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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Will the Iraqi Government Destroy Half of McCain's Campaign?

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 8:53 AM PDT

John McCain and George W. Bush argue that maintaining high levels of U.S. troops in Iraq is essential for the security of Iraq, the region, the world, and, of course, the Untied States. But that does not seem to be the position of Baghdad.

In recent days, there has been a spate of news reports on the troubled negotiations between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government concerning the under-construction agreement that will govern the presence of U.S. troops and military bases in Iraq. The Washington Post reports on the front page:

Top Iraqi officials are calling for a radical reduction of the U.S. military's role here after the U.N. mandate authorizing its presence expires at the end of this year. Encouraged by recent Iraqi military successes, government officials have said that the United States should agree to confine American troops to military bases unless the Iraqis ask for their assistance, with some saying Iraq might be better off without them.
"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician on parliament's foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.'"

See the disconnect? McCain and Bush insist that we have no choice but to keep a large number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. But Iraqi pols allied with the government look at U.S. troops presence as something that is optional. If these Iraqis can have the Americans there on their own terms, it's fine. If not, their position is, bye-bye.

It's within the Iraqis' rights to set whatever terms they desire. Iraq supposedly is a sovereign nation. (This week, Maliki visited Iran.) But the Iraqis' approach to the negotiations undermine McCain and Bush's defense of the current policy. McCain says it's crucial that the United States remains in Iraq and wins the war. Iraqi leaders are indicating that it ain't so crucial that the U.S. troops stay. (This morning on a conference call with reporters arranged by the Barack Obama campaign, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig noted an "irony": the Iraqi parliament is deeply immersed in the negotiation of this agreement, yet the Bush White House refuses to involve directly Congress in the agreement.)

So what might happen to the McCain candidacy if the talks--which are supposed to lead to an agreement by the end of July--fail and Iraq gives Bush the boot? McCain won't have a war to promote any longer. And he won't be able to depict Barack Obama as a defeatist surrender-monkey who will yank out troops precipitously and endanger every single family in the United States. In other words, half of McCain's campaign will be gone. (On the Today Show this morning, McCain said that "General Petraeus is going to tell us" when U.S. troops can be withdrawn from Iraq. McCain seemed oblivious to this recent news and the possibility that Iraqis may tell the United States when to withdraw.)

If the talks do collapse, one possibility would be a year-long extension of the current U.N. mandate covering the U.S. troops presence in Iraq. That could keep the status quo in place. Yet if it comes to that, the signal from the Iraqi government will still be, we don't want you here in the way you want to be here. Such a development will not help the war-is-all candidate.

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Rev. Rod Parsley, McCain's Former Ally, Caught in a Lie?

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 3:07 PM PDT

Rod Parsley has trouble with one of the Ten Commandments.

Parsley is the fundamentalist pastor of an Ohio megachurch who was belatedly renounced by John McCain, two months after Mother Jones reported that Parsley, whom McCain had praised and campaigned with, had declared in a book that Islam was a "false religion" that ought to be "destroyed." (For a video, produced by Mother Jones and Brave New Films, showing Parsley in full anti-Islam throttle, click here.)

Sometime after McCain on May 22 rejected Parsley's endorsement, Parsley put out a video in which he responded to the McCain controversy and sought to explain his "Biblical worldview" on Islam. In this statement, he violated the thou-shall-not-fib rule.

First, he accused "political hit squads" (meaning, yours truly) of describing his views in "the most ominous and extreme terms." You can review the MotherJones/Brave New Films video and decide for yourself how "ominous and extreme" Parsley has been. Then, more telling, he betrayed himself, by running away from his own views. In the video, he says his take on Islam is "in the mainstream" and that "I have always, and I will continue, to make a clear distinction between Muslim terrorists and the vast majority of peaceful Muslims."

Not true. In his own book, Silent No More, Parsley declares,

There are some, of course, who will say that the [Islamist] violence I cite is the exception and not the rule. I beg to differ. I will counter, respectfully, that what some call "extremists" are instead mainstream believers who are drawing from the well at the very heart of Islam.

In other words, Islamic terrorists are not bad apples; the faith itself is evil. In his book and in a video sermon on Islam, Parsley does not differentiate between Islam and radical Islam. In fact, he says the two are the same. He also claims that the entire Islam religion is a Satanic deception. And he notes that Islam "is an anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world." All this is not the mainstream view of Islam.

So when Parsley maintains on his recent video that he does indeed distinguish between radical Islam and the rest of the faith, he appears to be lying. Sure, it's not nice to accuse a man of the cloth of being a liar, but I don't know how one gets around such an obvious conclusion in this case. Parsley clearly knows what he has said and written in the past. He must realize that he is now engaging in nothing but spin.

In his own video, Parsley says, "I understand that the raw truth of the pulpit cannot survive untempered in the political sphere." Entering the political sphere, he has denied stating what he actually stated. And there ain't much "raw truth" in that.

(Credit to Right Wing Watch for spotting Parsley's video.)

McCain Adviser Phil Gramm in the News Again: Did His Bank Help Wealthy Clients Evade Taxes?

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 7:08 AM PDT

For someone who wants to change Washington, John McCain has surrounded himself with plenty of guys who game the system. His campaign in recent weeks had to boot out a bunch of lobbyists, though his two top campaign aides—Rick Davis and Charles Black—remain in their posts, despite the fact they recently were high-powered lobbyists. Then there's Phil Gramm, a campaign cochairman and economic adviser to McCain. After leaving the US Senate, he became an executive and lobbyist for UBS, the Swiss mega-bank. And as I noted recently, eight years ago, when he chaired the Senate banking committee, he helped create the current subprime meltdown by slyly slipping into a must-pass appropriations measure a bill that completely deregulated certain financial instruments. Isn't that the sort of person you want advising a president and in line to be Treasury secretary?

