DeLay's bad acts, Biden's fecklessness -- all packaged into a neat bundle in my new column in The Hill.
DeLay's bad acts, Biden's fecklessness -- all packaged into a neat bundle in my new column in The Hill.
Committee Chairman Kevin Bailey says "It may have been a technical violation of the law to destroy the documents. I don't think there was an intent to cover up anything. So I don't think there's a need to look at it any further." He's leaving the investigation to Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's grand jury. (Alas, discretion does seem a Democratic virtue. But then, you knew that.) Meanwhile, he says he can't do much more to investigate why Texas' state Homeland Security Czar was in the command center leading the search for the Dems or why he gave the DPS the contact information for Homeland Security ...
Mr. Bailey said he has no choice but to accept statements from the Texas attorney general's office that Mr. Kimbrough was present in his capacity as a state lawyer, advising DPS and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on legal issues related to the hunt.That's from Thursday's article in the Dallas Morning News, which also says: "Mr. Bailey said the committee can go no further concerning whether federal homeland security assets were abused."
"And if that's the case, I don't see a problem. On the other hand, obviously, if they used the federal agency that's designed to get terrorists, that might be a problem," Mr. Bailey said. "I'm not sure it's anything that I can really, or we can really, get information on."
Finally, the folks at Homeland Security say they're coming to the end of their investigation. But they still may not be releasing the tapes.
Let's quickly touch on this matter of Maureen Dowd. I'm far from one of Dowd's fans. In the last post I linked to an April 1999 column I wrote on her Pulitzer Prize -- a piece that was, to say the least, not positive.
(For that matter, I'm no fan of Howell Raines, who did as much as anyone to advance the Clinton pseudo-scandals while he was editor of the Times Op-Ed page. Note to 'wingers: think twice before you try to ditch him, he's done a lot for you guys!)
Here's the issue.
In a May 14th column ("Osama's Offspring") Dowd quoted the president thus ...
'Al Qaeda is on the run,' President Bush said last week. 'That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated ... they're not a problem anymore.'And here's the complete quote.
Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top Al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they're not a problem anymore."That's a very misleading ellipsis. Luckily, journalism has an established remedy for such a lapse: a prominent correction -- probably at the footer of a future column. That corrects the misleading information and gives the equivalent of a pricey, over-90-mph speeding ticket to the columnist. Get enough of 'em and you lose your license.
Yet, predictably, this is being turned into case #3 in the Times scandal. Zev Chafets today in the New York Daily News wrote ...
If Dowd intentionally misrepresented the President's words, she is guilty of a journalistic offense much worse than Bragg's intern problem, or even Blair's fantasies.It's hard to imagine a more ridiculous statement. All sorts of arguable statements can be cobbled together by attaching a slippery 'if this, then that' phrase at the front of a wild-minded charge like this. But it's still ridiculous. One misleading ellipsis is more egregious than chronic fabrication and plagiarism?
If this is the standard we're going to apply for felony offenses in journalism -- in OpEd's no less -- then the profession will rapidly be depleted to no more than a saving remnant. And many of those now going after the Times most ferociously would be among the first before the firing squad. None of them minded far more egregious ridiculousness when Bill Clinton was in Dowd's crosshairs. (For what it's worth, the earlier claim that the Times had misrepresented Henry Kissinger's position on Iraq was utterly bogus.)
This gets to a bigger problem. As I said above, I have little positive feeling for Raines, only a touch more for Dowd. The Blair scandal has exposed some very serious management problems at the Times. And the more recent Bragg scandal-ette shows what I'd call an institutional arrogance that is at a minimum troubling. For that matter, how many other major stories did the Times utterly blow during the 1990s? Whitewater? An utter embarrassment. The Wen-ho Lee case? At least as bad. And there are many others.
And yet the agenda here is also unmistakable (not everyone criticizing the Times, certainly, but the usual suspects). As much as the Times is an institution with some serious problems, it is also one of those enduring institutions which stands apart from the government, clear partisan affiliation, the crudest dictates of money, and so forth -- in other words, precisely what an organ of a free press, a part of the scaffolding of civil society, is supposed to do. A certain sort of conservative (an increasing number, but still only a part) have always seen it -- rightly -- as to their advantage to tear such institutions down.
