Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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A TPM Reader (who's a lawyer) asked whether it might not be the case that the RNC is paying Jim Tobin's legal bills in the New Hampshire phone-jamming case because they are under some legal or contractual obligation to do so.

Now, as I wrote earlier, it seems to me that the demonstrable evidence of Tobin's guilt, would absolve them of such an obligation. And, just to be clear, Tobin's defense doesn't seem to rest on his being innocent of the deeds in questions but rather on claims that no laws cover what he did or that he has immunity from prosecution. I'd be curious to hear from other lawyers with experience in this area what they think.

But the thing is, Tobin's legal bills -- $700,000 and counting -- are being paid by the Republican National Committee. And he wasn't working for the Republican National Committee. He was working for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. These are two different organizations. They may have a common interest in Tobin's silence. But I cannot see why the RNC has any obligation, legal or ethical, to foot the bill for Tobin's defense.

Kathleen Sullivan, Chair of the New Hampshire Democratic party, speaks out about the latest on 2002 phone-jamming scandal and asks why the RNC is paying the ringleader's legal bills.

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.