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How do you like

"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"—apparently, 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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

Heres another thread of

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 Im

"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?

Tim Russert Lord of

Tim Russert, Lord of the Consensus, then (12/8/02) and now (5/25/03) ...

On Trent Lott, December 8th of last year ...

MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk about the removal of the Bush economic team. But one last point on race. David Broder, Trent Lott, the majority leader of the Senate, was at a birthday party for Strom Thurmond the other day and had this to say: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over [all] these years, either."

John Lewis, a congressman, former civil rights leader, said that Strom Thurmond ran a segregationist campaign in 1948 and that Trent Lott is just dead wrong. Jesse Jackson called NBC News this morning and said Trent Lott is a Confederate and he should resign as majority leader. How big of a problem is this for Trent Lott?

MR. BRODER: It's not the first time that he has had to explain his association with or references to that kind of race-focused rhetoric in the South. He was involved a few years ago speaking to a group that was pretty overtly racist in the South. Race remains, much as we would like it to be otherwise, a very, very important factor in our national life. And it is a decisive factor in Southern politics. Any Southern politician that you talk to can tell you with precision exactly what percentage of the white vote he or she needs to get, because all of them assume that 90 percent or more of the black vote is going to the Democrats. As long as that racial divide continues, any kind of comment like this on Senator Lott's part is going to be--have all kinds of bad resonance.

MR. RUSSERT: Bob Novak?

MR. NOVAK: This was a birthday party, 100th birthday party, for Strom Thurmond. Trent Lott got out there and he winged it. That's one of the dangers of not having a text. He thought it was a social occasion. He's thinking what comes to his mind. He's saying--if you listen to the whole speech, he's making extravagant statements about Strom Thurmond, as he should on his 100th birthday. And he goes over the line. Now, the idea that Trent Lott thinks we should have a segregated America, that we should have had Strom Thurmond and Fielding Wright--Remember Fielding Wright, Tim?--his vice presidential candidate, as the people running America in 1949...

MR. SAFIRE: Well, nobody else remembers that.

MR. NOVAK: ...is--it's nonsense. And I think that the idea that Jesse Jackson wants him to resign is ludicrous. I think it was a mistake. I don't think he was at all serious, and I don't even think we should dwell on it. The idea that race is important, I think, is the biggest problem for the Democrats as it is for the Republicans. And in South Carolina, where they had a disaster on November 5th, they were relying on the black vote and there are just not enough blacks to do it.

MR. RUSSERT: Joe Klein?

MR. KLEIN: Well, I don't know. Maybe we should dwell on it a little bit, especially in an atmosphere where any Democrat is immediately saddled--where Max Cleland was saddled with Osama bin Laden in TV ads in Georgia. I think that if a Democrat had made an analogous statement, like if Henry Wallace had been elected in 1948, we would have had a much easier road with the Soviet Union because we would have just given them everything and there wouldn't have been a Cold War. You would have been jumping up and down. And I think that this kind of statement in this country at this time is outrageous, and it should be called that.

MR. NOVAK: I think the problem, Joe, is that he didn't come out with a statement saying, "Boy, oh, boy, I thought this over and we should have had a Thurmond administration." He's at a damn birthday party. I mean, this is the kind of thing that makes people infuriated with the media, is they pick up something that's said at a birthday party and turn it into a case of whether he should be impeached.

MR. KLEIN: Yeah, it's the media's fault.

MR. NOVAK: Yeah, right. I think it is that we're talking about it.

MR. BRODER: Why does the thought cross his mind that he...

MR. NOVAK: David, he's kidding around. He is--I don't know if you watched that speech. They were saying that this was the greatest living American, which Strom Thurmond certainly is not. It's his birthday. He's saying all these things. Boy, if he had been elected, we'd have been better off. Why don't we forget it?

MR. SAFIRE: The thing that comes to mind with me is what we've all said here, that the black vote is monolithic, that it's running 90 and 92 percent Democratic. I think that's bad for black Americans. I think the same thing with Jewish Americans, that vote monolithically Democratic. The whole notion of losing your influence by being taken for granted is a great mistake by any ethnic or racial community.

And on Tom DeLay this morning ...
MR. RUSSERT: It's a very interesting time, generally, in my experience in Washington, intelligence, foreign policy truly became a bipartisan adventure mostly unless something went wrong and then there would be a lot of finger-pointing. More and more it seems to be breaking down along party lines. The most recent example was this Washington Post editorial Friday about something that happened in Texas. State legislators fled the state to avoid a vote on redistricting, went to Oklahoma. Congressman DeLay's office has now acknowledged they called the Department of Justice and the FAA. The Washington Post wrote this editorial: "...somehow the search for the missing [Texas] Democrats came to involve the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and state records concerning the search were ordered destroyed... The public deserves convincing evidence that the document destruction was routine, not an effort to cover something up. ...The public is entitled to know how a Cabinet department formed to protect America from terrorists ended up looking for Democrats who didn't want to show up for work."

