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“Perhaps nowhere has the inheritance of Republican governance been squandered so fatefully as with respect to Iraq. The anti-Iraq coalition assembled to oppose Saddam Hussein has disintegrated. The administration has pretended to support the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, but did nothing when Saddam Hussein’s army smashed the democratic opposition in northern Iraq in August 1996. The administration also surrendered the diplomatic initiative to Iraq and Iraq’s friends, and failed to champion the international inspectors charged with erasing Iraq’s nuclear, biological, chemical, and ballistic missile programs. When, in late 1998, the administration decided to take military action, it did too little, too late. Because of the administration’s failures there is no coalition, no peace, and no effective inspection regime to prevent Saddam’s development of weapons of mass destruction. A new Republican administration will patiently rebuild an international coalition opposed to Saddam Hussein and committed to joint action. We will insist that Iraq comply fully with its disarmament commitments. We will maintain the sanctions on the Iraqi regime while seeking to alleviate the suffering of innocent Iraqi people. We will react forcefully and unequivocally to any evidence of reconstituted Iraqi capabilities for producing weapons of mass destruction. In 1998, Congress passed and the president signed the Iraq Liberation Act, the clear purpose of which is to assist the opposition to Saddam Hussein. The administration has used an arsenal of dilatory tactics to block any serious support to the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella organization reflecting a broad and representative group of Iraqis who wish to free their country from the scourge of Saddam Hussein’s regime. We support the full implementation of the Iraq Liberation Act, which should be regarded as a starting point in a comprehensive plan for the removal of Saddam Hussein and the restoration of international inspections in collaboration with his successor. Republicans recognize that peace and stability in the Persian Gulf is impossible as long as Saddam Hussein rules Iraq.” [Project for the New American Century, 7/6/2000; Strategic Affairs, 11/1/2000; NewsMax, 2/3/2001; Republican National Committee, 2000]
The presidential election is plagued with scandal and large monetary expenditures. William McKinley (R-OH) is the recipient of some $16 million in spending, a lavish amount for the time. The campaigns of both McKinley and his opponent, William Jennings Bryan (D-NE), are accused of bribery and poor ethical conduct. Mark Hanna, McKinley’s chief fundraiser and the chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), devises a system of quotas for large corporations. Hanna raises between $6-7 million in donations from corporations through this quota system, in return for strong support of a big-business agenda. McKinley promises to oppose the establishment of silver coinage, supports protective tariffs, and other pro-corporate positions. The campaign is so fraught with controversy that the public begins demanding regulation and oversight of campaign funding practices. (Campaign Finance Timeline 1999)
White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman begins setting up a secret campaign fund for the 1970 and 1972 elections. The source of the funding is to be, in its initial phases, money from billionaire oilman J. Paul Getty. Haldeman writes to fellow Nixon aide John Ehrlichman: “Bebe Rebozo [Nixon’s close friend] has been asked by the president to contact J. Paul Getty in London regarding major contributions.… The funds should go to some entity other than the [Republican] National Committee so that we retain full control of their use.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 40)
The New York Times reveals the secret bombings of Cambodia, dubbed “Operation Menu” (see February 23-24, 1969 and March 15-17, 1969). National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger is apoplectic in his anger: shouting to President Nixon, “We must do something! We must crush those people! We must destroy them!” Kissinger is not only referring to the Times, but Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Secretary of State William Rogers, whom he believes leaked the information to the Times in order to discredit him. (Nixon has an unproductive phone conversation with Laird before his meeting with Kissinger; Nixon opened the phone call by calling Laird a “son of a b_tch,” and Laird hung up on the president.) Nixon suggests Kissinger’s own staff may be the source of the leaks. He is most suspicious of Kissinger’s aide Morton Halperin. By lunch, Kissinger has talked to the FBI about wiretapping suspected leakers. By dinner, Halperin’s phone is tapped. The next day, Kissinger’s military aide Alexander Haig has the FBI tap three more men “just for a few days,” warning the FBI not to keep any records of the wiretaps. The three targets are Kissinger’s aides Helmut Sonnenfeldt and Daniel Davidson, and Laird’s military assistant, Robert Pursley (who will again be wiretapped several months later—see May 2, 1970). At the same time, White House aide Jack Caulfield (see April 2, 1969) arranges for a wiretap on a private citizen, syndicated columnist Joseph Kraft. While the FBI wiretaps are legally questionable, Caulfield’s tap is unquestionably illegal. Caulfield has the director of security for the Republican National Committee, former FBI agent John Ragan, personally install the wiretap in Kraft’s home. The tap on Kraft produces nothing except the conversations of housekeepers, as Kraft and his wife are in Paris. Nixon has the French authorities wiretap Kraft’s Paris hotel room. (Reeves 2001, pp. 75-76)
President Richard Nixon writes an action memo to senior aide H. R. Haldeman saying, “One of our most important projects for 1970 is to see that our major contributors funnel all their funds through us.” Haldeman and Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans set up a secret fund-raising enterprise, the “Townhouse Operation,” designed to bypass the Republican National Committee. By doing so, Nixon intends to ensure the GOP will field candidates suitably loyal to him, and reliably opposed to the GOP’s traditional Eastern Establishment base that Nixon so resents. Although George H. W. Bush is a charter member of that Eastern Establishment, Nixon likes and trusts him. Bush is “a total Nixon man,” Nixon once says. “He’ll do anything for the cause.” Bush is the main beneficiary of the slush fund, which is made up of about $106,000 in contributions from Texas GOP sources, but up to 18 other Republican Senate candidates also receive money from the fund. The Wall Street Journal will later lambast Townhouse, calling it a “dress rehearsal for the campaign finance abuses of Watergate, as well as for today’s loophole-ridden system.” (Werth 2006, pp. 115-116)
President Richard Nixon names George H. W. Bush, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, to be the US envoy to the United Nations. Nixon has offered Bush a staff appointment in the White House, but Bush is eager for higher office. He convinces Nixon to give him the UN appointment by telling Nixon that he can be a “strong advocate” for Nixon. Author Barry Werth recounts Bush’s argument, “[T]here was a dearth of Nixon advocacy in New York City… he could fill that need in the New York social circles.” Nixon, impressed with Bush’s argument, agrees. (Werth 2006, pp. 165; US Department of State 2007)
International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) offers the Nixon administration $400,000 to finance the GOP’s 1972 national convention in San Diego. (Wallechinsky and Wallace 1981) President Nixon wanted San Diego as the site of the convention, but the San Diego city government has no intention of spending lavish amounts of money subsidizing a convention it does not need. The ITT contribution, privately arranged by White House and GOP officials, is key to having San Diego as the site of the convention. In early July, the Republican National Committee announces San Diego as the convention site; eight days later, the Justice Department announces that it is dropping its antitrust suit against ITT (see July 31, 1971). Shortly thereafter, Richard McLaren, the head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and an enthusiastic trustbuster whose atypical decision to let ITT off the hook confuses many observers, abruptly quits the department; within days, McLaren lands a federal judgeship without benefit of Senate hearings. Syndicated columnist Jack Anderson believes the whole deal is fishy, and will write a December 9, 1971 column to that effect, but he will not learn the entire truth behind the GOP-ITT deal until months later (see February 22, 1972). (Anderson 1999, pp. 194-200)
Former FBI and CIA agent James W. McCord joins the staff of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) as a part-time security consultant. He will become the committee’s full-time security coordinator for CREEP in January 1972, and will perform similar duties for the Republican National Committee. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
Shortly after syndicated columnist Jack Anderson reveals the existence of a memo that shows criminal collusion between the Republican Party, ITT, and the Justice Department (see February 22, 1972), CIA and White House agent E. Howard Hunt visits the author of the memo, ITT lobbyist Dita Beard, to persuade her to say publicly that the memo is a forgery, or to disavow it. Beard is currently in hospital, perhaps to treat mental and physical exhaustion and perhaps to keep her away from the press. To conceal his identity during the visit, Hunt wears an ill-fitting red wig similar to one he will have in his possession during the planning for the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). (Wallechinsky and Wallace 1981; Woodward 2005, pp. 8-39) A Justice Department official will discuss Hunt’s visit to Beard with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in February 1973, and tell Woodward that White House aide Charles Colson sent Hunt on the mission to convince Beard to disavow the memo. The official, reading from FBI files, will tell Woodward that Colson’s testimony to the FBI was done in his office to spare him the embarrassment of having to testify before the grand jury. The FBI did not ask Colson why he sent Hunt to pressure Beard. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 255) On March 21, Beard will deny ever writing the memo, saying, “I did not prepare it and could not have.” Beard’s belated denial, and ITT’s quick shredding of incriminating documents referencing the connections between the antitrust deal and the convention, will partially defuse the potential scandal. The FBI will publicly claim that the memo is most likely authentic despite pressure from the Nixon White House (see March 10-23, 1972). (Wallechinsky and Wallace 1981; Woodward 2005, pp. 8-39)
James McCord, one of the five Watergate burglars (see June 17, 1972), is identified as the security director for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). McCord is also identified as a security consultant for the Republican National Committee (RNC), where he has maintained an office since January 1. After his arrest, McCord used a phony name to the police and the court, which kept his identity unclear for two days. The director of CREEP, former attorney general John Mitchell, originally denies that McCord is a member of the campaign, and merely identifies him as a Republican security aide who helped CREEP install a security system. (McCord has his own security business in Maryland, McCord Associates (see June 18, 1972).) (Woodward and Bernstein 6/19/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that McCord is a member of a small Air Force Reserve unit in Washington attached to the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP); the OEP, says a fellow reservist, is tasked with compiling lists of “radicals” and developing contingency plans for censorship of the news media and the US mail in time of war. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 23) RNC chairman Bob Dole says that McCord provided similar services for that organization, and says of the burglary, “we deplore action of this kind in or out of politics.” Democratic Party chairman Lawrence O’Brien, whose offices were burgled and subject to electronic surveillance, says the “bugging incident… raised the ugliest questions about the integrity of the political process that I have encountered in a quarter century,” and adds, “No mere statement of innocence by Mr. Nixon’s campaign manager will dispel these questions.” (O’Brien has inside knowledge of the White House connections (see June 17, 1972).) O’Brien calls on Mitchell’s successor, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, to order an immediate, “searching professional investigation” of the entire matter by the FBI. The FBI is already mounting an investigation. (Woodward and Bernstein 6/19/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)
Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein asks a former Nixon administration official about some of the White House officials who may have connections to the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Bernstein notes that the Nixon presidential campaign committee (CREEP) has identified its personnel director, Robert Odle, as the man who hired Watergate burglar and CREEP security director James McCord (see June 19, 1972). “That’s bullsh_t,” the official retorts. “[Committee director John] Mitchell wouldn’t let go of a thing like that. Mitchell would decide, with advice from somebody who knew something about security.” Mitchell would almost certainly have brought in at least one more aide, Frederick LaRue (see March 20, 1971), Mitchell’s right-hand man. “I would expect that if any wiretaps were active up to the time of the break-in, LaRue would have known about them,” the former official tells Bernstein. A Republican National Committee member tells Bernstein that McCord has, contrary to a statement by RNC chairman Bob Dole, never done any security work for the RNC. “All they care about at CREEP is Richard M. Nixon,” the RNC official says with some bitterness. “They couldn’t care less about the Republican Party. Given the chance, they would wreck it.” The RNC official says he and Dole had discussed the likelihood of White House involvement in the Watergate burglary, and they both believed that it was likely managed by “one of those twenty-five cent generals hanging around the committee or the White House who was responsible. [Murray] Chotiner or [Charles] Colson. Those were the names thrown out.” (Chotiner, well-known for his low-road brand of politics—see 1950—will never be proven to have had any involvement in the Watergate conspiracy.) (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 28-29)
Clark MacGregor, the new head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), meets with a select group of White House reporters. In the press conference, MacGregor tries to pin the entire blame for the Watergate conspiracy—burglary and financial shenanigans alike—on burglar and CREEP lawyer G. Gordon Liddy. (Inside sources had predicted MacGregor would do just that (see August 1-2, 1972).) Liddy, MacGregor says, had spent campaign money on his own initiative “for the purpose of determining what to do if the crazies made an attack on the president” at the upcoming Republican National Convention. After the conference, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward tries to elicit more information from an obviously exasperated MacGregor. MacGregor shouts: “I have no idea why the departed Gordon Liddy wanted cash.… It’s impossible for me to tell. I never met Liddy. I don’t know what’s going on.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 47)
The White House, the Nixon re-election campaign, and Republican supporters begin publicly attacking the Washington Post over its Watergate coverage.
'Character Assassination' - White House press secretary Ron Ziegler says, when asked about the Watergate conspiracy: “I will not dignify with comment stories based on hearsay, character assassination, innuendo or guilt by association.… The president is concerned about the technique being applied by the opposition in the stories themselves.… The opposition has been making charges which have not been substantiated.” Ziegler later calls the Post reports “a blatant effort at character assassination that I do not think has been witnessed in the political process in some time.”
'Political Garbage' - The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) attacks what he calls “political garbage” printed about Watergate: “The Washington Post is conducting itself by journalistic standards that would cause mass resignations on principle from the Quicksilver Times, a local underground newspaper,” and accuses the Post of essentially working for the Democrats. (Six months after his attacks, Dole will say that the credibility of the Nixon administration is “zilch, zero.” Years later, Dole will apologize to Post reporter Bob Woodward for his comments.)
CREEP Accusations - Clark MacGregor, the chairman of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), holds a press conference to say, “The Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection between the White House and the Watergate—a charge the Post knows—and a half dozen investigations have found—to be false.” (MacGregor fields angry questions from the gathered reporters, some of whom bluntly challenge his credibility and his truthfulness, with stoicism, refusing to answer any of them, and instead sticking with his prepared statement.) MacGregor demands to know why the Post hasn’t investigated apparent campaign “dirty tricks” carried out against the Nixon campaign. Like Dole, MacGregor accuses the Post of collaborating with the Democrats, and even charges that Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern encouraged former defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg to leak the “Pentagon Papers” to the press (see March 1971).
