"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Republican Scandals in G.W. Bush's SEcond T4erm

When George W. Bush’s second term began, pundit Kevin Drum said it would be marked by scandal. He thought they would be particularly susceptible to scandal because “Both Bush and the current Republican Party leadership have already demonstrated a ruthlessness and disregard for rational political norms. A “ second reason for foreseeing scandal was that the Republican Congress had largely given up its role of oversight of the executive branch.” When Clinton was in the White House, committees in both chambers limited oversight largely to scandal hunting. When George W. Bush entered the White House, oversight ended and Congress became supine, while its leadership assumed the roles of his loyal lieutenants. Republican leaders gave no sign they understood the institutional prerogatives of Congress or that they could be characterized by institutional patriotism.

Beginning in 2005, the Republican Party was rocked by a number of scandals. Its key lobbyist Jack Abramoff and two of his partners were indicted, as was Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s Chief of staff. Libby was indicted for lying in connection with the outing of CIA covert agent, Valerie Plame. Her identity was first revealed by conservative columnist Robert Novak who said he got the information from two administration officials CNN talk show host Chris Matthews subsequently called Ambassador Wilson to warn him that Karl Rove had called him to say “Wilson’s wife is fair game.” It appears that she was outed to embarrass her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson and UN weapons inspector David Albright had appeared on CNN together and criticized the claim that Iraq had negotiated with Niger to acquire nuclear materials. Vice President Cheney directed the CIA to dig up information to discredit Albright. He also held a meeting with NSA and CIA people in which he ordered a “work-up” on Wilson, whom he called “an ‘asshole’ [and] a son of a bitch.” They started spreading the word that Wilson was a “womanizer” and looked for more stories to circulate. In February 2005, Federal Judge Tatel ruled that the federal law protecting covert agents had been violated. Yet, the prosecutor apparently hit a stonewall in trying to learn who originally gave up her identity and was forced to only look at obstruction of justice matters. This apparently took both Vice President Cheney and Karl Rove out of the line of fire. The White House has refused to give the prosecutor e-mails that mentioned Plame and has maintained that malfunctions in the White House e-mail system erased many relevant communications. Reporters later found that all White House e-mails were backed up and stored elsewhere, but nothing was done to retrieve them. The story about the millions of missing e-mails changes several more times, as they became more important. For example, a Congressional committee wanted them to see if it was true that Karl Rove was behind the prosecution of Democratic governor, Don Siegelman of Alabama. The last story was that millions of e-mails were destroyed for 2—3-2005 when hard drives were destroyed because the White House was in the process of replacing a third of its computers.

Libby told prosecutors that he had been given the power to declassify information, and Vice President Cheney subsequently said there was an executive order that gave the president and vice president the power to declassify information. It later developed that this process was used to leak the intelligence estimate on Iraq’s military capacities to The New York Times. The most likely justification for doing so was to use such information to sell the war in Iraq. A court put the whole matter on the back burner, deferring a trial until two months after the 2006 elections. Republicans have been busily raising defense funds for Libby as though being involved in the treasonable outing of a covert agent was an act of high patriotism. In the end, President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence, and the true facts of the case never came out.

The second Bush term was marked by scandal. Most of it involved Republicans, but a black Democrat, Representative William Jefferson, was found with $100,000, with which he was supposed to bribe an African government. Of course, the matter was portrayed as though he was to get the full $100,000. The amount of money going to Republicans made the $100,000 look like chickenfeed. To be fair, it should be noted that the end of five Democratic dominance in the House were also marked by scandal. Speaker Jim Wright had to step down because he pressured some people to buy and distribute a book he had written. About $40,000 in sales was involved. Newt Gingrich, who played the central role in forcing Wright’s resignation, later quietly paid $300,000 to settle an ethics complaint. Representative Dan Rostenkowski was sent to prison for misappropriating government property. He gave away some furniture and ash trays, but he claimed he bought them for his offices with his campaign funds. Of course, once he placed them in a government office, they were government property. In 2006, there was concern that the scandal in Congress would metastasize “from a cancer on Congress to a cancer on the Republican Party in general and this presidency in particular.” Whether this would occur depended upon the level of public interest, and in this matter there was no Monica Lewinsky. It was said, “The Abramoff scandal, so far anyway, boasts plenty of cigars but no sex.” However, this proved to be partially wrong as Abramoff money was found to fund at least one sex for Congressional votes ring, but there was not a great deal of public interest directed at “Hookergate.”