That would leave the ground to a jumbling mix of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and feckless jabbering at the Nation and perhaps a reemergence of Phil Donohue -- a world entirely to their liking. The difference between imperfectly striving for balance in reporting the news and making no attempt to achieve it whatsoever would be obliterated. Indeed, it would become just a quaint artifact.
That doesn't all rest on the NYT of course. But it's an important building block in the edifice.
"How do you like the book [The Clinton Wars]?"
"It's really quite good."
"The Post didn't much like it."
"Of course they didn't like it. Most of it's a scathing indictment of them."
That's a brief conversation I just had with a guy sitting next to me at my usual perch at the local Starbucks. I was busy making my way -- slowly, but surely -- through Sid Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars. I'm a bit of a latecomer to the book, partly because I'm a slow reader. And I still haven't finished it. I'll review it more formally on the site when I finish. So far the parts I've liked the best are the profiles and character studies of various key political players from the 1990s, which I find very much on the mark.
(Obligatory disclaimer: Blumenthal is a friend.)
For several days, I've wanted to discuss the various reactions to Blumenthal's book. One stood out to me: Mike Isikoff's in Slate. I'm not sure how much point there is addressing its particulars. A few days after Isikoff's piece appeared, Tim Noah thoroughly dismantled one of his charges about Sid's 'deceptions' -- in this case, statements outside the courthouse after his grand jury testimony. Beside that there's another passage that I can't see as anything else but willfully misleading. Isikoff notes a passage in Blumenthal's book in which Jeff Toobin was looking for information on Henry Hyde ...
As it happened, Blumenthal didn't have much. But he confided that his mother had once worked in a secretarial pool in Chicago in the 1940s, and Hyde, then a Chicago area lawyer, had had a "reputation"âapparently, all the women had "avoided his office." The details of this "reputation" didn't become known until a few weeks later when another friend of Blumenthal's, at Salon, broke the news that 31 years earlier the Illinois congressman had had an extramarital affair with a furniture salesman's wife.The implication here is that Blumenthal is trying to clear himself of the charges and does a pretty weak job of it. In fact, Isikoff's passage is intentionally misleading.
This unintentionally revealing anecdote is buried deep inside Blumenthal's 822-page bloated opus, The Clinton Wars. Curiously enough, it seems to have been included because the author somehow thought it would exonerate him: Soon after the Salon story was published, Republicans in Congress accused Blumenthal of leaking it from the White House. No such thing was true, Blumenthal protests; the charge is just one more example of the recklessness of Bill Clinton's enemies and their determination to "demonize" him.
As most readers will know, Salon, rightly or wrongly, eventually published the story of Hyde's past infidelities. But as pretty much everyone who was a reporter in Washington at the time knows, the materials upon which Salon based its story had been shopped around widely by a source who had a personal interest in getting them into print. Most news outlets had passed on the story. At least one other journalist -- who I spoke to a few days ago -- was working on reporting the story out when Salon went to print (to pixel?).
The relevant point is that the real 'source' of the story was contacting news organizations right and left. If Blumenthal had been leaking the story to news organizations the main thing he'd be guilty of is wasting his time since they all already had it. In any case, I think Isikoff knows all of this. So he is passing on an old accusation and hinting that it might be true, when in fact he must know that it is false.
I could go on about various other points like this in Isikoff's piece and other similar ones. But Joe Conason knows these particulars better than I do. And he's been doing yeoman's service shooting most of these canards down on his quasi-blog over at Salon. (Of course, much of this is contained in the book Conason wrote with Gene Lyons, The Hunting of the President -- the best book on the scandals I've read.) Point being, others know these details a lot better than I do. So in commenting on these various reactions to Blumenthal's book, I'll focus less on the libretto and more on the score -- which ranges from hostile second-guessing to a sort of compulsive neener-neenerism.
Blumenthal's book is a harsh and incisive critique of Washington's insider culture and its prestige press corps which is -- as a group, if not individually -- corrupt, rudderless and often insipid. (I'd say nasty, brutish and short, but many of them tower over me.) The coverage of the Clinton presidency is the ultimate example, with its whole swirl of babyboomer self-loathing, historical ignorance and nonsense, the willingness to be led around by black-minded reactionaries, politics as Society page, the whole lot of it. (Much of what I'm talking about here I discussed more clearly and crisply in a column on Maureen Dowd's Pulitzer Prize in the now-defunct online magazine Feed in April 1999.) This is difficult for me to say -- not least because I live and work and know many of these people, and consider many to be friends -- and even more because I'm not nearly established as most and must rely on these folks for my livelihood. But there's no getting around the truth of it. Blumenthal is disliked by many in DC because he is a critic -- and to my mind, a devastating one -- of their vapidity, ignorance and willingness to be used.
