Sanders Has Huge Gain Over Clinton In New Hampshire As Email Scandal Gets Far Worse For Clinton

Sanders Takes Lead In New Hampshire

If Hillary Clinton fails to be elected president, there is a strong chance that books about the 2016 campaign will note today as a major day in the crumbling of Clinton’s previously “inevitable” path to victory. Prior to this week Sanders was behind but in a statistical tie with Clinton in New Hampshire. The latest poll shows Sanders with the lead. This represents tremendous momentum when compared with his eight percent support in March. National polls this early have virtually no predictive value in a nomination battle, and an early victory can have tremendous impact on subsequent states and the national polls.

Polls can still change in either direction between now and February, and a victory in New Hampshire certainly is no guarantee of winning the nomination. What makes this election different from previous elections is the scandal surrounding the Clinton campaign, and the email scandal become much worse for her. Top secret emails were found on Clinton’s private server, contradicting her previous denials, and Clinton has agreed to surrender the server, now realizing that it would be subpoenaed if she refused this request from the Justice Department.

From an ethical standpoint, this is not the worst aspect of the email scandal. Ethically she did worse in violating principles of transparency, in destroying evidence, and in receiving financial rewards from parties she provided favorable decisions to as Secretary of State. I do not believe Clinton intended to violate laws regarding classified information, but his appears to have been a consequence of her foolish decision to use a private server, and this is what places her at serious risk of criminal prosecution.

Prior to this latest development, The New York Times reviewed the controversy to date and pointed out the legal ramifications. This was before the report that top secret information was present:

In the case of Mrs. Clinton’s email, the F.B.I. is conducting an investigation of just how the classified material was stored in Denver, as well as on a thumb drive kept by her lawyer, Mr. Kendall, and whether it might somehow have landed in the hands of adversaries. Officials say the bureau at this point has no target in mind and no evidence that a crime was committed.

But the investigation takes place in an administration that has taken an especially hard line on the handling of classified information.

Scott Gration, ambassador to Kenya, resigned after a 2012 inspector general’s report accused him of flouting government rules, including the requirement that he use State Department email. “He has willfully disregarded Department regulations on the use of commercial email for official government business,” the report said.

A New York firefighter and decorated combat veteran who served in the Marines in Afghanistan, Jason Brezler, is currently fighting dismissal from the Marine Corps for sending, via his personal account, an email attachment the government says was classified. His lawyer, Kevin Carroll, says he sent the message in response to an emergency request from a base in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Clinton and her aides have noted that the material the inspectors general call classified was not labeled as such in the emails. But in 2010, Thomas Drake, a former senior National Security Agency official, was indicted under the Espionage Act for keeping an agency email printout at home that was not marked as classified. (Mr. Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.)

J. William Leonard, a former director of the government’s Information Security Oversight Office, said that in Mrs. Clinton’s case, criminal charges like those against Mr. Drake are highly unlikely. But as a former security official, he said, he was dismayed by her exclusive use of private email. The State Department has an obligation to monitor unclassified email for exactly this kind of classified spillage, he said, as well as to protect computer systems and provide emails to Congress or the public when required by law.

“The agency can’t fulfill those legal responsibilities if it doesn’t have control over the server,” Mr. Leonard said.

Besides these cases, there have been two high profile prosecutions regarding improper handling of classified information, David Petraeus and, as I discussed last week,  former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger. If the reports of classified information on Clinton’s private server are true, and if Clinton is treated like the others, she will be indicted. Possibly the “Clinton Rules” will apply here with others receiving the blame, and she will escape such a fate, but this would still seriously harm her in an election campaign. The Republicans might very well also destroy themselves and Clinton could still win, but nominating Clinton now looks like too great a risk for any political party to take. Those who deny the magnitude of this scandal are like those who tried to write off Watergate as a “two bit burglary“.

