Media's White House "bribe" falsehood driven by discredited sources
Research ››› ››› MATT MCLAUGHLIN, TOM ALLISON, TODD GREGORY & KATE CONWAY
Media conservatives have relied on discredited sources to push the false allegation that the White House broke the law and "bribed" Rep. Joe Sestak with an administration job in exchange for staying out of the Senate race. These sources have a history of promoting falsehoods and have significant ties to the GOP -- which include supporting Sestak's opponent in the Senate race.
Media turn to dubious right-wing sources to charge White House with a crime
Hannity hosts Sekulow and Toensing to charge that a crime occurred. On the May 25 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity hosted Jay Sekulow, chief counsel to the American Center for Law and Justice, and Victoria Toensing, a deputy assistant attorney general during the Reagan administration, to discuss the allegations about Sestak. Sekulow stated: "[I]t's not just one or two sections of federal law that's been violated here. ... There could be four or even five sections of the federal criminal code that was violated." Toensing subsequently stated that "it's against the law for anyone to solicit a thing of value in return for a promise to get a federal job, which is exactly what this White House official did, according to the congressman." Blogger Jim Hoft promoted Sekulow's allegations on his Gateway Pundit blog.
Rove claims that "somebody violated the law." On the May 24 edition of On the Record with Greta van Susteren, Fox News contributor Karl Rove stated of the allegations about Sestak, "Look, that's a violation of the federal code -- 18USC-600 says that you -- a federal official cannot promise an employment, a job in the federal government, in return for a political act. Somebody violated the law." Rove later said: "Joe Sestak said somebody offered him a job. That's a violation of law." He further stated: "If he's telling the truth, he needs to come forward with the particulars of it and -- and -- so that the White House can defend itself and the American people can figure out whether or not he's participating in a criminal cover-up, along with federal officials."
Morris fabricates an "impeachable offense." On the May 24 edition of Hannity, Fox News contributor Dick Morris stated, "This scandal could be enormous. It's Valerie Plame only 10 times bigger because it's illegal and Joe Sestak is either lying or the White House committed a crime." Hannity and Morris went on to discuss whether the allegations about Sestak represent "an impeachable offense":
MORRIS: Obviously -- obviously, the offer of a significant job in the White House could not be made unless it was by Rahm Emanuel or cleared with Rahm Emanuel, and equally obviously the Rahm Emanuel for a Cabinet level job -- probably secretary of the Navy -- would have had to clear that with the president. That is a high crime and misdemeanor.
HANNITY: That would be -- in other words -- an impeachable offense?
MORRIS: Absolutely. Because he would have authorized a member of his staff to offer something of value, a Cabinet position --
HANNITY: All right. So --
MORRIS: -- in return for dropping out of a race.
On FBN's Happy Hour, Napolitano issues allegation of a "felony," a "bribe." On the May 24 edition of Fox Business Network's Happy Hour, co-host Sandra Smith said to Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, "Well, obviously a big question is what are the ramifications of this allegation." Napolitano replied:
Well the ramifications are potentially enormous. I mean to offer someone something of value in order to affect their official behavior as a member of Congress is a felony. We call it a bribe. To offer someone something of value to affect the outcome of an election is a felony. Each of those carries five years with them. The government has an affirmative obligation to investigate this.
National Review Online quotes Toensing to suggest the White House was "asking Sestak to commit a crime." The National Review Online's Robert Costa quoted Toensing in a May 26 article. Costa wrote:
While such stonewalling is common in Washington, if a United States attorney gets curious, Sestak and the White House could find themselves facing questions from a grand jury. "If someone in the White House asked Sestak to end his campaign in order to get him appointed to a federal office, then they were asking Sestak to commit a crime," says Victoria Toensing, a former deputy assistant attorney general, criminal division, in the Reagan administration. "Politically, Sestak's behavior is bizarre, because you either accuse someone or you don't. You don't just show a little ankle."
Media sources for "crime" allegations have no credibility, and a history of pushing falsehoods in the media
Toensing has been criticized for "non-stop mugging" and for lacking "impartiality, non-partisanship, and professionalism." In 1998 Toensing, who was working as outside counsel for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, was criticized for her actions in connection with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. A February 15, 1998, Roll Call article (accessed via Nexis) reported: "Rep. Bill Clay (D-Mo) launched a stinging attack on the two lead attorneys investigating the Teamsters campaign finance scandal yesterday, alleging that the attorneys have lost their objectivity because of their frequent television appearances and 'participation' in the scandal involving ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky." The article also reported:
Clay's rebuke of former independent counsel Joseph diGenova and his wife and law firm partner, Victoria Toensing, who were hired in November by a House Education and the Workforce subcommittee, came in a letter to Chairman Bill Goodling (R-Pa) yesterday.
"Sadly, Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing have become so closely aligned with the President's critics and so personally identified with the scandal itself as to have relinquished the air of impartiality, non-partisanship, and professionalism required of leaders of a serious congressional investigation," wrote Clay, the ranking member of the Education and the Workforce Committee.
