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.
I like Chuck Todd, but he missed the mark this morning when he tweeted:
Guess what politics needs now: instant replay reviews. Both Romney and Obama had their leaked videos missing important context
Immediately folks on Twitter, including yours truly, challenged Todd to specify what he meant regarding the Romney video. (The recently disseminated Obama video showed the president in 1998 supporting "redistribution at a certain level," but it left out the next sentence in which he talked about the need for fostering competition in the marketplace.) Todd later clarified his tweet a bit: "The only missing Romney context to video I was referring to was on his Mideast remarks. Doesn't disqualify tape itself folks." And he referred to an item in NBC News' First Read tip sheet that noted, "Republicans yesterday jumped all over a Politico piece, noting that a portion of Romney's comments in that Mother Jonesvideo on Middle East peace (where Romney acknowledges that there could eventually be peace) had been omitted." First Read noted that the absence of these few sentences did not "negate what Romney also said about the Middle East (that Palestinians don't have an interest in peace and that a two-state solution isn't feasible)," but it added that the "whole story" wasn't told.
On Wednesday afternoon, he went further, with his campaign claiming that the video had been "debunked." In lashing out at the Obama campaign, Romney's crew issued this email:
Today, The Obama Campaign Leveled False Attacks Against Mitt Romney Based On A Debunked And Selectively Edited Video:
Today, Obama Campaign Spokesperson Ben LaBolt Attacked Mitt Romney Based On A Debunked Mother Jones Tape. OBAMA CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN BEN LABOLT: "You heard on the tapes released this week that it's Mitt Romney who would walk away from the peace process." (MSNBC, 9/19/12)
But This Morning, Politico Reported That The Mother Jones Video Was Selectively Edited To Give A False Impression About Mitt Romney’s Views On The Middle East Peace Process. "But the clip initially provided by Mother Jones does not include that part of his remarks, and therefore was not reported by the aforementioned news outlets. Romney's complete remarks about the Mideast peace process were included in the complete video Mother Jones published Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after it released clips from the fundraiser. But the clip posted to the Mother Jones website, which was cited by the national media, cuts out the excerpt in which Romney says that 'American strength, American resolve' will cause the Palestinians to 'some day reach the point where they want peace more than we're trying to force peace on them.'" (Dylan Byers, "Technically, Romney Said Peace Was Possible," Politico, 9/19/12)
The Romney campaign was clearly implying the whole video was rubbish. But there's a slight problem. Politico's Dylan Byers, the source for the debunking charge, quickly noted that he had done no such thing. He wrote:
there is nothing in my report that "debunks" the video.
In his article, posted earlier in the day, Byers had noted how some folks were complaining that we had edited a long clip of Romney talking about the Middle East selectively. In that clip—watch it here—Romney trashed the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, said the Palestinians (whom he lumped into one mindset) did not want peace and only sought the destruction of Israel, that he would not actively pursue the peace process and would instead seek to "kick the ball down the field," and that he had paid no real attention when a former secretary of state had told him that peace might be possible in the Middle East.
That is a total diss of the peace process—and would represent a radical break with US policy, which has supported a two-state solution since the Clinton years.
Yet Romney went on to say—and this clip did not include this—that if the United States showed "resolve….the Palestinians will some day reach the point where they want peace more than we're trying to force peace on them." Thus, peace might be theoretically possible at some point in the distance.
This was not a case of selective editing. The point was to show what was newsworthy: Romney breaking with current policy and stating views that he has not stated publicly. (In an interview this summer, he said he supported a two-state solution.) Nevertheless, some Romney backers have cried foul and managed to turn this into a dispute they can use to raise questions about the secret Romney tape.
But don't take my word. Here's more from Byers:
More mysterious still, is why the Romney campaign wants to debunk a video containing remarks that the candidate doubled-down on in a follow-up press conference.
By calling the whole tape "debunked" and "selectively edited," the campaign's hewing closer to the Breitbart.com argument -- the real story is liberal media-Obama collusion. And the result is a sort of paradox, in which Romney stands by what he said in a video that you can't trust.
It was bizarre. After Byers and Weigel had debunked the Romney camp's debunking, Byers heard from a Romney aide who said that the campaign only takes issue with the clip regarding Romney's view on the Mideast, not the entire video.
In other words, the Romney campaign walked back the push-back. It's not challenging the "47 percent" material or anything else; only the Mideast remarks. But, as I've said a few thousand times on televisionthese past few days, the wonderful thing about this story is that people can view for themselves. Watch Romney talking about the Mideast, and it's clear he has contempt for the peace process as it has been conceived for years; does not believe it can work; and would chart a radically different course. The few sentences not included in that clip—but which were included in the full transcript and complete tape we released—do not a debunking make. This maneuver smacks of desperation from a campaign hurt by the undeniable words of its candidate.