Post Thinks Campaign Orchestrated by White House - Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, examining the statements by Ziegler, Dole, and MacGregor, is certain that the entire attack was orchestrated by the White House and perhaps by President Nixon himself. Bradlee issues a statement saying that everything the Post has reported on Watergate is factual and “unchallenged by contrary evidence.” He tells reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that “this is the hardest hardball that has ever been played in this town,” and warns them to keep out of any compromising situations that could be used by the White House to challenge their credibility. After Nixon’s landslide presidential victory (see November 7, 1972), the attacks continue. Senior White House aide Charles Colson says, “The charge of subverting the whole political process, that is a fantasy, a work of fiction rivaling only Gone With the Wind in circulation and Portnoy’s Complaint for indecency.” (Stern and Johnson 5/1/1973; Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 161-166; Woodward 2005, pp. 83-84)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is steered to a George Washington University student named Craig Hillegass. The student tells Woodward that his fraternity brother, Theodore Brill, was paid $150 a week by the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) to infiltrate the group of Quakers who maintain a 24-hour a day “peace vigil” in front of the White House. Brill reported information on the protesters’ demonstration plans and personal lives, and then helped plan and execute raids for drug possession. The Washington police eventually did raid the vigil, but found nothing. Brill, the chairman of GWU’s Young Republicans chapter, was terminated by CREEP two days after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “The idea,” Hillegass tells Woodward, “was to create an embarrassment to the Democrats, because any embarrassment to radical groups would be considered an embarrassment to liberal politics and Senator [George] McGovern,” the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 (see November 7, 1972). Hillegass recalls that the method of paying Brill was almost cartoonish in its covert nature: “Ted said he once was told to meet a woman in a red dress with a white carnation, carrying a newspaper. He exchanged his written report for an envelope containing his pay.” Woodward is most interested in Hillegass’s recollection that Brill’s campaign “dirty tricks” were connected to higher-level officials in CREEP—and the number of other “agents provacateurs” being employed by the campaign. Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) was only one of 50 or so provacateurs employed by the campaign, and the Post has always wanted to know who the other 49 were. Brill was definitely small fry, but, Woodward believes, part of a larger pattern. When Woodward speaks with Brill himself, the student confirms his former job with CREEP, and says that he was hired by George Gorton, CREEP’s national youth director. He was paid five times—four times in cash and once with Gorton’s personal check, never in a way that could be traced back to the campaign. Brill says he was supposed to go to Miami and join other campaign operatives in similar operations to the Quaker infiltration, but the Watergate burglary brought that to an abrupt close. Gorton confirms that Brill worked for him in the campaign, but denies he or Brill ever did anything illegal. Interestingly, Gorton initially boasts that he had people gathering information on “radicals” in 38 states, then backs off and says Brill was his only operative. Gorton says he reported to Kenneth Rietz, the director of CREEP’s Youth Vote Division. Rietz had been recommended by H. R. Haldeman to take over as the head of the Republican National Committee. The Posts prints a story based on Woodward’s information, and notes that Brill’s salary was not reported in CREEP’s financial disclosures. The General Accounting Office (GAO) will audit CREEP’s finances and discover that the campaign had maintained a clandestine “Kiddie Corps” of young spies working around the country. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 262-265)
According to a later account by Robert Sensi, a young CIA agent with excellent contacts among prominent Arabs, the Republican National Committee opens what Sensi calls “a secret channel to Iran.” Sensi is not only alluding to the secret plans for the US to sells arms to Iran, which is just developing (see Early 1980), but to the “October Surprise” of the November 1980 US presidential elections (see October 1980). Sensi will bring the matter up to author and fellow CIA agent Larry Kolb in a Washington, DC, hotel bar in 1986, but will not go into detail. Sensi will note that CIA Director William Casey has been involved in the US’s secret dealings with Iran since the outset, as has Robert Carter, the deputy director of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. Sensi will say that Casey, Carter, and the other participants are using the overseas political organization Republicans Abroad as cover for more covert activities. The organization is “a great drawing card,” according to Sensi, who is a member. “It gives us access to embassies and a lot of people we would have had a hard time getting to without the cachet of representing the ruling party in the United States.” Writing in 2007, Kolb will reflect on the Republican Party’s “own in-house team of covert operatives, as capable of conducting espionage and sabotage for the Republican Party as for the CIA. It seemed the Republicans were still doing what they had been caught doing during Watergate. Spying on and sabotaging the Democrats. Ratf_cking, as the Republican operatives called it (see October 7, 1972). Coming just a few years after the Watergate national Passion Play and all it had put our country through, this seemed flagrant and foul, like sleaze squared. And like politics-as-usual.” (Kolb 2007, pp. 28-29)
During the Republican National Convention, Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Rich Bond, in speaking about Democrats, says that “we are America, they are not America.” (Hunt 9/1/2009, pp. 21)
During the 2000 presidential campaign, the Republican Party calls for “a comprehensive plan for the removal of Saddam Hussein.” Similarly, the Democratic Party’s platform supports using “America’s military might against Iraq when and where it is necessary.” (Republican National Committee 2000; Democratic National Committee 2000, pp. 46)
Historian and presidential biographer Richard Reeves fundamentally misrepresents history in a New York Times editorial asking Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) to end the Florida election standoff by conceding to George W. Bush (R-TX). Reeves notes correctly that the 1960 presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy was extraordinarily close. Reeves asserts that Nixon and Kennedy discussed the situation after the votes were initially tallied and Nixon decided not to challenge the results. “If Nixon had decided to pursue a challenge, he might have had a good case,” Reeves writes. “Republicans were producing claims of fraud, waving sworn depositions from election officials in Illinois and Texas. It was great stuff: there were 6,138 votes cast by the 4,895 voters registered in Fannin County, Texas; in the 38th precinct of Chicago’s sixth ward, 43 voters seemed to have cast 121 votes in the hour after the polls opened. But whatever else he was, Nixon was a patriot. He understood what recounts and lawsuits and depositions carried out over months—even years—would do to the nation. He was also a realist, and he knew that investigations might well turn up examples of his own party’s tradition of recording votes for folks dead or alive in southern Illinois and a few other venues.” Reeves goes on to note that Kennedy’s slight popular vote lead translated into a strong Electoral College lead, and that Nixon’s patron, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “was angry about the alleged fraud but finally told Nixon that he could not back him in a challenge to the results.” As Nixon reportedly explained to a reporter afterwards, “The country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis, and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.” Reeves uses the example of Nixon’s patriotism and restraint in arguing that Gore should emulate Nixon and gracefully concede the election. (Reeves 11/10/2000) However, Reeves fundamentally misrepresents Nixon’s actions and historical events. Nixon was, as Reeves writes, convinced that Kennedy fraudulently won the election. And rumors of election fraud had circulated even before Election Day, such as in Chicago, where Democratic majorities were considered suspect. When the votes were tallied and Kennedy declared the winner, angry Republicans demanded an investigation. Nixon later said in both interviews and his own memoirs that he refused to dispute the election. Publicly, Nixon conceded the election to Kennedy, but privately, he encouraged his aides and fellow Republicans to overturn the results. In the weeks after the election, many newspapers pursued the story, fueled by Republicans who made a bevy of allegations and charges of election fraud and rampant cheating. Slate’s David Greenberg later writes: “[T]he Republican Party made a veritable crusade of undoing the results. Even if they ultimately failed, party leaders figured, they could taint Kennedy’s victory, claim he had no mandate for his agenda, galvanize the rank and file, and have a winning issue for upcoming elections.” Three days after the election, Senator Thruston Morton (R-KY), the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), launched bids for recounts and investigations in 11 states, including Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey. Days later, close Nixon aides sent agents to conduct what they called “field checks” in eight of those states. Another aide tried to create a “Nixon Recount Committee” in Chicago. Recounts were indeed obtained. Grand juries were empaneled and a special prosecutor was appointed. The FBI launched investigations into voter fraud and election theft. The recounts and investigations proved nothing of significance, and one by one, they lapsed. The last recount, in Illinois, lasted for over a month after the election; on December 9, 1960, when recount tallies gave Nixon a mere 943 extra votes, Republicans filed a lawsuit in federal court to summarily grant Illinois’s 27 electoral votes to Nixon, which was dismissed. Republicans then took their case to the Illinois Board of Elections, which, even though it had a majority of Republicans comprising it, rejected the petition. Even after December 19, when the Electoral College formally certified Kennedy as the winner, recounts and legal challenges were still in the works. (Greenberg 10/16/2000; Posner 11/10/2000) Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan, considered a liberal like Reeves, echoes Reeves’s portrayal of Nixon in a column that is published the same day as Reeves’s. Nyhan calls Nixon’s supposed concession that president’s “most magnaminous act” and recommends that Gore step aside. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
The Navy and the National Transportation Safety Board open investigations of the February 9 collision between the USS Greeneville, a fast-attack submarine, and a Japanese fishing vessel, the Ehime Maru, in which nine Japanese crew members were killed. Three days later, the Navy reveals that two civilians were at the steering controls of the submarine when it surfaced and struck the vessel (see February 9, 2001). (Burns 2/14/2001) The Navy continues to refuse to release the names of the civilians on board, saying that all 16 wished to remain anonymous to protect their privacy. A spokesman for the Pacific Fleet says that the civilians were “corporate leaders—business leaders invited aboard to observe some of the training going on, see the hard-charging men in the sub force working as a team, defending their country and making sacrifices.” Later, press sources reveal that the two civilians at the controls were each at the helm and at the ballast controls, the two positions directly involved in the submarine’s sudden ascent. The Navy says it cannot confirm that the two civilians may or may not have caused the submarine to strike the fishing vessel or interfered with the submarine’s normal ascent, but claim that the civilians were under “close supervision.” (Waite and Gordon 2/14/2001; Hiller and Gordon 2/14/2005) Investigators are puzzled when the Navy tells them that no sonar or video recordings of the incident exist. (Burns 2/14/2001) A spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Ministry informs the US Pacific Fleet that “[i]f this was true, then the Japanese government will have to take this very seriously.” A former nuclear sub commander says that the civilians could not have affected the submarine’s course: “They’re not really doing anything,” he says of civilians aboard the submarine. “It’s like sitting him on a desk with a cup of coffee. It’s like he’s a passenger on a Greyhound bus watching the scenery fly by.” The first mate of the Ehime Maru crew disagrees: “A civilian wouldn’t know what to do” at the controls, he says. “I don’t know if the emergency surfacing was a drill or what, but it’s absolutely unforgivable if a civilian was operating it.” (Apgar 2/14/2001) Five days after the accident, it will be revealed that the 16 civilians aboard were there at the invitation of retired Admiral Richard Macke, a former commander of US forces in the Western Hemisphere who was forced to retire in 1998 for making inappropriate comments about the rape of a young Okinawan girl. (Waite and Gordon 2/14/2001) As the days go by, the identities of the civilians on board begin to be known. Several are involved with the USS Missouri restoration fund, to which Macke is connected. Houston oil executives John Hall and Todd Thoman were also on board; Hall identifies himself as one of the two civilians at the controls. (Apgar 2/14/2001) “I was to the left in the control room, and I was asked by the captain if I would like the opportunity to pull the levers that start the procedure that’s called the blowdown,” Hall will tell the press. “I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to do that.’” He says that a crew member was “right next to me, elbow to elbow. I mean, what’s important to know here is you don’t do anything on this vessel without someone either showing you how to do it, telling you how to do it, or escorting you around.” Thoman tells reporters that the crew executed two complete periscope sweeps of the ocean surface before surfacing. As the submarine surged upward, Hall remembers, “there was a very loud noise and the entire submarine shuddered.” The same day that Hall and Thoman speak, the Navy confirms that the Greenville was 3,000 miles out of the designated submarine test and trial area; previously it had maintained that the sub was well within the 56-mile area. (Christensen 2/15/2001) As the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that at least one sailor was distracted by the civilians aboard, to the point where he was unable to completely plot the locations of surface vessels. It is also discovered that the submarine detected the Ehime Maru by sonar an hour before the collision. A former sub commander says, “If the guy was distracted, he should have spoken up and said these guys are bothering me and I can’t do my work.” However, he says, the sailor could have been intimidated by the presence of so many powerful civilians as well as the chief of staff for the US Pacific Fleet’s submarine force, Captain Bob Brandhuber, who was escorting the civilians. Another formerl naval commander says, “He should have yelled at the top of his lungs: Stop, shut up.” Still, the fact that the sub lost track of the fishing vessel is “inexcusable,” the former commander says. “The sensitivity of the sonar once you have it, you don’t lose it.…It was making noise the entire time. They should never have lost it, no matter the target angle of the ship, they could still hear it.” (Gordon, Nakaso, and Waite 2/22/2001) Commander Scott Waddle, the captain of the Greeneville, initially defends the presence of the civilians on board his sub, but in April 2001 says he has changed his mind: “Having them in the control room at least interfered with our concentration.” He also confirms that the only reason the Greeneville put to sea on February 9 was that Macke intended to treat his distinguished visitors to a submarine ride. “The program was set up by the Navy to win favor for the submarine service from Congressmen and other opinion leaders,” Time magazine reports, “and the Greeneville had made several such trips for visitors under Waddle’s command. Not only did the visitors crowd the control room, but because Waddle spent so much time with them over lunch, the ship also fell behind schedule, giving Waddle added impetus to move quickly through the series of maneuvers he had designed to impress them.” (McCarthy and McCabe 4/15/2001) A month later, a Greeneville sailor will testify that the sub had been violating standard procedures for nearly four years by routinely using unqualified sonar technicians to track surface vessels. (Nakaso 3/17/2001) In late March, the editor of a journal published by the US Naval Institute in Annapolis will accuse the Navy of “stonewalling” the investigation, and says that the entire incident is a “public relations fiasco.” (Omicinski 3/27/2001) Waddle will be allowed to retire instead of facing court martial, though he will be found guilty of dereliction of duty and held responsible for the accident. (Tyler and Sumida 10/22/2005) “I didn’t cause the accident. I gave the orders that resulted in the accident,” he will say in April 2001. “And I take full responsibility. I would give my life if it meant one of those nine lives lost could be brought back.” (McCarthy and McCabe 4/15/2001) Only well after the incident is under investigation does further investigation find that many of the 16 civilians on board the submarine are highly placed members of the oil and energy industries, and many well connected to the Republican Party and the Bush family.
One passenger, Helen Cullen, owns Houston’s Quintana Petroleum and is a heavy donor to the GOP and the Bush campaign; her family has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the GOP. (Lindsay 2/21/2001)
Three other passengers head the Houston-based Aquila Energy, which has financial ties to the GOP. (Milbank and Allen 3/26/2002)
Another passenger, Mike Mitchell, is the managing director of EnCap Energy Advisors, a Dallas firm with ties to the Bush business family. (Ratcliffe 9/16/2002)
John Hall is a well-known and well-connected Texas oilman who is a major player in a number of multimillion-dollar oil deals, many involving business cronies of the Bush family. And the honorary chairman of the USS Missouri Restoration Fund, the sponsor of the entire contingent of civilians, is former president and Texas oil billionaire George H.W. Bush. (Nakaso 2/18/2001; Baker 2/19/2001)
It is also discovered during the investigation that the Greeneville would not have sailed that day if not for the contingent of what the Navy terms “distinguished visitors” who wanted to take a ride on a submarine. Vice-Admiral John Nathman, who will head the Navy’s board of inquiry, will say of the Greeneville’s voyage, “In my view this doesn’t fit the criteria. It doesn’t come close.…I would never get a carrier underway to support a DV (distinguished-visitor) embark. We’re going to disagree on that.” (Savidge 3/16/2001; Kakesako 3/17/2001) An e-mail sent to the Navy’s public relations office says that the Greenville was slated to play host to “/10 or 12 high-rolling CEOs” finishing a golf tournament. Nathman will call it “Disneyland on a submarine.” (Kakesako 3/17/2001; Associated Press 3/22/2001) Reflecting on the accident two months later, Time Magazine will write, “The sinking of the Ehime Maru resonated around the world. It was the first major foreign policy challenge for the newly installed Bush Administration. In Japan it contributed to the fall from power of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who shocked public opinion by continuing a golf game even after he heard of the accident. The Pentagon fretted about damage to the already fragile military alliance with Japan. The Japanese families of the nine dead were left in shock and grief.” (McCarthy and McCabe 4/15/2001)
White House political guru Karl Rove tells the Republican National Committee: “We can go to the American people on this issue of winning the war [against terrorism]. We can go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.” In 2008, current deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “Rove was the first administration official to publicly make the case for winning the war as a partisan issue, a marked shift in tone from [President] Bush’s repeated emphasis on unity and bipartisanship in confronting and defeating radical Islam.… Rove’s candor about this strategy infuriated suspicious Democrats, who condemned Rove for trying to politicize the war.” Bush will soon begin campaigning for Republicans in the midterm elections using Rove’s strategy. McClellan will note: “As governor [of Texas], he’d maintained good relations with friendly legislators by refusing to campaign against them, even if they were members of the opposing party. Bush’s actions prompted concern and anxiety among Democrats.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 112-113)
White House political adviser Karl Rove says that the Republican Party should campaign primarily on the war on terror in the 2002 midterm elections. “Americans trust the Republicans to do a better job of keeping our communities and our families safe,” Rove tells the Republican National Committee. “We can also go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.” President Bush has said repeatedly that the war on terror should not be considered fodder for partisan political gain. Just days before Rove’s speech, Bush told a gathering in California, “It’s time to take the spirit of unity that has been prevalent when it comes to fighting the war and bring it to Washington, DC.” And Rove recently told reporters that Bush had told his aides: “Politics has no role in this. Don’t talk to me about politics for a while.” Now Rove is publicly advising Republicans to politicize the war. Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “If the White House is politicizing the war, that’s nothing short of despicable. For Karl Rove to politicize the issue is an affront to the integrity of the entire United States military.” McAuliffe’s Republican counterpart, Marc Racicot, calls on McAuliffe “to help stop the politics of obstruction.” (Berke 1/19/2002)
Author and famed reporter Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War is published.
Unprecedented Access - Woodward, who made his reputation uncovering the Watergate conspiracy from 30 years before (see June 15, 1974), is no longer an unknown young reporter working to find sources that will confide in him. Now he is an established Washington insider. For this book, Woodward was granted “unprecedented access” to Bush administration officials, including notes from National Security Council meetings and two long interviews with President Bush himself, far more access than even that granted to the 9/11 Commission and Congressional inquiries into other events of interest. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich will find this level of access inexplicable, saying that “it makes no sense for an administration that has jealously guarded its executive privilege to allow a reporter the access it denies to members of Congress.”