Senator Biden, what's going on?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, on the overall question of foreign policy, 100 percent of the Democrats supported the Republicans on Afghanistan, 80 percent of the Democrats supported it on Iraq. So I think that's an exaggeration to say there's a split. You look around here, these two guys are more together and we're more together, and we're Democrat-Republican, split. But on this issue of whether or not you'll use domestic tools for--that are in the realm of foreign policy-related for domestic purposes, I don't know enough to comment on that. I mean I just don't know what happened there. I'm just not qualified to comment.

MR. RUSSERT: Anyone?

SEN. HAGEL: I think they all went to Kansas. If they really wanted to get lost, that's where they'd go.

MR. RUSSERT: Whoa.

SEN. ROBERTS: Well, I shouldn't say this, but they were in Dodge City, Kansas, and we hosted them. We had a barbecue, and it was--because our barbecue is a lot better than Texas barbecue and Oklahoma barbecue, and you can see just exactly what light I think this should be put in.

MR. RUSSERT: There goes the vegetarian vote, Senator Roberts. Senator Roberts, Senator Rockefeller, Hagel, Biden. Roberts, Rockefeller, Hagel, Biden. That's a new Washington law firm, I think.

SEN. ROBERTS: That's exactly right.

MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, two former CIA directors, Admiral Stansfield Turner and William Colby speak out almost 20 years ago about Middle East terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.

Hard hitting stuff.

Generally speaking when a

Generally speaking, when a political scandal has serious legs, every day brings more damning details, with the momentum and seriousness of the new revelations increasing day by day. You also find out that seemingly voluntary disclosures from subjects of scrutiny were prompted by the knowledge that the information was about to come out through other, often more awkward, means.

That's precisely what's happening in the Tom DeLay/DPS/DHS story.

I got word earlier today that Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta had started an internal review to see if anything untoward had happened when Tom DeLay contacted the FAA and received information about the whereabouts of former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney. (Note to Source -- you know who you are -- you win big points from me on this one, buddy. I'll never doubt you again!) I was traveling this afternoon and didn't have time to follow up. But tomorrow's papers confirm that this has indeed happened. According to a Transportation Department spokesperson, Mineta found out about DeLay's contacts with the FAA on Wednesday, a day before DeLay 'volunteered' the information.

There are a number of articles giving the basic run-down of these details. But the best I've seen is that in the Houston Chronicle.

You begin to understand why Mineta might be concerned when you look down into the story and see how a significant part of the story DeLay told on Thursday now seems to be, as Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler used to say, 'inoperative.'

When DeLay spoke to reporters on Thursday he said that the information he'd gotten from the FAA about one of the Texas Democrats' private airplanes was information that was available to any member of the public. This revelation rightly raised eyebrows since this was the information DeLay relayed to his political allies in Texas. And it was also the information used to rope in the Department of Homeland Security. In itself though it didn't appear to be a problem since this was supposedly information the FAA makes available to everyone.

Well, it turns out that's not true.

Here's the key run-down in the Houston Chronicle story ...

DeLay told reporters Thursday that one of his staff members contacted the FAA for "publicly available flight information that any member of Congress gets from FAA, or you can get it off the Internet."

He said he relayed to Craddick the information that the plane was in the air heading from Ardmore to Georgetown, but doesn't know whether that information led to the discovery of the Democrats in Oklahoma.

DeLay's office clarified Friday that the majority leader did not mean to imply that the FAA flight data was publicly available, but rather that the public could gain access to the information via commercial Web sites.

Bill Shumann, FAA spokesman, said the public does not have access to flight tracking data through his agency. But the information, generated by air traffic control centers throughout the country, is bundled and used by commercial companies, some of which make the data available online.

This, frankly, is a pretty big deal since it is really not that different from what the state trooper in Texas did with Homeland Security. Though some of this information is, according to the FAA spokesman, available through commercial services, DeLay clearly used his status as House Majority Leader to get the information directly from the FAA and presumably to do so more expeditiously than members of the public would be able to do. That's called abusing your office.

Why is the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives using the powers of his office to help his political allies in Texas arrest members of the state legislature so they can be forced to make a quorum call and allow the passage of the DeLay-authored redistricting plan?