Is Blumenthal a Clinton partisan? Of course, he is. But it was never clear to me why this was more problematic than being a Ken Starr partisan, or a reflexive critic of the president -- both of which could be said for most of the journalists who covered the Clinton scandal beat through the 1990s -- and who now pillory Blumenthal for his lack of objectivity and balance. Blessed exceptions like the late and irreplaceable Lars-Erik Nelson of the New York Daily News are the exceptions that prove the rule.
The essential question about the 1990s is whether the scandals were principally a matter of Clintonian wrongdoing or his critics' concerted opposition and resistance to his presidency using every, and often the lowest possible, means available. Mix in of course a lot of what Richard Hofstadter called 'the paranoid style.' Blumenthal picked choice #2. And, to my mind, he's been vindicated on that choice again and again.
Setting aside the truly egregious examples like Sue Schmidt of the Washington Post, most journalists who covered this case either had no sense of the larger context of what was happening, or didn't care. Often it was both, but more often the former. They were following a cookie-cutter script in which the prosecutors are the good guys and they eventually unearth a president's vile misdeeds and bring him down in a mawkish morality play. To them, the whole melange of alleged scandals had no larger political context. It was just the Clintons being accused of this or that -- the only larger meaning being how the First Couple supposedly represented various sorts of psychological and sociological maladies. The fact that few if any of the 'charges' ever held up under scrutiny didn't matter all that much since the whole drama spawned by the antic accusations and defenses could be written off, as it were, as a charge against the psychological and sociological maladies ledger.
The truth is that what happened in the 1990s was very much of a piece with the capital's and elite opinion's reaction to presidents like FDR and Andrew Jackson. The famous line of contempt for Roosevelt among those of his class was that "that man!" (For a long time I wanted to write a book on the phenomenon of Clinton-hating -- but the timing never seemed right. Blumenthal's covered a lot of this ground.) The 'scandal' stories were the essence of the politics of the decade -- peddled by scribes who most often didn't understand the drama in which they were but bit players. Blumenthal, sharp elbows and all, has produced what is by far the best analysis to date of this larger political tableau.
I've got a lot more to say about this and will be doing so soon.
Committee Chairman Kevin Bailey (D-Houston) and his staff have now reviewed the tapes of the command center which the Texas Department of Public Safety set up next door to House Speaker Tom Craddick's office to coordinate the manhunt for the runaway Dems. They were particularly keen to find out whether any Tom DeLay staffers went in to the command center during the time state troopers were requesting help from the Department of Homeland Security.
It turns out that long-time DeLay aide Jim Ellis doesn't show up on the tape. But someone else does: Texas' Homeland Security Czar, Assistant Attorney General Jay Kimbrough. "We don't know how much of a role he played," Bailey told the Houston Chronicle, "but it does appear he was very heavily involved in the process." Bailey says Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) also popped in from time to time.
Three months ago, Kimbrough told the Dallas Morning News that he was in "in virtually constant communication" with the federal Department of Homeland Security. And it was Kimbrough who provided state trooper Will Crais with the phone number of the Air & Marine Interdiction Coordination Center, the subdivision of the Department of Homeland Security, which later helped track down the Texas Dems.
Angela Hale, spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, tells the Houston Chronicle that Kimbrough was in the command center in his capacity as Assistant Attorney General not that of Homeland Security chief. And in a sign that the higher-ups may leave Crais holding the bag, Hale said that it was Crais who asked for the number, which Kimbrough then provided.
"It wasn't his idea," said Hale in defense of Kimbrough, "and he didn't make the call."
Last Friday, Kevin Bailey (D-Houston), chairman of the Texas House Investigations Committee, received copies of surveillance videos of the "command center" next door to House Speaker Tom Craddick's office, where the Texas Department of Public Safety ran the manhunt for the runaway Dems.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, Bailey's committee and Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle have zeroed in on six hours between noon and 6:00 PM on May 12th as the most likely time that state trooper Will Crais placed his call to the Department of Homeland Security, roping them into the manhunt.
Bailey's committee wanted to see if there was any evidence that members of Tom DeLay's staff had entered the 'command center' during that period.