Hagiographic Account - The Observer’s Peter Preston calls Woodward’s book a “more-or-less instant study of the White House after 9/11,” and writes that while Woodward could have created “a classic of investigative journalism,” instead he gave us a compendium of “painful, obsessively useless detail” that generally paints the picture the White House wants painted. If Woodward’s book is to be believed, Preston writes, the Colin Powell moderates and the Dick Cheney hawks “had their snappy moments, but they’re OK-ish now.” CIA Director George Tenet “is a far-sighted man” who not only immediately divined that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, but while the towers were still burning, wondered if the attacks had anything to do with “that guy taking pilot training,” Zacarias Moussaoui. Iraq war planner General Tommy Franks usually feels “finer than the hair on a frog’s back.” Former President Clinton’s “weak-willed men used to ‘pound the desert’ ineffectually, while his brilliant successors like to hit something, if at all possible.” And President Bush “is bright and talented and eloquent and decisive,” who runs National Security Council meetings himself and knows all he needs to know about the state of the world (Woodward quotes Bush as saying, “I’m not a textbook player—I’m a gut player”). Both Preston and author Frank Rich accuse Woodward of “burnishing” Bush’s image at the expense of the truth. A few potentially embarrassing tidbits manage to poke their way through what both Preston and Rich call the “hagiography,” mostly relating to senior administration officials’ lack of knowledge about Afghan tribal politics and the lack of evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. But all told, the book seems to tell a clear story: where Clinton was indecisive, Bush is forthright; where Clinton muddled around with bin Laden and Middle East terrorism, Bush is taking the war straight into the heart of the Islamist redoubt. (Preston 12/1/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 66-67) The book gives such a favorable impression of Bush and his administration that the Republican National Committee will recommend it on its Web site. (Foer 11/12/2006)
Selective Reporting - The administration officials who talked to Woodward are painted in largely glowing terms, while those who did not (including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge) are, in Preston’s words, “written out of the script.” Potentially embarrassing incidents such as the administration’s complete failure to find the source of the anthrax mailings of 2001 (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 5-November 21, 2001) and the ineffective roundup of thousands of Middle Eastern “terror suspects” after 9/11 (see Late November, 2001) are ignored entirely. The pivotal Afghan battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was allowed to escape US clutches (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001), gets two paragraphs. (Preston 12/1/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 66-67) Guardian reviewer Peter Symon notes that Woodward even fails to ask the most “obvious questions” about the 9/11 attacks, instead accepting the administration’s accounts of events and its responses as absolute and unquestionable. (Symon 1/29/2003) Rich notes that Woodward grants Bush and his officials tremendous individual credence, taking their word on one issue after another without question: for example, when Bush calls investigative journalist Seymour Hersh “a liar,” Woodward takes Bush’s word without giving Hersh a chance to respond. More generally, Woodward never asks the obvious follow-up questions. Bush explains why the US didn’t attack Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously after the 9/11 attacks: “If we tried to do too many things… militarily, then… the lack of focus would have been a huge risk.” Rich notes, “The follow-up question that was not to be found in Bush at War was simple enough: If it was a huge risk to split our focus between Saddam and al-Qaeda then, why wasn’t it now?” Preston concludes: “Maybe the Woodward of three decades ago would have given [the Bush administration more intense scrutiny]. No longer. Today’s Woodward, eight bestsellers later, skates breathlessly from interview to interview and notepad to notepad without ever, seemingly, stopping to think, ‘Why am I being told all this? What does it mean?’ It isn’t investigation, just cross-referenced compilation.” (Preston 12/1/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 66-67)
Former Vice President Al Gore calls Fox News a virtual arm of the Republican Party. “Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game,” Gore says. “And pretty soon they’ll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they’ve pushed into the zeitgeist” (see October 13, 2009). (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Mark Barnett, the attorney general of South Dakota, says that Republican allegations of voter fraud in the recent election of Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) over challenger John Thune (R-SD) are baseless. Barnett is a Republican. Republican National Committee (RNC) officials have turned over 50 affidavits to Barnett’s office, alleging an array of crimes and improprieties. Barnett says only one allegation merits any further inquiry. “Many of the things alleged simply are not crimes,” Barnett says. “Those affidavits simply do not give me cause to think there was an election rip-off.” RNC officials secured affidavits from Republican poll watchers after Johnson’s 524-vote victory over Thune, and gave the affidavits to South Dakota prosecutors in late November. Barnett intends to investigate claims that voters were offered cash to vote. “It’s the two or three affidavits out of 50 that really jumped out and grabbed me as something I need to follow up on,” he says. “I don’t express any opinion on whether those affidavits are true or can be proved. We’re going to have those interviews done.” The “cash for votes” allegation was made in three of the 50 affidavits. One affidavit features a witness claiming she was offered money to vote, and two are from people who say they overheard voters being offered money. The other affidavits allege crimes or improprieties where there were none. “Realistically, many of the things set out in those affidavits are not crimes,” Barnett says. “They are what I would call local election-board management problems. A fair number could be read as complaints about how effective the Democratic get-out-the-vote effort was. They had people watching, then jumping on the phone to one of their drivers.” Even if all of the allegations were true, Barnett says, the results of the election would not change. The RNC says after Barnett’s statement: “The information that the attorney general reviewed is only one area of the problems reported with the election. This is not just about criminal activity but about how the people of South Dakota carry out their elections. They will have to decide at both the local level and the State Legislature whether changes need to be made to the system.” A spokesperson for Johnson says Thune could stop all of the dissension and allegations if he would speak out against them. Thune is referring all questions about the election to the RNC. Some of the unfounded allegations include: poll workers offering variants of names to voters until a match could be found in voting records; stickers being placed over votes for Thune on ballots to fool voting machines into not counting the votes; and what the Rapid City Journal characterizes as “a high degree of coordination between poll workers in some precincts and workers for the Democratic Party.” Barnett is particularly irritated by Republican complaints that Democrats forced polls in some counties to stay open too long. Some county polls stayed open until 8 p.m. Central Standard Time; because the counties in question are in the Mountain time zone, they were required by law to stay open until 7 p.m. Mountain, which is 8 p.m. Central. “Saying the polls were open too long is not an accurate way to describe it. It was opened too early,” Barnett says. “Several affidavits assume that Democratic operatives are the ones who made it stay open. That’s not accurate. It was Republican officials who made the decision, myself among them.… If you screw up and open at 6, you don’t fix a morning screw-up by doing an evening screw-up. If a voter had walked up to a polling place at 6:30 p.m. and found a padlocked door, we would have had the clearest case of a voter-rights violation that I ever heard of. If statute says you’re open until 7, you’re open until 7.” Barnett says many of the complaints were of the effective Democratic efforts of getting voters to the polls in vans, and of Democrats working on those efforts inside polling places. These are extraordinarily low-level infractions, Barnett says, and are routinely committed by workers of both parties in every election. The RNC has refused to provide copies of the allegations to local reporters (Ross 12/10/2002) but will provide them to Byron York, a reporter for the conservative National Review. York will write an article alleging “massive voter fraud” based on the affidavits (see December 19, 2002). Three days later, Barnett will report that the allegations of “vote buying” are groundless. One of the witnesses on the three affidavits could not be located. The second said his signature had been forged on the affidavit. The third said she signed the affidavit after being pressured by a friend. Barnett says: “These affidavits are either perjury or forgery, or call them what you will. They are just flat false.” (Marshall 12/16/2002)
Joshua Micah Marshall of the influential liberal news blog Talking Points Memo (TPM) writes that charges of “massive voter fraud” that supposedly gave Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) a narrow victory over challenger John Thune (R-SD) are not only spurious, but deliberately “trumped up” by the Republican National Committee (RNC) working with the Thune campaign. Marshall finds the RNC’s allegations of voter fraud being primarily committed on Indian reservations particularly objectionable. The “wild-eyed allegations,” he writes, “were then amplified by a number of local reporters who turned out to be working in embarrassingly close coordination—in one case, cohabiting—with the Republican operatives who ginned up the accusations in the first place.” Marshall calls the allegations a coordinated effort to block Democratic “get out the vote,” or GOTV, efforts, as well as to “stir up politically-helpful racial animosity.” He writes that Thune and the RNC are using advertisements and mailings to accuse Johnson of being personally involved in the purported fraud, and notes that while Thune graciously conceded the election, his campaign operatives fanned out through South Dakota’s reservations collecting affidavits alleging a wide variety of crimes and improprieties. State Attorney General Mark Barnett found the allegations to be entirely groundless (see December 10, 2002). However, the RNC also gave the affidavits to Byron York of the conservative National Review; York is in the process of preparing a lengthy article on the subject (see December 19, 2002). Marshall writes that the only real crimes may have been committed by “RNC operatives caught filing perjurious or forged affidavits to prove their phony case.” (Marshall 12/16/2002) In October, Marshall noted that groundless allegations of absentee ballot fraud were made by a local reporter who lived with a lawyer for the Thune campaign. (Marshall 10/18/2002)
Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff sends an email to White House aide Susan Ralston, a former Abramoff associate who now works in the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA) under Karl Rove. Abramoff wants Ralston to tell Rove to covertly use his position in the White House to prevent a Louisiana Indian tribe from acquiring land for a casino. (The land acquisition would threaten the interests of an Abramoff client, a different Indian tribe that already has gaming establishments in the area.) Abramoff asks if Rove can give “some quiet message from the WH [White House] that this is absurd.” Ralston agrees, and Abramoff sends her a thank-you reply. But instead of sending the reply to Ralston’s private email account administered by the Republican National Committee (RNC) at firstname.lastname@example.org, he sends it to her official White House email account. The next day, Abramoff’s colleague Kevin Ring alerts Abramoff to the error. Ring writes, “She said it is better to not put this stuff in writing in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.” Abramoff responds: “Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc [Republican National Committee] pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system.” The email will be publicly revealed as part of a Congressional investigation into Abramoff’s criminal enterprises. In 2007, documents will connect this email exchange to thousands of other private emails sent to and from White House officials using the georgewbush.com, gwb43.com, rnchq.com, and other private email domains. Ralston is one of many White House officials to use these outside accounts to communicate with Abramoff and others. Federal law requires that all emails and other communications be preserved as part of the National Archives data storage, for future review. Using private email accounts such as those provided by the RNC, especially for official (and quasi-official) government business, is also a violation of the Presidential Records Law. In March 2007, the House Oversight Committee’s chairman, Henry Waxman (D-CA), will demand that the RNC preserve all White House emails “because of their potential relevance to Congressional investigations.… The email exchanges reviewed by the committee provide evidence that in some instances, White House officials were using the nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.” Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists will say that the use of the RNC email accounts also “shows how closely intertwined the White House is with its partisan allies. The fact that the White House and the RNC are working hand in hand and White House officials are using RNC emails is itself remarkable.” Aftergood recalls the Iran-Contra investigation, where incriminating White House emails were recovered even after officials believed they had been deleted. “People may have learned that lesson,” Aftergood will muse. Since the Iran-Contra investigation, both the first Bush administration and Clinton administration have had issues with suppressing and hiding emails. Steven Hensen, a past president of the Society of American Archivists, will say that the current Bush email practice “clearly looks like an attempt to conceal official business.” Mother Jones reporter Daniel Schulman will agree, writing that “it’s clear that others are taking pains to use alternate email accounts simply to keep their communications from becoming public record.” (Schulman 3/30/2007; Hamburger 4/9/2007)
Americans who want to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in the so-called “Green Zone,” the fenced-off area of Baghdad also called “Little America” and the hub of US governmental and corporate activities, are routed through Jim O’Beirne, a political functionary in the Pentagon whose wife is prominent conservative columnist Kate O’Beirne.
Focus on Ideology, Not Experience or Expertise - O’Beirne is less interested in an applicant’s expertise in Middle Eastern affairs or in post-conflict resolution than he is in an applicant’s loyalty to the Bush administration. Some of the questions asked by his staff to applicants: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? According to author Rajiv Chandrasekaran, two applicants were even grilled about their views on abortion and Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973). While such questions about political beliefs are technically illegal, O’Beirne uses an obscure provision in federal law to hire most staffers as “temporary political appointees,” thus allowing him and his staff to skirt employment regulations that prohibit such questioning. The few Democrats who are hired are Foreign Service employees or active-duty soldiers, and thus protected from being questioned about their politics.
Unskilled Applicants - The applicants chosen by O’Beirne and his staff often lack the most fundamental skills and experience. The applicant chosen to reopen Baghdad’s stock exchange is a 24-year old with no experience in finance, but who had submitted an impressively loyalist White House job application (see April 2003 and After). The person brought in to revamp Iraq’s health care system is chosen for his work with a faith-based relief agency (see April 2003 and After). The man chosen to retool Iraq’s police forces is a “hero of 9/11” who completely ignores his main task in favor of taking part in midnight raids on supposed criminal hangouts in and around Baghdad (see May 2003 - July 2003). And the manager of Iraq’s $13 billion budget is the daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator who has no accounting experience, but graduated from a favored evangelical university for home-schooled children.
Selection Process - O’Beirne seeks resumes from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks, and Republican activists. He thoroughly weeds out resumes from anyone he deems ideologically suspect, even if those applicants speak Arabic or Farsi, or possess useful postwar rebuilding experience. Frederick Smith, currently the deputy director of the CPA, will later recall O’Beirne pointing to one young man’s resume and pronouncing him “an ideal candidate.” The applicant’s only real qualification is his job working for the Republican Party in Florida during the 2000 presidential recount.
Comment by Employee - A CPA employee writes a friend about the recruitment process: “I watched resumes of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to ‘the president’s vision for Iraq’ (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was ‘uncertain.’ I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy… and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC (Republican National Committee) contributors.”
Result: Little Reconstruction, Billions Wasted or Disappeared - In 2006, Chandrasekaran will write: “The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2-year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration’s gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.” Smith will later say: “We didn’t tap—and it should have started from the White House on down—just didn’t tap the right people to do this job. It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings.” The conservative ideologues in the CPA will squander much of the $18 billion in US taxpayer dollars allocated for reconstruction, some on pet projects that suit their conservative agenda but do nothing for Iraqi society, and some never to be traced at all. “Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle to accomplish today in Iraq—training the army, vetting the police, increasing electricity generation—could have been performed far more effectively in 2003 by the CPA,” Chandrasekaran will write.
Projects - Instead of helping rebuild Iraq—and perhaps heading off the incipient insurgency—CPA ideologues will spend billions on, among other things, rewriting Iraqi tax law to incorporate the so-called “flat tax,” selling off billions of dollars’ worth of government assets, terminating food ration distribution, and other programs.
Life in Green Zone - Most spend almost all of their time “cloistered” in the Green Zone, never interacting with real Iraqi society, where they create what Chandrasekaran later calls “a campaign war room” environment. “Bush-Cheney 2004” stickers, T-shirts, and office desk furnishings are prominently displayed. “I’m not here for the Iraqis,” one staffer tells a reporter. “I’m here for George Bush.” Gordon Robison, then an employee in the Strategic Communications office, will later recall opening a package from his mother containing a book by liberal economist Paul Krugman. The reaction among his colleagues is striking. “It was like I had just unwrapped a radioactive brick,” he will recall. (Chandrasekaran 9/17/2006)
Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Ed Gillespie tells CNN that former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson contributed money to the presidential campaigns of Democratic contenders Al Gore and John Kerry. Gillespie tells CNN interviewer Judy Woodruff: “So I think there is a lot more to play in here. There is a lot of politics. The fact is that Ambassador Wilson is not only a, you know—a former foreign service officer, former ambassador, he is himself a partisan Democrat who is a contributor and supporter of Senator Kerry’s presidential campaign.… [Wilson] has a partisan history here, as someone who supports John Kerry… This is a guy who’s a maxed out contributor to John Kerry, who has spoken to organizations that are seeking to defeat the president of the United States.” Wilson will later write, “The point he was trying to make, I suppose, was that it was justifiable for a Republican administration to expose the identity of an undercover CIA officer, if she happened to have a husband who had contributed to Democratic campaigns” (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003). Wilson has also contributed campaign donations to Republicans, including the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush. Hours after Gillespie’s CNN comments, Wilson sees Gillespie in a CNBC “green room,” and asks him if he knows about these contributions to Republicans. Gillespie admits that he does, saying, “They are part of the public record.” Wilson will later write, “So he knew but decided not to disclose all the information he had about them.” Gillespie will later falsely claim that he acknowledged Wilson’s contributions to both parties during his CNN appearance. (CNN 9/30/2003; Wilson 2004, pp. 389-390)
According to anonymous White House sources, the Bush administration is using a two-track political strategy to counter fallout from the Plame Wilson investigation. White House officials are encouraging Republicans to attack the credibility and impartiality of Joseph Wilson, the husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, and portray him as a partisan Democrat with a bent towards smearing the administration; the Republicans are also being encouraged to portray Democrats as politically driven scandalmongers hoping to use the investigation to influence the 2004 presidential election. Simultaneously, White House officials, in conjunction with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, are scrambling to ensure that no Congressional Republicans break ranks and call for an independent inquiry into the leak that would not fall under the direct control of the Justice Department. The White House is resisting Democratic calls for an independent special counsel to handle the investigation (see October 1, 2003). One Republican Congressional aide calls the strategy “slime and defend,” referring to the White House’s attempt to besmirch Wilson’s motivations and simultaneously shore up Republican support. The strategy seems to be working, the aide says: “So far so good. There’s nervousness on the part of the party leadership, but no defections in the sense of calling for an independent counsel.” A Republican National Committee memo distributed to Congressional Republicans gives one suggested talking point on attacking Democrats: “Lacking a positive issue agenda to offer the American people, the Democratic Party now returns to what they have long seen as their best opportunity to defeat President Bush and Republicans—scandalmongering.” House Republicans are passing out white paper bags labeled “Leak Hyperventilation Bag,” explaining that the bags are for Democrats who might be having trouble catching their breath over the subject. House Democrats have canceled a planned closed-door meeting with Wilson, fearing that they might be accused of playing politics on the investigation. The White House is closely monitoring five Congressional Republicans known for having something of an independent streak: Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and John Warner (R-VA), and Representative Porter Goss (R-FL). The White House is working to keep these five, in particular, in line with its desired responses. (Stevenson and Lichtblau 10/1/2003)
An email sent to the press secretaries of all Republican congressional representatives offers advice on how to deal with questions about the environment. It recommends telling constituents that “global warming is not a fact”, air quality is “getting better,” the planet’s forests are “spreading, not deadening,” reported “links between air quality and asthma in children remain cloudy,” the “world’s water is cleaner and reaching more people,” and that the Environmental Protection Agency was exaggerating when it warned that at least 40 percent of streams, rivers, and lakes are unsafe for drinking, fishing, or swimming. The memo insists that “the environment is actually seeing a new and better day.” Sources cited in the memo include a report from the Pacific Research Institute, which since 1998 has received $130,000 from Exxon Mobil; the book The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg; and scientist Richard Lindzen, whose work has been partially funded by the fossil fuel industry. (Barnett 4/4/2003)