Chris Cillizza wrote that This e-mail story just keeps getting worse for Hillary Clinton. After pointing out how this is happening he noted:

Then there is the news reported by McClatchy News Service that two of the four classified e-mails discovered on her private server were “top secret” — the highest possible security classification.  Clinton has previously said that she never sent or received any classified material via her e-mail account; “I am confident that I never sent or received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received,” she said last month.

For someone who is already struggling to bridge a trust deficit with the public, the revelations about the classified e-mails on Clinton’s server hurt. If Clinton’s claim that nothing she sent or received was classified at the time are proven wrong, that does her even more damage…

There’s simply no way to see these latest development in the long-running e-mail story as anything but bad news for Clinton. The turning-over of her private server not only takes control of its contents out of her hands but also likely ensures this story will be in the news for far longer than she’d like.

He also speculated that now that the server is out of her hands, it might be possible to recover many of the 31,000 emails which she had deleted from the server. There is already evidence that some of the email involving Libya and terrorism was deleted and altered, contrary to her claim that it was all personal email. The New York Times article quoted above also pointed out:

In June, the State Department said that it had not been able to find in Mrs. Clinton’s emails some 15 messages from Sidney Blumenthal, an old friend and aide, who had independently turned them over to the House Benghazi committee. The messages involved Libya — Mr. Blumenthal was passing along analysis from a former C.I.A. officer — and they appeared to involve policy.

The Clinton campaign has not explained the discrepancy. In sorting through more than 60,000 emails, it is easy to imagine slip-ups. But this small window on the deletion process, carried out privately by Mrs. Clinton’s lawyers and aides, offered little assurance to skeptics that the work email collection was complete.

Ron Fournier reviewed the latest developments in a story entitled The Queen of Paradox and Her Crumbling Stone Wall:

It’s safe to assume two things changed Clinton’s mind: political and legal pressure. First, the public’s trust and approval of the Democratic front-runner has plummeted amid revelations that she established an email system that violated federal policy, thwarted congressional oversight, and skirted the Freedom of Information Act.

Second, facing sharp questions and rebuke of a federal judge, Clinton just this weekend declared “under penalty of perjury” that she has turned over to the government all of the emails that were federal records.

The FBI is investigating the security of her email system, which she unequivocally declared to be ironclad in March. “There is no classified material,” she said.

The untruth revealed, Clinton changed her story in July to claim that no email was specifically marked as classified. Not that it matters. Clinton wants Americans to ignore the fact that federal rules put the onus on government officials like the secretary of State to protect classified material, even when it’s not marked as such.

Know this: Government officials have been convicted of mishandling unmarked classified material. And this: The fact is, any chain of events or excuses that led to the disclosure of these documents begins with Clinton’s decision to go rogue with government email.

This is her fault, all of it.

Including her no-win situation. If the FBI is able to recover deleted email from her server, it’s almost certain that more classified documents will be discovered (given what has already been found in the tiny sample size). That would raise more questions about her judgment.

Furthermore, a thorough autopsy of the deleted email might lead to details about other embarrassing topics, such as Benghazi (a GOP fetish), or the intersection of Clinton Foundation donors and State Department business (“Follow the money,” a Democrat close to Clinton told me in March). Though this is pure speculation, her closest allies worry about what might be found.

If the deleted emails can’t be recovered, Clinton will never be able to clear her name. Only the most blindly loyal and partisan voters will accept her word and ignore the serial deception. Even people like me who have known and respected Clinton for years will walk into the voting booth asking ourselves, “What is she hiding?”

Sure, she might win. Just look at the weak spots in the GOP line. But why win this ugly? Why commit Americans to another four years of a politics and government they can’t trust? Why run a grind-it-out, 20th-century campaign amid the rise of purpose-driven millennials?

Why not be an aspirational, transformational leader—the architect of a presidency that matches her potential.

The polling results out of New Hampshire suggest that Americans might turn to Bernie Sanders, rather than Hillary Clinton, to be that aspirational, transformational leader.

Update: Democrats are said to be in “near panic mode” with new talk about Biden or Gore running.

