Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Big News ... did I say Big News?

For years -- literally years now -- we've been telling you about the Republican election-tampering scam from New Hampshire on election day 2002. This was the case in which the state Republican party hired a company to jam the phones of Democratic and union phone banks doing get out the vote work on election day in what was expected to be a tight race between now-Sen. John Sununu and then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

Election-tampering pure and simple.

The then-executive director of the New Hampshire Republican party and a consultant involved in the scheme are now doing time for their role in the caper. And though the DOJ has done about everything it can to drag its feet on the case, as we first reported last year the kingpin in the case, NRSC northeast regional director James Tobin himself was finally indicted.

Now, Tobin was then the Northeast Regional Director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, working under then-Chairman Bill Frist. (Later he became the regional chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004; he stepped down when he was indicted.)

Frist has refused ever to answer questions about what he knew about the scam. And various RNC officials going back almost three years now have disavowed any knowledge of the case at all. Had nothing to do with it, just a rogue operation, etc.

And now, finally, we have proof that all along the RNC has continued to pay Tobin's legal bills -- already totalling more than $700,000 before the man has even gone to trial.

This one is simply a no-brainer. Yes, an organization may be morally or even legally obligated to pay an employees legal bills for trouble they got in to in the course of their work. But that doesn't apply if he broke laws and was acting without authorization and in express contravention of his employers' wishes. It's true that Tobin hasn't been convicted yet. But his guilt or innocence -- in the colloquial sense of the terms -- is not at issue. His defense has centered entirely on claims that his acts didn't violate any laws or that he has immunity for various reasons.

Put simply, the fact that the RNC is paying Tobin's legal bills means either that he was acting under authorization or, frankly, that they're trying to keep him quiet. There's really no other reasonable explanation of this.

Reporters from the big news outlets have never taken this story very seriously. And they've never found the time to press Bill Frist to answer even the most basic questions about this, despite the fact that Tobin was working for Frist when this happened.

Now's the time.

If you'd like to find out more about the backstory on this, here's a list of our reporting on it going back to 2003. If you'd like to discuss, we'll be discussing it in this thread.

Just another thread of the Abramoff story, <$NoAd$> from the Miami Herald, April 26th, 2005 ...

In 2000, [Gus] Boulis sold [casino boat company] SunCruz to a partnership of Washington-based businessmen, including Jack Abramoff, the now infamous lobbyist who was surreptitiously funneling Indian casino millions to key congressmen, including the supposedly anti-gambling Republican leader, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay. A congressional inquiry revealed that Abramoff, then vice chairman of SunCruz, used SunCruz casino money to bring staffers of key Republican congressional leaders to the 2001 Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Boulis claimed that Abramoff and Adam Kidan had shorted him $23 million. There were reports of fisticuffs between Boulis and Kidan. Kidan took out a restraining order to keep Boulis away.

The restraining order became moot on Feb. 6, 2001, when Boulis was gunned down in a mob-style hit. The murder was never solved.

SunCruz, meanwhile, foundered into bankruptcy. Abramoff sued Kidan for the $60 million he claimed the deal cost him.

Kidan, if I'm not mistaken, turns out to be one of the Abramoff 'associates' who for one reason or another dropped five grand on Sen. Burns leadership PAC a few years back, though I guess that was before Jack sued the guy for 60 mill ...

(ed.note: We're discussing the Burns-Abramoff link in this thread.)

Rep. LaTourette (R) too stupid to remain in Congress?

I suspect over the next weeks and months we're going to have a number of stories like this one, in which a lawmaker's excuse for switching their vote on CAFTA is picked apart and proved to be a laughable dodge. But Rep. Steve LaTourette's may turn out to be a classic.

LaTourette, of Ohio's 14th district, was a down-the-line opponent of CAFTA, which made a lot of sense for his northeast Ohio district. But on the day before the vote, Rep. LaTourette received a call from Tom Chieffe, the president of a furniture manufacturer from the district. Chieffe told the congressman that his company was getting socked hard by tariffs on Central American plywood. And the Ohio jobs at his company were on the line.

Rising to the challenge LaTourette got on the phone to US Trade Rep. Rob Portman, who himself just retired from his seat representing Ohio's 2nd District (the one the Hackett race was in). Portman sent over some papers outlining the rough tariffs on Central American plywood. And as a result, says LaTourette, he reluctantly agreed to change his vote to 'Yes' on CAFTA.

The only problem, according to this article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer is that there aren't any tariffs on Central American plywood.

