Defending DeLay

No limits. No limits at all.

The shamelessness of the House Republicans apparently knows no bounds.

Having changed their own rule to allow one of their leaders (in this case Tom DeLay) to keep serving even after an indictment, they now plan to rewrite the rules of the Ethics committee — always split evenly along party lines — so that a tie vote kills an investigation. Just to make it clear that GOP Ethics Committee members are expected to act as partisans rather than impartial arbitrators, they also going to replace the current Ethics Committee chairman — who had the audacity to vote for last year’s reprimands of DeLay — with one of DeLay’s Texas cronies, who wrote a check to DeLay’s defense fund out of his campaign account.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Texas Republicans plan to retrospectively legalize the corporate campaign contributions DeLay might be charged with having laundered, and to change the system under which the Travis County DA investigates corruption in the state government, and give that authority to the tame State Attorney General.

I’m not sure whether a legislative action could ever be charged as an obstruction of justice, but if so, this would seem to be the case.

[The Houston Chronicle has a blistering editorial on the GOP’s DeLay shenanigans. See The Stakeholder for continuing updates.]

Wish I’d said that dep’t

William Gibson sums up the Kerik affair in 25 words.

Why can’t people who write about politics for a living write the way William Gibson writes? (Ummm… because they’re not literary geniuses?) Here’s the entire Kerik affair, in twenty-five well-chosen words:

… there are those episodes of history that unravel with the breathtaking and utterly unexpected abruptness of a cashmere miniskirt catching on a chainlink fence…

I’m starting to think that Gibson’s blog has the highest density of witty and perceptive stuff in all Blogland. Someday I’ll come up with an excuse for not having added him to the blogroll earlier.

Kerik and Hillary

My readers correct my ignorance.

Several readers cure some of my ignorance regarding Mickey Kaus’s nudge-and-wink about Hillary Clinton’s sex life and about the Kerik affair. (See previous post.)

One points out that the Vince-Foster-was-murdered crowd has long been convinced that Hillary Clinton is bisexual, and in fact one “Christian” group tried to run TV spots saying as much in 2000. Another points out the strong resemblance between the treatment of Hillary by the GOP and the gutter press and the assaults on Eleanor Roosevelt.

Another reminds me that I can’t responsibly write about Kerik without keeping current with Josh Marshall’s reportage. It turns out that, in addition to the issue of whether Kerik misappropriated an apartment intended for the use of rescue workers, there’s a more serious issue about who actually paid for the place, which was more expensive than Kerik could have afforded on his public-sector salary.

My earlier post was faulty in yet another respect: It said, correctly, that Bush had nominated Kerik for DHS Secretary, but omitted the fact that Bush had already given Kerik a major assignment, which Kerik had blown badly and left early: as chief “adviser” to the Interior Ministry in Iraq.

Did one of DeLay’s co-conspirators just finger him?

One of the firms that financed the Republican takeover of the Texas Legislature by making an illegal contribution to one of Tom DeLay’s PACs just collected a big political payoff. It then made a plea deal in the investigation of that PAC.

One of the firms that apparently gave illegal help to Tom DeLay in his successful effort to reapportion Texas between censuses (which in turn allowed the GOP to steal four House seats) is a collection agency that hopes to profit from being hired by the IRS to collect delinquent taxes on a percentage-of-the-take basis. (Not quite tax-farming, but pretty close.) Now it seems that a legislative provision that would have forbidden that practice mysteriously disappeared from the big budget bill.

(That’s the bill that also included the tax-form-snooping provision.)

Well, it would be captious to complain. After all, rank hath its privileges. It wouldn’t really be worth the effort of being the most powerful man in the House of Representatives if you couldn’t use the legislative process to do favors for firms whose employees might otherwise be able to testify about crimes you might have committed, now would it?

However, it doesn’t always work. The firm in question, Diversified Collection services, has just reached a plea deal with District Attorney Ronnie Earle, under which the firm won’t be prosecuted at all for making the illegal contributions in return for its testimony against any defendants in the case.

Would Earle’s office really have given Diversified a complete pass for anything less than the testimony that would nail DeLay? Maybe. But if I were DeLay, I’d be a just a little bit nervous right now.

The Stakeholder has been DeLay Central. Watch that space.