Gramm is back in the news today. The New York Times reports that federal authorities are investigating UBS to determine whether the bank helped thousands of wealthy Americans hide their assets from the IRS in UBS offshore accounts. Without mentioning that Gramm is a top McCain ally, the paper notes:

The case could turn into an embarrassment for Marcel Rohner, the chief executive of UBS and the former head of its private bank, as well as for Phil Gramm, the former Republican senator from Texas who is now the vice chairman of UBS Securities, the Swiss bank's investment banking arm. It also comes at a difficult time for UBS, which is reeling from $37 billion in bad investments, many of them linked to risky American mortgages.

So it's not too early to ask, What did Phil Gramm know about UBS' offshore practices, and when did he know it? And reporters ought to ask McCain if he has asked Gramm about this investigation. Another query: how long can Gramm remain on McCain's campaign?

Obama Wins

| Tue Jun. 3, 2008 8:40 PM PDT

(For the latest on the Clinton campaign's decision to endorse Obama Saturday, see this post).

With Barack Obama's loss in South Dakota and win in Montana on Tuesday night, the primaries and caucuses are over. The senator from Illinois who ran an unconventional movement-esque campaign of and for change is the winner. He has bagged the most voter-determined delegates and a majority of the superdelegates commitments, enough to declare victory. The nation is heading toward a general election featuring a dramatic face-off between a progressive who opposed the Iraq war and a conservative who was a cheerleader for the war. A fresh face versus a Washington veteran. A onetime community organizer versus a former war hero. A 46-year-old black man versus a 71-year-old white man. Assuming the Democratic mantle, Obama declared in a speech before thousands in St. Paul, Minnesota, "This year must be different than all the rest." It will be. And hours earlier, John McCain, delivering a speech in New Orleans, used the word "change" almost three dozen times. But before the Obama-McCain clash throttles up, there is one last item of business for the Democrats: Hillary Clinton must concede.

Can Clinton harbor any hope of nullifying the verdict of the millions of voters who flocked to the primaries and caucuses in record numbers? That would be the political equivalent of nuclear warfare. To do so, Clinton, who spent the end of her campaign positioning herself as a count-every-vote champion, would have to become an anti-democratic renegade, challenging the outcome of the voting and confronting the party leadership, which has signaled its preference for allowing the pledged-delegate count to determine the final outcome.

On Tuesday, AP reported Clinton had told New York lawmakers she was open to being Obama's veep choice--a sign she won't push the button. And in her speech to supporters in New York on Tuesday night, Clinton was conciliatory toward Obama. She declared, "we stayed the course," depicting her hang-in-there strategy of the past two months as a cause, not a political tactic. She made no mention of the superdelegates, dropping her usual pitch for their support. But in a combative tone, she proclaimed, "I want the 18 million people who voted for me to be respected and to be heard." Heard? Respected? In what way? And by whom? By Obama? That was a statement ready-made for interpretation by pundits and analysts. "Where do we go from here?" she asked. She answered, "I will be making no decisions tonight." Speaking to her supporters, she said, I want to hear from you." And she noted that in the "coming days" she will be consulting with party leaders.

McClellan and Me, Part II: Did I Shift from Target to Influence?

| Mon Jun. 2, 2008 9:01 AM PDT

Did I help motivate Scott McClellan to write his book blasting the Bush White House as a den of disingenuousness?

Over the weekend, Politico published McClellan's original proposal for his book. (Hat tip to Ryan Grim, who's written for Mother Jones, for snatching this scoop.) In the proposal McClellan promised, "I will look at what is behind the media hostility toward the President and his Administration, and how much of it is rooted in a liberal bias."

Yes, that ol' "liberal bias." McClellan promised to skewer the media for being run by out-of-touch left-leaning journalists:

Fairness is defined by the establishment media within the left-of-center boundaries they set. They defend their reporting as fair because both sides are covered. But, how fair can it be when it is within the context of the liberal slant of the reporting? And, while the reporting of the establishment media may be based on true statements and facts, is it an accurate picture of what is really happening? And, how much influence do the New York Times and Washington Post have in shaping the coverage? And, why does the media do such a poor job of holding itself to account, or acknowledging their own mistakes?

But, McClellan said in the proposal he would go beyond an examination of the MSMers:

In addition to covering the above issues and questions, I will get into the influence of activist liberal reporters, like Keith Olbermann, Nation editor David Corn, and Washington Post blogger Dan Froomkin, and activist liberal media personalities, like Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, Al Franken, Bill Maher, and Arianna Huffington.

Well, in the end, it seems that I might have had some influence on McClellan, whom I tangled with at the White House. In two books, The Lies of George W. Bush and Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (the latter co-written with Michael Isikoff on Newsweek), I documented how the Bush administration wielded false information and half-truths (at best) as part of a PR campaign to win public support for the invasion of Iraq. That is exactly what McClellan describes and criticizes in his own book. By the way, the subtitle of my first Bush book was "Mastering the Politics of Deception." What's McClellan's subtitle? "Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."

So what happened to that "liberal bias." Once outside of the White House bubble, McClellan seems to have discovered that--guess what?--it was closer to the truth than his own press briefings.

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