Friday, October 21, 2005

DCCC @Stake - GOP Extremists Make Their Move

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GOP Extremists Make Their Move

October 21, 2005

GOP Extremists Make Their Move

When Tom DeLay's position as undisputed Republican master was first questioned late last year, a Republican strategist told the New York Times what would ensue if he were to fall:

"'Without Tom DeLay it would be complete and total chaos,' said one Republican strategist with close ties to the White House.'The House would descend into 'Lord of the Flies.''"

Now Tom DeLay has been indicted, and has technically been removed from his leadership post - but he continues to pull the strings, and his presence continues to hold the Republican Congress steady like a deer in the headlights.

But this week we got the first signs that a GOP Conference filled to the brim with the power hungry may be splintering. A story on Monday explained how proposed draconian cuts from the most extreme conservative wing of the Republican Congress were stirring trouble...

House GOP Leaders Set to Cut Spending
Washington Post - October 17, 2005

"House Republican leaders have moved from balking at big cuts in Medicaid and other programs to embracing them, driven by pent-up anger from fiscal conservatives concerned about runaway spending and the leadership's own weakening hold on power.

"Beginning this week, the House GOP lawmakers will take steps to cut as much as $50 billion from the fiscal 2006 budget for health care for the poor, food stamps and farm supports, as well as considering across-the-board cuts in other programs. Only last month, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) and other GOP leaders quashed demands within their party for budget cuts to pay for the soaring cost of hurricane relief."

How does this relate to DeLay's shaken grip on power?

"The abrupt shift reflects a changed political dynamic in the House in which a faction of fiscal conservatives -- known as the Republican Study Committee, or RSC -- has gained the upper hand because of DeLay's criminal indictment in Texas, widespread criticism of the Republicans' handling of Hurricane Katrina, and uncertainty over the future of the leadership, according to lawmakers and aides...

"DeLay may continue to exercise power informally, as he did Oct. 7 in working the floor to help narrowly pass an energy bill. But DeLay and his leadership allies are mindful that the rank and file could demand new elections to permanently fill the majority leader's post -- temporarily being held by Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.) -- if members grow impatient with GOP policies.

"'Our real leverage has come from the fear that DeLay will not have a post to come back to,' said Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz), another RSC leader. 'They are deathly afraid of a leadership election in January.'"

Oddly enough, early signs showed slightly more moderate voices quietly moving towards the potential leadership void. After all, the only chance Republicans would have to cleanse themselves of the culture of corruption DeLay ushered in would be to find some "new blood," as one such upstart contender deemed himself. And indeed, Republicans in moderate districts knew that Democrats would not let them get away with further slashing social programs even as they lavished handouts on the oil industry and elsewhere. As a result, they appear to have made clear to Republican Leadership that the new right wing zealotry would not pass a vote on the floor. This was the headline by the end of the week...

House GOP Leaders Postpone Vote on Reductions in Spending
Washington Post - October 17, 2005

Of course, in a sense, this was all a sideshow, since the debate was about whether to cut $35 billion from programs helping those who need it most vs. cutting $50 billion. The DCCC Communications department sent out this release across the country, challenging Republicans to state their priorities plainly and asking, "What Budget Cuts Do the Republican Members Support?"...

1. Medicare Cuts - Will you support the Republican proposal to raise health care costs for the 23,380,500 children in this country who rely on Medicaid in order to pay for the $10 billion "slush fund" giveaway to insurance companies and HMOs?

  • Yes _____
  • No _____

    2. Energy Costs - Will you support Republican efforts to do nothing to relieve the price of gas and bring down the cost of home heating so that you can pay for the $14 billion in giveaways for the energy industry, an industry enjoying record profits this year?
  • Yes _____
  • No _____

    3. Veterans Benefits - Will you support cuts to veterans benefits by $600 million, which will deny health care to 100,000 veterans, and disregard the American Legion's plea to, "keep in mind the personal sacrifices and hardships endured by America's veterans" - so that you can pay for the corporate tax shelters for companies that send American jobs overseas?
  • Yes _____
  • No _____

    4. National Security - Will you continue to support a budget that does not get the 30,000 Marines in Iraq the equipment they need and the 1,000 Humvees the armor they still lack in order to pay for the $7 billion, no-bid government contract given Halliburton to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure?
  • Yes _____
  • No _____
  • Good questions. Where will your local Republicans fall in the battle against Republican extremism?