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Clinton Out-Nixons Nixon And Erases The Email

Rose_Mary_Woods

The conventional wisdom is that Richard Nixon would have survived Watergate if he had erased the tapes. Democrats were outraged by the eighteen and a half minutes which were “accidentally” erased by Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods. In a late Friday news dump we learned that Hillary Milhouse Clinton, who once accused the Bush administration of shredding the Constitution with their use of private email, out-Nixoned Nixon. The New York Times and Politico reported that Clinton has deleted all of what she claims to be private email after October 28 when the State Department first requested that Clinton turn over the email kept on her private server, violating rules in effect as of 2009. The server has been wiped clean.

Clinton had given contradictory answers regarding the email at her news conference, in which media fact checkers found multiple untrue statements. From The New York Times:

At a news conference this month, Mrs. Clinton appeared to provide two answers about whether she still had copies of her emails. First, she said that she “chose not to keep” her private personal emails after her lawyers had examined the account and determined on their own which ones were personal and which were State Department records. But later, she said that the server, which contained personal communication by her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, “will remain private.” The server was kept at their home in Chappaqua, N.Y., which is protected around the clock by the Secret Service.

Multiple investigations so far have failed to show any evidence for the Republican conspiracy theories on Benghazi, but the disclosure from Clinton on Friday that she has deleted email requested by Congress will only serve to keep the witch hunt alive. While Republicans deserve to be faulted for the witch hunts they are pursuing, this does not excuse Clinton’s actions of using her private server to prevent disclosure of requested evidence to a Congressional committee. Clinton also used her private server to avoid complying with Freedom of Information Act requests for information from the news media.

One of Clinton’s many bogus excuses for failing to follow government protocol in maintaining her email on a government server was that her email would be preserved because of being sent to State Department email addresses. It has since been found that the entire State Department was sloppy in maintaining email. Current Secretary of State John Kerry, who has admirably followed the law in using government email since assuming the post, has asked the Inspector General’s office to conduct “a review of our efforts to date on improving records management, including the archiving of emails as well as responding to FOIA and Congressional inquiries.” There have also been requests from the Republican National Committee and from House Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy for the Inspector General to get involved. With the revelations that Clinton has erased the email, it might also be time for a special prosecutor to be appointed to handle the investigation of her actions.

The claim that her email is public due to being sent to State Department or other government addresses is also bogus as not all of Clinton’s email regarding State Department matters was even sent to government addresses. The first reports of Clinton’s private email came when Gawker found the email address on hacked email from Sidney Blumenthal in 2013. Gawker has recently discussed her email further, reporting that “longtime Clinton family confidante Sidney Blumenthal supplied intelligence to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gathered by a secret network that included a former CIA clandestine service officer.” The post has further information regarding information sent to Clinton by Blumenthal regarding the situation in Benghazi. At this point it is not known if Clinton responded to Blumenthal while in office or if email from Blumenthal is included in the email she did release.

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Clinton Email Scandal Remains In The News But Top GOP Candidates Are Having Similar Problems

As recently as last week the conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton’s election was as inevitable as anything could possibly be in American politics. While she remains the frontrunner, the only ones now calling her nomination and election inevitable are partisan Democrats and Clintonistas who are burying their heads in the sand as to how severe her transgressions really are. It is not a good sign for Clinton when the email scandal still dominates the headlines of the mainstream media, putting aside the exaggerated hysteria from the right, and when she is being mocked on Saturday Night Live.

The main reason the scandal has traction is that it confirms what so many have already believed about the shadiness and lack of commitment to transparency in government on the part of Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t help that she has remained quiet except for a deceptive tweet, further contributing to her reputation for mendacity. She has finally announced a press conference and we will see if she has any better answers.

While Republicans are trying to tie this to their Benghazi nonsense, others are bringing up the more likely type of information which Clinton might be trying to hide. Ron Fournier questions the relationship between secretive email and possibly illicit campaign contributions:

“Follow the money.” That apocryphal phrase, attributed to Watergate whistle-blower “Deep Throat,” explains why the biggest threat to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential dreams is not her emails. It’s her family foundation. That’s where the money is: corporate money, foreign money, gobs of money sloshing around a vanity charity that could be renamed “Clinton Conflicts of Interest Foundation.”

Clinton’s foreign contributions also are leading to The New York Times questioning her record as an advocate for women. This is criticism from what would have been expected to be a friendly newspaper on an issue which is the last we would have expected Clinton to have trouble on.

Republican criticism has been far more hypocritical. Email problems for Jeb Bush came out a few days ago. The other current Republican front runner, Scott Walker, is attacking Clinton, but Bloomberg News reports that he has used a private server of his own, concluding:

As Walker emphasizes to McCormack, prosecutors never charged him with any wrongdoing, though two of his aides were convicted of doing political work while on the county payroll. And Walker obviously wasn’t privy to sensitive classified information, as Clinton was. Still, the similarities are pretty uncanny, and Walker’s willingness to attack Clinton anyway is a good illustration of his aggressive political style.

While Democrats might need to go on to Plan B, there are no clear candidates to replace Clinton. Joe Biden’s name comes up occasionally, with National Journal reporting no signs that he is running. On the other hand, a report at The Atlantic points out that Biden is the only  “prominent Democratic contender who has traveled to all three early presidential primary states so far in 2015.” There is hardly a movement hoping to see Biden run, but his name recognition might make him the Democrat in the best situation to develop a campaign infrastructure quickly should Clinton continue to self-destruct.

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Cries Over Lois Lerner’s Lost Email Look Like Just Another Conservative Conspiracy Theory

Conservatives 1) love to act like the victim and 2) have been desperately trying to make it appear that there have been scandals which they can attribute to the Obama administration. As the Obama administration has been remarkably free of scandals, they have had to invent several. The IRS scandal first appeared to be something to be concerned about, until we realized that while Republicans like Darrell Issa were only looking at conservative groups which had problems with the IRS, it turned out that both conservative and progressive groups received extra scrutiny. This hardly comes as a surprise in light of the ambiguous tax regulations which deny tax breaks for political organizations when engaged in political activity.

Conservative conspiracy theorists typically work by using limited information to suggest something is not right, when the full facts often contradict this. There is no way I, or anyone else, can say for certain what happened to Lois Lerner’s lost emails, but once the full facts are reviewed, rather than the distorted reporting on many conservative sites, it looks far less likely that anything improper occurred. I’ve seen some claims that the email couldn’t really be lost because they are all backed up, but this just simply is not the case. The New York Times reports:

The I.R.S. initially provided 11,000 of her emails that it deemed directly related to the applications for tax exemption filed by political groups. Under pressure from Republican leaders, Mr. Koskinen later agreed to provide all of Ms. Lerner’s emails but said that doing so might take years. Since then, the I.R.S. has provided roughly 32,000 more emails directly from Ms. Lerner’s account.

After the agency discovered that its initial search of Ms. Lerner’s emails was incomplete because of the computer crash, it recovered 24,000 of the missing messages from email accounts on the other end of Ms. Lerner’s correspondence, the I.R.S. said.

Although Mr. Koskinen had indicated in congressional testimony that I.R.S. emails were stored on servers in the agency’s archives and could be recovered, the agency said Friday that was not the case.

The I.R.S. said that because of financial and computing constraints, some emails had been stored only on individuals’ computers and not on servers, and that “backup tapes” from 2011 “no longer exist because they have been recycled.”

Don’t trust the left-leaning New York Times? The right-leaning Politico reports the same practices with respect to email:

The IRS explains in the letter that it has not always backed up all employee emails due to the cost the agency would incur for allowing 90,000 employees to store their information on the IRS’s internal system.

Currently, IRS employees have the capacity to store about 6,000 emails in their active Outlook email boxes, which are saved on the IRS centralized network. But the letter and background document sent to the Hill Friday said they could only store about 1,800 emails in their active folders prior to July 2011.