"Put more bluntly," Clay added, "the couple's relentless self-promotion and non-stop mugging for the likes of Geraldo Rivera - however good for business and their egos - is unseemly, undignified, unworthy of this committee, and generally detrimental to important Congressional functions."
Clay said in his letter that a LEXIS/NEXIS search found 166 citations of diGenova and Toensing commenting on the Lewinsky affair between Jan. 21 and Feb. 4. The letter came even as Republicans approved an additional $750,000 for the diGenova-Toensing investigation.
Toensing criticized for a conflict of interest for role as special counsel to House committee investigation of the DOJ while also defending the committee chairman in a separate DOJ investigation. Toensing and diGenova were criticized for having a conflict of interest for serving as special counsel in the House Education and the Workforce Committee probe into Justice Department oversight of the Teamsters union while also representing Dan Burton, the committee's chairman at the time, in a separate Justice Department probe. A December 18, 1997, Roll Call article (accessed via Nexis) reported: "Rep. Bill Clay (Mo), the full committee's ranking Democrat, has raised questions about the fact that the two attorneys are also representing Burton in the Justice Department's investigation of charges that the Government Reform and Oversight chairman tried to extort campaign money from a lobbyist during the 1996 election cycle." The article also reported:
Democrats believe this creates a conflict of interest because [Rep. Pete] Hoekstra's [R-MI] subcommittee plans to investigate the Justice Department's decade-long oversight of the Teamsters, specifically the agency's handling of the union's 1996 presidential election.
Clay says that diGenova and Toensing, a former chief counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee and a deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan Administration, should not lead a Congressional investigation of the Justice Department while the department is conducting a criminal investigation of one of their outside clients.
Toensing pushed media falsehood that Valerie Plame's CIA status was widely known on D.C. "cocktail circuit." Toensing and co-author Bruce Sanford promoted the false claim -- popular in right-wing media circles -- that Valerie Plame's CIA status was known "on the Washington cocktail circuit" prior to its disclosure by columnist Robert Novak. Toensing and Sanford wrote in a January 12, 2005, op-ed:
Merely knowing that Plame works for the CIA does not provide the knowledge that the government is keeping her relationship secret. In fact, just the opposite is the case. If it were known on the Washington cocktail circuit, as has been alleged, that Wilson's wife is with the agency, a possessor of that gossip would have no reason to believe that information is classified -- or that "affirmative measures" were being taken to protect her cover.
In an October 28, 2005, press conference announcing the indictment of I. Lewis Libby, then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald refuted the falsehood, stating:
Valerie [Plame] Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community.
Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life.
Toensing advanced falsehood that "Plame was not covert." In a February 18, 2007, op-ed for The Washington Post, Toensing wrote: "On Dec. 30, 2003, the day Fitzgerald was appointed special counsel, he should have known (all he had to do was ask the CIA) that Plame was not covert, knowledge that should have stopped the investigation right there."
In fact, Rep. Henry Waxman stated on March 16, 2007, in a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, that then-CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed to him that Plame was "a covert agent." Waxman stated: "General Hayden, the head of the CIA, told me personally that she was -- that if I said that she was a covert agent, it wouldn't be an incorrect statement." Waxman also stated:
WAXMAN: But General Hayden and the CIA have cleared these following comments for today's hearing.
During her employment at the CIA, Ms. Wilson was undercover. Her employment status with the CIA was classified information, prohibited from disclosure under Executive Order 12958.
At the time of the publication of Robert Novak's column on July 14, 2003, Ms. Wilson's CIA employment status was covert. This was classified information.
Toensing involved in discredited and retracted article about Bill Clinton. In a February 27, 1998, article on Toensing and DiGenova's involvement in a retracted Dallas Morning News article claiming that a Secret Service agent had witnessed President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in a "compromising situation," The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reported:
The melodrama began when Toensing was approached by an intermediary for a Secret Service agent who was said to be willing to testify that he saw Clinton and Lewinsky in a compromising situation. DiGenova passed this on to Morning News reporter David Jackson ("Joe and I exchanged a few words over that," Toensing says), and the paper published the story in its Internet edition, attributing the account to an unnamed lawyer "familiar with the negotiations." But by then the intermediary had told Toensing the agent was backing off.
Hours later, the Morning News retracted the report, saying the "longtime Washington lawyer" had said the information was "inaccurate."
The couple now say that Toensing, taking a call from Jackson hours before deadline, told the reporter: "If Joe is your source, it's wrong."
"The bottom line is, they were told not to print and they chose to print," diGenova says. "I don't know how much more helpful you can be to a newspaper than to tell them not to print."
Carl Leubsdorf, the paper's Washington bureau chief, says: "The reporter's recollection of that conversation is quite different. He was told that 'if Joe told you that, he shouldn't have.' If it had been the other way, the story of course would have been reassessed at that point."
