Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
In recent weeks, I've talked to several Washington politicos close to Bill and Hillary Clinton, and when I've asked if they will be joining Hillary's presidential machine, should she run, I've received a variant of this (understandably) not-for-citation reply: If Mark Penn is involved, no f-ing way.
Penn is famous—or infamous—for being the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign of inevitability that turned into a colossal failure. That effort was marked by hubris, lousy messaging, poor strategic planning, and legendary internal tensions—including back-biting, leaks, and fierce inside politics—that many within the politerati blamed, fairly or not, on Penn. In the book Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin described the campaign as "a simmering cauldron of long-held animosities—most of them directed at Penn." It was personal: "[T]he rest of Hillaryland detested Penn personally. They thought him arrogant and amoral, a detrimental force whose perniciousness was amplified by his inexplicably tight bond with the Clintons."
Earlier this week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) slammed President Barack Obama for not doing enough in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's incursion into Crimea. In a Time op-ed, Paul huffed:
It is our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia's latest aggression.
Putin must be punished for violating the Budapest Memorandum, and Russia must learn that the U.S. will isolate it if it insists on acting like a rogue nation.
This does not and should not require military action. No one in the U.S. is calling for this. But it will require other actions and leadership, both of which President Obama unfortunately lacks.
Paul went on to outline a number of steps he would take, were he president, including imposing economic sanctions and visa bans (which Obama has already implemented), kicking Russia out of the G-8, and building the Keystone XL pipeline. (He did not explain how helping a Canadian firm export tar sands oil would intimidate Putin.) He added, "I would reinstitute the missile-defense shields President Obama abandoned in 2009 in Poland and the Czech Republic." He griped, "The real problem is that Russia's President is not currently fearful or threatened in any way by America's President, despite his country's blatant aggression."
With this article, Paul was eagerly joining the GOP chorus that in recent days has been blasting Obama for being weak and feckless regarding Putin and the Ukraine. That was not surprising. As a politician pondering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Paul has had to contend with complaints from the GOP's overlapping neocon and establishment wings that he is an isolationist "wacko bird," as Sen. John McCain indelicately put it. Here was a chance to join his party's mainstream in denouncing Obama. Yet to become a member in good standing of the GOP's Get-Obama Brigade, Foreign Policy Division, Paul had to flip-flop.
In April 2009, Paul, on the cusp of launching his Senate campaign, gave a talk to the College Republicans group at Western Kentucky University. He was asked about the large number of US troops stationed overseas by an audience member who said it was "ridiculous" for the United States to maintain permanent military bases in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Paul responded sympathetically: "We're now 60 years in Germany, 60 years in Japan, 50 years in Korea." He defended his father, Ron Paul, for having noted during the 2008 presidential race that there were foreign policy causes for 9/11: "We have to understand there is blowback from our foreign policy."
Arguing for a restrained foreign policy (and smaller military establishment), Paul immediately turned to the subject of Russia's invasion of Georgia the previous year (which these days has often been cited as analogous to the Ukraine crisis).
For example, we have to ask ourselves, "Who needs to be part of NATO? What does NATO need to be at this point?" One of the big things [for] the neocons—the people in the Republican Party sort of on the other side from where I come from—is they want Georgia to be part of NATO. Well, Georgia sits right on the border of Russia. Do you think that might be provocative to put them in NATO? NATO's treaty actually says that if they're attacked, we will defend them. So, if the treaty means something, that means all of a sudden we're at war with Russia. If Georgia would had become, Bush wanted Georgia to become part of NATO, had they been part of NATO, we'd be at war with Russia right now. That's kinda a scary thing. We have to decide whether putting missiles in Poland is gonna provoke the Russians. Maybe not to war, but whether it's worth provoking them, or whether we have the money to do it.
Here's the video:
So when Russia sent troops into Georgia (on George W. Bush's watch), Paul didn't want to provoke Russia by placing missiles in Poland. Yet today, when Russia moves into Ukraine (on Obama's watch), he's all for dispatching missiles to Poland to send a message to Putin. Does Paul care more about Crimea than Georgia? Or does he care more about keeping a foot on the GOP's anti-Obama bandwagon? Paul's office did not respond to a request for comment.
It appears that Paul, an isolationist who doesn't want to be isolated within the GOP, spotted the opportunity to develop some Obama-bashing hawk cred as the presidential campaign nears. "I stand with the people of Ukraine," Paul declares now, though that was not what he said about Georgians. What's changed in the past six years: geopolitics or Paul's own political calculations?
