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The Republican Rap Sheet

June 20, 2006

This weekend, Democrats in Congress moved quickly to oust Louisiana Representative William Jefferson from his seat on the powerful House Way and Means Committee. Facing strong opposition from the Congressional Black Caucus, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi showed that Democrats would be quick to punish ethical transgressors within their ranks. The contrast with the Republican culture of corruption could not more stark.
Jefferson, who housed $90,000 in cold cash from a Nigerian bagman in his freezer, is the exception that proves the rule. Inextricably linked to an unprecedented reign of bribery, influence peddling and dirty deals in Congress, in the White House, in state houses and on K Street, the Republican Party has protected its wrongdoers by blocking investigations, denying access to records and even politicizing the definition of crime itself.

Politicizing the Definition of Crime
With the 2006 mid-term elections looming, the Democratic leadership acted swiftly against the miscreants in its ranks. West Virginia Congressman Alan Mollohan, who directed lobbyist funds to a host of associated non-profits, stepped down from the House ethics committee. On May 25th, Pelosi wrote to Jefferson demanding his immediate resignation from the Ways and Means Committee. Arthur Davis (D-AL) of the Congressional Black Caucus concurred, "If there is significant evidence you've been involved in criminal activity and you misused your office, you stand to be denied privileges in the House."
In contrast, the Republicans have resorted to semantic games to define away the very criminality of their members. This is summed up by the classic "criminalization of politics" sound bite offered by Republican leaders and their amen corner in the conservative media. (Republican silence on their misdeeds is also aided by a second, Plame scandal sound bite, citing an "ongoing investigation.")
The mobilization of the conservative commentariat around the "criminalizing politics" talking point has been complete. In just the latest example, former prosecutor and right wing water carrier Joseph DiGenova called for President Bush to pardon Scooter Libby, and branded Fitzgerald's prosecution of Libby "the epitome of the criminalization of the political process." His fellow travelers have long been singing from the same hymnal. As early as April 2005, Tom Delay attacked the "left-wing syndicate" for "the criminalization of politics." On October 3rd, Delay ally and Karl Rove PlameGate confidant Robert Novak penned a column not coincidentally called "Criminalizing Politics." An October 14th segment on Fox News, always a reliable tool of the Republican Party, featured host Stuart Varney and Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus pressing guest David Corn of The Nation on prosecutor Ronnie Earle's supposed "criminalization of politics" in regard to charges against Tom Delay.
Protecting Their Positions
Of course, the Republicans meet accusations of their own wrongdoing not just with words, but with deeds. Chief among their actions is taking steps to preserve the positions of their threatened partisans.
Former House Majority Tom Delay provides a case in point. After the House Ethics Committee admonished Delay three times in 2004 (including his 2003 use of the FAA to track down renegade Texas Democrats who left the state to avoid a quorum over the Hammer's redistricting plan), the House GOP leadership move to handcuff the ethics process. First, the GOP replaced the committee chairman Joel Hefley with the more agreeable Doc Hastings. Then, the Republican leadership team effectively shut down the ethics committee altogether, preventing it from digging into Delay's voluminous rap sheet. In previous months, the Congressional GOP revised its leadership rules, doing away with previous practice that barred an indicted member from serving as majority leader. Eventually, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert delayed the start of 2006 session of the 109th Congress in the ultimately fruitless hope that Texas courts would throw out the indictments against Delay. It is altogether fitting that Hastert's Republican majority will hold the shortest session since the "Do-Nothing" Republicans of 1948.
The conservatives' circling of the wagons around their ethically challenged extends to the states as well. In Kentucky, Governor Ernie Fletcher has been indicted on charges stemming from a Republican patronage operation he led featuring a group of advisers derisively referred to as "the Disciples." But like Tom Delay, Fletcher has refused to step down, declaring "we're not going to let these folks run us out of town" and imperiling his own Republican majority in the state. Meanwhile in Ohio, Governor Robert Taft, the grandson of "Mr. Republican," remains in office despite pleading guilty to four misdemeanor ethics violations arising from his dealings with CoinGate swindler and convicted Bush Pioneer Tom Noe.
