Friday, November 17, 2006

Best News of the Day: Tom Cole as NRCC Chairman!

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) has just been elected Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

This is the best news of the day, for both the Republican Party and the Republic.

I had the privilege and the good fortune to work at the Republican National Committee during the 2000 cycle, when Tom Cole was the Chief of Staff. I can personally attest to the fact that Tom has what it takes to lead House Republicans back to the majority -- if there's a way, he will find it.

It isn't just his grace under fire, his leadership and management skills, or his vast experience and knowledge of the campaign arena that has me so enthused today about his election, though; far more important is the knowledge that Tom Cole is a good man at a time when the Republican Party needs good men and women to take leadership roles.

Congratulations, Tom, and best wishes for continued success.

Next Up: Alcee Hastings.

In a post a few days ago, I warned of the likely ascension of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) to the Chairmanship of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Congressman Hastings, you will recall, was impeached and convicted and kicked off the federal bench in 1989 for his role in a bribery scandal.

National Review's Byron York has the full details.

Happy, Happy, Fake Happy, Happy ... REALLY Not Happy.

This New York Times photo of Rahm Emanuel, John Larson, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jack Murtha after House Democrats finished selecting their leaders for the 110th Congress -- a leadership election in which Speaker-To-Be Nancy Pelosi took it on the chin and The Man Who Would Not Be Majority Leader Jack Murtha took it in the gut -- says a lot more than a thousand words.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another Thought on Murtha's Defeat.

Last night, less than 18 hours before House Democrats met to choose their leaders, Jack Murtha was interviewed by Chris Matthews on MSNBC. Asked if he was going to win, Murtha replied, "We've got the votes."


86 of them, to be precise -- 32 votes shy of the 118 needed to secure victory.

Jack Murtha now will, in his words, go back to "this little subcommittee that I have." Which is a reference, of course, to the fact that he will now assume the chairmanship of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, which writes the single largest annual appropriations bill in the government -- roughly $450 billion per year.

A suggestion: someone should make sure that the calculator Mr. Murtha used to count votes in his race for Majority Leader isn't the same one he uses to calculate the Defense Approps bill.

Hoyer Defeats Murtha. Our Pocketbooks Are Safer.

Steny Hoyer defeated Jack Murtha by a whopping 149-86 -- that's a 63-37 percent smackdown.

Think about that for just a moment -- almost two-thirds of the House Democratic caucus voted to defy the woman they had, just moments earlier, unanimously elected as the first-ever female Speaker of the House.

Now remember what The New York Times reported on October 2, in its front-page, above-the-fold expose of Murtha's practice of trading votes for earmarks:
Mr. Murtha can punish lawmakers, as well. Those who do not support the defense spending bill, for example, discover their next earmark requests go nowhere. ''Let me tell you the facts of life,'' Mr. Murtha said he tells balky legislators. ''If you vote against this bill, you won't have any input at all the next time."
Both Murtha and Pelosi were reported this week to have been using strong-arm tactics. Pelosi, in fact, was said to be telling newly-elected Democrats that she needed Murtha as her number two in the very same conversation where she inquired about the newbies' desired committee assignments.

Murtha, with a reputation for being no more subtle, likely was employing his own version of arm-twisting -- offering earmarks in exchange for votes, and threatening to deny funding for pet projects of those who failed to support him.

Pelosi gets a black eye, Murtha doesn't even come close, and next year's Defense Appropriations bill will likely contain fewer earmarks.

Taxpayers win on all three fronts.

Thank you, House Democrats.

It's Not Over Until It's Over. But It Might Be Over.

According to our friends at Hotline's On Call, the race for House Majority Leader may already be over -- and Jack Murtha may have just lost.

Jack Murtha Is STILL Not Telling the Truth. Really.

Interviewed last night on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews," Jack Murtha continued to evade, dodge, obfuscate, and even tell outright falsehoods to host Chris Matthews.

