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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Did the Son of the NRA-Connected Private Spy Lose His Job Because of Mom?

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 7:28 AM PDT

Is Sean McFate the first casualty of Gun-gate?

Sean McFate is the son of Mary Lou Sapone (a.k.a. Mary McFate), the NRA-connected private spy who infiltrated the gun control movement for about 15 years. Her tale was first disclosed by Mother Jones last week. That article noted that Sean, a Brown- and Harvard-educated paratrooper, and his wife, Montgomery McFate, a controversial Pentagon adviser, had once both worked for Mary Lou Sapone's business, which specialized, according to an old version of Montgomery's resume, in "domestic and internal opposition research" and "special investigations." Sean and Montgomery McFate might also have been involved in Mary Lou Sapone's penetration of the gun control community.

More recently, Sean McFate was program director of the national security initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank boasting an advisory board composed of four former Senate majority leaders: Howard Baker, Bob Dole, George Mitchell, and Tom Daschle. That is, he was until the appearance of the Mother Jones story on his mother.

As that story was being posted last week, McFate was listed on BPC's staff list on its website. Days later, his name was gone.

Asked about McFate's fate, the BPC issued this statement:

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A Senator Presses the NRA for Information on the Gun Lobby Mole

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 12:36 PM PDT

So far the National Rifle Association's reaction to the Mother Jones investigation that revealed that a NRA-connected mole had penetrated the gun control community for 15 years has been nothing but silence. No matter which media outfit asks the gun lobby for a comment--ABC News, Associated Press, Mother Jones--the NRA declines to say anything. It just refuses to explain its connection to Mary Lou Sapone, the self-described "research consultant" who infiltrated various gun control groups under the name of Mary McFate. As we first reported, a onetime business associate of Sapone said during a deposition that the NRA was a client for Sapone.

Why won't the NRA speak? Can anyone compel it to respond to the Sapone story?

Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, is the first in Congress to give it a try. On Thursday, he sent a letter to John Sigler, the president of the NRA:

I write regarding Mother Jones' recent expose of a reported National Rifle Association (NRA) operative who infiltrated a number of gun violence prevention organizations. This story contains serious allegations and I urge you to address them quickly.
According to Mother Jones, Mary McFate spent more than a decade rising through the ranks at several gun violence prevention organizations, including CeaseFire PA, Freedom States Alliance and States United to Prevent Gun VIolence. At the same time, however, McFate--going by the name Mary Lou Sapone--reportedly was a paid "research consultant" for the NRA. As a result, McFate/Sapone was in a position to learn about, and to report back to the NRA on, the concerns, plans and strategies of various gun violence prevention groups.
In light of these serious charges, I call upon you to immediately:
* Admit whether these charges are true or false;
* If these charges are true, disclose the precise nature of the NRA's relationship with Mary McFate/Mary Lou Sapone, including how much she was paid, the time periods for which she received payment and the services she provided;
* Make public the names (including any aliases) of any other NRA employees, consultants, members, or volunteers who have joined gun violence prevention organizations in order to report to the NRA on their activities; and
* Denounce and discontinue the practice of asking or encouraging NRA employees, consultants, members and volunteers to infiltrate gun violence prevention groups.
Although the NRA and I certainly have had our disagreements over the years, I hope that we can agree that the gun violence prevention debate should be based upon an open and honest exchange of ideas, not on underhanded tactics.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Lautenberg also sent copies of this letter to Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, and Chris Cox, who heads the NRA's political arm.

Will Lautenberg receive a prompt reply of any substance? As an advocate of gun control measures, Lautenberg is indeed not one of the NRA's favorite legislators. But can the gun lobby ignore his request for information about its involvement in the McFate/Sapone episode? And if it does tell him to get lost, what might happen next? But whatever occurs, the NRA's silence up to now hardly allays suspicions about its role in the McFate operation.

Why So Silent, NRA?

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 6:45 AM PDT

Why won't the NRA speak? The National Rifle Association is not known as an organization run by people who are shy with the media. Yet the most powerful player in the gun lobby--and one of the most powerful political organizations around--still won't say anything about Mary Lou Sapone (a.k.a. Mary McFate).

Last week, Mother Jones broke the story of Sapone, who for about fifteen years was a gun lobby mole within senior levels of the gun control movement. Sapone was a self-described "research consultant" who had also penetrated the animal rights movement and environmental groups. But none of her operations--as far as is known publicly--were as extensive as her infiltration of various gun control organizations. And for at least some of the time that Sapone (as Mary McFate) worked at various gun violence prevention groups she had the NRA as a client, according to the deposition of a former business associate (as we explained in our story on her). Other evidence suggests a years-long relationship between Sapone and the NRA or gun rights advocates connected to the NRA.

So shouldn't the NRA have to address this? Before our story was posted, we called the NRA several times, explaining what we were going to report. Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the NRA, promised she would get back to us. She never did. Other media outfits pursuing the Sapone tale have also received the brush-off. The Philadelphia Inquirer published a front-page piece two days after our expose and noted that its reporter had contacted the NRA, extracting no comment from the influential lobby. The same thing happened when ABC News did a report on Sapone. The ABC News team even found more evidence of the Sapone-NRA relationship: her neighbors in Sarasota, Florida, said that she "often spoke about working for the NRA."

Can anyone push the NRA to respond to the Sapone story and explain its involvement in this 15-year-long penetration of assorted citizens groups? Congressional Democrats these days are not too eager to be IDed with the gun control issue, but perhaps one of them in Congress--paging Chairman Waxman or Chairman Conyers?--could send the gun lobby a note asking a few pointed questions.

The NRA has been holding its fire on this one, obviously hoping that it can duck the story and that the Sapone mess will fade away. But maybe not just the media but the NRA's own members (and board members) ought to ask why the lobby was spying on its political foes, who at the organization authorized this covert activity, how much money was spent on it, and, perhaps most important of all, was Sapone its only agent, past or present.

An Indicted (GOP) Senator, a Disgraced (GOP-run) Justice Department, a Gagged (GOP-managed) EPA--Just Another Day in D.C.

| Tue Jul. 29, 2008 12:15 PM PDT

Corruption-o-rama in Washington on Tuesday:

On the front page is news (or confirmation) that Aberto Gonzales' Justice Department was run by partisan hacks who illegally denied jobs to applicants who were not Republicans and Christian conservatives.

The Associated Press is reporting that the "Environmental Protection Agency is telling its pollution enforcement officials not to talk with congressional investigators, reporters and even the agency's own inspector general, according to an internal e-mail." AP adds: "The EPA is currently under pressure from several congressional committees to disclose documents relating to its position on global warming and its denial of a petition by California to control greenhouse gases from motor vehicles. Last week, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson denied a request to appear before two Senate committees to discuss whether the agency's decisions comply with its staff's technical and legal recommendations."

And Senator Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, was indicted for making false statements on his financial disclosure forms to conceal $250,000 in goods and services he received from an oil company that sought official assistance from Stevens. The 84-year-old Stevens used to chair the powerful Senate appropriations committee.

Cronyism that undermines good government, a gag order that attempts to block the flow of information needed for oversight, and a case of (alleged) personal corruption in which a legislator exploited his office to line his own pocket--it's as if the seven-and-half years of the Bush presidency was boiled down into one news cycle. The only thing missing is a war sold on false pretenses.

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