According to OpenSecrets.org, Sproul & Associates—a political consulting firm run by 32-year-old Nathan Sproul, a former Christian Coalition activist and one-time director of the Arizona Republican Party—receives $812,864 from the Republican National Committee to do voter outreach and $736,665 for political consulting. (Defalco 10/28/2004; Center for Responsive Politics 1/19/2006) During the months preceding the election, the firm is accused of instructing its workers to register only Republican voters, and in one case actually destroying registrations forms filled out by Democrats. The alleged activities reportedly occur in Nevada (See October 12, 2004), Oregon (See Early September 2004, October 2004, and (October 12, 2004)), Pennsylvania (See Before September 6, 2004, October 19, 2004 and October 19, 2004) and West Virginia (See Before August 20, 2004). The company—which operates under several names, including Voters Outreach of America, America Votes and Project America Votes—denies these charges. (Kurtzman 10/14/2004)
The Republican National Committee (RNC) requires supporters to sign a “loyalty oath” to President Bush before distributing tickets to a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, featuring Vice President Dick Cheney. The rally takes place on July 31. Anyone who is not a verifiable Republican contributor or volunteer must sign the following oath before receiving their tickets: “I, [full name]… do herby (sic) endorse George W. Bush for reelection of the United States.” The form warns that signers “are consenting to use and release of your name by Bush-Cheney as an endorser of President Bush.” The RNC says the “loyalty oaths” are designed to keep “hecklers” out of the rally, and a local official says a “Democrat operative group” was trying to infiltrate the limited-seating event. The Washington Post later reports that the local GOP refused to give tickets to even uncommitted voters who wanted to hear Cheney speak. The presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) has long charged that the Bush campaign routinely screens attendees of Bush’s speeches. A spokesman for the Kerry campaign says Democrats would not impose any sort of loyalty requirements on people attending their nominees’ speeches. The Post notes that at a recent Kerry appearance in New Mexico, a group of young men in the crowd began chanting “Viva Bush!” during Kerry’s speech. (Milbank 8/1/2004)
In Nevada, Eric Russell, a former employee of the Republican-funded political consulting firm, Sproul & Associates, claims in a signed affidavit that the company’s employees were paid to register only Republicans. His former employer told him to ask prospective voters, “Who would you vote for in the next election?” Only people who indicated they would vote for President Bush were to be registered, he says. When Russell refused to follow instructions and registered both Democrats and Republicans, his employer docked his pay. Russell also says that he witnessed his supervisor take out eight to ten Democratic registration forms from a pile and destroy them—a felony in some states. He added that hundreds, if not thousands, of forms were destroyed. “I personally witnessed my supervisor at VOA, together with her personal assistant, destroy completed registration forms that VOA employees had collected” he explains. (KGW 8 (Portland, OR) 10/13/2004; Kuhn 10/14/2004; Packer 10/14/2004; Kurtzman 10/14/2004) “We caught her taking Democrats out of my pile, handed them to her assistant, and he ripped them up right in front of us.” (CNN 10/14/2004) “All of the destroyed registration forms were for registrants who indicated their party preference as ‘Democrat.’” (Kurtzman 10/14/2004) Russell’s account is supported by another of the firm’s former employees, Tyrone Mrasak, who tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal that workers were encouraged to register 18 Republican voters per day. He says that they were permitted to finish the day at anytime after meeting this quota and would still be paid for eight hours of work. “We didn’t get credit for forms we brought back marked Democrat,” he explains. He also recounts how he would often loiter in front of homeless shelters and give homeless people cigarettes in exchange for registering as Republicans. “As long as they have an address, they can register,” Mrasak says. “If they were looking to bum a cigarette I’d say, ‘I’ll trade you a cigarette if you sign this.’” (Packer 10/14/2004) These charges are adamantly denied by the Republican National Committee, which provides the San Jose Mercury News with affidavits from two other employees of the firm claiming that no voter-registration forms had been destroyed. (Kurtzman 10/14/2004) The firm also denies that its employees were instructed to destroy forms, but does not dispute that they were encouraged to register more Republicans than Democrats. (Defalco 10/28/2004) Republican consultant Paul Senseman says that Sproul is “very professional, very mission-oriented,” adding, “He’s somebody that gets things done.” (Defalco 10/28/2004)
Investigative reporter Greg Palast claims on a BBC Newsnight broadcast that the Bush presidential re-election campaign has a plan to disrupt voting in Florida during the November 2004 presidential elections. The BBC says it has two emails prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign’s national research director in Washington that contain a 15-page “caging list” of voters, predominantly African-American and likely Democratic voters, residing in and around Jacksonville, Florida. Voting rights expert Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will later explain “caging” to Palast: “Caging is an illegal way of getting rid of black votes. You get a list of all the black voters. Then you send a letter to their homes. And if the person doesn’t sign it at the homes, the letter then is returned to the Republican National Committee. They then direct the state attorney general, who is friendly to them, who’s Republican, to remove that voter from the list on the alleged basis that that voter does not live in the address that they designated as their address on the voting application form.” A Tallahassee elections supervisor, Ion Sancho, tells a BBC reporter, “The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on election day.” He says that under Florida law, operatives from political parties can station themselves inside polling stations and stop voters from obtaining a ballot; such “caged” voters would then have to complete a “provisional” ballot that may well not be counted. Mass challenges of this nature have never occurred in Florida, Sancho says. No challenges have been issued against voters “in the 16 years I’ve been supervisor of elections.” He continues, “Quite frankly, this process can be used to slow down the voting process and cause chaos on election day; and discourage voters from voting.” Sancho says it is “intimidation,” and it may well be illegal. Civil rights attorney Ralph Neas says US federal law bars challenges to voters, even if there is a basis for the challenge, if race is a factor in targeting voters. The “caging list” of Jacksonville-area voters contains a disproportionately large number of black voters. Republican spokespersons deny that the list is illegal, and say it merely records returned mail from either fundraising solicitations or returned letters sent to newly registered voters to verify their addresses for purposes of mailing campaign literature. Republican state campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker Fletcher says the list was not compiled “in order to create” a challenge list, but refuses to say it would not be used in that manner. Republican poll watchers will, she says, challenge voters “[w]here it’s stated in the law.” No one in the Florida Republican Party or the Bush campaign will explain why top officials in the Bush campaign have received the caging list. Palast’s colleagues have captured on film a private detective filming every “early voter” in a Jacksonville precinct from behind a vehicle with blacked-out windows; the detective denies knowing who paid for his services. Representative Corinne Brown (D-FL) says the surveillance is part of a Republican-orchestrated campaign to intimidate black voters. (Palast 10/26/2004; Goodman 5/14/2007) Palast later writes that many of the black voters affected by the caging list are veterans.
Methodology - He will write: “Here’s how the scheme worked: The RNC mailed these voters letters in envelopes marked, ‘Do not forward,’ to be returned to the sender. These letters were mailed to servicemen and women, some stationed overseas, to their US home addresses. The letters then returned to the Bush-Cheney campaign as ‘undeliverable.’ The lists of soldiers with ‘undeliverable’ letters were transmitted from state headquarters, in this case Florida, to the RNC in Washington. The party could then challenge the voters’ registration and thereby prevent their absentee ballots being counted. One target list was comprised exclusively of voters registered at the Jacksonville, Florida, Naval Air Station. Jacksonville is the third largest naval installation in the US, best known as home of the Blue Angels fighting squadron.” Over one million provisional ballots cast in the 2004 race were never counted. “The extraordinary rise in the number of rejected ballots was the result of the widespread multi-state voter challenge campaign by the Republican Party,” he will write. “The operation, of which the purge of black soldiers was a small part, was the first mass challenge to voting America had seen in two decades.” Palast will say that the BBC had more than the two emails it used for its Newsnight report. He will also identify the sender as Timothy Griffin, the RNC’s national research director, and the recipients as Florida campaign chairman Brett Doster and other Republican leaders. “Attached were spreadsheets marked, ‘Caging.xls.’ Each of these contained several hundred to a few thousand voters and their addresses. A check of the demographics of the addresses on the ‘caging lists,’ as the GOP leaders called them indicated that most were in African-American majority zip codes.” Palast will report that one Republican official, Joseph Agostini, explained that the list may have been of potential Bush campaign donors, a claim that is undermined by the list’s inclusion of a number of residents of a local homeless shelter. Fletcher will later claim that the list contains voters “we mailed to, where the letter came back—bad addresses,” but will not say why the list includes soldiers serving overseas whose addresses would obviously not be correct. Fletcher will insist that it “is not a challenge list.… That’s not what it’s set up to be.” (Palast 6/16/2006; Palast 4/16/2007) US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico will later say of the practice: “That’s a terrible practice. If it’s not illegal, it should be. I hope Congress fixes that, that problem. It’s when you send voter information to a group of people that you have reason to believe are no longer there, such as military personnel who are overseas, such as students at historically black colleges. And then, when it comes back as undeliverable, the party uses that information to remove that person from the voter rolls, claiming that they’re no longer there.… It’s a reprehensible practice. I had never heard of the phrase until after I left office.” (Goodman 6/4/2008)
Griffin Sent Memos to Wrong Email Address - Palast later reveals his source for the caging list spreadsheet to be an error made by Griffin. In August 2004, he sent a series of confidential memos to a number of Republican Party officials via emails. Griffin mistakenly sent the emails to addresses at georgewbush.org and not georgewbush.com, as he should have. The georgewbush.org address is owned by satirist John Wooden, who sent them to Palast at BBC Newsnight. Palast will write: “Griffin’s dozens of emails contained what he called ‘caging lists’—simple Excel spreadsheets with the names and addresses of voters. Sounds innocent enough. But once the addresses were plotted on maps—70,000 names in Florida alone—it became clear that virtually every name was in a minority-majority voting precinct. And most of the lists were made up of itinerant, vulnerable voters: students, the homeless, and, notably, soldiers sent overseas.” (Palast 4/16/2007)
GOP: Palast, Sancho Wrong, Biased - Fletcher responds to the BBC story with an email to Newsnight editor Peter Barron claiming that Palast is ignorant of the laws and practices surrounding elections, and calls Sancho “an opinionated Democrat” who does not supervise the area in question. Such “caging lists” are commonly used, she says, and are entirely legal. Palast mischaracterized the nature and use of caging lists, she says. Moreover, the list is composed of returned mailings sent by the Republican National Committee to new registrants in Duval County (which includes Jacksonville) encouraging recipients to vote Republican. “The Duval County list was created to collect the returned mail information from the Republican National Committee mailing and was intended and has been used for no purpose other than that,” she says. Palast erred in “insinuat[ing]” that the list would be used for challenging voters, “and frankly illustrates his willingness to twist information to suit his and others’ political agenda. Reporting of these types of baseless allegations by the news media comes directly from the Democrats’ election playbook.” She then accuses the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) of “massive fraud efforts” on behalf of “the Kerry campaign and the Democrats.” Many registered voters in Duval County “do not have valid addresses,” she says, implying that such voters may be subject to challenges. She concludes, “In a year when reporters are under heavy scrutiny for showing political leanings toward the Democratic Party, I would think that your new[s] organization would take greater care to understand the facts and use sources that will yield objective information, rather than carry one party’s political agenda.” (BBC 6/4/2008)
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)
Timothy Griffin, a former Republican National Committee aide and a veteran Republican political operative (see October 26, 2004), learns that Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), has identified the US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas, Bud Cummins, as one of several US Attorneys who should be fired (see January 9, 2005 and March 2, 2005). Griffin, a lawyer who has twice attempted to secure that position for himself, learns of the news from Sara Taylor, the White House’s new director of political affairs (replacing Karl Rove, who still supervises all political issues from his new position as deputy chief of staff—see Late January 2005). Griffin is considering joining Taylor’s staff, but even before his hiring, he attends several “directors” meetings at the White House. After one of these meetings, Taylor shows him the list of US Attorneys slated for dismissal. The list includes Cummins. Taylor says she does not know why Cummins is on the list, but she believes it may be because he lost his sponsor, Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), when Hutchinson lost his bid for re-election in 2002. Griffin joins Taylor’s staff, and shortly thereafter meets with White House counsel Harriet Miers, who also tells him that the White House is planning to fire Cummins. She asks Griffin if he is interested in the position, and he says he would like the job after completing a stint in the White House. Miers warns him that it might be difficult to have him approved for the position after having worked for the White House Office of Political Affairs. Miers, Rove, and Taylor discuss Griffin’s employment options through the rest of March. Miers tells Rove that she has considered making Griffin a political appointee in one of the two US Attorneys’ offices in Arkansas, or perhaps having Griffin replace the deputy director of the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department. Rove responds, “What about him for the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas?” Miers replies that such a move is “definitely a possibility” because the current US Attorney, Cummins, is going to be replaced. Miers tells Rove that Griffin has spoken with her about his desire for the slot, but for now he wants to stay with the White House. Taylor responds to the exchange by saying in part, “My fear is they end up putting him [Griffin] at Justice (which he does not want to do); it’s a year before he’s made US Attorney, if ever.” In another email, Taylor writes to Rove that Griffin “would love to be US Attorney—he’d love to come here in the meantime.” Griffin accepts the position of deputy director of political affairs at the White House, promising Taylor that he will stay in the position at least after the November 2006 election unless the US Attorney position opens up before then. For his part, Cummins, who is toying with the idea of leaving the position, speaks with Griffin periodically throughout the year about Griffin taking the position after Cummins resigns. Cummins will later say that he always assumed the choice as to if and when to resign would be his, and that he always assumed Griffin would get the job because he is so well connected politically. Griffin later says he never pushed Cummins to leave, but will tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008), “I was laying low.” Griffin will say that to his mind, Cummins’s removal and his own ascension to the post were two separate things. “I didn’t know why he was being fired,” Griffin will say, “but I knew that if he was going to be fired, then I wanted to be considered for that job.” Griffin, a member of the Army Reserve, will leave his White House position in August 2005 to serve as a Judge Advocate General officer in Iraq, and will stay in close contact with officials in both the White House and the Justice Department throughout his yearlong tour of duty. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
New Mexico Republican Party chairman Allen Weh, convinced that US Attorney David Iglesias is an incompetent who is deliberately refusing to prosecute voter fraud cases (see May 6, 2005 and After and May 12 - June 9, 2005), sends an email to Scott Jennings, an official in the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA). He copies the email to Jennings’s supervisors Karl Rove and Sara Taylor (see Late January 2005), Republican National Committee official Timothy Griffin, and Steve Bell, the chief of staff to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). Weh writes in part: “We discussed the need to replace the US Atty in NM several months ago. The brief on voter fraud at the RNC [Republican National Committee] meeting last week reminded me of how important this post is to this issue, and prompted this follow up. As you are aware the incumbent, David Iglesias, has failed miserably in his duty to prosecute voter fraud. To be perfectly candid, he was ‘missing in action’ during the last election, just as he was in the 2002 election cycle. I am advised his term expires, or is renewed, in October. It is respectfully requested that strong consideration be given to replacing him at this point.… If we can get a new US Atty that takes voter fraud seriously, combined with these other initiatives we’ll make some real progress in cleaning up a state notorious for crooked elections.” Griffin responds in an email to Rove and Taylor: “I have discussed this issue with counsel’s office [the White House counsel’s office, headed by Harriet Miers]. I will raise with them again. Last time I spoke with them they were aware of the issue, and they seemed to be considering a change on their own. I will mention again unless I am instructed otherwise.” Twenty minutes later, Rove responds by telling Griffin, “Talk to the counsel’s office.” Griffin replies, “Done,” and adds a bit about setting up a meeting with someone unrelated to the Iglesias-Weh discussion. Rove responds, “Great.” He will later testify that he may have been responding to Griffin about the unrelated meeting. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary 6/15/2009 ; Rove 7/7/2009 ; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary 7/30/2009 ) One of Weh’s Republican colleagues, lawyer Patrick Rogers, recommended that state and national Republicans use voter fraud as a “wedge issue” before the November 2004 elections, and has himself complained about Iglesias’s record on voter fraud investigations (see September 23 - October 2004).
President Bush and his motorcade drive past the growing camp of war protesters and peace activists nicknamed “Camp Casey” (see August 6, 2005 and After) without stopping, leaving the gathered protesters and bereaved family members literally in the dust. Bush is on his way to a fundraising barbecue expected to raise at least $2 million for the Republican National Committee. Camp founder Cindy Sheehan holds a sign that reads, “Why do you make time for donors and not for me?” The Associated Press reports, “It was unclear whether Bush, riding in a black Suburban with tinted windows, saw the demonstrators.” Bush has continued to refuse to meet with Sheehan and the others in Camp Casey, a makeshift camp three miles outside of his Crawford, Texas vacation ranch. The camp is attracting war protesters, peace activists, and bereaved family members who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Associated Press 8/12/2005) The New York Times notes that in less than a week, Camp Casey has grown from one woman’s lonely vigil to a gathering of well over 100 protesters and family members, with visits from celebrities such as actor Viggo Mortensen and a full-time police presence. War supporters have blasted Sheehan and her companions, calling her everything from a traitor to a terrorist supporter, and arguing that the death of her son does not give her the right to criticize the war effort. Local supporters of Bush have suggested, among other things, that they unleash a gaggle of skunks on the camp to drive the protesters away; some have pretended to drive their pickup trucks into the crowds, and splashed protesters with mud as they revved their engines. (Kornblut 8/13/2005) Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the images of Bush’s motorcade ignoring Sheehan and the other protesters become embarrassing fodder for media comment and criticism. (Rich 2006, pp. 194) The Times writes, “[Bush’s] five-week sojourn at his 1,600-acre ranch offers the protesters ample opportunity to camp out for extended periods in front of the national media at a time of sharp spikes in the casualties in Iraq, and as public polling data suggests the lowest support for the war since it began.” In a recent television ad paid for by her peace organization Gold Star Families for Peace, Sheehan said: “All I wanted was an hour out of his extended vacation time, but he’s refused to meet with me and the other military families. We just want honest answers.” (Kornblut 8/13/2005)
President Bush’s top political adviser, deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, tells a meeting of the Republican National Committee that the warrantless wiretapping controversy (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005) can be used to boost Republicans’ election chances in the 2006 midterm elections. Republicans should emphasize that the wiretapping proves that Bush is willing to do whatever it takes to defeat terrorism and keep Americans safe. Critics of the program, therefore, can be painted as weak on terrorism. “The United States faces a ruthless enemy, and we need a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of the moment America finds itself in,” Rove says. “President Bush and the Republican Party do; unfortunately, the same cannot be said of many Democrats.… Let me be clear as I can be: President Bush believes if al-Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interests to know who they’re calling and why. Some important Democrats clearly disagree.” (WIS-TV 1/20/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 203)
Investigative reporter Jason Leopold reports that White House political strategist Karl Rove has informed President Bush and other high-level White House officials that he will be indicted as a result of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation, and will resign his position in the Bush administration when special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald makes the indictment public. Leopold says his sources include “a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee.” Rove has been stripped of his policy duties and is no longer deputy chief of staff, though White House officials claim the move is to allow him to focus completely on the 2006 midterm elections. Leopold’s sources say that a public announcement by Fitzgerald is not imminent, “despite the fact that Fitzgerald has already presented the grand jury with a list of charges against Rove. If an indictment is returned by the grand jury, it will be filed under seal.” Rove is said to have told White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten that he will be charged with perjury, stemming from his alleged lying under oath to Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see October 15, 2004, October 14, 2005, and April 26, 2006). “We need to start fresh and we can’t do that with the uncertainty of Karl’s case hanging over our heads,” Leopold quotes one unnamed White House aide as saying. “There’s no doubt that it will be front page news if and when [an indictment] happens. But eventually it will become old news quickly. The key issue here is that the president or Mr. Bolten respond to the charges immediately, make a statement, and then move on to other important policy issues and keep that as the main focus going forward.” (Leopold 5/12/2006) Leopold’s reporting is incorrect; a month later, Fitzgerald will announce that he is not charging Rove with anything (see June 13, 2006).