    "The Worst Hill Scandal in Our Lifetime?"

    Veteran Congressional analyst and resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute Norman Ornstein asks that question about the ever-expanding scandal surrounding Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He explains in his column for Roll Call...

    "[The Justice Department prosecutors] no doubt will also be looking at various facets of the Ney-Abramoff nexus, and the DeLay-Abramoff partnership, which extends to the DeLay family and extended staff. The rest of it, though, has to be dealt with by the ethics committee. Oops, I forgot: Thanks to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the panel's chairman, there is no functioning ethics committee to deal with the rest of it.

    "... even to a jaded veteran of the lawmaking scene, the Abramoff Chronicles is over the top. Every new story I read makes me want to take a long shower to get rid of the grime. I don't think we have had something of this scope, arrogance and sheer venality in our lifetimes. It is building to an explosion, one that could create immense collateral damage within Congress and in coming elections. If I were a Member of Congress who knew Abramoff and played footsie with him, a staffer who worked with him and then for him, or a prominent outside activist who did business with him, I would be afraid - very afraid. And if I were a Member of Congress who staunchly defended other Members of Congress who played footsie with Abramoff, I would be pretty nervous as well."

    The ethics watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has put together a site detailing the connections between Abramoff and a diverse array of House Republicans including Eric Cantor of GOP Leadership, Melissa Hart of the ethics committee, powerful Chairmen Richard Pombo and Bob Ney, and more. And indeed, there is one letter in particular showing the entire Republican leadership team bending over backwards for one of Abramoff's clients.

    But what might truly raise this scandal to the next level is the relationship between Abramoff and the White House, most notably his long-time friend Karl Rove. And yesterday we learned that the Senate hearings headed up by Republican John McCain may be inching closer that way by looking at players close to the Department of the Interior, which oversees American Indian gaming issues...

    Indian Affairs Readies More Abramoff Subpoenas
    Roll Call - October 20, 2005

    "The Senate Indian Affairs Committee was set to issue subpoenas on Wednesday to a GOP environmentalist close to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, as well as a former employee of Michael Scanlon, a one-time business associate of ex-Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

    "Indian Affairs Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 26 to review Abramoff and Scanlon's business dealings with the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana.

    | "Following consultations with Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), ranking member of Indian Affairs, McCain prepared subpoenas for Italia Federici, president of the Council for Republican Environmental Advocacy, and Chris Cathcart, a former associate with Capitol Campaign Strategies, one of Scanlon's firms, according to sources close to the committee."


    "Federici worked on Norton's unsuccessful Senate campaign in Colorado in 1996, and maintained close ties to the Cabinet official. Federici served as an unofficial link between Abramoff and Interior Department officials during the long fight by the Coushattas to convince the federal government to turn down the casino application by the Jena Choctaws, according to media reports. Federico also assisted Abramoff in getting Interior to kill a casino project in Michigan opposed by another Abramoff client.

    "Federici warned senior Interior officials that prominent Christian conservatives such as Ralph Reed and James Dobson were concerned about the spread of Indian casinos, all of which was part of a campaign by Abramoff to create political pressure on the department. Abramoff and Scanlon, though, were also secretly routing millions of dollars to companies controlled by Reed to help in the effort. Part of Wednesday's hearing will focus on Reed's involvement in the Coushatta effort, according to McCain.

    "CREA, which was founded by Norton and GOP activist Grover Norquist in the early 1990s, received at least $150,000 in contributions from the Coushattas in 2001-02, money that was directed to the organization by Abramoff, according to public statements from tribal officials. CREA itself received a subpoena earlier this year from a federal grand jury investigating Abramoff and Scanlon.

