Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

GOP gets one Montana TV station to pull Burns-Abramoff ad. Station owner says ads will come down if Democrats do not remove the claim that Burns took Abramoff money.

It seems the GOP really doesn't like those ads Montana Democrats are running in the state explaining Sen. Conrad Burns' (R) ties to Jack Abramoff. So they're taking up that increasingly familiar Republican campaign tactic: threaten the stations' campaign managers with a lawsuit if they don't stop running the ads. Crooks & Liars has a copy of the letter.

More on the Sen. Conrad Burns - Jack Abramoff backstory, from the Billings Gazette.

More tales of Jack.

The Montana Democratic party is running this television commercial which highlights Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) still little discussed ties to power lobbyist Jack Abramoff. This AP article gives more details.

A TPM Reader takes a stab at the $9,000 <$NoAd$> check mystery ...

Regarding the Jack Abramoff/Guam Superior Court embroglio, I think you're barking up the wrong tree. There probably is some illicit "structuring" going on, but it's likely by the Guam court officials, not Abramoff. This is all surmise, of course, but anyone who has ever had "signature authority" in a corporation usually also has had dollar limits on that authority (that is, a limit on how much they can authorize without sending it to a superior/supervisor).

Sure enough, when you look at the Guam procurement code, section 5213 states, "Small Purchases. Any procurement not exceeding the amount established by regulation may be made in accordance with small purchase procedures promulgated by the Policy Office, provided, however, that procurement requirements shall not be artificially divided so as to constitute a small purchase under this Section."

Now, your posts mentioned that the Guam Supreme Court is trying to do something that, evidently, the Superior Court judges or administrators disagree with. The Superior Court people may not want to come right out and ask for $300,000 to lobby against the Supreme Court people (Guam's a small place, maybe it's bad politics, who knows?), and so they use administrative procedures to mask what they're doing. How much do you want to bet that the "amount established by regulation" is $10,000? Assuming that's the case, if you wanted to hide a procurement contract in plain sight, you'd make sure that the payments were each below the "amount established by regulation" in order to avoid having to make a procurement request up the chain of command.

Note, by the way, that the procurement code prohibits exactly that conduct. Thus, if Abramoff or his intermediary in California was aware of that, they could be accessories to some kind of violation in Guam, but without doing further research, it would be impossible to know that for sure.

More on this to come.