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), informs White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove that he does not plan to file charges against him in conjunction with the leak. (Solomon 6/13/2006; Washington Post 7/3/2007)
'No Deal' - Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin says that he negotiated no deals with Fitzgerald to spare his client from prosecution: “There has never, ever been any discussion of a deal in any way, shape, or form.” (Jeralyn Merritt 6/13/2006)
'A Chapter that Has Ended' - The decision follows months of wrangling between Fitzgerald’s team and Luskin. Neither Fitzgerald nor Luskin give any details about the issues and actions behind the decision, but Luskin says, “We believe that the special counsel’s decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove’s conduct.” Rove spokesman Mark Corallo says that Rove made no deals with Fitzgerald to cooperate with the investigation, and that the decision is based solely on Fitzgerald’s findings. President Bush says of the news: “It’s a chapter that has ended. Fitzgerald is a very thorough person. I think he’s conducted his investigation in a dignified way. And he’s ended his investigation.… There’s still a trial to be had. And those of us involved in the White House are going to be very mindful of not commenting on this issue.” Christopher Wolf, a lawyer for Plame Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, says that the couple is considering filing a civil suit against Rove. “The day still may come when Mr. Rove and others are called to account in a court of law for their attacks on the Wilsons,” Wolf says. (Johnston and Rutenberg 6/13/2006; Solomon 6/13/2006)
Rove 'Elated' - Corallo describes Rove as “elated” over the news. Legal analyst Andrew Cohen says: “Prosecutors have ethical obligations not to indict someone when they don’t think they can win at trial and I suspect that may be what happened here. For whatever reason Fitzgerald the prosecutor didn’t believe he could take a case against Rove to a jury and win it.” (Alfano 6/13/2006)
A Variety of Responses - Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean says of Rove: “He doesn’t belong in the White House. If the president valued America more than he valued his connection to Karl Rove, Karl Rove would have been fired a long time ago. So I think this is probably good news for the White House, but it’s not very good news for America.” (Solomon 6/13/2006) “The notion of the leak and the overall White House involvement, that ain’t over,” says Representative Rahm Emanuel (D-IL). “Obviously, we know that ‘Scooter’ Libby is not Karl Rove. But you have the vice president of the United States involved, or at least his office was involved.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says that Fitzgerald’s decision not to prosecute Rove should trigger a Congressional investigation into whether Rove mishandled classified information when he discussed Plame Wilson with reporters. Though Fitzgerald conducted a “narrow” criminal invesigation, Waxman says, Congress should examine the broader issue of whether Rove deserved to keep his high-level security clearance (see July 13, 2005). (Wallsten and Hamburger 6/14/2006) The Republican National Committee (RNC) circulates quotes from Democratic lawmakers attacking Rove under the headline of “Wrong Again: Prejudging Karl Rove Is Latest Example of Democrats’ Overheated Rhetoric and False Statements.” “What you had in this case was an unbelievable example of misjudgment for political purposes by leading Democrats,” says RNC chairman Ken Mehlman. He adds that the entire Rove imbroglio is just an example of how Democrats “rush to judgment.” Democratic leaders “owe [Rove] an apology,” Mehlman says. (Froomkin 6/13/2006; Wallsten and Hamburger 6/14/2006) Plame Wilson and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, are deeply disappointed at the decision. In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “It was hard to process that someone who had appeared before a grand jury five times (see April 26, 2006), and had admitted that he had spoken to Robert Novak and Matt Cooper in the week before my name was published (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), would face no consequences for his actions.… While our faith in Fitzgerald’s skills and integrity remained unshaken, we couldn’t help but wonder, along with everyone else, what the special prosecutor had received or heard from Rove to prompt his decision.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 250) Criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt, writing for the progressive blog TalkLeft, writes that she believes Rove has “cooperated with Fitzgerald by testifying to the grand jury five times and providing whatever information he had without a safety net. Without a 5k. Without assurances he would not be indicted. That’s a hell of a risk, but Luskin pulled it off. My hat’s off to Luskin.… I’m ready to put this to bed. Karl Rove walked. He’s one of the rare subjects of an investigation who was able to talk his way out of an indictment.” (Jeralyn Merritt 6/13/2006) Former prosecutor and blogger Christy Hardin Smith, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes: “If Luskin is coming out and saying publicly that they got a letter from Pat Fitzgerald which says that Rove will not be charged, there are two things that I want to see and know: (1) what does the letter actually say, word for word; and (2) does it say something along the lines of ‘Please thank Karl for his cooperation in this matter.’” Smith adds: “Patrick Fitzgerald and his team are career professionals. You do not charge someone with a criminal indictment merely because they are scum. You have to have the evidence to back up any charges—not just that may indicate that something may have happened, but you must have evidence that criminal conduct occurred and that you can prove it. You charge the evidence you have, you try the case you can make, and you don’t go down a road that will ultimately be a waste of the public’s money and time once you have ascertained that the case is simply not there. It doesn’t mean that you don’t think the SOB that you can’t charge isn’t a weasel or guilty as hell, it just means that you can’t prove it. (And, fwiw [for what it’s worth], those times are the worst of your career, because you truly hate to let someone go when you know in your gut they’ve done something wrong.)” (Christy Hardin Smith 6/13/2006)
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)
President Bush makes racially charged statements while addressing an audience at a Republican fundraiser in Hillsborough, California, outside San Francisco. The fundraiser, hosted by the chairman of an investment firm, raises $1.5 million for the Republican National Committee. (Wildermuth 1/31/2008) The media will not learn about Bush’s remarks until late 2009, when former Bush administration speechwriter Matt Latimer publishes his book, Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor. Latimer will write: “He talked about his own failings with alcoholism as the reason he supported his faith-based initiative. ‘My philosophy is, find somebody who hurts and do something about it,’ he said. ‘Don’t wait for government to tell you what to do.’ He bluntly talked about his own situation. ‘I was beginning to love alcohol over my wife and kids. It got to a point when Billy Graham came into my life. But I was hardheaded and didn’t want to listen for a while. And then I stopped drinking overnight. I am a one-man faith-based initiative. Alcohol was competing for my affections. And it would have ruined me.’ He said things that could ruffle feathers, such as how he’d recently gone to a faith-based program run by ‘former drunks.’ He said he went to see a prison ministry program, noting that ‘everyone was black, of course.’ All eyes turned in search of the sole African American in the audience of donors. They wanted to see if he was offended.” Latimer will write that the sole African-American donor did not “appear to be” offended, and will defend Bush, writing that he “didn’t mean it in a derogatory way. He just liked making blunt observations to shock his audience.” (Think Progress 9/23/2009)
Fred Hollander, a New Hampshire resident, files a lawsuit challenging presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ)‘s ability to serve as president. Hollander names the Republican National Committee (RNC) as a co-defendant. (Hollander v. McCain et al 3/14/2008) Hollander’s challenge hinges on a February 2008 report from conservative news blog News Busters that said since McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 (his parents, both US citizens were stationed on a Navy base in Panama at the time), he may not be eligible under Article II of the Constitution to be president. News Busters went on to report that McCain’s claim to have been born in the Coco Solo Naval Hospital in the Canal Zone was false, since that hospital was not built until 1941, and the nearest hospital at the time of his birth was not on a US military base, but in the Panamanian city of Colon. Therefore, the report concluded, “we were lied to” about McCain’s birthplace, and News Busters speculated that McCain’s citizenship was in question. However, News Busters was in error. According to subsequent investigations by the press, the Panama Canal Zone did contain a small hospital at the Coco Solo submarine base in 1936, and McCain was born in that hospital. Archival records also show the name of the Naval doctor who signed McCain’s birth certificate, Captain W. L. Irvine, the director of the facility at the time. News Busters, and Hollander, are in error in their reading of the law. Both of McCain’s parents were US citizens, and McCain was born on a US military base, which qualifies under the Constitution as “US soil.” The McCain presidential campaign has refused to release a copy of McCain’s birth certificate, but a senior campaign official shows Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs a copy of the McCain birth certificate issued by the Coco Solo Naval hospital. (News Busters (.org) 2/21/2008; Dobbs 5/20/2008) Additionally, the Panama American newspaper for August 31, 1936 carried an announcement of McCain’s birth. (Washington Post 4/17/2008 ) Two lawyers interviewed by CBS News concur that under the law, McCain is a “natural born citizen” and eligible to serve as president. Theodore Olson, the solicitor general for the Bush administration, and Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor generally considered to be a liberal, agree that challenges to McCain’s citizenship are specious. (CBS News 3/28/2008) Hollander files what is later determined to be a fake birth certificate with the court that purports to prove McCain has Panamanian citizenship. The court throws Hollander’s lawsuit out on the grounds that Hollander has no standing to challenge McCain’s citizenship. (US District Court, District of New Hampshire 7/24/2008 ; Obama Conspiracy (.org) 2/27/2009; Obama Conspiracy (.org) 4/24/2010) The lawsuit is similar in nature to numerous court challenges to McCain’s Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama (see August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008).
The Republican National Committee (RNC) demands that the Democratic Party stop running a political ad that it says misconstrues Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s words. The ad says that President Bush has talked about staying in Iraq for 50 years, then plays a clip of McCain saying: “Maybe 100. That’d be fine with me.” The announcer then says, “If all he offers is more of the same, is John McCain the right choice for America’s future?” RNC chairman Mike Duncan says the ad deliberately distorts what McCain actually said. RNC lawyer Sean Cairncross says he has written to NBC, CNN, and MSNBC demanding that those networks stop airing the commercial. Interestingly, the Associated Press, in reporting the story, seems to concur with the RNC’s position: its story lede is, “The Republican National Committee demanded Monday that television networks stop running a television ad by the Democratic Party that falsely suggests John McCain wants a 100-year war in Iraq.” But in fact, McCain said just those words in January, and has repeated them since (see January 3-27, 2008). McCain said in response to a question about Bush’s claim of US troops being in Iraq for the next fifty years: “Maybe 100. As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, that’d be fine with me, and I hope it would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping, and motivating people every single day.” Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean says “there’s nothing false” about the ad. “We deliberately used John McCain’s words. This isn’t some ominous consultant’s voice from Washington. This is John McCain’s own words. And we’ve been very upfront about everything that he’s said.” (Associated Press 4/28/2007)
Republican National Committee communications director Danny Diaz says in a press teleconference that ACORN’s hiring of former felons will put Wisconsin voters at risk of identity theft: “This is a group that hires convicted criminals, delinquents, puts them on the street so that they can obtain personal information about voters. We have seen certainly numerous instances where that information is misused and, you know, citizens are negatively impacted and affected.” However, pressed to substantiate this claim on the same call, Diaz admits, “No, I can’t tell you an instance of identity theft.” (Bellows 10/2/2008)
The press reports that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) recently submitted a voter registration form filed under the name “Mickey Mouse” to the Orange County, Florida, board of elections. Fox News co-anchors Megyn Kelly and Bill Hemmer, hosting the “straight news” program America’s Newsroom, mock ACORN for filing the form. Under Florida law, ACORN is required to submit all voter registration forms even if it suspects they are bogus: failure to submit a voter registration form is punishable by a $1,000 fine. Kelly reports the form submission, and Hemmer reports that the form was rejected, saying, “ACORN says they are required to turn in every application that is filled out, even if it says Mickey Mouse.” Kelly then says: “I love that, they’ve got the obligation to submit it no matter what it says. Mickey Mouse, Jive Turkey, which we saw yesterday. How are we to know?” ACORN official Brian Kettenring tells a Tampa Bay Times reporter, “We must turn in every voter registration card by Florida law, even Mickey Mouse.” The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters cites the pertinent Florida statute: “A third-party voter registration organization that collects voter registration applications serves as a fiduciary to the applicant, ensuring that any voter registration application entrusted to the third-party voter registration organization, irrespective of party affiliation, race, ethnicity, or gender shall be promptly delivered to the division or the supervisor of elections.” If a third-party voter registration organization such as ACORN fails to submit any voter registration form, it is liable for a “fine in the amount of $1,000 for any application not submitted if the third-party registration organization or person, entity, or agency acting on its behalf acted willfully.” Kettenring says he is not sure the “Mickey Mouse” voter registration form came through ACORN, though it bore a stamp indicating that it was collected by someone affiliated with the organization. ACORN has come under fire for problems with some of the forms submitted by its employees, including 35 voter registration forms submitted in Pinellas County, Florida, that the Pinellas Board of Elections considered questionable. Recent forms submitted by the organization in Las Vegas listed the names of the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys. Republicans are claiming that the “Mickey Mouse” submission and others are part of a nationwide conspiracy by ACORN to subvert the electoral process; Republican National Committee (RNC) counsel Sean Cairncross says that ACORN is a “quasicriminal organization” engaged in “a widespread and systemic effort… to undermine the election process.” Kettenring says that a few of ACORN’s paid voter registrars are attempting to get paid by submitting forms that are clearly not legitimate. ACORN says it fires canvassers who forge applications, citing a recent firing in Broward County of one worker who turned in applications with similar handwriting. The organization alerted the county’s election supervisor to the problem. ACORN pays $8/hour for canvassers to register votes, and does not pay bonuses for volume or a specific number of signatures. The organization says officials call each name on the forms to confirm their legitimacy, but under Florida law must submit even problematic forms. (Danielson 10/14/2008; Media Matters 10/14/2008) In March 2008, Fox reporters misquoted a Washington state official regarding allegations of ACORN-driven voter fraud (see May 2, 2008). Seven days before the Fox News report, officials raided the Nevada offices of ACORN in a fruitless attempt to find evidence of voters being fraudulently registered (see October 7, 2008). Four days after the report, independent factcheckers will find allegations of voter registration fraud leveled against ACORN to be entirely baseless (see October 18, 2008). Five days after the report, a Fox News guest will accuse ACORN of causing the subprime mortgage crisis (see October 19, 2008). And in 2009, Fox News host Glenn Beck will accuse ACORN and President Obama of working together to create a “slave state” within the US (see July 23, 2009).
Dan Shelley, the former news director/assistant program director at Milwaukee’s WTMJ AM talk radio station, writes of the methodologies he and other programming experts used to make their talk show hosts popular. Like many other radio stations, WTMJ hosts primarily conservative broadcasters, though its only nationally syndicated host with a political bent is former comedian Dennis Miller. Two of its most popular local broadcasters are conservatives Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner. (Shelley is quite complimentary of Sykes in particular as a top-flight talk show host.) Shelley notes: “I was often angrily asked, once by then-Mayor John Norquist, why we just didn’t change our call letters to ‘WGOP.’ The complaints were just another sign of our impact.”
'Differentiating' - Shelley writes that Sykes and Wagner “are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.” Hosts such as Sykes and Wagner “must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims,” he writes, “and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners. This enemy can be a politician—either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a ‘RINO’ (a ‘Republican In Name Only,’ who is deemed not conservative enough). It can be the cold, cruel government bureaucracy. More often than not, however, the enemy is the ‘mainstream media’—local or national, print or broadcast.… In the talk radio business, this concept, which must be mastered to be successful, is called ‘differentiating’ yourself from the rest of the media. It is a brilliant marketing tactic that has also helped Fox News Channel thrive. ‘We report, you decide’ and ‘Fair and Balanced’ are more than just savvy slogans. They are code words signaling that only Fox will report the news in a way conservatives see as objective and truthful.”
Vicitimization - One of their most successful strategies is to play into the perception that hosts and audience alike are “victims” of what Shelley sardonically calls “the left-wing spin machine.” Any criticism, especially personal epithets such as “right-winger” or “radio squawker” merely plays into those hosts’ hands, Shelley notes. “This allows a host like Sykes to portray himself as a victim… and will leave his listeners, who also feel victimized, dying to support him.”
One-Sided Discussions - However, talk show hosts rarely, if ever, present “fair, evenhanded discussions featuring a diversity of opinions.… Programmers learned long ago that benign conversations led by hosts who present all sides of an issue don’t attract large audiences.… Pointed and provocative are what win.” Shelley writes that callers never “win a disagreement” with Sykes or Wagner. Calls from listeners who disagree with them do not get on the air “if the show’s producer, who generally does the screening, fears they might make [the host] look bad. Sykes’s producer even denied calls from US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), the current and former mayors of Milwaukee, and other prominent figures. However, callers with dissenting points of view would get on the air if the host could “use the dissenting caller to reinforce his original point… [b]y belittling the caller’s point of view.” Shelley notes of Sykes: “You can always tell, however, when the antagonist has gotten the better of Charlie. That’s when he starts attacking the caller personally.”