Over the weekend, Bailey and his staff reviewed the tapes and found that everything was in order except for a gap from 12:47 PM to 6 PM on May 12th.
Needless to say, this caught Bailey and company's attention. Bailey told the Houston Chronicle, "I don't know if people are trying to run out the clock so we're not in town any more or if it's just incompetence. Either one is bothersome."
The DPS said the problem was due to a mechanical error. And late Monday, the DPS provided new copies that apparently contain the missing hours from the afternoon of May 12th. They're now being reviewed.
Mention of DeLay's staff would seem to be a reference to Jim Ellis, long-time DeLay aide and the head of DeLay's leadership PAC Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC). Ellis was the one running the redistricting operation for DeLay down in Texas.
Yesterday Ellis confirmed to the Express-News that he was in Austin on the 12th and that he "could very likely have been" close to the command center "on my way to (Craddick's) office." But he insisted that, "At no time did I ever talk to anybody from DPS. I was there for a strictly political purpose, redistricting, and I did not talk to anybody from law enforcement at any time."
Note the specificity of the words -- he says only that he himself did not talk "to anybody from law enforcement." Remember, DeLay also passed on information through Speaker Craddick.
Meanwhile, Bailey also told the Express-News "a Travis County grand jury investigating the destruction of records has apparently extended to some House members; Tom Ellis [sic], an aide to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay; and perhaps DeLay himself."
Noted for future reference and discussion ...
The press, naturally, has no program of its own. But in its slow slide toward undiscriminating prurience, it has contributed to the trend of illiberalism.That's from Sid Blumenthal, "Predators," The New Republic, August 19-26, 1991, quoted in The Clinton Wars, p. 38. Also, be sure to see pages 108-114 on the Washington press corps and particularly Sally Quinn, the epitome of the same.
Finally, if you didn't see it live, don't miss the transcript of Blumenthal's exchanges with Tucker Carlson today on Crossfire.
Much more on this soon.
In recent days there has been a spate of news stories and editorials on whether the US intelligence community might have greatly overstated Iraq's WMD capacity and, if this is so, why this might have happened.
First, let's stipulate that if we eventually find that Iraq had few if any continuing WMD programs, that would be a major intelligence failure.
Yet, we're far from that point. What we can see -- and this is the point of this new second-guessing -- is that the maximalist estimates -- those of vast chemical and biological programs and a reconstituted nuclear program -- almost certainly cannot have been true. If these estimates had been accurate, we likely would have found more evidence of such efforts. And -- even more likely -- we would have found someone, somewhere in the program to squeal.
What most of these articles and editorials share is a willful blindness or agnosticism toward the reality that must be clear to almost anyone who has followed this story over the last year. If there was a failure it was not an intelligence failure, but a political one -- one among administration political appointees and those at the very highest level of the intelligence apparatus.
The story, again and again over the last eighteen months, has been of the intelligence bureaucracy generating estimates of Iraq's capacities that are pretty much in line with what we're now finding. Again and again, though, the political leaders sent them back to come up with better answers. The narrow facts of what I'm saying aren't even in dispute, only the interpretation, and then only at the margins.
Over the last year, the word from folks at the Pentagon or from hawks close to the Office of the Vice President has been that the career people at CIA and the other intelligence agencies were either too cautious in their estimates or were intentionally low-balling their figures in order to undermine the arguments for a war they did not themselves support. Whether that was true or not, the salient point is that the politicals would not believe what the career intelligence types were telling them. The examples are almost too numerous to count -- on chemicals, biological, nuclear programs, al Qaida links, everything.
(This doesn't even get into the related issue of the heavy culling of uncooperative career civil servants at the Pentagon -- many of whom were shut out and eventually left for assignments on the Hill, National Defense University and other similar locales because their advice, expertise and questions were deemed unhelpful to the cause.)
Our intelligence agencies have all sorts of problems. But they got this one pretty close to the mark. Anyone who acts as though we've got to examine why our intelligence agencies missed the boat on this one is either being willfully misleading or simply hasn't been paying attention.
Here's another thread of the Tom DeLay/Texas Redistricting story. It hasn't yet gotten much attention. But it played an important role in the lead-up to the confrontation two weeks ago. It has to do with alleged Voting Rights Act violations tied to the DeLay-backed Texas redistricting bill.
