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January 15, 2006

Suicidally Dumb Politics

Boldly moving to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the House Democratic Caucus has announced its choice to lead the Dems' Abramoff ethics probe: Rep. James Clyburn, who himself is under an ethics shadow for taking a junket on Abramoff's dime. It just doesn't get any dumber than this.

The only positive: the left blogosphere at least has the integrity not to make up some lame justification just to toe the party line. Here, for example, is Jane Hamsher:

We're not Michelle Malkin or the Powertools sitting here, please don't expect us to line up behind this shit just because you Say So. I'm not going to look for excuses to make this right. It undermines every argument we're trying to make about Abramoff and the architecture of the dirty GOP money machine.

This is just so stupid and wrong in so many ways I don't have words for it.

Me either.

Posted by Jonathan at January 15, 2006 07:53 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Comments

GOP slime works again - next time please check your facts before blogging.

From a Clyburn release sent FRIDAY including AP interview with the Foundation rep who arranged the trip -- NOT Abramoff.

In short - a foundation invited Clyburn; 8 years later it turned out Abramof billed the Marianas for the trip. Abramoff did not invite Clyburn, meet Clyburn or go on the trip with Clyburn. Get the facts out please ...

Background on Congressman Clyburn’s 1997 Trip to the Mariana Islands

TWO ATTACHMENTS: AP Interview and Letter of Invitation

In 1997, Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) were invited by retired Rear Admiral Thomas Moorer, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Former Under Secretary of the Army, Rear Admiral Robert E. Spiro, to visit several Pacific islands to meet with American military personnel, war veterans, and Voice of America staff. The Admirals’ letter of invitation stated that a non-profit was to fund the trip (see attached letter). When Clyburn returned from the trip, he filed the appropriate disclosure forms reflecting his knowledge of the trip.

Eight years later, the Associated Press discovered that a law firm, representing the Mariana Islands in the Pacific and employing Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, paid for the trip and was later reimbursed by the government of the Mariana Islands. Clyburn and Thompson have never met nor talked to Abramoff and had no knowledge of his law firm’s involvement (see AP interview attached).

Here are the facts:

WHO INVITED CONGRESSMAN CLYBURN TO THE MARIANA ISLANDS:

The non-profit American Security Council works with Congress and government officials to build a strong American defense and advance American leadership around the globe. They have also used the name National Security Caucus Foundation as they have sought to create closer minority relationships and copy the successes of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. (Q & A with Gregg Hilton of the American Security Council Foundation Regarding his 1997 Visit to the United States Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Monday, May 02, 2005 by Associated Press Reporter Larry Margasak)

On December 16th, 1996, Congressman Bennie Thompson received a letter from the non-profit National Security Caucus Foundation inviting him to travel abroad in order to "develop a new and comprehensive international security strategy for the post-Cold War era". In January, 1997, Congressman Thompson had his staff fax the letter to Congressman Clyburn's office in order to invite Congressman Clyburn. Thompson felt that Clyburn would also benefit and contribute to such a trip. (see letter dated December 17, 1996)

The letter was signed by Admiral Thomas Moorer USN (Ret), the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (see letter dated December 17, 1996) The trip took place in January, 1997 (Q & A with Gregg Hilton of the American Security Council Foundation Regarding his 1997 Visit to the United States Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Monday, May 02, 2005 by Associated Press Reporter Larry Margasak)

WHO PAID FOR THE TRIP:

The letter received by Congressman Thompson and shared with Congressman Clyburn states, "These CODEL's will be paid for by the non-profit NSC Foundation, and they will not involve any cost to the U.S. Government." (see letter dated December 17, 1996)

Congressmen Thompson and Clyburn had received a letter from a respected pro-defense, pro-American non-profit, signed by a retired Admiral and a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stating they were paying for the trip.

