On today's BradCast, Desi and I are back from holiday break, and just in time for the start of the new Congress, where the GOP had hoped to break the U.S. House even further by gutting the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. [Audio link to show posted below.]
First: A huge thanks to Nicole Sandler and Angie Coiro for filling in for us while we were gone and allowing us some much-needed time off! Please support them, their work and all independent media, wherever you can find it! As today's show makes clear, it's more important now than ever!
The U.S. House watchdog office was formed by Democrats in 2008 after the massive Jack Abramoff influence-peddling and bribery scandals of the George W. Bush era. After voting last night --- with no advance notice or public debate --- to hobble the OCE, Republicans were forced to reverse their plans thanks to public outrage expressed through phone calls to Congress. Nonetheless, Donald Trump is being inappropriatelycredited by the corporate media for the reversal, despite the lack of evidence that he actually opposed the move or that his tweets were responsible for the GOP changing course.
The episode suggests that public opinion, outrage and shaming maystill matter in these United States, even in the Age of Trump, and even if the corporate media fail to notice. But we'll see.
At the same time, as NBC News guts their own news reporting outlets, they've announced today they are hiring Fox "News" star Megyn Kelly for untold millions. And, in Wisconsin, the agency responsible for environmental protection has solved Climate Change...by simply changing their website to pretend it no longer exists.
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Incredibly enough, it's been ten years this month since we broke the story about vote-rigging software whistleblower Clint Curtis. It was certainly the biggest story we'd broken up until that time, in December of 2004, and, for some, it is still the story we may be best known for.
That's not surprising as it involves election fraud, touch-screen voting systems, Florida, a powerful Congressman, the Bush family, Chinese spies and several disturbing deaths.
For those not familiar with it, you can find a quick summary here. The index of most of the key articles in our years-long series, beginning with our 12/6/2004 exclusive on Curtis' sworn affidavit can be found at BradBlog.com/ClintCurtis. (And, yes, if you're looking for the horrifying NSFW "crime scene photos" of the main death involved in this case, those are here.)
In short, Curtis was a software programmer from Oviedo, FL who claimed in a sworn 2004 affidavit and then sworn testimony before members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, that he was asked to create a vote-rigging software prototype for touch-screen voting systems back in 2000 by then Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), a very powerful Republican in the Sunshine State and a close friend of the Bush family. At the time, Curtis worked for a company named Yang Enterprises, Inc., which had many contracts with NASA and the state of Florida. In 2000, when he says Feeney asked him to create the vote-rigging software, Feeney was both the Speaker of the FL House, as well as a registered lobbyist for Yang. Feeney would also go on to great ignominy due to his dealings with Republican uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
There is much much more to this story, much of which was also eventually told in Murder, Spies and Voting Lies: The Clint Curtis Story, an award-winning documentary film by Patty Sharaf. It includes spying for China and at least two deaths in addition to the vote-rigging allegations, but I'll let you explore it all via the links above and/or in my all-new interview with Curtis from this week's KPFK/Pacifica RadioBradCast
As it's been 10 years since we broke the initial story, it seemed a good time to get caught up with Curtis, reminisce a bit about the original story (and his eventual, gutsy, and at times hilarious campaign to run against Feeney for the U.S. House), as well as find out what he (and Feeney) have been up to since then --- even as we've been almost-continuously reporting on new developments in the case over the years since we originally broke the story in late 2004.
I gotta say I enjoyed this interview with Clint --- it was great to catch up with him --- and I hope you will too.
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Though I am not being paid to play, I will be speaking for free a few minutes after the 7:50p showing of documentary filmmaker John Wellington Ennis' latest years-in-the-making masterwork, Pay 2 Play: Democracy's High Stakes, on Wednesday (9/17) out here in L.A.
I'm also in the film, but don't let that keep you from coming if you're anywhere near the 'hood. As usual, our friend Mr. Ennis (director of one of my favorite Election Integrity films, FREE FOR ALL!: One Dude's Quest to Save Democracy - click that link to watch the great trailer!) has put together an ingenious, enlightening, very funny and very frustrating portrait of our post-Citizens United democracy and what the hell there is left to do about it. It also features some fantastic stories and terrific voices, many of whom you may be familiar with.
So if you're in the L.A. area on Wednesday night, please stop by for the screening and say hey afterword! Here's the deets...
Picking up on The BRAD BLOG's exclusive statement from the imprisoned former Governor Don Siegelman (D-AL) in regard to the alleged $20 million money laundering conspiracy by the currently-acquitted Tom DeLay, former convict Jack Abramoff, fugitive from justice Karl Rove and others to take down Alabama's popular former Governor, I was joined by Siegelman's son Joseph on this week's KPFK/Pacifica RadioBradCast.
