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.
With his dramatic arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on an assortment of corruption charges--including the allegation that Blagojevich wanted to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama--Fitzgerald, the hard-charging U.S. attorney in Chicago, has returned to the national stage as a scourge of dishonest government. His last star turn was as the special counsel who successfully prosecuted Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, for having lied to FBI agents and a grand jury during the investigation of the leak that outed CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson.
Throughout that investigation, the no-nonsense Fitzgerald repeatedly insisted that the case was about a simple matter: whether Libby had lied. But he did note it had wider implications. When Fitzgerald presented his closing argument, he declared, "There is a cloud on the vice president." He added: "And that cloud remains because this defendant obstructed justice." Two weeks later, after winning a guilty verdict on four of five counts, Fitzgerald noted, "Mr. Libby had failed to remove that cloud....Sometimes when people tell the truth, clouds disappear. Sometimes they do not." And when Bush commuted Libby's sentence, ensuring that Libby would serve no prison time, Fitzgerald huffed, "It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals."
His not-too-subtle point was that when it came to integrity, the Bush White House--or at least Cheney's wing--was, well, cloudy. (The trial had revealed much about Cheney's hard-edged political operation.)
The Libby case, for some, was a hard-to-follow affair, and conservatives and Republican allies of Libby and the Bush administration had rampaged against Fitzgerald and tried mightily to muddy up the episode. Thus, Fitzgerald's implied indictment of the Bush crowd partially got lost in the middle of a partisan mud fight. With the Blagojevich case, Fitzgerald is once again championing honest government, but this time he appears to have a case less likely to get caught up in the distracting swirl of ideological attacks. After all, Blagojevich has few friends who will go on cable TV to blast Fitzgerald for being a run-amok prosecutor. There may even be Republicans who praise his pursuit of Blagojevich, a Democrat.
It's easy to snicker at Slate magazine for signing up Eliot Spitzer, former New York governor and onetime john, as a regular columnist. But judging from Spitzer's first outing, it was a master stroke.
The manner in which Spitzer crashed and burned has essentially wiped out the pre-prostitution portion of the Spitzer tale, which included his longtime stint as a critic of corporate excesses. But Spitzer's opening column in Slate is a reminder that in these days of multi-billion-dollar bailouts, there are few powerful and knowledgeable figures in government raising the appropriate questions and challenging the save-the-rich orthodoxy.
Barack Obama's national security team--at this early stage--presents more questions than answers. His selection of Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state has been a much-chewed-over topic of pundit puzzlement. And with the Monday morning unveiling of his senior defense and foreign policy aides, Obama made official another curious decision: his retention of Robert Gates as secretary of defense.
There's an obvious reason for Obama to keep Gates at the Pentagon. Having a George W. Bush appointee in charge will give Obama political cover as he proceeds with his plan to withdraw troops from Iraq. But there are several potential problems with this move. I've consulted two former Pentagon officials--who are critics of standard operating procedure at the Pentagon--who decry this move. (Neither wanted to be quoted, for they might now or later be in contention for a job in the Obama administration.) "It's probably the dumbest thing Obama's done," one said.
They identified three possible pitfalls. First, Gates is a lame duck. There has been no indication how long he will stay in the Pentagon's top post, but it seems Gates will remain there on a quasi-temporary basis. Consequently, Pentagon bureaucrats who don't want to see their prerogatives challenged--if Gates wanted to do such a thing--could try to wait him out. Second, Gates is no agent of change when it comes to the Pentagon budget. In the Bush years, the regular military budget has increased by 40 percent in real terms (not counting so-called "emergency" supplemental spending bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan)--partly because of hundreds of billions of dollars in cost overruns. During the campaign, Obama talked about the need to cut "billions of dollars in wasteful spending" from the military budget. But Gates has yet to demonstrate he is truly interested in reworking the Pentagon's out-of-control budget. Keeping Gates in place sends the signal that Obama, who faces a host of hard jobs, is not eager to take on the Pentagon at the start of his presidency. "There are so many problems at home," says one of the critics, "Obama may not want to do anything fundamental about the Pentagon."
On Monday, President-elect Barack Obama announced his economic team, noting that Lawrence Summers would be the director of his National Economic Council. In touting Summers, Obama praised the former treasury secretary for his work during the Clinton years
Larry helped guide us through several major international financial crises and was a central architect of the policies that led to the longest economic expansion in American history, with record surpluses, rising family incomes and more than 20 million new jobs. He also championed a range of measures from tax credits to enhanced lending programs to consumer financial protections that greatly benefited middle income families.
As a thought leader, Larry has urged us to confront the problems of income inequality and the middle class squeeze, consistently arguing that the key to a strong economy is a strong and growing middle class....And as one of the great economic minds of our time, Larry has earned a global reputation for being able to cut to the heart of the most complex and novel policy challenges.
While some of that might be true, Summers has been a controversial figure, and it's likely no accident that he is being handed a position that does require him to be confirmed by the Senate.
But despite Summer's intellect and experience, it's worth remembering that he did blow one of the major calls of the 1990s: what to do about financial derivatives--those esoteric financial products (such as credit default swaps) that helped grease the way to the subprime meltdown. Not only did Summers oppose greater regulation for those financial instruments; he led the opposition against it.
It appears to be a done deal: President-elect Barack Obama will appoint Senator Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state. But while the Obama camp's vetting of Bill Clinton's foreign entanglements and activities continues, there is one thorny matter that needs to be addressed publicly: the identity of the donors to Bill Clinton's foundation and presidential library.
The former president has raised millions of dollars from overseas officials and corporations for his foundation and library--while also pocketing mega-speaking fees from businesses abroad. (He's also struck an unusual deal with transnational mining conglomerate head Frank Giustra.) All of this raises potential conflicts and ethics questions. The basic dilemma: can Bill Clinton receive millions of dollars from foreign nations and corporations that may have an interest in US foreign policy while his wife oversees US foreign policy? Unless Clinton opts out of his (often admirable) globe-trotting activities, this situation seems almost too knotty to be untied.
But aides to Obama and Bill Clinton aides are trying to work out rules that would govern the former president's actions. Last week, The Washington Postreported: