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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Scott Prouty, the 47 Percent Video Source, Opens a Legal-Assistance Fund

| Thu Mar. 14, 2013 8:54 PM EDT

Scott Prouty, the onetime bartender who made the video of Mitt Romney's 47 percent remarks, has launched a fund to raise money to cover legal costs and possibly the cost of going to law school. After revealing himself on MSNBC's The Ed Show on Wednesday night, Prouty immediately became a subject of intense media attention. He was besieged with interview requests. And while his hourlong interview with Schultz was under way, he says, strangers showed up at his Florida home and he soon became a target for hate-tweets and dirt-digging from right-wingers still angry about his role in exposing Romney's dismissive attitude toward half the country.

As this furor was happening—and supporters and fans of Prouty were asking how they could help him—Prouty set up an online "47 Percent Legal Assistance Fund." (And he assumed control of the @scottprouty Twitter handle that a supporter created for him on Wednesday evening. He had previously been tweeting as @AnneOnymous670.)

After taping an interview with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on Thursday night, Prouty discussed with me his reasons for establishing this fund:

After going public, I've received a flood of physical and legal threats in emails and tweets. People have found my address and have shown up at my door. It's possible I may have to move. And I've had to contact several lawyers and have incurred legal expenses. I might incur more going forward. I always knew that if I talked about this, I could become a target, and I don't want to be melodramatic, but some of the threats I've received do cause me to be concerned for my safety and that of my loved ones.

I appreciate all the support I've received from the beginning—and especially now. Many people have asked how they could help. This is one way. I've also said in interviews that if they would like to show their support they can send donations to the SPCA and the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. These are both groups that I care about.

I'm hoping that I don't need to spend a lot of money on lawyers and security. If people are generous and there are any funds left over after these costs are covered, I would use the remaining money to pay for going back to school. I've been bartending for eight years and I'd like to move forward with a job that lets me help others. If I end up not using these funds for education, I will donate them to the SPCA and IGLHR.

During his media interviews the past two days, Prouty has not mentioned this fund, and so far only a handful of persons have located the website and contributed.

On the site, Prouty notes, "It's always been my dream to attend law school. I'd like to be a socially responsible lawyer who can help the 47 percent navigate our legal system. Thank you for your donations!"

Rand Paul Exploits Drones Grandstanding With False Fundraising Letter

| Fri Mar. 8, 2013 1:02 PM EST

Though foes of drones on the right and left cheered Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster this week, with the tea partier delaying confirmation of CIA director John Brennan for a day, Paul's rant targeted a nonexistent dispute: whether or not Obama administration officials believed they could use drones (or other weapons) to kill American citizens within the borders of the United States without due process. Take away all Paul's hyped-up hysteria—watch out, Jane Fonda!—and he didn't truly disagree with the administration's position that in an extraordinary circumstance, such as an ongoing terrorist attack, the US government can deploy lethal force against evildoers who happen to be American citizens. So why did Paul go ballistic? Here's a clue: The day after he ended one of the longest filibusters in US history, he tried to cash in on his stunt by zapping out a fundamentally inaccurate fundraising email for his 2016 reelection campaign.

The note begins:

Dear Patriot,

My 13-hour filibuster yesterday is being called one of the longest in U.S. history.

I had been trying for more than a week to get a straight answer on whether or not the Obama administration believed it had the authority to use drones to target and kill American citizens on American soil – without due process.

And after receiving a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder claiming they DO have that authority, I could no longer sit silently at my desk in the U.S. Senate.

So I stood for thirteen-straight hours to send a message to the Obama administration, I will do everything in my power to fight their attempts to ignore the Constitution!

Millions of Americans chose to stand with me and put President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and Congress in the spotlight...

And the good news is, it worked!

Just hours ago, I received a letter from Attorney General Holder declaring the President DOES NOT have the authority to use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.

Patriot, this shows what we can do when stand together and fight.

So won't you help me continue the fight to protect our Constitutional liberties today?

This is a false account. In his first letter to Paul, Holder noted the obvious: If the United States were under attack from within, the president might have to order the use of lethal military force within the territory of the United States. This is how Holder put it:

[T]he US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat…The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

Consider a Mumbai-style attack on Washington, DC; as the assault is under way perhaps military force—with or without drones—might be used against the perpetrators, which could include terrorists holding American citizenship. In fact, during his filibuster, Paul conceded the point: "Nobody questions if planes are flying towards the Twin Towers whether they can be repulsed by the military. Nobody questions whether a terrorist with a rocket launcher or a grenade launcher is attacking us, whether they can be repelled."

So just as he did on the Senate floor, in this email, Paul is ginning up a quarrel that did not exist. Then the give-me-money note goes on to claim that due to Paul's heroic filibuster, Holder wrote a second note to the senator stating the president cannot use drones to kill Americans on US soil. That's wrong.

On Thursday, Holder sent Paul a curt two-sentence letter:

It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: "Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" The answer to that question is no.

