New CIA director Hayden plans massive expansion of spying on Americans

Now that he is officially sworn in as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael Hayden plans to build a vast domestic spying network that will pry into the lives of most Americans around the clock.

President George W. Bush told Hayden to "take whatever steps necessary" to monitor Americans 24/7 by listening in on their phone calls, bugging their homes and offices, probing their private lives, snooping into their financial records and watching their travel habits.

Can I prove this in a court of law? No. Do I know it is happening? Yes, without a doubt. Enough sources within the CIA, FBI, NSA and Pentagon have come forward in recent days to warn about Hayden’s plans for an expanded, consolidated spy network aimed at Americans, not terrorists, and violating numerous laws that prohibit such activities against citizens of this country.

"What Hayden plans to do is not only illegal, it is immoral," says a longtime CIA operative who may retire early rather than participate in what he sees as an illegal extension of the spy agency’s activities.

Hayden, who oversaw the National Security Agency’s questionable monitoring of phone calls and emails of Americas, plans to consolidate much of the country’s domestic spying into a new desk at the CIA, calling it a "domestic terrorism prevention" operation.

The desk will oversee not only NSA’s increased monitoring of electronic communications by Americans but also the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s "terrorist information awareness" program that monitors travel and financial activities by Americans by gathering real-time data from banks, airlines, travel agencies and credit card companies.

The CIA operation will also coordinate with the Pentagon’s domestic spying program that monitors activities of anti-war groups, organizations critical of the Bush administrations and others tagged as enemies of the state.

FBI agents will step up monitoring of journalists to identify leaks of stories embarrassing to the government. The bureau is already monitoring phone calls and emails by reporters on a routine basis and has increased surveillance of writers for major news organizations and monitoring of travel and financial records using the DARPA computers.

"This is not ‘total information awareness’ but ‘total information control’ aimed at watching Americans fulltime and ignoring the protections that are supposed to be guaranteed by the Constitution," says an FBI agent familiar with the programs. "I didn’t sign on for this and I’m getting the hell out."

In fact, resignations at major U.S. spy agencies are at an all-time high. Exact numbers are classified but sources say field agents, data analysts and others are leaving in droves rather than join the frenzy to spy on Americans.

Hayden sailed through the Senate confirmation process defending his domestic spying program at NSA, claiming it was legal. Privacy experts and Constitutional law professors say otherwise but the Senate rubber-stamped Bush’s choice anyway, choosing to ignore the threats to freedom.

Hayden will have little problem concealing the operation from the public and Congress. Many of the CIA’s programs are classified and the agency has, in the past, concealed programs even from the intelligence committees in both the House and Senate. The DARPA project and the Pentagon domestic spying programs are "black bag" operations that do not require Congressional approval or oversight.

Likewise, many of the details of the NSA domestic spying program were withheld from Congress and escaped public notice until media reports unearthed them and the Bush administration now threatens to jail the reporters who broke the story.

I wish I could prove this. I wish one, just one, source on the inside was willing to come forward and allow his or her name to be used but those who might be tempted see what happened to Mary McCarthy, the CIA employee fired and under threat of prosecution for leaking information about CIA torture camps in Europe.

But I know it is happening. People I’ve known for years and trust tell me it is happening and the past record of spying, lies and deceit by the Bush administration point to just such an operation.

This nation is under attack. We, the people, are under attack. And the enemy in this case is not an Islamic radical hiding in a cave in Afghanistan but a cabal of truly evil men and women at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and on Capitol Hill aided by carefully-picked, law-ignoring appointees at the Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, a black glass-walled building at Fort Meade, MD, and a complex in Langley, Virginia.

The coward-in-chief dishonors those who served

I wish I could say that only George W. Bush had the gall to stand up on a day set aside to honor those who died in service to their country and use that day as a propaganda backdrop to promote an illegal and immoral war.

But Bush is just the leader of a gang of opportunists who use war to promote political agendas, fatten wallets and profit from mercenary greed.

From those in Congress, Republican and Democrat, who blindly voted to give Bush the power to wage war to his fat cat friends at Halliburton who profit daily from no-bid contracts to the many contractors, mercenaries and profiteers who get rich on the death and suffering of others, the brutal realities of the Iraq invasion dishonored those who died to serve their country.

Yet another American soldier died in Iraq on Memorial Day, along with two members of a CBS news crew and dozens of Iraqi civilians as suicide bombers and car bombs decimated the streets and roads of the country.