Let's take a look at what Murtha said last night, and how it squares with known facts:

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about what's being said against you. Not just by your opponents, but in the newspapers. Let's talk about Abscam. Back 26 years ago, I went through the numbers. Five members of the United States Congress, a United States senator, Pete Williams from New Jersey were convicted of accepting money from these undercover FBI agents, posing as Arab guys trying to make an offer to congressmen so he'd cut a deal, put some money in the pockets of these people.

All these people are convicted, you weren't. Does that mean you're innocent?

MURTHA: Well, I'll put this way. I had 24 percent unemployment, I was looking at investment. I told them I wanted an investment in my district, they put $50,000 out on the table. I said I'm not interested in that, I'm interested in investment. The ethics committee cleared me completely, unanimous vote.

FACT: The Ethics Committee did no such thing. Contrary to what Jack Murtha declared as fact, the House Ethics Committee split on a straight party-line vote -– every Republican cast a vote to proceed with an investigation of Murtha, while every Democrat on the Committee cast a vote to close down any proceeding against Murtha.

The Special Counsel hired to investigate the Abscam scandal on behalf of the Ethics Committee –- E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr. -– resigned in protest that very day.

MATTHEWS: When they said, when they offered you the envelope of $50,000, did you think that was a bribe?

MURTHA: It wasn't an envelope, it was a drawer full of cash.

MATTHEWS: Was that a bribe?

MURTHA: No. As far as I was concerned...

MATTHEWS: ... No, what did you see that as? Why did you say I'm not interested?

MURTHA: Well, I said I'm not interested because I just didn't feel like it was the right thing to do.

MATTHEWS: Why not?

MURTHA: Well, what the hell, I'm not going to take cash from some Arab sheikhs. They weren't Arab sheikhs, they were FBI agents.

MATTHEWS: But you didn't know that.

MURTHA: I just said this is not what I'm interested in. I'm interested in you folks investing.

FACT: Actually, as we pointed out yesterday, Jack Murtha's "investment defense" was nothing more than a cover to throw any inquiring reporters off the scent. If the rich Arab put money into Murtha's district, he reasoned to the undercover FBI agent, no one would start wondering aloud why Murtha was doing favors for a rich foreigner; absent such a cover, however, people would naturally become suspicious. Here's how Murtha described it at the time, in his own words (courtesy of the Abscam surveillance video):

"And what I'm sayin' is, a few investments in my district, a few you know, is big to me, to this guy apparently is not too big, to a couple of banks which would get their attention. And investment in a business where you could legitimately say to me -- when I say legitimately, I'm talking about so these bastards up here can't say to me, well, why, in eight years from now, that's possible, we'd never hear a thing for eight years, but all at once, ah, some dumb bastard would go start talking eight years from now, ah, about the whole thing and say, '[expletive deleted], ah, this happened,' then he, then he, in order to get immunity so he doesn't go to jail, he starts talking and fingering people and then the [expletive deleted] all falls apart."

Just a few moments later in the tape, Mr. Murtha continues, discussing what he calls "a business commitment" in the district:

"A business commitment that makes it imperative for me to help him. Just, let me tell you something. I'm sure if -- and there's a lot of things I've done up here, with environmental regulations, with all kinds of waivers of laws and regulations. If it weren't for being in the district, people would say … 'Well that [expletive deleted], I'm gonna tell you something … This guy is, uh, you know, on the take.' Well once they say that, what happens? Then they start going around looking for the [expletive deleted] money. So I want to avoid that by having some tie to the district. That's all. That's the secret to the whole thing."

"That's the secret to the whole thing." Investment not for the sake of investment, but because "that's the secret" to how you can take a bribe and get away with it.

MATTHEWS: I've heard you, I've seen this tape on YouTube now, everybody has seen it. A million people apparently have seen this tape. You said I'm not interested, and I assume you think it was something you shouldn't have done, as you just said. It wasn't the right thing to do, right, sir?

MURTHA: Well certainly, that's exactly.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well then why did you say at this point, then?

MURTHA: Listen, I wanted to negotiate with them about investment in the district, that's what I was interested in. It's the only thing I was interested in.

