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Even after the November elections when voters rebuked the GOP because of its scandal-ridden image and turned control of Congress over to the Democrats, the political scandals just keep on coming.
I attended the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this morning on eight federal prosecutors who were fired en masse following the 2006 elections in December by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Bush Administration. The Administration initially gave no reason for the firings. The story of political intrigue and corruption that my Public Citizen colleague Linda Andros wrote about on TomPaine.com last week continues to unfold.
The hearing noted that all but one received exemplary performance reviews. The common thread among many of these firings appears to be political repercussions for prosecuting Republicans for corruption, such as the infamous Duke Cunningham, or not prosecuting Democrats fast enough before the elections. Never mind that all but two of the prosecutors are Republicans; the other two are Independents.
Tonight we’ll be listening closely to the President’s State of the Union address. This year we hope he levels with the American people. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned in previous State of the Union addresses, this president’s assertions are not always "reality-based."
As an example from his 2006 address, we were told that lawsuits were driving doctors out of practice - causing a shortage of ob-gyns in 1,500 counties. This was not true and a blatant attempt to urge the Congress to enact medical liability reform.
Today, Public Citizen released an analysis [pdf] of this claim that shows the real facts.
So, will we hear the truth from the President tonight?
What we’d like to hear is an honest assessment and a solid plan for moving our nation out of an era of corruption and lies and into a future of more transparency and integrity in our government. However, we won't hold our breath.
So, we’re asking you.
Post your own "address" on the true State of the Union in comments to this blog and we’ll continue to work to get Congress and the President to listen to you, the people.
Tom Noe, a prominent coin dealer and former Bush fundraiser was found guilty last week of money laundering, corrupt activity, forgery, tampering with records and theft. This morning he was sentenced to a stiff 18 years in prison. This comes on top of a 27-month sentence for violating federal campaign laws when donating to Bush's re-election campaign in 2004. He will also pay a $213,000 fine and $3 million for the cost of the prosecution.
The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) gave $50 million to Noe to invest in rare coins. It is reported that Noe stole between $2 million and $13 million to pay off business loans and buy a house in the Florida Keys.
Thomas Osowik, the presiding judge has this to say: "You continued to spend the bureau's money at what I thought was a shockingly, alarmingly large rate, and done for one purpose: to present some type of a facade that you had a bottomless cup of wealth and luxury at your disposal, when in fact it was at the state's expense."
Noe may still end up in Florida; retiring at one if of its fine federal prisons.
This shows the corrupting effect of our current campaign finance system and the pressure to increase political influence in a high-stakes money game. A system for public funding of elections would mean that candidates would no longer need to rely on fundraising by crooks.
View this corruption-laden special goodbye to a "special majority" from the Colbert Report last night. Via The Silent Patriot.
The Toledo Blade reports that Thomas Noe was convicted of conspiring to violate federal campaign laws. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison and will pay $136,200 in fines. Noe achieved “Pioneer” status (raising over $100,000 for Bush) by giving cash to friends and associates, who in turn paid to attend a high-priced lunch.
Before sentencing, Noe said, “…I was pressured by Bush-Cheney campaign officials to become a pioneer for George Bush” and “I knew it was wrong.”
The RNC said it would return the money if authorities ordered it to do so.
The late, great Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory once wrote that the Bush administration has a habit of "using shamelessness as a political weapon."
While she wrote that during earlier, more carefree days for the president, it continues to characterize an administration that has rarely seen an ethical problem worth its concern, let alone its condemnation. Oh, and what the heck - why not just go ahead and actually raise a little money in the midst of all those ethical improprieties?
As reported in our headlines below, that is, incredibly enough, exactly what Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are doing during the next several days, as the president travels first to Kentucky, home of recently indicted Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, to do a little fund raising. Not to be outdone, the vice president will travel next week to California where he will do fund-raisers for Republican Reps. John Doolittle and Richard Pombo, both of whom face unexpectedly tough races, largely due to ethics scandals swirling around them. (Doolittle in particular has numerous close ties to Jack Abramoff, but both gentlemen are inductees in our Hall of Shame.) For good measure, Cheney will also do a fund-raiser for Brian Bilbray, the Republican candidate to replace imprisoned and disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
Any chance Bush and Cheney will focus on the need to clean up corruption during their fund-raising pitches? Probably about as much as there is of Cheney giving the names of those oil company executives he met with to formulate energy policy, or of Bush admitting that yes, actually, he does know Mr. Abramoff rather well.