When their inboxes were full, IRS employees had to make room by either deleting emails or archiving them on their personal computers. Archived data were not stored by the IRS but by the individual.

Such archived emails on Lerner’s computer were what were lost when her computer crashed.

“Any of Ms. Lerner’s email that was only stored on that computer’s hard drive would have been lost when the hard drive crashed and could not be recovered,” the letter reads.

Overall, more than 250 IRS employees have spent more than 120,000 hours digging up documents and emails for congressional investigators, spending $10 million.

On the one hand this does not look like a very efficient way to back up data. On the other hand, considering how many offices there are of the federal government throughout the country, the cost of backing up everything, including all email, indefinitely would be staggering. Not many government offices have the budget for this, but maybe the NSA still has record of the lost email.

I’m sure there are many conservatives who still won’t believe that email can be lost until they hear it on Fox or from Rush. In that case, how about what may have been as many as 22 million lost emails under Bush during the controversy over the improper dismissal of U.S.  attorneys for political reasons. There is a key difference here. While the Republican claims in the IRS case have been debunked, there was a real scandal and impropriety in the Bush White House which led directly to Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales. In addition, the Bush administration broke the law by using outside accounts to avoid detection and circumvent laws regarding maintaining email in the Executive Branch.

If there was a conspiracy to hide emails,it doesn’t make sense that it would be email from before 2012 which is missing. Steve Benen put it into perspective:

For Republicans and their allies, this sounds like a convenient way to deny investigators access to Lerner’s emails. But note, the IRS has already produced 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, from 2009 to 2013, and were able to piece together 24,000 Lerner emails from the missing period based those who’d been cc’d in various messages. This is hardly evidence of a cover-up.

For that matter, note that Republicans and conspiracy theorists are principally interested in Lerner’s messages from 2012 – the election year. The computer crash affected emails from before 2012. If the IRS intended to hide potentially damaging materials from investigators, and it was willing to use a made-up technical problem to obscure the truth, chances are the agency would have scrapped Lerner’s emails from the relevant period, not emails from before the relevant period.

When all the facts are considered, Lois Lerner no longer looks like a modern day Rose Mary Woods. It all looks like just another weak attempt by conservatives to portray themselves as victims, and one more unfounded conservative conspiracy theory.

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Bad News Today For Both Chris Christie And Hillary Clinton

Last week the political news led to the inevitable, even if premature, discussion of the 2016 presidential race. A scandal involving Chris Christie was reported based upon its potential repercussions for the Republican nomination, even though it is far from  certain that the media declaring Christie the front-runner means anything. There are far too many pictures of him with Obama to haunt him in the GOP primaries. Still, he could not be ruled out as 2012 showed how hard it is to find a true conservative Republican who doesn’t become a laughing stock once they actually have to discuss their views on a national stage.

Hillary Clinton is a far stronger front-runner for the Democratic nomination. The 2008 race showed both that there are Democrats who do not want her and that she could be beaten, but it is hard to see someone duplicating what Obama accomplished. Clinton is certainly not going to ignore the caucus states, assuming she runs for the 2016 nomination. Therefore last week was seen as very good for Hillary Clinton. Assuming she runs, Christie polls the best against her of potential Republican candidates (again, assuming he could win the nomination). Looking like the least bat-shit crazy Republican did help Christie in national polls.

So far there is little public interest in Christie’s scandal, but I think it is still too early to tell. While the similarities to Watergate are too slim to justify calling this Bridgegate, it did take a while before Watergate became commonly known and harmful to Richard Nixon. The reports of Christie’s staff closing down the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retaliation have led to many other stories of similar bullying by Christie. Making matters worse, there is now an investigation as to whether Christie misused Sandy relief funds:

Just days after dismissing two top advisers for their roles in the George Washington Bridge scandal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faced questions over the use of Superstorm Sandy relief funds.

