Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, the Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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Prosecutor: Campaign Worker's Arrest Not Obama's Watergate

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 7:00 AM EST
But how do we know that the Clintons aren't behind all of this?

On Friday, Zachary Edwards, who worked as the Iowa new media director for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, was arrested in Des Moines and charged with attempting to impersonate Matt Schultz, Iowa's Republican secretary of state. Edwards, who had been working for a Des Moines political consulting company with close ties to Iowa Democrats, was promptly fired.

To several right-wing news sources, not only was Edwards' guilt immediately obvious, so was the fact that his arrest likely represented one small piece of a conspiracy reaching straight to the top. "Much like Watergate, which began with a seemingly simple (if puzzling) burglary and ultimately unraveled the Nixon administration, it is impossible to say how far the trail of criminality will go," wrote Powerline's John Hinderaker.

"The big question is how far up it goes," pondered the notoriously conservative editorial board of Investors Business Daily, before speculating about Edwards' supposed ties to "the secretive rich-man's club known as The Democracy Alliance, and the loud crazies of MoveOn.org, both funded by socialist billionaire George Soros" and "a conspiracy to defraud democracy" involving "some of the highest political crimes ever."

Newsbusters, the site dedicated to "exposing and combating liberal media bias," speculated that the lack of coverage of the Edwards story meant it wasn't "safe" for the mainstream media to cover and insinuated that the Associated Press had purposely "avoided the damning details." (Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a Instapundit, promoted Newsbusters' coverage of the story.) And Hot Air wondered "what connections Edwards has to Democratic Party leadership" and "how many more Zach Edwards we can expect to find in Barack Obama's campaign this time around." 

Since every journalist worth his salt would love to expose something "much like Watergate," I decided to try something the right-wingers hadn't thought of: reporting. The criminal complaint against Edwards (PDF) has a case number associated with it, so when I couldn't hunt down a number for Edwards himself, I tried the Polk County court clerk's office and Edwards' bail bondsman to see if he had an attorney. As it turns out, it was a dead end—Edwards apparently hasn't hired a lawyer yet or had one appointed for him. No one, at least, has made court appearances on his behalf.

But I didn't have to go to a defense attorney to find out that Edwards probably isn't part of a grand conspiracy. John Sarcone, the county attorney in charge of prosecuting the Edwards case, couldn't say much about the details because of Iowa ethics rules. But when I told him what Hinderaker and IBD had been saying about Edwards, he laughed. "People have got imaginations, I'll tell you that," he said. "I don't think that's the case at all. They ought to give those jobs to creative writers, because that's fiction."

The White House and the Obama 2012 campaign declined to comment as to whether the president might be involved in an obscure campaign worker's alleged plot against the Iowa secretary of state. I smell a cover-up!

Front page image: Pete Souza/White House

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Report: Obama Team to Break Silence on Killings of American Terror Suspects

| Tue Jan. 24, 2012 1:55 PM EST

The Obama administration will soon explain why it believes the president has the authority to kill American-born terror suspects abroad without charge or trial, Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman reported Monday. US drones have already killed American-born Al Qaeda propagandists Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, and, in a separate strike, Awlaki's 16-year-old, American-born son Abdulrahman. In October, the New York Times' Charlie Savage reported on the contents of a secret document prepared by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that laid out the adminstration's legal rationale for killing the elder Awlaki. But the Obama administration has yet to publicly explain its controversial argument, and Savage and the Times have sued the government after trying and failing to obtain the OLC memo through the Freedom of Information Act. Now, Klaidman says, the White House seems poised to explain at least some of its reasoning:

In the coming weeks, according to four participants in the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is planning to make a major address on the administration’s national-security record. Embedded in the speech will be a carefully worded but firm defense of its right to target U.S. citizens. Holder’s remarks will draw heavily on a secret Justice Department legal opinion that provided the justification for the Awlaki killing.

But when you read further down in the Klaidman piece, it's clear that the government isn't preparing to say much:

An early draft of Holder’s speech identified Awlaki by name, but in a concession to concerns from the intelligence community, all references to the al Qaeda leader were removed. As currently written, the speech makes no overt mention of the Awlaki operation, and reveals none of the intelligence the administration relied on in carrying out his killing.

It's hard to see how this will make anyone on either side of the Awlaki debate happy. Secrecy hawks may be upset by even this much disclosure, and civil libertarians will wonder why the administration is speaking in vague generalities. Savage and the Times will almost certainly continue their lawsuit seeking the OLC memo about the killing, which is what's really at issue here. The Obama administration was willing to release the OLC memos related to George W. Bush's most controversial actions—namely, the brutal interrogations of non-citizens. It will continue to be difficult for the Obama team to argue that memos about their most controversial actions, the killing of citizens without charge or trial, should be exempt from the same type of disclosure.

Some Context on the Gold Standard

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 11:08 PM EST

During Monday night's GOP presidential primary debate on NBC, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a prominent advocate of pegging the value of the US dollar to the price of gold, praised Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, for promising to appoint a federal gold commission to "look at the whole concept of how do we get back to hard money." Since there was little actual discussion of the gold standard as policy (President Richard Nixon took the US off gold in August 1971), it's worth examining what top economists think about it. In short, they don't think it's a great idea. The University of Chicago's business school recently asked several dozen top economists whether they agreed with the following statement:

If the US replaced its discretionary monetary policy regime with a gold standard, defining a "dollar" as a specific number of ounces of gold, the price-stability and employment outcomes would be better for the average American.

Every single one of the economists surveyed disagreed with the statement; i.e., they unanimously embraced the anti-gold standard view, differing only on the degree to which they disagreed with it. 

Gold standard advocates will point out that many top economists missed things like the housing bubble and the financial crisis, and that establishment support for a view doesn't necessarily mean it's correct. That's true, but context is important, too.

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