Note: This is a story republished from the current issue of Random Lengths News.  None of the details should come as news to avid readers here, but the big picture may be illuminating for someone you know, particularly in response to the “criminalizing politics” meme.  Feel free to pass on.

Recent indictments and investigations of GOP lawmakers, lobbyists and associates are only the tip of the iceberg, according to longtime observers, including current and former true believers in the GOP cause.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist pulled a Martha Stewart this June. He sold all the stock in his family’s hospital chain just before the stock plummeted. He’s now under investigation for insider trading by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  The latest wrinkle–the “blind trust” he used to supposedly insulate himself from conflicts of interest wasn’t so blind, after all.

Fortunately for Frist, he’s not the most high-profile Republican in hot water these days.
A wave of recent indictments and fresh investigations have swept over top Republicans in the House, Senate, Bush Administration, and the shadowy world of lobbyists and consultants where many say the real governing of the country is done.  While the GOP has its talking points arrayed to blame the Democrats for “criminalizing politics” with “baseless prosecutions,” there is far too much smoke from far too many cases to pretend that there’s no fire.

The Weekly Standard Is Not Pleased

What’s more, some well-placed true-believer conservatives have been bitterly critical of the conduct involved. As long ago as December, 2004, the conservative Weekly Standard ran a story of mourning on the tenth anniversary of the Gingrich-lead  GOP takeover of the House of Representatives, “A Lobbyist’s Progress: Jack Abramoff and the End of the Republican Revolution.” [Wikipedia: Abramoff]It pulled no punches in describing the top GOP lobbyist’s conduct. Senate investigations into his exploitation of Native American gambling interests “show a riot of presumption and greed on the part of Abramoff, Scanlon, and Reed,” the Standard reported. Scanlon was Abramoff’s close associate. Reed was Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition. [Wikipedia: Abramoff-Reed Indian Ganbling Scandal]

As The Standard explained:

First-tier lobbying firms in Washington might bill a total of $20 million in fees a year. The Senate committee has reported that Abramoff and his partner Scanlon split as much as $82 million in fees from six tribes over three years. That figure doesn’t include the additional millions that Abramoff told tribes to donate to charitable and political organizations. Moreover, these fees were collected during a period when Congress was considering scarcely any Indian-related legislation at all.

Yet, despite the super-size scale, the real scandal may turn out to be how typical Abramoff’s wheeling and dealing was of how Republicans have come to run Washington, DC.  He was, after all, chair of the College Republicans from 1981 to 1984, where he first became a close associate of Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, now a leading anti-tax lobbyist, who hosts weekly meetings of top conservative activists in DC.

Plenty else is happening aside from Abramoff. Indictments are expected any day in the investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame in retaliation for her husband exposing the lack of a nuclear connection between Iraq and Niger. Frist, of course, is under investigation for insider trading. And House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has stepped down under indictment for conspiracy and money-laundering.

Abramoff himself was indicted for bank fraud on August 11, apart from ongoing grand jury investigations into two multimillion dollar lobbying scandals–the second involving sweatshop manufacturers in the Mariana Islands. The Bush Administration’s top procurement officer, David Safavian, who oversees $300 billion of annual federal purchasing, was arrested on three counts related to obstructing an investigation into Abramoff’s attempts to acquire federal property in the DC area. And, to add a Hollywood touch, three men have just been arrested for the 2001 gangland slaying of cruise ship casino owner Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. An apparent payoff links them to Adam Kidan, Abramoff’s partner in the disputed purchase of Boulis’s SunCruz lines.

Frist sold all his of shares in HCA, the hospital chain founded by his father and brother that is the source of the family fortune, shortly before a disappointing earnings report that sent share prices tumbling.  He avoided losses greater than ten percent.  This appears to be an isolated scandal, indicative of a wider culture of corruption, but not directly connected to anyone else, or to political power grabs.

But not DeLay’s indictments.  They are linked to his plan to take over the Texas legislature, and redraw Texas’s congressional districts to create more Republican safe seats, shoring up a narrow GOP House majority. The impact on Texas itself was secondary to DeLay’s concern, but devastating nonetheless, according to Craig McDonald, Executive Director of Texans for Public Justice, a clean government advocacy group.

“Tom DeLay acted as if he was above the law. This is a white collar assault against the people of Texas,” McDonald said. “DeLay’s puppet regime in the Texas legislature, elected because of the widespread cheating, has done the bidding of the big corporate donors at the expense of Texas voters, workers and consumers…. They have ignored insurance reform, education reform, political reform, and environmental cleanup.” McDonald  explained.

All this paralleled the agenda DeLay had in mind nationally, based on “The K-Street Project”–a calculated effort spearheaded by Norquist and DeLay to transform the bipartisan nature of Washington lobbyist firms into a virtual extension of the Republican Party, purging Democrats from top positions and shrinking new hires of Democrats to a low of about 30% in 2003.  

The Texas congressional districts were drawn by a court after the 2000 census when politicians could not reach agreement. Redistricting congressional seats between censuses is unheard of, an abuse of power that was blocked in the courts when the GOP tried it in Colorado as well. But a key part of DeLay’s scheme was outright illegal–the use of corporate contributions in Texas legislative races in 2002. To avoid detection, $190,000 in corporate money was sent to the national GOP, and an identical sum was sent back to Texas campaigns.  DeLay has claimed total ignorance of what his underlings were doing–an implausible claim, given the tight control he’s famous for. Plus, he met with his top fundraiser, James W. Ellis, the very day the money-swap went down. Ellis was indicted before DeLay.