(Earth to David Broder, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert and the rest of DC's wizards of high dudgeon: when will you start talking about this?)

There's also another significance to DeLay's use of his office to obtain information from FAA. His willingness to bend the rules in that instance makes it a lot easier to imagine he played some role in getting the Texas state troopers to call in Homeland Security.

That all focuses a lot more scrutiny on whatever contact took place between DeLay and Craddick on Monday, May 12th, the day all of this went down. Here again is a clip from the Chronicle ...

In disclosing the Transportation Department's inquiry, spokesman Alcivar would not say exactly which office of the FAA provided the information for DeLay. Nor would he say whether DeLay used normal channels available to congressional offices for obtaining information not otherwise available to the public.

The details are significant because they could answer questions about how Craddick was able to discover that most of the so-called "Killer Ds" were in Ardmore -- out of reach of Texas law enforcement officers who had been deployed to bring the legislators back to work.

Craddick spokesman Bob Richter said Friday that Craddick and DeLay spoke about the matter May 12, but that Craddick does not remember who initiated the call.

"He doesn't remember any details at all about that day," Richter said. Acting on a vote of House members present May 12, Craddick ordered the missing representatives arrested and returned to the Capitol, as allowed under House rules.

The fact that Craddick "doesn't remember any details at all about" the day which was probably the most consequential of his career in public life doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence.

Here, though, are the questions I think we need to have answered ...

I've looked and I don't think the press reports note the precise time of DeLay's contacts with FAA, DeLay's calls to Craddick, or the call Lieutenant Will Crais (who, remember, was working out of a command center in the conference room adjoining Craddick's office) placed to the Department of Homeland Security bringing them into the manhunt.

I think if we knew that timeline we'd be a big step closer to knowing whether DeLay's fingerprints are on the call to Homeland Security.

More tomorrow on why the press and the Dems are frightened of taking on Tom DeLay, why the press's relative inattention to this story is due to a blindness similar to that which made them slow to catch on to the Trent Lott story. Also, more on Sid Blumenthal's new book and the sound and fury directed against it.

Its amazing what it

It's amazing what it takes to start a feeding frenzy these days. But this may do it.

Yesterday, in testimony before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, Tom Ridge again declined to release the full transcripts of the taped conversations between his agency (DHS) and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) because the tapes were the subject of "potentially a criminal investigation."

Now, as I noted in yesterday's post, there are lots of reasons already detailed in published reports that tell you that folks at the DPS and likely some Texas state pols giving them direction are in some trouble (filing false reports, document destruction, etc.).

The big question has been whether the trail of the particular skullduggery over the tracking of planes (the subject of a "potentially" criminal inquiry) leads back to a certain office in Washington, DC. To date, Majority Leader Tom DeLay has insisted that he did no more than provide "constituent service" for State House Speaker Tom Craddick in passing on to the Justice Department his requests for federal agents to arrest the runaway Dems.

Now it turns out that the information the DPS used to contact the Department of Homeland Security came directly from DeLay's office. Let's go to the story in Friday's Houston Chronicle ...

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay admitted Thursday he provided Texas Speaker Tom Craddick with the same information that state police used to enlist a homeland security agency in the search for runaway Democratic legislators.

DeLay said his staff used public information at the Federal Aviation Administration to track former Texas Speaker Pete Laney's airplane.

Laney was among 55 Democrats who broke a House quorum on May 12 to kill a congressional redistricting bill sought by DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Craddick and DeLay wanted the errant legislators arrested and returned to the House to force a vote on the bill.

"I was told at the time that that plane was in the air coming from Ardmore, Oklahoma, back to Georgetown, Texas," DeLay said of the FAA's information, which he said was also available on the agency's Web site. "I relayed that information to Tom Craddick."

Texas Department of Public Safety officers working in Craddick's office had the same information when it contacted a federal air interdiction agency to seek its help in finding Laney's airplane. The federal agency has since said it was misled into believing Laney's airplane was missing and possibly had crashed.

Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge, meanwhile, said Thursday his agency is investigating "potentially criminal" misuse of the federal air interdiction service by the DPS.

DeLay said he played no part in the DPS' decision to contact the federal air interdiction service. And Craddick denies knowing anything about how the DPS came to call the agency.

"I don't know who contacted who," Craddick said.

The chain of events and contacts connecting the Majority Leader to a criminal investigation is now drawing awfully tight. (Keep in mind: the entire redistricting map power grab was orchestrated from Washington by DeLay and it's increasingly apparent that much of the manhunt was too.) It'll be interesting to see whether this town's chief buzzmasters and propriety hounds start to take notice.

TPMLivewire