Not familiar with the outrageous prosecution and conviction of Siegelman? Or of what appears to be his blatantly stolen 2002 election (on a Diebold paper ballot electronic tabulator?) This is great episode to listen to, as it also includes a lot of background and a few clips from my interview with the former Governor just days before he was ordered back to federal prison last year.
But before you get outraged all over again, we started off the show with a rarely heard good news segment to help soften everything else a bit. Yes, there have been a number of things to be happy and/or encouraged by, of late...though admittedly it's been very hard to notice.
Now, the last Democratic governor to serve Alabama is speaking up for himself, in a statement he's furnished to The BRAD BLOG from federal prison, slamming DeLay for what he describes as his part in a $20 million criminal conspiracy with convicted GOP uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist and others to defeat him in his bid for re-election, and to ensure he never took office again.
Siegelman is currently serving a 6.5 year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale, Louisiana for something that 113 bi-partisan former state attorneys general agree had never been regarded as a crime until Siegelman was convicted for it. (Watch 60 Minutes' 2008 story on Siegelman's outrageous prosecution here.)
In his statement, the former governor speaks out against "The Hammer" and hammers him hard for what he describes as collusion to "engineer a money laundering scheme to defeat me in my race for re-election as governor and to elect Karl Rove's and Tom DeLay's Republican colleague from the U.S. House, then Congressman Bob Riley."
"I know first-hand, personally --- what I'm about to tell you is not hearsay," Siegelman writes about the alleged scheme to remove him from office through a late night ballot tampering scheme. He explains how the conspiracy resulted in robbing him of his 2002 re-election after it had already been called in his favor by all the networks. Later, before Siegelman --- the only person to hold all four top statewide offices in Alabama history --- could run for Governor again, he says the same cabal worked to have him thrown in jail on what appear to be trumped up charges brought by a Bush Administration prosecutor who also happened to be married to Riley's Chief of Staff.
In the fiery, no-holds-barred statement (posted in full below), Siegelman cites Abramoff's own book, Capitol Punishment, in which he says the former GOP lobbyist "admits for the first time to money laundering to the tune of some $20,000,000 dollars 'to stop Siegelman.'"...
After all these years writing about him here at The BRAD BLOG, it was fascinating, to say the least, to finally try and get some direct answers from the nation's most notorious former GOP lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.
Abramoff's take on the lack of morality at the heart of his crimes (he agrees to the failing, but seemingly only in part.)
His belief that details of his story have been misreported (such as his attempt to take out life insurance policies on the lives of tribal elders to help cover the lobbying debts of tribes he represented and/or mis-represented.)
His response to allegations of forced abortions and sex slavery in the sweatshops of his clients, the Northern Marianas Island (he denies knowledge of it having happened, and believes the claims were politically motivated.)
Whether he has done enough to tell the public the criminal truth about his former friends, colleagues, and highly placed elected officials who were the recipient of his bribes in the Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress, and whether he needs to do so before the lobbying reforms he claims to seek can ever come to pass.
I am only sorry we didn't have more time, as I had so much more to ask about, and there were several topics I would have liked to have drilled down into much more detail in hopes of holding feet to fire. But he had another interview commitment at the bottom of the hour, I had promised in advance to get him off air in time to make it, and he committed (yes, it's all on tape, Jack!) to come back and continue the discussion in the future. I'll look forward to holding him to that.
After he left, for the second part of the hour, we continued with listener phone calls, and their take on whether Abramoff's purported conversion from infamous criminal to hopeful reformer can or should be trusted, or whether this is just the latest "con" by "Casino Jack". The caller responses were very interesting, and I'll welcome yours as well, in comments below...
If you'd like to listen live, and don't happen to be in the Los Angeles area (where you can listen on 90.7FM in L.A., 98.7FM in Santa Barbara, 93.7FM in San Diego and 99.5FM in Ridgecrest & China Lake), you can pick up KPFK's live stream right here at 6p ET / 3p PT.
We've been writing about Abramoff here at The BRAD BLOG for years, of course, in various contexts, and I've got plenty I'd like to ask him about. But I'm also interested in what you guys might like me to consider asking him. Got any good questions? If so, please leave 'em in comments below!
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UPDATE 7/18/12: Thanks for those of you who sent in suggestions for questions via comments and email! The resultant interview with Abramoff today was a damned interesting one. At least to me. You'll be the final judge as usual, of course. My exclusive interview with Jack Abramoff is now posted here...
Hilarious. For some odd reason, the latest super-secret Koch Brothers Winter Seminar for millionaires, billionaires and elected Republicans and judges, once again near Palm Springs this year, decided to up its already tight security big time. They were forced to buy out an entire resort (using an alias) for several days in Indian Wells, closing down its restaurants and golf courses to the public and sending home many of its workers for the duration. Not that any of that kept ace reporter Lee Fang from finding out about it and heading out there, as detailed in his new exclusive today:
The summit, organized by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, was cloaked in secrecy. Helicopters, private security, and police officers from neighboring cities patrolled the area constantly.
... The Renaissance Esmerelda, the conference venue this year, was guarded carefully with every entrance blocked and the entire 560-room resort rented out. I arrived at the hotel the night before the event, but was followed closely by security and asked to leave the next morning before the Koch meeting guests arrived.
Though the donors will funnel tens of millions of dollars into the election this year, they will not have to disclose a single cent. Using an elaborate array of foundations, nonprofits, and other legal entities, the Koch network sponsored bus tours, attack ads, think tanks, and hired Tea Party organizers to shape the midterm elections two years ago. Now it appears they appear to be expanding their effort.
The most that the public knows about these meetings has been culled from leaked audio tapes, reporting from journalists like Ken Vogel, and from an invitation I exclusively reported back in October of 2010.
At the Palm Springs Airport last weekend, I eventually ran into Phil Kerpen, the vice president of Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party group founded by David Koch. Kerpen, who was in a rush to make it to the event, didn’t say much about the agenda. Kerpen’s group recently purchased $6 million in undisclosed attack ads against President Obama, the largest such buy of the entire campaign cycle so far.
Kerpen asked how I knew about the conference. “I thought they had stopped all leaks,” he muttered, as I walked with him through the baggage claim.
... “Ask your leaker to post my speech, because it’s very good,” he added, before getting in a car with two associates.
The added secrecy was apparent even to local reporters, who were confused about why the multi-golf course Esmerelda Renaissance was locked down and why the hotel staff couldn’t talk to anyone about what was going on.
Heheh...Sounds like that must have cost a lot of additional money! Sorry if we caused you any problems, Mr. and Mr. Koch!
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By the way, the exclusive by Fang --- formerly of ThinkProgress --- kicks off the new Republic Report blog ("Investigating how money corrupts democracy") with a bang today. The new muckraking project of the similarly new United Republic ("Democracy is not for sale") organization, includes the work of Fang, a number of other great and (mostly) progressive muckrakers and trouble makers, but also includes...wait for it...Jack Abramoff!
Yes, that Jack Abramoff --- the former, now-disgraced, previously-imprisoned, but now-finally-free and supposedly-reformed GOP uber-lobbyist! Steve Clemons at The Atlantic explains in his profile of the noteworthy new project today.
Fang's contributions (follow him on Twitter at @LHFang) alone would be reason enough to keep an eye on Republic Report. Everything else is more than enough icing on a tantalizing new cake to demand the site be bookmarked immediately...in our always humble opinion, of course.
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UPDATE 3:50pm PT:Amanda Terkel and Ryan Grim at Huffington Post report a source inside the Koch's democracy-hating meeting near Palm Springs this year says the group "pledged approximately $100 million to defeat President Obama in the 2012 elections" during the course of the retreat, and offered another interesting thought as well...
[I'll have a few assorted updates and follow-ups in the U.S. Chamber Plot debacle soon, but there have been a few items of note that I didn't want to lose here entirely. This is one of them. - BF | UPDATE: I've now added an addendum to the bottom of this article.]
If there's anything we've learned over the recent decade, it's that if you're a Republican, or if you're among the favored corporate elite of any party in this nation for that matter --- as highlighted yet again by the U.S. Chamber's planned $12 million hit-job on U.S. citizens (including yours truly and family) and other progressive journalists and organizations --- there are a completely different set of laws that apply to you. Namely, very few of our laws actually apply to you at all. Feel free to break them with impunity!
Nonetheless, over the past week, there have been what we might call a "spate", comparatively, of Republicans actually being held accountable with prison sentences, albeit very small ones. These come on the heels of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Corruptionville)'s conviction last November on all counts in a corporate money laundering conspiracy in TX used to get GOP candidates elected in TX, and subsequently change the balance of power in the U.S. House. (He is currently appealing, naturally). But it's nice to see some, if very few, of these charlatans, for a change, not get off completely scot-free. Here are three cases, including yet another case of a Republican working to keep American citizens from casting their legal vote in an election...
Wonder if our good friend, the alleged vote-rigging conspirator and high-flying Abramoff golf buddy, former Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), will finally get the starring role he deserves in this new documentary. We're very much looking forward to it...
By the way, this is just one of the upcoming films on GOP uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Another one, a theatrical re-telling of his story, is currently in production with Kevin Spacey starring as "Casino Jack," and me not starring, despite my best efforts, as the diminutive yet dangerous Tom Feeney.