And let's not forget the fanatical rear-guard action by the White House and its allies to protect Karl Rove at all costs. As the scandal over the outing of Valerie Plame broke in the fall of 2003, a coy President Bush concluded on October 7, 2003, "I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official." Only two weeks earlier, press secretary Scott McClellan assured White House reporters that Rove had no role, "I've said that it's not true. And I have spoken with Karl Rove." (Rove himself denied any involvement to ABC News in 2003.) That, of course, turned out to be untrue.
But despite his 2000 campaign pledges to "uphold the honor and dignity of the office" and to do "not only what is legal, but what is right - not just what the lawyers allow, but what the public deserves," President Bush reversed course on ousting Rove. In June 2004, a confident Bush had answered "Yes" when asked if he would fire anyone found to have leaked Plame's name. By July 2005, the standard changed to indictment in an "on-going investigation."
Blocking Investigations
As the Delay case demonstrated, a staple in the Republican corruption playbook is avoiding, halting or misdirecting investigations of any kind. With its effective control of all three branches of government, that approach has been quite successful indeed.
The imbroglio over the 2003 passage of the President's Medicare prescription drug plan offers a compelling example. In 2004, it was revealed that Richard Foster, chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, was threatened with dismissal by then-agency chief Thomas Scully if he answered questions from congressional Democrats about the true cost of the Medicare reform bill. (In 2003, Foster estimated the price tag at $550 billion over 10 years, and not the $400 billion as reported to Congress.) But while then HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson launched a cursory investigation, neither the Justice Department nor the Republican Congress chose to act.
This cowardice has been even more pronounced when its come to the unending series of intelligence and civil liberties scandals engulfing the Bush administration. The Bush White House, of course, initially opposed the creation of both the 9/11 Commission and the Robb-Silberman Commission on Iraq WMD before succumbing to public pressure on each. The request for a Justice Department investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame came from the CIA itself. And with the mushrooming domestic spying programs, the NSA has effectively squelched inquiries by both the FCC and the DOJ by denying the needed security clearances for reviewing key classified documents.
In these efforts, the Bush administration has been ably aided and abetted by its allies in Congress. Despite occasional threats from Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, the Republican Congress has given Bush carte blanche on the illegal domestic spying by his National Security Agency. (As of this writing, Specter is backing a bill codifying that abdication of oversight, giving discretion on FISA warrants to the White House and offering amnesty to violators.) In their defense of the administration, GOP Senators Cornyn, Sessions and Roberts have joined in a chorus of "you have no civil liberties if you are dead" in response to calls for investigations.
Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts has been especially effective in stonewalling inquiries into the misdeeds of the Bush administration. It was Roberts who led the successful effort by his Senate Intelligence Committee to split its investigation of the uses and misuses of pre-war Iraq intelligence into two phases. While the Committee reported back in the summer of 2004 on the failings of the U.S. intelligence community, Roberts' deferred the so-called "Phase II" report on possible political manipulation of intelligence by the White House until after the 2004 election. Unsurprisingly, that Phase II report has never been delivered, even after Minority Leader Harry Reid took the Senate to closed session in protest.
Denying Access to Records
Another hallmark of Bush-era ethics damage control is withholding access to records that might shed light on Republican wrongdoing.
The comedy of errors over the Jack Abramoff White House visits highlights the lengths to which the administration will go to avoid embarrassing disclosures. Initially, former press secretary Scott McClellan denied GOP uber-lobbyist and Bush Pioneer Abramoff had visited the White House, at least, not for anything other than holiday visits. When Abramoff himself admitted to "dozens of meetings" in an email exchange with the Washingtonian magazine (including visits to Bush with some of his tribal clients later shown in photographs), McClellan began to change course.
Ultimately, a lawsuit by Judicial Watch forced the Secret Service to release its records. Luckily for President Bush, the Secret Service earlier changed its methods for recording White House visits and as a result, showed only two Abramoff trips. As TPMMuckraker details, perhaps dozens of other Abramoff visits are detailed in yet-to-be released White House CD ROMs now in storage in the National Archives.
The Abramoff logs, of course, aren't the only embarrassing records of inappropriate White House visits still being withheld by the Bush team. 18 months after the fact, Americans still don't know how often male escort-turned-faux journalist Jeff Gannon journeyed to the White House. Moreover, we still don't know who authorized Gannon's unprecedented press credentials in the first place.
