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.
If the Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives in the coming congressional elections, Americans can expect to see subpoenas flying like pigeons around Washington next year. Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican likely to take over the House oversight committee, has pledged that if the GOPers win the House, he will double the size of his staff in order to mount multiple investigations of the Obama White House. But will these be real probes or trumped-up witch hunts? A taste of what's to come can be found in the Republicans' current effort to whip up an Obama scandal: GoolsbeeGate.
The issue: Did White House economic aide Austan Goolsbee nefariously gain access to the confidential tax records of Koch Industries, a megafirm privately owned by the billionaire Koch brothers, who have funded much anti-Obama political activity? The short answer: Probably not. But that hasn't stopped the scandalmakers, while the White House response has provided them running room.
This controversy began with an August 27 press briefing, which featured an administration official speaking on background (meaning he could be quoted by position, not by name) to discuss a recent report on the US corporate tax system. That report noted businesses were increasingly eschewing corporate structures in favor of partnerships and other so-called "pass-through" entities to duck corporate income taxes. This official told reporters:
So in this country, we have partnerships, S corps, we have LLCs—we have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax. Some of which are really giant firms. You know, Koch Industries, I think, is one, is a multibillion dollar business, and so that creates a narrower base because we got literally something like 50 percent of the business income in the US is going to businesses that don’t pay any corporate income tax.
Aha! Republicans cried: The White House could only know about Koch Industries' tax status because it rifled through confidential IRS records to gather dirt on its political foes. Mark Holden, Koch's general counsel, complained about how the White House had obtained this information on the company. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) issued a statement slamming the White House for possible "unlawful use of Internal Revenue Service documents." Holden then told the conservative Weekly Standard that the administration official in question was Goolsbee. (I didn't participate in that briefing, but it's widely accepted within the press corps that Goolsbee made those comments.) The White House maintained that the information about Koch Industries had not come from IRS files but from testimony before the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board and the company's own website:
No senior administration officials have any access to anyone's tax returns—individual or business. The administration official was discussing the section of the PERAB's tax report that argued we should look at the rising importance of pass through entities that do not pay corporate income tax.
This issue was raised repeatedly by outside experts that testified before the PERAB and Koch was cited to the PERAB as an example by outside commenters to the group. We assume it came up from publicly available information such as the Forbes magazine annual report listing Koch as one of the largest private companies in the nation or the fact that a high fraction of the largest companies within Koch Industries are listed on the Koch website as LLCs, LPs or other frequent pass-through entities. If this information is incorrect, we are happy to revise statements.
And Goolsbee did say, "I think," when he had referred to Koch Industries—hardly evidence he was slyly exploiting ill-gotten information. But none of that stopped the Republicans. On September 23, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and six other Senate GOPers sent IRS Inspector General Russell George a letter asking him to investigate "a very serious allegation that Administration employees may have improperly accessed and disclosed confidential taxpayer information." And five days later, George wrote back to say he had "ordered the commencement of a review into the matters alleged."
For some time, I've had a mostly daily feature on my Twitter feed called DC Ticker, in which I issue buy or sell orders for various political and policy players. It's amusing (I hope) shorthand for who's trending up or down, according to the news of the moment. I keep the assessment non-ideological. Some Twitter followers were irritated recently when I issued a buy order for Karl Rove, but this rating was based on the increasing influence of the billionaire-funded super-PAC he has put together to exploit the Citizens United decision and assist GOP candidates in the 2010 congressional campaigns.
Now, DC Ticker is expanding. ABC News White House correspondent Jake Tapper is starting a weekly digital show today. It's called Political Punch, which happens to be the name of his rather good blog. Each edition of the PP show will include a DC Ticker report from me. Part of the fun so far in compiling the DC Ticker has been in not explaining the picks. Often, the reasoning is obvious (if you pay attention to political developments). But not always. Occasionally, if enough people ask, I might offer an explanation. But there's no guarantee. The producers of Tapper's new show, though, have requested transparency for DC Ticker. So here's a brief run-down of the choices and the whys.
* Bill Burton, buy. Lots of chatter of late about White House press secretary Robert Gibbs leaving his post for another White House gig or to head the Democratic National Committee. Burton, the assistant press secretary, is in line to take Gibb's place at the podium (though there are others presumably in contention).
* Rep. Pete Sessions, sell. He heads the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. With a flurry of articles saying, well, the Democrats just may be able to hold on to the House majority, his stock is slipping.
* John McCain, sell. A New Yorkerpiece contained a telling nugget: McCain dressing down Sen. Lindsey Graham, a fellow Republican, for trying to steal McCain's "maverick" label. High school, anyone?