[Updated: Former Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH) responds to this article. Ney, convicted for his dealings with Abramoff, including a trip to Scotland, suggests Feeney may have been helped off the hook by friends in high places. See details and Ney's comments in UPDATE at bottom of story.]
Late last week, alleged vote-rigging conspirator and former three-term Congressman Tom Feeney (R-FL) was informed that the Department of Justice was dropping their two year probe into his 2003 lobbyist-paid junket with Jack Abramoff to play golf in Scotland, according to his attorney Robert Luskin (who also happens to be Karl Rove's criminal attorney).
The DoJ's investigation was stymied earlier this year by an appellate court decision disallowing their subpoena of Feeney's statements to the U.S. House Ethics Commission on the basis of Constitutional separation of powers. As we noted last month, the friendly Feeney finding was likely to foul the fed's felony fact-finding against the failed former Florida Congressman.
The Ethics Commission had, themselves, let Feeney off the hook on the last day in which Republicans controlled the panel before Democrats took over in 2007. He would agree to pay just $5,643 for the private plane trip and swanky vacation with rightwing lobbyists, despite court papers declaring the trip to have been worth approximately $20,000...
So whatever happened to that expected indictment of former Congressman Tom Feeney (R-FL) and alleged vote-rigging conspirator for, among other things, his 2003 Abramoff-funded junket to play golf in St. Andrews, Scotland?
The other two Congressman who took the trips with the disgraced, imprisoned Republican uber-lobbyist have been held, at least, partially to account (Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) spent time in jail, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) is still facing related indictments in Texas). Feeney ran a sad "apology" commercial --- five years later --- during his unsuccessful re-election bid in 2008, but since then has so-far escaped real accountability for that, and the many other allegations of corruption that helped see him listed as among Congress' "Most Corrupt" for four years running.
So what happened to Feeney's indictment? A D.C. Court of Appeals decision from February (as we reported at the time, when we also noted Feeney is now being repped by Karl Rove's criminal attorney) was finally unsealed last week likely explaining the answer --- at least for the delay of such an indictment...
Recently, TPM asked their readers for casting suggestions for the upcoming biopic on Jack Abramoff, where Kevin Spacey is reportedly already booked to play the disgraced GOP uber-lobbyist:
They sought casting suggestions for 11 of the key players in the Abramoff scandals, sure to show up in the film. The resultant "Dream Team" of excellent choices for each were revealed last week.
But, amazingly, the TPM casting call overlooked one of the key players in the Abramoff scandal, our old friend, the disgraced now-former Republican Congressman from Florida, Tom Feeney, aka "Representative #3" in one of the key filings in the Abramoff affair. In 2003, Feeney accompanied Jack on the third lobbyist-funded junket to play golf in Scotland following trips with the disgraced now-former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX) in 2000 and the disgraced now-former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) in 2002.
The TPM oversight must be corrected immediately. And, of course, I can think of just one person who'd be perfect --- for so many reasons --- to play the role of Feeney in the upcoming Abramoff film...
A federal appeals court has dealt a blow to the investigation of a former congressman in a ruling that could also limit probes of other lawmakers, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
The order, which has not been made public, came during the grand jury investigation of former representative Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) and his potential ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the sources said. The appellate judges who issued the ruling did not say when they would release an opinion explaining their decision, which reversed a lower court order favorable to prosecutors seeking documents and grand jury testimony, the sources said.
Even without knowing the details of the ruling, sources and legal experts said it is important because it is the second time in two years that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has sided with Congress in its fight with the Justice Department over what protections lawmakers are granted under the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause. The clause is designed to shield lawmakers' official work from executive branch interference and has been increasingly cited by members of Congress under federal investigation.
The corrupt Feeney, as regular readers of The BRAD BLOG likely know, is currently under federal investigation due to his association with jailed Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In 2003 Feeney went on a junket with Abramoff to play golf at St. Andrews in Scotland. He would later claim he had no idea that the trip was illegally paid for by lobbyists.
For more details on the appellate court ruling --- or rather, hints, given what little is available on it for the moment --- please see WaPo's coverage today to hunt for clues.
One other very interesting point we hadn't noticed previously...
Well, isn't this rich? Tom Feeney --- yes, that Tom Feeney, the one who is alleged to have commissioned vote-rigging software for touch-screen voting machines in 2000, as testified to by former Republican software programmer Clint Curtis in a sworn affidavit, sworn testimony to congress, and a successful polygraph test --- went on Fox "News" this week to decry unsubstantiated charges of "voter fraud" by the low-income voter registration community organization ACORN.
(And if you're done laughing...)
Feeney --- the man who, as Speaker of the FL House in 2000, also promised to award all of the state's electoral votes to George W. Bush no matter what the ballots and Supreme Court had to say about it --- then went on to compare ACORN to the KKK...