Clyburn and Thompson never knew that the funding mechanism established by the non-profit experienced adjustments and a private DC-firm (Preston Gate where Abramoff worked) representing the Mariana Islands paid for the trip instead of a direct payment from the Mariana Island government. The head of the non-profit, at the time, said this, "In hindsight, I am to blame because I did not want any funding which was connected to the textile and apparel industry. I rejected the private sector funding sources which were later suggested because they were all connected to the garment industry. We did not receive any funding but we did receive airline tickets. I was assured that they had been paid for entirely by the CNMI government and the government would pay for all of the lawmakers expenses. This was a major point. Now I wish I had accepted the private sector funding." (Q & A with Gregg Hilton of the American Security Council Foundation Regarding his 1997 Visit to the United States Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Monday, May 02, 2005 by Associated Press Reporter Larry Margasak)

WHAT DID CONGRESSMEN CLYBURN AND THOMPSON DO ON THE TRIP:

On Guam, they will inspect the U.S. Naval Station and meet with Major General John Dallager USAF, the Commander of Operation Pacific Haven. This military deployment of Kurds employed by American aid agencies was begun in September of 1996 after Iraqi forces overran a United Nations "Safe Haven." Many of the evacuees were members of the Iraq National Congress. The Kurds are being housed at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam while their asylum applications were being reviewed. The United States has spent over $4 million on Pacific Haven, and the people of Guam have donated over $300,000 in food and clothing. On Saipan, they will be met by CNMI Governor Froilan C. Tenorio (D), as well as members of his cabinet. On Tinian, the will inspected the large Voice of America transmitter which was is under construction for Radio Free Asia broadcasts. In addition, they will meet with representatives of prominent veterans' organizations during a wreath-laying ceremony at the American Memorial Park Honor Court. (Q & A with Gregg Hilton of the American Security Council Foundation Regarding his 1997 Visit to the United States Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Monday, May 02, 2005 by Associated Press Reporter Larry Margasak)

Q & A with Gregg Hilton of the American Security Council Foundation Regarding his 1997 Visit to the United States Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Monday, May 02, 2005 by Associated Press Reporter Larry Margasak

Question: What is the American Security Council Foundation?

Answer: It was formed in 1958 and was originally known as the Institute for American Strategy. It is a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax exempt educational institution and its mission is to support a strong national defense and a United States leadership role in foreign policy. ASCF supports programs which advance democracy, human rights and free market economics.

Similar to its original name, a central focus has always been the development of various strategy projects which advance these goals. One of our most successful initiatives was the National Strategy for Peace Through Strength in the 1970’s. Our Peace Through Strength Resolution advocated a military modernization program and support for freedom movements. It was incorporated into the 1980 and 1984 Republican Platform, and the Democrats in 1988 named the entire defense and foreign policy section of their platform, Peace Through Strength.

Question: What does ASCF do?

Answer: It is similar to many non-profit educational organizations in that it sponsors publications, research studies, seminars and conferences. It has not organized an NGO Delegation in many years. ASCF has never done any lobbying, but the separate American Security Council, a 501(c)(4) is an advocacy organization.

Question: What is your role?

Answer: I was the Executive Director in the 1990s. Today, I am a member of the Board of Directors.

Question: What is the National Security Caucus Foundation?

For a brief period in late 1990’s we used this name as a trade style. The model we attempted to follow was the relationship between the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on the inside of the government and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute on the outside.

Question: What can you tell me about your visit to the United States Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands in January of 1997.

Answer: In December of 1996 we attempted to organize several NGO Delegations (non-governmental organization). We were not very successful, but Representatives James Clyburn (D-SC) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) did express an interest in visiting the CNMI. You indicated that you already had a copy of the invitation letter which was signed by Admiral Thomas Moorer USN (Ret), the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This letter mentioned the development of a new Asia-Pacific strategy.

Question: Why did you think the development of an Asia-Pacific Strategy was important?

Answer: In the 20th Century, American foreign policy was largely centered on Europe and the Atlantic. The European allies will continue to be vital for America, but the focus in the 21st Century has largely shifted to the Pacific. This was a major theme for Admiral Moorer. AN excellent example of this power shift is the Peoples Republic of China. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of dire poverty in China, but political freedoms unfortunately do not match the economic freedom. Since 2000, China has tripled its defense spending.

Question: Why did you pick the CNMI?

Answer: When this began I was not even thinking of an Asian-Pacific strategy project. My interest was policy research and analysis on freedom movements and the role of Iraqi exiles who were then living on Guam. I wanted to bring increased public attention to plight of the Kurds and the fact that they had been victims of a chemical weapons attack. Over 5000 people in Halabja had died in just one attack, and residents of this city were then living on Guam.

