Article

Ethics: Breaking The Culture Of Corruption

The American public backs aggressive congressional oversight. In a recent poll, 72 percent said that they support the investigation into the prosecutor purge.

  Features
 

GOOD NEWS

“Television singing talent show ‘American Idol’ proved its clout as a U.S. cultural phenomenon on Wednesday by raising more than $30 million for young people in Africa and the United States.”


STATE WATCH

OREGON: Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) is shopping using food stamps to “raise awareness about the difficulty of feeding a family on a food stamp budget.”

NEW YORK: Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) plans to introduce legislation to improve abortion access in New York.

CALIFORNIA: “California intends to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency for acting too slowly on the state’s plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars.”

OKLAHOMA: Gov. Brad Henry (D) is expected to successfully veto recent anti-abortion legislation.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Washington Post columnist David Broder’s continuing embarrassment.

RH REALITY CHECK: “National Call-In-Day to support the Freedom of Choice Act.”

GLENN GREENWALD: “The Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch frauds.”

DANGER ROOM: Iraq War Vet Lt. Col. Bob Bateman takes on the Washington Times for its Iraq coverage.


DAILY GRILL

“The Congress does not have oversight over the White House.”
— White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, 3/26/07

VERSUS

“We understand that the Congress has a role to play, which is oversight over the executive branch.”
— Perino, 4/25/07


ARCHIVES

Progress Report


STUDENTS

Politics with an Attitude: Everyone from Barack Obama to Stephen Colbert talks to Campus Progress. Right-wingers seem scared of us. Find out why here.

 April 26, 2007
Breaking The Culture Of Corruption
Go Beyond The Headlines
Coffee and Donuts Not Included
ThinkProgress.orgFor news and updates throughout the day, check out our blog at ThinkProgress.org.
Sign up | Contact us | Archive | Mobile


Breaking The Culture Of Corruption

The 109th Congress was an exercise in unaccountability, turning a blind eye to scandals surrounding former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), among others. But so far, the 110th Congress has proven to be different. “Oversight is just as important, if not more important, than legislation,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. What investigators have uncovered are not only new improprieties by other lawmakers and the administration, but numerous scandals that went unchecked during the previous Congress. The American public backs aggressive congressional oversight. In a recent poll, 72 percent of the respondents said that they back Congress’s investigation of the Bush administration’s prosecutor purge.

K STREET CORRUPTION GOES ON: DeLay’s infamous pay-to-play system between lobbyists and government officials, the K Street Project, continues to thrive, despite House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-OH) promise to dismantle it. Although Abramoff is already in prison, his network of government cronies continue to be uncovered. On Apr. 13, the FBI raided Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-CA) home as part of its investigation into his and his wife’s ties to Abramoff. The lobbyist had hired Mrs. Doolittle’s consulting firm and the congressman and his staff repeatedly received gifts in return for pushing Abramoff’s interests. Since the raid, Doolittle has given up his seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Kevin Ring, Doolittle’s former chief of staff who went to work for Abramoff, also abruptly resigned from his law firm on the day of the Doolittle raid. On Tuesday, the Justice Department convicted the 11th person in the Abramoff investigation. Mark Zachares, former aide to Rep Don Young (R-AK), “pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts” from Abramoff. The court documents contained bad news for Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), who is listed as “Representative #3” and now being questioned by FBI officials. Feeney is one of three House members who accompanied Abramoff to lavish golf trips in Scotland.”

USING POWER TO ADVANCE PERSONAL INTERESTS: [P]artisan politics has infiltrated every level of our federal government,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) yesterday. New evidence shows that his statement is, unfortunately, true. Last year, White House officials “conducted 20 private briefings on Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity.” In January, for example, General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan and Karl Rove deputy Scott Jennings held a videoconference “with top GSA political appointees, who discussed ways to help Republican candidates.” Doan is also facing congressional scrutiny for giving a $20,000 no-bid contract to her personal friend. World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, formerly a Pentagon official and key architect of the Iraq war, is under fire for personally dictating a lavish pay raise and promotion for his love interest at the bank, which is prohibited under the institution’s rules. Congress, too, is facing ethical troubles. The probe of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) is continuing, with one of his district staffers recently subpoenaed. An FBI investigation caught him accepting cash to pay off Nigerian officials supporting one of his business ventures. Last Thursday, the FBI raided the home of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) “regarding a land deal, as well as a piece of legislation he helped steer that may have improperly benefited a major campaign contributor.”

