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.
Only a few months ago, Henry Kissinger was dancing with Stephen Colbert in a funny bit on the latter's Comedy Central show. But for years, the former secretary of state has sidestepped judgment for his complicity in horrific human rights abuses abroad, and a new memo has emerged that provides clear evidence that in 1976 Kissinger gave Argentina's neo-fascist military junta the "green light" for the dirty war it was conducting against civilian and militant leftists that resulted in the disappearance—that is, deaths—of an estimated 30,000 people.
In April 1977, Patt Derian, a onetime civil rights activist whom President Jimmy Carter had recently appointed assistant secretary of state for human rights, met with the US ambassador in Buenos Aires, Robert Hill. A memo recording that conversation has been unearthed by Martin Edwin Andersen, who in 1987 first reported that Kissinger had told the Argentine generals to proceed with their terror campaign against leftists (whom the junta routinely referred to as "terrorists"). The memo notes that Hill told Derian about a meeting Kissinger held with Argentine Foreign Minister Cesar Augusto Guzzetti the previous June. What the two men discussed was revealed in 2004 when the National Security Archive obtained and released the secret memorandum of conversation for that get-together. Guzzetti, according to that document, told Kissinger, "our main problem in Argentina is terrorism." Kissinger replied, "If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures." In other words, go ahead with your killing crusade against the leftists.
The new document shows that Kissinger was even more explicit in encouraging the Argentine junta. The memo recounts Hill describing the Kissinger-Guzzetti discussion this way:
The Argentines were very worried that Kissinger would lecture to them on human rights. Guzzetti and Kissinger had a very long breakfast but the Secretary did not raise the subject. Finally Guzzetti did. Kissinger asked how long will it take you (the Argentines) to clean up the problem. Guzzetti replied that it would be done by the end of the year. Kissinger approved.
In other words, Ambassador Hill explained, Kissinger gave the Argentines the green light.
That's a damning statement: a US ambassador saying a secretary of state had egged on a repressive regime that was engaged in a killing spree.
In August 1976, according to the new memo, Hill discussed "the matter personally with Kissinger, on the way back to Washington from a Bohemian Grove meeting in San Francisco." Kissinger, Hill told Derian, confirmed the Guzzetti conversation and informed Hill that he wanted Argentina "to finish its terrorist problem before year end." Kissinger was concerned about new human rights laws passed by the Congress requiring the White House to certify a government was not violating human rights before providing US aid. He was hoping the Argentine generals could wrap up their murderous eradication of the left before the law took effect.
Hill indicated to Derian, according to the new memo, that he believed that Kissinger's message to Guzzetti had prompted the Argentine junta to intensify its dirty war. When he returned to Buenos Aires, the memo notes, Hill "saw that the terrorist death toll had climbed steeply." And the memo reports, "Ambassador Hill said he would tell all of this to the Congress if he were put on the stand under oath. 'I'm not going to lie,' the Ambassador declared."
Hill, who died in 1978, never did testify that Kissinger had urged on the Argentine generals, and the Carter administration reversed policy and made human rights a priority in its relations with Argentina and other nations. As for Kissinger, he skated—and he has been skating ever since, dodging responsibility for dirty deeds in Chile, Bangladesh,East Timor, Cambodia, and elsewhere. Kissinger watchers have known for years that he at least implicitly (though privately) endorsed the Argentine dirty war, but this new memo makes clear he was an enabler for an endeavor that entailed the torture, disappearance, and murder of tens of thousands of people. Next time you see him dancing on television, don't laugh.
At his Thursday press conference, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he played no part in causing a traffic jam last fall on the George Washington Bridge and in nearby Fort Lee. He ultimately took responsibility for the debacle, but Christie said his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, had ordered the traffic jam without his knowledge. Emails showed that she had been in cahoots with David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Christie fired Kelly on Thursday, and he insisted that she was the only member of his inner circle who knew that the traffic mess was politically motivated and not the result of a supposed traffic study.
Here's the backstory. The traffic jam happened on the week of September 9 and quickly became a local controversy. Lawmakers began investigating, and on November 25, Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee at the Port Authority, testified before the New Jersey Assembly's transportation, public works, and independent authorities committee. Baroni told lawmakers that the lane closures were part of a study to determine whether Fort Lee should have three dedicated lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge.
