Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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$2.5 million? That's the amount of cash the Republican National Committee appears to have paid so far for lawyers to defend convicted New Hampshire phone-jamming conspirator James Tobin.

I guess they think it's money well-spent.

Ahh, the quest for balance. As we noted below, today's AP story about Sen. Harry Reid and Jack Abramoff devotes most of its space to Abramoff's alleged attempts to lobby Reid on behalf of the Marianas Islands' sweatshops owners. Only, the piece fails to mention that Reid didn't support the position of Abramoff's clients.

Now MSNBC is running that same article with this headline "Top Democrat Reid met often with Abramoff."

Needless to say, the article, flawed as it may be in the ways I describe below, makes no claims that the two men have ever met.

Late Update: Apparently MSNBC fielded a little critical feedback on that bogus headline.

As of 11 PM this evening, the headline has been changed as you can see in the image above.

A fairly illuminating look into the moonbat universe occupied by many young conservative Bush idolators.

From the Times ...

In the interview, Mr. Deutsch said that Dr. Hansen had partisan ties "all the way up to the top of the Democratic Party," and that he was "using those ties and using his media connections to push an agenda, a worst-case-scenario agenda of global warming." He said that anyone who disagrees with Dr. Hansen "is labeled a censor and is demonized and vilified in the media — and the media of course is a willing accomplice here."

Mr. Deutsch contended that although Dr. Hansen was a scientist, he wanted to talk about policy as well as science. "He wants to demean the president, he wants to demean the administration and create a false perception that the administration is watering down science and lying to the public," Mr. Deutsch said. "And that is patently false."

Science is Democrats. Everybody's out to get us. They hate President Bush. Science isn't Bush.

Okay, in the post below I linked to this new AP article tying Sen. Harry Reid to Jack Abramoff. The article references a number of contacts and contributions relating to the Marianas, Indian tribes, even Malaysia. Each should be looked at. The one about the Marianas Islands and their wage practices is just one. But it's the one that stood out to me. Here below are the passages about the Marianas ...

Reid, D-Nev., has led the Democratic Party's attacks portraying Abramoff's lobbying and fundraising as a Republican scandal.

But Abramoff's records show his lobbying partners billed for nearly two dozen phone contacts or meetings with Reid's office in 2001 alone.

Most were to discuss Democratic legislation that would have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory and Abramoff client, but would have given the islands a temporary break on the wage rate, the billing records show.


Reid himself, along his Senate counsel Jim Ryan, met with Abramoff deputy Ronald Platt on June 5, 2001, "to discuss timing on minimum wage bill" that affected the Marianas, according to a bill that Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff's firm, sent the Marianas.

Three weeks before the meeting, Greenberg Traurig's political action committee donated $1,000 to Reid's Senate re-election committee. Three weeks after the meeting, Platt himself donated $1,000 to Reid.

Manley said Reid's official calendar doesn't list a meeting on June 5, 2001, with Platt, but he also said he couldn't say for sure the contact didn't occur. Manley confirmed Platt had regular contacts with Reid's office, calling them part of the "routine checking in" by lobbyists who work Capitol Hill.

As for the timing of donations, Manley said, "There is no connection. This is just a typical part of lawful fundraising."

The Marianas, U.S. territorial islands in the Pacific Ocean, were one of Abramoff's highest-paying clients and were trying to keep their textile industry exempt from most U.S. laws on immigration, labor and pay, including the minimum wage. Many Democrats have long accused the islands of running garment sweatshops.

The islands in 2001 had their own minimum wage of $3.05 an hour, and were exempt from the U.S. minimum of $5.15.

Republicans were intent on protecting the Marianas' exemption. Democrats, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of California, wanted the Marianas to be covered by the U.S. minimum and crafted a compromise.

In February 2001, Kennedy introduced a bill that would have raised the U.S. hourly minimum to $6.65 and would have covered the Marianas. The legislation, which eventually failed, would have given the islands an initial break by setting its minimum at just $3.55 _ nearly $3 lower than any other territory or state _ and then gradually increasing it.

Within a month, Platt began billing for routine contacts and meetings with Reid's staff, starting with a March 26, 2001, contact with Reid chief of staff Susan McCue to "discuss timing and status of minimum wage legislation," the billing records say.