More Diversity in Audience than Readily Acknowledged - Shelley writes that many liberals believe talk radio audiences are composed of “angry, uneducated white men.” Such is not the case, he writes. “Many are businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, academics, clergy, or soccer moms and dads. Talk show fans are not stupid. They will detect an obvious phony. The best hosts sincerely believe everything they say. Their passion is real. Their arguments have been carefully crafted in a manner they know will be meaningful to the audience, and that validates the views these folks were already thinking.”
Shaping Opinion - Listeners cannot be “led like lemmings” to a particular conclusion, Shelley writes, but “they can be carefully prodded into agreement with the Republican views of the day.” Conservative talk show hosts, both national and local, receive “daily talking points emails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee, and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too.” Shelley writes that Sykes would “mine the emails, then couch the daily message in his own words.… Wagner would be more likely to rely on them verbatim.” Both Sykes and Wagner keep abreast of what other conservative hosts are saying: “Rush Limbaugh’s Web site was checked at least once daily. Atlanta-based nationally syndicated talker Neal Boortz was another popular choice.”
Strategic Disagreement - On occasion, Shelley writes, “[a] smart talk show host will, from time to time, disagree publicly with a Republican president, the Republican Party, or some conservative doctrine.” President Bush’s selection of his own lawyer, Harriet Miers, for the Supreme Court gave Sykes, Wagner, and other conservatives the chance to disagree vehemently with the administration. But, Shelley notes, “these disagreements are strategically chosen to prove the host is an independent thinker, without appreciably harming the president or party. This is not to suggest that hosts don’t genuinely disagree with the conservative line at times. They do, more often than you might think. But they usually keep it to themselves.”
Selective Facts - Shelley notes that it is often difficult to refute the arguments of a host such as Sykes, who builds “strong case[s] with lots of supporting facts.” Shelley notes that usually “those facts have been selectively chosen because they support the host’s preconceived opinion, or can be interpreted to seem as if they do.… Hosts… gather evidence, but in a way that modifies the old Joe Friday maxim: ‘Just the facts that I can use to make my case, ma’am.’”
Rhetorical Strategies - Shelley writes of the two main strategies conservatives (and presumably other talk show hosts of other political stripes) use to bolster weak arguments or refute strong opposing points of view. He calls them “You Know What Would Happen If” and “The Preemptive Strike.”
Shelley writes: “Using the first strategy, a host will describe something a liberal has said or done that conservatives disagree with, but for which the liberal has not been widely criticized, and then say: ‘You know what would happen if a conservative had said (or done) that? He (or she) would have been filleted by the “liberal media.”’ This is particularly effective because it’s a two-fer, simultaneously reinforcing the notion that conservatives are victims and that ‘liberals’ are the enemy.”
He then notes: “The second strategy, The Preemptive Strike, is used when a host knows that news reflecting poorly on conservative dogma is about to break or become more widespread. When news of the alleged massacre at Haditha first trickled out in the summer of 2006, not even Iraq War chest-thumper Charlie Sykes would defend the US Marines accused of killing innocent civilians in the Iraqi village. So he spent lots of air time criticizing how the ‘mainstream media’ was sure to sensationalize the story in the coming weeks. Charlie would kill the messengers before any message had even been delivered.”
Such strategies, and others, are reliable and effective, Shelley notes.
Double Standards - Shelley gives numerous examples of the hosts’ double standards with various issues.
“In the talk show world, the line-item veto was the most effective way to control government spending when Ronald Reagan was president; it was a violation of the separation of powers after President Clinton took office.”
“Perjury was a heinous crime when Clinton was accused of lying under oath about his extramarital activities. But when [Lewis ‘Scooter’] Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide, was charged with lying under oath, it was the prosecutor who had committed an egregious act by charging Libby with perjury.”
“‘Activist judges’ are the scourge of the earth when they rule it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the rights heterosexuals receive. But judicial activism is needed to stop the husband of a woman in a persistent vegetative state—say Terri Schiavo—from removing her feeding tube to end her suffering.”
Shelley adds: “To amuse myself while listening to a talk show, I would ask myself what the host would say if the situation were reversed. What if alleged DC Madam client Senator David Vitter [R-LA] had been a Democrat? Would the reaction of talk show hosts have been so quiet you could hear crickets chirping? Hardly. Or what if former Representative Mark Foley [R-FL] had been a Democrat? Would his pedophile-like tendencies have been excused as a ‘prank’ or mere ‘overfriendly emails?’ Not on the life of your teenage son. Suppose Al Gore was president and ordered an invasion of Iraq without an exit strategy. Suppose this had led to the deaths of more than 4,000 US troops and actually made that part of the world less stable. Would talk show hosts have dismissed criticism of that war as unpatriotic? No chance. Or imagine that John Kerry had been president during Hurricane Katrina and that his administration’s rescue and rebuilding effort had been horribly botched. Would talk show hosts have branded him a great president? Of course not.”
Katrina an Epiphany - Shelley notes that it was Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of that disaster that convinced him conservative talk show hosts such as Sykes and Wagner were extremists, and not merely a counterbalance to a left-skewed national media. Shelley was horrified when Sykes and Wagner, emulating their more prominent nationally syndicated colleagues such as Limbaugh and Miller, did not criticize the government’s lethally slow and callous response, but instead attacked the journalists who were obviously part of an “angry left” conspiracy to unfairly smear the Bush administration.
Conclusion - Shelley writes: “[T]he key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons. Because of that, there will always be listeners who believe that Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and their compatriots are the only members of the media who truly care about them.” (Shelley 11/13/2008; WTMJ-AM 11/13/2008)
Michael Steele, the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee and one of the few African-American Republicans in public office, says after the 2008 election losses suffered by his party he intends to “rebrand” the Republican Party in a more “hip-hop,” “off the hook” manner to attract minority and younger voters. The party’s principles and stances will not change, he says, but they will be marketed to appeal to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.” Steele says he will “surprise everyone” with his new public relations initiative, and with his use of 21st-century technology, particularly Internet-based public outreach methods such as Twitter and Facebook. To those who say he is not up for the job, Steele retorts, “Stuff it.” He worries that the Republican Party has become too regionalized. “There was underlying concerns we had become too regionalized and the party needed to reach beyond our comfort” zones, he says, citing election defeats in such states as Virginia and North Carolina. “We need messengers to really capture that region—young, Hispanic, black, a cross section.… We want to convey that the modern-day GOP looks like the conservative party that stands on principles. But we want to apply them to urban-surburban hip-hop settings.… [W]e need to uptick our image with everyone, including one-armed midgets.… Where we have fallen down in delivering a message is in having something to say, particularly to young people and moms of all shapes—soccer moms, hockey moms.” However, he says, “[w]e don’t offer one image for 18-year-olds and another for soccer moms but one that shows who we are for the 21st century.” (Hallow 2/19/2009) Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, lost a race for the US Senate in 2006, where many observers noted that he never mentioned his party affiliation in any of his advertisements. (FactCheck (.org) 10/4/2006)
The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank and lobbying organization, releases a report that says the “tea party” movement protesting the various policies of the Obama administration (see April 8, 2009) is not, as purported, entirely a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens, but an “astroturf” movement created, organized, and funded by powerful conservative and industry firms and organizations. (CAP notes that the anti-tax “tea parties,” with “tea” standing for “Taxed Enough Already,” fail to note that President Obama’s recent legislation actually has cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.) Two of the most prominent organizations behind the “tea parties” are FreedomWorks and Americans for Progress (AFP). FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) is a corporate lobbying firm run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), and organized the first “tea party,” held in Tampa, Florida, on February 27. It then began planning and organizing “tea parties” on a national scale; officials coordinated logistics, called conservative activists, and provided activists with sign ideas and slogans and talking points to use during protests. AFP has coordinated with FreedomWorks. AFP is a corporate lobbying firm run by Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner of conservative activist Ralph Reed, and funded in part by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in America (see May 29, 2009). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is also involved, through his lobbying form American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is supported by oil companies.
Support, Promotion from Fox News - On cable news channels, Fox News and Fox Business have run promotions for the “tea parties” in conjunction with enthusiastic reports promoting the affairs (see April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 6-13, 2009); in return, the organizers use the Fox broadcasts to promote the events. Fox hosts Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity all plan to broadcast live reports from the events. Fox also warns its viewers that the Obama administration may send “spies” to the events. (Fox justifies its depth of coverage by saying that it provided similar coverage for the 1995 Million Man March. However, Fox did not begin broadcasting until 1996—see October 7, 1996.)
Republican Support - Congressional Republicans have embraced the “tea parties” as ways to oppose the Obama administration. Many leading Republicans, such as Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and some 35 others, will speak at AFP-funded “tea parties.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has moved the RNC to officially support the protests. And Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced legislation formally honoring April 15 as “National Tea Party Day.” “It’s going to be more directed at Obama,” says reporter and commentator Ana Marie Cox. “This is very much, I think, part of the midterm strategy” to win elections in 2010.
Fringe Elements - According to CAP, many “fringe” elements of the conservative movement—including “gun rights militias, secessionists, radical anti-immigrant organizations, and neo-Nazi groups”—are involved in the “tea parties.” (Shakir et al. 4/15/2009; Fang 5/29/2009)
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele implies that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) has racist tendencies, a week after urging fellow Republicans to stop “slammin’ and rammin’” Sotomayor over the issue of race and deal with her nomination on the issues (see May 29, 2009). While guest-hosting William Bennett’s radio show, Steele discusses criticisms that have been made of Sotomayor. “[T]he comments that she made that have been played up about, you know, the Latina woman being a better judge than the white male is something that she has said on numerous occasions,” Steele tells a caller (see October 26, 2001). “So this was not just the one and only time it was said. They’ve now found other evidences and other speeches… that she has made mention of this, this fact that her ethnicity, that her cultural background puts her in a different position as a judge to judge your case.… And God help you if you’re a white male coming before her bench.” A recent analysis of Sotomayor’s decisions as a judge in race-based cases proves that she does not discriminate against white plaintiffs (see May 29, 2009). (Corley 6/5/2009) Four days later, Steele will defend his remarks. “Well, that’s not inflammatory,” he tells a CNN audience. “It’s based off of what—the inference that she left and what she said. You know, if you have a judge, where you have a situation where you have—you’re going before a trier of fact, and the trier of fact is on record as saying that this individual’s background experience is better positioned to make a decision than someone else, that gives one pause. And so my view of it was, in looking at it, you’re now segregating out white men by your comments. So, God help you if you’re a white male. If you’re seeking justice, this may not be the bench you want to go before.” (Corley 6/10/2009)
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele gives a very direct answer when asked if President Obama’s health care proposal constitutes socialism. During a presentation at the National Press Club, Steele is asked, “Does President Obama’s health care plan represent socialism?” He replies: “Yes. Next question.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow notes that Steele is “very sure that reforming health care is socialism even if he’s not actually all that sure what health care policy is,” and plays a video clip of Steele saying at a recent press conference: “I don’t do policy. I’m not—I’m not a legislator.” Steele acknowledges that Republicans made similar assessments of Medicare when it was proposed in 1965, and says: “I think that there’s a legitimate debate there about the impact that Medicare and Medicaid are having on the overall fabric of our economy. I think, though, in this case, unlike 1965, the level of spending, the level of government control and intrusion is far greater and much more expansive than anything we’ve ever seen.… So I think that what we’re talking about here is something far beyond anything we’ve seen in 1965 or since 1965. This is unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector, period. And you can sweeten that any way you want, but it still tastes bitter. And I think the American people know that.” According to Steele, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and other Democrats are part of a “cabal” that wants to implement government-run health care. “Obama-Pelosi want to start building a colossal, closed health care system where Washington decides. Republicans want and support an open health care system where patients and doctors make the decisions,” he says. Adding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) into his statement, Steele continues: “Many Democrats outside of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Waxman cabal know that voters won’t stand for these kinds of foolish prescriptions for our health care. We do too. That’s why Republicans will stop at nothing to remind voters about the risky experimentation going on in Washington.” Obama and Congressional Democrats are moving too fast to try to enact health care reform, Steele says. “So slow down, Mr. President. We can’t afford to get health care wrong. Your experiment proposes too much, too soon, too fast. Your experiment with our health care could change everything we like about our health care, and our economy as well.” When asked why Republicans are not advancing their own health care proposals, Steele responds: “Now, you know, the Republicans can get up tomorrow and introduce its own bill, but you and I know how Washington works. The bill that matters is the one that the leadership puts in place. The Democrats have the leadership.” (Davis 7/20/2009; Alonso-Zaldivar 7/20/2009; MSNBC 7/27/2009)
The Republican National Committee plans to spend a million dollars in August on television ads opposing health care reform. One of the key elements of the ad campaign is a study released today by the Lewin Group that finds 119 million Americans would lose the coverage they currently have under the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal. MSNBC’s progressive talk show host Rachel Maddow airs video clips of Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Tom Price (R-GA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) all citing the Lewin study as evidence that health care reform is bad for Americans. The Lewin Group is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, a health insurance provider. United Health operates a subsidiary called Ingenix, which in turn operates a consulting firm, the Lewin Group. Maddow notes that Republicans call the Lewin Group “nonpartisan and independent” when in fact it is a branch of a health care insurer. In January 2009, United Health agreed to pay $400 million to the State of New York after being charged with defrauding customers—manipulating data in order to shift medical expenses onto consumers. Former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, himself a doctor, says the issue is “not… about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the health insurance agency versus the American people.” (Ingenix 7/27/2009; MSNBC 7/28/2009)
Some Democratic politicians accuse Republicans of organizing “angry mobs” to disrupt town hall meetings around the country (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 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). Conservatives retort that the protests are spontaneous outbursts of anger and concern from ordinary citizens who oppose the White House’s health care reform proposals. According to a Democratic National Committee (DNC) ad, Republicans “have no plan for moving our country forward, so they’ve called out the mob.… [D]esperate Republicans and their well-funded allies” are trying to “destroy President Obama.” Senator Arlen Specter, who took part in a contentious town hall three days ago (see August 2, 2009), says: “I think that a fair amount of the activity was orchestrated. I think a fair amount of it was involved individuals who came without being orchestrated. But it was a battleground.” And White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says some of the anger from the crowds is manufactured: “In fact, I think you’ve had groups today, Conservatives for Patients Rights [CPR], that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger” (see August 4, 2009). In return, CPR spokesman Brian Burgess says, “The White House is desperate for a scapegoat to blame for their failure to convince Americans to let the government take over health care.” A Democratic organization with connections to the Obama administration, Organizing for America, is planning strategy for upcoming events, including a Michigan appearance by Vice President Joe Biden. An e-mail from the organization encourages Michigan Democrats to “stand with the vice president and against the angry mobs being directed by Republican operatives in Washington to disrupt events throughout the month of August.” DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse says that mobs of right-wing activists are being transported from one rally to another by “well-funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives and funded by the special interests who are desperately trying to stop the agenda for change the president was elected to bring to Washington.… This type of anger and discord did not serve Republicans well in 2008—and it is bound to backfire again.” Republican National Committee (RNC) spokeswoman Gail Gitcho responds: “In a remarkable example of callousness, the White House and Democrats have reduced the concerns and opinions of millions of Americans to ‘manufactured’ and have labeled them as ‘angry extremists,’ for voicing their opposition to President Obama’s government-run health care experiment.… Are Democrats so out of touch that they are shocked to learn that Americans are concerned about their $1.6 trillion government-run health care experiment?” CNN political analyst Bill Schneider observes: “On issues like this, intensity of opinion matters as much as numbers. Opponents of the president’s health care reform seem to feel more intensely about it than Obama’s supporters.” (CNN 8/5/2009) Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says he believes the use of intimidation and extreme tactics—including displays of overtly Nazi symbols and hanging representatives in effigy—will “backfire in a big way” because their aim is to keep people from talking about health care. “When you’ve got people shouting and hanging members of Congress in effigy,” he says, “most people are going to react badly to that. I think most people want to have a civil discussion.” Van Hollen says that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republican leaders “are actively involved in sort of fueling the fire of these disruptions. They’ve got to be careful what they ask for here.… If Republicans want to continue to ally themselves with these fringe groups, it will continue to discredit them.” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain counters: “Democrats have gone from blaming Republican obstruction, to the insurance industry, to Matt Drudge, and now they are even blaming the voters who are registering their opposition at town halls across the country. At what point are they going to get the message that people simply don’t want a government takeover of health care?” (Bendery and Kucinich 8/5/2009)
Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Michael Steele tells a Washington Times reporter that his organization had no role in the recent spate of raucous and near-riotous confrontations by conservative anti-health care reform advocates (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, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). “I had nothing to do with that, I did not encourage that,” Steele says. “And we’re not encouraging people to be angry, I mean to the point of being nasty and brutish and ugly. That’s not what this is about. There’s no upside for the Republican Party or the people involved to do that. Now some people, you know, that’s how they express their frustration, that’s how they express their frustration. But that’s not something deliberately coordinated by me or any one state party.” Steele’s statement is at odds with recent exhortations and statements of support from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who has just issued a press release that celebrates the “success” of the town hall disruptions, and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which has celebrated the disruptions with a “Recess Roast” e-mail urging more disruptions. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is another Republican who disagrees with the angry, confrontational tactics: hours before Steele’s statement, he sent out a Twitter message that said, “Town hall meetings are an American tradition—we should allow everyone to express their views without disruption—even if we disagree!” (Jilani 8/5/2009)
Though Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Michael Steele says that the Republican Party has no ties to, or involvement with, the recent spate of raucous and near-riotous protests against health care reform (seeAugust 5, 2009, June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009), the Web site of the Republican Party of Texas features a front page celebration of the recent disruption at a town hall hosted by Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett (see August 1, 2009). A photo of Doggett on the site links to a YouTube video of protesters screaming and shouting at him, hosted on the Texas Republican Party’s official YouTube account, txgoptv. The video concludesd with the words, “Produced by the Republican Party of Texas,” and features a legal disclaimer that proclaims the video was paid for the by the Republican Party of Texas. (Republican Party of Texas 8/2009; Jilani 8/6/2009)
Congressman Steve Kagen (D-WI) attempts to explain his position on health care reform to a sometimes-raucous crowd, mirroring the difficulties other lawmakers have had with demonstrative and angry audiences (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, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009). Towards the end of the health care forum, one audience member, Heather Blish, questions Kagen’s position on the issue. Blish describes herself as “just a mom from a few blocks away” who is “not affiliated with a political party.” In reality, she was a Republican Party of Wisconsin and a Republican National Committee (RNC) official; she also worked for Kagen’s opponent, John Gard, in 2008. According to her LinkedIn profile, Blish is still a member of both Republican organizations, and an adviser to the state party. Reporter and pundit Sam Stein writes: “We don’t know why Blish chose to describe herself the way she did. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with people showing up at a town hall to express their differences. But Blish’s misdirection feeds a suspicion that she—like some other protesters at these events—are there to create political theater rather than participate in serious debate.” (Stein 8/6/2009; Terkel 8/7/2009; WGBA 8/7/2009) Blish’s boss, Scott Detwiler, who owns a Web design firm that develops sites for political candidates and campaigns, confirms that Blish has been active in local Republican politics. Blish says she has terminated her connections with the Republican Party. (Urbina 8/7/2009)
The Republican National Committee (RNC) releases a memo entitled “CIA IG Report Confirms Effectiveness of CIA Interrogation Program.” The memo is in response to the release of a 2004 CIA report detailing numerous instances of torture and abuse against detainees by CIA interrogators and contractors (see August 24, 2009). The RNC memo asserts that, far from detailing potential crimes and abuses, the report proves that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program was effective in garnering critical intelligence from detainees. The memo reads in part: “Media coverage [of the report] seems to imply that CIA interrogators were constantly going beyond programmatic guidance, where the IG report found the reality to be that ‘there were few instances of deviations from approved procedures.‘… Additionally, the media today has latched on to the use of a gun in an interrogation, without usually reporting the other important element of that salacious story, which is that the interrogator was promptly disciplined for his actions.… Similarly going unreported today is that the release of the IG report should finally put to rest claims that the CIA interrogation program was not effective and did not produce actionable intelligence.” The memo notes that in the report, “[a]gency senior managers believe that lives have been saved as a result of the capture and interrogation of terrorists who were planning attacks, in particular, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, Hambali, and [Abd al-Rahim a]l-Nashiri.” In the report, an unidentified senior CIA official called the program “an absolute success.” (Goldfarb 8/24/2009) The RNC statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from former Vice President Dick Cheney (see August 24, 2009).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney releases a statement that asserts the just-released CIA inspector general’s report (see August 24, 2009) proves that torture, which he refers to as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” works, and follows up with an attack on the Obama administration’s commitment to protecting the nation. Cheney writes: “The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks. These detainees also, according to the documents, played a role in nearly every capture of al-Qaeda members and associates since 2002. The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al-Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States. The people involved deserve our gratitude. They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions. President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel (see First Half of August 2009), and his decision to remove authority for interrogation from the CIA to the White House (see August 24, 2009), serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.” (Hayes 8/24/2009; Ackerman 8/24/2009) Cheney’s statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from the Republican National Committee (see August 24, 2009).
