifts, mostly to furnish their new homes. Mitchell incorrectly implied that Hillary Clinton accepted much of the gifts after she was elected US Senator for New York, but before she was sworn in, enabling her to duck the Senate’s ban on expensive gifts. The reality is less sensational. Some of the gifts were given as long ago as 1993, but were not listed until 2001, and most of the gifts that supposedly went to decorate the Clintons’ homes actually reside in the White House Museum collections, donated by the Clintons. (Boehlert 1/31/2001)
National Review columnist John Derbyshire “satirically” advocates the murder of Chelsea Clinton, the only daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, in order to stamp out the Clinton bloodline once and for all. Former President Clinton has left the White House, to spend the rest of his life “goosing waitresses [and] defending himself in court.” Hillary “has no future beyond the US Senate… [she is] maxed out.” But, he warns, “Clintonism may yet rise again.… On February 27th, Chelsea Clinton will turn 21.”
'I Hate Chelsea Clinton' - Derbyshire confesses: “I hate Chelsea Clinton. I admit it’s not easy to justify my loathing of this person. I can pick out causes, but none of them is one hundred per cent rational.… I admit, I hate Chelsea because she is a Clinton.” After noting the negative reactions to his previous attack on the younger Clinton’s physical appearance, he acknowledges that she hasn’t committed the “array of crimes” her father is allegedly responsible for, but “she doesn’t deserve any credit for not having done these things; she just hasn’t had time yet.” He writes that since she was 18, she has “sign[ed] on to the Great Clinton Project. Which is, has always been, and forever will be, to enrich the family from the public fisc, and to lie, bomb, bribe, and intimidate your way out of trouble when necessary.”
'Sippenhaft' - Derbyshire notes that in totalitarian societies of the past, many people were executed merely because of their family connections, and says the same should be considered for Chelsea Clinton. “Chelsea is a Clinton,” he writes. “She bears the taint; and though not prosecutable in law, in custom and nature the taint cannot be ignored. All the great despotisms of the past—I’m not arguing for despotism as a principle, but they sure knew how to deal with potential trouble—recognized that the families of objectionable citizens were a continuing threat. In Stalin’s penal code it was a crime to be the wife or child of an ‘enemy of the people.’ The Nazis used the same principle, which they called Sippenhaft, ‘clan liability.’ In Imperial China, enemies of the state were punished ‘to the ninth degree’: that is, everyone in the offender’s own generation would be killed, and everyone related via four generations up, to the great-great-grandparents, and four generations down, to the great-great-grandchildren, would also be killed.… We don’t, of course, institutionalize such principles in our society, and a good thing too. Our humanity and forbearance, however, has a cost. The cost is that the vile genetic inheritance of Bill and Hillary Clinton may live on to plague us in the future. It isn’t over, folks.” (Derbyshire 2/15/2001)
'Hysterical Idiots' - After a week of angry criticism, Derbyshire will write a column defending his original column as “satire,” blaming “liberals” for “missing the joke,” and admitting his column “wasn’t meant to be a thigh-slapper. I had a point to make: There could be another Clinton in our future, and on present evidence (admittedly rather scant), it would be a chip off the old block. That’s fair comment. However, my tone was partly tongue in cheek.… Humor and irony are especially tricky.” He asks, rhetorically, if he intends to apologize, and answers himself: “In your dreams. I make it a point of principle never to apologize to hysterical idiots.” (Derbyshire 2/22/2001)
EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman tells the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee that she doesn’t know of any proposal to drop the government’s New Source Review (NSR)lawsuits against utility and energy companies. Her statement is in response to a question from Senator Hillary Clinton who noted that there were reports (see After January 22, 2001) of an internal White House debate over the suits. (US Congress 5/15/2001, pp. 31-32 ; Reuters 5/15/2001) In 1999, the EPA had accused the companies of illegally releasing tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in violation of the NSR section of the Clean Air Act (see November 3, 1999).
Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for Southern New York, announces that she will be leaving her position by the end of the year. According to a media report, this will impact how a number of ongoing investigations continue, including White’s probe into the last-minute pardons issued by President Clinton. Other investigations by White’s office involve allegations against Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), as well as an investigation into Osama bin Laden’s role in the September 11, 2001 attacks. It is uncertain how those probes will fare. But, says White’s former deputy, Matthew Fishbein, White “may want some resolution before her term ends.” Regardless, Fishbein adds, “[T]his is an office where US Attorneys come and go and the work continues.” White is almost the only US Attorney to retain her seat after President Bush took office in January 2001 (see January 2001). Attorney General John Ashcroft put an assistant in charge of the 9/11 investigation, and that investigation seems to be producing little new information. (Hays 11/23/2001)
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)
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) conducts a survey of the cities and towns in New York State. Of those polled, 70 percent have not received any money at all from the federal government for their emergency crews and first responders—the nation’s front line of defense against terrorist attacks (see Early 2004). New York City police officials asked for $900 million in preparedness funds, and received $84 million—less than a tenth of what was requested. When the preparedness funds are studied on a per capita basis, the disparities are striking, and suspect. New York City, bastion of liberal Democrats (and the target of two of the four 9/11 hijacked jetliners) received $5.87 per person in funds—49th out of 50 major US cities. The city receiving the highest payout is New Haven, Connecticut ($77.82 per person), home of Yale University and the alma mater of three generations of Bushes. Key cities in Florida, where Jeb Bush is governor, also do well, with Miami receiving $52.82 per person, Orlando receiving $47.14, and Tampa receiving $30.57 per person. A harbor on Martha’s Vineyard, where many Republican and Democratic lawmakers vacation, received almost a million dollars in security funding; the harbormaster said, “Quite honestly, I don’t know what we’re going to do [with it], but you don’t turn down grant money.” (Carter 2004, pp. 21)
The Bush administration installs L. Jean Lewis as the Defense Department’s inspector general. Her office investigates fraud and audits Pentagon contracts, including the billion-dollar arrangements with companies like Halliburton and Bechtel. While the post is traditionally non-partisan, Lewis is a strongly partisan Republican. Lewis is best remembered as the driving force behind the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC)‘s relentless investigation of then-President Bill Clinton over a parcel of land called Whitewater. FBI investigators refused to pursue Lewis’s work, calling it sloppy, biased, and incompetent. Lewis repeatedly lied under oath during the Whitewater investigation before bringing the questioning to a halt by suddenly “fainting.” Her partisanship was on display throughout her career with the RTC, having once proposed selling coffee cups and T-shirts with the slogan “Presidential B_TCH” emblazoned under a photo of Hillary Clinton out of the RTC offices, and calling President Clinton a “lying b_stard.” (Lewis claimed under oath that neither instance indicated any bias she might have towards the Clintons or towards Democrats.) She now has the prime responsibility for ensuring that billions of tax dollars are spent wisely by the government and its private contractors. Lewis says that, although her employers are well aware of her background, “I would prefer to think it was my ability and skills they were interested in.” (Newsweek 9/14/2003; Carter 2004, pp. 71; Conason 3/18/2007)
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). (Toobin 5/21/2012)
A reporter calling himself Jeff Gannon asks a question of President Bush during a White House press conference: “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the US economy,” Gannon says. “[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work—you said you’re going to reach out to these people—how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” (Reid never mentioned soup lines; that reference comes from a satire of Reid by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.) In earlier conferences, Gannon attempted to link Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to actress Jane Fonda, a favorite target of the right, and questioned why anyone would dispute Bush’s National Guard service record. (Savage and Wirzbicki 2/2/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 332-333)
Works for Fake News Site - The Internet media watchdog site Media Matters, intrigued by Gannon’s highly partisan questions, soon learns that he works for an obscure news Web site called Talon News, itself a front for the extremist Internet organization GOPUSA (see January 28, 2005). New York Times media critic Frank Rich will call Talon News a fake news site staffed by Republican activists and filled with regurgitated press releases from the White House and the Republican National Committee. Rich will go on to note that Talon News is owned by a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican presidential convention, and took part in an effort to falsely smear Kerry with allegations of infidelity. The Boston Globe soon reports of Gannon, “The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his Web site.” (Gannon will call his practice of passing off quotes from the White House as objective news reports “the ultimate in journalistic honesty.”) Examination of press conference transcripts shows that White House press secretary Scott McClellan often calls on Gannon when other reporters begin asking difficult questions; Gannon is a reliable source of “softball” questions that allow McClellan to get back on track and resume issuing White House talking points.
Reporter Actually Male Prostitute - After Gannon becomes a figure of interest to media observers and Internet bloggers, they soon learn that he is really James Guckert, a male prostitute who posts nude pictures of himself on gay escort sites such as “hotmilitarystud.com” and numerous others, and charges $200 an hour (or $1,200 a weekend) for his services. (Savage and Wirzbicki 2/2/2005; Boehlert 2/15/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 172-173; Unger 2007, pp. 332-333) Though McClellan will deny that the White House press staff knew anything of Gannon/Guckert’s false identity until just before the story broke in early February 2005, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett will say that “if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover.” Further investigation will show that Gannon/Guckert has been posing as a reporter for two years. (Rich 2006, pp. 172-173)
Regular Visits to White House on Days with No Briefings - According to White House logs, Gannon/Guckert has regularly visited the White House on days when no press conferences are being held, and on at least 12 occasions was checked in but not checked out. Gannon/Guckert’s visits raise speculation that he might have visited the White House for licentious purposes, though he will deny ever spending the night there for any reason. The Gannon/Guckert story highlights the existence of the so-called “Lavender Bund,” the cadre of closeted Republican gays who help the religious right and the GOP advance their openly anti-gay agendas. (Byrne 4/24/2005; Leupp 5/21/2005)
Accusations of Plagiarism - Gannon/Guckert will also be accused of plagiarizing other journalists’ work, further calling into question his journalistic credentials. (Byrne 3/31/2005)
Five US senators—John McCain (R-AZ), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Russ Feingold (D-WI)—visit Kabul. McCain tells reporters that he is committed to a “strategic partnership that we believe must endure for many, many years.” He says that as part of this partnership, the US would provide “economic assistance, technical assistance, military partnership,… and… cultural exchange.” He also adds that in his opinion, this would mean the construction of “permanent bases.” The bases would help the US protect its “vital national security interests,” he explains. However, a spokesman for Afghan president Hamid Karzai reminds the press that the approval of a yet-to-be-created Afghan parliament would be needed before the Afghan government could allow the bases to be built. McCain’s office will later amend the senator’s comments, saying that he was advocating a long-term commitment to helping Afghanistan “rid itself of the last vestiges of Taliban and al-Qaeda.” That does not necessarily mean that the US will have to have permanent bases, the office explains. (Graham 2/22/2005)
Rush Limbaugh’s monthly e-mail newsletter, the “Limbaugh Letter,” includes the charge that “mainstream Democrats” endorse calls to assassinate President Bush and for the suicide of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
'Kill Bush' T-Shirts, Wishes that Bush Had Been Aborted - Limbaugh tells his readers, “Dingy Harry Reid [D-NV, the Senate Minority Leader] and those absolute wimps have nothing positive to offer anybody in this country. They’re doing nothing but trying to instill fear and loathing, forming coalitions (i.e. their new bosom buddies MoveOn.org) built on seething hatred and rage. That is why it was no real surprise when CafePress.com began selling a yellow T-shirt with a red gash and the slogan, in big words, “Kill Bush.” The whole message was, “For Gods [sic] Sake, Kill Bush, Save the United States and the Rest of the World.” This was the same website that earlier posted a T-shirt for sale with the message, “Dear Tom DeLay, Please Commit Suicide. Sincerely, Everyone.” The same left-wing inhumanity was on display last year when [Democratic Senator] Hillary Clinton spoke at the pro-abortion ‘March for Women’s Lives.‘… [P]lacards held by the marchers read: ‘If Only Barbara Bush Had Choice;’ ‘Barbara Bush Chose Poorly;’ and ‘The Pope’s Mother Had No Choice.’ As I said, no shocker. This is the mainstream of the Democratic Party and their wacko voters and supporters.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 177-178) (CafePress removed the “Kill Bush” shirt after receiving numerous complaints; after removing it, the online store noted that CafePress “is an automated service” and “[h]ate related materials are a violation of its terms of service…” (WorldNetDaily 4/13/2005) Washington, DC, artist Christopher Goodwin created the Tom DeLay shirt and marketed it on CafePress. He removed the listing after a week, during which he was the only one to buy a shirt and he received numerous complaints about the shirt being in poor taste. But before removing the listing, his shirt was the subject of an article on the conservative Drudge Report, after which he received a torrent of angry e-mails—and six more shirt sales. (Horowitz 4/15/2005) )
Exaggerating Differences, Drawing Extreme Conclusions - Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later observe, “This is an in-group rhetoric seeking to reinforce the views of a like-minded audience eager to draw extreme conclusions about Democrats. The strategy capitalizes on tendencies scholars of in- and out-groups have repeatedly observed: that members of a group exaggerate their differences with out-groups, believing out-group members to be rather homogeneous and in-group members less so, and believing members of out-groups to be less human than those in the in-group. Studies also show that people in one group think that the attitudes of an opposed group are more extreme than they actually are…” Jamieson and Cappella argue that Limbaugh’s “in-group” of listeners and readers, often agitated by what the authors call “visceral” language and emotion, has less trouble believing that the “out-group,” Democrats, would solidly back such extremist calls for presidential assassinations and coerced suicides, than would a more disparate group of political observers. “Flooded by the evocative cascade,” they will write, “the reader is likely to grant the implications in the ambiguously referenced (Is Senator Clinton the object of the same left-wing inhumanity or the sentiments expressed in the placards at the rally?) bridging inference (“the same left-wing inhumanity”) and conclude that Hillary Clinton abetted, if she did not outright endorse, the notion that the incumbent president and the pope should have been aborted and the incumbent president killed. At the same time, the audience is unlikely to challenge the conclusion that the T-shirt statements reflect the Democratic mainstream… If these are the sentiments of the Democratic mainstream, then, of course, the Democratic Party is the home of ‘wacko voters and supporters.’” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 177-178)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, along with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, and the commander of US forces in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, participate in a sometimes-contentious hearing with the Senate Armed Forces Committee (see August 3, 2006). The three then take part in a closed-door session with some members of Congress. After the two meetings, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) calls on President Bush to accept Rumsfeld’s resignation. (Shankar 8/4/2006) Rumsfeld will resign three months later (see November 6-December 18, 2006).