On Monday and Tuesday Mother Jonespublished exclusive video that captured Mitt Romney speaking to donors at a May 17 fundraiser, which was held at the home of private equity mogul Mark Leder. Responding to a question about the "Palestinian problem," Romney said peace in the Middle East is not possible and a Palestinian state is not feasible, telling donors that Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish." At another point, the GOP presidential nominee told attendees of this $50,000-a-plate dinner that 47 percent of Americans—those who back President Obama—are "victims" who are "dependent upon government" and "pay no income tax." He noted: "My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." These comments set off a media firestorm and generated headlines around the world. [Update: Check out additional highlights from the video here, and read the full transcript here.]
Romney's remarks, denigrating nearly half of the electorate, sent the Romney campaign—already roiled by infighting—into panic mode. The campaign hastily convened a late-night press conference to address his controversial statements, and Romney stood by his "off the cuff" comments, while conceding that they were "not elegantly stated." He claimed his comments where merely a "snippet" and not the "full response." That was not true; his comments were shown in full. He added, "I hope the person who has the video would put out the full material."
Romney is not the only one who has called for the release of the full 49-minute video. And we're more than happy to oblige. The complete video demonstrates that Romney was not snippetized and that he was captured raw and uncut. Here it is, in two parts.
Update: Due to a production error, a section of part one of the full Romney "47 percent" video was not initially uploaded properly and an intial section was omitted. This has now been remedied.
Update: According to the source, the recording device was inadvertently turned off between these two segments. The source noticed quickly and began to re-record, resulting in an estimated a one-to-two minute loss of tape.
At the private fundraiser held May 17 where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney candidly spoke about political strategy—noting that he saw half of the American electorate as freeloaders and "victims" who do not believe in personal responsibility—he discussed various foreign policy positions, sharing views that he does not express in public, including his belief that peace in the Middle East is not possible and a Palestinian state is not feasible.
Mother Jones has obtained video of Romney at this intimate dinner and has confirmed its authenticity. The event was held at the home of controversial private equity manager Marc Leder in Boca Raton, Florida, with tickets costing $50,000 a plate. During the freewheeling conversation, a donor asked Romney how the "Palestinian problem" can be solved. Romney immediately launched into a detailed reply, asserting that the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."
Romney spoke of "the Palestinians" as a united bloc of one mindset, and he said: "I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way."
"And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and I say there's just no way."
Romney was indicating he did not believe in the peace process and, as president, would aim to postpone significant action: "[S]o what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem…and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
Romney did note there was another perspective on this knotty matter. He informed his donors that a former secretary of state—he would not say who—had told him there was "a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis." Romney recalled that he had replied, "Really?" Then he added that he had not asked this ex-secretary of state for further explanation.
Here's Romney's full response; he starts out saying he has "two perspectives," but as he answers the question, it turns out that's not really the case:
I'm torn by two perspectives in this regard. One is the one which I've had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish. Now why do I say that? Some might say, well, let's let the Palestinians have the West Bank, and have security, and set up a separate nation for the Palestinians. And then come a couple of thorny questions. And I don't have a map here to look at the geography, but the border between Israel and the West Bank is obviously right there, right next to Tel Aviv, which is the financial capital, the industrial capital of Israel, the center of Israel. It's—what the border would be? Maybe seven miles from Tel Aviv to what would be the West Bank…The other side of the West Bank, the other side of what would be this new Palestinian state would either be Syria at one point, or Jordan. And of course the Iranians would want to do through the West Bank exactly what they did through Lebanon, what they did near Gaza. Which is that the Iranians would want to bring missiles and armament into the West Bank and potentially threaten Israel. So Israel of course would have to say, "That can't happen. We've got to keep the Iranians from bringing weaponry into the West Bank." Well, that means that—who? The Israelis are going to patrol the border between Jordan, Syria, and this new Palestinian nation? Well, the Palestinians would say, "Uh, no way! We're an independent country. You can't, you know, guard our border with other Arab nations." And now how about the airport? How about flying into this Palestinian nation? Are we gonna allow military aircraft to come in and weaponry to come in? And if not, who's going to keep it from coming in? Well, the Israelis. Well, the Palestinians are gonna say, "We're not an independent nation if Israel is able to come in and tell us what can land in our airport." These are problems—these are very hard to solve, all right? And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, "There's just no way." And so what you do is you say, "You move things along the best way you can." You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. We don't go to war to try and resolve it imminently. On the other hand, I got a call from a former secretary of state. I won't mention which one it was, but this individual said to me, you know, I think there's a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis after the Palestinian elections. I said, "Really?" And, you know, his answer was, "Yes, I think there's some prospect." And I didn't delve into it.
After saying all that, Romney emphasized that he was against applying any pressure on Israel: "The idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world."
