On American politics and policy.
I saw Paul McNulty, who announced yesterday that he was resigning as Deputy Attorney General, at the Dallas airport on Sunday. He was coming from a prosecutor conference at San Antonio and I was returning from a wedding. The similarities end there. McNulty sat in first class and I trudged back to coach.
The next morning news broke that McNulty was stepping down as DOJ's #2 official so that he could go make money to pay for his kids' colleges. Or at least that's what he said.
The news was really no surprise. Alberto Gonzales's deputy, after all, was never qualified to serve. McNulty was a longtime Republican operative who acted as spokesman for House Republicans during Bill Clinton's impeachment and had never tried a case before becoming US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, one of the country's most important offices, three days after 9/11. Loyalty to the Republican Party allowed McNulty to rise rapidly at DOJ. He was the first official to tell Congress that the dismissals of the eight US prosecutors were "performance-related." He was also implicated in the shady circumstances surrounding the replacement of the acting US attorney in Guam, which I explored in the recent article, "Attorneygate in Guam."
Many commentators are now arguing that McNulty was simply the fall guy for Gonzales. Probably so. But either way, the deputy deserved to go.
Before the GOP candidates auditioned for the Republican nomination, the Campaign for America's Future held a great debate between the American Prospect's Bob Kuttner and the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol on an apt subject: "Can Conservatives be Trusted to Govern?"
Kristol had the misfortune of standing behind a podium with a large red "Con" sign. That pretty much summed things up. "I feel that I'm here to adopt that poor orphan," he joked at the beginning.
The crowd--and the political momentum--was on Kuttner's side. "The Bush era was conservatism's moment," he said. "It all crashed and burned."
Like the GOP candidates, Kristol's opening statement included a spirited defense of Ronald Reagan yet barely mentioned George W. Bush. "Reagan stopped being President eighteen years ago," Kuttner rebutted. He should tell that to the Republican presidential hopefuls in California.
Kristol wouldn't back down from his vociferous support of the war in Iraq, which he helped engineer. But he was pessimistic about the GOP's chances to retain the White House. "I bet right now that the odds are better than 50-50 that Republicans will lose in '08," he said.
And for a man who edits the Weekly Standard, Kristol seemed almost praiseworthy toward the Clinton's. "A decade of Rubinomics followed by a decade of Reaganomics--I'm fine with that," he said of the Clinton's economic policy and their guru Bob Rubin. On Iraq, he yearned for a Democrat who'd make George Bush's war a bipartisan affair. Sadly, Joe Lieberman is not running for President again.
Kristol ended by invoking his father Irving's old saying that a neoconservative is a "liberal mugged by reality." Soon it might be the other way around.
David Sirota has a good post up about how the media is overlooking Fred Thompson's lucrative stint as a lobbyist. In a profile of the possible presidential candidate yesterday, the New York Times mentioned that during the eighteen year gap between working as a Congressional staffer and winning a Senate seat in 1994, Thompson "took on some lobbying clients." Who those clients were and what the work entailed, goes unmentioned. It's a mere throwaway in the larger narrative of the Reagan Republican returning to save the GOP.
In case you were curious, Thompson represented Westinghouse and General Electric in the deregulation of the savings and loan industry, which eventually led to the S&L crisis of the 1980s. After leaving the Senate in 2002, he was paid $760,000 to protect the British reinsurance company Equitas from asbestos claims. He registered to represent foreign clients such as deposed Haitian leader Jean Baptiste Aristide, Toyota and a German mining company.
Thompson's all-but-announced campaign has downplayed this history. "It being so far back, that's an awful undue pressure, burden for the senator to have to go dragging back through records," spokesman Mark Corallo (who recently worked for Karl Rove) told the Politico when asked to provide more information on Thompson's lobbying days. It may behoove his campaign to dust off those records. In 1994, Thompson's Democratic opponent, Congressman Jim Cooper, called him "a Gucci-wearing, Lincoln-driving, Perrier-drinking, Grey Poupon-spreading millionaire Washington special interest lobbyist." It's not hard to imagine a Republican rival saying nearly the same thing.