Toensing has donated nearly $30,000 to GOP candidates and causes. According to Federal Election Commission data, a donor named Victoria Toensing with a Chevy Chase, Maryland, address has donated $29,916 to Republican candidates or organizations that support Republican campaigns, including $1,000 to George W Bush's 2000 Presidential campaign, $500 to John McCain's 1998 Senate re-election campaign, and $13,000 to The Wish List, an organization that "raises money to identify, train, support and elect more Republican women leaders to public office at all levels of government." Toensing contributed a total of $1,150 to Democratic candidates.
Toensing reportedly served on host committee for GOP delegate candidate. The Washington Examiner reported that Toensing served on the hosting committee for Republican Barbara Comstock's Virginia Delegate campaign.
Toensing served as Reagan deputy assistant attorney general. Toensing served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Department during the Reagan administration and was Sen. Barry Goldwater's chief counsel.
Sekulow criticized for allegedly using his nonprofit organizations' finances for personal profit. A 2005 Legal Times article (retrieved via Factiva) reported that an investigation of Sekulow's finances revealed "a financial empire that generates millions of dollars a year and supports a lavish lifestyle" that is "at odds with his role as the head of a charitable organization that solicits small donations for legal work in God's name." The article reported:
But there is another side to Jay Sekulow, one that, until now, has been obscured from the public. It is the Jay Sekulow who, through the ACLJ and a string of interconnected nonprofit and for-profit entities, has built a financial empire that generates millions of dollars a year and supports a lavish lifestyle -- complete with multiple homes, chauffeur-driven cars, and a private jet that he once used to ferry Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
That less-known side of Sekulow was revealed in several interviews with former associates of his and in hundreds of pages of court and tax documents reviewed by Legal Times. Critics say Sekulow's lifestyle is at odds with his role as the head of a charitable organization that solicits small donations for legal work in God's name.
For example, in 2001 one of Sekulow's nonprofit organizations paid a total of $2,374,833 to purchase two homes used primarily by Sekulow and his wife. The same nonprofit also subsidized a third home he uses in North Carolina.
At various times in recent years, Sekulow's wife, brother, sister-in-law, and two sons have been on the boards or payrolls of organizations under his control or have received generous payments as contractors. Sekulow's brother Gary is the chief financial officer of both nonprofit organizations that fund his activities, a fact that detractors say diminishes accountability for his spending.
According to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service, funds from his nonprofits have also been used to lease a private jet from companies under his family's control. And two years ago, Sekulow outsourced his own legal services from the ACLJ, shifting from a position with a publicly disclosed salary to that of a private contractor that requires no public disclosure. He acknowledged to Legal Times that his salary from that arrangement is "above $600,000" a year.
Sekulow's financial dealings deeply trouble some of the people who have worked for him, leading several to speak with Legal Times during the past six months about their concerns -- before Sekulow assumed his high-profile role promoting President George W. Bush's Supreme Court nominees.
"Some of us truly believed God told us to serve Jay," says one former employee, who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal. "But not to help him live like Louis XIV. We are coming forward because we need to believe there is fairness in this world."
Another says: "Jay sends so many discordant signals. He talks about doing God's work for his donors, and then he flies off in his plane to play golf."
Still another told Legal Times, "The cause was so good and so valid, but at some point you can't sacrifice what is right for the sake of the cause."
The article also details how money solicited for donations to Pat Robertson's ACLJ sometimes ended up with Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, a separate Sekulow organization:
When donors respond to solicitations and write out checks to the ACLJ, some of the money never makes it into ACLJ coffers but instead winds up with CASE, Sekulow's separate entity. Certain solicitations mention CASE in fine print as an entity "doing business as" the ACLJ. Sekulow confirms that checks resulting from these mailings are routed to CASE.
The amounts involved are substantial. CASE reported receiving nearly $14 million in donations for 2003. Its board of directors has three members: Jay Sekulow; his wife, Pam; and his son Jordan.
Sekulow pushed false claim that the Obama administration inappropriately subpoenaed a website's visitor list. Appearing on the November 10, 2009, edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck, Sekulow advanced the falsehood that "the White House" was "intimidating" an "independent news site" by issuing a subpoena for that website's visitor list. Sekulow charged that the administration was "playing very dangerously with media and with the new media -- very, very dangerous." But the subpoena was issued by a Bush administration appointee on January 23, 2009 -- just days after Obama's inauguration and prior to Eric Holder being sworn in as attorney general on February 2. The Obama administration withdrew the subpoena in February 2009 -- months before Sekulow advanced the falsehood on Fox.
