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.
In 2003, TheNew Yorker dispatched acclaimed novelist Jonathan Franzen to write a mega-profile of Denny Hastert, who four years earlier had improbably become House speaker following Newt Gingrich's implosion during the Clinton impeachment scandal. (During the Clinton mess, Hastert was an advocate of impeachment, at one point castigating the president for his "inability to abide by the law.") With the developing news that Hastert has been indicted for allegedly violating banking laws while paying $3.5 million in hush money, apparently to conceal sexual abuse involving a male student at an Illinois high school where Hastert once taught and coached wrestling, Franzen's lengthy take serves up useful insights (and what now appear to be a few wrong notes) about a man who was often described as a rather forgettable politician.
Below are several snippets (subscribers to the magazine can find the full article here):
"Hastert's public persona, to the extent that he has one, is the Coach."
"When I asked him if he had gay friends, he replied that he has friends who are single. 'They're really good people,' he said. 'And I've never asked.' Does he care? 'If I cared,' he said, 'I'd probably ask.' (He is uncomfortable with Senator Frist's advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. 'I think the courts should decide that,' he said.)"
"'With me, what you see is what you get,' Hastert told me the first time we met, in June. 'There's not a lot of nuances here.'"
"Later in the speech, [Hastert] describes the Speaker's office in the Capitol. 'It has a great big chandelier in it,' he says. 'Yeah-oh, I was a high-school wrestling coach. I never thought I'd have an office with a chandelier."
"As a coach in Yorkville [Illinois], Hastert was famously impassive during matches. While opposing coaches paced at the edge of the mats and shouted at their wrestlers ('Stand up!' 'Grab the wrist!' 'Head up!'), he sat silently, with his arms crossed over a clipboard."
"For Hastert, though power seems always to have been more about service than about the advancement of his own ends or vision. He became a born-again Christian in high school, and much of his time at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution, was devoted to religious study... [H]e comes from a religious college that provided instruction in service and submission, rather than in partying and doubt."
"What you see there—a Speaker who delivers the Republican goods—really is what you get. It doesn't matter, in the public realm, what kind of person Hastert is. It matters only privately that, to do the brutal work in Washington, he requires psychic ballast back in Illinois."
Franzen wasn't the only one who promoted the Coach Hastert theme. When Hastert wrote his own autobiography 10 years later, he titled it, Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics.
The good news: The GOP 2016 field has a contender who believes human-induced climate change is real and extensive action must be taken to reduce emissions. The bad news: It's George Pataki.
The former New York governor announced his entry into the race on Thursday—and, predictably, the political earth did not move. Few members of the politerati view Pataki as a top-tier candidate. His name recognition is low. And after he left New York state's top job in 2006, Pataki, who had unexpectedly defeated then-Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994, has been largely absent from politics. But he did—of course—join a law firm. And he formed a consulting group to provide guidance to firms in the energy, infrastructure, clean-tech, and environmental fields. Clean tech? Yes, he was a fan of green-friendly enterprise. But—for a Republican contender—it's even worse: Pataki became an advocate for climate change action.
In 2007, he was named co-chair of the Independent Task Force on Climate Change organized by the Council on Foreign Relations. The other co-chair was Tom Vilsack, the former Democratic governor of Iowa who is now President Barack Obama's agriculture secretary. Other members of this very blue-ribbon commission included Lawrence Summers, Theodore Roosevelt IV, and Timothy Wirth. And after a year of study and deliberations, the panel put out a 142-page report that would horrify the Republican Party of today, for it noted that human-caused climate change posed a crisis and that comprehensive action was required immediately. It proposed a cap-and-trade system to dramatically reduce US emissions.
Here's the first page:
In a chapter entitled "Leadership," the report noted that redressing climate change would "demand much of U.S. leaders" and "require strong cooperation between the executive branch and Congress." It called for bipartisan action. The report concluded, "Addressing climate change will be no easy task. But with careful and creative strategy, tempered by modesty in its knowledge of how to address to [sic] the challenge but driven by an equally clear recognition of its gravity, the United States can ultimately help lead the world to a safer place."