Tom De Lay and two associates thought they had found a way around the Texas law forbidding corporate contributions to Texas political races. Instead a local grand jury indicted DeLay. He, at first, temporarily stepped down from his majority leader’s position, and it soon became clear the party would not let him reclaim it. He resigned the post and was replaced by John A. Boehner of Ohio, who unconvincingly presented himself as a reformer. However, he had voted against almost all ethics reform measures, and he soon displayed a “shockingly blasé,” wanting to consign the whole matter of reform to “the ultimate dead letter office, the House ethics committee.” Randy Cunningham of California was sent to prison for taking much in excess of $2 million in bribes. Mitch Wade of MZM, Inc, who gave Cunningham most of the money was also indicted. May James, wife of MZM’s second in command, worked in the Pentagon office that supervised the firm’s contract. MZM had been given a contract to handle and analyze some intelligence and was involved in cooking information to justify the invasion of Iraq. Wade, admitted to making illegal contributions to Virginia Republican Virgil Goode, Jr., and Katherine Harris of Florida. The Justice Department claimed neither representative realized the contributions were illegal. Republican Representative Bob Ney of Ohio accepted a 27-month plea deal for accepting a bribe. Ney was a former CIA operative who occasionally did back channel missions in the Middle East and had tripped onto a WMD network that allegedly involved Richard Cheney.

Cunningham did not use “earmarks,” special appropriations of a local nature, to achieve his objectives. His method was to increase a defense or intelligence appropriation and then make sure it was spent with designated firms, who then did favors for Cunningham or his friends. Congress reacted to the Cunningham scandal by trying to limit earmarks by making them more transparent and by clearly identifying what Senator or Representative was behind each earmark.

The Cunningham probe later showed that fifteen Republican congressmen were involved in “Hookergate,” receiving sexual favors at the Westin Grand and Watergate Hotels from male and female prostitutes proved by another San Diegan, Brent Wilkes, who had ties to the CIA and the Iran-Contra scandal. The man whose limousine service was used for these gatherings had a 62 page rap sheet, but the firm was a Department of Homeland Security contractor. Most of the fifteen Republican Congressmen were on the subcommittee that handled defense contract appropriations. . Wilkes was an unindicted co-conspirator in the Cunningham case. Wilkes and Wade were both San Diego businessmen who had government contracts and routed some of the money back to the GOP through a firm run by two of Tom DeLay’s former aids and is suspected of being tied to Jack Abramoff. Wilkes’s ties to Congressmen went back to the 1980 when he was visiting CIA agent and close friend, Kyle “ Dusty” Foggo. Congressmen traveled there to view the progress of the secret war against progressives, and Wilkes said he got to know them during sexual encounters with women in Honduran villages. There was some talk that Mitch Wade tried to bribe Representative Katherine Harris, but one Capitol Hill figure said, “I think Mitch made a mistake trying to bribe Harris. She’s so incompetent, she can’t be bribed.”

“Hookergate” received little coverage in the mainstream press but it was covered far more than a similar one in the mid-eighties. Ed Rollins revealed that there had been a small sex for votes operation run by one lobbyist using one prostitute. Two dozen Republicans were involved, about half of whom were prominent. The scandal received no coverage, except as it involved Rep. Tom Evans of Delaware, who confessed to his wife and lost his seat.