Bush callously stood before the families of Americans who have died in war and used the day to promote his failed Iraq agenda, talking cruelly of "completing missions" and staying the course.

It is a dishonor to those who died for Bush to even set foot in Arlington Cemetery. He hid like a coward during the Vietnam War, seeking refuge in the Texas Air Guard and then compounding the insult by not even completing his assigned duties in that non-combat unit.

And it is a sad, cruel irony that this coward, who used the National Guard to hide from war now, more than any other President, now sends members of the Guard and Reserves into Iraq to die for his war based on lies and a pre-determined political agenda.

The evidence says Bush planned a war with Iraq even before taking the Presidency in the disputed 2000 election. During the campaign, he talked about the need to "eliminate Saddam Hussein," hinted at it again during his inaugural speech and then ordered the Pentagon to prepare plans for an invasion as one of his first actions as President.

When the nation reeled from the shock and horror of the 9/11 attacks, Bush showed no surprise or shock. He finished reading a children’s story to a group of elementary school kids, then climbed into Air Force One and calmly told his assembled group of staff and advisors that "OK, we’re at war." Within hours, targets were identified, plans readied and invasion orders prepared.

In retrospect, it was all too convenient, too prepared, too scripted. A President who wanted desperately to go to war had his excuse and the backing of a shell-shocked Congress and numbed American population.

Over the last four-and-a-half years, however, realization has replaced shock and we see more clearly how manipulation of events led to a war that was always part of the plan.

As I watched Bush deliver his Memorial Day speech at Arlington Cemetery Monday, I saw a man without an ounce of grief or remorse.  Bush delivered his speech in a cold, calculated way, using a day of honor for dishonorable purposes, exploiting a time of grief to further his political agenda.

The debacle of Iraq will forever define the Presidency of George W. Bush as a monumental failure. But that is a political failure. Bush’s loyalty lies not with the American people but with special interests that have long owned him. Those interests – the Halliburtons, the vast corporate defense industrial cabal and the mercenaries who always profit from war – got what they wanted.

They won, but America lost, and that loss will haunt this nation for many, many years.

The sound of thunder

WRITER’S NOTE: I wrote this column for Memorial Day 1998. It has been reprinted in a number of publications and is the most-requested reprint of columns I have written over the last few years. It is rerun here today as a reminder of why we celebrate Memorial Day and must work as hard as we can to avoid the horror of war.

He snapped awake at 0500, a full 30 minutes before the alarm was set to go off.

For more than 30 years, he had been waking up at 5 a.m. It didn’t matter which time zone he was in or even if it was daylight savings time. When the big hand was on the 12 and the little one on the five, he was awake.

He crawled into the shower and lay there for 30 minutes, letting the hot water loosen up his muscles and numb the throbbing pain of too many arthritic bones.

But the water limbered him up enough to pull on some faded blue jeans, t-shirt and leather vest. It took some effort to pull on the boots, but he managed. Then he strapped on the leather chaps. Three cups of coffee and several accompanying groans later, he headed into the garage where she was waiting.

She didn’t get much use these days, but she didn’t complain. Instead, she waited patiently under the tarp, waited for Memorial Day weekend to come around, knowing he would polish her up and head out onto the open road.

He worked for the better part of two hours, polishing the chrome, checking the oil level and the tire pressures. Then he kicked loose the stand, fired her up and headed into the morning air.

Not much traffic on Arlington’s Washington Boulevard on a Sunday morning. A few cars. Some slowed to take a look at the gleaming Harley Softtail. Few noticed the gray-haired, middle-aged rider. He nosed into the parking lot of Bob & Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike and parked besides a half-dozen other Harleys. He noticed two he expected to be here weren’t.

"Afternoon lieutenant, did we sleep in this morning?" After 30 years and they still called him by the rank they knew him by then.

"You know me chief. Just couldn’t get up."

"We weren’t sure you would make it. Heard you were hard down."

"Will be in about two weeks. Go under the knife on 12 June."



He looked around.

"Where’s Crowder?"

"VA Hospital in Albuquerque. He’s fading."

Damn. Each year, the list of those who don’t make it got longer. He’d hauled Crowder on his back through more than 10 clicks of jungle. He’d miss him.

"What about Horsely?"

"Laid the bike down on ’50 in Indiana three months ago. DOA."

Well, at least it wasn’t age. Or maybe it was. A younger man might have survived.