Thomas Friedman is shrill

The Republican leadership in Washington has earned, and continues to earn, fear, contempt, and hatred from the people to whose misrule it contributes. The question that will decide the next two elections is whether God’s Official Party can be helped to collect what it have earned. Thomas Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times suggests that the task may not be hopeless.

In my next life, I want to be Tom DeLay, the House majority leader.

Yes, I want to get almost the entire Republican side of the House of Representatives to bend its ethics rules just for me. I want to be able to twist the arms of House Republicans to repeal a rule that automatically requires party leaders to step down if they are indicted on a felony charge – something a Texas prosecutor is considering doing to DeLay because of corruption allegations.

But most of all, I want to have the gall to sully American democracy at a time when young American soldiers are fighting in Iraq so we can enjoy a law-based society here and, maybe, extend it to others. Yes, I want to be Tom DeLay. I want to wear a little American flag on my lapel in solidarity with the troops, while I besmirch every value they are dying for.

If I can’t be Tom DeLay, then I want to be one of the gutless Republican House members who voted to twist the rules for DeLay out of fear that “the Hammer,” as they call him, might retaliate by taking away a coveted committee position or maybe a parking place.

Yes, I want to be a Republican House member. At a time when 180 of the 211 members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Iraq who have been wounded in combat have insisted on returning to duty, I want to look my constituents and my kids in the eye and tell them that I voted to empty the House ethics rules because I was afraid of Tom DeLay.

Ronnie Earle speaks out

Hit ’em again, Ronnie!

He lays it on the line in this NYT op-ed from Wednesday.

A Moral Indictment

It is a rare day when members of the United States Congress try to read the minds of the members of a grand jury in Travis County, Tex. Apparently Tom DeLay’s colleagues expect him to be indicted.

Last week Congressional Republicans voted to change their rule that required an indicted leader to relinquish his post. They were responding to an investigation by the Travis County grand jury into political contributions by corporations that has already resulted in the indictments of three associates of Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader.

Yet no member of Congress has been indicted in the investigation, and none is a target unless he or she has committed a crime. The grand jury will continue its work, abiding by the rule of law. That law requires a grand jury of citizens, not the prosecutor, to determine whether probable cause exists to hold an accused person to answer for the accusation against him or her.

Politicians in Congress are responsible for the leaders they choose. Their choices reflect their moral values.

Every law enforcement officer depends on the moral values and integrity of society for backup; they are like body armor. The cynical destruction of moral values at the top makes it hard for law enforcement to do its job.

In terms of moral values, this is where the rubber meets the road. The rules you apply to yourself are the true test of your moral values.

The thinly veiled personal attacks on me by Mr. DeLay’s supporters in this case are no different from those in the cases of any of the 15 elected officials this office has prosecuted in my 27-year tenure. Most of these officials – 12 Democrats and three Republicans – have accused me of having political motives. What else are they going to say?

For most of my tenure the Democrats held the power in state government. Now Republicans do. Most crimes by elected officials involve the abuse of power; you have to have power before you can abuse it.

There is no limit to what you can do if you have the power to change the rules. Congress may make its own rules, but the public makes the rule of law, and depends for its peace on the enforcement of the law. Hypocrisy at the highest levels of government is toxic to the moral fiber that holds our communities together.

The open contempt for moral values by our elected officials has a corrosive effect. It is a sad day for law enforcement when Congress offers such poor leadership on moral values and ethical behavior. We are a moral people, and the first lesson of democracy is not to hold the public in contempt.

Pretty soon you’re talking real money

Does the President really need a yacht?

Ev Dirksen is often misquoted to the effect that, even the the Federal budget, if you wind up spending “a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.” In fact and in truth, Dirksen said “million,” not “billion.”

But the principle is a sound one: even waste that’s a small part of a big total is still waste. And millions are easier for ordinary folks to understand than billions. The problem is to find the right synecdoche: the small misspending that stands in for the larger ones, like the Pentagon’s $435 hammer standing in for the tens of billions wasted on useless weapons systems.

Or, to take a more recent example, the $2 million for a Presidential yacht that stands in for $15 billion in pork in the latest omnibus appropriation bill.

Democrats should be merciless about this. The President, who is mortgaging our children’s future with his reckless deficit spending, decided to buy himself a yacht with your money. Outrageous!