Sekulow donated $1,000 to radical who prayed that abortion doctor would "either be converted to God or that calamity will strike him." According to FEC reports, Sekulow donated $1,000 to Randall Terry for Congress in 1997. In 1992, Terry appeared in a video that CBS News' Lesley Stahl said, "shows him asking his followers to 'pray for either the salvation or the death' " of a Colorado physician. 60 Minutes then aired video of Terry stating, "But pray that this family will either be converted to God or that calamity will strike him." Terry has since commented that the murdered abortion doctor George Tiller "reaped what he sowed." Terry also reportedly served three months in federal prison for arranging to have a dead fetus delivered to Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
Sekulow supported a state law denying gay people the possibility of full protection of the law. In 1996, Sekulow filed an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLJ opposing the overturning of a Colorado amendment that would have prevented Colorado municipalities from recognizing gay people as a protected class. The Supreme Court overturned the amendment, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing that "the amendment imposes a special disability upon those persons alone. Homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint."
Sekulow argued that a "ban on same-sex sodomy ... furthers public morality." Sekulow and the ACLJ filed an amicus brief opposing overturning American anti-sodomy laws in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, stating that to recognize "extramarital sex acts as 'fundamental rights' would jeopardize the wide array of state laws governing even consensual, adult sexual activity" and that the Constitution "neither does nor ought to enshrine the Sexual Revolution." The brief also argued that a "ban on same-sex sodomy permissibly furthers public morality" and that there are "extensively documented health risks of same-sex sodomy."
Sekulow has long history of donating to Republican campaigns. FEC reports show that a Jay Sekulow and the American Center of Law and Justice have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republicans, including Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Georgia Republican Party, Sen. John Thune, John Ashcroft, Mitt Romney, and George W. Bush.
Rove viciously smeared Department of Education official as having advocated for NAMBLA. Rove falsely claimed that Kevin Jennings, a Department of Education official, had engaged in "high-profile, in-your-face advocacy of things like NAMBLA and gay rights and queering elementary school curricula." Rove provided no evidence that Jennings ever engaged in any advocacy of NAMBLA, and Rove's suggestion that support for "gay rights" is somehow related to support for NAMBLA is an anti-gay smear.
Rove forwarded absurd claim that Obama administration is pushing veterans toward assisted suicide. Rove pushed the falsehood that the Veterans Health Administration was directing veterans to an end-of-life educational booklet, "Your Life, Your Choices," that includes contact information for "a group that believes in assisted suicide," and thus "the kind of guidance we're giving returning veterans" is "you ought to go to an assisted suicide group." In fact, that group is not referenced in the current version of the document, a fact that Jim Towey -- who originated the smear of the booklet as a "death book" -- has acknowledged.
Rove helped disclose Plame's identity as a CIA official. Novak identified both Rove and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as the sources for his July 14, 2003, column, and Time magazine's Matt Cooper named Rove as the source who identified Plame as an employee of the CIA during a telephone conversation on July 11, 2003.
Rove leveled attack on Sotomayor based on false claim that she and Alito were colleagues. Rove claimed that he "got wind of" allegations that Sonia Sotomayor "was combative, opinionated, argumentative" while reviewing the record of her "colleague on the court" Samuel Alito. In fact, Sotomayor served on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Alito served on the 3rd Circuit.
Rove falsely asserted that Army Field Manual prohibits good cop-bad cop interrogations. Discussing President Obama's executive order stating that a detainee in U.S. custody cannot be subjected to interrogation techniques not listed in the Army Field Manual, Rove falsely asserted that "[t]he Army Field Manual ... prohibits you from using good cop-bad cop in interrogating." In fact, the Army Field Manual explicitly permits good cop-bad cop interrogations under the name of "Mutt and Jeff" interrogations, which involve two interrogators "display[ing] opposing personalities and attitudes toward the source."
Rove falsely claimed Obama was not a professor. Claiming that he had a "list of exaggerations" by Obama, Rove said that Obama claimed, " 'I was a law school professor,' " before adding: "No, you were an instructor." But Obama was, in fact, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.
Rove misrepresented Obama's comments to accuse him of "arrogance." Rove wrote, "After Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright repeated his anti-American slurs at the National Press Club, Mr. Obama said their relationship was forever changed -- but not because of what he'd said about America. Instead, Mr. Obama complained, 'I don't think he showed much concern for me.' " Rove cited this as evidence of Obama's "arrogance -- even self centeredness." However, Rove cropped Obama's quote, excluding his next statement: "[M]ore importantly, I don't think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign and what we're trying to do for the American people and with the American people."
Rove distorted Obama statement to falsely suggest he was considering "a universal health care system like the European countries." Rove wrote that, in 2008, the Obama campaign "ran ads attacking 'government-run health care' as 'extreme.' Now Mr. Obama is asking, as he did at a townhall meeting last month, 'Why not do a universal health care system like the European countries?' Maybe because he was elected by intimating that would be 'extreme'?" In fact, in the town hall remarks Rove quoted, President Obama was paraphrasing the question he had just been asked -- "Why can we not have a universal health care system, like many European countries, where people are treated based on needs rather than financial resources?" -- before explaining why he opposed such a system.
