I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Increasing desperation

There is a palpable desperation among Republicans as a result of the Foley scandal and related election troubles, which is giving rise to a significant increase in their willingness to peddle blatantly dishonest and irrational claims in order to save themselves. Let us begin with Bill Kristol, who uttered what I think is the single most despicable statement yet in the Foley scandal, when he was asked by Brit Hume on Fox News what Democrats might do if they takeover the House:

KRISTOL: Well, Democrats care about the children, Brit, and so I think they should pressure states to raise the age of consent from 16 to 18 so that it's clearly illegal for people like Mark Foley to hit on 17-year- old pages. . . . They could certainly pass a resolution supporting the Boy Scouts in their effort to keep people like Mark Foley from becoming scout masters, I think the Democrats could really do a lot of good for our children.

The controversial Boy Scouts policy to which Kristol is referring, of course, is one which bans gay men generally -- not "people like Mark Foley" -- from being scoutmasters, but Kristol's statement purposely recognizes no such distinction. Kristol is overtly arguing that the Mark Foley case proves that gay men cannot be trusted around young children. Many of the basest right-wing commentators have subtly implied that equivalence, but none has so overtly equated the two as explicitly as Kristol did Thursday night.

It's precisely that sort of "reasoning" that ought to lead one also to inquire whether the spying cases of AIPAC's Larry Franklin and Jonathan Pollard suggest that Jews have too much loyalty to Israel to be trusted in high government positions and with access to classified information, or whether the corruption cases of Jack Abramoff and Marc Rich prove that Jews have a desire for unwarranted profits and therefore can't be trusted around money.

Kristol would be the first to shriek quite loudly if the "reasoning" he invokes were to be applied in other contexts, but his desperately desired war with Iran -- that which matters to Kristol above all else -- is being jeopardized by this Foley scandal (a Democrat-controlled House or Senate would make approval for such a war much more unlikely). And so, like so many of his political comrades, Kristol seems to have departed completely from the realm of reason as a result of this scandal [Kristol also has the dubious distinction of being the first pundit (at least that I have seen) to expressly argue that the Foley scandal will be politically harmful to Democrats].

And then we have what can only be called the outright lie being disseminated by Ken Mehlman and Ed Gillespe, among others, both of whom claimed on television yesterday that when the heroic Denny Hastert learned of the IMs last Friday, he gave Mark Foley the ultimatum of either immediately resigning or being expelled from Congress. Gillespe and Mehlman both trumpeted Hastert's heroism by claiming that it is "the first time in 30 years in this town" that such a tough ultimatum was given to a Congressman by a Speaker.

In fact, as Think Progress documents, the whole story is a complete fabrication. Hastert himself admitted that Foley had already resigned by the time Hastert even learned about the ABC report, and Hastert gave no such ultimatum to Foley. The whole thing is complete fiction -- just invented out of whole cloth -- and the GOP's leading political spokesmen are now shamelessly reciting it as fact. What they are saying happened never actually happened. It really is just that simple. This willingness to go on television and just outright lie -- in a way that can be clearly demonstrated -- ought to be a story in itself.

Then we have the truly ludicrous effort by Republican Congressmen to claim, as I heard many do last night, that the "only chapter left to be written" in the Foley scandal is an investigation into whether Democratic leaders -- Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, Rahm Emanuel and others -- knew about Foley's IMs with pages long before last week. There is zero evidence to suggest they did, and nobody claims there is any such evidence. It is an accusation that is grounded in nothing other than fantasy and desire.

Nonetheless, GOP Congressmen and similar types are insisting that it is imperative that we "find out." Demanding investigations into speculative accusations for which there is literally no evidence is just moronic. That "reasoning" would mean that we ought to investigate whether Bush ordered the 9/11 attacks, whether Dick Cheney received bribes directly from Jack Abramoff, and whether Karl Rove has been blackmailing Senators by eavesdropping on their conversations.

After all, there may no evidence for any of that, but we need to find out if it's true. This demand is so inane, so irrational, that it is a classic case for when the media has the responsibility not to tolerate it (and, as Josh Marshall points out, that responsibility seems particularly strong given that reporters know who the sources are for this story and thus know that the insinuations are false).

All of this is, of course, designed to distract from the ongoing revelations not only of past GOP knowledge of Mark Foley's activities, but also -- more importantly, in my view -- current and continuing deceit about what happened, all in order to conceal what they knew. This new article in this morning's Washington Post really is nothing short of a true bombshell, as it reports that a high-ranking GOP staffer is confirming Kirk Fordham's claims that he repeatedly alerted Hastert's top aide, Chief of Staff Scott Palmer, about Foley's behavior with pages, and that Palmer even met with Foley about it long before any prior reports suggested.

That means that (a) Palmer lied when he categorically, even angrily, denied that Fordham told him anything about Foley; (b) Hastert's chief of staff had much more information about Foley's behavior with pages than just a handful of "naughty e-mails"; and (c) Hastert's office had information about Foley at the highest levels even long before Hastert learned of the 2005 e-mails. Palmer is not just some aide to Hastert. As the Post explains:

Palmer, who shares a townhouse with Hastert when they are in town, is more powerful than all but a few House members. Members know that he speaks for Hastert.

As much attention as has been devoted to what GOP House leaders did and did not do with regard to Foley, more attention needs to be paid to what is, in my view, the more important issue -- that ever since this scandal began, Hastert and the other key GOP figures at the center of the scandal, including Hastert's Chief of Staff, have blatantly lied repeatedly about what happened. And they stil are.

To this day, Hastert claims not to recall ever being told anything about Foley despite multiple Congressmen insisting that they told him and despite his most trusted aide being involved in countless conversations and meetings (which the aide has been falsely denying) about Foley's inappropriate behavior with pages. Even if one believes that their failure to do more about Mark Foley is insufficient grounds for them to be removed from office, surely their continuous lies about what they did and what they knew constitutes such ground.

There is, I think, a growing desire in many quarters for this scandal to end. I can understand that sentiment and -- as someone who has spent the last seven days looking way too closely at the likes of Denny Hastert, Tom Reynolds, Mark Foley, Ken Mehlman, and Scott Palmer -- I even share it. The last thing one wants to do is continue to think and read about them.

But there is simply no justification for walking away from this story while Denny Hastert and his top aides continue to lie about the key issues in this scandal, especially now that the GOP, in a unified and coordinated fashion, has simply invented fictitious talking points about what Hastert did. Most people's opinion of Hastert and company with regard to what they did in the past concerning Foley is solidified, but proving just how demonstrably dishonest they have been -- and continue to be -- is a task that still needs to be completed and is, on every level, worthwhile.

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The favorite magazine of everyone's father, Playboy, has published its list of Top 10 political blogs, and this blog is included on the list. A list like that is obviously extremely subjective, and there are some obvious omissions and one horrible selection ("Rathergate" happened in 2004; how much longer can they keep milking that?). Pam Spaulding, a contributor to Pandagon, which made the list, has the story here and the list itself here (.pdf).

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