Every day, the presidential campaigns email to reporters press releases touting the endorsements they have most recently snagged. On Tuesday morning, the John McCain campaign, stinging from the news that its first-quarter fundraising efforts were anemic, zapped out word that GOP moneyman Fred Malek is joining the McCain team as a national finance co-chair. The press release hails Malek:
Fred Malek has been a pioneer in four professions including corporate management, government, politics, and finance. After distinguished service as an Airborne Ranger in the U.S. Army, Malek joined the Marriott Corporation and rose to become president of Marriott Hotels and Resorts. He later served as president and co-CEO of Northwest Airlines.
Malek has played a central role in government over the past 30 years. He has served as Deputy Under Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and Deputy Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). He also served President Ronald Reagan in a number of advisory capacities and, in 1990, was Director of the Summit of Major Industrialized Nations–with the lifetime rank of Ambassador.
Malek’s political career spans over three decades. In 1972, after Watergate, he served as the deputy chairman of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. Malek was director of the 1988 Republican National Convention and campaign manager for President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
The McCain press shop left out an interesting piece of Malek’s history: when he counted Jews for President Richard Nixon. Two years ago–when Malek was leading an investment group seeking to buy the new Washington Nationals baseball team, my friend Tim Noah at Slate reviewed Malek’s dark past. Here’s what he wrote:
It’s one of the more gothic stories about Nixon related in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s The Final Days. As they tell it, late in 1971–the same year, coincidentally, that the Washington Senators moved to Texas and changed their name to the Rangers–Nixon
summoned the White House personnel chief, Fred Malek, to his office to discuss a “Jewish cabal” in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The “cabal,” Nixon said, was tilting economic figures to make his Administration look bad. How many Jews were there in the bureau? he wanted to know. Malek reported back on the number, and told the President that the bureau’s methods of weighing statistics were normal procedure that had been in use for years.
In 1988, when George Bush pere installed Malek as deputy chairman for the Republican National Committee, Woodward dusted off his notes and, with the Washington Post‘s Walter Pincus, further revealed that two months after Malek filed a memo on the matter–he’d counted 13 Jews, though his methodology was shaky–a couple of them were demoted. (Malek denied any role and said Nixon’s notions of a “Jewish cabal” were “ridiculous” and “nonsense.”) The 1988 story raised a predictable ruckus, and Malek beat a hasty retreat from the RNC. As exiles go, Malek’s was pretty painless. He still got to run the 1988 Republican Convention (and in 1992 he would be Bush pere’s campaign manager). He joined George W. Bush’s syndicate to purchase the Rangers, he went on the board of the American-Israel Friendship Society, he took over Northwest Airlines, and he started an investment firm, Thayer Capital Partners.
Counting Jews was not Malek’s only shady enterprise. As a Nixon aide, he set up a project that sought to influence government decisions to assist Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. In 2006, Washington Post columnist Colbert King described this program as “a scheme designed, organized and implemented…to politicize the federal government in support of Nixon’s reelection.” Citing a memo Malek wrote about the project, King noted,
The Malek memo also claimed another accomplishment: The steward of a dockworkers union local in Philadelphia, an active Nixon backer, had been accused of being responsible for illegal actions of the union’s president. The Pennsylvania Committee to Reelect the President asked that the Labor Department rule in the steward’s favor. It did, Malek claimed, adding that “this action had a very strong impact on the local ethnic union members.”
Malek’s responsiveness program was extensively investigated by the Senate Watergate committee. The panel found that the program was aimed at influencing decisions concerning government “grants, contracts, loans, subsidies, procurement and construction projects,” decisions regarding “legal and regulatory actions,” and even personnel decisions that affected protected “career positions” — all to advance Nixon’s reelection.
Malek, the committee determined, also called for channeling federal grants and loan money to blacks who would support Nixon’s reelection efforts and, conversely, away from minorities who were considered administration foes. Equally striking, Malek wanted the program to be falsely structured so that Nixon and the White House would be dissociated from it in the event of a leak.
Malek was serious about keeping his pervert-the-government efforts secret. In a March 17, 1972 memo to H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, Malek wrote,
No written communications from the White House to the Departments — all information about the program would be transmitted verbally…documents prepared would not indicate White House involvement in any way.”
Ten years later, the Republican led Senate government affairs committee refused to approve Malek’s nomination to be a governor of the US Postal Service, in part because some senators believed he had not been testified straightforwardly about this program during a confimation hearing. Still, the Bush clan embraced him, and he went on to run the 1988 Republican convention and President George H.W. Bush’s unsuccessful 1992 reelection campaign. Last year, Malek’s group lost its bid to buy the Washington Nationals. These days, he chairs two private equity firms and sits on the advisory committee for the Scooter Libby defense fund.
The McCain campaign press release quotes McCain saying, “Fred is an inspiring public servant who has served our nation well. I am honored to have his support and look forward to his guidance and counsel in the days and months ahead.” Inspiring? How’s that for straight talk? Is McCain, who once upon a time campaigned as a good-government candidate, truly inspired by Malek’s days as a Nixon lieutenant, when Malek tallied Jews, rigged government contracts, and improperly influenced law enforcement and regulatory decisions? If McCain has to turn to Malek for help in fundraising, his campaign surely is in difficult straits.
DON”T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris “the most comprehensive account of the White House’s political machinations” and “fascinating reading.” The Washington Post says, “There have been many books about the Iraq war….This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft.” Tom Brokaw notes Hubris “is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq.” Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, “The selling of Bush’s Iraq debacle is one of the most important–and appalling–stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it.” For highlights from Hubris, click here.