General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that sectarian violence in Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, has grown so severe that the nation may be on the brink of civil war. “A couple of days ago, I returned from the Middle East,” he says. “I’ve rarely seen it so unsettled or so volatile. There’s an obvious struggle in the region between moderates and extremists that touches every aspect of life.” He continues, “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.” The New York Times reports that “the tone of the testimony at the Armed Services Committee’s three-and-a-half-hour hearing was strikingly grimmer than the Pentagon’s previous assessments, which have sought to accentuate the positive even as officials acknowledged that Iraq’s government was struggling to assert authority and assure security amid a tide of violence.” (Shankar 8/4/2006; Branigan and Jordan 8/4/2006)
Harsh Criticism of Rumsfeld - Abizaid is joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld had initially refused to attend the hearing, but agreed to attend after Senate Democrats criticized his refusal. Neither Rumsfeld nor Pace contradict Abizaid’s assessments, though Rumsfeld emphasizes that the war must not be lost. Pace notes that while civil war is possible, he does not believe it is “probable,” and Abizaid says he is “optimistic that that slide [into civil war] can be prevented.” Some of the harshest criticism of Rumsfeld comes from committee member Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who tells him that he failed to send enough troops to Iraq in the 2003 invasion “to establish law and order,” he erred by disbanding the Iraqi army, he failed to plan adequately for the occupation phase, and he “underestimated the nature and strength of the insurgency, the sectarian violence, and the spread of Iranian influence.” Now, she says, “we hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios, but because of the administration’s strategic blunders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?” Rumsfeld responds, “My goodness,” and then says: “First of all, it’s true, there is sectarian conflict in Iraq, and there is a loss of life. And it’s an unfortunate and tragic thing that that’s taking place. And it is true that there are people who are attempting to prevent that government from being successful. And they are the people who are blowing up buildings and killing innocent men, women and children, and taking off the heads of people on television. And the idea of their prevailing is unacceptable.” Clinton will call for Rumsfeld’s resignation later in the day (see August 3, 2006). (Shankar 8/4/2006; Branigan and Jordan 8/4/2006)
'Whack-a-Mole' - Because of the continued instability in Iraq, Abizaid says, there is little possibility that US troops will be able to return home in any significant numbers before at least the end of the year. Instead, he says, more US troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad to contain the worsening violence in the capital, and warns that the US will undoubtedly suffer serious casualties in that operation. Acknowledging the necessity for US soldiers to stay in Iraq for the immediate future, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) finds the military’s practice of moving those soldiers from one violence-ridden part of Iraq to another little more than playing a game of “whack-a-mole.” McCain says, “What I worry about is we’re playing a game of whack-a-mole here,” with insurgent activity popping up in places that troops have vacated. “Now we’re going to have to move troops into Baghdad from someplace else. It’s very disturbing.” McCain will wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a “surge” of more American troops into Iraq (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007). (Shankar 8/4/2006; Branigan and Jordan 8/4/2006)
Authors David Horowitz and Richard Poe publish a book titled The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party, that purports to prove Jewish billionaire George Soros, who finances progressive and Democratic Party causes, is in reality a Nazi collaborator and anti-Semite. However, the book is riddled with doctored quotes, misinformation, factual errors, and outright lies. Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that the book relies on long-discredited accusations from the authors’ “Front Page Magazine” Web site, from their articles on conservative Web publications such as WorldNetDaily and NewsMax, and on unsourced allegations from political extremist Lyndon LaRouche and his followers, who have called Soros a “Nazi beast-man” and a “small cog in Adolf Eichmann’s killing machine,” aiding “the Holocaust against 500,000 Hungarian Jews.” Media Matters calls the book “a new low in the long-running Republican Party and conservative movement campaign of scurrilous personal attacks against Soros, a major supporter of progressive causes in the US and abroad.” The organization also notes that the Web sites used in the book’s research are largely funded by conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, and Scaife-owned newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review have promoted the book. Media Matters documents numerous issues of doctored quotes and falsified claims in the book. (Media Matters 8/2/2006)
A group of 14 Democratic lawmakers, led by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, sends a letter to the inspector generals of both the Commerce Department and NASA requesting formal investigations into allegations that Bush administration political appointees suppressed evidence linking global warming to increased hurricane intensity (see 2005, October 16, 2005, October 19, 2005, and November 29, 2005- December 2005). (Office of Senator Frank Lautenberg 9/29/2006; Heilprin 11/2/2006)
Senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a member of the Armed Forces Committee, calls on the Pentagon to brief Congress on any existing plans for withdrawing US forces from Iraq, or explain why those plans have not yet been created. Clinton meets privately with General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and writes a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In her letter, she writes in part: “The seeds of many problems that continue to plague our troops and mission in Iraq were planted in the failure to adequately plan for the conflict and properly equip our men and women in uniform. Congress must be sure that we are prepared to withdraw our forces without any unnecessary danger.” (US Senate 5/23/2007) “Withdrawal is very complicated. It doesn’t happen overnight,” Clinton says. Her understanding is that there has been “no, or very limited, planning” for a pullout. “If they’re not planning for it, it will be difficult to execute it in a safe and efficacious way,” she says. Gates said earlier in the month that the Pentagon’s planning for any possible withdrawal or redeployment was “more of just broader conceptual thinking” than anything specific. (Berman 5/24/2007)
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. (Darman 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). (Chiachiere and Maloy 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).
Reactions to President Bush’s commutation of Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see July 2, 2007) are mixed, and split largely along partisan divides.
Democrats: Commutation 'Disgraceful,' 'Tramples' on Principle of Equal Justice - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the decision “disgraceful” and says history will judge Bush “harshly” for it. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a 2008 presidential contender, says, “This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), another presidential candidate, says Bush’s decision shows that “cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.” Former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), another presidential contender, says, “Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today.” Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), another presidential hopeful, states, “I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says: “As Independence Day nears, we’re reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law. This commutation completely tramples on that principle.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush has “abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice.… The president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.” House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says that “until now, it appeared that the president merely turned a blind eye to a high ranking administration official leaking classified information. The president’s action today makes it clear that he condones such activity.”
Republicans: Commutation 'the Right Thing' but Political Damage May Be Severe - While most Republican lawmakers do not issue public comments, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) says: “President Bush did the right thing today in commuting the prison term for Scooter Libby. The prison sentence was overly harsh, and the punishment did not fit the crime.” Former Senator Fred Thompson, also a 2008 presidential hopeful and a long-time supporter of Libby’s (see After October 28, 2005 and March 7, 2007), says Bush should issue a full pardon for Libby, adding, “This will allow a good American who has done a lot for his country to resume his life.” Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani calls the commutation a “reasonable” and “correct” decision. (Allen 7/2/2007; CNN 7/2/2007; Goldstein 7/3/2007) But other Republicans are not so sanguine. “The dirty little secret is that in his own way, Bush has shown as much contempt for the law as [former President Bill] Clinton did,” says Curt Smith, a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. An unidentified Washington Republican says, “We have now witnessed the evisceration of the Bush presidency by its own hand.” A senior Republican operative observes: “Thirty months in jail was absolutely excessive, but zero is offensive to the average American. Commuting to 60 days in jail would have made this a lot more palatable to the average person.” (DeFrank 7/8/2007)
Wilson: Libby a 'Traitor' Who 'Endangered ... Country's National Security' - Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and vehement war critic whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was exposed as a covert CIA agent by Libby, says both he and his wife are “deeply disappointed” by Bush’s decision. “The president’s actions send the message that leaking classified information for political purposes is acceptable,” Wilson says. “Mr. Libby not only endangered Valerie and our family, but also our country’s national security.” Asked if he has anything to say to Libby, Wilson says with apparent anger: “I have nothing to say to Scooter Libby. I don’t owe this administration. They owe my wife and my family an apology for having betrayed her. Scooter Libby is a traitor.”
Law Professor Calls Commutation 'Hypocritical and Appalling' - Law professor Douglas Berman says the commutation is “hypocritical and appalling from a president whose Justice Department is always fighting” attempts by judges and lawmakers to lower the punishment called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Berman says Bush’s message amounted to “My friend Scooter shouldn’t have to serve 30 months in prison because I don’t want him to.” Most polls show overwhelming public support for Libby’s jailing. (Allen 7/2/2007; CNN 7/2/2007; Goldstein 7/3/2007)
Seven weeks after Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling for Congressional briefings on Pentagon plans to withdraw troops from Iraq or explanations as to why those plans do not exist (see May 23, 2007), Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman responds to Clinton in a letter of his own. After giving a brief overview of the current military and political situation in Iraq, Edelman says: “Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.…[S]uch talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.” (US Department of Defense 7/16/2007 ) Some observers are surprised by Edelman’s language as Clinton is not only a senator, but a member of the Armed Services Committee. The New York Times’s Kate Phillips terms the letter “a stunning rocket.” (Phillips 7/19/2007) The letter also directly contradicts Gates, who said earlier that the Senate debate on withdrawing from Iraq was “helpful in bringing pressure” on the Iraqi government to work towards peace and unity (see March 30, 2007).
'Impugning the Patriotism of Any of Us Who Raise Questions' - Clinton fires back four days later, accusing Edelman of dodging her questions. Instead, she says, Edelman “made spurious arguments to avoid addressing contingency planning.… Undersecretary Edelman has his priorities backward.” (USA Today 7/20/2007) Edelman, Clinton says, is “impugning the patriotism of any of us who raise serious questions.” (Dorr 8/6/2007) Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines says, “We sent a serious letter to the secretary of defense, and unacceptably got a political response back.” Clinton again asks for a briefing on end-of-war planning, classified if necessary. Edelman does imply that the Pentagon is formulating such plans in his letter, but says that the Pentagon will not divulge any such planned operations. (USA Today 7/20/2007)
Democrats Defend Clinton - Fellow Democratic senator John Kerry joins in criticizing Edelman’s response. “This administration reminds us every day that they will say anything, do anything, and twist any truth to avoid accountability,” Kerry says in a statement. (US Senate 7/19/2007) Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, calls Edelman “one of the more ideological holdovers” in the Defense Department from President Bush’s first term in office. Edelman, who replaced Douglas Feith in the Pentagon, is a former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. (Think Progress 7/22/2007)
Conservatives Weigh In - On the other side, conservative blogger and Fox News pundit Michelle Malkin asks rhetorically, “Wasn’t this a case of Hillary putting on her little imaginary four stars on her sleeve and playing armchair general?” (Media Matters 7/23/2007) But an Army Times writer, Air Force veteran Robert Dorr, calls Edelman’s letter “disrespectful” and writes: “No matter what you think of the war or of Clinton, Edelman’s response was unusually harsh. Senators hold their jobs because people voted for them. Appointees such as Edelman, who weren’t elected by anyone (and in the case of Edelman, received a recess appointment and wasn’t confirmed by the Senate), should be responsive to lawmakers’ concerns.” (Dorr 8/6/2007)
Vice President Dick Cheney reignites the controversy over a request by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) that the Pentagon begin planning for withdrawal from Iraq (see May 23, 2007). On July 16, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman sent Clinton a response that accused her of reinforcing “enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies” (see July 16-20, 2007). Edelman contradicted the stance of his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who recently said that Congressional debates on withdrawal were useful and positive (see March 30, 2007). But on July 31, Cheney tells CNN talk show host Larry King that Edelman, his former foreign policy adviser, had written Clinton a “good letter.” Cheney implies that Clinton had asked for operational plans from the Pentagon, a suggestion that Clinton dismisses in a letter to Cheney. “Your comments, agreeing with Under Secretary Edelman, not Secretary Gates, have left me wondering about the true position of the administration,” Clinton writes, adding she will write to President George Bush to ask he “set the record straight” about the administration’s position regarding Congressional oversight of the war. It is unclear whether Bush ever replies to Clinton’s letter. (Abramowitz 8/1/2007)
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), while running for US president, says in a speech, “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again… If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won’t act, we will.” This is in response to a recent comment made by his main opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). She said, “If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan, I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured.” The difference between the comments is Obama’s willingness to attack inside Pakistan without approval from the Pakistani government. (Holland 7/1/2007; Tapper 6/9/2011)
During a concert, rock musician Ted Nugent brandishes what appears to be an assault rifle on stage and makes crude and profane comments about Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the two leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Invitations to 'Suck on My Machine Gun' - In a video clip of the incident, Nugent waves the rifle around and shouts: “I was in Chicago. I said, ‘Hey, Obama, you might want to suck on one of these, you punk!’ Obama, he’s a piece of sh_t. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Let’s hear it for it. And I was in New York. I said, ‘Hey, Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless b_tch!” He also invites Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to “suck on my machine gun” and calls Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) a “worthless wh_re.” Nugent, an enthusiastic Republican, has been a member of the National Rifle Association’s board of directors since 1995, and has frequently issued crude and profane criticisms of Democratic candidates and policies.
Fox Host Refuses to Criticize Nugent, Instead Attacks Obama - Three days later, Fox News host Sean Hannity airs a clip of the incident on his show, and, calling Nugent a “friend and frequent guest on the program,” refuses to criticize his statements. Hannity shows the clip, then says: “That was friend and frequent guest on the program Ted Nugent expressing his feelings towards Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Joining us now, Democratic strategist Bob Beckel and Republican strategist Karen Hanretty.” Hannity asks Beckel why liberals might be upset at Nugent’s rhetoric but, he says, “I don’t hear anybody criticizing Barack Obama for accusing our troops of killing civilians, air-raiding villages, et cetera, et cetera. What’s more shocking to you? What’s more offensive to you? Is it Barack Obama’s statement about our troops or Ted Nugent?” (Hannity is referring to a recent allegation he made that Obama was lying about US troops killing Afghan civilians; Hannity’s allegation was itself false—see August 21, 2007). Beckel responds: “You know, only you could figure out a way to ask a question like that. First of all, Nugent, this is a boy who’s missing a couple dogs from under his front porch. This guy has been pimping for Republicans for years now. They want him to run for Senate against Obama. I can’t believe—when the Dixie Chicks said something about George Bush, which was mild compared to this jerk, and the religious right, the Dobsons and the Robertsons, rose up in fury. You rose up in fury.” (Beckel is referring to complaints from Hannity and other conservatives that followed comments by the lead singer of the country group the Dixie Chicks that criticized President Bush—see March 10, 2003 and After.) Hannity says: “You know, typical Bob Beckel. But you can’t answer the question. I didn’t ask you that.” After a brief period of crosstalk, Beckel asks, “Are you prepared now, Sean—are you prepared to disavow this lowlife or not?” Hannity refuses, saying: “No, I like Ted Nugent. He’s a friend of mine.… [H]e’s a rock star. Yes, here’s my point. If you don’t like it, don’t go to the concert, don’t buy his new albums.” Instead, Hannity asks if Beckel’s “liberal brain can absorb” his question about Obama’s supposed lies regarding Afghanistan, and Beckel responds: “The question is not even a close call. I think Nugent was far over the line and Obama was not.… This Nugent is more offensive. This guy ought to be knocked off the air. He ought to never come on your show again, and if you have him on, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. He’s a bum!”
Hannity Has Criticized 'Hate Speech' Directed at Conservatives - Hannity apparently has different standards for different people. He has accused Clinton of indulging in “hate speech” when she talked about the existence of what she called a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” In March, he devoted an entire segment to a “list of the worst examples of liberal hate speech.” (Roberts 8/24/2007; Media Matters 8/27/2007)
A chain email circulating around the Internet falsely claims Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), campaigning for president, “refused” to say the Pledge of Allegiance during an event and failed to put his hand over his heart. A photograph with the email shows Obama standing in front of an American flag with his hands clasped just below his waist. Fellow presidential contenders Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Bill Richardson (D-NM) stand beside him with their hands over their hearts. The email, noting Obama’s middle name is Hussein, claims Obama “REFUSED TO NOT ONLY PUT HIS HAND ON HIS HEART DURING THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE, BUT REFUSED TO SAY THE PLEDGE… how in the hell can a man like this expect to be our next Commander-in-Chief????” The photograph was not taken during the saying of the pledge, but during the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It was taken on September 16, 2007 in Indianola, Iowa, at the Harkin Steak Fry, an annual political event hosted by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). The photo was printed in Time magazine; the caption said Obama and the others “stand during the national anthem.” Matt Paul, who helped organize the event, confirms that the photo was taken as someone sang the national anthem. Additionally, an ABC News video of the event confirms the photo was taken during the anthem. The email claims that “the article said” Obama refused to say the pledge and would not put his hand on his heart, but the article said nothing of the sort. PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, attempts to find another article making the same claim, but only finds blog postings repeating the email’s original assertion. Obama has said the email is false, and that he was singing during the anthem, a claim verified by the ABC video. “My grandfather taught me how to say the Pledge of Allegiance when I was two,” Obama recently said on another campaign stop in Iowa. “During the Pledge of Allegiance you put your hand over your heart. During the national anthem you sing.” He called the email “irritating” and likened it to others that have falsely said he is a Muslim (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, and January 11, 2008). The Obama campaign has received strong support from a number of retired military leaders. “Senator Obama’s attackers are peddling lies and smears because they disagree with his strong opposition to the war in Iraq and the rush to war in Iran,” writes former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig, in a letter cosigned by retired General Merrill “Tony” McPeak and General J. Scott Gration. “We have served this nation for decades and we know a true patriot when we see one. Barack Obama is a patriot.” Some conservative bloggers have noted their belief that federal law for “patriotic and national observances” says that during the Star-Spangled Banner, “all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart; men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.” The citation is not a formal law, and experts say it is somewhat obsolete, though it is still cited in some military manuals. Modern custom does not require a hand over the heart, says Anne Garside, director of communication for the Maryland Historical Society, home of the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner. “I think the bottom line is that you show respect with your demeanor,” she says. “Whether you put your hand over your heart, hold your hat at shoulder level or waist level, is really in this day and age irrelevant.” (Time 9/16/2007; ABC News 11/7/2007; St. Petersburg Times 11/8/2007)
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that President Bush deliberately misled the American people over the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that if Bush initiates an attack on Iran without the approval of Congress, he will call for Bush’s impeachment. Biden tells reporters, “After all we’ve been through, for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about an issue of war and peace, I find outrageous.” Biden is referring to the faulty and deceptive intelligence presented by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq. The US intelligence community recently released a National Intelligence Estimate (see December 3, 2007) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003, and Bush has asserted that he himself only learned about the shutdown in late November (see December 3-4, 2007). Biden doesn’t believe Bush’s tale of ignorance: “Are you telling me a president who’s briefed every single morning, who’s fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies of the United States government said [Iran] had abandoned their effort for nuclear weapons in 2003?” Biden says if Bush’s assertion of ignorance is true, then he and his staff are thoroughly incompetent. “You cannot trust this president,” Biden states. (Wheeler 12/4/2007) Biden is joined by other Democratic presidential candidates, although they use less “heated rhetoric” than Biden. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says, “I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.” And Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) notes that Bush “continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology.… They should have stopped the saber rattling; should have never started it. And they need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.” (CNN 12/5/2007)
Morris Davis, the former lead prosecutor for the Guantanamo military commissions who resigned in October (see October 4, 2007), tells interviewer Dan Rather that the upcoming prosecutions at Guantanamo are largely driven by political concerns (see October 19, 2007). “I think the big fear that was expressed was if Hillary Clinton wins the White House [in 2008]—this whole show goes away, and Guantanamo is shut down.… So, there’s a distrust of the military. And you’ve got political involvement. What I’ve seen in this process is that if you combine—ya know, excessive—arrogance with excessive ignorance—you wind up with six years later with—one guilty plea done.” (Rather 12/14/2007)
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. (Barnes 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) (Toobin 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.” (Liptak 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; Toobin 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. (Liptak 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.) (Mencimer 1/13/2008; United States District Court for the District Of Columbia 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen 1/15/2008; Toobin 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; Toobin 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).
