Wednesday, November 15, 2006

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?

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