Paul thoroughly mischaracterized Holder's statement for his money-shaking email. The attorney general limited his no-drones declaration to Americans "not engaged in combat." An American participating in a terrorist attack that constitutes an extraordinary circumstance could still end up on the wrong end of a Hellfire missile (with Paul supporting such a development).

Paul did not force a change in Obama administration policy or even a clarification of policy. What Holder said in the second letter was a reiteration of what he said in the first letter that Paul essentially endorsed while filibustering.

There are real controversies and disputes regarding the administration's drone policy. The White House has declined to show the public the legal justification for its drone strikes overseas against suspected terrorists who are American citizens, and it has been reluctant to share legal memos on this matter with members of Congress and their staff, thus impeding oversight of these constitutionally dicey assaults. The White House has not answered questions on its general use of lethal drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. But decrying the administration for possible drone assaults against noncombatant American citizens within the United States is a phony issue, a modern-day equivalent of black-helicopter-phobia. In an unsurprising, it's-really-about-politics move, Paul distracted from the real concerns, and the quickly written email pushing his Stand With Rand money bomb shows this senator as a crass operator untethered from the truth who's eager to exploit his own grandstanding.

Mitt Romney's "Twisted" Defense of His 47 Percent Rant

| Mon Mar. 4, 2013 2:05 PM EST

Mitt Romney, it seems, will forever be explaining the 47 percent video—partly because he cannot admit he believed what he said.

In an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News that aired on Sunday, Romney was once again asked about the video Mother Jones revealed last September. Here's the exchange:

Wallace: George Will said you've got a problem when voters don't like you. You've got a real problem when voters think you don't like them.

Romney: Yes, it was a very unfortunate statement that I made. It's not what I meant. I didn't express myself as I wished I would have. You know, when you speak in private, you don't spend as much time thinking about how something could be twisted and distorted and—and it could come out wrong and be used. But, you know, I did. And it was very harmful. What I said is not what I believe. Obviously, my whole campaign—my whole life has been devoted to helping people, all of the people. I care about all the people of the country. But that hurt. There's no question that hurt and did real damage to my campaign.

You might recall that when the video was first posted Romney's campaign issued a statement claiming he wanted "to help all Americans" and that he was "concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government." This was no denial—and no complaint that he had been taken out of context. Later that same day, Romney himself dismissed the video as "a snippet" (which it wasn't). Asked about the private remarks at a press conference, he said, "Well, um, it's not elegantly stated, let's put it that way. I'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question, and I'm sure I can state state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did…But it's a message which I'm going to carry and continue to carry." This was widely regarded as a doubling down. Two weeks later—following his successful first debate against President Barack Obama—Romney, during an interview with Sean Hannity, had another spin on his 47 percent tirade:

Well, clearly in a campaign with hundreds if not thousands of question and answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right. In this case I said something that's just completely wrong. And I absolutely believe however that my life has shown that I care about the 100 percent and that has been demonstrated throughout my life. This whole campaign is about the 100 percent. When I become president it'll be about helping the 100 percent.

So now he was accepting and acknowledging he had been "completely wrong," though insisting he had misspoke.

Yet with Wallace, Romney was playing the victim, claiming his "unfortunate" comments had been "twisted and distorted"—and done so because he had dared to speak candidly in private.

All of Romney's defenses—whether or not he was admitting wrong—are undone by his own words. Let's go to a transcript. Here's the full exchange, which began with a question from a donor who had paid at least $50,000 to attend the behind-closed-doors fundraiser:

Audience member: For the last three years, all everybody's been told is, "Don't worry, we'll take care of you." How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections, to convince everybody you've got to take care of yourself?

Romney: 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 that 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. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not, what it looks like. I mean, when you ask those people…we do all these polls—I find it amazing—we poll all these people, see where you stand on the polls, but 45 percent of the people will go with a Republican.

The key to understanding Romney's remarks fully is the question. The query was predicated on the assumption embraced by many conservatives that a good number of Americans are lazy no-goodniks who don't fend for themselves. As you know, Romney, who once was a metrics-driven businessman, then delivered a coherent response in which he turned the underlying assumption into a specific fact: 47 percent—those people who receive any government benefits—do not "take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Here was a politician giving a direct answer to a specific question. What was twisted?

In his interview with Wallace, Romney claimed, "What I said is not what I believe." Yet that is not how he first responded to the clip.

Romney's 47 percent comment was no slip or an accidental misstatement. After the election was over, a fellow reporter told me that she had recently attended a dinner with several top GOP fundraisers. A key topic at the table that night was Romney's comment that he had lost because Obama had doled out "gifts" to African Americans, Latinos, and young voters. That statement was seen by many as a bookend to the 47 percent remark, and the conversation naturally moved to the video. Several of the GOP funders mentioned that they each had heard Romney make similar 47 percent-ish comments in private during the campaign.

The response captured by my source at the Boca Raton fundraiser was not an outlier moment for Romney. Romney's words were not subsequently distorted. And his ever-shifting and hollow explanations will mark him as a person who cannot take full responsibility for one of the most consequential statements he ever uttered.

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