For the next 90 minutes, they ignored the ravages of age and worries about cholesterol and hardened arteries, wolfing down pork chops, bacon, eggs and hash browns, talking about days that have long since passed.

"They say we will have a quarter million out today. Maybe more than a hundred thousand bikes. Kinda miss the old days when there only a few hundred of us."

"Yeah, at this rate, there will be more out there than who actually served. Getting hard to tell the wannabes from those who were in the shit."

"I can tell. Always could."

"Hey, remember the guy who showed up last year with the Vulcan? Thought he was gonna get killed. Bringing a Jap bike to Thunder. Ain’t right."

"Saw some Jap bikes on the way in this morning. Some German ones too."

"Yeah, times change."

They finished and headed up Columbia Pike to the Pentagon, joining a mass of bikes and the thunder of unmuffled exhausts in the parking lot. He opened the saddlebag and pulled out the same American flag and black POW-MIA flag he had used for the past 11 years. Along with his Boonie hat. At least it still fit.

An hour later, they were in line, pulling out, headed for the Memorial Bridge and the Mall in Washington. Rolling Thunder was under way.

He’d been on the first one, more than a decade earlier, a much smaller group of Vietnam vets riding their bikes into Washington to protest the U.S. government’s inaction on resolving the nagging issue of what happened to too many American servicemen who were unaccounted for Prisoners of War or still listed as Missing in Action.

Back then, the local law refused to cooperate and the veterans groups looked askance as the mostly long-haired group of motorcyclists who looked more like Hell’s Angels than veterans of a forgotten war.

But Thunder had grown through the years, along with the awareness that Uncle Sam had not done right by those left behind in Southeast Asia. The longhairs were still there, the heart of the movement, but Thunder now included bank clerks, accountants and the widows and children of men who were left behind. Now they got police escorts and the Vets groups were more tolerant.

As he crossed Memorial Bridge, a number of those in the crowd stepped out to slap the hands of those coming in. A young woman handed him a small American flag. He stuck the flag in his handbrake.

They circled the Mall before parking and heading to the Wall. Officially, it is called the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But those who were there just called it the Wall. It takes a while before some Vietnam vets can go there. Some never get up the nerve.

It took Rolling Thunder 1 to get him to the Wall. Afterwards, he was sorry he had waited so long to go.

He walked the length, scanning the dark service for names he knew. He always found them, even when he didn’t want to. One  who died next to him. A young man who had one day to go when a mortar round took him out. Another who was already dead when they arrived to extract him. Names and faces that were still clear in his memory after 30 years.

He knelt and prayed with his buddies before leaving. Then they rode back across the Potomac and visited Arlington Cemetery to say hello to some others who didn’t make it.

People looked at the small group of gray-haired men in their motorcycle leathers and gave them a wide berth, not sure of what brought such a dangerous-looking group out to a place of honor on Memorial Day weekend. But it didn’t take long for the rough-looking crowd to quickly outnumber those in their Sunday best.

Later, they sat at Hard Times Café in Arlington and wondered how many more Rolling Thunders it would take before the federal government finally did something.

"How much longer we gonna keep doing this?"

"Until we get some answers."

Then they parted, promising – as always – to keep in touch during the year but knowing – as always – that they probably won’t see or talk to each again until next year’s Memorial Day weekend.

He wheeled the Harley back into the garage, listened to it idle for a few minutes, and shut her down, covering her with the tarp.

Once inside, he unstrapped the leather chaps, took off the boots, and put them away.

Until next year.

Lock ‘em up and throw away the key

My, my. The gaggle of crooks, con-artists and thieves also known as the United States Congress got pissed because the FBI actually had the audacity to raid the office of a Congressman to collect evidence of corruption and criminal activity.

How dare they? What gives them the right to expect elected officials to obey the laws of the land? Why, the next thing you know we’ll be sending members of Congress to prison for their crimes.

Wait a minute. We already have. Former California Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham is in stir, hopefully serving as the love slave to a big bruiser named Bubba. So is former Ohio Democratic Congressman Jim Trafficant, another corrupt, scandal-ridden piece of crud. With any luck, a sleazeball named William Jefferson (D-LA) will soon join them along with slimeball Tom DeLay (R-TX).

But the weekend raid of Jefferson’s offices has House leaders in a snit.

"I clearly have serious concerns about what happened and whether people at the Justice Department have looked at the Constitution lately," said House Majority Leader John Boehner.