Porter Goss, director of the CIA, resigned his position in May 2006 for unknown reasons, perhaps due to reports that he and “Dusty” Foggo had been seen at these parties where prostitutes were present. Foggo resigned soon thereafter, but this could have been due to his connection to a questionable CIA contract awarded to Wilkes. Foggo claimed that he was connected with the contract with Archer Logistics but had no idea his best friend owned it. A third figure who attended the parties was Brant “Nine Fingers” Bassett, who had been a CIA agent until 2000, when he joined Goss’s Congressional staff. In the brief time before leaving the CIA and joining Goss, he collected an “honorarium” from Wilkes for undisclosed services. It was difficult to determine if there were two sets of sex parties, hosted separately by Wilkes with contractor Mitchell Wade and Abramoff or whether they were the same operation. On “The Charlie Rose Show,” Republican strategist Ed Rollins confirmed that about fifteen sitting Republican congressmen were involved, a number of whom were on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. The CIA even went to the trouble of bring a dominatrix from Germany to take care of the needs of Republican Congressmen.

Titan Corporation, another San Diego defense contractor, was also a major contributor to Cunningham and Republicans. Its employees were accused of torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib and it was fined $28,000,000 for fixing an election in Benin. It also hired Makram Chams as a contractor in Saudi Arabia. This man was known to have befriended Mohamed Atta when he was in Venice, Florida. Titan has an economic relationship with Skyway Aircraft of Saint Petersburg, a firm whose plane was seized by the Mexican government. It had 5.5 tons of cocaine aboard. The firm’s chairman is Brent Kovar, who is linked to Tom DeLay. The DC9's co owner was Royal Sons Motor Yacht Sales, an outfit muckraker Daniel Hopsicker thinks is part of a interlocking group of CIA “dummy front” companies. Although the Mexican army surrounded the plane, its pilot escaped. The Sky Way plane operates out of the same Venice airport where Mohamed Atta trained and could have been involved in the drug trade. The DEA began to investigate this possibility, but Attorney General Ashcroft shut down this probe.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was under investigation for improper handling of a blind trust, and it was revealed that he used $456,000 from an AIDS charity to keep political operatives on the payroll in anticipation of a presidential bid in 2008 The Abramoff investigation involved an inquiry into the bribery of Congressman and staff members and was headed by Alice Fisher, who became head of the Criminal Investigations division through an interim appointment. She had been with the Office of Homeland Security and deputy counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee.

Strange things happened in respect to the Abramoff investigation since 2002. In November of that year, Frederick Black, acting federal attorney on Guam, was removed a day after he subpoenaed a contract between Abramoff and the government of Guam. One of Black’s colleagues said, “Fred was removed because he asked to indict Abramoff.” Prosecutor Noll L. Hillman, who had been working on the case for two years, was suddenly nominated for a federal judgeship, leaving open a key job that could be filled with a loyalist. Representative George Miller said the timing was “startling” and added, “You have one of the chief prosecutors removed from a case that has tentacles throughout the Republican leadership of Congress, throughout the various agencies and into the White House. Andrew Lourie, a man with an interesting history, replaced Hilman. He headed the Justice Department’s Division of Public Integrity in 2001 and 2002 after Republican Congressmen persuaded Attorney General Ashcroft to demote the career lawyer, Lee Radek, who headed it. The White House promised to make public all of Abramoff’s contacts with its staff, but press secretary Scott McClellan later announced that this information would not be given to anyone. This exercise in stonewalling was largely ignored by the press, but Paul Krugman did take fellow journalists to task for ignoring the matter.

A poll showed that 68% of the public thought Congress should force White House officials to testify about the firing of the attorneys, and even more thought Congress should investigate. Oddly, a CNBC correspondent complained about the invstigation saying the Democrats looked “Too political in exploiting this.” Time’s managing editor share4d this view , saying the Democrats should back off “because it is so bad for them.” He added that “That’s not what voters want to see.”

Most of the press tried to give the affair a “balanced” approach by claiming that the Abramoff affair was bipartisan. It was reported across the board that he gave money to both Democrats and Republicans. When a few people noted that he did not give one personal contribution to a Democrat, the response was that he “directed” his Indian tribe clients to send contributions to the Democrats. If fact, the tribes had donated to Democrats before, and their giving to this party declined by 9% after they retained Abramoff. The White House refused to release pictures of Bush and Abramoff together and also refused to provide information on the people Abramoff contacted there. The Associated Press reported that he and his employees had almost 200 contacts with White House people in the first ten months of the Bush administration. Few in the press looked at the full implications of the Cunningham scandal, ignoring the votes for sex part.

