Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Just to refresh everyones

Just to refresh everyone's memory about what happened last week, three reputed mob soldiers were arrested in Florida for the February 2001 gangland-style murder of Gus Boulis, founder and one-time owner of Sun Cruz, the Florida casino boat line. Jack Abramoff and Adam Kidan muscled Boulis into selling them Sun Cruz. And it is for fraud in that acquisition that both were indicted last month.

That's all known.

It's also been a matter of public record for more than four years that around the time of Boulis's murder, for no clear reason, Kidan paid roughly a quarter million dollars to one of those three men now under indictment for the crime. For that and other reasons, those of us who live in the world where gravity always pulls down and never up, can probably conclude that the cops believe Kidan's are somehow dirty in this matter.

In any case, here's the point I haven't seen discussed at any length. That money did not come out of Kidan's pocket. He may have authorized the payments. But those checks came from Sun Cruz itself, the company Kidan and Abramoff then co-owned.

Articles on this subject almost always throw in a line to the effect that no one suspects Abramoff himself of knowledge or involvement in Boulis's death. And I know of little tangible to contradict that. But he was the co-owner, with Kidan, of the company which made the tainted payments. And Abramoff and Kidan were in pretty close and regular contact in how they used Sun Cruz's money for the DC lobbying operations. At a minimum Abramoff might be able to shed some light on whether there is some innocent explanation for the money that went to the guy who's been indicted for Boulis's murder.

In any case, the a priori blanket exoneration does seem a bit more total than journalists would normally grant in such cases.

As far as I know, too, the local police investigating the crime have still failed in their efforts to get an interview with Abramoff to find out what he might know about Boulis's death.

Attention DeLay-downfall junkies Succession

Attention DeLay-downfall junkies: Succession battle silver-medalist David Dreier to appear on Charlie Rose tonight. (Also a guest: Philip Seymour Hoffman. Oh, for the dada comedy of those two interviewing each other.)

There are a lot

There are a lot of Roy Blunt crib sheets out there right now. But for my money, this Washington Post profile is the best one-stop reading on the man.

It's far from clear what Tom DeLay's departure means for House Republicans. One academic in today's papers offered the excellent metaphor of Marshall Tito's fall from power in Yugoslavia and the resulting civil war there. (Which raises the pressing question: who shall be the House GOP's Slobodan Milosevic?) Others expect Republicans to circle their wagons and for Blunt to continue the same ruthless discipline as his predecessor.

My first hunch is the latter. As this Post piece indicates, Blunt seems to have modelled himself after DeLay in every way -- with perhaps less of the Texan's mean-spirited partisan vitriol. But that was never what made DeLay effective anyway.

No, I think the fundamental basis for DeLay's unprecedented reign of terror has been his phenomenal K Street power base, cultivated over many years through unchecked access-peddling and sheer intimidation. This network serves as part fund-raising juggernaut, part patronage machine, and part political-advocacy operation. And so DeLay commanded the loyalty of House Republicans not just because he's a real Texas sh*tkicker, but because his K Street empire is one of the most fearsome tools in Washington history -- a kind of awe-inspiring political Death Star whose reactor shaft Democrats have never been able to locate.

And to read the Post article, it seems Blunt learned that lesson well. As Thomas Edsall puts it:

Blunt's organization in scope has begun to rival "DeLay Inc." -- the political fundraising committees, extensive favor-giving and alliances with Republican lobbyists that the majority leader has used to become one of the most influential leaders in memory.

In other words, Blunt, Inc. is the new DeLay, Inc. Or put another way: "The king is dead. Long live the king!"

DeLay court date set

DeLay court date set: Oct. 21 Can't imagine there'll be much press coverage...

Josh linked to a

Josh linked to a useful Roy Blunt backgrounder yesterday. But there's one specific episode worth considering as a case study in how Blunt operates (which, truth be told, is not all that different from how Tom DeLay operates). Flash back to November 2002, with Blunt newly installed as House Republican Whip. At the time, the House was gearing up to vote on the mammoth bill creating the new Department of Homeland Security. To some, it was a crucial public-policy moment. To Blunt, evidently, it was an opportunity. According to some fine reporting by The Washington Post, Blunt "surprised his fellow top Republicans by trying to quietly insert a provision benefiting Philip Morris USA into the 475-page bill." Here's some more detail from the Post:

The new majority whip, who has close personal and political ties to the company, instructed congressional aides to add the tobacco provision to the bill -- then within hours of a final House vote -- even though no one else in leadership supported it or knew he was trying to squeeze it in.