Rove falsely claimed Obama didn't warn that economy could get worse even with stimulus. Rove falsely claimed that "[President] Obama never said if his stimulus were passed things might still get significantly worse." In fact, in a January 8, 2009, speech about his economic recovery plan, Obama stated, "It will not come easy or happen overnight, and it is altogether likely that things may get worse before they get better."
Rove blatantly misrepresented Obama's comments about tea party participants. Rove claimed that President Obama "dismisses" tea party participants "as an extremist 'strain [that] has existed in politics for a long time.' " In fact, in the interview Rove quoted, Obama explicitly said that tea party participants are not "on the fringe" and that the movement includes people with "legitimate concerns."
As a campaign consultant, Rove reportedly used whisper campaigns against opponents, including the allegation that a Democratic incumbent judge was a pedophile. In a November 2004 article in The Atlantic, Joshua Green reported:
Some of Rove's darker tactics cut even closer to the bone. One constant throughout his career is the prevalence of whisper campaigns against opponents. The 2000 primary campaign, for example, featured a widely disseminated rumor that John McCain, tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had betrayed his country under interrogation and been rendered mentally unfit for office. More often a Rove campaign questions an opponent's sexual orientation. Bush's 1994 race against Ann Richards featured a rumor that she was a lesbian, along with a rare instance of such a tactic's making it into the public record -- when a regional chairman of the Bush campaign allowed himself, perhaps inadvertently, to be quoted criticizing Richards for "appointing avowed homosexual activists" to state jobs.
Another example of Rove's methods involves a former ally of Rove's from Texas, John Weaver, who, coincidentally, managed McCain's bid in 2000. Many Republican operatives in Texas tell the story of another close race of sorts: a competition in the 1980s to become the dominant Republican consultant in Texas. In 1986 Weaver and Rove both worked on Bill Clements's successful campaign for governor, after which Weaver was named executive director of the state Republican Party. Both were emerging as leading consultants, but Weaver's star seemed to be rising faster. The details vary slightly according to which insider tells the story, but the main point is always the same: after Weaver went into business for himself and lured away one of Rove's top employees, Rove spread a rumor that Weaver had made a pass at a young man at a state Republican function. Weaver won't reply to the smear, but those close to him told me of their outrage at the nearly two-decades-old lie. Weaver was first made unwelcome in some Texas Republican circles, and eventually, following McCain's 2000 campaign, he left the Republican Party altogether. He has continued an active and successful career as a political consultant -- in Texas and Alabama, among other states -- and is currently working for McCain as a Democrat.
But no other example of Rove's extreme tactics that I encountered quite compares to what occurred during another 1994 judicial campaign in Alabama. In that year Harold See first ran for the supreme court, becoming the rare Rove client to lose a close race. His opponent, Mark Kennedy, an incumbent Democratic justice and, as George Wallace's son-in-law, a member in good standing of Alabama's first family of politics, was no stranger to hardball politics. "The Wallace family history and what they all went through, that's pretty rough politics," says Joe Perkins, who managed Kennedy's campaign. "But it was a whole new dimension with Rove."
This August, I had lunch with Kennedy near his office in Montgomery. I had hoped to discuss how it was that he had beaten one of the savviest political strategists in modern history, and I expected to hear more of the raucous campaign tales that are a staple of Alabama politics. Neither Kennedy nor our meeting was anything like what I had anticipated. A small man, impeccably dressed and well-mannered, Kennedy appeared to derive little satisfaction from having beaten Rove. In fact, he seemed shaken, even ten years later. He quietly explained how Rove's arrival had poisoned the judicial climate by putting politics above matters of law and justice -- "collateral damage," he called it, from the win-at-all-costs attitude that now prevails in judicial races.
He talked about the viciousness of the "slash-and-burn" campaign, and how Rove appealed to the worst elements of human nature. "People vote in Alabama for two reasons," Kennedy told me. "Anger and fear. It's a state that votes against somebody rather than for them. Rove understood how to put his finger right on the trigger point." Kennedy seemed most bothered by the personal nature of the attacks, which, in addition to the usual anti-trial-lawyer litany, had included charges that he was mingling campaign funds with those of a nonprofit children's foundation he was involved with. In the end he eked out a victory by less than one percentage point.
Kennedy leaned forward and said, "After the race my wife, Peggy, was at the supermarket checkout line. She picked up a copy of Reader's Digest and nearly collapsed on her watermelon. She called me and said, 'Sit down. You're not going to believe this.'" Her husband was featured in an article on "America's worst judges." Kennedy attributed this to Rove's attacks.
When his term on the court ended, he chose not to run for re-election. I later learned another reason why. Kennedy had spent years on the bench as a juvenile and family-court judge, during which time he had developed a strong interest in aiding abused children. In the early 1980s he had helped to start the Children's Trust Fund of Alabama, and he later established the Corporate Foundation for Children, a private, nonprofit organization. At the time of the race he had just served a term as president of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect. One of Rove's signature tactics is to attack an opponent on the very front that seems unassailable. Kennedy was no exception.
