David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

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.

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Is Changing Washington Too Hard for Obama?

| Tue Feb. 3, 2009 4:15 PM EST


How hard is it to change the ways of Washington?

It turns out it can be quite difficult if you rely on the same old Washington players.

On Tuesday, two high-profile Obama appointees withdrew as nominees, citing tax problems. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle bowed out as President Obama's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services. And Nancy Killefer gave up her appointment as the administration's chief performance officer (a new position).

Killefer, an executive at McKinsey & Company, a strategic management consulting firm, had committed a routine transgression: she had failed to pay unemployment taxes for household help. Daschle, though, had a more unusual problem: he had failed to pay taxes for a car and driver that had been provided to him by Leo Hindery, a financier who had retained Daschle as an adviser. But perhaps more worrisome was Daschle's post-Senate career, in which he has made millions of dollars not by lobbying but by providing strategic advice to lobbyists and by giving speeches to health care firms.

Daschle was just one of several high-profile Obama appointees who have turned public service into private wealth. George Mitchell, Obama's Mideast envoy, is a senior leader of DLA Piper, a powerful lobbying shop and law firm in Washington. Mark Patterson, chief of staff at the Treasury Department, was a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs. William Lynn, Obama's No. 2 at the Pentagon, was a lobbyist for Raytheon, a major military contractor. Both Lynn and Patterson have had to receive waivers from the Obama administration's tough ethics rules.

Why has Obama had to turn to former lobbyists and major Washington string-pullers? At Tuesday's press briefing, I asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs if Obama was finding it tough to change Washington. Here's the exchange:

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The Groundhog Who Bit Bloomberg Got It Wrong

| Mon Feb. 2, 2009 5:52 PM EST

Writing on this blog, Josh Harkinson has fun at the expense of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose hand was bitten by a Staten Island groundhog:

Maybe biting the hand of a New York billionaire was [the groundhog's] way of saying that spring won't come until someone smacks down the plutocrats on Wall Street. Too bad this isn't Bill Murray's Groundhog Day. If it was, Bloomberg could relive the pain each day until he saves the world.

Actually, Bloomberg, who made his fortune not by swindling anyone but by providing a media service for which there was much demand, has done more to save the world than your average, TARP-sucking plutocrat. From a recent The New York Times story:

Obama's Afghanistan Problem

| Mon Feb. 2, 2009 3:10 PM EST

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates was scheduled to brief President Barack Obama on Afghanistan on Monday afternoon. The pair, according to some media reports, were expected to review Pentagon plans for sending more than 15,000 US troops to Afghanistan. But at Monday's daily press briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said nothing so definitive was on the agenda and that the Obama administration's review of its Afghanistan policy was still under way.

Still, one question is whether Obama's basic approach to Afghanistan—which appears to involve beefing up the troops in the NATO-led force there--has a fatal flaw. Bloomberg reports:

Phil and Me: Ex-Sen. Gramm Says of the Economic Collapse, Don't Blame Me (Video)

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 10:03 AM EST

Last year, I wrote an article explaining how former Republican Senator Phil Gramm had helped grease the way to the subprime meltdown in 2000 when he was chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Gramm wouldn't talk to me for the article. At the time, he was a close adviser to presidential candidate John McCain, and his past support of financial deregulation and his subsequent work as a lobbyist for UBS, the Swiss banking giant, became a campaign issue. Neither McCain nor Gramm addressd these matters publicly. And then Gramm generated further controversy when he dismissed Americans worried about the economy as "whiners." After that, McCain distanced himself from Gramm, who faded from the campaign trail.

Now, Gramm is back--at least to defend himself. Last week, he spoke at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The subject of his talk: was deregulation responsible for the current financial disaster? The real subject: was Gramm responsible for the current financial disaster? Mother Jones and the American News Project filmed Gramm, and I was able to pose a couple of questions to him. See what happened below in a video that was edited by Tay Wiles.

White House and NY Times Face Off: Has Obama Opted for Hard Power in Afghanistan?

| Wed Jan. 28, 2009 3:43 PM EST

Those folks who bother to worry about the war in Afghanistan--not a large slice of the population--had reason to fret on Wednesday morning when they picked up (or clicked on) the New York Times and read a front-page story noting that President Barack Obama is adopting a new "approach to Afghanistan that will put more emphasis on waging war than on development." The piece cited unnamed senior administration officials.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs had said that the administration was in the early stage of reevaluating Afghanistan policy. He had noted that Obama intended to meet with US Army General David McKiernan, the commander of the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, to discuss the course ahead. It seemed as if no decisions had been rendered about Afghanistan.

Yet the Times indicated key calls have already been made:

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