A three-judge panel rules that the conservative advocacy group Citizens United (CU) must agree to reveal the identities of the donors that made its documentary on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton possible, if it intends to advertise the film. The film, entitled Hillary: The Movie, is considered by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to be “electioneering,” or the communication of partisan political views, as opposed to a more objective documentary as CU claims. CU challenged the FEC in court in a December 2007 filing, claiming that “issue-oriented television ads are protected by the First Amendment and should not be subject to disclosure requirements under McCain-Feingold campaign finance law,” referring to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). Under the BCRA, partisan political communications such as the CU film are subject to blackout periods in a specific period before elections. The Supreme Court ruled that so-called “issue ads” can be run by partisan political groups such as CU (see Mid-2004 and After), but the FEC has ruled that such “issue ads” must include disclaimers, and the producers of the ads must file reports that name the ads’ contributors. CU is challenging such disclosure requirements, saying that advertisements for the Clinton film are commercial in nature and not political, and therefore protected under the First Amendment from being forced to disclose donor information. The court rules otherwise. (United States District Court for the District Of Columbia 1/15/2008 ; McCain 1/16/2008; Media Matters 1/16/2008)
Reporters show that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a leading Democratic presidential candidate, was never educated in a “madrassa,” or Islamic school, as some of his political enemies claim. Insight Magazine, a subsidiary of the conservative Washington Times, recently reported that the presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) had unearthed information showing that Obama was educated in an Indonesian madrassa during his childhood. The Clinton campaign disputes that it is the source of the story, and calls it “an obvious right-wing hit job.” Obama indeed lived in Indonesia from 1967 through 1971, with his mother and stepfather, but was not educated in a madrassa. Instead, Obama, who was six when his family moved to Indonesia, attended the Basuki School from 1969 through 1971. According to a school official: “This is a public school. We don’t focus on religion.” CNN correspondent John Vause, who visited the school, reports: “I came here to Barack Obama’s elementary school in Jakarta looking for what some are calling an Islamic madrassa… like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.… I’ve been to those madrassas in Pakistan… this school is nothing like that.” A former classmate of Obama’s says the school was not radical in 1969: “It’s not [an] Islamic school. It’s general.… There is a lot of Christians, Buddhists, also Confucian.… So that’s a mixed school.” Associated Press reporters also visit two other schools attended by Obama, the SDN Menteng 1 and Fransiskus Assisi. SDN Menteng 1 is a secular public school, according to its vice principal, while Fransiskus Assisi is, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs, “clearly a Catholic school.” After the Insight story is repeated on Fox News, the Obama campaign calls those broadcasts “appallingly irresponsible.” (CNN 1/22/2008; Pickler 1/24/2008) Despite the debunking, some conservative radio hosts continue to assert that Obama is a Muslim (see January 10, 2008, February 21, 2008, April 3, 2008, July 10, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, August 21, 2008, and September 10, 2008).
CNN Headline News talk show host Glenn Beck tells his viewers that if presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) wants to be consistent with her belief in affirmative action, she should give her opponent, African-American candidate Barack Obama (D-IL), “an additional five percentage points just for the years of oppression.” Beck makes his statement after asserting that anyone mentioning Obama’s race in a denigrating or derogatory fashion is “insulting,” and something only “professional separators” would attempt: “All they do is pull us apart so they can angle and try to grab as many people and ignite their base—and it’s outrageous. And it’s happening on all sides, on all issues, and it has got to stop or we’re going to disintegrate.” (CNN 1/25/2008; Media Matters 1/28/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage calls the Democratic presidential primary race, now between African-American Barack Obama and female Hillary Clinton, “the first affirmative-action election in American history.” Savage says: “We have a woman and a multi-ethnic man running for office on the Democrat side. Is this not akin to an affirmative action election? Isn’t that why the libs are hysterical, tripping over themselves to say amen and yes to this affirmative election vote?” Because Americans do not support affirmative action, Savage asserts, voters will reject either Democratic candidate in the November presidential elections. “When they are heard from, the affirmative action ticket goes down in flames… I don’t really care who’s gonna be on the other side, they win. America’s not ready for an affirmative action presidency. I stand by those words.” Savage goes on to characterize Democratic supporters as “radical red-diaper doper babies from Brooklyn who made a fortune in the film business by urinating on the American flag and decimating the American value, the values that you grew up loving. They [are t]he ones who made a fortune hating America.” (Media Matters 2/4/2008)
Republican strategist Roger Stone, the founder of a 527 group called “Citizens United Not Timid,” appears on MSNBC’s Tucker, a talk show hosted by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. Stone’s organization was founded to oppose the presidential candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and purports to “educate the American public about what Hillary Clinton really is.” What Clinton “really is,” the organization emphasizes, is the obscenity spelled out by the group’s acronym. The group emphasizes the acronym on its Web site and on T-shirts by showing the first letters of the words in its name in boldface. Stone has appeared on Carlson’s show numerous times in recent weeks. This appearance is notable because NBC, MSNBC’s parent company, recently issued an apology for Jane Fonda’s use of the word “c_nt” on a recent Today Show appearance, when Fonda was discussing the play The Vagina Monologues. Carlson does not inform his audience of Stone’s leadership of the anti-Clinton organization. Stone has said of the organization: “[I]t’s one-word education. That’s our mission. No issues. No policy groups. No position papers. This is a simple committee with an unfortunate acronym.” Stone has said that he and a group of co-founders tried to brainstorm a name for the acronym “b_tch,” but “just couldn’t do it.” In recent days, MSNBC host Chris Matthews apologized for making sexist comments about Clinton, and MSNBC correspondent David Shuster was suspended for making objectionable comments about Clinton and her daughter Chelsea. The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters writes, “The events of the past few weeks are part of an extensive pattern, documented by Media Matters for America, of sexism, misogyny, and other bigotry heard on MSNBC.” (Pavlus 2/20/2008) In August 2007, Stone was forced to leave the campaign of New York State Senator Joseph Bruno (R-NY) after he left a threatening, abusive, and profane telephone message for the 83-year-old father of Governor Eliot Spitzer (D-NY). (Hakim 8/22/2007)
The US and Iraqi governments draft an agreement that will provide for an open-ended US military presence in Iraq. The agreement is marked “secret” and “sensitive”; it will be leaked to The Guardian in April. If ratified, the agreement will supplant the UN mandate currently governing the US presence in Iraq. It will give the US the power to “conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security” without time limits. The authorization is described as “temporary,” and says that the US “does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq.” However, there is no time limit or restrictions on occupation by US or other coalition forces. The agreement contains no limits on the numbers of US occupation forces, nor does it constrain their actions or bring them under Iraqi law. The agreement goes far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries such as South Korea. Opposition to the agreement from Iraqi Sunnis and some Shi’ites is expected to be fierce. A knowledgeable Iraqi Sunni says: “The feeling in Baghdad is that this agreement is going to be rejected in its current form.… The government is more or less happy with it as it is, but parliament is a different matter.” It will also face stiff opposition in Washington, with Congressional Democrats such as Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) accusing the Bush administration of attempting to tie the hands of the next president by pushing through such a commitment. The agreement goes so far beyond other such commitments that, according to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), it constitutes a treaty between Iraq and the US, and as such, would need to be ratified by Congress. But the White House has no intention of allowing Congress to ratify or deny the agreement (see April 8, 2008). (Milne 4/8/2008)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, repeatedly conflates the two main warring branches of Islam in statements made while visiting the Middle East. The quickly planned trip was designed to showcase McCain’s foreign policy sagacity, and contrast him with his Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), whose relative lack of experience in foreign policy is being negatively portrayed by the McCain campaign.
Allegations of Cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda - McCain twice says while in Jordan that it is “common knowledge” that Iran, a Shi’ite-led theocracy, is training al-Qaeda terrorists and sending them into Iraq to wreak havoc. Al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization. Sunni Muslims have contended for primacy with Shi’ite Muslims for centuries; much of the violence in Iraq is between Sunni and Shi’ite insurgents. “We continue to be concerned about Iranian[s] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back,” he says in one instance, and adds: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” His traveling companion, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), whispers a correction in McCain’s ear, and McCain promptly corrects himself, “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”
Criticism of McCain - The Democratic National Committee responds to McCain’s statements by saying: “After eight years of the Bush administration’s incompetence in Iraq, McCain’s comments don’t give the American people a reason to believe that he can be trusted to offer a clear way forward. Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again, but he showed he either doesn’t understand the challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to ignore the facts on the ground.” (Cooper 3/18/2008; Edwards 3/18/2008)
Previous Similar Comments - McCain made a similar statement the day before while calling in to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, saying, “As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq.” Hewitt did not correct the error. (Town Hall (.com) 3/17/2008) And on February 28, McCain told an audience in Texas, “But al-Qaeda is [in Iraq], they are functioning, they are supported in many times, in many ways by the Iranians.” (ThinkProgress (.org) 3/20/2008) McCain’s own campaign notes that McCain “immediately corrected” the error—a misstatement, as McCain made the mistake three different times in two days—and attacks the Democrats for McCain’s blunder by stating, “Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates’ judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief.”
Media Reaction - Many in the mainstream media forgive or ignore McCain’s repeated gaffe. The Atlantic Monthly’s Marc Ambinder calls it “momentary confusion” on McCain’s part, again ignoring the fact that McCain made the same mistake three times in two days. (Ambinder 3/18/2008) ABC’s Jake Tapper blames the blunder on “jet lag.” (Tapper 3/18/2008) Both the Associated Press and CNN misreport McCain’s statement. Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou inaccurately reports that McCain “voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight US troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to ‘expedite’ a flow of foreign fighters.” (de Montesquiou 3/18/2008) And CNN’s Emily Sherman rewrites McCain’s statement, reporting, “During a press conference in Amman, Jordan, the Arizona senator also said there is a continued concern that Iran may be training Iraqi extremists in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq.” (Sherman 3/18/2008)
The timing of the unauthorized accesses of presidential contender Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files at the State Department (see March 20, 2008) raises questions among political observers. The first breach of Obama’s files was on January 9, six days after Obama defeated fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Iowa caucuses and thereby became a national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the day after Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire. The second breach took place on February 21, a day after Obama’s primary victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the same day that Clinton and Obama debated in Texas. The third took place on March 14, ten days after Clinton and Obama split the votes in the key states of Ohio and Texas, and three days after Obama won Mississippi. March 14 is also the same day that the mainstream media began reporting the divisive and inflammatory comments made in months and years past by Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. (Project VoteSmart 2008; Doyle 3/21/2008) British journalist Leonard Doyle notes that the file violations seem similar to the 1991 violations of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, when campaign officials for President George H. W. Bush not only broke into Clinton’s passport files, but asked for information about Clinton’s collegiate days at Oxford University from Britain’s Conservative government. Doyle adds, “The security breach also has echoes of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration” (see June 17, 1972). (Doyle 3/21/2008)
After the State Department reveals that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s passport file had been inappropriately accessed three times between January and March (see March 20, 2008), the department also reveals that the passport files of the other two major presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton (see March 21, 2008) and Republican John McCain, have also been breached. The same State Department contract employee who accessed Obama’s file also accessed McCain’s file, says department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack says that the department learned of the McCain breach “earlier this year.” He says that employee has been reprimanded but not yet fired. “We are reviewing our options with that person” and their employment status, he says. McCain says that any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation, and “corrective action should be taken.” (Butler and Flaherty 3/21/2008; BBC 3/21/2008) It is not known what information, if any, was obtained from McCain’s file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
The State Department confirms that Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) passport file was also inappropriately accessed, a day after the department revealed that Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport file was breached three times since January 2008 (see March 20, 2008). Obama and Clinton are battling for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has apologized to Obama for the breach, “I told him that I was sorry, and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed.” Clinton says that she was told her passport file was breached sometime in 2007. Rice says she only learned of the Obama breach on March 20, 2008, the same day the news of the violations broke in the media. (Butler 3/21/2008) State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Clinton’s file was inadvertently accessed during a “training exercise.” (Kiel 3/21/2008) Rice promises a “full investigation” into the Obama passport breach, and presumably the Clinton breach as well, though she has not spoken directly of the Clinton passport breach. “[N]one of us wants to have a circumstance in which any American’s passport file is looked at in an unauthorized way. And in this case it should have been known to senior management. It was not, to my knowledge. And we also want to take every step that we can to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Rice says. (Kessler and Branigan 3/21/2008) It is unknown what information, if any, was obtained from Clinton’s passport file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
Two of the government contractors who improperly accessed Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport records (see March 20, 2008) are revealed to have worked for a Virginia-based firm, Stanley, Inc, before being fired. A third, who accessed both Obama’s and Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) records (see March 21, 2008), worked for the Analysis Corporation. Both Obama and McCain are presidential candidates. Their files were improperly accessed by contractors working for the State Department.
Stanley, Inc - Both of the Stanley contractors were fired the same day they performed the unauthorized search, according to a Stanley spokeswoman, who refuses to identify the contractors or explain why either of them accessed Obama’s files. In 2006, the State Department awarded Stanley a $164 million contract to print and mail millions of new US passports. Just this week, the firm was awarded a $570 million contract to “continue support of the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Services Directorate.” Stanley does almost all of its business with the State Department; all of its employees are trained on the Privacy Act and must sign a Privacy Act acknowledgment before beginning work. The two contractors may have violated the Privacy Act when they broke into Obama’s files.
Analysis, Inc - The Analysis contractor who accessed Obama’s and McCain’s files has not yet been fired; that contractor is described as a veteran State Department contractor and an otherwise “terrific” employee. Analysis is staffed with an array of former intelligence-community officials. Its CEO is John Brennan, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former deputy executive director of the CIA. Stanley’s chairman and CEO, Philip Nolan, has made campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats alike, including to Obama’s Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Interestingly, Brennan advises Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues, and has donated to Obama’s campaign. (Popkin and Leist 3/21/2008; Bolduan 3/22/2008)
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. (Richey 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).
President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently issued a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship” (see November 26, 2007) that would entail a possibly permanent US military presence in Iraq (see March 7, 2008). Although the Constitution requires Congressional approval to commit any US forces to a battle zone, Bush officials have refused to address that concern (see March 13, 2008). In a Senate hearing on April 8, 2008, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker says that the Bush administration has no plans to ask Congress for such permission—although the agreement would need to be ratified by the Iraqi Parliament. Crocker is asked by Hillary Clinton (D-NY) if an agreement would be submitted to the Iraqi Parliament, and Crocker replies: “The Iraqi government has indicated it will bring the agreement to the Council of Representatives. At this point, it is not clear, at least to me, whether that will be for a formal vote or whether they will repeat the process they used in November with the Declaration of Principles in which it was simply read to the members of the Parliament.” Clinton asks, “Does the administration plan to submit this agreement to our Congress?” and Crocker responds: “At this point, Senator, we do not anticipate the agreements will have within them any elements would require the advice and consent procedure. We intend to negotiate this as an executive agreement.” Yale law professor Oona Hathaway notes that such an agreement must be approved by Congress “either as a treaty or as a congressional-executive agreement.” (Think Progress (.org) 4/8/2008) Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) releases a letter from 31 Iraqi legislators to coincide with concurrent hearings in the House; the letter asserts that the Iraqi Parliament will not ratify any deal that does not provide a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops (see May 29, 2008).