On his campaign website, Romney, whose foreign policy advisers include several neocons known for their hawkish support for Israel, does not explicitly endorse the peace process or a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the Republican Party platform does state unequivocal backing for this outcome: "We envision two democratic states—Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine—living in peace and security." The platform adds, "The US seeks a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, negotiated between the parties themselves with the assistance of the US."
In public, Romney has not declared the peace process pointless or dismissed the two-state solution. In July, when the Israeli newspaper Haaretz asked Romney if he supports a two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state, he replied, "I believe in a two-state solution which suggests there will be two states, including a Jewish state." Yet Romney’s remarks to these funders—this was one of his longest answers at the fundraiser—suggest he might be hiding his true beliefs regarding Israel and the peace process and that on this subject he is out of sync with the predominant view in foreign policy circles that has existed for decades.
Throughout the hourlong fundraiser, Romney discussed other foreign policy matters with his patrons, especially Iran. He repeated the tough talk he has issued on the campaign trail, but he also provided an odd reason for drawing a red line with Tehran about its nuclear program:
If I were Iran, if I were Iran—a crazed fanatic, I'd say let's get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we'll just say, "Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we're going to let off a dirty bomb." I mean this is where we have—where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people. So we really don't have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.
Romney didn't appear to understand that a dirty bomb—an explosive device that spreads radioactive substances—does not require fissile material from a nuclear weapons program. Such a bomb can be produced with, say, radioactive medical waste. If Iran's nuclear program poses a threat, it is not because this project will yield a dirty bomb.
Talking to these funders, Romney also demonstrated that his campaign-long efforts to criticize Obama's handling of foreign policy in simplistic and exaggerated terms—he's an appeaser, he's an apologist—are not reserved for public consumption. Romney told these well-to-do backers that the president is a naïf with an oversized ego:
The president's foreign policy, in my opinion, is formed in part by a perception he has that his magnetism, and his charm, and his persuasiveness is so compelling that he can sit down with people like Putin and Chávez and Ahmadinejad, and that they'll find that we're such wonderful people that they'll go on with us, and they'll stop doing bad things. And it's an extraordinarily naive perception.
Romney did share a disappointment with his patrons, noting it was "frustrating" to him that on a "typical day" when he does several fundraising events, "the number of foreign policy questions I get are between zero and one." He complained that "the American people are not concentrated at all on China, on Russia, Iran, Iraq." But at this fundraiser, Romney received several queries related to national security—and was afforded the opportunity to tell his financial backers what he does not (and will not) tell the public.
Video production: James West, Adam Serwer, Dana Liebelson, Erika Eichelberger, and Tim McDonnell.
When Mother Jones first disclosed secret video of Romney's remarks, we were obliged to not reveal details regarding the time and place of the event. That restriction has been lifted, as the story has garnered attention throughout the media.
At the fundraiser, Romney was asked how he could win in November, and he replied:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Years ago, a visit to Mr. Romney's investment firm inspired Mr. Leder to get into private equity in the first place. Mr. Romney was an early investor in some of the deals done by Mr. Leder's investment company, Sun Capital, which today oversees about $8 billion in equity.
The paper noted that Leder is something of a poster boy for private equity—and not in a good way:
Mr. Leder personifies the debates now swirling around this lucrative corner of finance. To his critics, he represents everything that's wrong with this setup. In recent years, a large number of the companies that Sun Capital has acquired have run into serious trouble, eliminated jobs or both. Since 2008, some 25 of its companies—roughly one of every five it owns—have filed for bankruptcy. Among the losers was Friendly's, the restaurant chain known for its Jim Dandy sundaes and Fribble shakes. (Sun Capital was accused by a federal agency of pushing Friendly's into bankruptcy last year to avoid paying pensions to the chain's employees; Sun disputes that contention.) Another company that sank into bankruptcy was Real Mex, owner of the Chevy's restaurant chain. In that case, Mr. Leder lost money for his investors not once, but twice.
But Leder does differ from Romney in one significant fashion: how he likes to have a certain sort of fun. In August 2011, the New York Post reported,
It was as if the Playboy Mansion met the East EBond at a wild party at private-equity titan Marc Leder's Bridgehampton estate, where guests cavorted nude in the pool and performed sex acts, scantily dressed Russians danced on platforms and men twirled lit torches to a booming techno beat. The divorced Sun Capital Partners honcho rented a sprawling beachfront mansion on Surf Side Road for $500,000 for the month of July. Leder's weekly Friday and Saturday night parties have become the talk of the Hamptons—and he ended them in style last weekend with his wildest bash yet. Russell Simmons and ex-wife Kimora Lee attended a more subdued party thrown by Leder—who's an event chair for Simmons' Art For Life charity—on July 29 together. But the revelry hit a frenzied point the next day before midnight when a male guest described as a "chubby white meathead" and a "tanned" female guest stripped and hopped into the pool naked.
At Romney's fundraiser at Leder's Boca Raton home, not a single sex act was recorded.