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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The Dick Cheney/Rand Paul Feud Continues—And They're Both Wrong

| Mon May 19, 2014 1:40 PM EDT

This past weekend, former Vice President Dick Cheney made yet another media appearance to denounce President Barack Obama. But Cheney also used the opportunity to continue his feud with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.), who is mulling a bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. On the friendly turf of Fox News Sunday, Cheney was asked about Paul's 2009 damning accusation—reported last month by Mother Jones—that Cheney used the 9/11 attacks as an excuse for the Iraq war so that Halliburton, the military contractor Cheney once led, would reap a large profit.

Cheney replied,

Well, before I ever took the job as vice president, I totally severed all my ties with Halliburton, at considerable financial cost. I had no relationship at all with the company throughout the time I was vice president. I didn't even talk to them. We kept a totally arm's length relationship. So he obviously is not familiar with the facts.

Paul's statement was harsh; he essentially had claimed that Cheney had betrayed the nation, exploiting a national horror and causing widespread death and destruction (including the deaths of thousands of Americans) to enrich his corporate cronies. When questioned by ABC News' Jon Karl about his Cheney comment, Paul insisted, "I'm not questioning Dick Cheney's motives." But that's precisely what Paul had done. And Paul had accomplished what not many could do: he evoked sympathy for the former vice president, who had led the Bush administration's campaign to rally public support for the Iraq war with false claims about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's ties to al Qaeda.

It's been easy for Cheney and his defenders to dismiss Paul's over-the-top, conspiracy-theory-like assertion. But on Fox News, the ex-veep, too, went too far. He maintained that he had no financial ties with Halliburton while he was George W. Bush's number-two and made a personal sacrifice by trading his CEO badge for a White House job. But that's not entirely accurate.

As Politifact.com noted a few years ago, when Cheney became vice president, he pocketed a $34 million payout from Halliburton. In fact, because he probably sold stock options at an opportune time, he profited enormously because the stock price was at a high:

It's not clear when Cheney sold his stock options, but it likely was within weeks of his being named to the ticket -- a period when Halliburton shares hit their 2000 peak, in the low-to-mid $50 range. By November 30, 2000, the stock had fallen to $33 a share. If he'd waited until then to sell, his payday would have been one-third lower, or roughly $14 million rather than $22 million.

Moreover, when Cheney was veep, he continued to receive deferred payments from Halliburton. In 2004, the New York Times reported, "Mr. Cheney’s financial disclosure statements from 2001, 2002 and 2003 show that since becoming vice president-elect, he has received $1,997,525 from the company: $1,451,398 in a bonus deferred from 1999, the rest in deferred salary." And at that time, Cheney still held some stock options in the company.

As vice president, Cheney repeatedly contended he had no continuing relationship with Halliburton. In 2003, he declared, "I've severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't had, now, for over three years." But a report issued that year by the Congressional Research Service undermined Cheney's claim. It found that if a public official retained unexercised stock options and collected deferred salary—as Cheney did then—the official had "retained ties" to the company.

So when Cheney now says that he had nothing to do with Halliburton while he was vice-president, he is contradicted by the Congressional Research Service. Maybe he wasn't in contact with his old pals at the firm, but he continued to bank millions of dollars from the company as it obtained Iraq-related contracts from the US government.

In this ongoing scuffle pitting a GOP establishment heavy (who's a hawk) against a possible insurgent Republican presidential candidate (who's an intervention skeptic), both are wrong. When Paul assailed Cheney, he went too far and joined the ranks of the tin-foil-hats crowd—and then he tried to claim he had not said what he said. In defending himself, Cheney misrepresented his financial relationship with Halliburton. This mud-wrestling match has yet to produce a winner, but it is showing that each participant has a problem with accuracy.

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Cliven Bundy: I'm Just Like Rosa Parks

| Mon Apr. 28, 2014 10:15 AM EDT

You might have trouble keeping track of all the racists in the news cycle these past few days. But even though deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy's 15 minutes seem to have faded—especially with his conservative media pals no longer championing him following his remarks denigrating "the Negro"—a public statement he issued on Friday that drew little press attention is notable. Here is a classic example of a racist who's been revealed (by his own words) trying to claim that he's not a racist and—what's more!—he's really just like a civil rights hero. We've seen this before, with affirmative-action foes insisting they are more akin to Martin Luther King Jr.—who asked people to judge a person by the content of their character rather than the color of his or her skin—than are advocates of affirmative action. Adopting this black-is-white defense, Bundy went with Rosa Parks, not MLK Jr., and issued a press statement with this absurd argument:

I am standing up against [the federal government's] bad and unconstitutional laws, just like Rosa Parks did when she refused to sit in the back of the bus. She started a revolution in America, the civil rights movement, which freed the black people from much of the oppression they were suffering. I'm saying Martin Luther King's dream was not that Rosa could take her rightful seat in the front of the bus, but his dream was that she could take any seat on the bus and I would be honored to sit beside her. I am doing the same thing Rosa Parks did—I am standing up against bad laws which dehumanize us and destroy our freedom.

This probably ain't worth unpacking. But Bundy is likening having to pay the government a below-market-rate grazing fee for feeding his cows on federal land to segregation. And in the full statement, he goes further, comparing what he considers to be modern-day federal overreach to…yes, slavery. Looking to repair his reputation, Bundy—or whoever wrote this statement—embraced the conservative trope that the current taxing, spending, and regulatory policies of the federal government are equivalent to slavery. Remember when Sarah Palin likened the federal debt to slavery? Bundy takes it to the next level:

We are trading one form of slavery for another.

What I am saying is that all we Americans are trading one form of slavery for another. All of us are in some measure slaves of the federal government. Through their oppressive tactics of telling the ranchers how many cows  they can have on their land, and making that  number too low to support a ranch, the BLM has  driven every rancher in Clark County off the land, except me. The IRS keeps the people of America in fear, and makes us all work about a third or a half of the year before we have earned enough to pay their taxes. This is nothing but slavery from January through May. The NSA spies on us and collects our private phone calls and emails. And  the government dole which many people in America are on, and have been for much of their lives, is dehumanizing and degrading. It takes away incentive to work and self respect. Eventually a person on the dole becomes a ward of the government, because his only source of income is a dole from the government. Once the government has you in that position, you are its slave.

Bundy is extending his original case. He goes beyond his initial argument that Americans who receive federal assistance (meaning African Americans) are no better off than the slaves of old. He asserts that all of us have been enslaved by the federal government.

Bundy notes, "I am trying to keep Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream alive." And he ends the statement with contradictory references to Concord and Lexington and a call for "peaceful revolution to regain our freedom." The folks who were aiming assault weapons at federal officers during the standoff two weeks ago near Bundy's ranch didn't look that peaceful. And Bundy has repeatedly hinted that he's willing to use violence against the feds.

Bundy's statement shows that this episode is really not about a grazing-fee dispute. He and his comrades view it in a larger and extreme context, and it is Bundy who has racialized the episode—and continues to do so by equating himself to Parks and King and insisting that he knows best about the plight of today's low-income African Americans. As of now, Bundy has lost his right-wing media darling status, and perhaps the feds will figure out a way to deal with him without another high-profile showdown in the desert. If so, this may be the last statement from Bundy that anyone—outside of the black helicopter, anti-government militia set—will have to pay attention to.

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