David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

What will the House Democratic Caucus do about Rep. Bill Jefferson?

The subject of a federal criminal probe and a House Ethics Committee investigation, Jefferson overwhelming won re-relection yesterday, after being forced into a runoff against fellow Democrat Karen Carter.

Saying that Jefferson is the subject of a federal criminal probe hardly seems to do the man justice. By all appearances, the only thing standing between Jefferson and a multi-count federal grand jury indictment for bribery and related unsavory activities was the power-drunk GOP majority in Congress, which, perhaps fearful of investigations into its own corrupt activities, tried to turn the FBI's raid of Jefferson's Capitol Hill office into a constitutional crisis.

Had it not been for the howls of protest over the FBI raid and the legal wrangling that followed, it appears very likely that Jefferson would already be under indictment by now. But the GOP majority is gone. The Democrats, having vaulted into control of Congress in significant part due to voters' disgust with entrenched Republican corruption, have made ethics a top priority. And Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has already staked out a strong and laudable position on Jefferson's conduct in removing him from the powerful Ways and Means Committee even before the mid-term elections.

So Jefferson will return to Washington as a living, breathing embodiment of political corruption at the very moment that Democrats are trying to implement ethics reform. Nice, uh?

So what to do? My own preferred solution would be a two-fer. The House should refuse to seat Jefferson and Rep.-elect Vern Buchanan (R-FL). Buchanan was elected to Katherine Harris' old seat thanks to 18,000 undervotes in the Sarasota area, without which his Democratic opponent Christine Jennings almost certainly wins.

Republicans are already gearing up for a partisan bloodbath if the Democratic-controlled House refuses to seat Buchanan, the certified winner of a flawed election. What better way to take some of the wind out of those arguments than by simultaneously refusing to seat Jefferson, the flawed winner of a certified election?

Undemocratic, you say? The people have spoken? Perhaps. But the people's elected representatives in the House can democratically say that a member is unfit to serve. Is anyone other than his most compromised defenders seriously arguing that Jefferson is fit to serve?

Refusing to seat Jefferson right off the bat would be as bold a stroke as the introduction of any reform package within the first 100 days, and it would dramatically distinguish this Congress from its sorry predecessor.

Feds unlikely to prosecute former Rep. Mark Foley for his behavior with congressional pages, ABC reports.

More on Jack Abramoff's HUD connection: HUD still maintains that Abramoff had no lobbying contacts with the department, but billing records from Abramoff's old firm tell a different story. Special cameo appearances by Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), a former HUD secretary and the president's choice to chair the Republican National Committee, and current Secretary Alphonso Jackson. This angle to the Abramoff iinvestigation has been percolating for a while.

We should know later tonight whether Rep. "Dollar Bill" Jefferson (D-LA) is able to win re-election while the target of a federal bribery investigation. The polls close in his runoff at 9 p.m. EST.

Update: Jefferson ahead 56%-44%, with less than 25% reporting.

Late update: With 33% of precincts reporting, Jefferson leads Karen Carter 60%-40%.

Senate Majority Leader-elect Harry Reid (D-NV), following Friday's Oval Office meeting with the President on Iraq: "I just didn't feel there today, the president in his words or his demeanor, that he is going to do anything right away to change things drastically. He is tepid in what he talks about doing. Someone has to get the message to this man that there have to be significant changes."

More here, including the President's now standard fallback position when challenged: "I am the commander in chief." I doubt that is the sort of management technique he was taught at Harvard Business School. It's more like something Steve Carell's character in The Office would come up with.

Via Muckraker, here's a snippet of a Congressional Quarterly interview with incoming House intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX):

Reyes stumbled when I asked him a simple question about al Qaeda at the end of a 40-minute interview in his office last week. Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East.

We warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence issues and Iraq. And then we veered into terrorism’s major players.

To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?

The dialogue went like this:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.

Ladies and gentlemen, your new intel committee chairman.

Is there anything more self-serving than Don Rumsfeld saying his worst day as defense secretary was when he learned of the Abu Ghraib abuses? (And which day was that exactly?) Worse than the attacks on 9/11, which killed nearly 3,000 people, a day on which a jetliner crashed into the Pentagon while Rumsfeld was in his office there?

No secretary of defense would subordinate the worst attack on the U.S. homeland in modern times to what Rumsfeld himself has called isolated incidents of abuse by low-level soldiers. That is, unless that secretary of defense was legally or morally culpable for that abuse, or as I'm sure is the case here, he is convinced that Abu Ghraib will be the symbol of his legacy and of the great failure that the Iraq adventure has become.

In either case, it says all you need to know about Rumsfeld that he doesn't consider 9/11 his worst day as secretary of defense.

If, like me, you're still following the mob angle to the Jack Abramoff scandal, then you'll enjoy the latest installment from the Palm Beach Post:

Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis was killed gangland-style nearly six years ago, but he may have been instrumental this week in helping a man get a reduction in his prison sentence in a high-profile slaying at a suburban Boca Raton deli.

Circuit Judge Stephen Rapp reduced the sentence of Ralph Liotta from 15 to 12 years this week after hearing testimony that the man Liotta killed, John "J.J." Gurino, may have been Boulis' hit man. That was further proof of how dangerous Gurino was, and why Liotta was justifiably afraid of him, Liotto's attorney, Doug Duncan, argued.

. . .

Boulis, 51, was ambushed by a gunman in Fort Lauderdale in February 2001 as he sat in his BMW. In 2000 he sold SunCruz to Washington, D.C. attorney Adam Kidan and imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Boulis then sued Kidan and his partners in a dispute over the sale.

Does anyone know if Jack has sold the movie rights to his story?