Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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$15,000 Buys a Lifetime Membership to Mitch McConnell's Quid Pro Quo Club

| Mon Oct. 16, 2006 10:59 AM EDT

If the Republicans manage to keep control of the Senate — and that's a big if — Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who currently serves as Majority Whip, is poised to ascend to Majority Leader, as Bill Frist retires at the end of his term. In anticipation of this possibility, the Lexington Herald-Leader, has been investigating the Senator for the past six months and published its findings in a lengthy article yesterday. What did the Herald-Leader discover? A "nexus between his actions and his donors' agendas. He pushes the government to help cigarette makers, Las Vegas casinos, the pharmaceutical industry, credit card lenders, coal mine owners and others."

McConnell is one of the GOP's more prolific fundraisers and has personally raised close to $220 million for his party over the course of his career. Marshall Whitman, a onetime aide to John McCain, told the paper: "He's completely dogged in his pursuit of money. That's his great love, above everything else." Former Senator Alan Simpson said that "when he asked for money, his eyes would shine like diamonds. He obviously loved it." Apparently McConnell was so intent on building up the GOP's warchest that he sold memberships to something called the "Senate Republican Inner Circle." A donation of $15,000 bought wealthy individuals a lifetime membership (members could also pay $2,000 a year), which carried with it access to "the men who are shaping the Senate agenda."

"Americans are big on rewards these days. Financial rewards in the stock market -- cash rewards on your credit cards -- luxurious rewards in the travel industry," McConnell wrote in one invitation. "But a special group of Americans is experiencing one of the greatest reward programs ever, because they took the initiative to become a Life Member of the Inner Circle."

Those rewards are greatly anticipated by corporate leaders who want a say in Senate decisions. After the Inner Circle welcomed Geoffrey Bible, chief executive at Philip Morris, he sent a copy of the announcement to his aides.

"So now I'm in," Bible wrote in the margin. "See if we can make the most of it."

When the paper questioned McConnell on his "inner circle," the senator downplayed its significance, telling the Herald-Leader that "they want their picture taken with you; that's all it amounts to." Hmmm. It's just a hunch, but something tells me that Bible and other members of McConnell's quid pro quo club were paying for more than just photo-ops.

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'Tis the Season for Attack Ads

| Mon Oct. 9, 2006 1:13 PM EDT

California talk radio host Melanie Morgan and her conservative nonprofit Move America Forward were hard at work this weekend raising money for the organization's latest smear campaign, which, of all likely targets, will take aim at Bill Clinton. The ad blitz, according to one of several mass emails that went out to MAF supporters over the weekend, will "rebuke" Clinton for his "recent efforts to undermine support for the war on terrorism -- on national television." (Emphasis theirs.)

MAF, it seems, was moved to action after Clinton's recent appearance on Fox News Sunday (ostensibly to discuss the Clinton Global Initiative), during which he was asked by Chris Wallace whether his administration did enough to rid the world of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. "At least I tried," a visibly heated Clinton responded. "That's the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try." Clinton went on to criticize the current administration for disregarding the counterterrorism strategy he left for his successor and for marginalizing counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.

Move America Forward, which has previously branded Nancy Pelosi a "domestic enemy" and has launched a "U.N. Out of U.S." ad campaign, is expected to debut its latest attack ad tomorrow on CNN and CNN Headline News. The ad (view it here) opens in typical fashion – a tight shot of Osama bin Laden that leads to a 9/11 montage, rendered in black-and-white for dramatic effect. Meanwhile, a narrator intones: "Terrorists want to kill us. They've attacked over and over again. Our president didn't have his eye on the ball. He didn't make the war on terrorism his top priority. But enough about Bill Clinton."

While attack ads are clearly not the province of one political party or the other, questions have been raised about whether Move America Forward, which describes itself as a "non-partisan, not-for-profit," is pushing the envelope on its nonprofit status with its clearly partisan agenda. The Contra Costa Times explored this question in early September:

The IRS prohibits groups eligible for tax-deductible donations from engaging in partisan activity. While such groups can speak out on policy matters and perform a small amount of lobbying, they cannot urge support for a particular candidate or party, said Bill Steiner, a Sacramento-based IRS spokesman….

A nonprofit group does not have to explicitly express support for a particular candidate or party to be in violation, Steiner said. For instance, the IRS launched a probe of the liberal All Saints Church in Pasadena after an anti-war homily delivered by rector George Regas just before the 2004 election.

The Legislative and Judicial Branches are Overrated Anyway

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 10:49 AM EDT

The Bush administration's crusade to expand executive power beyond all reckoning has continued unabated. And, on Wednesday, when President Bush signed the homeland security bill passed by Congress last week, he reserved the right, in one of his infamous signing statements, to disregard at least 36 provisions in the legislation. Among them is a new law establishing the minimum job qualifications for future FEMA directors, which would prevent the president from appointing someone based on politics not experience (i.e. Michael Brown). It's not as if the requirements are that stiff. The candidate, according to the law, must have "a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management" and "not less than five years of executive leadership." Seems reasonable, but apparently the president found these prerequisites too restrictive. According to the Boston Globe, the president also took aim at "a provision that empowers the FEMA director to tell Congress about the nation's emergency management needs without White House permission."