Got a news flash for you Johnny Boy. It’s the blatant ignorance of the Constitution that got you and your gang of wise guys into trouble in the first place. You and Speaker of the House Denny Hastert preside over a corrupt, lice-ridden, foul-smelling institution that has ignored the law for too long and deserves to be led away in handcuffs. I worked on Capitol Hill and in Washington long enough to realize that you, the guy the Republicans picked to replace a crook named Tom DeLay, are dirty too and, with luck, maybe you and Duke can share Bubba in the federal pen.

I’m sick of pathetic political posturing by elected officials who belong behind bars. The Senate is run by another con-artist, insider trader Bill Frist, and overrun by the usual suspects. Both houses of Congress are cesspools of crime, corruption and decadence – Republican and Democratic.

On the other hand, the FBI raid, while long overdue, stinks to high heaven because it was a political move no doubt instigated by a Justice Department determined to shift focus away from the many legal and ethical problems facing the Bush Administration. If not, why didn’t the raid Cunningham’s offices earlier? Oh, I forgot. He’s a Republican. My bad.

In one sense, Boehner’s probably correct when he wonders if the people of the Justice Department have looked at the Constitution. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, while serving as White House Counsel, wrote that the document that is supposed to define the land of the free and home of the brave is "an outdated document." We already know that Bush uses the Constitution to wipe his ass after he shits on the freedoms it once guaranteed.

But the holier-than-thou reaction of Congress to the raid on Jefferson’s office demonstrates just how out-of-control our government is in these days of bribery, corruption and votes for sale to the highest bidder.

In theory, nobody should be above the law – not the White House, not Congress, not state governments, not local entities.

In reality, however, they are. Our government is rotten to the core, dominated by corrupt men and women who truly believe they are beyond the reach of justice, and it will take much more than a politically-timed FBI raid on a Congressional office to eradicate the stench of corruption that covers Washington like a toxic cloud.

Dems need to clean their own house first

If Democrats are truly sincere about cleaning up Congress, they need to prove it by purging their own collections of crooks, thieves and con-artists.

Corruption’s bi-partisanship reared its ugly head this weekend when FBI agents raided the Capitol Hill office of crooked Representative William Jefferson (D-LA) and revealed they caught the bribe-taking Congressman accepting 100 grand from an undercover agent.

Washington insiders have known for years that Jefferson was dirty yet Democrats continued to tolerate his presence in their midst just like Republicans turned a blind-eye to crooks like Randy "Duke Cunningham" (now in jail) and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (headed there soon).

Jefferson isn’t the only dirty Dem. West Virginia’s Allan Mollohan finally gave up his seat on, of all things, the House Ethics Committee when even his fellow party members could no longer ignore his many ethical lapses.

But the Dems have yet to do anything about Corrine Brown, the fast-talking con artist who left a trail of failed businesses, bad checks and betrayed business partners in Florida. After coming to Washington, Rep. Brown continued her criminal ways, accepting homes, cars and cash from fatcat supporters.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi promises to "clean up" Congress if her party regains control in the November mid-term elections but I’m more than a little skeptical given her reluctance to start cleaning house within her own party ranks. Mollohan’s ethical problems were known for months before she started pressuring him to resign. An investigation of Jefferson only began last week after months of negotiations with Republicans and only after the GOP offered up one of their own (Bob Ney of Ohio) as a quid pro quo for joint investigation.

Pelosi promises an immediate probe of George W. Bush’s behavior if Dems win control. Others in her party want to launch immediate impeachment proceedings – an act of revenge for the GOP-engineered and botched impeachment of Bill Clinton. Extracting revenge on Republicans for their mismanagement of Congress is not true reform. Neither is replacing one set of crooks with another.

Those who march to a partisan flag often defend their own party’s transgressions by claiming the other side is dirtier, that their crimes are greater, and that minor corruption is acceptable when your ultimate goal is the "greater good."

That’s bullshit. You are either honest or you are not. You either serve the public trust or your own greed. You either apply the same standards to everyone or you are just another partisan shill who puts party politics above the best interests of the nation.

George W. Bush and his gang that controls both the House and Senate have committed many crimes against this nation. They have shredded the Constitution, trampled without mercy on freedom and individual rights and plunged the country into deep, possibly uncontrollable, debt. Their first round of punishment for their crimes should come at the hands of voters in November.