State lawmakers didn't buy Baroni's explanation. "I think that at best this was clumsy and ham-handed," said committee chair John Wisniewski, a Democrat. "At worst, this was political mischief by a political appointee."
Immediately after his testimony, according to documents released this week, Baroni texted David Wildstein asking how Christie administration officials in Trenton, the state capital, had reacted to his testimony:
[11/25/2013 11:58 AM] David Wildstein: You did great
[11/25/2013 11:58 AM] Bill Baroni: Trenton feedback
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] Bill Baroni: ?
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] David Wildstein: Good
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] Bill Baroni: Just good? Shit
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] David Wildstein: No i have only texted brudget [Bridget Anne Kelly] and Nicole they were VERY happy
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] Bill Baroni: Ok
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] David Wildstein: Both said you are doing great
[11/25/2013 12:06 PM] David Wildstein: Charlie said you did GREAT
Note the two names in that exchange we have placed in bold type: Nicole and Charlie. According to public records and news stories, the only Nicole politically close to Christie at the time was Nicole Davidman, who was the governor's campaign finance director in 2013 and the wife of Christie's press secretary. The only Charlie in Christie's inner circle was Charles McKenna, Christie's chief counsel and the aide who helped lead Christie's internal investigation of the bridge mess. State investigators assume that the Charlie mentioned in this text is McKenna, according to a legislative source, but they are not yet certain about Nicole (though they have not yet identified other possibilities).
Presuming these texts refer to Davidman and McKenna, here's what needs to be answered: Were these two Christie lieutenants happy about Baroni's testimony for the same reason as Kelly? Both Kelly and Wildstein knew the study wasn't the true cause of the traffic mess, and it's reasonable to conclude that they were delighted because Baroni had stuck to that story and not said anything about Kelly instructing Wildstein to cause the jam that paralyzed traffic in Fort Lee for days. But did Charlie and Nicole cheer Baroni's bogus testimony in the same way? And what does it mean that Wildstein, the man who arranged the lane closures, lumped together Kelly, the aide who instigated the closures, and Nicole? (Christie touched on this only briefly in his press conference: "I believe that I've spoken to everyone who was mentioned in the emails except for Charlie McKenna, who is away at a family funeral. And I am confident, based upon my conversations with them, that they had no prior knowledge nor involvement in this situation.")
This is just one line of inquiry Bridgegate investigators ought to focus on. Christie asserts that Kelly was the only member of his political team in on the bridge caper. But if others were aware of Baroni's stonewalling, the governor has a problem—especially if that includes McKenna, whom Christie has used to probe the bridge scandal. At the least, it might be ill-advised for the governor to have a fellow who apparently praised Baroni's bogus testimony in charge of investigating the cover-up.
Christie's office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Chris Matthews this week about what some traffic problems in Fort Lee could end up meaning for New Jersey governor Chris Christie's political ambitions. Watch here:
It is often hard to connect actions to racism—and sometimes it is hard not to. When conservative activists and leaders excitedly contend that the first black American elected president was secretly born overseas and, consequently, is a pretender to the office, it certainly is difficult to ignore racism as a possible contributing motive. (These same people are in no uproar about Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's birth in Canada.) And when President Barack Obama is repeatedly branded a sexed-up flirt, despite the evidence he is a stand-up family guy, a similar query is unavoidable: Is race a factor?
The conservative New York Post this week has done extra duty to promote the idea that the president is a cad (and Michelle Obama is the resentful, jealous, and bossy wife). After photos emerged of Obama taking a selfie with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (with British PM David Cameron the third wheel) and the first lady looking displeased, the media was all abuzz, and Rupert Murdoch's paper led the way with its front-page coverage pitched with this witty headline: "Flirting with Dane-ger." The next day, Post columnist Andrea Peyser pushed the story—and the already widely spread meme—further. In an article headlined, "Flirty Obama Owes Us an Apology," she ranted that Obama had "lost his morality, his dignity and his mind, using the solemn occasion of Nelson Mandela's memorial service Tuesday to act like a hormone-ravaged frat boy on a road trip to a strip bar." She referred to the Danish leader as a "hellcat" and pegged the needle in sexualizing this story: "Thorning-Schmidt placed her hands dangerously close to Obama's side. The president's cackling head moved inches from the Danish tart's and yards away from his wife's. Obama then proceeded to absorb body heat from the Dane, which he won't be feeling at home for a long time." Meet Obama, the lustful and wild predator who cannot control his urges at a solemn occasion.