Some of Kennedy's campaign commercials touted his volunteer work, including one that showed him holding hands with children. "We were trying to counter the positives from that ad," a former Rove staffer told me, explaining that some within the See camp initiated a whisper campaign that Kennedy was a pedophile. "It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on. "That was a major device we used for the transmission of this stuff. The students at the law school are from all over the state, and that's one of the ways that Karl got the information out -- he knew the law students would take it back to their home towns and it would get out." This would create the impression that the lie was in fact common knowledge across the state. "What Rove does," says Joe Perkins, "is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship. Mark is not your typical Alabama macho, beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pickup-drivin' kind of guy. He is a small, well-groomed, well-educated family man, and what they tried to do was make him look like a homosexual pedophile. That was really, really hard to take."
Morris: "Those crazies in Montana who say, 'We're going to kill ATF agents because the U.N.'s going to take over' -- well, they're beginning to have a case." Appearing on the March 31, 2009, edition of Fox News' Your World, Morris concocted a conspiracy theory about a "super-national authority" that will oversee U.S. financial institutions and asserted that because President Obama's policies are "internationalist ... [t]hose crazies in Montana who say, 'We're going to kill ATF agents because the U.N.'s going to take over' -- well, they're beginning to have a case."
Morris fabricated and then retracted the allegation that former Attorney General Reno threatened Clinton that she would "tell the truth about Waco." During an appearance on the April 20 edition of Hannity, Morris claimed that then-Attorney General Janet Reno threatened President Clinton in early 1997 by saying that if he didn't re-appoint her as attorney general, she was "going to tell truth about Waco." After host Sean Hannity said, "I don't remember you telling this story before," Morris replied, "No, it's never been said before." Morris went on to say: "I know that he told me -- Clinton told me -- that I couldn't not appoint Reno because she would have turned on me over Waco. That's the phrase he used." Morris' claim contradicted the version of events he told in his 2004 book. Morris subsequently retracted the version of the story he told on Hannity.
Morris claimed Obama is "anti-American." Morris appeared on the April 13 edition of Fox & Friends and said that Obama's nuclear policy "might" make him "the first anti-American president we've ever had." Morris has also stated that Obama 's foreign policy "can only be described as anti-American."
Morris regularly fundraises for GOP and has rallied for Toomey. Dick Morris frequently engages in ethically dubious behavior and unabashed advocacy for GOP candidates and causes. In his Newsmax column, Morris predicted that Toomey will be "[t]he new senator from Pennsylvania." Morris regularly endorses and fundraises for Republican candidates and was scheduled to appear at an April event for the Cumberland County Republican Committee (PA), a February event for the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, and a December 2009 fundraiser for Tom Corbett for Governor (PA).
Morris repeatedly used his Fox News platform to fundraise for GOPTrust.com without noting his apparent financial ties to the organization. Between October 27, 2008, and November 17, 2008, Morris mentioned GOPTrust.com during at least 13 Fox News appearances and asked viewers to "give funds to GOPTrust.com," the website of the National Republican Trust PAC, without disclosing that the organization has paid $24,000 to a company apparently connected to Morris. Through publicly available records with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Media Matters for America found that GOPTrust.com paid Triangulation Strategies at least $24,000 from the beginning of October 2008 to November 24, 2008, mostly for "Email Communication." The "Mailing Address" for Triangulation Strategies is listed in one of the National Republican Trust PAC's FEC filings as "dickmorris.com."
Napolitano hosts Jones and Ventura as they push 9-11 trutherism and other conspiracy theories. Napolitano has used his FoxNews.com show to praise and promote two of the most visible leaders of the 9-11 Truth movement, Alex Jones and Jesse Ventura. Napolitano indicates in his book Lies the Government Told You that he does not believe the government carried out the 9-11 attacks.
- On a March edition of Freedom Watch, Napolitano called guest Ventura a "champion of exposing government fraud and lies," and promoted Ventura's belief that the government either "participate[d]" in 9-11 or "knew it was going to happen and didn't do very much to stop it." Napolitano said Ventura is a "champion of exposing government fraud and lies" and "uncover[s]" the government with "passion and zeal." At no point did Napolitano dispute or challenge Ventura's 9-11 conspiracy theory "that if we didn't participate in it, we certainly knew it was going to happen." To the contrary, Napolitano wondered if "someday we will look on 9-11 the way we look on the JFK assassination today, that is, where people who question the government's involvement will be mainstreamed, rather than looked upon as an extremist fringe."
- Napolitano has hosted "the great" Jones to push anti-government conspiracy theories about one-world government and his DVD The Obama Deception, which describes Obama as a "hoax" by the New World Order to impose "forced National Service, domestic civilian spies, warrantless wiretaps, the destruction of the Second Amendment, FEMA camps and Martial Law." Napolitano is a regular guest on Jones' radio program, on which the two frequently push anti-government conspiracy theories and rhetoric. Napolitano has called the self-described 9-11 Truth "founding father" a "dear friend" who "we go to" because of "your zeal and your courage and your fearlessness in exposing" the government. During one appearance on Jones' radio program, Jones and Napolitano both agree that there is a "one world government" that is forcing its will on Americans.