There actions could, however, unintentionally assist those of us who are fighting corruption. Just by following their fund-raising tours for the rest of this election year, it could be easy to tell who has the biggest ethics problems in Congress. ...
The more things change...?
President Bush's approval rating has been mired in the mid-30's for some time now, and Republican members of Congress who previously clung to his side whenever they could are now starting to avoid him at all costs.
Well, maybe not at all costs. Because even though most GOP Representatives and Senators are now declining to join the President when he visits their state to make policy speeches - who would want to spend the following several days defending the war in Iraq or the sale of our ports to a Dubai-owned company? - they DO seem more than willing to have Bush (and the even more unpopular Cheney) come raise millions in campaign cash for them.
As the AP details, Bush is the most aggressive fundraiser-in-chief in U.S. history. Having raised $140 million for Congressional candidates in the 2002 and 2004 elections, he has already raised $88 million for his party's candidates at 26 events in 2005 and 2006. (And the VEEP ponied up by headlining 47 fundraisers in the same period that brought in $16.6 million.)
Amusingly, this "fear the policy, love the money" connundrum has the GOPers in more contortions than a game of Twister. New Jersey GOP senate candidate Tom Kean, Jr., for instance, managed to show up a fundraiser for his campaign hosted by Dick Cheney - 15 minutes after the Vice-President had left. (He claimed that he got caught in traffic. Did the dog also eat his speech notes?)
What isn't so clear is what policies these Republican candidates will promote if (re)elected. Is it too cyncial to expect, as the old adage says, that they will continue to dance with those that brought 'em...?
This is too good to pass up: Talking Points Memo's Muckraker reports that the April issue of Vanity Fair (due on stands next week) includes a nine-page spread on former lobbyist and admitted felon Jack Abramoff, the man at the epicenter of the scandals now rocking
Of course, Abramoff's account doesn't even come close to indicating Bush's relationship with the former lobbyist. The President probably addresses muscle tone with everyone he meets. And really, who doesn't?
Although President Bush has denied knowing Abramoff, the White House refuses to release photos of the two men together, as well as a list of meetings between Abramoff and administration aides. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 76 percent of Americans say Bush should disclose these meetings; only 18 percent disagreed.
Help us put an end to this nonsense. You can take action and demand that Bush release photos taken of himself with Abramoff.
We’ve blogged several times on the Bush administration’s cover-up of its ties to corrupt former Republican super lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Mr. Bush has refused to release photographs of himself with Abramoff, or any records of Abramoff's dealings with the White House, despite initial promises to the contrary by administration mouthpiece Scott McClellan.
Now, the story has taken a new twist, as 31 Senate Democrats have asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to remove himself from the Justice Department investigation of the Abramoff scandal. “FBI officials have said the Abramoff investigation ‘involves systemic corruption within the highest levels of government,’ ” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Gonzales. “In light of your previous service as White House Counsel and your close connection to many Administration officials, the appearance of conflict looms large.”
Gonzales’ response was the same as this White House’s answer to so many Congressional requests: No.
As head of the Justice Department, it’s not clear how Attorney General Gonzales might influence the work of the DOJ's famously independent Public Integrity division, which is leading the investigation.
But we do know that Mr. Gonzales is a long time friend of Mr. Bush, and is extremely loyal to him. As White House Counsel Gonzales helped develop the legal “rationale” (if you can call it that) justifying torture, and Sen. Feingold (D-Wis.), along with others, has accused him of misleading Congress while defending another one of the administration’s most controversial programs, the warrantless domestic wiretapping. We also know the administration has disrupted the Abramoff investigation by appointing one of the lead investigators to a federal judgeship, thus removing him from the case. (Funny, isn’t it, how this administration will never publicly comment on ongoing investigations, but will gladly remove the investigators who are conducting them?)
And now, with the President refusing to release information on his relationship with Abramoff, his good friend Alberto Gonzales is refusing direct requests to remove himself from the investigation, for what would appear to be a potentially strong conflict of interest.