CNN has learned that federal officials are investigating whether Christie improperly used some of that money to produce tourism ads that starred him and his family.

The news couldn’t come at a worse time for the embattled Republican, who is facing two probes in New Jersey of whether his staff orchestrated traffic gridlock near the country’s busiest bridge to punish a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his re-election.

If the Sandy inquiry by a watchdog finds any wrongdoing, it could prove even more damaging to Christie’s national ambitions. He’s considered a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

One would think that this should be another good week for Hillary Clinton, but maybe not. Politico (which is not above fabricating drama) cites a book claiming Hillary Clinton maintained a hit list of those who crossed her in 2008:

There was a special circle of Clinton hell reserved for people who had endorsed Obama or stayed on the fence after Bill and Hillary had raised money for them, appointed them to a political post or written a recommendation to ice their kid’s application to an elite school. On one early draft of the hit list, each Democratic member of Congress was assigned a numerical grade from 1 to 7, with the most helpful to Hillary earning 1s and the most treacherous drawing 7s. The set of 7s included Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), as well as Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Rob Andrews (D-N.J.).

I don’t know how true this is, but The Hill quotes Senator Claire McCaskill as not wanting to wind up in the same elevator as Hillary Clinton. If we are to select the Democratic nominee by looking at recent Secretaries of State, I believe that one of those on Clinton’s hit list, John Kerry, would make a far better president (despite being very unlikely to be given a second chance to run).The scandals surrounding Chris Christie might wind up harming Clinton as well as Christie. All the stories of political retaliation by Christie might make voters think more about the character of who they vote for, and perhaps shy away from a candidate who sounds like they are maintaining a Nixonian Enemy’s List. Perhaps we need another pair of front runners.

Update: Dreams of Stopping Clinton in 2016

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Christie May Not Survive Impact Of Email Saying “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”

As The Rachel Maddow Show, and Maddow Blog writer Steve Benen have been vigorously covering the Chris Christie Bridge scandal for a month, I have been uncertain as to whether this would amount to enough to seriously impact Christie’s until-now rising political career. The new revelations released today, based upon email and text messages directly linking Christie’s top aides to the scandal, now suggest that this will be important:

Private messages between Governor’s Christie’s deputy chief of staff and two of his top executives at the Port Authority reveal a vindictive effort to create “traffic problems in Fort Lee” by shutting lanes to the George Washington Bridge and apparent pleasure at the resulting gridlock.

The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee’s mayor — who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election — and they chronicle how he tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000, which sits in the shadow of the world’s busiest bridge.

The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor’s top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough’s access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta—a notion that Christie has publicly denied.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: “Got it.”

I’m not sure we have had such clear documentation implicating a major politician in a scandal since the Watergate tapes ended the career of Richard Nixon. Of course in this day and age it is email and text messages (raising the question as to why they would think that such a clear trail would not be revealed.) The documents both display an abuse of power and contradict previous denials that Christie was involved. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” is likely to become a phrase which will haunt Chris Christie for the rest of his career, and might very likely end his presidential ambitions. As Chris Cillizza points out, “Molehills can grow into mountains in politics. This is now a serious problem for Christie.”

Jonathan Chait pointed out why this scandal can be particularly harmful for Christie, both being easy for voters to understand and reinforcing previous questions about Christie:

Several things come together to make this scandal especially devastating to Christie. One is that it’s very easy for voters to understand: He punished a town because its mayor endorsed his rival. There are no complex financial transfers or legal maneuverings to parse. Second, it fits into a broader pattern of behavior, documented by the New York Times, of taking retribution against politicians who cross him in any way. There is, in all likelihood, much more. Mark Halperin and my colleague John Heilemann reported in their book about the 2012 campaign that Mitt Romney wanted to put Christie on his ticket, but his staff was “stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record”:

“There was a 2010 Department of Justice inspector general’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and for offering “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at swank hotels like the Four Seasons. There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official — and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing. There was a defamation lawsuit brought against Christie arising out of his successful 1994 run to oust an incumbent in a local Garden State race. Then there was Todd Christie, the Governor’s brother, who in 2008 agreed to a settlement of civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged.”