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, kicked off a Washington kerfuffle with significant constitutional implications when she took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to accuse the CIA of spying on her committee's investigation into its controversial interrogation and detention program. As pro-CIA partisans and the agency's overseers on Capitol Hill squared off for a DC turf battle—with finger-pointing in both directions—lost in the hubbub was a basic and troubling fact: Feinstein had contended that this all began because, years ago, the spies of Langley had severely misled the legislators responsible for overseeing the intelligence agencies.
At the start of her speech, Feinstein laid out the back story, and her account is a tale of a major CIA abuse. The CIA's detention and interrogation (a.k.a. torture) program began in 2002. For its first four years, the CIA only told the chairman and vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee about the program, keeping the rest of the panel in the dark. In September 2006, hours before President George W. Bush was to disclose the program to the public, then CIA Director Michael Hayden informed the rest of the committee. This piece of history shows the limits of congressional oversight. If only two members of the committee were informed, it meant that the panel could not provide full oversight of this program. But keeping secrets from legislators—even members of the intelligence committee—is not that unusual, and the story gets worse.
In December 2007, the New York Times reported that the CIA had destroyed two videotapes of the CIA's interrogation (or torture) sessions. After this disclosure, Hayden told the Senate intelligence committee that eradicating the videos was not as worrisome as it seemed. According to Feinstein, he noted that CIA cables had detailed the interrogations and detention conditions and were "a more than adequate representation" of what had happened. He offered Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who was then chairing the committee, the opportunity to review these thousands of cables. Rockefeller dispatched two staffers to peruse these records.
It took the pair about a year to sift through all the material and produce a report for the intelligence committee. That report, Feinstein noted, was "chilling." The review, she said, showed that the "interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us."
That is, the CIA had misled the Capitol Hill watchdogs.
After reading the staff report, Feinstein, now chairing the committee, and Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), then the senior Republican on the committee, decided a far more expansive investigation was called for. On March 5, 2009, the committee voted 14 to 1 to initiate a full-fledged review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program.
It is that inquiry that has caused the recent fuss, with Feinstein claiming that the CIA (possibly illegally) penetrated computers used by committee investigators and removed documents indicating a CIA internal review of this program had concluded it was poorly managed, went too far, and did not produce decent intelligence. The committee's more comprehensive review eventually produced a 6,300-page report slamming CIA that has yet to be made public, despite Feinstein pushing the CIA to declassify it.
So while this week's focus is on whether the CIA improperly—or illegally—spied on the folks who have the constitutional obligation to monitor CIA actions in order to ensure the agency acts appropriately and within US law, Feinstein's big reveal also presented a highly troubling charge: The CIA lied to Congress about what might be its most controversial program in decades. This in and of itself should be big news.
At the conclusion of her speech, Feinstein, referring to the present controversy, said, "How this will be resolved will show whether the intelligence committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation's intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee." That is true. And if there cannot be effective oversight of intelligence operations, then the foundation of the national security state is in question. Yet Feinstein's remarks provide evidence that oversight was not working prior to the current face-off. If the CIA did not tell the Senate intelligence committee the truth about its interrogation and detention program, much more needs to be resolved than whether the spies hacked the gumshoes of Capitol Hill.
This morning, on C-SPAN, the foundation of the national security state exploded.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, took to the Senate floor and accused the CIA of spying on committee investigators tasked with probing the agency's past use of harsh interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture) and detention. Feinstein was responding to recent media stories reporting that the CIA had accessed computers used by intelligence committee staffers working on the committee's investigation. The computers were set up by the CIA in a locked room in a secure facility separate from its headquarters, and CIA documents relevant to the inquiry were placed on these computers for the Senate investigators. But, it turns out, the Senate sleuths had also uncovered an internal CIA memo reviewing the interrogation program that had not been turned over by the agency. This document was far more critical of the interrogation program than the CIA's official rebuttal to a still-classified, 6,300-page Senate intelligence committee report that slams it, and the CIA wanted to find out how the Senate investigators had gotten their mitts on this damaging memo.
The CIA's infiltration of the Senate's torture probe was a possible constitutional violation and perhaps a criminal one, too. The agency's inspector general and the Justice Department have begun inquiries. And as the story recently broke, CIA sources—no names, please—told reporters that the real issue was whether the Senate investigators had hacked the CIA to obtain the internal review. Readers of the few newspaper stories on all this did not have to peer too far between the lines to discern a classic Washington battle was under way between Langley and Capitol Hill.
