One of the most hyped potential candidates of the 2016 presidential campaign has clashed frequently with his party's higher-ups. He is known for his outspoken views on the surveillance state, his opposition to overseas entanglements, his warnings about the broken criminal-justice system, his desire to expand the party's tent to include voters otherwise alienated by identity politics—and for the Confederate-flag-waving supporters who'd follow him anywhere.
Unfortunately for Jim Webb, I'm talking about Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
Since launching a presidential exploratory committee last month, the former one-term Virginia senator, author, Navy secretary, and Vietnam vet has spent the first weeks of his nascent campaign drawing a contrast with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the party's most likely nominee. The little-touted candidacy of Webb, who was floated as a running mate during President Barack Obama's first campaign, is a reminder of how far the ground has shifted since his first run for office nine years ago. Two years after leaving the Senate, Webb's ideas are finally ascendant—but under a different banner.
After announcing he was forming a presidential exploratory committee last month, former Republican Florida Governor Jeb Bush quickly began pulling together a political operation of strategists, consultants and donors. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that DC insider Richard Hohlt, a Republican lobbyist, has become an informal member of the Jeb Bush campaign team. But the newspaper neglected to note that Hohlt is more than your average Washington influence-peddler.
Hohlt has been a key and somewhat infamous lobbyist for the financial industry, best known for assisting the corrupt savings-and-loan banking industry three decades ago in its battle with federal regulators—at a profound cost to US taxpayers. And in 2009, following the Wall Street-driven economic demise, Citigroup enlisted him to assist its efforts in Washington.
Hohlt has worked the halls of the nation's capital for various corporate giants, including Chevron and Altria. But he is best known for assisting the S&L gang three decades ago. He kept regulators at bay on behalf of these thrifts, which were overextended and speculating with federally insured deposits. The ensuing S&L collapse, which happened during the Reagan and (first) Bush years, helped drive the US economy into the tank, launched a series of investigations, and yielded criminal convictions. As the New York Times reported six years ago, "Critics say that as a top lobbyist for the savings and loan industry in the 1980s, Mr. Hohlt blocked regulation of these institutions and played a pivotal role helping to prolong dubious industry practices that cost taxpayers $150 billion to clean up." (Incidentally, an S&L run by Jeb Bush’s brother, Neil, went belly-up at a cost of $1 billion to taxpayers.)
Conservatives think they've found new ammunition for their campaign against the Clintons—a new Clinton sex scandal. Or sort of.
On Monday, Raffi Williams, deputy press secretary for the Republican Party, tweeted, "Woman Suing Jeffrey Epstein For Sexual Slavery Claimed Bill Clinton Must Have Known" and linked to a post that in turn referred to a Daily Mailstory from 2011. The Drudge Report went for the more sensational "BUBBA AND THE PALM BEACH PEDOPHILE" and linked to the same story. Conservative viral news sites Twitchy and IJReview piled on, as did pundits at conservative websites, including Breitbart and the Blaze.
What has the right in a tizzy is a six-year-old lawsuit against Jeffrey Epstein, a former Democratic donor who has been accused of luring underage girls to his island resort to give massages before ultimately sexually assaulting them. Epstein, a billionaire hedge fund manager, pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting an underage woman and served 13 months in prison. But unsealed court documents revealed that he had been the subject of a much larger federal probe into alleged prostitution and could have faced 10 years in prison or more, if the case had gone forward. After his guilty plea, two of his alleged victims, who had were underage at the time of their encounter with Epstein, sued him in federal court, claiming that he had a "sexual preference and obsession for underage girls" and that he had sexually assaulted them (and many others). Epstein has consistently denied criminal wrongdoing and downplayed his 2008 conviction, telling the New York Post that he is "not a sexual predator."
Last week a new anonymous allegation was introduced in the case, with a court filing charging that Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth's second son, had sexually abused an underage girl when he was a guest at Epstein's house in the US Virgin Islands. (Prince Andrew has denied any wrongdoing.) And on Monday, The Smoking Gunresurfaced old court documents revealing that Epstein's phone book included telephone numbers and email addresses for Bill Clinton. ("Now that Prince Andrew has found himself ensnared in the sleazy sex slave story of wealthy degenerate Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Clinton can't be too far behind," the site declared.)
Clinton's relationship with Epstein is old news. It's long been publicly known that Clinton and other notable figures hobnobbed with Epstein. Still, the new headlines the case has generated have given GOPers a fresh opportunity to try to link Clinton to a sex scandal. Williams, the GOP spokesman, was attempting to draw attention to a three-year-old story that does not implicate Clinton in any lawbreaking. That article, which relies on court documents, recounts the story of Virginia Roberts, who alleged that she became Epstein's sex slave at the age of 15 and that Clinton had once had dinner with Epstein and two girls whom she believed were underage (but she didn't know their ages). But, according to the Daily Mail, Roberts said that "as far as she knows, the ex-President did not take the bait." Roberts did say that she believed Clinton had to have been aware of Epstein's alleged illegal activities, but provided no evidence to support her assumption.