Napolitano fabricated conspiracy that Obama was using health care reform to create an army of doctors. During the health care reform debate, Napolitano fabricated and promoted the conspiracy theory that President Obama was creating "a civilian corps just as powerful, just as well funded as the military" through the Ready Reserve Corps. He later joined Fox Business' Charles Gasparino in likening the provision -- which would supplement a 200-year-old public health corps with a reserve corps -- to "bringing back the draft."
Napolitano called Palin's "death panel" claim "a legitimate concern from a fair reading of the bill." On his Fox News Radio show, Napolitano said that Sarah Palin's "death panels" claim about the health care reform bill -- named by Politifact as the 2009 Lie of the Year -- constituted "a legitimate concern from a fair reading of this bill."
Napolitano advanced the falsehood that Rep. Matheson was bribed to support health care reform with a judicial nomination for his brother. After the house voted on the health care reform bill, Napolitano advanced the smear that Obama bribed Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) to vote in favor of health care reform by appointing his brother to the appeals court and falsely claimed that after Obama's actions, Matheson "changed his vote to yes." In fact, Rep. Matheson again voted "No" on health care reform, and allegations of a deal between Matheson and the White House are completely baseless.
Napolitano promoted media falsehood that Valerie Plame's CIA status was widely known before Novak's disclosure. On the October 31, 2005, edition of Bill O'Reilly's now-defunct radio show, Napolitano claimed that "at least one" of his Fox News colleagues had alleged to have been present at a party where former Ambassador Joe Wilson IV introduced Plame as "my CIA operative wife." Napolitano used his anonymously sourced claim to question whether Plame "was, in fact, undercover" when her identity was disclosed by Novak. Napolitano did not explain why his source did not publicly repeat the story. Fitzgerald made clear that Plame's identity "was not widely known outside the intelligence community," including by Plame's "friends, neighbors, [and] college classmates."
Napolitano said a victory by Republican Pat Toomey -- Sestak's opponent in the Pennsylvania Senate race -- win would be "a very sweet victory." On his Fox News Radio show, Napolitano interviewed Toomey, Sestak's Republican opponent for one of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seats, and stated: "A lot of us want you to win. I'm being very open with this." He continued: "Hope that you run against Arlen Specter and beat him. It would be a very sweet victory." Napolitano has promoted other Republican causes as well; for example, he has promoted an anti-health care reform rally hosted by Michelle Bachman, commenting that she "wants your help in the fight" and appeared at a February fundraiser for the Acadiana Republican Women (LA) as well as an August 2009 fundraiser for Rep. Ron Paul (TX).
Legal experts dispute claims that a crime was committed
Bush ethics lawyer calls claim that a job offer is a bribe "difficult to support." In a post on the Legal Ethics Forum blog, former Bush administration chief ethics lawyer Richard Painter wrote: "The allegation that the job offer was somehow a 'bribe' in return for Sestak not running in the primary is difficult to support." Painter also wrote:
The job offer may have been a way of getting Sestak out of Specter's way, but this also is nothing new. Many candidates for top Administration appointments are politically active in the President's political party. Many are candidates or are considering candidacy in primaries. White House political operatives don't like contentious fights in their own party primaries and sometimes suggest jobs in the Administration for persons who otherwise would be contenders. For the White House, this is usually a "win-win" situation, giving the Administration politically savvy appointees in the Executive Branch and fewer contentious primaries for the Legislative Branch. This may not be best for voters who have less choice as a result, and Sestak thus should be commended for saying "no". The job offer, however, is hardly a "bribe" when it is one of two alternatives that are mutually exclusive.
Painter: "[D]ifficult to envision applying" bribery statute to Sestak job offer. In a subsequent blog post replying to Issa's call for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate possible criminal charges, Painter wrote: "The Administration probably should provide the information needed to clarify what happened, but the bribery statute citied [sic] by Congressman Issa is, for reasons explained in my previous post, difficult to envision applying to this situation."
CREW executive director: "I don't see the crime." CNS News reported that Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor, commented of the allegations: "I don't see the crime." From the March 24 CNS News article:
"People offer members of Congress things all the time," Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and now the executive director of the liberal government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told CNSNews.com. "I don't think there is any issue. I don't see the crime."
If it is true, such a trade would be an indictment of the system, Sloan of CREW said, but not likely illegal.
"A quid pro quo has to offer something of value in exchange for something," Sloan said. "If you agree not to run for the Senate and we'll make you secretary of the Navy -- that offers no monetary value. It's just the unseemly side of politics."