Former Washington Post editor Barry Sussman, the head of the Nieman Watchdog project at Harvard University, asks a number of pertinent questions about the recently exposed Pentagon propaganda operation that used retired military officers to manipulate public opinion in favor of the Iraq occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Sussman notes that “[t]he story has implications of illegal government propaganda and, possibly, improper financial gains,” and asks the logical question, “So what happened to it?” It is receiving short shrift in the mainstream media, as most newspapers and almost all major broadcast news operations resolutely ignore it (see April 21, 2008, April 24, 2008, and May 5, 2008). Sussman asks the following questions in hopes of further documenting the details of the Pentagon operation:
Does Congress intend to investigate the operation?
Do the three presidential candidates—Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Republican John McCain, have any comments (see April 28, 2008)?
Since the law expressly forbids the US government to, in reporter David Barstow’s words, “direct psychological operations or propaganda against the American people,” do Constitutional attorneys and scholars have any opinions on the matter? Was the operation a violation of the law? Of ethics? Of neither?
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created the Office of Strategic Influence in 2001 (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), which was nothing less than an international propaganda operation. Rumsfeld claimed the office had been closed down after the media lambasted it, but later said the program had continued under a different name (see February 20, 2002). Does the OSI indeed still exist?
Did the New York Times wait an undue period to report this story? Could it not have reported the story earlier, even with only partial documentation? Sussman notes: “Getting big stories and holding them for very long periods of time has become a pattern at the Times and other news organizations. Their rationale, often, is that the reporting hasn’t been completed. Is reporting ever completed?”
Many of the military analysts cited in the story have close ties to military contractors and defense firms who make handsome profits from the war. Is there evidence that any of the analysts may have financially benefited from promoting Pentagon and Bush administration policies on the air? Could any of these be construed as payoffs? (Barry Sussman 4/23/2008)
Two of the three major presidential candidates speak out against the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion about Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Clinton - Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says the program raises questions of “credibility and trust at the Pentagon,” and calls for an investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general. The Clinton campaign says that, considering the Bush administration’s record on intelligence and misinformation, an investigation of the operation is necessary to determine how the Pentagon manipulated the “commentary of putatively independent television military analysts” for “‘selling’ the Iraq war and our country’s defense policy now.” The campaign also says that “serious questions” have been raised “about the potential linkage of government contracts to favorable public commentary by military analysts.”
Obama - Democratic Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) says he is “deeply disturbed” that the administration “sought to manipulate the public’s trust,” and says the program “deserves further investigation to determine if laws or ethical standards were violated.” The Obama campaign calls for “greater transparency to ensure that those who lobby the Pentagon are not rewarded for favorable commentary about the administration’s policies.”
McCain - Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has as yet said nothing about the program. (Melber 4/28/2008)
Fox News reports that presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has challenged fellow candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) to a “Lincoln-Douglas style” debate. Clinton is referencing the classic two-person debates between Senate candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas of 1858. However, Fox News, on its Fox and Friends morning broadcast, reports on Clinton’s challenge. It illustrates its report with a picture of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the former slave who is considered the “father” of the American civil rights movement, but who never ran for the Senate. Two MSNBC news and opinion shows—Verdict with Dan Abrams and Countdown with Keith Olbermann—later report Fox News’s choice of illustrations. Abrams will observe that the Fox News hosts “don’t even seem to know that the wrong Douglas is up” during their broadcast. Apparently Fox News never acknowledges or corrects the error. (Crooks and Liars 4/29/2008; Huffington Post 5/7/2008)
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. (CNN 5/15/2008)
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” (Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008)
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” (Begala 5/15/2008) The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” (Boston Globe 5/16/2008) Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” (Bunch 5/15/2008)
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. (Henry 5/16/2008)
The FBI arrests Pittsburgh-area resident Bradley T. Kahle as part of a larger sweep of a domestic terrorist group (see June 8, 2008). Kahle, a recruiter for the Pennsylvania Citizens Militia, tells authorities he had planned to shoot black people from a rooftop in Pittsburgh, and says that if either Barack Obama (D-IL) or Hillary Clinton (D-NY) are elected president, the country will be engulfed in civil war. Kahle, a resident of Troutville, Pennsylvania, allegedly gave undercover FBI agents explicit instructions on how to make deadly grenades using “bean cans” or other such containers. Undercover agents have been monitoring Kahle and other area domestic terrorism plotters for well over a year. In a raid, FBI agents find 16 improvised bombs in what the agents term a “gun reloading room,” along with cans of fragmentation and bags of lead shot. Kahle has shown undercover agents a number of firearms, including assault rifles and a sniper rifle, and over 5,000 rounds of ammunition. An FBI affidavit says of Kahle’s improvised grenades: “Kahle continued that a tactic for employing a bean can, if raided, is to wait until the police shoot gas through your door. The hole made by the gas projectile can then be used to throw a bean can grenade back out at the approaching entry team to kill as many law enforcement officers as possible.” He allegedly told an undercover agent that once he began attacking law enforcement officials: “You wouldn’t want to be near me. SWAT teams included. Bring them all on.… don’t send the kids, bring your very best. Hey, eight or 10 good bean bombs… five or 600 rounds of ammo and some good equipment. I would be a tough take.” Kahle told undercover agents that he intended to begin by shooting judges, magistrates, and police chiefs, which he said would “start the doomsday process.” He also told an undercover agent that he hoped Clinton or Obama would “get assassinated” if they were elected president. “If not they will disarm the country, and we will have a civil war.” (Ward 6/11/2008; Associated Press 6/11/2008; Southern Poverty Law Center 2011) Federal Judge Pete Pesto will rule that despite Kahle’s stockpile of weapons and his rhetoric, he does not pose a threat to the community, and releases him on house arrest with an electronic monitor pending his trial. (Cato and Pfister 6/12/2008) Kahle will be acquitted of all charges. He will say that “the US Constitution was the big winner” in the verdict. Defense attorney Blair Hindman will successfully argue that Kahle never directly threatened anyone, and all of his weapons were for defensive purposes and “no different than what thousands of other Americans have in their garages.” (Hornick 3/10/2010)
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, find that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh excels at using what they call “insider language” for his listeners “that both embeds definitional assumptions hospitable to his conservative philosophy and makes it difficult for those who embrace the language to speak about Democrats and the presumed Democratic ideology without attacking them.” They cite three examples from Limbaugh’s June 2005 newsletter which contains the following statements:
“Democrats are the enemy.”
“When she first ran for her Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton told citizens of the Empire State [New York] that she had been endorsed by environmental wacko-groups because… in her words, ‘I’ve stood for clean air.’”
After Harvard president Lawrence Summers commented on the intrinsic differences between the sexes, Limbaugh wrote, “Led by foaming-at-the-mouth feminists, the liberal elite experienced a mass politically correct tantrum.”
Jamieson and Cappella write: “Identifying terms such as ‘foaming-at-the-mouth feminists,’ ‘liberal elite,’ ‘enemy,’ and ‘environmental wacko-groups’ both create an insider language and distance those who adopt the labels from those labeled. One of the ways Limbaugh’s supporters telegraph their identification with him is by adopting his language.”
Identifying Nicknames - They cite the 1995 statement of freshman House Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY), who proudly proclaimed of her fellow female Republicans, “There’s not a femi-Nazi among us,” using one of Limbaugh’s favorite terms for feminists. “Listeners say ‘Ditto’ or ‘megadittoes’ to telegraph their enthusiasm for Limbaugh, his latest argument, or his show in general,” they write. Limbaugh refers to himself as “the MahaRushie” with “talent on loan from God.” Callers often refer to Limbaugh as “my hero.” Denigrating nicknames for Limbaugh’s targets of derision work to bring listeners into the fold: the new listener must labor to identify the people termed (and thusly become part of the Limbaugh community): “Clintonistas” (supporters of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton), “Sheets” (Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV), who in his youth wore ‘sheets’ as a Ku Klux Klan member), “the Swimmer” (Senator Edward Kennedy, D-MA, in reference to his involvement in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident), “Puffster” (former Senator Tom Daschle, D-SD), “the Breck Girl” (former Senator John Edwards, D-NC), and “Ashley Wilkes” (retired General Wesley Clark, in a reference to what Limbaugh called “the wimpy, pathetic Gone with the Wind character”). Some of the nicknames are physically derogatory: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) became “Senator Leaky, a.k.a. Senator Depends,” and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) became “‘Little Dick’ Gephardt.” Such use of “insider” nicknames indicates an identification between the listener and Limbaugh, and an affiliation with the Limbaugh community of supporters.
Redefining and Relabeling - Limbaugh routinely redefines and relabels his political enemies in the most derogatory terms. Pro-choice supporters are termed “pro-aborts,” and Democrats are supported by “beggar-based constituencies.” As noted above, feminists are “femi-Nazis” (though Jamieson and Cappella note that Limbaugh has used the term less often since it became a topic of criticism in the mainstream media).
Gender Identification - One of Limbaugh’s strongest attacks is on gender roles. In Limbaugh’s continuum, Democratic women are, the authors write, “either sexualized manipulators or unattractive man haters.” A 1994 Clinton tribute to women’s accomplishments became, in Limbaugh’s words, “Biddies’ Night Out.” Other times, Democratic women become “babes,” as in “Congressbabe Jane Harman.” (On his Web site, Limbaugh often shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s head affixed to the body of a Miss America contender.) The authors note, “Neither label invites the audience to take these leaders seriously.” Women with whom he disagrees, such as liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, are “screeching,” and others are “broads,” “lesbians,” or “femi-Nazis.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes, in Limbaugh’s vocabulary, the NAGS. Attacks and innuendo about women’s sexuality are frequently used by Limbaugh: during the Clinton administration, for example, Limbaugh often implied that Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno were closeted lesbians. On the other hand, Democratic men are routinely portrayed as “two-inchers,” derogatory references to their physical attributes and sexual capabilities (as with the Gephardt nickname above). Jamieson and Cappella note that “Limbaugh’s attempts at gender-based humor are of the locker room variety,” noting several references to California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a Democrat whose name translates into “large breasts,” and referring to pop singer Madonna’s 2004 endorsement of General Wesley Clark for president by saying she had “opened herself” to Clark. In 2004, he said that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, married to wealthy heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry, “does his fundraising every night when he goes to bed.” (The authors write, “Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audience is a question for which we have no ready answer.”)
Impact - Far from merely giving a laundry list of Limbaugh’s derogatory and offensive characterizations, Jamieson and Cappella note how Limbaugh and the conservative media “wrap their audiences in a conversation built on words and phrases that embody conservatism’s ideological assumptions,” using “naming and ridicule to marginalize those named as part of an out-group,” and using “coherent, emotion-evoking, dismissive language” to denigrate and dismiss the liberals he routinely attacks. “Because language does our thinking for us,” they write, “this process constructs not only a vocabulary but also a knowledge base for the audience. That language and the view of the world carried by it are presumed by loyal conservatives and alien to the nonconservative audience. These interpretations of people and events also reinforce Limbaugh’s defense of conservatism and its proponents.” (Merida 2/15/1995; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 184-190)
A blogger who supports Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for president over Democratic primary challenger Barack Obama (D-IL) finds a birth announcement from a copy of the August 13, 1961 Honolulu Advertiser announcing Obama’s birth. The blogger publishes a scanned graphic of the announcement on his blog, and concludes that Obama was “likely” born on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu as the campaign, and the senator, have always claimed (see June 13, 2008). Reprinting the annoucement, FactCheck (.org) notes: “Of course, it’s distantly possible that Obama’s grandparents may have planted the announcement just in case their grandson needed to prove his US citizenship in order to run for president someday. We suggest that those who choose to go down that path should first equip themselves with a high-quality tinfoil hat. The evidence is clear: Barack Obama was born in the USA.” (FactCheck (.org) 8/21/2008) Reporter Will Hoover for the Honolulu Advertiser notes that both the Advertiser and the Honolulu Star Bulletin published birth announcements for Obama. One of the announcements, the blogger notes, contains the actual address of Obama’s parents at the time they lived in Honolulu, 6085 Kalanianaole Highway. Newspaper officials tell Hoover that the announcements came, not from the parents, but from Hawaii’s Department of Health. “That’s not the kind of stuff a family member calls in and says, ‘Hey, can you put this in?’” Hoover explains. (What Really Happened (.com) 2008; Fairley 7/1/2009)
Dr. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and blogger who was deeply involved in the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to besmirch presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), publishes a book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. The title is a play on the word ‘abomination.’ In his book, Corsi, who writes for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily and blogs at the extremist Free Republic, attacks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a fashion similar to that used against Kerry—combining fact, hyperbole, speculation, and outright falsehoods in an attempt to demean and disparage Obama’s character and professional career. The publisher, Threshold (a division of Simon and Schuster devoted to publishing conservative political works), calls the book “[s]crupolously sourced” and “[m]eticulously researched and documented…” Among other allegations, Corsi accuses Obama of growing up under the influence of Communist, socialist, and radical Islamic mentors; of deep and secretive affiliations with ‘60s radicals William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn; of espousing what he calls “black liberation theology” through his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright; connections to socialists and radical Islamists in Kenya, his father’s home country; deep and criminal ties to Chicago real-estate mogul Tony Rezko; and an intent to, if elected president, implement what Corsi calls “far-left” domestic and foreign policies. (Simon and Schuster 8/1/2008; Corsi 8/12/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) The book debuts as number one on the New York Times bestseller list, propelled by large bulk sales (large buys by particular organizations designed to artificially elevate sales figures) and an intensive marketing campaign carried out on conservative talk radio shows. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi says. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” (Rutenberg and Bosman 8/12/2008)
Allegations Roundly Debunked - Unfortunately for Corsi, his allegations do not stand up to scrutiny. FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “‘consumer advocate’ for voters” site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, finds that Corsi’s book “is a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods.” It “is not a reliable source of facts about Obama.” FactCheck notes: “Corsi cites opinion columns and unsourced, anonymous blogs as if they were evidence of factual claims. Where he does cite legitimate news sources, he frequently distorts the facts. In some cases, Corsi simply ignores readily accessible information when it conflicts with his arguments.” The organization notes that Threshold’s chief editor, Republican operative Mary Matalin, said the book was not political, but rather “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” FactCheck responds: “The prominent display of Corsi’s academic title (he holds a Ph.D. in political science) seems clearly calculated to convey academic rigor. But as a scholarly work, The Obama Nation does not measure up. We judge it to be what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from here and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy.” (FactCheck (.org) 2008; FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact finds, “Taken as a whole, the book’s primary argument is that Obama is a likely communist sympathizer with ties to Islam who has skillfully hidden his true agenda as he ruthlessly pursues elected office,” an argument that the organization concludes is wholly unsupported by Corsi’s arguments and sources. (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008) And an Associated Press article finds the book a “collect[ion of] false rumors and distortions [designed] to portray Obama as a sort of secret radical who can’t be trusted.” (Wills 8/16/2008)
Unreliable Sources - As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Corsi’s sources are often unreliable: for example, his allegation that Obama’s father divorced his mother according to “Islamic sharia law” is based on a single and unverifiable post made by an anonymous blogger. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes that although Corsi points to his over 600 endnotes as proof of his “rigorous” sourcing, many of those endnotes refer to obscure, unverifiable Internet postings, blog posts, and opinion columns. Four of Corsi’s sources refer to his own work. “Where Corsi does cite news sources,” the site says, “he sometimes presents only those that are consistent with his case while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the picture he paints.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Demonstrably False Claims - Some of Corsi’s claims are completely false: his statement that Obama did not dedicate his 2004 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to his parents or grandparents is easily debunked merely by reading the book’s introduction, in which Obama wrote, “It is to my family, though—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents—that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book.” (Media Matters 8/4/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) Corsi also claims, falsely, that Obama holds dual citizenship in the US and Kenya, though the Kenyan Constitution specifically prohibits dual citizenship. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) Corsi goes on to claim that Obama has long rejected his white family members from his mother’s side, including his grandparents in Hawaii who raised him for much of his childhood. This is part of Corsi’s argument about Obama’s secret embrace of the so-called “radical black rage” teachings of American activist Malcolm X. According to Corsi’s reading of Obama’s memoir: “His race, he self-determines, is African-American. In making that determination, he rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents. We do not have to speculate about this. Obama tells this to us outright; his words are direct, defying us to miss his meaning.” But PolitiFact calls this “a significant misreading of Obama’s memoir,” and notes that Corsi ignores a large amount of evidence that points to Obama’s continued close relationship with his white family members throughout his life. PolitiFact concludes, “To conclude that Obama rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents, Corsi has to significantly read against the memoir’s stated meaning. We find factual evidence also contradicts this statement, indicating that Obama maintained lifelong relations with his white relatives.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008)
Insinuations and Leading Questions - Many of Corsi’s allegations are based on little more than questions and insinuations: for example, Corsi insinuates that Obama may not have stopped using marijuana and cocaine, as he admitted to doing during his high school years. Corsi writes: “Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the US Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why…?” According to Media Matters, Obama wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he stopped using drugs shortly after beginning college. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes: “Corsi… slyly insinuates—without offering any evidence—that Obama might have ‘dealt drugs’ in addition to using them. And he falsely claims that Obama has ‘yet to answer’ whether he continued using drugs during his law school days or afterward.… In fact, Obama has answered that question twice, including once in the autobiography that Corsi reviews in his book.”
