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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DC Ticker on ABC News: Hillary Clinton, sell; Patty Murray, buy.

| Tue Nov. 30, 2010 11:30 AM EST

I've previously explained the DC Ticker I compile most days, which is now being featured weekly on ABC News' website show, Political Punch, hosted by Jake Tapper. Here are the picks featured on the latest PP:

* Hillary Clinton, sell. How would you like to explain to allies (and the public) that the US spied on the UN leadership, turned a blind eye to an Afghan vice president caught with $52 million in cash in his possession, and conspired with the Yemen government to cover up secret US bombing in that country? Thanks, WikiLeaks.

* Daniel Ellsberg, buy. Whenever there's a big leak, the O.L. (Original Leaker) reappears.

* Sen. Patty Murray, buy. After winning a reelection nail-biter, Murray's been courted by Democratic leaders to head up its 2012 Senate campaign. This boosts her profile, but that job will be tough, given that Democratic prospects look worse in 2012 than they did this year.

* Reynaldo Decerega, buy. One way to get noticed in Washington: pop the president in the mouth with your elbow during a friendly basketball game. After doing so this past weekend, the little-known director of programs for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute became a Google search term.

You can receive the 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).

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. Invest in politics at your own risk.

Wikileaks: Can Karzai's Brother be Trusted?

| Mon Nov. 29, 2010 4:40 PM EST

A crucial front in the Afghanistan war is the Kandahar region in the southern part of the country. A crucial player in that area is Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of President Hamid Karzai. He is the chief of the provincial council—which means he essentially runs the place—and he's long fought off charges that he's a drug-dealing warlord (even claiming the US Drug Enforcement Agency has cleared him of this accusation, though it hasn't).

Now, the latest WikiLeaks dump of classified US State Department cables shows that AWK—as he's called—is in low repute among Americans officials, who nevertheless figure they have no choice but to work with him. In a October 3, 2009, cable to Foggy Bottom reporting on a meeting Frank Ruggiero, the embassy's senior civilian representative for southern Afghanistan, held with AWK, the US embassy in Kabul wrote, "While we must deal with AWK as the head of the Provincial Council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker."

During that meeting, AWK shared suggestions that would seem to benefit, well, AWK. According to the cable—classified "confidential"— he "cautioned against the use of small scale projects and additional cash-for-work-programs." He wanted big infrastructure projects, which would result in lots of cash being passed around and which would be controlled supposedly by local elders. He also proposed, the cable said, that all the local militia commanders providing security to convoys and projects in the area be brought "under one umbrella in Kandahar, with one person given the license for the private security sector." The cable noted, "AWK is understood to have a stake in private security contracting, and has aggressively lobbied the Canadians to have his security services retained for the Dahla Dam refurbishment. Both he and the governor have tried to exert control over how contracts are awarded in the province."

The cable summed up the face-to-face by implying AWK was corrupt:

The meeting with AWK highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt. Given AWK's reputation for shady dealings, his recommendations for large, costly infrastructure projects should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The cable did not suggest what ought to be done with or about AWK.

Months later, on February 23, 2010, Ruggiero again met with AWK, according to another cable, and AWK, unprompted, raised the allegations of his participation in narcotics trafficking. He offered to take a lie-detector exam and, the cable said, "dismissed the narcotics allegations as part of a campaign to discredit him, particularly by the media, saying the allegations are "like a spice added to a dish to make it more enticing to eat.'" The cable did not record any response Ruggiero made to AWK about this. But the cable—classified "secret—ended up with not a positive assessment of the president's brother:

AWK was eager to engage and rarely stopped talking in the two hour meeting. While he presented himself as a partner to the United States and is eager to be seen as helping the coalition, he also demonstrated that he will dissemble when it suits his needs. He appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities, and that the coalition views many of his activities as malign, particularly relating to his influence over the police. We will need to monitor his activity closely.

WikiLeaks' initial release is rather selective. These are the only two cables in its first batch that come from the US embassy in Kabul. (WikiLeaks will be releasing 251,287 documents in stages over the next few months) Consequently, the documents offer snapshots—not a full picture—of the US government's interactions with and worries about AWK, who still plays a pivotal role in a pivotal area. But these two cables do explicitly illustrate one of the profound challenges of the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy: how to succeed in a war when you don't trust your partners.

Sarah Palin's WikiLeaks Fail

| Mon Nov. 29, 2010 11:45 AM EST

People who do not need more evidence of Sarah Palin's lack of seriousness should not read further.

As the WikiLeaks controversy continues, Palin could not resist the urge to tweet her thoughts about the affair. On Monday morning, she sent this message to her 317,000 Twitter followers:

Inexplicable: I recently won in court to stop my book "America by Heart" from being leaked,but US Govt can't stop Wikileaks' treasonous act?

Inexplicable? Does she not understand the difference between apples and nuclear reactors? The two instances she links have little in common. In the case of her book, she managed to get a judge to order Gawker to take down a post showing portions of her book after the website had put them up. And the judge in this case was following precedent established when The Nation magazine was successfully sued by Harper & Row in the 1970s after publishing excerpts of former President Gerald Ford's memoirs before the book was released. The Supreme Court, deciding the case in favor of the publisher, said media outlets could not, under a claim of fair use, publish a significant portion of a copyrighted book (accepting the argument that this could weaken the commercial value of the book). Palin's lawyers took advantage of this ruling, in demanding that Gawker not show the actual pages of her book.

Stopping a media leak involving government information before the fact is not the same. The grand-daddy legal decision on this front comes out of the famous Pentagon Papers case, when the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not block newspapers from publishing the secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam war leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to The New York Times and other papers. The guiding principle here: the government does not have the right to impose prior restraint on the media.

This latest WikiLeaks episode could cause some, including Palin, to argue that in these post-9/11 days the prior restraint rule is a luxury that cannot be afforded. But that's where the law stands. With her tweet tying this important and historical issue to her own (less consequential) book, Palin demonstrates that for her simplistic analysis is the best analysis and that the best way to understand anything is to view that topic from Planet Sarah.

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