That's certainly not the Republican line these days. Earlier this year, the GOP-controlled Senate voted that climate change is not caused by human activity. And it's become a GOP article of faith that climate change is a phony issue and cap-and-trade (or any other response) is a left-wing plot to impose more taxes on Americans for the sake of imposing more taxes on Americans.
So it will be interesting to see how Pataki handles—or dodges—this issue as he campaigns for Republican votes. Here's one clue: His bio on his campaign website doesn't mention his climate change work. And he neglected to mention climate change during his announcement speech. Perhaps he needs to re-read his own report.
Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell is sworn in as he testifes before the House Intelligence Committee.
For a dozen years, the Bush-Cheney crowd have been trying to escape—or cover up—an essential fact of the W. years: President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their lieutenants misled the American public about the WMD threat supposedly posed by Saddam Hussein in order to grease the way to the invasion of Iraq. For Bush, Cheney, and the rest, this endeavor is fundamental; it is necessary to protect the legitimacy of the Bush II presidency. Naturally, Karl Rove and other Bushies have quickly tried to douse the Bush-lied-us-into-war fire whenever such flames have appeared. And in recent days, as Jeb Bush bumbled a question about the Iraq War, he and other GOPers have peddled the fictitious tale that his brother launched the invasion because he was presented lousy intelligence. But now there's a new witness who will make the Bush apologists' mission even more impossible: Michael Morell, a longtime CIA official who eventually became the agency's deputy director and acting director. During the preinvasion period, he served as Bush's intelligence briefer.
Appearing on MSNBC's Hardball on Tuesday night, Morell made it clear: The Bush-Cheney administration publicly misrepresented the intelligence related to Iraq's supposed WMD program and Saddam's alleged links to Al Qaeda.
Last week, Jeb Bush stepped in it. It took the all-but-announced Republican presidential candidate several attempts to answer the most obvious question: Knowing what we know now, would you have launched the Iraq War? Yes, I would have, he initially declared, noting he would not dump on his brother for initiating the unpopular war. "So would almost everyone that was confronted with the intelligence they got," Bush said. In a subsequent and quickly offered back-pedaling remark—on his way to saying he would have made "different decisions"—Bush emphasized that a main problem with the Bush-Cheney invasion was "mistakes as it related to faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the war." And as his Republican rivals jumped on Bush, they, too, blamed bad intelligence for causing the war. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), insisting that he would not have favored the war (if he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction), commented, "President Bush has said that he regrets that the intelligence was faulty." And former CEO Carly Fiorina noted, "The intelligence was clearly wrong. And so had we known that the intelligence was wrong, no, I would not have gone in."
But here's the truth Jeb Bush and the others are hiding or eliding: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, & Co. were not misled by lousy intelligence; they used lousy intelligence to mislead the public.
Last week, Jeb Bush, the all-but-announced GOP presidential candidate, stirred up a fuss when he privately told a group of Manhattan financiers that his top adviser on US-Israeli policy is George W. Bush. Given that Jeb has tried mightily to distance himself from his brother, whose administration used false assertions to launch the still highly unpopular Iraq War, this touting of W.—even at a behind-closed-doors session of Republican donors—seemed odd. But perhaps more noteworthy is that Jeb Bush has embraced much of his brother's White House foreign policy team. In February, his campaign released a list of 21 foreign policy advisers; 17 of them served in the George W. Bush administration. And one name stood out: Paul Wolfowitz, a top policy architect of the Iraq War—for the prospect of Wolfowitz whispering into Jeb's ear ought to scare the bejeezus out of anyone who yearns for a rational national security policy.
Wolfowitz, who was deputy defense secretary under George W. Bush, was a prominent neocon cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq. He was also the top conspiracy theorist in the Bush-Cheney crowd. As Michael Isikoff and I reported in our our 2006 book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Wolfowitz, prior to the Iraq War, was a champion of a bizarre theory promoted by an eccentric academic named Laurie Mylroie: Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, not Islamic extremists such as Al Qaeda, was responsible for most of the world's anti-United States terrorism.