MATTHEWS: But what do you mean when you said I'm not interested at this point. I'm not interested maybe at some point?

MURTHA: No, no, listen.

MATTHEWS: That's on the tape.

MURTHA: I know, but what I said was I want to continue to talk to you guys, I want investment in the district. That's all I was interested in.

FACT: In fact, Murtha was quite interested in taking the $50,000. He just didn't want to take cash out of a room in front of two men he had never before met, and a third man who had been introduced to him by one of his corrupt congressional colleagues.

Roughly 46 minutes into the 54-minute-long meeting, Howard Criden and Jack Murtha briefly stepped into the hallway outside the meeting room for a private conversation. There, the two discussed a means for Murtha to accept the cash without putting his hands on it -- by having Criden put
his hands on it.

Here's what you see on the tape:

Upon their return, Howard Criden says to Anthony Amoroso, the undercover FBI agent posing as the representative of the sheik, 'John says that it is okay for you to give me what's in that drawer.' [The drawer he was referring to, of course, is the desk drawer in which agent Amoroso had already placed $50,000 in cash.] Jack Murtha then immediately follows, explaining to Mr. Amoroso, 'Is that all right, Tony, let me make it very clear. The other two guys [Congressmen Frank Thompson and John Murphy] do expect to be taken care of, as Howard. And you're gonna have to deal through Howard. Me, you've got my deal.' Criden then acknowledges, 'We have a deal.'

Leaving a room where one has just been offered $50,000 in cash, only to return two minutes later with a bag man saying "John says that it is okay for you to give me what's in that drawer," is not something done by a man who's not aware he's trying to take a bribe.

These are the actions, rather, of a man who wanted very much to take the bribe -- as Jack Murtha said at one point on the tape, "you know, I need the [expletive deleted] money like anybody else does" -- but who thought he was clever enough, and careful enough, to have figured out a way to take the bribe without actually accepting the money himself.

Jack Murtha could have contradicted Howard Criden when Criden said, "John says that it is okay for you to give me what is in that drawer." He could have said, "Howard, I never said that."

But Jack Murtha did NOT contradict Howard Criden. Instead, he said, "Is that all right, Tony," and went on to remind the FBI agent that two other Congressmen "do expect to be taken care of," and then to agree with Criden -- "And you're gonna have to deal through Howard."

Just what did Howard Criden and Jack Murtha discuss in the hallway? Did Criden tell Murtha, "It'll be alright, Jack, I'll take the money, just like I did for Frank Thompson?" In fact, in trial testimony later, Jack Murtha testified that that is EXACTLY what happened in the hallway.

Jack Murtha believed he had cut a deal. But the deal fell apart -- FOR THE MOMENT -- when he refused to take the cash out of the room himself.

Did Jack Murtha call the FBI to report that, as a sitting Member of the House of Representatives, he had just been offered a bribe? Did Jack Murtha call the Speaker of the House of Representatives, or even the Chairman of the House Ethics Committee -- of which he was a member at the time -- to report a bribe attempt, as he was required to do under the Rules of the House in effect at the time?

No, he did not. Instead, as he testified later in federal court, he called his "immigration guy," to determine what could be done on behalf of the sheik. Why? Because he thought he still had a deal.

MATTHEWS: But did you smell corruption in that conversation?

MURTHA: Sure. I saw these guys were trying to corrupt me and trying to...

MATTHEWS: ... Did you think they were legitimate emissaries for an Arab big shot or did you think they were...

MURTHA: They were the slimiest guys I've ever seen.

MATTHEWS: Well why didn't you walk out of the room the minute you met them?

[Ed. note: Walking out of the room is exactly what Republican U.S. Senator Larry Pressler did when he was offered a cash bribe by the same undercover FBI agent.]

MURTHA: Well listen, they said they were going to invest in the district.

MATTHEWS: I understand the constituent service part of it. I understand that. But the tricky part of this is to say I'm not interested, which meant you didn't want to have anything to do with these slime balls, as you saw them, but then you said "at this point." Was that just a way of finessing your way out of the conversation?