Question: What does this have to do with the CNMI?

Answer: The budget for our Foundation was very modest. I first contacted the private sector on Guam but was eventually referred to the CNMI. In my discussions with the office of Governor Froilan C. Tenorio (D), there was not much interest in the Guam aspect of the trip. On the other hand, there was considerable enthusiasm for the idea of hosting a large Asia-Pacific strategy conference in the CNMI.

They wanted to portray the CNMI as a leader in promoting new policies for economic growth in less developed countries. I was told that funding from the private sector in the CNMI could be arranged if a trip was organized. I was also told that discussions would take place on Saipan to plan a future strategy conference. The only funding we discussed was airfare and “local hospitality” (hotel accommodations).

Question: What happened?

Answer: Once again, we organized the trip with the assurance that private sector funding would not be a problem. We developed a modest budget for airfare and hotel accommodations. I was to fly economy class and the lawmakers would be business class. As we came closer to the departure trip, a check had not arrived.

I was instead contacted by the Preston Gates law firm, which was the legal counsel for the CNMI government. I spoke to several people on Saipan and at the law firm. These individuals included Jack Abramoff who was then interested in promoting the CNMI’s tourism industry. My impression was that he was very persuasive and very religious.

It is true that the Preston Gates firm later represented the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association, but that was not the case when I spoke to them. To my knowledge, their only client at that time which was related to this trip was the CNMI government.

I thought the CNMI would be a popular destination because the WW II artifacts are still present, and it was from the CNMI that the nuclear age began. The planes which bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki were based in the CNMI. We saw the special pit which was constructed for the first atomic bomb.

I also understood that the CNMI economy was dominated by the tourism and apparel industries. Our visit lasted three days, but I wanted to take an objective look at these industries. I knew the CNMI government wanted to maintain its exemption from the minimum wage laws (they were paying $3/hour), and they were against a bill to restrict immigration in the Marianas. This cause appeared to have widespread support among practically everyone we spoke with.

I agreed to participate in an inspection tour of garment factories. I had read the human rights report on the CNMI which was compiled by the Global Survival Network. The report was highly critical of the CNMI garment industry.

I had no interest in participating in a Potemkin tour but I thought there would be merit in an objective analysis. If we had received funding from the garment industry, the sections of a report which addressed apparel issues would be suspect. My condition for addressing this question was that we would choose the location of the apparel factory visit, and it would only be revealed to the government at the last minute. I wanted it to be a surprise. I choose the factory which was criticized the most in the Global Survival Network report. My organization advocates human rights, we do not protect human rights abusers.

In hindsight, I am to blame because I did not want any funding which was connected to the textile and apparel industry. I rejected the private sector funding sources which were later suggested because they were all connected to the garment industry. We did not receive any funding but we did receive airline tickets. I was assured that they had been paid for entirely by the CNMI government and the government would pay for all of the lawmakers expenses. This was a major point. Now I wish I had accepted the private sector funding.

Question: Did you issue any report on the CNMI or the garment industry?

Answer: No. There was no trip report and we never issued anything about the CNMI. I can not think of any other activity on their behalf, and there certainly was no funding. This trip cost us money because of my expenses. We did not receive anything. At no time did we take any action to promote the interests of the CNMI. Jack Abramoff did not ask us to anything, but I did speak with him upon my return. Some of my comments about the CNMI were positive, but I had reservations about certain allegations which were not addressed.

I am not going to claim that someone who made a three day visit nine years ago is an expert on the island’s economy. We did not discover any working conditions which were below standards. The factories were well lit, air conditioned and the working standards appeared to meet U.S. mainland requirements.

We were allowed to talk to anyone in private. While the garment industry certainly did not appear to be as evil as they were portrayed, there were other aspects of the CNMI economy which were disturbing. Some of the allegations in the Global Survival Network report were true. I do not know if they are still true today.

Question: Were you aware of the gift ban on Congressional travel?

Answer: I was definitely aware of it. I did know that lobbying interests and foreign governments could not provide funding for any Congressional travel. However, I received a legal opinion indicating there was a major exception to the gift ban. This exception involved travel which was paid for by an official arm of the U.S. Government or a state/local government entity. I was given the specific citation in the rules of the House of Representatives. An example of this exemption is that every year U.S. lawmakers go to New York for a trip which is paid for entirely by the City. The trip is entirely within the United States and it is paid for entirely by municipal funds. The gift ban restrictions do not apply to this form of travel.