What’s more, there’s a pattern. DeLay has used similar money-swapping schemes before.

In fact, DeLay’s replacement as Majority Leader, Roy Blunt, was involved with DeLay in a donation-swapping scheme with money raised “for” the GOP’s 2000 convention.  “When the financial carousel stopped, DeLay’s private charity, the consulting firm that employed DeLay’s wife and the Missouri campaign of Blunt’s son all ended up with money,” the Associated Press (AP) reported.  Abramoff was also involved.  He has longstanding ties with DeLay, and his payment for DeLay junkets to Scotland and elsewhere are subjects of separate criminal investigations targeting both men.

“These people clearly like using middlemen for their transactions,” said Lawrence Noble, the chief lawyer for the Federal Election Commission for 13 years, to the AP. “It seems to be a pattern with DeLay funneling money to different groups, at least to obscure, if not cover, the original source.”

While the Weekly Standard mourned what it saw as the corruption of the Gingrich Revolution, Kevin Phillips, architect of a much earlier GOP triumph–Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”–has taken a much more jaundiced view from the beginning. His 2002 book, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, viewed all ruling political coalitions as special-interest wealth-accumulating enterprises, regardless of rhetoric. He took sharper aim in his 2004 book, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.  

In that book, Phillips talks about Bush’s election as a kind of elitist, anti-democratic “Restoration,” akin to that of the Charles II, after Cromwell and parliamentary rule, in 17th Century England, and that of Louis XVIII, after the French Revolution and Napoleonic rule, in 19th Century France.

“Restoration, of course, has one central impulse: to recover the past,” Phillips wrote. “Each time that has involved a return of the courtiers, cronies, and prejudices of the expelled dynasty, often the very figures that had helped to incite the earlier expulsion.”  

Figures returning under Bush, Jr. include high-profile DC insiders like Cheney and Rumsfeld, plus lesser-knowns directly involved in terrorism and dirty wars abroad, most prominently John Negroponte, who covered up Honduran death squad activities, and Contra drug-running in the 1980s. Negroponte served as Bush’s UN Ambassador and Ambassador to Iraq before being appointed Director of National Intelligence.

Phillips, once the top GOP guru of policy and politics, is now a political independent, who sees the cronyism, corruption and criminality of the Bush regime in terms of recurrent historical forces, which will eventually be ebb.  

Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry, who broke the story of Iran-Contra Affair in 1986, takes a much grittier, close-up view.  [“How Rotten Are These Guys?”] Both are aware of the Bush family’s long involvement in covert operations–dating back to Bush’s great-grandfather in World War I, and his grandfather, Prescott Bush’s involvement in helping to fund Hitler’s rise to power–a matter that was “strictly business,” but hardly a source of family pride. [“Bush, the Nazis and America”]

“There is history here; and much as people have tired to spin the Bush family as patrician, or beyond question, the reality is very different. If anyone goes back and studies the family and the compromises they’ve made in their political rise, they will see a tolerance and collaboration with criminals,” Parry said. But he focuses primarily on more recent events.

“Both George Bushes have been close to people who have engaged in criminal activity in various ways. The older George Bush was involved with some very unsavory characters when he was director of Central Intelligence in ’76, when he helped cover up terrorist acts,”  Parry pointed out.

Chief among them was the Washington DC bombing that killed Chilean envoy Orlando Letellier, and his American assistant, Ronnie Moffit.  Bush “steered the investigation away from the perpetrators” who worked for the Chilean government, Parry noted.  The Bushes–including brother Jeb–have also protected anti-Castro terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, Parry added. And then there were the connections with South American drug trafficking, both through Manuel Noriega and the Nicaraguan Contras.

This is only natural, Parry explained.

“People operating on the edges of the law or outside the law, will buy themselves some protection.” Shifting focus slightly he brings up Reverend Sun Yung Moon Moon, whose influence peddling for South Korea in the late 70s lead to an IRS case, and jail time. “What Moon learned form that was the need to spread money around, and have media like the Washington Times, and make himself useful.”

There are layers upon layers of characters like Moon, Abramoff, Norquist and their flunkies behind the layers of Rove and DeLay.  The crimes surfacing recently in the press are the merest tip of the iceberg, Parry suggested. And in American Dynasty, former GOP uber-guru Kevin Phillips concluded that the “October Surprise”–an alleged deal between the Reagan/Bush team and the Iranian Revolution to prevent the release of hostages until after the 1980 election–has credible evidence to support it, and is consistent with the larger pattern of Bush family behavior.

In the Afterward, Phillips concluded, “The Bushes appear to be a family that approaches a presidential election as something to be won with a CIA manual, not earned with commitment to Lincolnian precepts or popular sovereignty.”

In ordinary crimes, the proceeds are seized by the state. But in crimes like these, the proceeds are the state.

“We can’t undo the elections.  We can only hold responsible those who broke the law,” said Craig McDonald. “Thankfully we have a strong district attorney who prosecutes political corruption by Democrats and Republicans alike.”

Seizing the proceeds–undoing the elections–will have to be done at the ballot box.

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