Not content with its conservative media empire, Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp is making an ambitious bid to buy the Dow Jones Company and its prized product, the Wall Street Journal. NewsCorp is offering to buy at $60 a share, all cash, 65 percent above Dow Jones' closing price yesterday (which shot up $18.42 as news of the bid broke). Owning the WSJ, along with Barron's and Dow Jones Newswires would be a fantastic coup for NewsCorp, which is launching its rah-rah business channel later this year.
The deal has highly troubling implications. Murdoch is known for pushing his publications, such as the once-liberal New York Post, to the right. Under Murdoch's purview, would the news pages of the Wall Street Journal become more like its conservative editorial section?
Other potential bidders include the Washington Post Co, New York Times Co and Bloomberg LP. All three represent an improvement over the brains behind Fox News.
Let's hope Rudy Giuliani picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal today. In its pages journalist Jeanne Cummings asks whether Ralph Reed will "become the first casualty of the Abramoff scandal?" Something for Rudy to remember when he campaigns for the onetime boy wonder's Lt. Governor bid in Georgia next month.
Reed's campaign, Cummings notes wryly, "is having trouble squaring his opposition to gambling with his work on behalf of Mr. Abramoff's casino clients." Here's the juicy backstory:
Between 2001 and 2003, Mr. Reed collected more than $4 million in fees from Abramoff clients with gambling interests, including Indian tribes. Mr. Reed's specialty was ginning up opposition from religious leaders to tribes trying to elbow into Abramoff clients' turf. Payments to Mr. Reed's firm were funneled through organizations such as tax-exempt or charitable groups aligned with Mr. Abramoff, which obscured their source.
Mr. Reed's work--and his emails--came to light last year during hearings by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and became a campaign issue. The Abramoff affair even shadowed the campaign kick-off, headlined by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. In 2002, when the two men's lobbying firms had been on opposite sides of a Louisiana gambling fight between Indian tribes, Mr. Abramoff had bragged in an email to a colleague that Mr. Reed would get James Dobson, head of the conservative advocacy group Focus on the Family, to attack Mr. Barbour.
"Let me know when Dobson hits him. I want to savor it," Mr. Abramoff wrote in a separate email to Mr. Reed.
It's a testament to the enduring power and blindness of the religious right that Reed is still even in this race. But at least some of his former followers, Giuliani notwithstanding, are beginning to see the light.
As a former Christian Coalition activist who quit the Reed campaign put it: "Nobody likes to be a hypocrite and nobody likes to follow a hypocrite."
John McCain recently courted Jerry Falwell. So I guess Rudy Giuliani felt he needed to get Ralph Reed. According to the Associated Press, Giuliani has agreed to headline a fundraiser in May for Reed's campaign for Georgia Lt. Gov.
Oh, the irony. A pro-gay rights, pro-choice, pro-gun control New Yorker stumping with a right-wing Christian crook. If Giuliani had to pick an evangelical activist to campaign with, couldn't he of found someone who wasn't Jack Abramoff's best friend? Shouldn't the so-called law and order Mayor be shunning a cynical political operator who defrauded fellow Christians and robbed and ruined Indian tribes? Doesn't he realize that a path to the presidency no longer runs through Ralph Reed?
Campaigning with the likes of Rick Santorum, as Giuliani did in Philadelphia today, is bad enough. But Reed represents a whole 'nother level of despicable. If Rudy wanted to show solidarity with a conservative moonbat, he should've picked Reed's primary opponent, Casey Cagle.
Finally, total synchronicity. Fox News and the White House are merging into one entity. Well, not really.