MURTHA: Exactly, exactly. I deal with people like this all the time. I wanted to find a way to move towards a negotiation to investment.

MATTHEWS: Did you know they had already paid two other members off?

MURTHA: I had no idea.

FACT: Of course Murtha knew the faux sheik's representatives had already paid off two other Members of Congress already -– one of them, Frank Thompson, had been the man who brought Murtha into the sting operation in the first place. At Thompson's trial, Murtha testified to this fact, and to the fact that he had been told by Thompson that there would be $50,000 in what he called "walk around money" offered to him before he ever went to the meeting.

Here's how David Holman, a reporter for The American Spectator, summarized it:

Murtha's claim that he thought he was meeting to discuss investments in his district is only half true: he knew for weeks beforehand that there would be bribes involved. In late October or early November of 1979, Murtha testified, Congressman Frank Thompson approached him on the floor of the House. He told Murtha there were some rich Arabs who might be willing to invest in the district. "He wanted to get two more Congressmen involved. ... But all we would have to do is help these two Arabs get into the country perhaps sometime in the future."

About a week later, Thompson sat next to Murtha on the floor of the House. Murtha testified that Thompson said he had checked the Arabs out -- they had hundreds of millions of dollars. (Abscam had a banker at Chase Manhattan who would "verify" the size of their bank account if any marks called to check.) This time, though, Thompson said, according to Murtha, "And there would also be some walking around money for the three Congressmen involved." In direct examination, Thomas Puccio, the government's lead prosecutor on the case, then asked, "Did Mr. Thompson say how much walking-around money?" "He said $50,000," Mr. Murtha replied. "What did you understand walking-around money to mean?" Mr. Puccio asked. "Cash," Mr. Murtha said. Murtha knew since the first half of November 1979 that the Arabs were offering bribes.

Thompson pursued the matter with Murtha through the end of the year, finally securing a meeting for Murtha's first day back in town: January 7, 1980. Thompson phoned Murtha on January 7. He said that Howard Criden, an attorney arranging meetings with members of Congress for the Arabs' representatives, was in his office and Thompson would like Murtha to meet Criden.

Murtha went over. After some small talk, Thompson told Murtha that he would go with Criden to the Arabs' house in Georgetown, where Criden would "pick up the money." Murtha testified that he repeatedly demurred and said that he was "just not prepared to get involved with the money." He said that he twice almost walked out of Thompson's office at Thompson's and Criden's insistence that Criden would pick up the money. At one point, Thompson said, "You go down and Howard will pick up the money and we will split -- that the three of us will split the money." Murtha testified in cross-examination that when he went to the W Street townhouse, he knew there was a "possibility" that he could be bribed by going there or a bribe offer could be made there.

Before Murtha left Capitol Hill, he knew the terms of the meeting: he was going to a strange townhouse, with a strange lawyer he had not met before that day, to meet with strange representatives of strange sheiks from an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Thompson explicitly told him that Criden would pick up the money for the three congressmen, Thompson, Murphy, and Murtha, to split three ways. Despite his account of protesting to this situation, he went along.

Twenty-six years later, Jack Murtha still isn't telling the truth about what happened in that room that day.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

How To Embarrass Your Boss. IF She Has the Requisite Embarrassment Bone.

Roll Call's John Bresnahan has the scoop:


Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) told a group of Democratic moderates on Tuesday that an ethics and lobbying reform bill being pushed by party leaders was "total crap," but said that he would work to enact the legislation because Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supports it.

Murtha and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) are locked in a battle for the House Majority Leader post, and both men made presentations for to the Blue Dog Coalition on Tuesday in a bid for their votes.

"Even though I think it's total crap, I'll vote for it and pass it because that's what Nancy wants," Murtha told the Blue Dogs, according to three sources who were at the meeting.

Pelosi has made enactment of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act the cornerstone of her legislative agenda for the 110th Congress, and she is preparing to make it the first bill introduced under her reign. Murtha voted against the legislation earlier this year on the House floor.