But if the voters hand control of Congress to the Democrats, they must prove themselves worthy of the public trust. They must insist that their own kind live by the same ethical standards they seek to impose on others. They should adopt a "zero tolerance" policy regarding fellow Democrats and impose that policy now, proving before November that they can make the hard choices needed to clean up Congress.

Unless they do, promises of reform will be just empty campaign rhetoric and life in Congress under a new Democratic leadership will be just business as usual.

The religious phonies who rule our government

Sadly, homophobia rules in the United State Senate.

I suppose I should expect such intolerance in a legislative body ruled by the Republican Party – the home of racists, bigots and hate. Led by the biggest homophobe of all – President George W. Bush – the GOP continues to represent repression at the highest level.

The latest assault comes at the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a session so heated that Democratic member Russ Feingold stalked out as Chairman Arlen Specter chanted "Good riddance!"

The committee, in a private session, approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage – just the latest Republican assault on liberty – a measure that mandates that marriage is only legal between a man and a woman.

Bush, the homophobe-in-chief, declared the constitutional amendment a major part of his "political capital" after the 2004 election. His fellow homophobes in the Senate appear determined to back his bigoted ways.

I’m not surprised. I worked with enough Republicans while in Washington to realize the party is overrun by gay-bashers, racists and bigots. What they call "family values" is nothing more than a call to arms against anyone who doesn’t buy into their limited, hate-filled view of life. What they call decent is nothing more than old-fashioned intolerance at its worst.

These right-wing fanatics tout the Bible when they think they have found an obscure verse that supports their narrow-minded views and then ignore the overall teachings of religion that promote love and tolerance. Not surprisingly, they treat the Constitution with the same, callous disregard.

Bush claims to be a Christian but curses like a sailor, often taking the Lord’s name in vain. In fact, "goddamn" is one of Bush’s favorite obscenities. At the very least, this is odd behavior for a so-called Christian.

But I don’t, for a second, believe Bush is a Christian or a religious man. He is an opportunist who uses religion as a political tool as do far too many of the so-called family-value Republicans who infect Congress like a rampaging cancer.

True Christians would not promote the hate, intolerance and bigotry that come out of Congress. True Christians would not continue to back an illegal invasion of another country, one that had led to the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and many thousands of Iraqi civilians.

True Christians would not try to amend the U.S. Constitution to declare love the sole province of heterosexuals.

True Christianity cannot exist in a Congress ruled by the Republican Party.

Rove indictment watch update

Here we are in day six of the Rove indictment watch, breathlessly waiting to see if Jason Leopold’s Truthout “scoop” from last¬†Saturday was fact, fantasy or wishful thinking.

If the report turns out to be accurate, the credit must go to the blogosphere because traditional media continues to ignore it.

From The Wayne Madsen Report:

WMR can report tonight on more details concerning the confusing reports regarding Karl Rove and Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald from last Friday. WMR can confirm that the appearance of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before the Grand Jury at the US Federal Courthouse in Washington was a formality in which the jury informed the Attorney General of their decision to indict Karl Rove. That proceeding lasted for less than 30 minutes and took place shortly after noon. Gonzales’s personal security detachment was present in the courthouse during the Grand Jury briefing. From the courthouse, Gonzales’s motorcade proceeded directly down Constitution Avenue to the Department of Justice.

According to sources within the Patton and Boggs law firm, Karl Rove was present at the law firm’s building on M Street. WMR was told by a credible source that a Patton and Boggs attorney confirmed that Fitzgerald paid a visit to the law firm to inform Rove attorney Robert Luskin and Rove that an indictment would be returned by the Grand Jury against Rove. Contrary to other reports, some of which may have emanated from the Rove camp in order to create diversions and smokescreens, the meetings at Patton and Boggs did not last 15 hours nor was a 24-hour notice of intent to indict delivered to Rove. In the Scooter Libby case last October, after the Grand Jury decided to indict Libby on Friday, October 21 and the Attorney General personally heard the decision the same day at a meeting with the jury, the actual indictment was issued the following Friday, October 28. Several sources have told WMR that an announcement concerning the indictment of Rove will be made on Friday, May 19 generally following the same scenario from October 28, 2005 — the posting of the indictment on the Special Prosecutor’s web site followed by a press conference at Main Justice.

Truthout Honcho William Rivers Pitt, after a couple of obscenity-laced tirades against those who questioned the reports, appears calmer now:

It would probably be a good thing for the health and welfare of this community for everyone to stop beating the shit out of each other over this Rove story. This goes for me, too. I just got into a snipe-fest in another thread, and immediately felt stupid about it.