Guilt by Association - Corsi alleges that Obama has links to Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and claims that Obama is somehow linked to the violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. He bases his claim on a single visit by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, where they publicly took AIDS tests to demonstrate the tests’ safety. In the testing process, Obama spoke briefly to the crowd. Odinga was on stage while Obama spoke. Corsi construes the speech as an Obama endorsement of Odinga, and, as FactCheck writes, “[h]e goes on to attribute all the violence in Kenya to an elaborate Odinga plot.” Corsi ignores the fact that during that trip, Obama also met with the other Kenyan presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, and with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence following the election on both Odinga and Kibaki and their followers. FactCheck notes that Corsi uses the logical fallacy of “guilt by association” to fill Chapters 3 through 7. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Misquoting Other Sources - Media Matters finds that Corsi sometimes misquotes and rewrites source material, as when he attributed a claim concerning Obama’s supposedly untoward business relationship with Rezko to articles in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Globe, and Salon (.com) that made none of the claims Corsi attributes to them. Corsi also misquoted the conservative Web site NewsMax when he used one of its articles to falsely claim that Obama had been present at Chicago’s Trinity United Church during Reverend Wright’s denunciation of America’s “white arrogance.” (Obama was actually in Miami during Wright’s sermon.) (Media Matters 8/4/2008) Corsi uses a man he calls one of Obama’s “closest” childhood friends, Indonesian Zulfan Adi, to back his assertion that Obama was once a practicing Muslim. However, Corsi does not report that Adi later retracted his claims about Obama’s religious practices, and admitted to knowing Obama for only a few months. Corsi also ignores a Chicago Tribune story that contains interviews with “dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends [who] show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” and other media reports that have conclusively proven Obama was never a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Ignoring the Obvious - Corsi repeatedly claims that Obama is a master speaker who bedazzles crowds with soaring flights of rhetoric, but never actually gives any specifics of what he intends to do as president. He writes: “At the end of every rhetorically uplifting speech Obama gives about the future of hope, millions of listeners are still left pondering, ‘Now what exactly did he say?’ If the politician is the message, as [campaign manager David] Axelrod and Obama have proclaimed, they can’t forever avoid telling us what precisely that message is.” But FactCheck notes that “Obama’s Web site is packed with details of what he proposes to do if elected. He lays out descriptions of his policy proposals, including tax cuts for most families and increases for those making more than $250,000 per year; a $150 billion, 10-year program to develop alternative energy sources and more efficient vehicles; a proposal to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and another to create a public health insurance plan for those whose employers don’t offer health coverage. Whether or not one agrees with them, Obama has indeed presented detailed plans for dozens of policies. It’s hard to see how anyone writing a book on Obama could fail to acknowledge their existence.”
Conspiracy Theorist, 'Bigot,' and Veteran Liar - FactCheck notes: “Corsi is a renowned conspiracy theorist who says that [President] George Bush is attempting to create a North American Union… and that there is evidence that the World Trade Center may have collapsed [after the 9/11 attacks] because it was seeded with explosives. More recently, Corsi claimed that Obama released a fake birth certificate. We’ve debunked that twice now. [M]any of the themes in The Obama Nation are reworked versions of bogus chain e-mail smears.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) In August 2004, Media Matters found that Corsi routinely embraced both extremist opinions and personal invective. Corsi called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion.” Of Catholicism, he wrote, “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Of Muslims themselves, he wrote, “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters—it all goes together.” And of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), he wrote: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill [former President Clinton] satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” (Media Matters 8/6/2004) (Corsi posted these comments on the Free Republic under the moniker “jrlc,” and identified himself as “jrlc” on March 19, 2004.) (Free Republic 3/18/2004; Jerome Corsi 8/7/2004) An Obama campaign spokesman calls Corsi “a discredited, fringe bigot.” (Wills 8/16/2008) FactCheck concludes, “In Corsi’s case, we judge that both his reputation and his latest book fall short when measured by the standards of good scholarship, or even of mediocre journalism.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) PolitiFact concludes: “A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credible. On the contrary—we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.” (Holan 8/20/2008)
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.” (Falcone 7/22/2008; Elliott 10/28/2008; Schulman 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)
President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. (Raum and Elliott 1/22/2009) “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” (Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009) The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009) Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” (US News and World Report 1/23/2009)
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. (Collinson 1/22/2009) Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” (Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009) Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009; Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009)
President Obama signals a new direction for US policy towards Israel and Palestine by promising to seek a lasting peace between the two warring sides. Obama says the US will always support Israel’s “right to defend itself,” but will also seek an equitable, peaceful solution for the Palestinian people. In conjunction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama names former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, and former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as the administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mitchell helped broker the Clinton administration-led peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and Holbrooke helped write the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. (Raum and Elliott 1/22/2009; The Nation (Lahore) 1/23/2009)
The newly named US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says that the Obama administration will reverse years of Bush administration policies and engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran. Such direct diplomatic efforts have not been tried with Iran since before the 1979 Iranian revolution (see February-November 4, 1979), when Iranian radicals captured 52 Americans and held them hostage for well over a year (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). (Associated Press 1/26/2009) Israel’s Arutz Shiva calls the announcement a “not-unexpected bombshell.” (Ratzlav-Katz 1/26/2009)
Iran Open to Engagement - Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Iran is “ready for new approaches by the United States.” Mottaki adds that Iran would consider the idea of allowing the US to open a diplomatic office in Tehran. The last US diplomatic office was closed in 1979.
US Still 'Deeply Concerned' about Iran's Nuclear Program - Rice says that Iran must meet UN Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before the US will be willing to discuss its nuclear program. “The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council,” Rice says. “And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.” Rice says the US remains “deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community.” She adds, “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership” with the other four permanent members of the Security Council—Britain, China, France and Russia—as well as Germany.
NATO: Iran Must Be Included in Decisions Regarding Afghanistan - NATO Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer says that Iran must be part of the engagement process of escalating the war in Afghanistan. “We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia—and yes, Iran,” he says. “We need a pragmatic approach to solve this very real challenge.” Bush officials have long sought to isolate Iran from having any influence over the events in Afghanistan, even though its ruling Shi’ite theocracy has long opposed Afghanistan’s Taliban. (Associated Press 1/26/2009; Ratzlav-Katz 1/26/2009)
Clinton: 'New, Perhaps Different Approach' - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: “Obviously, the incoming administration views with great concern the role that Iran is playing in the world, its sponsorship of terrorism, its continuing interference with the functioning of other governments, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. There is an ongoing policy review that the Obama administration has undertaken, but… our goal will be to do everything we can, pursue through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring. We are not taking any option off the table, at all. But we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude towards engagement that might bear fruit.” She says that the US continues to view an Iranian nuclear program as “unacceptable.” (Ratzlav-Katz 1/26/2009)
Media critic and columnist George Neumayr writes that the Democrats’ economic stimulus plan will include enforced abortions and euthanasia for less productive citizens. Neumayr calls this claim a once “astonishingly chilly and incomprehensible stretch [that] is now blandly stated liberal policy,” basing it on the Democrats’ plan to provide money to the states for “family planning.” Neumayr equates the funding, which would go for such initiatives as teaching teenagers about the use of condoms and measures to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, to the famous Jonathan Swift essay of 1729, “A Modest Proposal,” which satirically suggested that impoverished Irish families might sell their children to rich Englishmen for food. “Change a few of the words and it could be a Democratic Party policy paper,” Neumayr writes. “Swift suggested that 18th-century Ireland stimulate its economy by turning children into food for the wealthy. [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] proposes stimulating the US economy by eliminating them. Other slumping countries, such as Russia and France, pay parents to have children; it looks like Obama’s America will pay parents to contracept or kill them. Perhaps the Freedom of Choice Act can also fall under the Pelosi ‘stimulus’ rationale. Why not? An America of shovels and scalpels will barrel into the future. Euthanasia is another shovel-ready job for Pelosi to assign to the states. Reducing health care costs under Obama’s plan, after all, counts as economic stimulus too. Controlling life, controlling death, controlling costs. It’s all stimulus in the Brave New World utopia to come.” Like a Washington Times editorial from months earlier (see November 23, 2008), Neumayr uses the term “final solution” for the Democrats’ economic proposal, the term for the Nazis’ World War II-era extermination of millions of Jews and other “undesirables.” He writes: “‘Unwanted’ children are immediately seen as an unspeakable burden. Pregnancy is a punishment, and fertility is little more than a disease. Pelosi’s gaffe illustrates the extent to which eugenics and economics merge in the liberal utilitarian mind.” “Malthus lives,” he says, referring to the 19th century scholar Thomas Robert Malthus, whose theories of ruthless natural selection predated Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. Neumayr goes on to accuse “Hillary Clinton’s State Department” of preparing to set up programs of “people-elimination,” predicated on what he calls “UN-style population control ideology” and “third-world abortions.” (Neumayr 1/27/2009)
Two British High Court judges rule against releasing documents describing the torture and abuse of Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001). The judges cite threats from the US government as shaping their decision, saying that the US had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation from Britain if the information on Mohamed’s treatment were made public.
Confession through Torture, Detainee Alleges - Mohamed is a British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 (see September 2001 - April 9, 2002). He was initially charged with planning a “dirty bomb” attack in the US (see November 4, 2005); those charges were later dropped (see October-December 2008), but he has allegedly confessed to being an al-Qaeda operative and remains in detention without charges. Mohamed says that the confession was tortured out of him during his detention in secret prisons in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), and later in Guantanamo. During his incarcerations at these various prisons, he says he was beaten, deprived of sleep, and had his genitals cut with a scalpel. Mohamed’s attorneys argue that he has committed no crime and is a victim of torture and rendition by US officials, with British cooperation (see February 24, 2009). (Jordan 2/5/2009; Chu 2/5/2009)
Judges, Lawmakers 'Dismayed' at US Threats - In their decision, Judges John Thomas and David Lloyd Jones write, “We did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence… relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.” (Jordan 2/5/2009) They are dismayed that “there would be made a threat of the gravity of the kind made by the United States government, that it would reconsider its intelligence-sharing relationship” with Britain, one of its closest allies, if the British government made the summary public. (Chu 2/5/2009) They warn that a US withdrawal from intelligence-sharing could “inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat” remains. Conservative member of parliament David Davis tells the House of Commons, “The government is going to have to do some pretty careful explaining about what’s going on.” It is absolutely inappropriate for the US to have “threatened” the British government, Davis says: “The ruling implies that torture has taken place in the Mohamed case, that British agencies may have been complicit, and further, that the United States government has threatened our High Court that if it releases this information the US government will withdraw its intelligence cooperation with the United Kingdom.… Frankly, it is none of their business what our courts do.”
Lawyer Objects - Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed’s attorney, says that by not disclosing the evidence, Britain is guilty of “capitulation to blackmail.… The judges used the word ‘threat’ eight times. That’s a criminal offense right there. That’s called blackmail. Only the Mafia have done that sort of stuff.” Smith continues: “It is hardly Britain’s finest hour. As the judges say, it is up to President Obama to put his money where his mouth is. He must repudiate his predecessor’s reprehensible policy.”
Prime Minister Knows Nothing of Threats - Officials in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office say they know nothing of any threats from Obama officials. “We have not engaged with the new administration on the detail of this case,” says a Brown spokesman. But British Foreign Secretary David Miliband notes: “Matters regarded as secret by one government should be treated as secret by others. For it to be called into question would pose a serious and real risk to continuing close intelligence-sharing with any government.” Miliband notes that the British government has made “strenuous efforts” to have Mohamed released (see August 2007). (Bonner 2/4/2009; Jordan 2/5/2009)
ACLU Asks for Clarification - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking that she clarify the Obama administration’s position on the Mohamed case and to reject what it described as the Bush administration’s policy of using false claims of national security to avoid judicial review of controversial programs. According to ACLU head Anthony Romero, “The latest revelation is completely at odds with President Obama’s executive orders that ban torture and end rendition, as well as his promise to restore the rule of law.” State Department spokesman Robert Wood refuses to comment on the judges’ statement, saying, “It’s the first I’ve heard of it.” (Jordan 2/5/2009; Chu 2/5/2009)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a tour of Asia, warns North Korea not to fulfill its threat to test a long-range Taepodong-2 ballistic missile. “The possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward,” Clinton says. North Korea greets Clinton’s arrival in Japan, where she issues her warning, with an oblique statement that says in part, “One will come to know later what will be launched.” (Landler 2/16/2009; Lee 2/16/2009) During the same trip, Clinton says the US is willing to provide assistance to North Korea in return for its dismantling of its nuclear program (see February 15, 2009).
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is not sure whether North Korea actually has a secret program to enrich uranium, as the Bush administration had long claimed. She adds that she intends to persuade Pyongyang to give up the weapons-grade plutonium it does possess. “There is a debate within the intelligence community as to exactly the extent of the highly-enriched-uranium program,” she says. “My goal is the denuclearization of North Korea,” she continues. “That means a verifiably complete accounting of whatever programs they have and the removal of the reprocessed plutonium that they were able to achieve because they were given the opportunity to do so.… When they move forward” on ending the program, “we have a great openness to working with them, [and] a willingness to help the people of North Korea.”
Broadening Focus Beyond Uranium Possession - The claim of the uranium program led to the Bush administration’s rejection of the 1994 agreement that kept the North Korean nuclear weapons program in check (see October 21, 1994), she says: “The Agreed Framework was torn up on the basis of the concerns about the highly-enriched-uranium program. There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off. The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before.” When the Bush administration withdrew from the Agreed Framework (see October 20, 2002), Clinton says, North Korea restarted its plutonium-based reactor at Yongbyon and now has enough material for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons. A 2006 nuclear test by the North Koreans prompted Bush officials to reopen negotiations and eventually craft a new agreement remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (see February 8, 2007 and After). Most Asian nations are expected to welcome Clinton’s new position on the uranium issue, as they thought the Bush administration had put too much emphasis on North Korea’s uranium possession. (Kessler 2/15/2009) Clinton also warns North Korea not to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile (see February 15, 2009).
