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.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Brownback's selective belief in openness

By Nitpicker

By Nitpicker--Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) is backing down on his opposition to the confirmation of Janet Neff. Neff, you may remember, is a Michigan judge nominated to a federal seat who *gasp* attended a same-sex "commitment ceremony."

Brownback first blocked a vote on Neff, then offered a deal: If she would recuse herself from all same-sex union cases, he'd lift his hold. Once it was pointed out to him (slowly, I presume) this was like saying people who've driven cars shouldn't adjudicate cases which deal with automobile accidents and, therefore, stupid, he backed off.

Still, Brownback says he'll likely vote against Neff's nomination and he'd "like to know more factually about what took place."

I've always been a person who believes that the personal and public lives of political figures should be considered separate except when someone's personal life highlights a specific hypocrisy. Add in a bit of the old "appearance of impropriety" and you've got probable cause to begin prying, in my book. Such is the case with Sam Brownback.

In order to supposedly understand the judge's views, Brownback is asking for a play-by-play of a ceremony a nominee for a federal court seat attended, despite the fact he has been a member of a secretive, extremist group for years, the rules of which require that he remain silent about it. This might be understandable behavior in an eighteen-year-old frat pledge, but when the person keeping secrets is a sitting senator, his group's leaders praise the "Hitler Concept" as an organizational tool and have connections to members of unfriendly foreign governments, this secrecy must be lifted.

The group is known primarily as "the Family." It was the focus of an excellent (if frightening) expose by Jeff Sharlet in the March 2003 Atlantic Monthly Harper's. An excerpt from the piece shows just how far outside the mainstream the group is. The group's leader, Doug Coe, explaining how the Family works to Kansas congressman Todd Tiahrt. Coe says it's based on

"A covenant...Like the Mafia,” Doug clarified. “Look at the strength of their bonds.” He made a fist and held it before Tiahrt's face. Tiahrt nodded, squinting. “See, for them it's honor,” Doug said. “For us, it's Jesus.”

Coe listed other men who had changed the world through the strength of the covenants they had forged with their “brothers”: “Look at Hitler,” he said. “Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Bin Laden.” The Family, of course, possessed a weapon those leaders lacked: the “total Jesus” of a brotherhood in Christ.

Brownback, who wanted to get to the bottom of Judge Neff's partygoing habits, is a particularly powerful leader in this group and lived with other members of the group in a Washington, D.C., mansion at the unheard of D.C.-era rent of $600 a month, according to a separate Sharlet article. No one seems to have asked him about this great deal, however, or whether he believes that Jesus--or most Americans--would get behind a Christian schutzstaffel or al Qaeda in a religious "great leap forward."

I think Americans deserve to know more about this group's connections, its goals and Sam Brownback's leadership position within it. Someone who demands disclosure should also provide it--especially if he wants Americans to trust him with our nation's highest office. The journalists who cover him should demand it.

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