CNN just reported that a few weeks ago new White House chief of staff Josh Bolten asked Fox News's Tony Snow if he would be interested in replacing Scott McClellan as White House press secretary. CNN did not report whether Snow responded affirmatively and Snow refused to comment publicly. Funny how his website boasts of "The Power of Fox. The Connections of Snow."
This causes us to think of other potential White House hires:
Lou Dobbs as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement?
Geraldo Rivera as Secretary of Defense?
Bill O'Reilly as director of Faith-Based Initiatives?
Why not call it a day and hire Roger Ailes as communications director?
For months now, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has been traveling all across the country fashioning himself as the latest incarnation of warrior Democrat. A key part of Bayh's routine is talking "tough" on Iran. Bayh says Bush "was right to label Iran part of the axis of evil," and agrees with the President that a military strike option should remain on the table. Bayh recently introduced a Senate resolution calling for strict sanctions on the Iranian regime--including cutting off supplies of refined gasoline, denying foreign investment and isolating the regime "diplomatically, financially, and culturally."
No doubt Iran is a bad actor and its anti-semitic President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a full-blown lunatic. But these sanctions sound very much like a pretext to war. If anything, they will only intensify Iran's effort to develop a nuclear weapon. Which is why Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Bayh to take a chill pill on Sunday. From ABC's This Week:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lugar, time for sanctions?
LUGAR: I would hold off for the time being until we're certain that they're going to be effective. And they will not be effective without European friends who are in our negotiations quite apart from the Chinese, the Indians and the others.
I believe, for the moment, that we ought to cool this one, too. The rhetoric has been pretty hot and heavy with the president of Iran on TV constantly. It appears to me they're not making that muchheadway. And we need to make more headway diplomatically.
Well said. If anyone wants to imagine what war with Iran might look like, read Sy Hersh's terrifying new piece in The New Yorker.
What will Tom DeLay do next?
According to US News and World Report, the White House is looking at "an outsider with strong fiscal conservative credentials" to head the Office of Management and Budget. The post became open when Josh Bolten was named George W. Bush's chief of staff a few weeks back. DeLay, apparently, is among the contenders--a fitting position for someone who consistently rubberstamped Bush's budgets in Congress. The rumor surfaced on Wednesday and, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to be confirmed or denied.
The Hammer in the Bush Administration? Maybe it's not such a wild rumor after all. As recent events prove, he'd hardly be the first crook to enter, or exit, this White House.
In Time magazine this week, Joe Klein describes how John Kerry responded to the revelations of torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in May 2004 by holding a focus group in Arkansas. Afterwards, Klein writes, "The consultants were unanimous in their recommendations to the candidate: Don't talk about it. So Kerry didn't, "never once mentioning Abu Ghraib--or the Justice Department memo that 'broadened' accepted interrogations techniques--in his acceptance speech or, remarkably, in his three debates with Bush."
For the man who earned a following protesting atrocities in Vietnam, torture was off the table. I mention this anecdote because at a breakfast today with Howard Dean sponsored by The American Prospect, a cast member from the play Guantanamo asked Dean about the Democratic Party's position on another detention facility widely viewed as illegal under international law.
"We don't have a Democratic Party position," Dean admitted. "I've never had a discussion about it with [Harry] Reid and [Nancy] Pelosi."
That frank response surprised a number of reporters in the room. Jane Mayer, who's reported extensively on the topic for The New Yorker, followed up by asking Dean why the stunning news of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and the notorious CIA black sites overseas received only a "fleeting reference" in the new Democratic national security plan.
"There are an enormous number of issues," Dean said, and he worried Democrats were already talking about too many. Dean labeled the situation in Sudan's Darfur region as "clearly genocide," for instance, "but when it comes to Democrats ability to communicate with the American people, it gets dropped."
That's too bad. Democrats often speak too much about specific issues and not enough about broad values. Nothing is more immoral than genocide and torture. Democrats should say so loudly.
(PS: I'll have more of what Dean said at the breakfast later today.)