    "Abramoff, who was indicted in August on federal mail and wire fraud charges, repeatedly appealed to Federici for help in lobbying Stephen Griles, then deputy secretary of Interior, in 2002 and 2003 and e-mails obtained by The Washington Post and Denver Post showed she was successful in both cases in gaining his support for Abramoff's clients. Federal officials are reportedly looking into the propriety of the contacts between Federici and Griles, as well as Griles' intervention in casino decisions within Interior."

    Much more on Abramoff, the Department of the Interior and White House Indian gaming issues here and here, including this most staggering fact of all:

    "When top Bush adviser Karl Rove was looking for an assistant in early 2001, Abramoff suggested his own top aide, Susan Ralston. She remains one of Rove's top deputies. At the same time, Bush tapped Abramoff as member of his Presidential Transition Team, advising the administration on policy and hiring at the Interior Department, which oversees Native American issues." [emphasis added]

    Notably, the emails referred to in the Roll Call article as "obtained by the Washington Post" were apparently obtained from the Justice Department according to that Washington Post article, which you can find here.

    It would seem that in taking testimony from Federici, one would have to bend over backwards pretty far to avoid getting into the White House's role, and more specifically who was benefiting from what. We'll find out on Wednesday apparently, two days before the grand jury investigating the White House CIA leak expires...

    Cheney's Office in the Leak Investigation Spotlight?

    The White House is increasingly on edge as we near the end of the investigation into the leaking of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. It is widely expected that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will hand out indictments within the next week, and many believe that several major players within the Bush Administration are to face charges in connection to the leak.

    Perhaps most dangerously for the administration, there is increasing speculation that the investigation has grown to include the case that was made to take us to war in Iraq, in particular the claims that Saddam Hussein had a burgeoning nuclear program that might produce a weapon at any moment. Republicans have tried to discount the infamous "16 words" about "uranium from Africa" in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address as a small mistake, but this purported threat was the cornerstone of the Administration's case that Iraq had a nuclear program (along with their also debunked claim regarding aluminum tubes). With the rationale for war falling apart in the summer of 2003 when no WMDs were discovered, it would make sense that the administration would react vengefully if their Niger uranium justification were proved a fiction.

    It is in this context that Hardball's Chris Matthews discussed the case this week, and delved into its broader implications:

    "That's the heat about this. What did the vice president and his people do, faced with the hot seat that they were sitting on, that they had somehow gotten accused of taking us into war under false pretenses.

    "That's the environment in which this whole thing may have been hatched. If there was law-breaking, it came out of the vice president and his people's determination to protect themselves against the charge that they led us into a corrupt war, a war based on false pretenses.

    "That's how hot this thing is.

    "If there are indictments, they're going to be probably in the vice president's office, they're probably going to come next week and they are going to blow this White House apart.

    "It's going to be unbelievable."

    And, indeed, it appears that Scooter Libby, the man sometimes described as "Dick Cheney's Dick Cheney" is clearly on the hot seat, along with President Bush's political svengali Karl Rove. It is widely suspected that both were less than forthcoming with the Special Prosecutor, and may face obstruction charges in addition to any charges directly connected to the leak:

    Cover-Up Issue Is Seen As Focus In Leak Inquiry
    The New York Times - 10/21/05

    As he weighs whether to bring criminal charges in the C.I.A. leak case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel, is focusing on whether Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, sought to conceal their actions and mislead prosecutors, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday.

    Among the charges that Mr. Fitzgerald is considering are perjury, obstruction of justice and false statement - counts that suggest the prosecutor may believe the evidence presented in a 22-month grand jury inquiry shows that the two White House aides sought to cover up their actions, the lawyers said.

    Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have been advised that they may be in serious legal jeopardy, the lawyers said, but only this week has Mr. Fitzgerald begun to narrow the possible charges. The prosecutor has said he will not make up his mind about any charges until next week, government officials say.

    With the term of the grand jury expiring in one week, though, some lawyers in the case said they were persuaded that Mr. Fitzgerald had all but made up his mind to seek indictments. None of the lawyers would speak on the record, citing the prosecutor's requests not to talk about the case.