US government statistics say American businesses paid a total $4,700 in tariffs last year on Central American plywood. And even that was apparently paid by mistake.

Here's what the Plain Dealer said about the Portman bamboozle ...

Portman's office acknowledges giving LaTourette a paper that made it appear CAFTA would eliminate the 8 percent tariffs. It defended its actions in interviews with The Plain Dealer over the last week, saying the existing plywood exemptions were not as sweeping as those offered under CAFTA. "And this locks in the benefits and therefore locks in the supply" of plywood, said Matt Niemeyer, Portman's congressional affairs liaison.

Yet figures from the International Trade Commission, an independent panel, and the Census Bureau, citing tariff collections, show that to be an unnecessary distinction in the claim that tariffs were jeopardizing a big corporation.

You should really read the article, for comedy value if nothing else. It leaves only two real possibilities: the more likely one that LaTourette was himself in on the cover story that is now revealed to be completely ridiculous or he is such a simpleton that he simply can't be trusted to represent the 14th district.

Admittedly, there is the third possibility that LaTourette was both in on it and a hopeless simpleton, as evidenced by the fact that he thought no one would ever find out that these tariffs don't exist.

For those of you trying to come up to speed on the DeLay/Abramoff story, here's our quick run-down on six of the top cronies in the mix.

Duke Update from the North County Times: "With his legal defense costs estimated to reach as much as $1.5 million, embattled U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham has asked the Federal Election Commission for permission to use the money in his campaign account to pay the bill."

Good stuff in this post from Michael Crowley over at The New Republic blog ... Someone should forward it to a few of those station execs in Montana who are getting bamboozled by Republican lawyers into pulling those ads about Sen. Conrad Burns' cozy ties to Jack Abramoff.

As Crowley makes clear, there's no question that those donations from Abramoff's Indian tribe clients were actually organized, handled and dictated by Abramoff himself.

Come to think of it, I really wonder whether the folks in charge of organizing the GOP's 'Jack Who?' campaign next year want to invite such close scrutiny into how Abramoff handled his clients' political donations.

One way or another, check out the post.

You may have thought that Rep. Duke Cunningham (R) would stop regaling us with tales of his high-living congressional lifestyle now that he's decided not to run for reelection next year. But you can't count Duke out so quickly.

Last Friday the Union-Tribune ran a new and admittedly slightly complicated piece on Duke's high-flying ways.

You may know that under congressional rules, lawmakers can take a flight on a company-owned private jet and reimburse the company in question only at the price of a single first-class commercial air ticket, though of course fare on a private jet is vastly more expensive.

This is a legal and bipartisan practice that is its own special little scandal in itself -- of which we'll say more in a future post.

Now, there's a defense contractor named Brent Wilkes. He has a company called ADCS Inc. And as you might expect, the operation has been on the Duke gravy train in recent years. In fact, things are going so well that Wilkes also has Group W Advisors, a DC-based lobbying firm. And, yes, perhaps it goes without saying that before Duke's sugar-daddy Mitchell Wade set up the now-notorious MZM, Inc., he was an employee of ADCS.

As you'll see in a moment, if nothing else, Wilkes seems to be a true innovator in the vertical integration of the congressional pay-for-play industry.

And as part of that, let's get to Group W Transportation, Wilkes' private air carrier.

I'm always a little worried about travelling on planes owned by tiny companies. But if you think that's bad, Group W only owns one-sixteenth of a plane!

Now, that doesn't sound too airworthy. And maybe like me, when you first read that, you were thinking you'd end up at 20,000 feet just flying on half a wing or maybe a nose cone. But actually it's not that bad. Basically Group W owns one-sixteenth of a plane in what amounts to a time-share arrangement like some people do with vacation houses. Group W owned fifty hours a year on a Lear jet. (Recently, they upgraded to an eighth of a plane.)

But here's where the Duke fun gets started. According to the piece in the Union-Tribune a very large proportion of that time went to ferrying around members of Congress. Just to recap, the idea behind the charter jet reimbursement rule is that some corporation will lend a congressman or congresswoman its jet to get back to Washington or to fly to a fundraiser. But as part of lathering up lawmakers like Duke, Wilkes seems to have set up his own little mini-airline mainly, if not exclusively, to provide coast to coast air taxi service for members of Congress he's trying to get favors from. As an example, writes the paper, "During one weekend campaign swing in July 2003, DeLay used at least a quarter of Group W's 50-hour annual allotment on the jet."

But the most frequent flyer on the friendly skies of Group W was none other than Duke Cunningham.