Newly released documents from Bill Clinton's library show how Hillary Clinton was tasked to coax and flatter lawmakers during the 1993 heath care reform debate. It was very "House of Cards"-ish (but without the murders).
The Bill Clinton presidential library on Friday released thousands of pages of documents from the Clinton presidency, including a batch of nearly 300 pages related to the health care reform effort led by Hillary Clinton. This series of memos from 1993 offers a fascinating inside-baseball account of the White House's legislative strategy for passing health insurance reform. Anyone who has watched House of Cards would recognize the techniques (though there are no murders) presented in these memos: composing files on the past and current health care positions of every member of the House and Senate, setting up a health care "university" to educate lawmakers on key policy components, mounting a "massive public communications campaign," and coaxing—that is, ego-stroking—of individual lawmakers.
Much of this coaxing was to be done by the first lady. One memo noted that Rep. John Dingell, the powerful chair of the energy and commerce committee, was pessimistic about enacting comprehensive reform. "The best way to get Chairman Dingell back on board…is to make him feel that we need him (as we do)," an aide advised Hillary Clinton. Rep. Jack Brooks, who headed the House judiciary committee, was interested in limiting the antitrust exemption for the insurance industry. ("What he wants to hear is that you are aware of his legislation and that you and the President would like nothing less than to undercut his efforts in any way.") New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had recently taken over the Senate finance committee, also was "nervous," believing that "health care reform will be complex, controversial, and potentially expensive." So Hillary was advised to focus on Sens. George Mitchell and Jay Rockefeller, other Democrats on the committee, who "have the potential to actually (although not visually) run the Committee on this issue." One memo noted the "desire" of several moderate Republicans to work with the White House, but it reported that these members "fear about how it will be perceived by the rest of Republicans." Prior to a meeting with several GOP senators, who were expected to complain about the lack of White House outreach, Hillary Clinton was advised to quickly push "for movement to 'this is all water under a bridge' language." Another memo called for establishing a "time sensitive Mrs. Clinton thank you note system following important (does not have to be all) meetings with Members." A memo laying out the grand political strategy for the Clintons' health care reform project described an "essential" component: "Keep the health care industry divided, both in terms of whether they support or oppose us, and in terms of keeping them from ganging up on any single part of the overall package."
One intriguing memo to Hillary Clinton prepping her for a meeting with Rep. Jim McDermott, a Washington Democrat who was a fierce advocate of a single-payer system. Though Clinton's reps had been telling progressive groups and unions in private meetings that she believed a single-payer health insurance program made sense, she and her aides had ruled it out for her health care initiative (due to the political opposition such a proposal would draw) and had opted for a much more complicated overhaul based on a requirement that employers provide health insurance through HMOs. Still, as this memo noted, Clinton couldn't afford to tick off the single-payer crusaders: "Cultivating a good and close relationship with the Congressman is becoming more and more important to us. Our House target list is filled with single-payer advocates, many of whom will look to him for a sign-off. Therefore, as difficult as it probably will be, we need to keep him happy and on our side." The memo reported that at a recent meeting of House Democrats, McDermott had spoken "at some length about how the single payer system was so much easier to describe than the plan he thought the Administration would be proposing" and suggested that McDermott had a rather elevated view of his own role in the ongoing health care reform debate.
This was the "suggested approach" Clinton was to take with McDermott:
As with all Members, and particularly Congressman McDermott, the goal at this meeting is to make him feel we are listening to him and desirous of his guidance. In this vein, you should consider throwing anything he throws at you as a complication right back at him with a question. Then, if you have concerns about his suggested approach, you can address it with him directly. (This way, you don't allow him the opportunity to pick apart anything before you have had a chance to hear and analyze his alternatives).
And Chris Jennings, the White House aide providing this advice, proposed a little trick for Hillary Clinton to pull:
Lastly, as staged and as presumptuous as this is, I might suggest that you consider throwing out all of the staff at the end of the meeting to hold a five minute private meeting with him. This will signal to him the closeness of your relationship with him, and the value you place on his confidential advice. (The subject could be on virtually anything.)
Frank Underwood could do no better. But making nice with single-payer advocates—and winning over many of them—was not sufficient. Not enough Democratic senators got behind the Clintons' plan—"Anyone who thinks [the Clinton health care plan] can work in the real world as presently written isn't living in it," Moynihan declared—and the initiative crashed and burned. But perhaps Hillary learned a lesson or two about working with parochially minded members of the House and Senate that she later could apply during her time as a senator—and that may come in handy should she ever again be working in the White House.