'Old Wine in a New Bottle' - The senior editorial writer for South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper, Jungsoo Jang, calls the Clinton proposal little more than “old wine in a new bottle,” writing: “Of course, the side by side denuclearization and normalization plan elucidated by Clinton clearly does represent a considerable change from the Bush administration, which focused on a schematic view of denuclearization first, normalization second. But Clinton’s solution does have limitations, in that normalization of North Korea-US relations cannot be pursued as long as prior issues such as total abolition of nuclear weapons and suspicions about enriched uranium are not neatly resolved.” Jang says that a conflict between a more conservative camp and a more progressive camp in the Obama State Department is currently being won by the conservatives, who favor an emphasis on US-Japanese relations and a more direct, confrontational approach to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. (Jang 2/16/2009)
Former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a former adviser to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005), calls for the US to launch a military strike against North Korea in order to remove that nation’s nuclear weapons capability. Zelikow dismisses Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reservations about North Korea’s nuclear program (see February 15, 2009) and writes, “To accept the combination of nuclear weapons and IRBMs or ICBMs in the hands of North Korea is a gamble, betting on deterrence of one of the least well understood governments on earth, in a country now undergoing high levels of internal stress.” Zelikow refers directly to the 2006 call from two former Defense Department officials, Ashton Carter and William Perry, for a military strike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see June 22, 2006), and writes that at the time he believed the call for military action was “premature.” Now, however, “political predicate for the Carter-Perry recommendations has been well laid.” Zelikow recommends that the Obama administration issue the requisite warnings to dismantle the nuclear weapons, and if North Korea refuses to heed the warnings, the US should destroy them. (Zelikow 2/17/2009; Zenko 10/22/2010)
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 (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Barnes 3/15/2009; Richey 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. (Richey 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.” (Barnes 3/15/2009; Richey 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?” (Liptak 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). (Barnes 3/15/2009; Richey 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.” (Toobin 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. (Toobin 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.” (Rucker 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).
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)
The Obama administration announces that the US will seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The Bush administration had chosen not to participate in the council, saying that it would not countenance the influence of nations who repress their populations. “Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system.… We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.” Elections for three seats on the 47-member council will take place in May. The other countries on the ballot are Belgium and Norway. New Zealand agreed to withdraw from the ballot in favor of the US candidacy; New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, explained, “Frankly, by any objective measure, membership of the council by the US is more likely to create positive changes more quickly than we could have hoped to achieve them.” A human rights advocate tells the Washington Post: “This is a welcome step that gives the United States and other defenders of human rights a fighting chance to make the institution more effective. I think everybody is just desperate to have the United States and Barack Obama run for the human rights council, and countries are willing to bend over backward to make that happen.” Human rights activists have pressured the US to join the council since its inception in March 2006. The council took the place of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, which lost credibility when it allowed nations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe to join and thus thwart criticism of their treatment of their citizens. Bush officials had refused to join the new body, saying that they did not believe the new organization represented any improvement over its predecessor. Then-US ambassador to the UN John Bolton explained that the US would have more “leverage in terms of the performance of the new council” by not participating in it and thus signaling a rejection of “business as usual.” Bolton says of the Obama administration’s decision: “This is like getting on board the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg. This is the theology of engagement at work. There is no concrete American interest served by this, and it legitimizes something that doesn’t deserve legitimacy.” Obama officials concede that the council has failed to do its job adequately, and focused too much on abuse allegations by Israel to the exclusion of allegations against nations such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice says: “Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the council to be balanced and credible.” The US intends to join the council “because we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights.” (Lynch 3/31/2009)
US presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke meets briefly and informally with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representatative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Akhondzadeh are participants in a major international conference at The Hague convened to discuss the problem of Afghanistan. The two talk briefly during a lunch break. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will say of the meeting: “It was cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch. I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.” Clinton says the US has asked the Iranian delegation to intercede in the cases of two American citizens being detained in Iran and a third who is missing. The New York Times calls the two contacts “another step in the Obama administration’s policy of engagement… a tentative process, in which the White House makes symbolic gestures, like President Obama’s recent video greeting to the Iranian people and government for their New Year (see March 19, 2009), while continuing to formulate its longer-term strategy.” Some experts believe that the meeting between Holbrooke and Akhondzadeh is not entirely fortuitous, but is the product of some planning. In the conference, Akhondzadeh says Iran will help reconstruction in Afghanistan as well as take part in efforts to curb the exploding Afghan drug trade. “The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation,” Clinton says. “The Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.” The US and Iran have mutual interests in curbing Afghanistan’s drug trade, Clinton says: “The questions of border security, and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have, which we share.” (Landler 3/31/2009)
Newly retired Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, the former top commander of US forces in Afghanistan, is sworn in as the new US ambassador to Kabul. Prior to his appointment, Eikenberry served as the deputy chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium. In a rare move, Eikenberry retired from the Army the day before he is sworn in as ambassador by Hillary Clinton at the State Department. (Baker 4/28/2009; Burns 4/28/2009) Shortly before President Obama’s nomination of Eikenberry was made public, the New York Times noted that the decision to send an about-to-retire career Army officer to fill one of the country’s most sensitive diplomatic jobs was “a highly unusual choice,” raising concerns among critics of the war that the Pentagon has too much influence over American foreign policy. (Schmitt 1/29/2009)
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; Liptak 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). (Hasen 6/29/2009) The decision will indeed overturn both Austin and McConnell, and gut most of the BCRA (see January 21, 2010).
Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, warns that Afghanistan will need “global support” for decades before being able to govern and protect itself. “We’re going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future,” he says. “This is not just one year; this is going to be for decades. We’re going to help them get to a state which they can ward off the return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That’s our strategic objective.” Sheinwald denies that public support for British involvement in Afghanistan is flagging, saying that opinion in Britain remains evenly divided on the war and will improve when results are seen “over the next year or so.” Sheinwald is accompanying British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who is on a two-day visit to the US to discuss war policy in Afghanistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others. (Smith 7/31/2009)
California attorney Orly Taitz posts an image of what she says is President Obama’s “true” birth certificate, this one issued in Kenya (see June 13, 2008). Taitz then files a motion in federal court to prove its authenticity. The conservative news blog WorldNetDaily (WND) quickly publishes an article repeating Taitz’s claim. WND notes that the Kenyan document lists Obama’s parents as “Barack Hussein Obama and Stanley Ann Obama, formerly Stanley Ann Dunham.” The birth date is August 4, 1961, and the hospital of birth is Coast General Hospital in Mombasa, Kenya. The document lists no attending doctor. It does list the signature of the deputy registrar of Coast Province, Joshua Simon Oduya. According to the document, it was issued as a certified copy of the original in February 1964. WND claims that it has compared the Taitz document to other Kenyan birth certificates, and, it concludes, “the form of the documents appear to be identical.” WND admits that other fraudulent Kenyan birth certificates have recently been posted on the Internet, but, it says, “[t]he new document released by Taitz bears none of the obvious traits of a hoax.” Critics note that the Taitz document was certified as being issued by the Republic of Kenya on February 17, 1964, though the Republic of Kenya did not come into existence until December 1964. However, WND says, “Kenya’s official independence was in 1963, and any number of labels could have been applied to government documents during that time period.” According to WND, Taitz says she received the document “from an anonymous source who doesn’t want his name known because ‘he’s afraid for his life.’” Taitz’s court filing, in the US District Court for the Central District of California, requests the purported evidence of Obama’s birth—both the alleged birth certificate and foreign records not yet obtained—be preserved from destruction, asks for permission to legally request documents from Kenya, and seeks a subpoena for deposition from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Taitz tells WND: “I filed the motion with the court asking for expedited discovery, which would allow me to start subpoenas and depositions even before Obama and the government responds. I am asking the judge to give me the power to subpoena the documents from the Kenyan embassy and to require a deposition from Hillary Clinton so they will be forced to authenticate [the birth certificate]. I’m forcing the issue, where Obama will have to respond.… Before, they said, ‘You don’t have anything backing your claims.’ Now I have something. In fact, I have posted on the Internet more than Obama has (see June 13, 2008). My birth certificate actually has signatures.” Taitz says she plans to file more documents with the court in the following days. (St. Petersburg Times 8/2/2009; WorldNetDaily 8/2/2009)
Forgery - PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, asks for clarification from Salim Lone, the spokesman for Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Lone says via email: “It’s a forgery. Kenya only became a republic in December, 1964. Other arguments could also be marshaled, but they are not needed.” Blogger Steve Eddy then finds a nearly-identical document on the Internet using Google Search, posted on a genealogy Web site by an Australian, David Jeffrey Bomford. Eddy compares the two and, according to PolitiFact: “Same format. Same book and page number in the birth registry. Some of the officials’ last names were even the same.” Eddy tells PolitiFact, “At that point, it was pretty obvious the Kenyan one was a fake, that someone had used this real one from Australia to make their version.” An ABC affiliate in Australia asks Bomford, a public service clerk in Adelaide, about the controversy, and Bomford replies: “That is ridiculous. Little old person in Adelaide, the president of the United States. I don’t know whether to laugh about it or not, be worried about it.” Bomford says he had nothing to do with the hoax. “It’s little old me and my mum and everything else up there,” he says. The birth certificate he posted online is his own, he says. “Oh, I definitely confirm that the birth certificate was mine. That was quite easy to see—my address, even the style of the birth certificate was an old South Australian one. So it’s quite easy to identify that it’s mine.… It’s definitely a copy of my certificate. It’s so laughable it’s ridiculous.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/2/2009) The Washington Independent’s David Weigel notes , “The image is part of the extremely ill-informed conspiracy theory that Obama was born in Mombasa—conveniently, one of the more Muslim parts of the country.” The Obama family lives in an entirely different part of Kenya, over a thousand miles from Mombasa. Moreover, at the time of Obama’s birth, Mombasa was not a part of Kenya, but part of Zanzibar. (Weigel 8/3/2009)
Rebuttal - Taitz posts on her Web site that Bomford’s certificate, not her own, is the fake, and says Bomford or someone else altered that certificate from the “original” Obama certificate to discredit her. Eddy says of Taitz’s claim, “There’s no reasoning with some of these people.” A blogger from “Obama Not Qualified” writes a long screed detailing his or her belief that the Taitz document is real, though noting his or her belief that the photo Taitz originally posted may not be real, and giving a step-by-step walkthrough of how to create a falsified document. PolitiFact receives a response from Val Edyvean, registrar of births, deaths and marriages for South Australia, saying: “It appears that a South Australian loaded an image of his own birth certificate onto a family history Web site and that the format was used by others to ‘create’ a document which purported to be a Kenyan birth certificate for Barack Obama. As the South Australian man has now removed this image, and the date of his birth is in the period of certificates which are restricted from public access, I do not intend to add to speculation by commenting on details of either that certificate or any aspects of it.” (Obama Not Qualified 2008; St. Petersburg Times 8/2/2009)
Conclusion - WND publisher Joseph Farah publishes a column expressing his feeling that the Taitz certificate is “probably” a forgery, and claims that WND never made any assertion of its validity. (Farah also says that the State of Hawaii has “steadfastly refused” to state that the birth certificate posted by the Obama campaign in 2008 is valid, a false statement—see October 30, 2008 and July 28, 2009). “The Kenyan document could be real. I haven’t seen a single disqualifying error pointed out in the last 24 hours. But I still strongly suspect it is not,” he writes. Instead, he says, WND posted the certificate and the accompanying article so that it could be fact-checked. He then claims that Obama has “hidden” his real birth certificate and “virtually every other meaningful document in his life” from public scrutiny. (Farah 8/4/2009) PolitiFact concludes that the Taitz certificate “is a fake.” However, “we have no delusions this changes anyone’s mind in the birther movement.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/2/2009)
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who challenged President Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, says she will not run for president in 2012, 2016, or afterwards. Asked by NBC interviewer Ann Curry: “Will you ever run for president again? Yes or no.” Clinton replies, “No.” She then elaborates: “I mean, this is a great job. It is a 24/7 job. And I’m looking forward to retirement at some point.” Clinton would be 70 in 2016, when Obama would presumably not run again; she has long said she has no intention of challenging Obama’s re-election in 2012. Curry asks about a concern by some “that you have been marginalized, that you—that the highest-ranking woman in the United States [is] having to fight against being marginalized,” and Clinton calls such concerns “absurd.… I think there is such a—you know, maybe there is some misunderstanding which needs to be clarified. I believe in delegating power. You know, I’m not one of these people who feels like I have to have my face in the, you know, front of the newspaper or on the TV every moment of the day. I would be irresponsible and negligent were I to say, ‘Oh, no, everything must come to me.’ Now, maybe that is a woman’s thing. Maybe I’m totally secure and feel absolutely no need to go running around in order for people to see what I’m doing. It’s just the way I am. My goal is to be a very positive force to implement the kind of changes that the president and I believe are in the best interest of our country. But that doesn’t mean that it all has to be me, me, me all the time. I like lifting people up.” (Franke-Ruta 10/12/2009; Westfall 10/12/2009)
Pakistani soldiers conducting a security sweep of Taliban strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal region find a passport belonging to Said Bahaji, a member of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg cell. Bahaji was believed to be close to Mohamed Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers in the cell. The passport is found in a mud compound in Sherawangi village, in South Waziristan, which is said to be a local Taliban command and control base. Other documents are found showing the presence of some other militants from European countries in the area. It is unclear if Bahaji was in the village, or if just his passport was. The passport is shown to journalists on October 29, 2009, and its discovery is widely reported. Bahaji is a German citizen, and his German passport was issued on August 3, 2001. Stamps show that he obtained a Pakistani tourist visa one day later, and arrived in Pakistan on September 4, 2001. Bahaji went to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan shortly thereafter (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), and investigators believe he has generally remained in Afghanistan or Pakistan ever since. He was last heard of in 2007, when he called his mother in Germany (see 2007). (Walsh, Burke, and Tremlett 10/29/2009; Hussain 10/30/2009)
Political Implications of Passport Find - The Guardian comments that if authentic, the passport provides “stark proof of what Western allies have insisted upon for years, but which Pakistani officials have only recently accepted - that the tribal belt, particularly South and North Waziristan, is the de facto headquarters of al-Qaeda, and that Osama bin Laden is most likely hiding there.” The passport also is evidence that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are working together. (Walsh, Burke, and Tremlett 10/29/2009)
Bahaji Officially Wanted by Spain and Germany but Not US - Bahaji is wanted in Spain and Germany on terrorism charges (see September 21, 2001). According to CNN, “A US counterterrorism official said only that Bahaji is a senior propagandist for al-Qaeda who had ties to some of the September 11 hijackers and is very much of interest to the United States.” However, the US has never put a bounty on Bahaji, or even put him on their most wanted lists. (CNN 10/30/2009)
Timing of Passport Discovery Seems Suspicious, Authenticity Is Uncertain - The BBC comments, “The appearance of the passport raises a lot of questions - not least is it genuine? For now that is unclear.” The BBC also notes that the discovery of the passport comes just after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton harshly criticized Pakistan’s failure to find al-Qaeda figures hiding in the tribal region. (BBC 10/31/2009) Clinton said, “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to. Maybe that’s the case. Maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.” (Walsh, Burke, and Tremlett 10/29/2009) One British analyst questions the “convenient” timing of the discovery after Clinton’s comments, and says the passport would need to be closely examined to make sure it is authentic. (BBC 10/31/2009)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton circulates a diplomatic cable that states Pakistani intelligence continues to support some Islamist militant groups. The cable is sent to US ambassadors and other US diplomats, and contains “talking points” to raise with host governments. In Pakistan, the diplomats are told to press the Pakistani government to take action against the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban operating in Pakistan, and to enforce sanctions against Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. The cable reads, “Although Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, [Lashkar-e-Toiba], and other extremist organizations. These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas.” (A madrassa is an Islamic boarding school.) The contents of the cable will be made public by Wikileaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, in 2010. (Crilly 5/31/2011)
The New York Times calls today’s ruling in the Citizens United case (see January 21, 2010) “disastrous,” saying that “the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century.” The Court has used the excuse of the First Amendment (see January 21, 2010) to “pave… the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.” The Times recommends that Congress should “act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.” In essence, the Times writes, lobbyists for corporate, labor, and special interests now have the power to sway elections in the directions they prefer. And the ruling gives those same interests the power to intimidate and even coerce candidates. “If a member of Congress tries to stand up to a wealthy special interest,” the Times writes, “its lobbyists can credibly threaten: We’ll spend whatever it takes to defeat you.” The Times notes that since the inception of the nation, its founders have “warned about the dangers of corporate influence. The Constitution they wrote mentions many things and assigns them rights and protections—the people, militias, the press, religions. But it does not mention corporations.” Corporate money has been banned from elections since 1907 (see 1907), and that ban has been in place, in one form or another (see June 25, 1910, 1925, 1935, 1940, June 25, 1943, June 23, 1947, March 11, 1957, February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, January 30, 1976, January 8, 1980, March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), until today. The Times accuses the Court of “overreach[ing],” using “a case involving a narrower, technical question involving the broadcast of a movie that attacked Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court elevated that case to a forum for striking down the entire ban on corporate spending and then rushed the process of hearing the case at breakneck speed. It gave lawyers a month to prepare briefs on an issue of enormous complexity (see June 29, 2009), and it scheduled arguments during its vacation” (see September 9, 2009). The Times says the ruling is “deeply wrong on the law,” particularly in declaring corporations as equivalent to people, with the same First Amendment rights. “It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.” And the Times derides the statement in the Court’s majority opinion that says independent corporate expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” citing Senator John McCain (R-AZ)‘s characterization of the Court’s reasoning as being plagued by “extreme naivete.” The Citizens United case is, the Times writes, “likely to be viewed as a shameful bookend to Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). With one 5-to-4 decision, the Court’s conservative majority stopped valid votes from being counted to ensure the election of a conservative president. Now a similar conservative majority has distorted the political system to ensure that Republican candidates will be at an enormous advantage in future elections.” The only two ways to rectify the situation, the Times concludes, are to overturn the ruling via Congressional legislation and have a future Court—with a different makeup—overturn the decision itself. (New York Times 1/21/2010)
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 ; Liptak 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.” (Savage 1/21/2010; OMB Watch 1/27/2010; Richey and Feldmann 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 ; Liptak 1/21/2010; Savage 1/21/2010; Millhiser 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. (Toobin 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 ; Liptak 1/21/2010; Savage 1/21/2010; Millhiser 1/21/2010; Sherman 1/21/2010; Richey and Feldmann 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.” (Rucker 1/22/2010)
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)
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.” (Kirkpatrick 1/25/2010)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accuses the Pakistani government of knowing where Osama bin Laden and other top militant leaders are hiding. She says, “I’m not saying that they’re at the highest levels, but I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more co-operation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11.” A Pakistani government spokesperson dismisses Clinton’s claim. (Crilly 5/11/2010) In March 2011, a US strike force will assault a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
The New Yorker publishes a lengthy analysis of the Koch (pronounced “coke”) financial empire, and its long-time financial support for right-wing causes (see 1981-2010). The article, written by investigative reporter Jane Mayer, shows that Koch Industries, led by brothers David and Charles Koch, has donated over $250 million to Republican and conservative politicians and organizations since the mid-1990s. The Koch brothers are also well-known philanthropists, having given millions to New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, $100 million to the Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, $40 million to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History, and $10 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Second-Largest Private Industry in US - Koch Industries, a $100 billion conglomerate, garners most of its profits from oil refineries and associated interests; it owns the firms that manufacture Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber and paper products, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra fabric. Koch Industries is the second largest private company in the US after Cargill, and taken together, the Koch brothers’ fortune of some $35 billion places them just behind Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Wall Street financier Warren Buffett as the nation’s richest people.