Instead the press showered great attention on two Democratic members of Congress and the minute details provided by the now highly politicized Capitol police. Cynthia Mc Kinney had foolishly hit a policeman with a cell phone when he acted in a way she considered disrespectful, and foolishly let the story dominate the front page for days before offering an abject apology. Congressman Patrick Kennedy had a car accident at 2:30 AM, in which he was either under the influence of medications or drugs, but he handled the manner in a way guaranteeing that it would be drug out endlessly. An August 2002 an August 2002 Salon article showed that the Capitol Hill police have a history of not recognizing Mc Kinney

.Charges of driving under the influence of prescription drugs were brought by the Capitol Police with lightning speed, and Kennedy entered a guilty plea. Another case that discredited Democrats was that of Louisiana Democrat William Jefferson, who was caught in a sting accepting $100,000, $90,000 of which he stashed in his refrigerator. That was allegedly to be used to brine Nigerian officials. The FBI subsequently raided his Capitol Hill office, which touched off a dispute about the separation of powers. The fact that both McKinney and Jefferson were African Americans made their offenses look so much worse to more than a few voters. A misleading story about Senator Harry Reid also helped the GOP deflect criticism. The Associated Press made much over the fact that Democratic Senate Minority leader Harry Ried had accepted two fight tickets from the Nevada Gaming Commission. Its story was misleading and suggested Reid voted on a matter relating to the commission when he had not. AP stuck by its report as written and boasted in an internal memo that the story had set off a great deal of criticism of Reid.
The DC federal district judge who authorized the raid was Thomas Hogan. On January 1, 2004, he permitted nuclear triggers smuggler Asher Karni a $100,000 bail with the condition that he resides in a Hebrew Shelter Home operated by a friend and defender of Jack Abramoff. Karni, had worked for both Israeli and Turkish intelligence. He smuggled 60 USA nuclear triggers through South Africa to Pakistan. His operation had been a target of the CIA nonproliferation unit run by Valerie Plame. Karni received a very light sentence--three years.
By spring, 2006, the Republican scandals were enough under control that Representative Jerry Lewis, chairman of the appropriations committee, hired Jeffrey Shockey as the committee’s deputy staff director. Both men had been discussed in relationship to the various Abramoff scandals. Shockey said the Ethics Committee sanctioned the hire, but there is no paper record of this and Democrats have not been given the green light for similar hires. Shockey had somehow managed to collect $2 million from a lobbying firm in 2004 while working for Uncle Sam. Lewis was being investigated for his ties to Brent Wilkes, who contributed $60,000 to his last campaign. Lewis’s ties to the Copeland Lowery lobbying firm are also being scrutinized. That firm had failed to report $2,000,000 in income from 1998 to 2005 and found it necessary to submit a revised earnings statement. Most of these investigations were being carried out before grand juries in very conservative southern California.

Some speculated that there could be a reaction among the voters as great as that which deprived the Democrats of 50 House seats in 1994. However, political scientist Norman J. Ornstein calculated that there are so many safe Republican seats 2006 that at most their loss of House seats would be 20. That would turn out to be ten short of the actual number of lost seats, probably because experts on both sides had underestimated how many true independents there were in 2006. That would barely return control to the Democrats, but enough Democrats habitually vote with the Republicans in both houses that they could still advance their agenda In February 2006, the House and Senate Republican leadership moved to dampen the scandal by proposing modest reform legislation. It would prevent lobbyists under some conditions from making gifts to Congressmen or paying for trips. However, these practices were legal if they occurred as part of campaign functions. The Democrats offered a plan that was slightly tougher. It would prevent Congressmen from directing that lobbying firms hire people based on party membership.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

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Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!