Disputing Cheney's Assessment - A Democratic official disputes the assertions, saying that the report provides no basis to conclude that torture was effective in eliciting actionable intelligence, and cites caveats in the body of the report. (Allen 8/25/2009) And the New York Times notes that the memos “do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009)
'Silly Semantic Game' - Reporter and columnist Spencer Ackerman notes that the memos seem to suggest that the most useful intelligence came from traditional intelligence techniques. He writes, “Cheney’s public account of these documents have conflated the difference between information acquired from detainees, which the documents present, and information acquired from detainees through the enhanced interrogation program, which they don’t.” Human rights organizations take a similar line. Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights says the documents “don’t make the case for torture, they only show that the CIA is able to tailor documents to justify its actions after the fact.” Tom Parker of Amnesty International notes that the memos “are hardly the slam dunk we had been led to expect. There is little or no supporting evidence in either memo to give substance to the specific claims about impending attacks made by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in highly coercive circumstances.” (Ackerman 8/24/2009; Roth 8/25/2009) Reporter Zachary Roth calls Cheney’s claim a “silly semantic game.” While it is true that the US gained actionable intelligence from detainees who were tortured, Roth observes, “it’s totally different from Cheney’s earlier claim—that the documents would show it was the EITs themselves that elicited the information.” (Roth 8/25/2009)
In an interview with NPR, Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), finds it difficult to both support Medicare and attack government-run health care. Steele is interviewed by Steve Inskeep, and tells him that government-run health care is never a good option, but simultaneously demands that health care reformers protect Medicare and retain its funding.
Says Democrats Want to Cut Medicare, Then Advocates Cutting Medicare - Steele calls Medicare “a valuable program” that is “the last line of opportunity” for elderly Americans to receive health care. He accuses Democrats of wanting to “raid” the program to fund health care reform, and says accusations that he wants to cut Medicare spending is “a wonderful interpretation by the left” that he wants to reduce such funding. However, in response to the next question, Steele says he supports cutting Medicare spending; Inskeep asks, “[Y]ou would be in favor of certain Medicare cuts?” and Steele says: “Absolutely. You want to maximize the efficiencies of the program. I mean, anyone who’s in the program would want you to do that, and certainly those who manage it want you to that.”
Protecting and Attacking Medicare Simultaneously - Inskeep pins Steele down on the dichotomy by noting that he has previously written about the need to protect Medicare while attacking the idea of President Obama’s “plan for a government-run health care system.” Inskeep observes, “You’re aware that Medicare is a government-run health care program,” and Steele retorts: “Yeah, look how it’s run. And that’s my point. Take Medicare and make it writ large across the country, because here we’re now—how many times have we been to the precipice of bankruptcy for a government-run health care program?” In the following exchange, Steele, according to Think Progress reporter Amanda Terkel, “tie[s] himself into knots”:
Inskeep: “It sounds like you don’t like Medicare very much at all.”
Steele: “No, I’m not saying that. No, Medicare…”
Inskeep: “… But you write in this [Washington Post] op-ed that you want to protect Medicare because it’s politically popular. People like Medicare.”
Steele: “No, no, no, no, no. Please, don’t…”
Inskeep: “That’s why you’re writing to protect Medicare.”
Steele: “Well, people may like Medicare, and liking a program and having it run efficiently is sometimes two different things. And the reality of it is simply this: I’m not saying I like or dislike Medicare.… My only point is that, okay, Medicare is what it is. It’s not going anywhere. So let’s focus on fixing it so that we don’t every three, five, 10 years have discussions about bankruptcy and running out of money.”
'You're Doing a Wonderful Little Dance' - Inskeep continues to drill into Steele’s support for Medicare and his simultaneous opposition to government-run health care, leading Steele to note, “I want to protect something that’s already in place and make it run better and run efficiently for the senior citizens that are in that system does not mean that I want to automatically support, you know, nationalizing or creating a similar system for everybody else in the country who currently isn’t on Medicare.” When Steele says the government could regulate the private industry to make sure that private insurers don’t make decisions for citizens’ health care based on profit, Inskeep asks: “Wait a minute, wait, wait. You would trust the government to look into that?” After a brief, spluttering exchange, Steele says, “I’m talking about those who—well, who regulates the insurance markets?” Inskeep notes, “That would be the government, I believe.” Steele then accuses Inskeep of trying to manipulate the conversation: “Well, and so it—wait a minute, hold up. You know, you’re doing a wonderful little dance here and you’re trying to be cute, but the reality of this is very simple. I’m not saying the government doesn’t have a role to play. I’ve never said that. The government does have a role to play. The government has a very limited role to play.”
Insists that 'No One's Trying to Scare' Americans about Reform - Towards the end of the interview, Inskeep asks whether it is difficult to explain health care to Americans in a way that “doesn’t just kind of scare people with soundbites.” Steele replies: “No one’s trying to scare people with soundbites. I have not done that, and I don’t know any leaders in the House and the Senate that have done that.” (National Public Radio 8/27/2009; Terkel 8/27/2009) Steele has called the Democrats’ health care reform plan “socialism” and accused Congressional Democrats of being in a “cabal” to enact government-controlled health care over the objections of the American populace (see July 20, 2009). And his RNC has sent out a survey suggesting that the Democrats’ reform proposal would discriminate against Republicans (see August 27, 2009).
The Republican National Committee (RNC) mails a survey to thousands of recipients that implies the Democrats’ health care reform efforts will use voter registration information to ration health care, and to deny care to Republicans. A question in the survey asks: “It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person’s political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?”
'Inartfully' Worded - Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine retorts, “Even we can’t believe the latest in the RNC’s effort to scare voters, lie to the public, and ‘kill’ health insurance reform.” RNC spokeswoman Katie Wright says the question might have been “inartfully” written, but reflects legitimate concerns about confidentiality: “Americans have reason to be concerned about the failure of the Democrats’ health care experiment to adequately protect the privacy of Americans’ personal information.” Politico’s Glenn Thrush says of Wright’s wording, “‘Inartfully’ seems to fall short of a loaded question which seems to have little basis in reality.” He notes that though the House bill gives the government the right to glean “point of service” data about someone’s health care payments or remittances through the use of an electronic benefits card, “nowhere in the proposed bill is any reference to tapping voter registration information.” (Thrush 8/27/2009; Republican National Committee 8/27/2009 )
AMA Criticizes Survey - The American Medical Association (AMA) denounces the survey’s implication, writing, “Patients should rest assured that the health care legislation under consideration in the House does not ration medical care or discriminate based on political affiliation.” (Beutler 8/27/2009) Progressive television host Rachel Maddow says of the survey, “In the horrible Hobbesian, no rules, no shame, free-for-all of lies, overstatements, and outrageous mischaracterizations that has been the health care debate this summer thus far, this one—this health reform is a secret plot to kill Republicans lie offered up by the Republican Party itself—was so bad that the Republican Party actually had to apologize for it today.” (MSNBC 8/28/2009)
'Fundraising Appeal' Designed to 'Inflam[e] the Republican Base' - Retired insurance underwriter Raymond Denny, who received the survey, equates the question to the classic “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” He says: “It’s so blatantly lopsided. I called them [the RNC] up and said, ‘This is ridiculous!’ They just said, ‘All right.’” Denny tells a reporter he is concerned that such baseless insinuations—that the Obama administration would deny health care to Republicans—would become yet another talking point for anti-reform proponents. Another question asks: “Rationing of health care in countries with socialized medicine has led to patients dying because they were forced to wait too long for treatment.… Are you concerned that this would be inevitable in the US under the Democrats’ plan?” Denny says: “I wrote insurance policies. I know how words can be used to make people do what you want them to do. The law allows a lot of latitude with politicians. That I understand. Some of these techniques are used by both parties. But this to me seems way over the edge of normal politics.” Pollster Mike Riley says the survey is not, apparently, a legitimate information-gathering device, but rather a means of inflaming the Republican base and garnering donations. Such “surveys” are standard practice, he notes. “It’s common, trying to stir the pot to see what kinds of issues get attention. Both parties do that. They are using some of the hot-button issues to see what activates the voters. It’s politics as usual within the party faithful. No one that I know puts any credibility in these types of polls.” Another pollster, Bob Moore, calls the “survey” little more than “a fundraising appeal.” If such tactics “weren’t effective, they wouldn’t be using them,” he says. (Durbin 8/27/2009; Weigel 8/27/2009; Weigel 8/27/2009)
Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), speaks to an audience of around 150 at Howard University in Washington. Steele’s speech is part of his outreach to historically African-American colleges and universities. Unfortunately for his outreach program, the first few rows in the auditorium are reserved for local Young Republicans; all of the attendees from that organization are white. Steele’s dialogue has few moments for the audience to contribute, as he delivers a long speech about providing for your own future, with all questions submitted in writing while he speaks. However, the dynamic changes when 23-year-old Amanda Duzak, a Towson University graduate, stands up against the rules of engagement and speaks out of turn. Steele had finished criticizing the idea of the “public option,” the proposed government-run alternative to private health insurance. Duzak says: “My mother died of cancer six months ago because she could only afford three of her six prescription chemotherapy medications. There are 50 million people in this country who could end up like my mom, suffering or dying because they do not have adequate health care (see September 17, 2009). Everyone in this room and everyone in this country should have access to good health care.” Duzak receives a solid round of applause, and Steele answers her. After saying he believes in mature, honest discussion, he says, “People are coming to these town meetings and they’re like [he then shakes].” Gesturing directly at Duzak, he adds: “It makes for great TV. You’ll probably make it tonight, enjoy it.” Steele then turns his back on Duzak as the crowd continues to applaud her. (Terkel 9/2/2009; Zirin 9/2/2009; Weigel 9/2/2009)
Democratic candidate Bill Owens wins an unexpected, narrow victory in a special election for the US House seat representing New York State’s 23rd District, a win widely seen as a setback to the national tea party movement. Owens ran against Conservative Party candidate Douglas L. Hoffman in a race that saw the original Republican Party candidate, Dede Scozzafava, drop out under heavy pressure from local, state, and national tea party organizations to give way to Hoffman, their preferred candidate. Scozzafava was the unanimous choice of the 11 county chairs of the district’s Republican Party organization. The 23rd District is traditionally Republican. Conservative figures identified with the tea party, such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), who has presidential aspirations, came out strongly in favor of Hoffman and against Scozzafava, as did talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Fred Thompson, and the editorial pages of the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal. Scozzafava is a moderate Republican who supports gay and abortion rights, and the federal economic stimulus package promoted by the Bush and Obama administrations. The Republican National Committee (RNC), which had backed Scozzafava, applauded her decision to withdraw and endorsed Hoffman. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who like the RNC had supported Scozzzafava but in the days before the election endorsed Hoffman, says he worries that having third-party candidates routinely enter races would split conservative votes and give Democrats control of federal and state governments. “This makes life more complicated from the standpoint of this,” he says.“If we get into a cycle where every time one side loses, they run a third-party candidate, we’ll make [Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] speaker for life and guarantee [President] Obama’s re-election.… I think we are going to get into a very difficult environment around the country if suddenly conservative leaders decide they are going to anoint people without regard to local primaries and local choices.” After Hoffman’s loss, some tea party figures blame the Republican Party for the defeat, saying that if the party had gotten behind Hoffman from the outset, he would have defeated Owens. Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, agrees, saying: “I think Doug Hoffman likely would have won if he had been the Republican candidate from the get-go. It wasn’t a spike in the end zone for the Democrats. They got that seat not because Democrats were brilliant, but because Republicans were stupid.” Some conservatives attempt to frame the loss as a victory because they forced the more moderate Scozzafava out of the race. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) says, “Our number one goal was to make clear that the Republican Party cannot take someone as liberal as Dede Scozzafava and thrust her out on the voters and expect the voters just to accept it.” The seat became vacant after Representative John M. McHugh (R-NY) was appointed by President Obama to become secretary of the Army. After facing a barrage of heavy criticism from Limbaugh, Palin, and the like, Scozzafava abruptly withdrew from the race and threw her support to Owens. Some critics questioned Hoffman’s eligibility to run for the seat, noting that his home in Lake Placid, New York, is not in the district. The conservative Club for Growth spent $1 million promoting Hoffman’s candidacy, and other conservative organizations such as the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and NOM also supported Hoffman. The groups funneled cash into Hoffman’s campaigns, printed up literature, and sent volunteers from other areas in the country to work for Hoffman. Dick Armey, the former House majority leader who now heads the conservative lobbying group FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), says the race proves Republicans need to stop fielding moderate candidates. “My own view right now is the myth that you have to be a moderate—a Democrat lite—to win in the Northeast probably has less standing now than in any time since I’ve been in politics,” Armey says. “The small-government candidate in the Republican Party—or running as an independent—is going to be the one to draw the energy of these voters.” Marilyn Musgrave, a former representative from Colorado who works for the Anthony List, says after the election that the conservative backing of Hoffman proves to Washington lawmakers that they should not take conservative votes for granted. “Don’t just assume we’re yours,” she says. (Feldmann 10/29/2009; Nagourney and Peters 10/31/2009; Peters 11/3/2009)
Marilyn Davenport, the Orange County, California, Republican Party official and tea party activist who sent out an email of President Obama and his parents as chimpanzees (see April 15, 2011), apologizes for her error, calling herself an “imperfect Christian,” and says she sees no reason to resign her post as a member of the county GOP’s central committee. She reads a statement to reporters that includes a Bible passage from the Book of James. The statement reads in part: “To my fellow Americans who have seen the email that I forwarded and were offended by my actions, I humbly apologize. I ask for your forgiveness for my unwise behavior. I didn’t stop to think about the historic implications and other examples of how this could be offensive. I’m an imperfect Christian gal who does her best to live a Godly life. I would never do anything to intentionally harm or berate others regardless of ethnicity. Everyone who knows me, knows that to be true. I will not repeat this error. So I ask for your forgiveness, for I am truly sorry.” Asked by reporters who she believes she offended, she says: “I assume I have offended the black people. Having friends who are black, I never intended for that.” The Orange County Republican Central Committee is slated to meet to discuss the issue. Committee member Tim Whitacre says Davenport will not attend, because she has received death threats. Whitacre says, “She’s horrified this has happened and she’s horrified anyone would be offended by this.” Whitacre says that since Davenport has apologized, it is time for people to move on without further comment. “It was a private email from her private house to some private friends,” Whitacre says. “I am not defending the email. No one is defending the content of the email. What I am defending, I know this lady’s mindset and her heart. I know there’s nothing in her history that would say racist.” Republican Party of Orange County chairman Scott Baugh says that the committee can pass a resolution critical of Davenport, and that is about all it can do. “The bottom line is state law precludes the committee from terminating her membership,” Baugh says. “She’s an elected member, elected by the public, and there are very narrow reasons you can remove her, and her racist email is not one of them.” Civil rights leader Earl Ofari Hutchinson says Davenport should resign. “The request by Orange County GOP chair Scott Baugh for Davenport’s resignation and pending investigation is not enough,” he says in an email to a Los Angeles NBC station. “The Reverend Al Sharpton has also demanded Davenport’s resignation.… We must send the message that racism will not be tolerated. Racism will be condemned anytime by anybody.” Hutchinson says the Republican National Committee should formally censure Davenport for her email “of a racist, inflammatory, and despicable photo depicting President Obama and his family as monkeys,” and should urge the Orange County GOP to issue an apology to Obama. “Anything less than censure and an apology reinforces the notion that the national GOP tacitly condones racist words and acts by its officials,” Hutchinson says. (Frere and Suter 4/18/2011; Noyes, Lloyd, and Weber 4/20/2011) Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP’s California State Conference, says: “There are no ifs and buts about this cartoon; it is absolutely and positively racist in nature. There is no way that depicting the president of the United States as less than human can be considered anything but a racist act.” Former GOP state chairman Michael J. Schroeder says, “The damage to the Republican Party has been by her, and I still think she should resign.” (McRae 4/20/2011) In an interview, Davenport says she worries she has lost her reputation. “I understand why everyone is contacting me,” she says. “I wasn’t wise in sending the email out. I shouldn’t have done it. I really wasn’t thinking when I did it. I had poor judgment.… Everybody who knows me says they can’t believe people are calling me a racist.” Davenport says that she received the doctored photo of a chimpanzee Obama from a tea party activist, and that the photo is based on the media frenzy prompted by Donald Trump’s claims that Obama might have been born in Africa and therefore is not a US 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, April 10, 2011, and April 14-15, 2011). (Moxley 4/18/2011)