If you want to get to the bottom of this as much as we do, take an action today by urging your senators to demand release of all records regarding the White House’s relationship with Abramoff. If Republicans are suddenly so big on disclosure, following the Congressional corruption scandals, how about a little of the same from the White House?
Vice President Dick Cheney’s shooting of a man last weekend during what’s being called a hunting accident pointed the way toward an as-yet-unreported example of another Bush fundraiser cashing in on White House contacts. Cheney and company were hunting at the Armstrong Ranch in
Since she became a lobbyist in 2004, she has registered for only four clients: her ranch, the mega-law firm of Baker Botts, and two of its clients. Why would such a legal heavyweight as Baker Botts need an outside lobbyist with no experience? The answer lies in her Baker Botts lobbying disclosure forms, which state that she lobbied only the White House and not Congress or any regulatory agency. Her activities consisted of “communicating with the White House on behalf of various Baker Botts clients regarding South Korean policy,” the forms say. But Baker Botts’ only obviously South Korean lobbying client, Hyundai, had terminated its lobbying contract months before Armstrong filed her registration. This apparently means that Baker Botts was providing lobbying services for at least one of its clients through the Armstrong subcontract without filing disclosures for those services.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we will find out who exactly Armstrong was shilling for on “South Korean policy.” The House and Senate offices that handle lobbying disclosure forms are notoriously lax on enforcement, and Baker Botts is unlikely to face any action for failing to register on behalf of the mystery South Korean client. However, this Google cache page does point to a press release (no longer available directly) on a South Korean “reception” in Seoul attended by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and put on by Baker Botts, Hyundai and a “U.S.-Asia Network” group that the two sponsor. The Network also happens to be co-chaired by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). Sounds like business as usual in
In other Pioneer-lobbyist news, the New York Times has released the first photo of Bush and admitted felon/former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and some of his Indian gaming clients. As we’ve blogged on before, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is sponsoring a Senate motion to demand that Bush release all the details of his meetings with Abramoff, and several Republican members of Congress have been calling for the same. Go to our action page to tell your member of Congress to jump on this wagon.
As one of the few Americans who stayed awake or tuned in long enough to see the Democrats’ response to President Bush’s State of the Union address last night, I was not particularly bowled over. And that’s putting it mildly.
There was one striking aspect of the speech by newly elected Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, but the problem is that it was striking only by its conspicuous absence. Kaine didn’t mention the word “corruption” a single time - not once. Nor, for that matter, did the word “Abramoff” cross the governor’s lips.
Did the Democrats think there was a shortage of material on this subject? If so, here’s a quick review of just the past six months, which might help jog their memories and get them back on message:
- Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was forced to step down from his majority leader position after being indicted for money-laundering in
- Former Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, a close friend and colleague of Tom DeLay as well as Bush’s political guru, Karl Rove, has pled guilty to bribery and related crimes in the largest corruption scandal to hit
in decades. Washington
- President Bush is stubbornly refusing to discuss the many meetings Abramoff had within the White House.
- Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) had to resign after admitting he took up to $2.4 million in bribes, and is probably facing jail time as a result.
- Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) has been identified as “Representative #1” in the Abramoff indictment, and has been forced to step down as chair of the House Administration Committee while the federal investigation continues.
- David Safavian, the Bush administration's top federal procurement official, was arrested and charged with lying and obstructing the criminal investigation into Jack Abramoff's dealings.
- Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, “Scooter” Libby, was indicted for lying to a grand jury in the investigation of who leaked the identity of former CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame.
- Members of Congress are taking trips to lavish resorts courtesy of special interests and their lobbyists.
- Lobbyists are raising millions of dollars for the very members of Congress they lobby.
- The House ethics committee has failed to launch a single investigation into any of this.
- Millions of senior citizens are failing to get basic medicine under the new Republican Medicare drug plan, a $500 billion monstrosity written to benefit drug companies and the HMO/insurance industry…and states are having to pick up the tab, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
- Oil companies like Exxon-Mobil are making record, profits -- $10.7 billion for Exxon-Mobil in just the last quarter of 2005 -- while you pay record prices for gas and heating oil… yet the energy bill passed by Congress last year delivers billions in taxpayer subsidies to these same oil companies.
All this, and the Democrats did not see fit to mention the word “corruption” in their official response…not even once? Not to sound clichéd, but where’s the outrage?