Is Ernie Istook really J. Edgar Hoover reincarnated?
    Maybe not

It was probably just a Mistook.

That the current leadership of the Congressional Republican party is rather thuggish seems to me to be one of those claims that, while largely true, are hard to make politically potent. Most of the things that lead me to believe it aren’t easily explained to a median-IQ, low-political-attention voter in a headline.

So I’m happy when some relatively minor issue comes along that symbolizes the larger issue. Most of political persuasion consists of creating and developing such issues.

And, as Ronald Reagan famously demonstrated with the “welfare queen” and the food-stamp recipient who purchased an orange with his food stamps and a bottle of vodka with the change, the actual factual basis of the matter being used as synecdoche is pretty much irrelevant to its success.

But most of my liberal friends think that Reagan, and his admirers, were wrong to believe that misrepresenting reality, even to illustrate points you believe are true, is morally neutral or even praiseworthy. A good person, we think, will refuse to use a bad argument even in a good cause, and will be willing to object when his allies do so, even though that will give aid and comfort to his political opponents.

That’s the uncomfortable position in which I now find myself. I’ve been reading with glee Josh Marshall’s account of Rep. Istook’s attempt to sneak in to law a provision that would have given him and his staff unlimited access to the tax files of any taxpayer. Chuck Schumer’s attack on Istook, and on the process by which he was able to insert the provision at midnight and get it voted on before anyone knew what it was, and Nancy Pelosi’s reference to a “taxpayer persecution amendment,” struck me as just the way the Democrats ought to be talking at the current historical moment.

Alas, I just read David Rosenbaum’s story in this morning’s New York Times. The story provided in annoying detail what I assumed was the usual Republican lying response to having been caught with their fingers in the cookie jar.

But then it struck me that the explanation — far too complicated to be an effective political response — was very likely true.

Part of the job of the Appropriations Committees is to provide oversight for the agencies to whom they appropriate money. A major oversight question about the IRS is how it picks returns to audit. The laws about disclosure of taxpayer information are extremely tight, and the criminal penalties for violations are severe. That’s as it should be.

But it’s easy to imagine that some questions that might be required for effective oversight would involve what is technically “taxpayer information,” and that the provision in question reflected no more than a sloppily drafted workaround for that problem. (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the claim that the drafting was done by the IRS were true, though the IRS Commissioner denies it.)

Again, the Republicans figured out quickly that they couldn’t really get away with what they’d done, and are now backing off fast and pointing fingers at one another. I don’t see any reason to help them escape the embarrassment they’ve earned, even if in this case it was earned by stupidity rather than by contempt for civil liberty.

But I’m now convinced, or mostly convinced, that this really was a dumb move rather than a tyrannical one.

Just to be clear: I don’t want to suggest at all that there’s been any bad faith on the Democratic side: Marshall and Schumer were simply taking the matter at face value, and the face was obviously a very ugly one.

But this may be one of the rare cases where ugly, too, is only skin deep.

Update A reader points out that Istook and his colleagues have been lying all over the place as they point fingers at one another, which is clearly true: Istook said that the provision wouldn’t have allowed access to individual tax returns, which is exactly what it would have done. Moreover, my reader points out that Istook has been involved in earlier efforts to persecute liberal-leading tax-exempt groups and might well have been hoping to get back-door administrative access to their IRS filings.

That’s certainly a possible theory. But my money would still be on stupidity as the explanation.

Who’s got Ronnie Earle’s back?

Ronnie Earle is no partisan witch-hunter. Who’s going to say so loudly enough for the media to hear?

Is anyone rallying the law enforcement folks behind Ronnie Earle?

I’ve only met him at a few conferences, but I know his reputation, and he rates about as high on professionalism as any D.A. in the country. But that doesn’t mean that Earle won’t get spattered by the current slime-and-defend if people don’t speak out for him.

St. John on the Delay Two-Step

Every one that doeth evil hateth the light.

The cowardice of the Republican Congressmen who are hiding behind the secrecy of the House GOP Conference to keep their constituents from knowing how they voted on the DeLay Two-Step is hardly unprecedented. Indeed, it was described in detail more than nineteen centuries ago:

… men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

That’s from the Gospel According to John, Third Chapter, Verses 19 through 21.

(Footnote: The Gospel According to John is part of the Bible, in case Mr. DeLay and his friends haven’t read it recently.)