Yesterday we, among other news outlets, pointed out that Jack Murtha, Nancy Pelosi's pick for Majority Leader, has a few skeletons in his closet when it comes to his ties to lobbying outfits, including one that once employed his brother, Kit. All told, some have suggested, Murtha may not be the best pick for a party looking to place an emphasis on ethics reform and distance itself from the cavalcade of scandals that led, in part, to the GOP's fall from grace. Not helping Murtha's case in the slightest is the fact that, according to Roll Call, he "told a group of Democratic moderates on Tuesday that an ethics and lobbying reform bill being pushed by party leaders was 'total crap.'" Three sources told the paper that Murtha said: "Even though I think it's total crap, I'll vote for it and pass it because that's what Nancy wants." (Perhaps Pelosi is taking a page from the "Hammer," since this is the second time in as many days that I've heard Dems remark that they'll do as she commands. Here's what Rep. Jim Moran, the Virginia Democrat, told The Hill yesterday. "We are entering an era where when the Speaker instructs you what to do, you do it.")
Murtha's alleged ethical lapses don't end with securing earmarks for the clients of favored lobbying firms that he has personal and professional ties to -- unfortunately, that is considered a fairly run-of-the-mill offense in the District these days -- but extend to more serious forms of malfeasance. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, the FBI ran an undercover sting operation, which came to be known as ABSCAM, targeting congressional corruption. TPMmuckraker sums it up nicely:
Around 1980, agents and an informant met with several lawmakers posing as representatives of a fictional "sheik Abdul" to offer them $50,000 in cash for legislative favors. Murtha was one of the lawmakers who met with them.
Ultimately, six lawmakers went down on corruption charges stemming from the operation, nearly all of them Democrats. Murtha wasn't one of them -- but not, as Murtha implies, because his innocence was ever demonstrated.
Though a 13-second video of Murtha's meeting has circulated in the past, The American Spectator, the conservative magazine, recently obtained the tape in its entirety, all 53 minutes and 40 second of it. TPMmuckraker pulls out some of the money quotes:
"I'm gonna be blunt," an FBI man says to Murtha after laying out what favors he was looking to buy. "Are you telling me now. . . you don't want any money on this thing?"
"There's some places I'd like you to invest some money, in the banks, in my district," Murtha responds. "I'd say some substantial deposits." He explains later how he does so many favors for people that, if they weren't all for individuals in his district, "people would say, that son of a bitch. . . is on the take."
"Once they say that, what happens?" Murtha asks the FBI men rhetorically, ignorant of the fact that he was explaining his own M.O. to agents trying to bust him for corruption. "Then they start going around looking for the goddamn money. So I want to avoid that by having some tie to the district. That's all. That's the secret to the whole thing."
At another point on the tape Murtha says:
Lemme tell you something. You came to the right guys in order to get it done. And I think the way I'd handle it, you know, Murphy, and the other guy, they got, all three [Murtha, John Murphy, and Frank Thompson] of us got things we can each do. Each of us got different responsibility in a different area. But I want to do business with you. I mean I want to get the goddamn jobs in the area, you know, a few bank deposits in my area. Nothing I'd like better. Later on, after we've dealt a while, we might change our mind -- we might want to do more business. But right now, I think I can do more this way than any other way. I think I can do more by being completely independent, if you understand what I mean. And listen, it's hard for me, shit it's hard for me to say, just the hell with it. But I think this is the way I can do the best, the most good.
With the heat on, Murtha's claiming that the newly resurrected questions about his ethics record are "swift boat-style" attacks, meaning that they are specious and politically motivated. Maybe he should first explain why was caught on tape saying things like this and to people whose interests he was not elected to represent: "I haven't been here a long time but I know the right people and I know the system and I went to the ballgame with the president -- in other words there were three of us -- me, Tip [O'Neill, speaker of the House], and that's it -- so I've got as much influence, and I know as much about the goddamn workings as any -- you're not going to have any trouble."