The House of Representatives votes 235-190 to eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF), which provides for voluntary public funding of presidential candidates. The legislation would also shut down the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a national clearinghouse on the mechanics of voting. Public financing of campaigns has been a target of Republicans since the Citizens United decision allowed corporations and labor unions to give unlimited amounts to campaigns (see January 21, 2010 and June 27, 2011). House Republicans failed in a previous attempt to eliminate the PECF (see January 26, 2011 and After). Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) gives an impassioned defense of the PECF, saying that it is one of the few obstacles that remains to impede what she calls the takeover of the US political system by well-financed special interests. She asks her colleagues whether they believe the “99 percent of Americans that don’t have lobbyists” would benefit in any way by abolishing PECF. She then notes that the Republican National Committee (RNC) got 18 million dollars from this fund and suggests it give the money back, saying: “The level of spending by corporations and special interests since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United should give every American reason for concern. So do my Republican colleagues really believe that more corporate and special interest money in politics is going to benefit in any way the 99 percent of Americans who don’t have lobbyists? The current public financial [sic] system for the presidential elections has problems. Most notably, it has not kept pace with the cost of modern campaigns. So we should fix it instead of eliminating it. I would note that the Republican National Committee recently received 18 million dollars from this fund. If the Republicans think it’s such a bad idea, perhaps they should ask the RNC to return the money.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says the bill has no chance in the Senate, and is critical of House Republicans for advancing it, stating: “Instead of making it so it’s easier for people to vote, they want to do everything they can to make it harder for people to vote. I don’t understand this. They want to have as few people to vote as possible.” Representative Gregg Harper (R-MS), the sponsor of the bill, says the elimination of the PECF would help reduce the deficit. “If we do not eliminate some programs, then a $15 trillion debt will be our decline into a European-style financial crisis,” he says. (Carter 12/1/2011; Jilani 12/1/2011) The bill will not pass the Senate.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) files a court brief calling the federal ban on direct corporate donations to candidates unconstitutional, and demanding it be overturned. Such direct donations are one of the few restrictions remaining on wealthy candidates wishing to influence elections after the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). The brief is in essence an appeal of a 2011 decision refusing to allow such direct donations (see May 26, 2011 and After). The RNC case echoes a request from Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) that he be allowed to form and direct his own super PAC (see November 23, 2011), and recent remarks by Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) calling for donors to be allowed to contribute unlimited amounts to candidates (see December 21, 2011). The RNC brief claims: “Most corporations are not large entities waiting to flood the political system with contributions to curry influence. Most corporations are small businesses. As the Court noted in Citizens United, ‘more than 75 percent of corporations whose income is taxed under federal law have less than $1 million in receipts per year,’ while ‘96 percent of the 3 million businesses that belong to the US Chamber of Commerce have fewer than 100 employees.’ While the concept of corporate contributions evokes images of organizations like Exxon or Halliburton, with large numbers of shareholders and large corporate treasuries, the reality is that most corporations in the United States are small businesses more akin to a neighborhood store. Yet § 441b does not distinguish between these different types of entities; under § 441b, a corporation is a corporation. As such, it is over-inclusive.” Think Progress legal analyst Ian Millhiser says the RNC is attempting to refocus the discussion about corporate contributions onto “mom and pop stores” and away from large, wealthy corporations willing to donate millions to candidates’ campaigns. If the court finds in favor of the RNC, Millhiser writes: “it will effectively destroy any limits on the amount of money wealthy individuals or corporation[s] can give to candidates. 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. For this reason, a Wall Street tycoon who wanted to give as much as a billion dollars to fund a campaign could do so simply by creating a series of shell corporations that exist for the sole purpose of evading the ban on massive dollar donations to candidates” (see October 30, 2011). (United States of America v. Danielcytk and Biagi 1/10/2012 ; Millhiser 1/11/2012) The RNC made a similar attempt in 2010, in the aftermath of Citizens United; the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of its rejection. (Liptak 5/3/2010; Tom Goldstein 5/14/2012) Over 100 years of US jurisprudence and legislation has consistently barred corporations from making such unlimited donations (see 1883, 1896, December 5, 1905, 1907, June 25, 1910, 1925, 1935, 1940, 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). Shortly after the Citizens United ruling, RNC lawyer James Bopp Jr. confirmed that this case, like the Citizens United case and others (see Mid-2004 and After), was part of a long-term strategy to completely dismantle campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010).
Republican candidates and campaign financiers are beginning to advocate for unlimited donations by wealthy contributors directly to presidential campaigns, using language that is remarkably similar to one another, says Think Progress reporter Scott Keyes. While most Americans disagree with letting so much unregulated and unaccountable money into politics (see January 23, 2012), advocates of direct donations apparently believe that current campaign finance laws, even after the Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010), are still too restrictive. Keyes writes, “The language used by different high-ranking Republicans is so similar that it suggests a certain level of message-coordination on the subject.” He notes a recent statement by Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA—see December 21, 2011), a similar statement by former Republican presidential candidate and current Romney supporter Tim Pawlenty (R-MN—see January 21, 2012), and a January 27 statement by Republican financier Fred Malek (see Mid-October 2010), who told him, “I would favor unlimited contributions to candidates with full disclosure.” Keyes writes that although Romney, Pawlenty, and Malek couple their calls for direct donations with calls for disclosure and transparency, Republicans have consistently voted against measures that would actually bring transparency to campaign finance (see July 26-27, 2010). (Keyes 1/31/2012) The Republican National Committee (RNC) has a lawsuit pending that would legalize unlimited donations directly to candidates (see January 10, 2012).
Law professors Thomas Goldstein, the publisher of the well-regarded Supreme Court blog “SCOTUSBlog,” and Jonathan Adler, a contributor to the renowned “Volokh Conspiracy” legal blog, write of their reactions to the article published by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker alleging that Chief Justice John Roberts managed the Citizens United case into becoming a vehicle for rewriting and gutting the nation’s campaign finance laws (see May 14, 2012). Goldstein describes himself as “naturally inclined towards that reading of the history” and an opponent of the Citizens United decision, but takes issue with some of Toobin’s claims. Adler is less inclined to accept Toobin’s interpretations.
Doubt that Roberts Orchestrated Decision - Both Goldstein and Adler write that Toobin’s facts do not lead to his conclusion that Roberts orchestrated the process to allow the Court to overturn the bulk of the nation’s campaign finance legal structure (see March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003); Adler goes one step further and says Toobin’s article “contains plenty of subtle (and not-so-subtle) spin in service of Toobin’s broader narrative of an out-of-control conservative court.” Had Roberts orchestrated the outcome from the beginning, Goldstein writes, it does not follow that Roberts would have written an original opinion much more narrowly focused than the final, transformative opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy (see March 15, 2009). Adler echoes this conclusion. Adler also notes that even from the outset, none of the liberal Justices were willing to rule directly against the Citizens United claim, “in no small part because the statutory argument was so weak.” Goldstein does not make this claim. Goldstein also believes that at the outset, the Court’s five conservatives—Kennedy, Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—may not have been as solid in their support for Kennedy’s more sweeping opinion as Toobin claims.
Doubts about 'Censorship' Claim - Adler notes that Toobin’s interpretation of the “censorship” argument as stumbled into by the government’s lead legal counsel during the first argument is incorrect, saying that the government’s claim that books and magazines could be censored under a strict interpretation of the McCain-Feingold legislation is accurate. He acknowledges that during the second round of arguments, the government backed away from the claim, but not convincingly and not completely. Adler gives more credence to that legal argument than does either Toobin or Goldstein.
Doubts that Roberts Alone Decided to Reargue Case - Both authors claim that Toobin erred in claiming Roberts alone decided that the Citizens United case should be reargued (see June 29, 2009); Goldstein writes, “even if he did, that decision does not seem like an effort to decide Citizens United as broadly as possible as quickly as possible.” Goldstein says that Roberts’s decision to assign the final opinion to Kennedy was not as clever a tactical move as Toobin writes: “Kennedy had already written an opinion deciding the case on that basis that had the support of several members of the majority. It would have been fairly insulting for Roberts to take the assignment away.” He also notes that in June 2010, the Court refused to hear a lawsuit by the Republican National Committee (RNC) that would, if accepted, terminated Congressional restrictions on corporate donations to political parties. Only three of the five conservatives—Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas—voted to hear argument. “If the Chief Justice were actually leading the charge for revisiting campaign finance law, he presumably would not have voted to affirm,” Goldstein writes.
Some Agreement that Majority Erred - Goldstein agrees with Toobin that the conservative majority may have erred in deciding Citizens United on First Amendment grounds (Adler supports the decision), but he does not agree with Toobin’s choice to single Roberts out for special attention: “[T]hat is a criticism that is just as applicable to the entire majority, as opposed to an indication of maneuvering by him. It also ignores that the alternative may have been no clear holding whatsoever—with dueling members of the majority articulating inconsistent rationales that left the law in flux.” Adler disagrees entirely with Toobin’s characterization of the Citizens United case as “judicial activism,” a characterization that Goldstein does not entirely accept, either.
Speculation about Sources - Adler speculates on Toobin’s sources, musing that to have such detail on the decision-making process would almost certainly indicate that Toobin’s sources are sitting Justices, clerks for said Justices, or others inside the Court itself, and writes: “We don’t know the identities of Toobin’s sources, and some of his claims are difficult to check. His story may reflect how some justices or clerks saw the case, but there may well be another side, and we won’t know until such time as the relevant court documents are released. I also cannot help but wonder whether some of Toobin’s sources, such as former Supreme Court clerks, may have violated their own ethical obligations in disclosing portions of the Court’s internal deliberations. Even if Toobin’s sources were sitting or former [J]ustices, there is something unseemly about the selective disclosure of what went on inside the Court on such a recent case.”
Conclusions - Goldstein concludes by writing that in the future, with a liberal perhaps replacing Kennedy on the Court, if an opportunity occurs for the Court’s new liberal majority to overturn Citizens United in its entirety, “[w]ill progressives really contend that the new and more liberal majority should leave that decision standing? I don’t think so. They will want the Court to get the decision ‘right’.” Regardless of his criticisms, he writes, Toobin’s book is a “must read,” as is the article. Adler is more measured in his praise, writing: “In any event, the article is still worth reading—as I am sure Toobin’s book will be as well. Some portions will just go down better with a healthy dose of salt.” (Tom Goldstein 5/14/2012; Jonathan H. Adler 5/14/2012)
The press reports that Harold Hamm, the billionaire CEO of oil firm Continental Resources, gave $985,000 to the “independent” super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011), three days after he became a Romney campaign advisor. The information comes from financial disclosure forms filed today with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Hamm gave the Romney campaign the maximum allowed donation of $2,500 in October 2011. He has also contributed $61,600 to the Republican National Committee (RNC). On April 1, 2012, Hamm became the Romney campaign’s top advisor, and made the huge donation to ROF on April 3. NBC reporter Michael Isikoff writes that Hamm’s donation “is a new example of how big super PAC donors can make their policy views heard by the campaigns they are supporting.” Hamm’s contribution was the second largest donation garnered by ROF during April. Hamm’s company is the largest leaseholder of the Bakken, the large shale formation in North Dakota; as a result, Hamm is a strong proponent of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project and a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s energy policies, particularly the administration’s decision to postpone the Keystone project and its efforts to curb tax breaks for oil exploration. Hamm chairs the Romney campaign’s “Energy Policy Advisory Group,” tasked with creating a new “pro-jobs, pro-market, pro-American” energy agenda, as the campaign has described it. The day Hamm was announced as the advisor for the Romney campaign, he said he was backing Romney in part because he was “acutely aware” of “how outrageously [Obama] has attacked energy producers in particular.” Isikoff writes that Hamm’s donations to ROF “could potentially raise questions about the connections between his donations and his role in shaping campaign policies that might benefit his company.” Neither Romney’s campaign nor Continental Resources will reveal the names of the other members of the Energy Policy Advisory Group, or answer questions about Hamm’s role in the campaign. (Isikoff 5/21/2012) Two days after the filing, Rebecca Leber of the liberal news Web site Think Progress will write, “Campaigns and super PACs are not legally allowed to coordinate, but in reality many of Romney’s donors have turned to super PACs to escape contribution ceilings” (see January 31, 2012). (Leber 5/23/2012)
Politico reports that Republican super PACs and other outside groups are coordinating under the leadership of what it calls “a loose network of prominent conservatives, including former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, the oil billionaire Koch brothers, and Tom Donohue of the US Chamber of Commerce,” to spend an unprecedented $1 billion between now and November to help Republicans win control of the White House and Congress. The plans include what Politico calls “previously undisclosed plans for newly aggressive spending by the Koch brothers” (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, February 14, 2011, February 29, 2012, and Late March 2012) to organize funding for county-by-county operations in key states, using tools such as the voter database Themis (see April 2010 and After) to build “sophisticated, county-by-county operations in key states.” The Kochs’ organizations have upped their spending plans to $400 million. Just the Kochs’ spending will outstrip the $370 million spent by the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign, and the $1 billion will exceed the $750 million spent by the 2008 Barack Obama campaign. The “independent” super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011 and January 31, 2012), plans on spending $100 million on the campaign to unseat Obama. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the two Rove-led groups coordinating much of the Republican spending efforts, plan to spend $300 million on efforts to elect Romney and other Republicans (see February 21, 2012). The raised millions will go to, among other things, television, radio, and Web advertising; voter turnout efforts; mail and telephone appeals; and absentee- and early-balloting drives. The $1 billion is entirely “outside” spending. Romney and the Republican National Committee (RNC) intend to raise some $800 million on their own. According to Politico: “The Republican financial plans are unlike anything seen before in American politics. If the GOP groups hit their targets, they likely could outspend their liberal adversaries by at least two-to-one, according to officials involved in the budgeting for outside groups on the right and left.… The consequences of the conservative resurgence in fundraising are profound. If it holds, Romney and his allies will likely outraise and outspend Obama this fall, a once-unthinkable proposition. The surge has increased the urgency of the Democrats’ thus-far futile efforts to blunt the effects of a pair of 2010 federal court rulings—including the Supreme Court’s seminal Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010)—that opened the floodgates for limitless spending, and prompted Obama to flip-flop on his resistance to super PACs on the left.” The super PAC supporting Obama’s re-election, Priorities USA Action, has not raised anywhere near the amount of money being garnered by Rove and the Koch brothers, partly because of Obama’s initial reluctance to have such groups operating on his behalf (see January 18, 2012). US labor unions may be able to raise some $200 to $400 million on behalf of Obama and other Democrats. The AFL-CIO’s Michael Podhorzer says his organization does not intend to try to match the Republican donor groups, but instead will spend most of its money reaching out to union members and other workers: “Progressives can’t match all the money going into the system right now because of Citizens United, so we have to have a program that empowers the worker movement.” Politico notes that billionaire Sheldon Adelson single-handedly kept the Newt Gingrich (R-GA) primary challenge afloat (see December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, April 22, 2012, and May 2, 2012), and billionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012) was the key funder for Republican primary challenger Rick Santorum (R-PA). Outside money helped “tea party” challengers defeat incumbents like Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) in the 2012 primaries (see February 21, 2012). “Republicans have taken one big lesson away from campaigns conducted to date in 2011 and 2012,” Politico states: “outside money can be the difference-maker in elections.” (Allen and VandeHei 5/30/2012)
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