(It is worth contrasting Bush's stonewalling with the Clinton White House. The Clinton team provided detailed records of the controversial Lincoln Bedroom sleepovers, as well as information central to the Lewinsky affair.)
Size Matters
The isolated cases of Jefferson and Mollohan show that Republican corruption and the party's response to it doesn't merely differ in kind, but in degree. The sheer scale of wrongdoing by the governing Republican majority is simply unmatched politically - or historically.
In Congress, the taint of Republican scandal extends far beyond Tom Delay. Ohio Congressman Bob Ney is, after all, "Representative #1" in the Abramoff case. San Diego Republican Duke Cunningham is now serving 8 years in prison for taking 2.4 million in bribes from defense contractor MZM and its bagmen Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes. And while Wilkes' poker and prostitute parties at the Watergate may yet claim several more GOP Congressman, Wade's illegal campaign contributions have already implicated Florida's Katherine Harris and Virginia's Virgil Goode. In addition, California Rep. Jerry Lewis is under the microscope for directing lobbyist dollars to a PAC run by his daughter. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist still faces an SEC investigation into potential insider trading even as revelations show Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert leveraged federal highway funds to drive profits from real estate deals back in his home district in Illinois. (It's no wonder Hastert protested so vigorously when the FBI raided Democrat Jefferson's Capitol Hill office.)
Within the Bush administration, conspiracy and criminality are hardly restricted to Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. Former GSA official David Safavian was convicted on four of five charges for his role Jack Abramoff's schemes. Porter Goss' #3 man at the CIA Kyle Foggo stepped down after his role in the Watergate prostitute parties and MZM came to light. Philip Cooney, the former head of the White House Office of Environmental Quality and a one-time petroleum industry lobbyist, resigned and headed to Exxon Mobil after it was revealed he personally doctored reports to downplay global warming. Meanwhile, Bush senior domestic policy advisor Claude Allen resigned after his arrest for credit fraud at Target and other stores. And this laundry list doesn't even include the pedophiles (DHS press secretary Brian Doyle), the negligent (FEMA's Michael Brown) and the unqualified (Immigration and Customs Enforcement head Julie Myers.)
Over on K Street, the GOP project of Tom Delay and Rick Santorum to make Washington's army of lobbyists an appendage of the Republican Party promises to produce more jailbirds. Jack Abramoff and his associate Michael Scanlon are already in jail. Another Abramoff golfing partner and colleague is none other than former Christian Coalition wunderkind Ralph Reed, who helped extract millions from tribal casino clients. One-time Ney aide Neil Volz has also been brought low, pleading guilty in May for his role in Abramoff-related schemes. Meanwhile, former Delay aides Tony Rudy and Edwin Buckham face legal scrutiny for conspiracy and skimming from Delay's non-profit USA Family Network, respectively. (With the Delay clan, corruption is a family affair; in 2001, Delay's wife and daughter hauled in over $500,000 from his political action and campaign committees.) And Grover Norquist, the man who sought to shrink government to the point where he could "drown it in a bathtub," may himself be in hot water for his Abramoff schenanigans.
Back in the states, indicted or convicted Republicans such as Kentucky's Fletcher and Ohio's Taft find their approval ratings falling off the charts. And in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger faces reelection under the cloud of a conflict of interest scandal involving $8 million in payments he received from a bodybuilding publication, all while blocking legislation to regulate vitamin supplements it featured.
The list of Banana Republicans goes on and on, and even includes Bush fundraisers and friends like Tom Noe and Enron's Ken Lay. Which of them will go to prison and what impact their corruption will have on the 2006 mid-term election remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: there most certainly is a Culture of Corruption and the Republican Party is its home.

4 comments on “The Republican Rap Sheet”

  1. The slowness of Fitzgeralds investigation is a political statement. He had enough information proir to the 2004 election to keep GWB from getting a second term of office as President. His not publishing that information was a political statement in itself.
    What Fitzgerald seemingly doesn't get is that everything he does has political implications. What he determines to reveal or not reveal has a profound effect on American politics.
    In a case like this, taking a stand for moral values is the right thing to do.
    Fitzgerald has not done this. He is a shill for the Republicans performing damage control on a sinking ship.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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