Richard Raymond is a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives from Laredo. During the time the DeLay-backed redistricting bill was moving through the House, it was in the hands of State Representative Joe Crabb (R-Atascocita), chairman of the Republican-controlled redistricting committee. Raymond charged that in the process of rushing it through the legislative process, Crabb had violated the Voting Rights Act -- the particulars are complicated but they have to do with legal requirements for bilingual notice and comment of changes to legislative districts, and so forth. (Raymond's district is heavily Hispanic.) Raymond made a formal complaint to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, dated May 7th.
This complaint was at least a complication for moving the redistricting bill through the House, as Texas Republicans were then trying to do.
Now here's where the story gets murky.
Earlier this month DeLay went to Texas to personally lobby for the new redistricting bill. According to Raymond, Republican colleagues of his from the House came to him and told him the following: DeLay had told them and other anxious House Republicans not to worry about Raymond's Voting Rights Act complaint because he had gotten the complaint taken care of at DOJ and it would be quickly dismissed, in time to pass through the redistricting bill. In the words of Raymond's lawyer, Raymond said he had "received reliable information that the normal processes of the Department of Justice for such complaints have been circumvented under pressure from Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas." (To the best of TPM's knowledge, there is no independent evidence of Raymond's charges.)
After this, Raymond withdrew his complaint to the Justice Department, arguing that his constituents could not recieve a fair hearing there, and filed a lawsuit -- making the same claims as the original complaint -- in federal court in Texas.
Last week I asked DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy if there were any truth to Raymond's charges about inappropriate contact between DeLay's office and Justice. He said there was not. Roy said DeLay's office had contacted Justice about Raymond, but only after Raymond publicly charged DeLay with trying to get his complaint dropped. (Still with me? Good.) According to Roy, this contact was strictly for the purpose of ascertaining whether Raymond had filed a formal complaint against DeLay and, if so, why DeLay's office hadn't been notified.
These claims and counter-claims have triggered an acrimonious correspondence between Raymond's attorney and the Justice Department. Copies of three key letters -- including one from Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Ralph F. Boyd, Jr. -- have just been added to the TPM Document Collection.
"This smells, and I'm going to ask Andy Card of the White House to get into this this week, to examine any contacts that any federal officials had with federal departments..."
That's from Joe Lieberman this morning on Fox News Sunday. It's still a tad understated. But at least Lieberman is pushing this issue, which is more than you can say for just about any other politician beside the Democrats in the Texas congressional delegation.
We'll see if Lieberman follows through.
Let's get back to why so few in the press or among pols on the Hill are willing to take DeLay on.
With the pols, I think the answer is fairly straightforward. DeLay's a bully. He threatens and brow-beats people and doesn't give up. Democrats are sadly cowed by him. For people in his own party, DeLay is also a very important conduit of money. So he's not someone you want to cross. (One seldom-discussed part of the state redistricting story is how dependent Republicans in the Texas state House were on DeLay's financial largesse, and how important this was in bringing the crisis to a head.)
Journalists have given DeLay a wide berth for a distinct but related reason. For most of them, the story reeks of what people in the business call dog-bites-man. In other words, it's just not surprising enough to be news. DeLay is widely-known -- even relishes his reputation -- for hardball, envelope-pushing tactics. The exploits of his money and access machine are both legendary and notorious. So, in a sense, where's the story?
This and the Lott debacle are different in many ways. But in this respect they are similar. At least in the first few days, no one gave the Lott situation much attention because pretty much everyone knew that Lott was fairly unreconstructed on racial issues. (After all, only three years before, his close ties to a white-supremacist group had been widely reported in the Washington Post and other papers.) So it really wasn't such a surprise that he thought this way.
DeLay is reaping a similar advantage because of what people in town already know about him. If it were Tom Daschle, and not Tom DeLay, I guarantee the reaction would be quite different. But it's not simply a partisan or bias issue. It wouldn't be the same with Bill Frist or Denny Hastert either. Some of this -- no doubt -- is due to the lack of a Republican mau-mau to stir up interest and push the press to pursue it. But a lot of it is the prism through which journalists themselves are seeing it.
The key here is that DeLay is benefitting greatly from his long-established reputation as someone who hugs the letter of the law while breaking its spirit, it not more, again and again.
How else do you explain the following situation: the House Majority Leader was directly and intimately involved in activities that are now the subject of investigations by two cabinet departments and grand jury proceedings in Texas. Yet Washington is still barely paying the matter any attention. How do you explain that?