Congressional corruption was a major issue for voters in the recent midterm elections, and Pelosi has pledged to clean-up the Congress as part of her efforts to reform the House.

A Democratic lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was "surprised" by the tone of Murtha's comments, especially Murtha's repeated claim that he would back any proposal that Pelosi favored. This lawmaker has already declared for Hoyer.

"'My agenda will be Nancy's agenda' -- he kept saying that," the lawmaker said. "The performance was stunningly awful."

Another Democrat who was in the room said Murtha's remarks, especially on the ethics and lobbying reform bill, "were not the right thing to say in front of a roomful of Blue Dogs."

Murtha's office did not comment for for this article.

So. Let's review.

Nancy Pelosi promised to make the 110th Congress the "most open and accessible in history." She follows that up by promising to introduce as H.R. 1 the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, and to push it to passage on Day One of her reign.

Then she chooses to back Jack Murtha for the position of Majority Leader, despite his numerous and varied ethical failings -- a "one-man wrecking crew when it comes to policing congressional corruption" was how one liberal congressional watchdog put it.

In Day Five of what will be his seven-day campaign, Mr. Murtha trashes the Speaker-To-Be's numero uno legislative priority, referring to it as "total crap" in front of a room full of key House Democrats.

And yet Nancy Pelosi is, by all media accounts, actually making phone calls and twisting arms for him -- to the extent that one incoming House freshman Democrat reported being asked in a private meeting by Ms. Pelosi who she was backing for Majority Leader, and THEN asking what committees she'd be interested in joining. (Ms. Pelosi has been called many things. "Subtle" is not one of them.)

Embarrassed by Mr. Murtha's behavior? Ms. Pelosi? Not at all.

The question here is, just what kind of embarrassing pictures of Ms. Pelosi does Jack Murtha have, anyway?

You Don't Know Jack. Murtha, That Is.

Now that Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has chosen to take sides in an intramural leadership fight, throwing her weight behind Jack Murtha's bid to become House Majority Leader, you might find it useful to brush up on Jack Murtha's background.

Most of the national press corps has a simple thumbnail bio of Jack Murtha: "A conservative pro-life, pro-gun defense hawk whose courageous decision to take a public stand against the war in Iraq last November provided cover to his party's liberal wing, and paved the way for an historic victory last Tuesday."

That's probably what most of the Capitol Hill and K Street crowd thinks of Jack Murtha, too.

But if that's all you know about Jack Murtha … you don't know Jack.

Start by reading John Fund's excellent primer in this morning's Wall Street Journal.

Then read Ruth Marcus's excellent piece in this morning's Washington Post.

Then consider:

  • In late September, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) issued its second annual report on the most corrupt Members of Congress. Of the 25 Members listed, 21 were Republicans; Jack Murtha was one of just four Democrats to make the grade. CREW documented the hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions Murtha has taken in exchange for delivering tens of millions of dollars in earmarked appropriations to clients of two lobbying firms –- both of which employ former senior Murtha staffers, and one of which actually employs Murtha's own brother. See the full report here.

  • More than a year before CREW issued its report, the Los Angeles Times detailed how the lobbying firm featuring Jack Murtha's brother -– KSA Consulting -– delivered for its clients. You can read the full L.A. Times piece here.

  • Jack Murtha's brother isn't the only Murtha family member to be graced by earmarks directed by the acknowledged Pork Master: long before he started directing taxpayer funds to clients of his brother, Jack Murtha directed $1.4 million to tiny St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania -– a college where his cousin, John F. Murtha, served as President. U.S. News & World Report wrote it up in a cover story here.

  • Yes, Jack Murtha is a great believer in family –- but not just his own. According to Roll Call, he's also done favors to put taxpayers' money in the pockets of the nephew of Rep. Paul Kanjorski (who, not surprisingly, has endorsed Murtha's bid for Majority Leader) and the nephew of –- wait for it –- Nancy Pelosi. Read Roll Call's take here. Read the San Francisco Chronicle's take here. And here, you can read about how Kanjorski's nephew's company went belly-up when the federal contracts dried up.