    ...The possible violations under consideration by Mr. Fitzgerald are peripheral to the issue he was appointed in December 2003 to investigate: whether anyone in the administration broke a federal law that makes it a crime, under certain circumstances, to reveal the identity of a covert intelligence officer.

    But Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby may not be the only people at risk. There may be others in the government who could be charged for violations of the disclosure law or of other statutes, like the espionage act, which makes it a crime to transmit classified information to people not authorized to receive it.

    Arch-conservative Pat Buchanan also sees the latest revelations in the case, in particular New York Times reporter Judy Miller's recent testimony, as very bad news for Libby. He commented this week on what this means for the big picture:

    "My guess is, however, this thing has metastasized from the original charge and Libby or his lawyer may have problems in that they appear to have tried to signal Miller to invoke reporters' privilege, or not to testify, which seems to be not only interference with the investigation but an encouragement to Miller to commit contempt of court rather than help out the Bulldog. Scooter's lawyer has been scrambling like a runner caught fifteen yards behind the line of scrimmage on fourth down.

    "My own sense, from hearing and reading about Fitzgerald is that he may be going after much larger game, that he may have what Bob Bennett calls a 'big case,' that he may be going after the White House and WHIG [the White House Iraq Group] for fabricating the case for war, that he is roaming afield, looking into who forged the Niger documents and passed them on to U.S. intelligence and whether the case for war was shot through with deceit and lies. "

    If Fitzgerald has indeed widened his investigation and has a "big case," then Dick Cheney may face the most serious scrutiny of a sitting Vice President since Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace. Cheney set the tone for the Administration's selling of the war, and there is much we still don't know about the inner workings of the White House Iraq Group, which was created by the Administration to market and sell the Iraq War. The Plame investigation could indeed rip that whole seamy backstory wide open.

    But the question remains: why would the Vice President's office react in such a reckless way to Joseph Wilson's Op-Ed? One possible explanation is Cheney's long, animosity-filled history with the CIA. An LA Times article yesterday laid out some of the background of this tension, painting a picture in which it is not surprising that the Vice President's office would react with such malice to Wilson's claims that the Niger-uranium link was false:

    Cheney, CIA Long At Odds
    Los Angeles Times - 10/20/05

    "Fitzgerald has learned about ongoing tensions between Cheney's circle and the CIA. According to a former White House official interviewed by The Times, Libby and others in the White House were incensed by Wilson's public criticism, in part because they saw it as a salvo fired by the CIA at administration officials, including Cheney, who was perhaps the most outspoken advocate of the case against Iraq.

    "Witnesses have told Fitzgerald about those tensions. New York Times reporter Judith Miller wrote recently that she told the grand jury that Libby had been angry with the CIA in the months after the invasion of Iraq, saying that President Bush might have made inaccurate statements about Iraqi weapons programs because the agency did not discuss its doubts.

    "...the tensions between the vice president's office and the CIA increased as investigators failed to find weapons of mass destruction. White House staffers feared they would be blamed by the CIA for encouraging misleading intelligence estimates, one former official said.

    "Then, Wilson's account of his CIA mission to Niger embarrassed the White House by undermining the administration's claim that Iraq had sought nuclear materials from Africa.

    "Fitzgerald has been told that Wilson's public disclosure of his findings in Niger reminded Libby and other neoconservatives in the White House of their longtime battles with the CIA, according to someone familiar with the case. And it led some to fear that the agency was trying to shift the blame to the White House for intelligence failures before the war."

    Of course, it should be noted that perhaps the Administration deserved to be blamed for making misleading and sometimes false statements in the run up to war.

    In any case, the next week should finally bring us a fuller accounting of this entire story, with more sure to come on Rove's role in the case and his ever-changing explanations of his actions. Most seem to agree on one thing, though: when Fitzgerald finally makes an announcement, it's going to hit Washington--and this administration--like a sonic boom.

    News From the Blog

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    "What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret, but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences."
    -- Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's chief of staff until January 2005, speaking on Wednesday, October, 19th.

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