Longtime Libertarians - Personally, the Koch brothers espouse a libertarian philosophy—drastic reductions in corporate and personal taxes, huge cuts in government expenditures on social services, and widespread deregulation of industry, particularly environmental. Koch Industries was recently listed in the top 10 of US air polluters, and has for years funded organizations that oppose climate change, giving even more than ExxonMobil to organizations, foundations, and think tanks that work to derail or overturn climate change legislation. Koch funds so many different organizations that oppose various initiatives of the Obama administration that Washington insiders call the Koch ideological network the “Kochtopus.” While the Koch brothers have protested being characterized as major supporters of the right-wing agenda—David Koch has complained that the “radical press” is intent on making him and his brother into “whipping boys”—Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, says: “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.” The Kochs have embraced the pure free-market ideology of economist Friedrich von Hayek, who argued that any form of centralized government would lead to totalitarianism and that only complete, unregulated capitalism could ensure freedom. Many “tea party” supporters, such as Fox News host Glenn Beck, have openly embraced von Hayek’s ideals.
Inculcated Ideals of Anti-Communist Father - Both brothers are steeped in the anti-Communist, anti-government, minority-disparaging views of their father, Koch Industries co-founder Fred Koch (see 1940 and After).
Using the 'Tea Parties' - Conservative economist Bruce Bartlett, who has worked at a Koch-funded think tank, says that the Kochs are playing on the anti-government fervor of the “tea parties” to further their pro-business, libertarian agenda. “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians,” Bartlett says. “There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the “tea parties,” Bartlett says, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power. [The Kochs are] trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.” A Republican campaign consultant who has worked for the Kochs says of the tea party movement: “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!” The consultant says that the Kochs keep an extremely low profile, in part to avoid accusations that they are funding an “astroturf” movement (see April 15, 2009). A former Koch adviser says: “They’re smart. This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.” Democratic political strategist Rob Stein, who has studied the conservative movement’s finances, says the Kochs are “at the epicenter of the anti-Obama movement. But it’s not just about Obama. They would have done the same to Hillary Clinton. They did the same with Bill Clinton. They are out to destroy progressivism.” Since a 2009 rally attended by David Koch (see November 2009), the brothers have all but explicitly endorsed the tea party movement, with David Koch praising it for demonstrating the “powerful visceral hostility in the body politic against the massive increase in government power, the massive efforts to socialize this country.” Echoing the sentiments of many tea party leaders, Charles Koch said in a newsletter sent out to Koch Industry employees that President Obama is comparable to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.
Strategy - Charles Koch told a reporter that “[t]o bring about social change” requires “a strategy” that is “vertically and horizontally integrated,” spanning “from idea creation to policy development to education to grassroots organizations to lobbying to litigation to political action.… We have a radical philosophy.” The Kochs launched their first “think tank,” the libertarian Cato Institute, in 1977 (see 1977-Present), which has been effective in promoting corporate tax cuts, deregulation, cuts in social spending, and in opposing governmental initiatives to combat climate change. Other Koch-funded institutes such as the Heritage Foundation and the Independent Women’s Forum have also publicly opposed efforts to combat climate change. History professor Naomi Oreskes, the author of a book, Merchants of Doubt, that chronicles attempts by American industries to manipulate public opinion on science, says that the Kochs have a vested interest in keeping the government from addressing climate change. “If the answer is to phase out fossil fuels,” she says, “a different group of people are going to be making money, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re fighting tooth and nail.” David Koch has said that though he doesn’t believe that any global warming effects have been caused by human activities, if indeed the globe is warming, it will benefit society by lengthening growing seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. Several years after founding Cato, the Kochs provided millions in funding to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, which Stein describes as “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.” Mercatus is headed by Richard Fink, a Koch Industries lobbyist and president of several Koch-funded foundations. Mayer describes Fink as the chief political lieutenant of the Koch brothers. Mercatus was quite successful at having the Bush administration adopt a number of its deregulatory strategies, particularly environmental deregulation. Like Cato, critics of Mercatus accuse it of serving the brothers’ corporate needs while hiding behind the facade of a nonpartisan academic organization. “Ideas don’t happen on their own,” says Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a tea party advocacy group heavily funded by the Kochs (see April 14, 2009). “Throughout history, ideas need patrons.” FreedomWorks is one of many citizen activism groups founded and/or funded by the Kochs, usually masquerading as “grassroots” organizations started by “ordinary citizens” (see 1984 and After, 1997, and Late 2004).
Disrupting the Obama Administration - Since well before the 2008 presidential election, the Koch brothers have been involved in full-throated efforts to derail any policies or initiatives that would be launched by a Democratic president. In January 2008, Charles Koch wrote in the industry newsletter that America was on the verge of “the greatest loss of liberty and prosperity since the 1930s.” The Kochs have used their “astroturf” advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), to great effect against the Obama administration, launching its efforts even before the November 2008 election (see October 2008 and January 2009 and After). Conservative activist Grover Norquist says that AFP’s August 2009 anti-health care rallies were instrumental in undermining Obama’s policy initiatives. Norquist says the rallies “discouraged deal-makers,” Republicans who otherwise might have considered cooperating with Obama and Congressional Democrats, and affected corporate donors to Washington lobbyists, steering millions into the hands of Republican lobbyists. (Mayer 8/30/2010)
CIA Director Leon Panetta informs President Obama that Osama bin Laden may be living in a certain compound in Pakistan that is being monitored. (Some accounts say Obama is informed in August, but most say September, and one account specifies September 1.) (Goldman 5/2/2011; CNN 5/2/2011; New York Times 5/3/2011; Cole 5/19/2011; Gorman and Barnes 5/23/2011) Many of Obama’s top aides are at the top secret meeting as well, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Panetta describes the compound and the intelligence leading to it in great detail. An unnamed administration official at the meeting will later say: “It was electric.… For so long, we’d been trying to get a handle on this guy. And all of a sudden, it was like, wow, there he is.” (Mazzetti, Cooper, and Baker 5/2/2011) The evidence is so tantalizing that the US decides not to say anything about the compound to the Pakistani government, or to even close US allies like Britain or Canada, for fear that intelligence leaks could let bin Laden slip away. (Goldman 5/2/2011)
The Australian newspaper The Age publishes an analysis by reporter Matthew Weaver that examines the media’s role in bringing an obscure Florida pastor and his idea to burn Korans to international prominence. Pastor Terry Jones launched a Facebook page discussing his idea to burn Korans (see July 12, 2010 and After). The page did not garner a great deal of attention, Weaver says, but days later, the Religion News Service (RNS) published Jones’s claims that people had sent him copies of the Koran to burn. RNS asked the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for a response. Weaver writes, “It didn’t take the bait, but other religious organizations did not show such restraint.” Jones began posting videos on YouTube; in one, he held up a copy of the Koran and said, “This is the book that is responsible for 9/11.” The national press began paying attention to Jones, ignoring pleas from Craig Lowe, the mayor of Gainesville, where Jones’s church is located, to ignore him. CAIR and other religious groups, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, began issuing public statements condemning the Koran-burning plans. A British group called Campaign Islam posted a YouTube message claiming that the event would “wake up the [Islamic] lion from the den.” An Egyptian Sunni authority, the al-Azhar supreme council, accused Jones of stirring up hate. By early September, when the holy month of Ramadan was coming to a close, demonstrators in Afghanistan and elsewhere began taking to the streets to burn Jones in effigy alongside the American flag, and national representatives from a number of countries issued their own condemnations and pleas to cancel the Koran-burning (see September 6-9, 2010). General David Petraeus, the supreme US commander in the Middle East, publicly warned that Jones’s Koran-burning would endanger US troops (see September 6, 2010). Weaver writes, “The general’s intervention pushed the story to the top of the international news agenda, where it stayed for the rest of the week.” He cites American counterterrorism expert David Schanzer as saying that Petraeus, more than any single figure, gave Jones more credibility than he deserved. Schanzer said, “By having the head of our entire operation in Afghanistan ask them to refrain from this action, we’ve brought much more attention to this fringe element than it deserves.” Ignoring Jones would have undercut his power, Schanzer said. Instead, White House officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, press secretary Robert Gibbs, and President Obama himself (see September 10, 2010), spoke out against Jones’s plans. Weaver concludes by citing the 2008 burning of a Koran by another extremist church, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. “[W]eary of the group’s gay-bashing provocations,” Weaver writes, “media organizations stayed away.” The 2008 Koran burning drew little media attention and few protests from Muslims. (Weaver 9/12/2010)
Larry Klayman, the founder of the conservative media watchdog organization Judicial Watch, writes a column for conservative news blog WorldNetDaily that alleges Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working behind the scenes to “prove” that President Barack Obama is not a US citizen, thereby ruining his chances of running for re-election in 2012 and opening the door for her own run. Clinton ran a hard-fought primary campaign against Obama in 2008. Klayman resurrects long-disproven allegations that Clinton, during her time as First Lady, had White House staffer Vince Foster murdered to keep him from exposing the raft of “crimes” Klayman says were committed by Clinton, her husband, and others in the Clinton administration. According to Klayman, Obama has always “fear[ed]” having Clinton as a political rival. He did not name her vice president: she “would only have been a stone’s throw away from the Oval Office, and the ‘mullah in chief’ obviously did not want to encourage his own ‘unfortunate accident.’” Instead, Obama “co-opt[ed]” Clinton by fobbing her off to the State Department, where “she could take the blame for his planned foreign policy of anti-Americanism, appeasement, weakness, prevarication, and hostility toward Israel and nearly all things Jewish and Christian. This would serve the dual purpose of harming her political base should she ever decide to run for president against him in 2012.” Klayman notes that Clinton has said she would not return as secretary of state if Obama wins reelection in 2012. Klayman believes Clinton is angling for the presidency in 2012, and speculates “that she herself may again be working on the so-called ‘birther’ issue, which she first raised during her 2008 presidential campaign. For if Hillary can finally obtain proof positive that President Obama was born in Kenya, and not in Hawaii as he claims, then she will not have to send him on a day trip to Fort Marcy Park [the site of Foster’s suicide] to retire him as president. What could be cleaner?” (Klayman 3/19/2011)
Donald Trump, the billionaire entrepeneur, television show host, and rumored candidate for the 2012 Republican nomination for president, denies charges of racism in his suggestions that President Obama is not a real American citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, and April 10, 2011). In the process, Trump says he has excellent relations with “the blacks.” Trump tells a New York radio interviewer: “I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.” He bemoans the fact that Obama has such widespread support among African-American voters, calling polls that show 95 percent of African-Americans in New York approve of Obama “frightening” and saying of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), in reference to the 2008 Democratic primary: “Look at Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton did so much for the black population, so much and got very few votes.” He adds: “Look, I tell it like it is. Then you hear a political reporter go on and say, ‘It had nothing to do with race.’ But how come she got such a tiny piece of the vote? It’s a very sad thing.” (CNN 4/14/2011; Camia 4/14/2011) The next day, Lee-Anne Goodman of the Toronto-based Canadian Press writes that Trump’s use of the term “the blacks” is “cringe-worthy,” and his characterization of poll results showing heavy African-American support for Obama as “frightening” is telling as to his apparent racial attitudes. American blacks have, until his recent embrace of “birtherism,” shown strong support for Trump. Since then, African-American journalists and pundits have criticized Trump. Corporate affairs executive Goldie Taylor, a former journalist, recently wrote: “As a people, we celebrated his business acumen; purchased his books and anything else with the Trump name we could get our hands on. Now among African-Americans, the once gilded Trump brand is about as worthless as a plug nickel. I’m not calling Trump a racist. But he ought to quit quacking before people start believing he’s a duck.” The day after Trump makes his remark about “the blacks,” the African-American online magazine The Root publishes a piece entitled “How Trump Lost the Black Vote,” which observes: “It’s 2011. It’s perfectly respectable to refer to African-Americans as ‘black people,’ ‘the black community,’ and maybe even ‘black folks’—if you can carry it off. But ‘the blacks?’ No.” Trump could have been “the one candidate in the 2012 Republican field to peel away a few black votes from Obama,” the article continues. “But once Trump started arguing that Obama wasn’t American, whatever good will he had in black world up and vanished.” (Goodman 4/15/2011) An African-American blogger and Capitol Hill staffer who posts under the moniker “The Fed” is far more caustic towards Trump. He writes in reference to Trump’s comments about Clinton: “The Tea Party/birthers LOVE to say that their charge isn’t based in race, however, they consistently do sh_t like this! Now, their potential presidential candidate sees African-Americans as some foreign object incapable of independent thought. In one interview, Trump marginalized not only the Obama administration, but the entire black population. Clearly Trump is playing to the gutter community; spreading lies, pushing conspiracy theories and now racism. The truth is, if Obama lacked his charisma, intelligence, and competence, his ‘blackness’ wouldn’t have been supported by ‘The Blacks.’ Don’t believe me? Ask Alan Key[e]s, Al Sharpton, Cynthia McKinney, Jesse Jackson, or another number of black candidates, how important other qualities are, besides being black. Considering the fact that over the past 222 years, this country has never had an African-American candidate within a rock’s throw of the Oval Office, minimizing any degree of the pride felt in an historic opportunity as nothing more than race based shows how culturally out of touch Trump is with ‘The Blacks.’ If I didn’t know any better, I would think this was Trump’s attempt to say something better than ‘The N_ggers.’ He wanted to speak about the African-American community, but didn’t want the audience to think ‘The Blacks’ were equal to them. He had to maintain the ‘us’ and ‘them’ separation. Instead of humanizing African Americans, he attempted to objectify the entire race to remove common sense from our vote.” (Urban Politico 4/14/2011)
Conservative author and pundit Ann Coulter, in an interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, says that the entire “birther” controversy is the fault of President Obama and MSNBC. Obama released his “long form” birth certificate earlier in the day, in an attempt to settle the “controversy” once and for all (see April 27, 2011). Some right-wing opponents have fueled the idea that Obama is not a “true” American citizen since the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign (see July 20, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, December 3, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, May 7, 2010, Shortly Before June 28, 2010, Around June 28, 2010, January 18, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 24, 2011, March 27-28, 2011, March 28, 2011, April 5, 2011, and April 27, 2011). “[W]e were right, they were wrong,” Coulter says, meaning that the conservative establishment has, in her view, consistently denounced “birtherism” as a distraction and a non-issue. She correctly notes that the controversy began among a small cadre of angry Hillary Clinton supporters during the 2008 Democratic primary, and goes on to say: “And then I think it was a lot of liberals who were pretending to be conservatives or, on MSNBC.… But MSNBC, there’s nothing secret about MSNBC. They cover it approximately 55 minutes of every hour. And, yeah, you didn’t hear anything about it at all on Fox News, so they were the ones promoting it, because it made conservatives look crazy.” Fox News has often promoted “birther” viewpoints on a variety of its news and opinion shows (see April 27, 2011). O’Reilly, who has kept his distance from the “birther” controversy (see July 29, 2009 and April 26, 2011), says that many people hate Obama so intensely that they simply become blinded. Coulter responds that many uninformed, apolitical Americans may well believe that Obama “seems foreign” in the way “all liberals do.” (Alvarez 4/27/2011)
