The RNC , Tobin & The Phone Jamming – What Does “Innocent” Mean?

The RNC has been paying James Tobin’s legal bills for going on three years now – at least $2.8 million to date. Why?

The official line – that they believed his innocence – doesn’t fly. They’ve known for quite awhile just what Tobin had done. And Tobin has never disputed the central fact of his involvement. He’s argued that he didn’t commit a crime, which is something altogether different.

Listen to how it’s been spun. Here’s the official line, courtesy of The Boston Globe:

Republican Party officials say they are handling his legal bills because the charges arose from his official actions, and because he has maintained his innocence.

And here’s the “love is blind” defense, courtesy of Hotline’s Marc Ambinder:

…we’ve talked to several Republican officials and party insiders who believe that the RNC and Tobin’s friends in the White House accepted his explanation(s) without applying the requisite skepticism. That’s a human reaction, certainly.

So what was Tobin’s explanation that was so credulously received? And what do RNC officials mean when they say “innocence?”

First, you have understand what James Tobin’s role in the scheme was. According to Tobin’s indictment and Chuck McGee’s testimony, McGee, the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, came to Tobin with the idea to tie up Democrat’s phones. Tobin, rather than condemning McGee’s plan, gave McGee the number for a telephone services vendor (Allen Raymond’s GOP Marketplace) to carry out the scheme. That’s it. That’s the key piece of Tobin’s involvement.

Now, Tobin’s innocence in this case to you or me would mean that Tobin had no part in this. Maybe McGee was lying, or there was some confusion, or whatever. But certainly for Tobin to be innocent in the common sense of the word, he could not have known the gist of what McGee was asking him to help with.But if that was Tobin’s line, and what he’s been telling RNC officials since 2003, he certainly didn’t make that argument at his trial. His defense was not that he’d had nothing to do with it. It was more finely tailored, a combination of narrow legalistic defenses. Here, for instance, is an excerpt of Tobin’s lawyer parsing that key conversation to death during his cross-examination of Charles McGee at trial:

Q. So with regard to Mr. Tobin, there was one conversation where you told him the gist of your idea, and he gave you Mr. Raymond’s phone number and that was the extent of your interaction?
A. Yes.
Q. Mr. Tobin didn’t help you come up with this idea; right?
A. No.
Q. He did not encourage your idea?
A. No.
Q. He did not endorse your idea?
A. No.
Q. He did not agree to participate with you to violate the law?
A. No. Didn’t even know it was against the law until I found out later.
Q. He didn’t say he was willing to help you commit a crime, did he?
A. No.
Q. He didn’t say anything to you to suggest to you that he was willing to help you commit a crime, did he?
A. No.

Notice that the lawyer doesn’t dispute the gist.

Tobin never took the stand at his trial. And I’ve never heard anyone from the RNC, Tobin’s lawyers, or anyone specifically dispute the central fact of his involvement – that he’d passed McGee on to Raymond after hearing McGee’s idea.

So here’s the question. Whenever an RNC official or anyone else says that Tobin had made assurances of his innocence, there needs to be a follow-up question. And that is: Did James Tobin ever tell anyone at the RNC that he hadn’t given McGee Raymond’s number? Did he ever say that he hadn’t understood the gist of what McGee had in mind?

The RNC would surely know. Early on in the case, Tobin was represented by an RNC lawyer. And an RNC lawyer was there when in October of 2003, James Tobin made a proffer to prosecutors, telling them his side of the story.

And here’s another question: James Tobin was convicted December 15, 2005. He’s mounted an appeal. Is the RNC paying for it? If so, is it because they still believe he’s innocent?

My call on this wasn’t returned. Maybe someone else can get an answer.