USING POWER TO DESTROY POLITICAL OPPONENTS: As new evidence emerges in the U.S. attorney scandal, it appears increasingly clear that well-qualified prosecutors were pushed out for not playing partisan politics, and replaced by “loyal Bushies.” Former U.S. attorney in New Mexico David Iglesias said that his firing was a “political hit.” Last year, Iglesias refused to cooperate with Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), who called him and pressured him to prosecute Democrats before the 2006 midterm elections. In Oct. 2006, Renzi’s office called the spokesman of then-U.S. attorney Paul Charlton, unhappy with the federal investigation into the congressman. Rep. Doc Hastings’s (R-WA) chief of staff called then-U.S. attorney John McKay shortly after the 2004 elections, pressuring him to go after “voter fraud” in the gubernatorial election that had been called in favor of the Democratic candidate. Many of these ousted prosecutors were either going after Bush administration allies, or refused to prosecute administration foes. In one of the most high-profile cases, lawmakers, including Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), have raised questions have about whether the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, Carol Lam, was ousted because she was “about to investigate other people who were politically powerful” in the corruption case of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

OBSTRUCTING OVERSIGHT: Not surprisingly, the Bush administration has not been eager to cooperate with Congress’s oversight. When the Senate Judiciary Committee requested the testimony of White House aides on the prosecutor purge, the White House issued a “compromise” — it would allow Rove and former counsel Harriet Miers to give unsworn testimony, not under oath, behind closed doors, and no transcript would be permitted. Waxman has repeatedly written letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, requesting her testimony regarding President Bush’s claims that Iraq attempted to procure uranium from Niger. But each time, the State Department blew off his letters. Yesterday, the House oversight committee voted to subpoena Rice. The White House has also continued to stonewall on the House investigation into links between the White House and MZM contractor Mitchell Wade, who pleaded guilty to paying more than $1 million in bribes to Cunningham.

DESTROYING THE EVIDENCE: Part of the reason investigations into the administration have been so difficult is because officials have not properly kept records of their communications. Roughly 50 White House officials use political e-mail accounts to avoid the oversight that comes with the White House e-mail system, which archives all messages. For example, Susan Ralston, formerly Karl Rove’s executive assistant, urged two lobbyists working for Abramoff to use her Republican National Committee (RNC) e-mail account to avoid “security issues” with the White House e-mail system. The House yesterday approved a subpoena directing the RNC “to produce information about the use of its e-mail accounts by White House officials.” Previously, the RNC had resisted providing full records of the e-mail accounts. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington also found that the White House has lost over five million e-mails generated between March 2003 and Oct. 2005.

Under the Radar

ETHICS — WHITE HOUSE REDISCOVERS CONSTITUTION, ACKNOWLEDGES CONGRESS HAS OVERSIGHT ROLE: Last month, the White House adopted talking points that reflected a truly radical interpretation of the Constitution: Congress has no oversight responsibility over the White House. White House spokesman Tony Snow repeatedly claimed that “Congress doesn’t have any legitimate oversight and responsibilities to the White House,” in response to congressional requests for President Bush’s aides to testify concerning their role in the U.S. attorney purge. Spokeswoman Dana Perino echoed Snow, asserting, “The Congress does not have oversight over the White House.” But yesterday, when asked about a recently passed subpoena on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Perino reversed her position: “We understand that the Congress has a role to play, which is oversight over the executive branch. I believe that this administration has been responsive to Congress, as we’ve worked with the new majorities as well, that we’ve been responsive.” The claim that Congress has no oversight responsibilities is false. As the Congressional Research Service states in its Congressional Oversight Manual, “The Constitution grants Congress extensive authority to oversee and investigate executive branch activities.” As for the White House’s reversal today, it may well be a coordinated political decision. But it seems just as likely that Congress’s oversight responsibilities are so astoundingly obvious that Perino simply forgot her month-old talking points and said what she actually believes to be true.

ENVIRONMENT — WOLFOWITZ APPOINTEE DOCTORED WORLD BANK CLIMATE CHANGE REPORTS: Juan Jose Daboub, a strong advocate of the Iraq war, was rewarded with a managing director post when Paul Wolfowitz took over the World Bank. In that role, Daboub has come under heavy criticism from the Bank’s executive directors for pushing a hard-right agenda in stark contrast to many of the Bank’s long-standing policies. In addition to his efforts to undermine family planning policies, Bank scientists are now disclosing that Daboub also tried to eliminate references to climate change in official reports. “Robert Watson, the chief scientist, said Mr Daboub tried to dilute references to climate change in the Clean Energy Investment Framework,” one of the bank’s key strategy papers. Watson and two other bank officials noted, “He tried to water it down. He tried to take out references to climate change.” “My inference was that the words ‘climate change’ to him implied human-induced climate change and he still thought it was a theory and was not proved yet,” Watson added. Daboub’s efforts at the Bank are strikingly similar to efforts by Philip Cooney, the former chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Handwritten notes on drafts of several climate reports issued in 2002 and 2003 showed Cooney repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming.

IRAQ — BUSH ADMINISTRATION EXCLUDES BOMBING ATTACKS IN CASUALTY COUNTS: In an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose on Tuesday, President Bush discussed what an “acceptable level of violence” would be in Iraq. When pushed by Rose on whether it was possible to create zero violence in Iraq, Bush retorted that “if the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory.” He added later that people who “judge the administration’s [escalation] plan” based on such acts of violence “have just given Al Qaeda or any other extremist a significant victories [sic].” Bush said that these images of brutal violence on television are “one of the problems I face in trying to convince the American people” that the war is worthwhile. One reason Bush is hesitant to talk about suicide bombings is because they have increased 30 percent over the past six weeks despite the escalation, according to U.S. military data. The administration clearly considers the rash of suicide bombings in Iraq to be a public relations problem. Perhaps, in response, it has been intentionally underreporting the toll bomb attacks are having on the Iraqi population. McClatchy reported yesterday that “car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn’t include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of addition U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.” Experts contend that not counting bombing victims skews the evidence of how well the “surge” is protecting Iraqi civilians. “Since the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option, they are redefining success in a way that suits them,” said Jeames Denselow, an Iraq specialist at Chatham House.


Think Fast

28 percent: President Bush’s approval rating in a new Harris survey, the lowest of his presidency.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she has already answered the questions she has been subpoenaed to answer before a congressional committee” and suggested she is not inclined to comply with the order. “I am more than happy to answer them again in a letter,” she told reporters.

“White House officials conducted 20 private briefings on Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity,” the White House acknowledged yesterday.

“The Justice Department has asked a federal appeals court to impose tighter restrictions on the hundreds of lawyers who represent detainees at Guantánamo Bay,” proposing “new limits on the lawyers’ contact with their clients and access to evidence in their cases.”

“The White House has turned over to a House committee about 200 pages of documents” related to a suspicious contract it had with a company owned by Brent Wilkes, who pleaded guilty to bribing former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA). 

“In a somber and wide-ranging assessment,” Britain’s top counterterrorism officer Peter Clarke said that Al Qaeda and its supporters have established “an inexorable trend towards more ambitious and more destructive attack planning.” “The only sensible assumption is that we shall be attacked again.”

“Escalating his campaign to remain president of the World Bank, Paul D. Wolfowitz accused the bank’s board on Wednesday of treating him ‘shabbily and unfairly,’ and appealed for more time to defend himself against allegations of favoritism and other matters.”

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) said yesterday “that the Bush administration and Republicans are not doing enough politically in Iraq.” Brownback said after meeting with Vice President Cheney and others last week, “They have a strategy, and it’s dominated by military and Maliki.”

And finally: A state lawmaker in Utah “has submitted a resolution equating illegal immigration to ‘Satan’s plan to destroy the U.S. by stealth invasion‘ for debate.” The resolution refers to a plan by the devil for a “New World Order…as predicted in the Scriptures.” State Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble (R) said, “I don’t think you’ll find much support for that sentiment.”