In an interview with Rep. Roy Blunt, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace let Blunt make several false and misleading claims in defense of his ethical record.
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On the January 15 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace allowed acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-MO) to make several false and misleading claims in defense of his ethical record. During the interview, Blunt asserted that his lobbyist wife "doesn't lobby anybody in the House of Representatives." But she had, in fact, lobbied the House on behalf of tobacco giant Philip Morris at the time Blunt tried unsuccessfully to slip a tobacco-friendly provision into the Homeland Security Act. Blunt further claimed that this last-minute attempt to add the measure "was not something I was trying to do on my own" and that House "leaders" were working together on similar legislation at the time. But news reports indicate that the Republican leadership was entirely unaware of Blunt's actions and had the provision pulled from the bill as soon as it was brought to their attention.
During the interview, Wallace questioned whether Blunt, currently a candidate for House majority leader, "was the one to clean up the House," citing the fact that Blunt had once "tried to insert language into the Homeland Security Act to help Philip Morris tobacco while you were dating that company's lobbyist." Blunt simply responded that his wife Abigail Blunt -- then Abigail Perlman -- "doesn't lobby anybody in the House of Representatives."
But Blunt's response obscured the fact that Perlman did lobby the House on tobacco and budget issues on behalf of Philip Morris in November 2002, when Blunt was named majority whip and subsequently attempted to modify the Homeland Security Act of 2002 hours before the final House vote. A lobbying disclosure report for July 1-December 31, 2002, indicates that Perlman lobbied both houses of Congress during this period.
Media Matters for America previously noted Perlman's lobbying record in response to a January 11 Washington Post article that falsely reported she "does not lobby Congress." The Post ran a correction on January 13 that noted "she no longer lobbies the House but continues to lobby the Senate." Indeed, Perlman ceased lobbying the House when Blunt assumed the position of acting majority leader on September 28, 2005. But the correction -- like the original article -- failed to note the more fundamental point that Perlman lobbied the House at the time of Blunt's controversial attempt to insert the tobacco-friendly provision into the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security.
Further, Blunt repeatedly claimed that when he inserted the provision he "wasn't trying to slip anything in" and that this "was not something I was trying to do on my own." He said that House leaders were "working on this" and that they subsequently "decided collectively it wasn't the right moment to do it."
But news reports from the time characterize Blunt as working on his own. The June 11, 2003, Washington Post article that broke the story reported:
The new majority whip [Blunt], who has close personal and political ties to the company [Philip Morris], instructed congressional aides to add the tobacco provision to the bill -- then within hours of a final House vote -- even though no one else in leadership supported it or knew he was trying to squeeze it in.
It is highly unusual for a House Republican to insert a last-minute contentious provision that has never gone through a committee, never faced a House vote and never been approved by the speaker or majority leader.
Further, while it is true that similar legislation garnered support both before and after this incident, the Post reported that House leaders were said to have opposed the provision's inclusion as soon as they heard about it. According to the Post, some Republicans were even "angered" by Blunt's tactics:
Once alerted to the provision, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, quickly had it pulled out, said a senior GOP leader who requested anonymity. Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) also opposed what Blunt (Mo.) was trying to do, the member said, and "worked against it" when he learned of it.
A senior Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity said some GOP members worried at the time that it would be "embarrassing" to the party and its new whip if details of the effort were made public. Another Republican said Blunt's effort angered some leaders because there was "so little support for" a pro-tobacco provision likely to generate controversy.
During the interview, Blunt also deflected Wallace's assertion that Blunt's "campaign committees paid $485,000 to a firm linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff," calling the figure "absolutely not accurate." In fact, this figure is included in a recent report by the watchdog group Public Citizen, as the weblog Think Progress noted. The report found that "Blunt's committees paid ASG [lobbying firm Alexander Strategy Group] $485,485 since 1999 for fundraising and consulting services."
From the January 15 edition of Fox Broadcasting Company's Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: In 2002, you tried to insert language into the Homeland Security Act to help Philip Morris tobacco while you were dating that company's lobbyist. Since 1999, you've received at least $429,000 in campaign contributions from lobbyists. And your campaign committees paid $485,000 to a firm linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Are you the one to clean up the House?
BLUNT: Well, I'm pretty sure that last figure is absolutely not accurate. But in terms of cleaning up the House, the fact is that I have set -- or met -- the highest standards in the history of the Congress on that -- on that wall of separation between people who are in your family and the work that they do. My wife works for Philip Morris -- she really works for Kraft Foods, which is part of that company now. She doesn't lobby anybody in the House of Representatives. That's about as strict a standard as you can get. It's the strictest that's ever been set by anybody.
In terms of that legislation that you mentioned in whatever year it was, that's since been passed by both houses of Congress. It was good legislation. I wasn't trying to slip anything in. The New York Times is the only paper that's ever actually got that story right, when they pointed out a letter from the majority leader at the time, Dick Armey [R-TX], who said the leaders were working on this, and we all work together. This was not something I was trying to do on my own. It's good legislation -- it was good legislation, since been passed by both Houses, it was the right thing to do. We decided collectively it wasn't the right moment to do it. The sinister part about that story is that somehow I was trying to slip that in. It just was not true.