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Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) is recorded telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene with the Justice Department to try to get charges against two Israeli lobbyists reduced. In return, the Israeli agent promises to help Harman secure the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The Israeli agent will remain unidentified; the two lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, are charged with espionage after they allegedly passed along classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see April 13, 1999-2004). The conversation between Harman and the Israeli agent is recorded on an wiretap, reportedly by the NSA, mounted as part of a federal investigation into AIPAC’s potential espionage operations against the US (see October 5, 2005). According to transcripts of the wiretapped conversation, Harman agrees to “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” The Israeli agent asks Harman if she could speak with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Rosen’s and Weissman’s behalf. Harman replies that Gonzales might not cooperate, because he “just follows White House orders,” but other officials might be more pliable. In return, the Israeli agent promises to contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and attempt to persuade her to name Harman as chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee if the Democrats win control of the House in the November 2006 elections. Harman tells the agent, “This conversation doesn’t exist,” and hangs up. The contents of the conversation will later be confirmed by three separate sources, including two former senior national security officials. (Stein 4/19/2009) Reporter Marc Ambinder will later write that Harman’s conversation may have been recorded by the FBI, and not the NSA, as part of the its investigation into Rosen and Weissman. (Ambinder 4/20/2009)
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)
Columnist Marc Ambinder joins in the wave of conservative criticism against prospective Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 4, 2009) triggered by an analysis in the New Republic (see May 4, 2009). Ambinder warns the Obama administration not to choose Sotomayor simply because some liberals and Hispanics want her on the bench, calls her “solid if unspectacular,” and writes, “And the respectable intellectual center… is beginning to have doubts.” Ambinder does not note who, exactly, makes up the “intellectual center” he cites. (Ambinder 5/5/2009) Nation columnist Chris Hayes retorts: “One gossipy article from Jeff Rosen means ‘the respectable intellectual center… is beginning to have doubts.’ Really?” (Greenwald 5/5/2009) Less than a month later, Sotomayor will be nominated to the Court (see May 26, 2009).
Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates lambasts law professor Jeffrey Rosen for his recent analysis of prospective Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 4, 2009). Citing Rosen’s line, “I haven’t read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths,” Coates responds: “Rosen is attacking Sotomayor’s ability to do the necessary intellectual heavy-lifting, while explicitly neglecting to do any of his own. In this instance, his piece reads like a burglar’s brief against rampant criminality. Authored mid-robbery, no less.” She also slams her Atlantic colleague Marc Ambinder’s criticisms of Sotomayor (see May 5, 2009), noting, “You don’t get to be the ‘respectable intellectual center’ and then practice your craft in the gossip-laden, ignorant muck.” (Coates 5/5/2009) Former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald joins Coates in criticizing the early attacks on Sotomayor. Greenwald calls Rosen’s reliance on anonymous sources to attack Sotomayor’s character and professional conduct “shoddy, irresponsible, and… intellectually irresponsible,” and cites several instances where Rosen’s reporting has been countered by sources willing to go on the record. Greenwald writes of his amazement at how quickly Sotomayor has been “transformed in conventional wisdom, largely as a result of Rosen’s piece, into a stupid, shrill, out-of-her-depth Puerto Rican woman who is being considered for the Supreme Court solely due to anti-merit, affirmative action reasons.” Greenwald writes that he twice faced Sotomayor in court, and found her “extremely perceptive, smart, shrewd, and intellectually insightful.” She could be forceful, “at times unpleasantly so,” he recalls, and remembers being dressed down by her for a “substantial procedural mistake” he committed, but notes that such behavior by judges “is the opposite of uncommon.” Greenwald writes that behavior usually characterized as “tough,” “forceful,” and “authoritative” by white males is often reworked into characterizations of “domineering” and “egotistical” when the same behaviors are exhibited by women. Greenwald also notes that Rosen was one of the strongest media voices in favor of the nomination of conservative jurist John Roberts (see September 29, 2005) to the Court. (Greenwald 5/5/2009) Less than a month later, Sotomayor will be nominated to the Court (see May 26, 2009).
The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder says that the Democrats are, in part, being beaten in the public perception battle over health care reform because they were caught flat-footed by the wave of angry, if orchestrated, conservative opposition manifesting itself at town hall meetings across America (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009). Ambinder writes: “Democrats know the rulebook. The tactics being used against them by Republican and conservative groups were perfected by the party when it set out to defeat President Bush’s Social Security privatization proposals. They also know that it’s easier to gin up noise against a major legislative initiative than it is to sell an initiative that isn’t fully formed yet.… As a Democratic strategist said to me: ‘I think as Dems we learned a lot of lessons from beating Bush on privatization—we know and perfected all the tricks and tactics so we know what to expect from the tea baggers, the insurance companies, and other opponents.’” But because the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats have not yet created a cohesive, easily explained health care reform package, conservatives are finding it easy to attack the various proposals while Democrats flounder in attempting to explain that not-yet-perfected package. It is also easy for conservatives to allege horrific elements of that package which do not exist, but succeed in inflaming public opinion and raising the “fear level” among ordinary citizens. Ambinder concludes: “The press will be complicit in telling the story, as the louder voices at town hall meetings will ultimately get more coverage. As the Democratic National Committee has learned, it’s not easy to engineer a massive national congressional switchboard campaign unless there is a defined target.… The goal of the opposition—of FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity (see April 15, 2009)—isn’t to change minds; their activists know what they believe already: it’s to make noise. Making noise scares members of Congress. And Democrats are vulnerable to panics.” (Ambinder 8/3/2009)
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