Peyser was working with an idea—the president as sexy beast—not the facts. The day before her story appeared, Roberto Schmidt, the German Colombian news photographer who had snapped the shots that had ignited this nonscandal threw a bucket of cold water on the story Peyser and others were peddling:
I captured the scene reflexively. All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader. It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid. The ceremony had already gone on for two hours and would last another two. The atmosphere was totally relaxed—I didn't see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the US or not. We are in Africa.
I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.
Schmidt noted that he spotted nothing improper. Obama had not been a wild man who had prompted a wifely rebuke. Still, that did not prevent Peyser from day-threeing this event with lasciviousness: "Michelle frowned and looked as if she wanted to spit acid at the man she married, a good-time guy who humiliated her in front of their friends, the world and a blonde bimbo who hadn't the sense to cover up and keep it clean."
Why is it that Obama repeatedly draws this sort of attack? In 2009, the Drudge Report and Fox News played up a photo from the G8 summit that supposedly showed the president leering at a teenage girl's rump. The Drudge headline: "Second Stimulus Package." Fox Nation went with "Busted?" And the fact that the target of his roving eyes was 17 years old was played to much salacious effect. Examiner.com reported—presumably mistakenly—that the subject of Obama's less-than-honorable attention was only 16 years old. The New York Post exclaimed, "The leader of the free world and his French counterpart were caught sneaking a peek at a the pink-satin-draped booty of a 17-year-old junior G-8 delegate just moments before the summit's official group photo was snapped in Italy yesterday. Obama wasn't the only head of state getting Yankee Doodle randy." And Fox & Friends dug up another photo from the summit that appeared to show Obama staring at the rear end of a different woman.
You know the rest of the story. When the full video of the event emerged, it was clear that Obama had not gazed with ill intent at the young woman. (The video, though, hardly cleared French President Nicholas Sarkozy.) But the point had been made: this guy cannot help himself.
A year ago, the Daily Mail advanced this plot line with a report that Obama repeatedly flirted with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra while on a trip to Thailand. The article—"Obama gets flirty as he schmoozes with Thai prime minister"—was accompanied by several photos that appeared to show Obama and the "attractive" Shinawatra exchanging "playful glances." (The perhaps sexist implication here—as with Peyser's column—is that female heads of state melt into a puddle whenever O is near.)
This sort of coverage might well happen to a good-looking white guy who was president. But remember when George W. Bush gave German Prime Minister Angela Merkel an impromptu back rub at a G8 meeting in 2006? The video went viral, and the episode launched a flood of jokes and spoofs. Yet, there wasn't much talk of Bush being an impulsive flirter driven by sexual temptation. A Google search turned up no indication that Andrea Peyser rushed to her keyboard to pronounce Bush a moral failure and embarrassment to the nation. At least, Bill Clinton gave people a reason to wonder about his behavior. (During the 1992 campaign, cabaret singer Gennifer Flowers publicly claimed she had a 12-year affair with Clinton; years later, Clinton, in a deposition, countered that he had only one sexual dalliance with her.)
What is it about Obama that causes conservative critics to question his legitimacy as a citizen and his ability to control his sex drive? (In something of a twist, right-wing agitator Jerome Corsi, a leader of the birthers, has in the last year been pushing a different Obama sex story: The president is secretly gay and once upon a time was actively part of Chicago's wild gay bar and bathhouse scene.) It is not too far a stretch, when pondering all this, to recall how racists in the past depicted black men as licentious and a danger to women—that is, white women. Is a remnant of that in play when Obama is cast as a lecherous or flirtatious scalawag? There's probably no definitive answer to be reached here. (Can you—do you want to—peer into the soul of Andrea Peyser?) But the question is real enough that it ought to give commentators and columnists (and their editors) pause before they again revive this Obama Unchained narrative.