Sloan: "There is no bribery case here." Talking Points Memo's Zachary Roth reported in a May 25 post that "several experts tell TPMmuckraker this is much ado about nothing" and quoted Sloan saying, "There is no bribery case here. ... No statute has ever been used to prosecute anybody for bribery in circumstances like this." Sloan also said: "It's not at all about whether there was actual criminal wrongdoing. ... It's about how to go after Sestak."
Zeidenberg: "Horrible precedent" to treat "horsetrading" "in the criminal context." Roth also quoted Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor with the Justice Department's Public Integrity unit, saying "Talk about criminalizing the political process!... It would be horrible precedent if what really truly is political horsetrading were viewed in the criminal context of: is this a corrupt bribe?"
Kaufman: "Tell me a White House that didn't do this, back to George Washington." The New York Times reported that Ron Kaufman, who served as President George H.W. Bush's White House political director, "said it would not be surprising for a White House to use political appointments to accomplish a political goal. 'Tell me a White House that didn't do this, back to George Washington,' Mr. Kaufman said."
Wash. Post: "[E]thics laws do not seem designed for this circumstance." In a May 25 editorial, The Washington Post stated: "Would it be illegal? Mr. Specter said so, but ethics laws do not seem designed for this circumstance. Ordinarily, bribery takes place in the opposite direction: Government officials aren't usually the ones offering something of value. Other statutes prohibit officials from using their power to interfere in an election, or to, directly or indirectly, promise a job as 'reward for any political activity.' But these have been understood to prevent official coercion, not criminalize horse-trading." The editorial continued:
Still, the White House position that everyone should just trust it and go away is unacceptable from any administration; it is especially hypocritical coming from this one. "I'm not going to get further into what the conversations were," Mr. Gibbs said Sunday. "People that have looked into them assure me that they weren't inappropriate in any way." This response would hardly have satisfied those who were upset during the previous administration about the firing of U.S. attorneys. If there was nothing improper, why not all that sunlight Mr. Obama promised?
Historian Russell Riley: "It is completely unexceptional." On May 27, The Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported, "As the Republican Party works itself into a lather over the Obama administration's offer of a job to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn) in exchange for him not entering the Pennsylvania Senate primary, seasoned political observers, historians, and lawyers are responding with veritable yawns."
Historian George Edwards: "All this is old news historically." Stein further reported, "George Edwards, a Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Jordan Chair in Presidential Studies at Texas A&M University, says: 'There is no question whatsoever that presidents have often offered people positions to encourage them not to do something or make it awkward for them to do it. Presidents have also offered people back-ups if they ran for an office and lost. All this is old news historically.' "
Ethics attorney Stan Brand: "Crime" charge is "far-fetched" and has "no legal substance." A May 27 Mother Jones article discussed Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-CA) allegation that a crime has been committed and quoted Stan Brand, a Washington, D.C., ethics attorney, responding that the claim was "far-fetched." Mother Jones further reported:
Those laws, Brand explains, were designed to deal with coercion, fraud, and vote-buying, not "the rough and tumble of political horse-trading." Promising someone a job, he adds, is not the same as exchanging "money or something of value." Moreover, he notes, there have never been any prosecutions of the sort Issa contemplates in this instance.
"This is a nice political ploy," Brand says. "But it has no legal substance. The president can promise Sestak the moon for a political reason. That's the system."
GOP attorney reportedly calls claims "crap." Mother Jones reported, "Another DC-based Republican attorney--who doesn't want to talk about this on the record -- calls Issa's argument "crap."
Reagan administration reportedly offered job for candidate to step down
Reagan adviser reportedly offered CA senator a job with the administration "if he decided not to seek re-election." A November 25, 1981, Associated Press article (from the Nexis database) reported that President Reagan's political adviser Ed Rollins planned to offer former California Sen. S.I. Hayakawa a job in the administration in exchange for not seeking re-election.
From the AP article:
Sen. S.I. Hayakawa on Wednesday spurned a Reagan administration suggestion that if he drops out of the crowded Republican Senate primary race in California, President Reagan would find him a job.
"I'm not interested," said the 75-year-old Hayakawa.
"I do not want to be an ambassador, and I do not want an administration post."
In an interview earlier this week, Ed Rollins, who will become the president's chief political adviser in January, said Hayakawa would be offered an administration post if he decided not to seek re-election. No offer has been made directly to Hayakawa, Rollins said.
Similarly, Hayakawa said in a statement, "I have not contacted the White House in regard to any administration or ambassadorial post, and they have not been in contact with me."
AP: "Ethics attorneys in Washington said such offers are common." A February 19 AP article reported: "Ethics attorneys in Washington said such offers are common. Melanie Sloan, director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, described it as 'politics as usual.' "
Wash. Post: "This would hardly be the first administration" to offer a job to "clear the field." A May 25 Washington Post editorial critical of the Obama administration's response stated: "At the same time, of course, political considerations play a role in political appointments. This would hardly be the first administration to use appointments to try to clear the field for a favored candidate."