* Anthony Kennedy, buy. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there's a new Supreme Court Justice named Elena Kagan, and she is a she. But as the court opens its term this week, Kennedy remains the main swinger on this bench.
* Jon Stewart, buy. At the start of this week, nearly 200,000 people had declared on Facebook that they will attend his Rally To Restore Sanity on October 30 in Washington, DC. Whether this event is serious or a stunt, Stewart wins: he'll get plenty of media attention this month and, best of all, a ratings hike. (For my quasi-serious take on Stewartpalooza, see here.)
You can receive my almost-daily DC Ticker report by following my Twitter feed. (#DCticker is the Twitter hashtag.) Please feel free to argue with my selections—though all decisions of the judges are final. And please feel free to make suggestions for buy or sell orders in the comments below or on Twitter (by replying to @DavidCornDC). And there's this: DC Ticker is merely an advisory service. It and its author cannot be held liable for any investments made in politicians, policy wonks, or government officials on the basis of the information presented.
The White House doesn't want its activists to disrupt the backroom deals its aides cut with lobbyists and legislators, nor does it want them putting too much pressure on obstructionist Democrats, lest it alienate key swing votes in Congress. When MoveOn.org ran ads targeting conservative Democrats who were blocking healthcare reform, Rahm Emanuel memorably called the ads "fucking retarded." And, indeed, the White House has expended considerable political capital denouncing the "professional left" and defending apostate Democrats like Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas from insurgent primary challengers, which has further undermined Obama's reformist brand.
"I'm not looking to pick another fight with Rahm Emanuel, but the contempt with which he held the progressive wing of the party was devastating and incredibly demoralizing," [former Democratic Party chief Howard] Dean says. "That's basically saying to your own people, You got us here, now F-you."
Emanuel received a standing ovation in the East Room from the White House staff on Friday morning when President Barack Obama officially announced his departure.
Did Rahm Emanuel and Rupert Murdoch huddle together at the Obama White House?
On the day that Emanuel is departing the West Wing to run for mayor of Chicago, the Sunlight Foundation is releasing a list of the visitors he had at the White House. The usual suspects on this roster: Chicago power players (Sam Zell, Leo Melamed), lots of members of Congress, Hollywood celebs (Kevin Costner, Judd Apatow), a bunch of journalists (Jonathan Alter, Karen Tumulty, Noam Schieber, Fred Hiatt, Ryan Lizza, Ron Fournier, Candy Crowley, Tom Friedman, Susan Page, David Ignatius, David Wessel, Mark Halperin, Katty Kay), and one possible surprise guest. The foundation's blog reports:
One meeting that appears in the White House visitor logs that may seem unexpected is a June 9, 2010 meeting with one Keith R. Murdoch. Does the “R” stand for Rupert? In his book The Promise Jonathan Alter revealed that Emanuel kept a back channel open to NewsCorp owner Rupert Murdoch, who’s real name is Keith Rupert Murdoch. I have not yet confirmed whether this is actually Rupert Murdoch, but I will let you know when I do.
Perhaps Emanuel showed Murdoch a copy of Obama's birth certificate.
With their 48-page "Pledge to America," House GOPers have called for tax cuts for the wealthy and downsizing government—and for repealing President Obama's major initiatives, such as his health care overhaul. The campaign booklet also contains what might perhaps be a more ambitious promise: to reinvent the political culture in Washington and end the business-as-usual wheeling and dealing in the nation's capital. But on Wednesday—the day before he was scheduled to deliver a speech called "Reforming Congress in the People's House"—Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who will likely become House speaker if the Republicans triumph on November 2, would not say whether the GOP will do anything about lobbyists or lobbying, should he and his comrades gain control of the House.
In the preamble to the "Pledge," Boehner and the Republicans present a fundamental promise: "We pledge to make government more transparent." The document goes on to state,
The most important decisions are made behind closed doors, where a flurry of backroom deals has supplanted the will of the people. It’s time to do away with the old politics: that much is clear.
But what would this mean for lobbyists and the future of lobbying on Capitol Hill? On Wednesday morning, at a House GOP leadership press conference, we asked Boehner if he and the Republicans were to control the House would they disclose their meetings with lobbyists and reveal what is discussed in these behind-closed-door sessions. Boehner replied:
Think about how the House has worked over the last couple of years. There are about five members who decide what the outcome of the bill is going to be, the whole process. Five members. And there are 430 of us who sit on the sidelines. I just think it's time for all members to have a chance to represent their constituents when laws are being created in the US House of Representatives.
This certainly was a non-responsive reply. He said nothing about lobbying or lobbyists. He didn't even say anything about transparency. He was merely griping about the internal workings of the House leadership.