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.

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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.

DC Ticker on ABC News: Pistole, Sell; Huckabee, Buy

| Tue Nov. 23, 2010 11:21 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:

John Pistole, sell — More squeezing or less at airport screening? TSA chief John Pistole has been sending conflicting signals.

* Mary Cheney, buy — The ex-veep's other daughter is making a bid to be a GOP powerbroker, helping to organize a political committee for Maria Cino, a former Bush administration official angling to replace Michael Steele as RNC chair.

* Sarah Palin, buy — Hasn't she supersaturated the political marketplace yet? Short answer: no. Her new book is out this week, her new TV show is up, and Bristol Palin went much farther on DWTS than could be expected.

* Mike Huckabee, buy — The 2012 presidential wannabe was in Iowa courting social conservatives, just as several Iowan evangelical groups have merged into a single outfit—which could make it easier for Huckabee to rally that crucial Iowa voting bloc.

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.

Bush's Biggest WMD Lie?

| Fri Nov. 19, 2010 7:00 AM EST

It's official. George W. Bush's selective and self-serving book is a best-seller. He sold 775,000 copies in the first week and the publisher has rushed to print an additional 350,000. The amount of debunking the book deserves could, well, fill a book. But there's one trenchant portion of the book that reeks with hypocrisy. In discussing the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush notes, "That was a massive blow to our credibility—my credibility—that would shake the confidence of the American people." He then adds: "No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find the weapons. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do."

A sickening feeling every time he thought about it? Really? Let's rewind the video back to a moment that crystallized the Bush-Cheney era. It was March 24, 2004. Washington's political and media elite had gathered at the Washington Hilton for the annual Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner, which is something of a cousin to the yearly White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. As thousands of DC's swells enjoyed their surf-and-turf meal, Bush was the entertainment. The tradition is that at such affairs the president is the big speaker, and he has to be amusing, poking fun at himself and his political foes.

Bush was no fan of such gatherings, and he and his aides had decided he ought to narrate a humorous slide show, instead of doing a stand-up routine. Large video screens flashed pictures of him and his aides, which he augmented with funny quips. One showed him on the phone with a finger in his ear. He explained this shot by saying he spends "a lot of time on the phone listening to our European allies." There were humorous bits about his mother and Dick Cheney.

Then Bush displayed a photo of himself looking for something out a window in the Oval Office. His narration: "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere." The audience laughed. But the joke wasn't done. After a few more slides, there was a shot of Bush looking under furniture in the Oval Office. "Nope," he said. "No weapons over there." More laughter. Then another picture of Bush searching in his office: "Maybe under here." Laughter again.

Bush was actually joking about the missing weapons of mass destruction. He was making fun of the reason he had cited for sending Americans to war and to death, turning it into a running gag. His smile was wide and his eyes seemed bright, as the audience laughed. At the time I wrote,

Few [in the crowd] seemed to mind. His WMD gags did not prompt a how-can-you silence from the gathering. At the after-parties, I heard no complaints.I wondered what the spouse, child or parent of a soldier killed in Iraq would have felt if they had been watching C-SPAN and saw the commander-in-chief mocking the supposed justification for the war that claimed their loved ones. Bush told the nation that lives had to be sacrificed because Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used (by terrorists) against the United States. That was not true. (And as [WMD search team leader David] Kay pointed out, the evidence so far shows these weapons were not there in the first place, not that they were hidden, destroyed or spirited away.) But rather than acknowledge he misinformed the public, Bush jokes about the absence of such weapons.

In yet another act reminiscent of Soviet-style revisionism, Bush in his book does not mention this dinner and his performance there. If he indeed felt ill whenever he pondered the missing WMDs—as he insists in his memoirs—how could he turn this into a crass punchline? Asking that question provides the answer. He is fibbing in his book. Moreover, this small episode is proof of a larger truth: Bush's chronicle is not a serious accounting of his years as the decider. As for the hundreds of thousands of readers who shelled out $35.00 for the book, expecting the former president to level with them, the joke is on them.

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