Question: Why did you make this decision?

Answer: I was deferring to the judgment of the law firm on the reporting requirements. They said that because of the time restrictions, the CNMI government would have to initially pay for the trip, but I was promised that private sector funding would later be located so ASCF could reimburse the government. This did not happen. From an Ethics Committee point of view, I was told this did not matter.

It was perfectly legal for the CNMI government to pay for the trip. It was also legal for the private sector to pay for the trip, If I did not inform Representatives Clyburn and Thompson of the funding situation it was a mistake. Their trip was perfectly legal under all circumstances. My only regret is that our initial letter of invitation informed them that we would pay for the trip. I did this because I was under the impression that private sector funding would be located.

Question: But this trip was paid for by Jack Abramoff?

Answer: The first time I heard this was from you nine years later. It has been many years since I have spoken to Jack Abramoff, but I would very surprised if he paid for the trip. If you ask me to guess how this happened, I would refer you to the recent newspaper articles. My guess is that he submitted this as an expense to the CNMI government. This was not how it was portrayed at the time. I was told that the CNMI government was paying for everything initially, but private sector funding would later be located. I did review the Preston Gates memo you sent to me. My only involvement was the January 1997 trip. I do not have any knowledge of the other “think tank” trips.

Question: There have been press reports that lawmakers were basically going on vacation?

Answer: I am not familiar with the other lawmakers, but I can tell you that Representatives Thompson and Clyburn worked hard and did an outstanding job. I took the following from a trip outline which was written in January of 1997.

On Guam, the will inspect the U.S. Naval Station and meet with Major General John Dallager USAF, the Commander of Operation Pacific Haven. This military deployment of Kurds employed by American aid agencies was begun in September of 1996 after Iraqi forces overran a United Nations "Safe Haven."

Many of the evacuees were members of the Iraq National Congress. The Kurds are being housed at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam while their asylum applications were being reviewed. The United States has spent over $4 million on Pacific Haven, and the people of Guam have donated over $300,000 in food and clothing.

On Saipan, they will be met by CNMI Governor Froilan C. Tenorio (D), as well as members of his cabinet. On Tinian, the will inspected the large Voice of America transmitter which was is under construction for Radio Free Asia broadcasts. In addition, they will meet with representatives of prominent veterans' organizations during a wreath-laying ceremony at the American Memorial Park Honor Court. (I may be able to locate photos).

Once again, my real interest was the dinner hosted by Governor Tenorio with academicians and public policy experts. They discussed a new Asia-Pacific strategy for the post-Cold War era. They were hoping the CNMI would be the site of a major regional strategy conference which would include participants from many Pacific Rim nations. I assumed they spoke to other think tanks about this. Tenorio was defeated and the plan for a conference was not a priority for his Republican successor.

(end of AP interview)

Posted by: Get the Truth Out at January 15, 2006 10:12 PM

Do you realize you just posted about a hundred million words of explaination? While you have certainly demonstated your deep concern for this man's reputation, I still don't care. No one is ever going to wade through all of this. He is accused, he might as well be guilty. Why not pick one of the billions of people on this planet who are not implicated in this scandle at all? Is it possible that these two political parties share a common interest? Could it be that the very worst candidate possible for this position was chosen by the democrats precisely BECAUSE he is assured of uncovering nothing of significance?

Posted by: throwaway at January 16, 2006 12:00 PM

Exactly. If it requires a long, complicated explanation, you've already lost: it sounds to people like you're just trying to get the guy off on a technicality. Better to pick one of the many people for whom no explanation is needed.

Posted by: Jonathan at January 16, 2006 04:39 PM

So agree. Ethics is about - the appearence of inpropriaty.

What is appearance of impropriety? According to the Navy Inspector General.

The appearance of impropriety means that an ordinary person, without knowledge of the facts, would assume that something he/she saw or heard was inappropriate or a violation of a rule/regulation.


This is a high standard but when dealing with ethics those investigating should be squeaky clean. Isn't this why judges are suppose to remove themselves from case that give the mere appearence.

Posted by: mark at January 18, 2006 12:37 PM