Those who have stood with truthout are owed a massive river of thanks. Your faith will be rewarded.

Those who have expressed doubts, and await further confirmation, are totally above reproach. If I didn’t know what I know, if I was a DUer out of the fact loop truthout has been in, I’d be doing and saying exactly the same things.

Those who have made this personal – with me, with each other – should stop.

truthout was right on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, yesterday and today. We will still be right tomorrow and Friday, no matter what the goddam unbelievable lapdog mainstream media has to say (or more to the point, doesn’t have to say) about it.

I understand your frustrations at the way this has played out; in fact, I call your frustration and raise it a billionfold. There are good reasons for this, and those reasons will be made clear when everything comes out. Those good reasons haven’t made the process easier.

That’s it for now. If I sound like a hypocrite for saying this, so be it. I’ll take that beating standing up.

Salon, the online magazine that fired Jason Leopold after they couldn’t confirm existence of an email he used for a story on Enron,¬†continues to question the writer’s credibility. Writes Tim Grieve in Wednesday’s War Room:
Salon and Leopold have an unhappy history. Salon took down a piece Leopold wrote for the site in 2002 after the editors concluded that some of it had been copied from the Financial Times and weren’t able to substantiate a key piece of Leopold’s reporting. Leopold stands by his story and says Salon did wrong by him. Both he and Salon’s editors have aired their sides in public.

We have no firsthand knowledge of that episode, having arrived on Salon’s staff long after it happened. But we’ve been skeptical of Leopold’s Plamegate reporting anyway.

Some of our skepticism stems from Leopold’s reports of his own troubled past. Leopold has told us, “Just because I have a past or made a mistake does not mean I am unable to cultivate sources or continue reporting.”

Some of our skepticism comes from what seems like a too-good-to-be-true quality in Leopold’s reporting: As Daou asks, “How is Leopold the only reporter in America with access” to the sources he claims to have? Leopold has told us that he has “really, really good sources” who have been “dead on” when it comes to Plamegate news.

And some of our skepticism comes from Leopold reporting that hasn’t panned out. When we wrote in December 2005 that we thought some of Leopold’s work for Raw Story was implausible, Raw Story editor John Byrne posted a response in which he defended much of Leopold’s reporting but said that three stories hadn’t been confirmed: a report that Cheney aide John Hannah was “given orders by higher-ups in Cheney’s office to leak Plame’s covert status and identity in an attempt to muzzle Wilson”; a report involving the Plamegate role allegedly played by Rove assistant Susan Ralston; and a story published days before Scooter Libby was indicted that said that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had asked the grand jury to indict Rove; that Fitzgerald had asked the grand jury to indict Libby on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and outing Plame; and that two other government officials were likely to be indicted as well. When Libby was indicted the following Friday — not that Wednesday or Thursday, as Leopold’s reporting had predicted — Libby wasn’t charged with outing Plame, Rove wasn’t indicted at all, and there was no sign of the two mystery officials.

Leopold hasn’t written for Raw Story since January — Byrne declined to comment on his departure, saying he couldn’t discuss “personnel matters” — but questions about the reporter’s work have followed him to Truthout. Leopold’s reporting for the site has sometimes been at odds with reports in the mainstream press or statements from Rove’s camp. That’s not conclusive evidence of anything one way or the other: The mainstream press can be lazy and sometimes willfully blind, and Rove has allowed or encouraged lies about his Plamegate role to be disseminated before. But add these discrepancies to everything else, and it’s hard not to have doubts about Leopold’s work.

So the debate rages on, Rove remains free and question remain unasnwered. Maybe they will be answered on Friday, as predicted by some. Maybe they will be answered in the near future. Maybe not. Like everyone else, we’re waiting to see.

Follow the money

In 1987, GOP Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell often took to the floor of the Senate to call for the elimination of Political Action Committees (PACs).

PACs, the bombastic McConnell said, represented a scourge on society, a scab on the body politic and a threat to America as we knew it.

McConnell’s attack against PACs came with the blessing of the National Republican Party, the minority party in Congress at the time, which meant they got what was left after PACs distributed most of their largesse on the controlling Democratic Party.

Over on the House side, Rep. Guy VanderJagt, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, added to the war on PACs.

"PACs are nothing but a bunch of whores," VanderJagt said.