In all, Platt and a fellow lobbyist reported 21 contacts in 2001 with Reid's office, mostly with McCue and Ryan.

One of the Marianas contacts, listed for May 30, 2001, was with Edward Ayoob, Reid's legislative counsel. Within a year, Ayoob had left Reid's office to work for Abramoff's firm, registering specifically to lobby for the islands as well as several tribes. Manley confirmed Ayoob had subsequent lobbying contacts with Reid's office.

Now, do you notice what gets left unsaid in all this?


What did Reid do in response? That's really the key issue.

Did he intervene on behalf of Abramoff's Marianas clients? The gist of the whole narrative is that Reid was Team Abramoff's go-to guy to kill the bill that would have hurt the Marianas sweatshop owners.

But did he actually rise to the bait?

I rung up Reid spokesman Jim Manley. He said Reid was a "cosponsor of Sen. Kennedy's bill; he spoke in favor of the bill on the Senate; he was a strong supporter of the bill." When I pressed Manley on whether Sen. Reid took any action adverse to the bill or made changes in timing that lead to the bill's demise, he said, "No."

Then I got hold of Ron Platt, the lobbyist referenced in the passage above, on his cell phone while he was down at a conference in Florida. I asked him whether, to the best of his recollection, Reid had taken any action against the Kennedy bill. "I'm sure he didn't," Platt told me.

According to Platt, the purpose of his contacts was to see what information he could get about the timing and status of the legislation. Reid's position on the minimum wage issue was well known and there would have been no point trying to get his help blocking it. That's what Platt says. "I didn't ask Reid to intervene," said Platt. "I wouldn't have asked him to intervene. I don't think anyone else would have asked. And I'm sure he didn't."

Now, obviously, both Reid's office and Platt are interested parties on this question. If there were evidence to the contrary you wouldn't necessarily want to take their statements at face value. But as far as I can tell there is no evidence to the contrary. And that's after speaking with supporters of the legislation who would probably know. They don't seem to think Reid had anything to do with tanking the minimum wage bill. Nothing.

In this case, despite the AP story's narrative of lobbyist contacts, there doesn't seem to be any evidence whatsoever that Reid ever took any action on behalf of Abramoff's Marianas clients.

Wasn't that worth a mention?

AP to try to pull Sen. Reid into Abramoff story? Here's the piece just out on the AP wire. Pretty weak stuff, but John Solomon, the reporter, gives it the old college try. Give it a look, judge for yourself.

Fish rots from the head down ...

Gannett: "Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert engineered a backroom legislative maneuver to protect pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits, say witnesses to the pre-Christmas power play. The language was tucked into a Defense Department appropriations bill at the last minute without the approval of members of a House-Senate conference committee, say several witnesses, including a top Republican staff member."

Interesting. In National Journal, Murray Waas writes that Scooter Libby "testified to a federal grand jury that he had been 'authorized' by Cheney and other White House 'superiors' in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq, according to attorneys familiar with the matter, and to court records."

What the article doesn't say is that he was specifically authorized to release information about Valerie Plame. But Libby apparently named Cheney specifically.

Yet more trouble for Rep. Doolittle (R-for Rent). That and other news of the day in today's Daily Muck.

Michael "Brownie" Brown turns on the president?

It seems rather an abuse of executive privilege to insist that the Congress can't review communications between the president and his chief disaster relief coordinator. But that being as it may, Brown is now saying that he wants to turn over his correspondence with the president to congressional investigators unless the president specifically tells him not to and agrees to cover his legal fees.

"Unless there is specific direction otherwise from the president," writes Brown's lawyer, "including an assurance the president will provide a legal defense to Mr. Brown if he refuses to testify as to these matters, Mr. Brown will testify if asked about particular communications."

This is going to upset a lot of TPM Readers. But pollster, message man uber-bamboozler Frank Luntz has been banned from the House Republican retreat in Cambridge, Maryland which starts tomorrow and runs through Saturday.

Majority Leader Boehner apparently told the members of his Caucus that Luntz was out.

“Boehner said he wasn’t going if Luntz was going,” a "leadership source" told Roll Call.