Once alerted to the provision, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, quickly had it pulled out, said a senior GOP leader who requested anonymity. Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) also opposed what Blunt (Mo.) was trying to do, the member said, and "worked against it" when he learned of it.

The provision would have made it harder to sell tobacco products over the Internet and would have cracked down on the sale of contraband cigarettes, two practices that cut into Philip Morris's profits. Blunt has received large campaign donations from Philip Morris, his son works for the company in Missouri and the House member has a close personal relationship with a Washington lobbyist for the firm.

It is highly unusual for a House Republican to insert a last-minute contentious provision that has never gone through a committee, never faced a House vote and never been approved by the speaker or majority leader. Blunt's attempt became known only to a small circle of House and White House officials. They kept it quiet, preferring no publicity on a matter involving favors for the nation's biggest tobacco company and possible claims of conflicts of interest.

Several in that circle say they were struck by Blunt's willingness to go out on a limb for a company to which he has ties. What's more, he did it within hours of climbing to the House leadership's third-highest rung, a notable achievement for a man who came to Washington less than six years ago.

A senior Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity said some GOP members worried at the time that it would be "embarrassing" to the party and its new whip if details of the effort were made public. Another Republican said Blunt's effort angered some leaders because there was "so little support for" a pro-tobacco provision likely to generate controversy.

Notice the reference to Blunt's <$Ad$>"close personal relationship" to a Phillip Morris lobbyist. That would be one Abigail Perlman, to whom Blunt is now married. (Say what you will about Tom DeLay and his seamless relationship with K Street lobbyists, he never actually shared a bed with one!) And let's not forget that Blunt's son, Andrew, is also a lobbyist for the tobacco maker back in Missouri.

This episode doesn't just illustrate the nexis between leading House Republicans and corporate lobbyists. It's also an example of the increasingly undemocratic way the House operates under the current GOP leadership. The average American might be shocked at the notion that Blunt could slip a small provision that had never been debated or voted upon into a 475-page bill hours before its passage and almost get away with it. But folks would be thoroughly aghast to know how often even more egregious provisions actually sneak through. (Blunt has defended his provision on the grounds that cigarette smuggling is a source of revenue for suspected terrorists, which is true. But if this bit of lawmaking was so truly noble, why not publicly debate it for all to see?)

At the time, I recall, some folks speculated that Blunt had been ratted out by a certain House GOP rival -- hint: he's in a little hot water down in Travis County at the moment -- wary of Blunt's rising profile. Given the way Blunt muscled himself into the Majority Leader slot yesterday, maybe his rival was right to be worried.

Hi all and many

Hi all, and many thanks to Josh for having me back. Lots of delightful DeLay fallout to chew over this afternoon, but let's kick off with a breathtaking quickie that simply can't wait. <$NoAd$>

It comes via an email from Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who is demanding an apology from conservative morals guru (and Vegas high-roller) William Bennett, for what Reid's office says was the following remark made by Bennett on his talk radio show yesterday:

… you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.

I haven't seen the original context. But even with Bennett's caveat, could there possibly be an exculpatory context? And did someone cast a voodoo curse on prominent conservatives recently ensuring they would all destroy themselves by the end of 2005? Update: Media Matters has the transcript and audio. It seems Bennett was led down this road by a remarkably kooky caller. But I'm not sure it means he's exonerated.

I have to step

I have to step away for the afternoon to work on a talk I'm giving. But filling in will be TNR's Michael Crowley who knows more than a thing or two about the DeLay Machine.

A special thanks to

A special thanks to everyone who came to the Serenity screening last night in Union Square. We had a full house. And the movie was a lot of fun -- even for this guy who'd only seen a few episodes of Buffy and never even heard of Firefly. Everybody I talked to after the screening loved it. Not high concept exactly, or maybe more of the concept would have been discernible if I'd seen the series, but fast-paced, electric and exhilerating. Sort of a mix of the Matrix, with Total Recall, various Harrison Ford movies, dystopic science fiction and the language and moral outlines of old-fashioned westerns. It ran about two hours but felt like about twenty minutes.