In 1987, as Vice President for Political Programs at the National Association of Realtors, I ran the county’s largest PAC, a multi-million dollar monster that dispensed money to politicians like Mad Dog 20/20 to winos, feeding their political campaign fundraising habits with frequent fixes.

So it was inevitable that VanderJagt and I would meet in public debate – a televised one on PBS.

The Congressman from Michigan repeated his charge that PACs, in his and his party’s opinion, were "nothing but a bunch of whores."

"There’s a problem with your analogy," I replied. "Where I come from, whores aren’t the one who pay. Whores are the ones standing there, with their hand out, asking for money in advance for something they are, at that point, only promising to deliver. I think we all should remember that when one pays money under those circumstances, the very best one can get is screwed."

VangerJagt never spoke to me again, no great loss, and I left the political world in 1992, only to run across Mitch McConnell again shortly after the Republicans seized control of both the Senate and the House in the 1994 elections.

In 1995, I covered an appearance by McConnell at The American Heritage Foundation in Washington. The man who wanted PACs outlawed eight years earlier now sang a different tune.

"You can’t outlaw PACs," he told the audience. "That would be unconstitutional. PACs represent a basic freedom of political activity and I will do everything in my power to protect that freedom."

With Republicans in control of both Houses of Congress, McConnell knew he had to butter up the big money boys. As soon as Republicans won control, the pattern of giving by PACs shifted to the GOP side of the fence. McConnell and his party would stall serious attempts to reform campaign finance laws in the coming years.

"Senator," I asked McConnell after his speech at the American Heritage Foundation, "you called for outlawing PACs in 1987 and now you claim to be their biggest booster. What happened to change your mind?"

McConnell smiled.

"In 1987, I was carrying water for the Republican leadership and I said what they asked me to say," he responded.

"Are you saying you didn’t believe what you said then?"

"I said what the Republican leadership asked me to say."

"Do you believe PACs should be outlawed?"

"Of course not. I never did."

McConnell opposed the 2002 campaign finance reform bill that banned soft money (unlimited campaign contributions to political parties) and prevented special interest groups from spendinig corporate or labor union money on broadcast ads that mention a candidate just prior to an election. Political parties collected nearly $500 million in soft money contributions during the 2002 elections.

Shortly after the bill was signed by President Bush, several groups filed lawsuits, challenging the law’s constitutionality. The AFL-CIO, American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association said the legislation’s curbs on issue ads were an unconstitutional limit on free speech. McConnell and the Republican National Committee also filed lawsuits, asking for the law’s ban on soft money contributions to be struck down.

In May 2003, a federal court ruled that the new law’s ban on soft money was unconstitutional, allowing the political parties to resume raising the unlimited campaign contributions. The court restricted how soft money could be spent, however, prohibiting political parties from using it to run issue ads. The court also rejected the law’s ban on issue ads by special interest groups in the weeks leading up to an election, instead adopting a stricter standard that applies to ads aired at any time.

The decision was automatically appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case in a special extended session. In December 2003, the Court ruled 5-4 to uphold the soft money and issue ad restrictions.

As with most campaign "reforms," those with money quickly found ways around the new law’s limitations, forming "527" advocacy groups to pump money into Congressional races and Presidential campaigns.
Politicians know it takes lots of money to win elections and even more money to stay in office.

From the time a member of the House or Senate is elected, they are already working on re-election, launching extensive fund-raising operations. Lavish campaign contributions, along with gifts, vacations to exotic locales and other outright bribes, lie the center of the corruption investigation of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a continuing scandal that has already sent former California Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cuningham to jail, implicated scandal-ridden former House Majority Leader Tom Delay and threatens to bring down at least a half-dozen other members of both the House and Senate.

Candidates, and various organizations that either back or oppose them, are expected to spend more than a billion dollars this year in the November mid-term elections – breaking the record set just two years ago in the 2004 Presidential year.

The cost will continue to go up until something is done to stop the corruptive influence of money on the political process.

Part of the answer lies in what Mitch McConnell advocated in 1987 – the outright elimination of political action committees.

But getting rid of PACs, and their pervasive domination of the process, is only a start.

Steps must be taken to limit the endless cycle of campaigns, from 24/7 fundraising to non-stop electioneering. Some ideas:

CAP THE COSTS OF CAMPAIGNS: Perhaps no more than $500,000 for a House race, $1 million for a Senate campaign. Require newspapers, television and radio stations to provide space or time, pro-rated equally, for candidates to present their positions. Eliminate political ads.