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, speaking on his daily radio program, claims that President Obama released his “long form” birth certificate (see April 27, 2011) to distract the press from a press conference being given by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. Beck says: “The president of the United States is about to speak shortly [about his birth certificate]. Stations, we will carry it live, live, live on this program. Gas prices, sure, out of control. Middle East, sure, on fire. Ben Bernanke going to give the first press conference for the Fed for the first time in 97 years today, but today is the day the birth certificate is released. You have got to be kidding me. Are we really down to this? We’re really down to this? The birth certificate? I mean, it was bad when we were down to the, you know, Final Four in the brackets, but now we’ve got the birth certificate talk and the president is going to hold a press conference.… [T]his is because Bernanke is speaking today. Watch the markets move today. Why is the Fed—this is what I’ve been trying to figure out—why is the Fed holding a press conference for the first time in 97 years? Why? Something is coming gang, something is coming. Now at the same day, the same time, why is the president of the United States choosing today to release the birth certificate?… There is no way this is being released today for no reason. There’s no way. They’ve had this for two years—three years this has been going on. This rumor was started by Hillary Clinton. This was a Clinton tactic.… So now they’ve had it since Clinton. They could have done this since Clinton. So why?” (Media Matters 4/27/2011; Media Matters 4/27/2011) Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) makes the same claim. In a post on her Twitter account, Palin writes: “Media, admit it. Trump forced the issue. Now, don’t let the WH distract you w/the birth crt from what Bernanke says today. Stay focused, eh?” (Media Matters 4/27/2011)
John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, writes a brief column for the conservative National Review that says President Obama released his “long form” birth certificate (see April 27, 2011) because he wants to “enhance” the popularity of billionaire television host and rumored 2012 presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump has, in recent weeks, revitalized the “birther” controversy (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 22, 2011, April 24-25, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). Pitney writes that the Obama administration apparently believes Trump would be an easy candidate to beat in the 2012 presidential campaign. Pitney references the 2008 attempt by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh to convince listeners to cross party lines and vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, in the belief that “a prolonged nomination battle would weaken the Democrats.” Pitney writes: “A Trump candidacy could have a similar effect [on Republicans]. He has little chance of winning the nomination, but if he put a lot of resources into his campaign, he could prevent anyone else from clinching the race until very late in the season. The eventual nominee would be bloodied and… broke.” (Pitney 4/27/2011) Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will note that for weeks, conservatives have demanded that Obama release the certificate (see March 23, 2011, March 24, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, April 5, 2011, and April 24-25, 2011). (Media Matters 4/28/2011)
US District Judge James Cacheris throws out one count of the indictment against two men accused of illegally reimbursing donors to Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton’s Senate and presidential campaigns. In the ruling, Cacheris holds that the campaign finance law banning corporations from making contributions to federal candidates is unconstitutional. Cacheris rules that under the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling (see January 21, 2010), corporations have the same right as people to contribute to campaigns. No one has attempted to extend the Citizens United ruling to apply directly to campaign contributions by corporations. Previously, the law has been interpreted to apply only to independent corporate expenditures. In his ruling, Cacheris notes that only one other court has addressed the issue, with a Minnesota federal judge ruling that a state ban on corporate contributions is legal. Cacheris writes: “[F]or better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech. Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions within [the law’s] limits, a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing.… That logic is inescapable here.” In court filings, prosecutors defending campaign finance law in the Virginia case said that overturning the ban on corporate contributions would ignore a century of legal precedent. Prosecutor Mark Lytle wrote: “Defendants would have the court throw out a century of jurisprudence upholding the ban on corporate political contributions, by equating expenditures—which the Court struck down in Citizens United—with contributions. This is, however, equating apples and oranges.” The case, United States v. Danielczyk, concerns accusations that William P. Danielczyk Jr. and Eugene R. Biagi helped funnel a corporate contribution to Clinton’s presidential campaign. The two men allegedly reimbursed $30,200 to eight contributors who gave to Clinton’s 2006 Senate campaign, and reimbursed $156,400 to 35 contributors to her 2008 presidential campaign. Clinton is not named as a defendant in the case. (Barakat 5/27/2011; Confessore 5/27/2011)
Strongly Mixed Reactions - Biaigi’s lawyer Todd Richman says after the ruling: “Corporate political speech can now be regulated, only to the same extent as the speech of individuals or other speakers. That is because Citizens United establishes that there can be no distinction between corporate and other speakers in the regulation of political speech.” Sean Parnell of the Center for Competitive Politics, a group opposing campaign-finance regulations, says, “This was definitely something that is almost incidental in terms of the case it was decided in.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a group supporting stricter campaign finance laws, says Cacheris went beyond his purview as a federal judge and ignored laws and Supreme Court rulings before the Citizens United decision that were not impacted (see February 7, 1972, April 26, 1978, and March 27, 2002). Had the Supreme Court wanted to overturn the ban on direct corporate campaign contributions, Wertheimer says, it could have done so in the Citizens United decision. Wertheimer says Cacheris’s ruling should be appealed and overturned. Law professor Daniel Ortiz says the ruling “pushes the outer limits of the Citizens United logic,” and will probably be overturned in a higher court. The Citizens United case differentiates between independent expenditures by corporations that are not coordinating with a candidate’s campaign, and direct campaign contributions. (Barakat 5/27/2011; Confessore 5/27/2011) Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes: “If today’s decision is upheld on appeal, it could be the end of any meaningful restrictions on campaign finance—including limits on the amount of money wealthy individuals and corporations can give to a candidate. In most states, all that is necessary to form a new corporation is to file the right paperwork in the appropriate government office. Moreover, nothing prevents one corporation from owning another corporation. Thus, under Cacheris’s decision, a cap on overall contributions becomes meaningless, because corporate donors can simply create a series of shell corporations for the purpose of evading such caps.” (Millhiser 5/27/2011) Conservative legal scholar Eugene Volokh writes on his blog that he believes the Cacheris decision is in error. He believes the ban on corporate contributions to be legal and appropriate, though unlike Millhiser, he also supports the Citizens United decision. He cites the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo decision (see January 30, 1976) as limiting the means by which corporations can donate to political campaigns. He echoes Millhiser’s concerns about “shell corporations,” writing: “[T]he problem with corporate contributions is that they provide an avenue for evading individual contribution limits; if I want to donate $25,000 to a candidate instead of the $2,500 limit, I could set up nine corporations, and then donate myself and also have those corporations make similar donations. Few people would do that, but some people who want to be big political players might. Nor can this easily be dismissed as a supposed ‘sham’ and be thus distinguished from ‘legitimate’ corporate contributions.” The ban on direct corporate contributions does not stop individuals from donating directly to campaigns, Volokh writes, and thusly does not encroach on freedom of speech. (Eugene Volokh 5/27/2011) Law professor Richard Hasen also believes the decision will be overturned or reconsidered, citing the Supreme Court’s ban on direct corporate spending in Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont (see June 16, 2003), a ruling that other courts have held was not overturned by the Citizens United decision. Neither the prosecution nor the defense referred to the Beaumont decision in their arguments. (Rick Hasen 5/31/2011) “If this case stood, it would mean the end of campaign contribution limits for everyone, because it would be so easy to get around the law through a straw or sham corporation,” Hasen says. (Confessore 5/27/2011)
Reconsideration - Four days later, Cacheris will ask for briefs from both sides in the case about the issues raised in his decision, indicating that he may well find that the Beaumont decision means that the ban on direct corporate contributions will remain in effect. (Rick Hasen 5/31/2011) Cacheris will not reconsider his decision. (Confessore 6/7/2011; Millhiser 6/8/2011)
Appeals Court Overturns Decision - A day after Cacheris refuses to reconsider his decision, an appeals court will overrule his decision. (Millhiser 6/9/2011; United States Court Of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit 6/9/2011 ) In June 2012, a federal appeals court will find that the Citizens United ban does not apply to direct corporate contributions. Appellate Judge Royce Gregory will write, “Leaping to this conclusion ignores the well-established principle that independent expenditures and direct contributions are subject to different government interests.” (Thomson Reuters 6/28/2012)
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), al-Qaeda’s alleged top leader in Eastern Africa, is killed in a shootout at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Fazul's Luck Runs Out - Fazul and another militant are driving in of militant-controlled parts Mogadishu at night, and they mistakenly drive up to a checkpoint run by opposing Somali government soldiers. They attempt to drive through the checkpoint, but they are shot and killed by the soldiers before they can escape. The soldiers initially have no idea who he is. But after they search the car and discover $40,000 in cash, several laptop computers, cell phones, and other equipment, they realize he must be an important foreigner. US officials then confirm his identity with a DNA test. A Somali security official says: “This was lucky. It wasn’t like Fazul was killed during an operation to get him. He was essentially driving around Mogadishu and got lost.”
Fazul's importance in East Africa - The US had put a $5 million bounty on Fazul, primarily because he was considered one of the masterminds of the 1998 US embassy bombings. He was also said to have played a key role in a 2002 Kenya bombing that killed fifteen. In addition to his role as long-time regional leader for al-Qaeda, it is said he also was a top field commander for the Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group in control of large parts of Somalia. He was involved in bomb attacks, helped raise money in the Arab world for Somali militants, and helped bring many militants from other countries to Somalia. He was from the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says, “Fazul’s death is a significant blow to al-Qaeda, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa.” (Gettleman 6/11/2011)
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). (Toobin 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.” (Toobin 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).
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.” (Feingold 6/14/2012)
The New American, the official publication of the right-wing John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961, November 1963, April 13, 2009, December 11, 2009, April 26, 2010, and December 2011), promotes a theory from an Internet publication that the recent massacre by a lone gunman in a Colorado movie theater was orchestrated by the Obama administration or its surrogates as a way to impose gun control laws. Writer Bob Adelmann admits the conspiracy theory is merely “conjecture.” The theory comes from the Natural News Network (NNN), which describes itself as a “non-profit collection of public education Web sites.” NNN is incorporated by Truth Publishing International, a Taiwan corporation. The article is titled “Colorado Batman shooting shows obvious signs of being staged,” referencing the film being shown in the theater, The Dark Knight Rises, the third in the “Batman trilogy” by Christopher Nolan. Adelmann introduces the NNN conspiracy theory by reporting that a Forbes magazine article says the US may ratify a United Nations arms treaty that would regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. Adelmann says the UN treaty poses “a formidable threat” to gun ownership in the US. He then introduces the NNN theory as posited by NNN writer Mike Adams. (Bell 6/7/2011; Adelmann 7/23/2012; Samuel Warde 7/30/2012)
Brainwashed Obama Operative? - The shooter, James Eagan Holmes, fired multiple bursts of gunfire in the Aurora, Colorado, theater, but then surrendered to the police without offering any resistance. Adams says his peaceful surrender was inconsistent with Holmes’s apparent desire to “kill everyone.” Adams also finds it curious that Holmes told police his apartment was booby-trapped with explosives. Someone truly wishing to kill many people would not have told police about the bombs. “It doesn’t add up,” Adams says. Holmes’s character as reported by neighbors and friends—quiet, shy, obsessed with video games—does not correlate with the picture of a maddened gunman, he continues. Moreover, Holmes must have had help from somewhere—he was living on unemployment insurance, Adams contends, yet owned thousands of dollars’ worth of weaponry, ammunition, explosives, and SWAT gear. “Where did that come from?” Adams’s answer: Obama administration operatives or someone else doing the administration’s bidding by launching a “false flag” attack. In fact, Adams writes: “There is already conjecture that James Holmes may have been involved in mind-altering neuroscience research and ended up becoming involved at a depth he never anticipated. His actions clearly show a strange detachment from reality, indicating he was not in his right mind. That can only typically be accomplished through drugs, hypnosis, or trauma (and sometimes all three).” Adams continues: “Someone else taught this guy these skills and funded the acquisition of the equipment.… This is somebody who was selected for a mission, given equipment to carry it out, then somehow brainwashed into getting it done. This is not your run-of-the-mill crime of passion. It was a carefully planned, heavily funded, and technically advanced attack.” Adams concludes that Holmes completed his “mission” and then surrendered, “admitting everything” to police. “The mission, as we are now learning, was to cause as much terror and mayhem as possible, then to have that multiplied by the national media at exactly the right time leading up the UN vote next week on a global small arms treaty that could result in gun confiscation across America.” The FBI has carried out “numerous” missions such as this one, Adams contends, though its history until now is to stop the attacks before they reach the point of violence. Adams also compares the Holmes massacre to the “Fast and Furious” operation conducted by Arizona police officers and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF), which has become a popular topic of discussion on the right as another Obama conspiracy theory. Adams concludes: “In other words, this has all the signs of Fast & Furious, Episode II. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover someone in Washington was behind it all. After all, there’s no quicker way to disarm a nation and take total control over the population than to stage violence, blame it on firearms, then call for leaders to ‘do something!’ Such calls inevitably end up resulting in gun confiscation, and it’s never too long after that before government genocide really kicks in like we saw with Hitler (see March 13, 2008 and November 11, 2008), Stalin (see October 13, 2009), Pol Pot (see December 17, 2009 and April 27, 2011), Mao (see January 2009), and other tyrants.” (Adams 7/20/2012)
JBS: Attack's Timing with UN Treaty Signing More than Coincidental - Adelmann admits the theory is “strictly conjectural at this point,” but observes that “the timing of the shootings coinciding with the final details of the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) being polished up in New York by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” The timing must be more than coincidental, Adelmann writes. According to Adelmann, if the US signs the arms treaty, it would have to abide by strict licensing requirements; confiscate untold numbers of citizen-owned weaponry; ban the trade, sale, and private ownership of all weapons; create an international gun registry (which would, Adelmann warns, open the door “for full-scale gun confiscation”); and finally, “[o]verride our national sovereignty, and in the process, provide license for the federal government to assert preemptive powers over state regulatory powers guaranteed by the Ten Amendments in addition to our Second Amendment rights.” The UN treaty would not apply to US citizens, experts note, but Adelmann and others do not believe that assertion. John Bolton, the former UN ambassador and chief political advisor to the Romney presidential campaign, is one of those: he says that while the UN “is trying to act as though this is just a treaty about international arms trade among nation states, but there is no doubt that the real agenda here is domestic firearms control.” Adelmann says the UN treaty is the next step in the Obama administration’s creation of an “authoritarian dictatorship” and ultimate plans for domestic genocide, or what he calls “democide.” He concludes: “That is the nightmare that faces American citizens if in their haste to rid the world of shooters such as Holmes they allow the United Nations to do the job for them. The end result will be immeasurably, horrifyingly, worse.” (Bell 6/7/2011; Adelmann 7/23/2012)
More Coverage - Other right-wing outlets also pick up Adams’s conspiracy theory, including Gun Owners of America (GOA), whose president Larry Pratt issues a press release promoting the theory and offering himself for interviews about the theory and about the Obama administration’s purported intent to ban gun ownership in America. (Special Guests 7/2012; Samuel Warde 7/30/2012)
Treaty Not Passed - The media later reports that the US is refusing to go along with the treaty as it is currently written. (CBS News 7/30/2012)
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