Clinton and Epstein were indeed once close. The former president used Epstein's private jet. And the presence of numerous teenage girls on the financier's private island might have struck a visitor as unusual or even troublesome. But there certainly was a compelling reason for a politician not to ask too many questions: Epstein had given tens of millions of dollars to political and philanthropic causes. And there's another ingredient to the case that makes it a less-than-natural fit for political point-scoring—one of Epstein's lawyers during his criminal case was none other than Kenneth Starr, whose investigation in the Clinton White House produced the Lewinsky scandal.
With GOPers always eager for more soap opera material on the Clintons, don't expect this story and its (so far) thin Clinton connection to go away quietly.
Before he was a prospective 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson was just another disaffected teenager who hopped freight trains in search of thrills.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who plans to make a final decision about running for president by the end of May, became a tea party favorite after ripping into President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. Since then, he has staked out far-right positions on issues like gay rights (which he believes are part of a Marxist plot), the AP US History curriculum (which he fears will be an ISIS recruiting tool), and the 2016 election itself (which he believes might be canceled due to a societal breakdown).
Carson's rags-to-riches story, as a one-time juvenile delinquent raised by a single mom who rose to the top of the medical profession, is at the core of his personal appeal. It has been the subject of a best-selling book and a feature-length movie. His youthful habit of hopping aboard moving freight trains is considerably less well known. But as Carson explained in his 2008 book, Take the Risk, he and his older brother, Curtis, began riding freight trains after moving back to Detroit from Boston for middle school:
We didn't think twice about it at the time, and Mother certainly didn't know about the risks we took, but just getting to and from school in our new neighborhood was a dangerous proposition. The fastest and most exciting way to commute was to hop one of the freight trains rolling on the tracks that ran alongside the route Curtis and I took to Wilson Junior High School. Curtis liked the challenge of fast-moving trains, tossing his clarinet onto one flatcar and then jumping to catch the railing on the very last car of the train. He knew if he missed his chance, he risked never seeing his band instrument again. But he never lost that clarinet.
Since I was smaller, I usually waited for slower trains. But we both placed ourselves in great danger we didn't ever seriously stop to consider. Not only did we have to run, jump, catch the railing, and hold on for dear life to a moving freight train, but we had to avoid the railroad security who were always on the lookout for people hopping their trains.
They never caught us. And we never got seriously injured like one boy we heard of who was maimed for life after falling onto the tracks under a moving train.
As I reported in the January/February issue of Mother Jones, freight-hopping has always attracted a certain brand of (usually male) individualists who are skeptical of centralized authority. Carson's Bo Keeley phase came to an end, however, after a run-in with a gang of racist youths. "We stopped after an encounter I had with a different threat as I trotted along the railroad tracks on my way to school along one morning," he wrote. "Near one of the crossings, a gang of bigger boys, all of them white, approached me. One boy, carrying a big stick, yelled, 'Hey, you! Nigger boy!'"
If elected, Carson wouldn't be the first president with a hobo past. When Harry Truman was 18, he got a job with the Santa Fe Railroad, which required him to manage the migrant workers who rode the rails to do manual labor for the company. "Some of those hoboes had better educations than the president of Harvard University, and they weren't stuck up about it either," he later recalled.
The Rev. Sun Myung Moon had a grand idea: the World Peace King Tunnel. It would be 53 miles long, cost $400 billion, and stretch underneath the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia. It would take three years to build. When completed, it would link up with the eight-lane International Peace Highway that Moon had also proposed. That road would be bordered on both sides by one kilometer of land that would not belong to any nation. When both projects were completed, traffic could pass unimpeded from the Cape of Good Hope to New York City. And if travelers wanted to get married in the tunnel, there'd be places to do that, too.
A multinational construction project that had no funding stream or historical precedent and that was proposed by a self-described messiah who believed he had posthumously healed Adolf Hitler might strike some people as a bit ambitious. But in 2005, when Moon, the late South Korean-born conservative media mogul and founder of the Unification Church, embarked on a world tour to promote his idea, he brought along an unusual companion—Neil Bush, the younger brother of President George W. Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
As Jeb Bush now aims to become the third member of his family to be elected president, he'll have to navigate the legacy not just of his polarizing older brother, but also that of his younger brother, whose business exploits have dogged—if not tainted—the family for decades. In 1988, Neil Bush was embroiled in the savings and loan scandal after his business went belly-up and cost US taxpayers $1 billion.
His recent investments have dovetailed neatly with his brothers' work. In 1999, Neil, backed by "junk bond king" Michael Milken and a Saudi prince, pushed a for-profit education tech venture called Ignite! Learning that sold "curriculum on wheels" consoles to schools. Much of the money for those purchases would come from W.'s No Child Left Behind law, which mandated a new testing regime in public schools. (Neil has said his focus on education was inspired by his own dyslexia.) When his mother, Barbara, wrote a check to assist students who had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina, she stipulated that the money be spent on her son's curriculum on wheels, according to the Houston Chronicle. Neil also got a big hand from his friend, the Rev. Moon. The Washington Times Foundation, which was at the time operated by Moon's Unification Church, spent $1 million to promote Ignite products in Northern Virginia.