ELIMINATE OUTSIDE MONEY FROM CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS: Candidates should be required to raise money only within their districts. No donations from interests or individuals who have no connection to a state or district.

BAN OUTSIDE SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS: This means 527 organizations or others from inserting themselves into a Congressional or Senate campaign. The late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said "all politics is local." Let’s make it that way again.

This is just a start of the more comprehensive ideas for campaign reform that we will be offering in coming weeks as part of a new non-partisan, grassroots educational organizations that launches on May 1.

Stay tuned. The fun continues.

(TO OUR READERS: A hacker gained entrance to our site last night through our commenting system on articles and launched an attack that destroyed files and corrupted our database. Because of this we had to shut down the commenting system. It’s a shame because we had a good discussion going here.)

Mother’s milk of politics: Mama plays both sides

Money, former Texas Senator Phil Gramm once said, is the "mother’s milk of politics."’

Gramm stole the line from California political legend Jesse Unruh. But it remains true enough and when discussing politicians lapping up all this milk we should remember that mom has two nipples: One for Republicans and the other for Democrats.

 The latest money-for-votes scandal to generate an outcry for campaign finance reform involves Republican hotdog Jack Abramoff, the good and great friend of such GOP luminaries as corrupt former House majority leader Tom DeLay and our honesty-challenged President, George W. Bush.

Republicans deserve whatever happens to them as the Abramoff scandal unfolds but the party of the elephant ain’t the only money-grubbers in town. When it comes to the buying of Congress, special interest groups belong to no one party and subscribe to no single political philosophy.

In the 2004 election, Republicans poured lots of time and effort into defeating Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. But Daschle collected most of the special interest political action (PAC) money — $3,344,580 compared with $1,183,602 for John Thune, the Republican challenger.  That’s normal in a House or Senate race. Daschle was the incumbent with a leadership position. PACs like to play in safe.

I ran the Political Programs Administration division of the giant National Association of Realtors trade association from 1987 until 1992 and controlled what was then the largest PAC in the country. We gave most of our money, some $5 million an election cycle, to Democrats primarily because they, at the time, controlled both the House and Senate and those contributions bought access for our lobbyists.

There was a time when business PACs gave most of their funds to Republicans while labor PACs backed Democrats.  But Rep. Tony Coelho of California took over chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 1980s and vowed to bring more business money into his party’s campaign coffers.

And that he did. First he convinced his Democratic colleagues in Congress that they could vote for just enough pro-business issues to raise their favorable ratings with industry while not alienating their labor constituency, then he set about browbeating PACs into handing over the money.

Coelho threatened to bar business lobbyists from Democratic leadership offices is their PACs didn’t contribute more, kept a "friends and enemies" list handy when he met with PAC managers. He threatened, cajoled, promised and lied to get money.

"Coelho is the father of the vast and ethics-flouting Democratic money machine that has, from time to time, landed Bill Clinton and his vice president in hot water," wrote Jay Nordlinger in The National Review on June 13, 1999. :"As boss of his party’s Congressional Campaign Committee in the 1980s, Coelho set a new standard in fundraising and strongarming, becoming the very model of a political shakedown artist."

Coelho resigned from Congress in the midst of a financial scandal in 1989 and headed for Wall Street where he earned a bundle as a high-risk trader until Al Gore hired him to run his campaign for President in 1999. A year later he came under investigation by the State Department for playing fast and loose with ethics rules while raising money for the US Pavilion at the 1998 World Expo.

In 1995, new Republican Speaker of the House tapped Texas Rep. Tom DeLay with the job of getting more PAC money into Republican campaigns.  He told DeLay to "use the Toney Coelho model" in threatening and browbeating PACs.

"You learn by studying your enemies," Gingrich said.

They learned. In 2004, Republicans in the House raised $130,665,030 – more than $27 million more than the $103,306,154 collected by Democrats.  But both parties pulled in more than $100 million.  In the Senate, Republicans collected $37,444,234 from PACs compared to $30,770,085 for Democrats.

PAC managers openly admit they give more to Republicans now because they control Congress. If Democrats controlled they would get most of the money.

And while money in politics is a bipartisan problem, so is opposition to reduce the role of special interest groups. During the debate on the McCain-Feingold law limiting use of outside money for issue ads on the final days of a campaign, opposition came from an odd coalition of liberal groups, including the AFL-CIO and the American Civil Liberties Union, and conservative groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.