  • Ten days after the CREW report went public, the full 54-minute FBI Abscam surveillance video -– never before seen by the public -– was released. The video puts the lie to Murtha's so-called "investment defense," in which he claimed he only met with men he believed to be agents of a rich Arab sheik in order to facilitate new investment in his district. Instead, the video makes shockingly clear that Murtha wanted to take the $50,000 cash bribe offered him -– he just didn't want to put his own hands on the money. Instead, he wanted Philadelphia attorney Howard Criden to act as his bagman and take physical possession of the cash. You can read a summary analysis of this new information here, you can read the full transcript of the video here, and you can see the full video here.

  • One of the great, if largely unknown, Abscam stories is just how Jack Murtha got away without facing the wrath of his colleagues on the House Ethics Committee. Avoiding a federal prosecution by agreeing to turn state's evidence -– and still earning the title "unindicted co-conspirator" (making him the second most famous "unindicted co-conspirator" in American political history, right after Richard Nixon) -– was one thing; but the Rules of the House at the time required that a Member report any attempted bribe –- something Murtha clearly failed to do, and for which he faced serious consequences. To learn how Tip O'Neill, "Good Time Charlie" Wilson, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts figured into Jack Murtha's escape from the Ethics Committee, click here.

  • On October 2, The New York Times entered the fray, giving front page, above-the-fold treatment to an expose of Murtha's longstanding practice of trading his vote for favors –- specifically, the Times detailed how he regularly traded his vote (and those of his cronies) to Republican leaders in exchange for earmarked federal appropriations he could then dispense to his favored Democrats and back into his own district. Read the full New York Times piece here.

  • Did you know that Jack Murtha's arrogance regarding the perks of Congressional office is so great that he once hosted a welcome-back party for a powerful former staffer who had just been convicted of taking a bribe –- and that, when questioned by reporters about the propriety of hosting a party for a convicted bribe-taker, he referred to the conviction as being "just like a traffic ticket," and said he felt "like she was exonerated?" Read about it here.

  • Jack Murtha's belief that Congress and its staffers should be considered in a class by themselves doesn't stop there. He even pushed for a law that would require taxpayers to foot the legal bills of Members of Congress (and staff) who had been convicted of crimes -– including taking bribes! So much for the fundamentally American notion that every man is equal under the law. Read more here.

  • Jack Murtha is the reason regular citizens can no longer file complaints against Members of Congress directly with the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. It was his drive, in the wake of the federal investigations of his friends U.S. Reps. Bud Shuster and Joe McDade, that led to a change in the Rules of the House that require that only a Member of Congress can file such a complaint with the Committee. But even that wasn't enough for Jack Murtha -– he pushed for a Rules change that would have required the automatic dismissal of any Ethics complaint if the Ethics Committee failed to take action within six months.

    Nancy Pelosi told NBC News in her first post-victory interview last week that she would promise "to turn this Congress into the most honest and open Congress in history. That is my pledge. That is what I intend to do."

    Is putting Jack Murtha in charge of the House Floor what she meant?

    Or could it be that Nancy Pelosi ... doesn't know Jack?
  • Monday, November 13, 2006

    Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. Part Two.

    So what's there to be scared of, anyway?

    MI5 Boss: 200 Terror Cells in U.K.

    That's what.

    Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

    Of this man: U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, one of only three federal judges in the 20th century (and one of only six since the founding of the Republic) to be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate.

    Why be afraid? Because Speaker-Designate Nancy Pelosi has made clear her intent to skip over the U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, the Ranking Minority Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and instead install Rep. Hastings as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

    As our friends at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy point out, Alcee Hastings' background leaves, shall we say, a bit to be desired, at least when it comes to feeling safe and secure with him as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

    So ... be afraid. Be very afraid.

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    Apologize. Our Soldiers Are Waiting.