Last week, Bush challenged 16 provisions in the 2007 military budget bill. The Globe reports:

The bill bars the Pentagon from using any intelligence that was collected illegally, including information about Americans that was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable government surveillance.

In Bush's signing statement, he suggested that he alone could decide whether the Pentagon could use such information. His signing statement instructed the military to view the law in light of "the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief, including for the conduct of intelligence operations, and to supervise the unitary executive branch."

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service, which notes that legal claims made in some of the president's signing statements are "generally unsupported by established legal principles," states that "the broad and persistent nature of the claims of executive authority forwarded by President Bush appear designed to inure Congress, as well as others, to the belief that the President in fact possesses expansive and exclusive powers upon which the other branches may not intrude." Not that we really needed a CRS report to tell us that.

When In Doubt, Blame Soros

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 1:10 PM EDT

As the Foley scandal casts its long, dark shadow over the GOP, embroiling the likes of Dennis Hastert, John Boehner, and Tom Reynolds, among others, no amount of damage control seems capable of containing the fallout. But you have to hand it to the Republicans for trying. Over the last couple days they've dusted off a well worn line, which they never fail to trot out when things are looking particularly bleak for the GOP: George Soros is behind this.

Why Soros? After all, he wasn't the one sending creepy emails or dirty IMs to congressional pages. That was Mark Foley. Nor is he at fault for failing to act after being warned of Foley's lascivious behavior toward the pages. That was Hastert. In the minds of some Republicans, Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist who has donated generous sums of his fortune to democratic candidates and causes, is the kingpin behind a vast conspiracy to dismantle the Republican Party. So, in their thinking, it would follow that Soros and the watchdog groups that are funded by his Open Society Institute, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), are pulling the strings on a well-timed effort to taint the Republican Party just before the mid-term elections by leaking Foley's emails to the press.

"The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros," Hastert (who has previously intimated that Soros' philanthropic efforts may be funded by "drug money") told the Chicago Tribune yesterday. On Fox last night, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly were also preoccupied by this prospect. Interviewing Brian Ross, the ABC reporter who broke the scandal, O'Reilly said, "Now the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is a far left group. George Soros gives a lot of money to it through his Open Society Institute. They apparently are the ones that drove this thing behind the scenes. Is that what you're hearing?"

"I'm not familiar with them," Ross responded. "They didn't drive us."

Of course, there isn't a shred of truth to the Soros/CREW conspiracy angle (though CREW was in possession of some of Foley's emails earlier this summer and forwarded them to the FBI). As The Hill reported today, the source who provided the Foley emails to several news outlets back in July, via an intermediary, was a House GOP aide. According to The Hill:

That Foley's scandalous communications came to public light during Congress's final week in Washington was largely determined by the media outlets which obtained the suspicious e-mails in the middle of the summer, said the person who provided them to reporters several months ago.

This, unfortunately, is not likely to stop right wingers from dissembling. Unable to scapegoat Soros or CREW, they will simply move onto their next favorite target – the liberal media, led by Brian Ross, who no doubt timed his report to deal a death blow to the GOP.

After Five Years Al Jazeera Journo Still at Gitmo

| Wed Oct. 4, 2006 12:48 PM EDT

Al Jazeera cameraman Sami Muhyideen al-Haj was detained by Pakistani intelligence in December 2001, shortly after the fall of Kabul, as he and his crew attempted to cross the border into Pakistan. Turned over to U.S. authorities, who have accused him both of acting as a bagman for Chechen rebels and of aiding al Qaeda, he has spent close to five years in Gitmo where he, like his fellow detainees, has been held on the basis of secret evidence and with no legal recourse. As the Committee to Protect Journalists' Joel Campagna writes:

The military labels the allegations as "evidence." But a review of the public documents shows that they are assertions of wrongdoing without the documentation or testimony normally considered by a court to be evidence. Supporting evidence, if any, is part of the U.S. military's classified file — off-limits to the public, al-Haj, and his lawyer.

Among the more troubling aspects of al-Haj's detainment is the subject his captors have routinely sought to interrogate him on. His lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, told CPJ that "virtually all of the roughly 130 interrogations al-Haj has been subjected to have focused on Al Jazeera.... He said military officials have appeared intent on establishing a relationship between Al Jazeera and al Qaeda, questioning al-Haj about prominent network journalists, the station's finances, and how it pays for airline tickets."

Beyond pumping the journalist for information on Al Jazeera, American and British interrogators may have also tried to recruit him to spy on his employer. According to declassified notes of visits between al-Haj and his lawyer, which were obtained by the Guardian last year, he has been offered U.S. citizenship in return for informing on Al Jazeera. "They have said, 'If you work with us, we will teach you journalism, we will get you a visa to live anywhere you want, we will even give you US nationality, we will protect you, we will give you money,'" al-Haj has said. "'We will help you write a book and then we will publish it. This will help make the al Qaeda people contact you, and work with you.'"

If true, the fact that the government wants a mole inside Al Jazeera shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, since many military and administration officials regard the network as al Qaeda's de facto propaganda arm. But the government may also have other motivations for seeking to infiltrate and potentially undermine Al Jazeera. As a recent Congressional Research Service report on military information operations points out, the network "is considered by many to be a 'market competitor'" for U.S. propaganda efforts.

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