The investigations also “raised questions for the vetters about Christie’s relationship with a top female deputy who accompanied him on many of the trips.”

Josh Marshall says essentially the same thing, but a little more bluntly with his comparison of Chris Christie to Tony Soprano:

As I’ve written several times, this Christie Bridge Scandal is far more potentially damaging for Christie that it might seem on its face because its fits so perfectly with the negative view (as opposed to the positive view) of Chris Christie. That is, that he and his crew are thugs and bullies. We have basically demonstrable evidence that one of Christie’s top aides instructed Christie’s crony at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, to create the series of massive traffic jams in the city whose Mayor wouldn’t endorse the Governor.

Put into a mix that a good part of the country has the Sopranos as their primary prism for viewing New Jersey. (And, hey, I’m a former New Jersey resident!) And these emails sound very Sopranos-esque. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly told David Wildstein, according to emails obtained by TPM. “Got it,” Wildstein replied.

This isn’t some low level aide. This is part of his inner circle. And unless there’s some wildly unexpected explanation, it’s pretty clear that we’ve got the worst case scenario for the Governor in terms of the political damage. I doubted very much that we’d see any email smoking gun. And it’s still not from Christie himself. But it came from the Governor’s office and I think the weight of logic (though as yet no direct evidence) at least says that Christie himself knew about the order and may have ordered it himself.

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Former Great News Organization CBS Has Become The Conservative BS Network

CBS once was a major news organization. When Lyndon Johnson lost Walter Cronkite on Viet Nam, public opinion turned against the war. Dan Rather as White House correspondent contributed to bringing knowledge of the Watergate scandal to the public. Then the network turned to the right. They sought to appease conservatives during the Bush years, dropping the story on Bush’s National Guard years and even considered turning to people such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to form an independent panel to evaluate Dan Rather.

CBS turned into the Conservative BS Network.

We saw this again with their erroneous coverage of Benghazi, which they have finally retracted. The erroneous report on 60 Minutes has been cited by many right wing sources who have been trying to keep Benghazi alive, long after the evidence made it clear there was no scandal there. As former CBS News producer Mary Mapes speculated, “They appear to have done that story to appeal specifically to a politically conservative audience that is obsessed with Benghazi and believes that Benghazi was much more than a tragedy.”

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Why Legitimate Journalists Pretend Fox Is A News Outlet

Harold Raines, a former editor of The New York Times asks a good question over at The Washington Post: Why don’t honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?

One question has tugged at my professional conscience throughout the year-long congressional debate over health-care reform, and it has nothing to do with the public option, portability or medical malpractice. It is this: Why haven’t America’s old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration — a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?

Through clever use of the Fox News Channel and its cadre of raucous commentators, Ailes has overturned standards of fairness and objectivity that have guided American print and broadcast journalists since World War II. Yet, many members of my profession seem to stand by in silence as Ailes tears up the rulebook that served this country well as we covered the major stories of the past three generations, from the civil rights revolution to Watergate to the Wall Street scandals. This is not a liberal-versus-conservative issue. It is a matter of Fox turning reality on its head with, among other tactics, its endless repetition of its uber-lie: “The American people do not want health-care reform.”

Fox repeats this as gospel. But as a matter of historical context, usually in short supply on Fox News, this assertion ranks somewhere between debatable and untrue.

The American people and many of our great modern presidents have been demanding major reforms to the health-care system since the administration of Teddy Roosevelt. The elections of 1948, 1960, 1964, 2000 and 2008 confirm the point, with majorities voting for candidates supporting such change. Yet congressional Republicans have managed effective campaigns against health-care changes favored variously by Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton. Now Fox News has given the party of Lincoln a free ride with its repetition of the unexamined claim that today’s Republican leadership really does want to overhaul health care — if only the effort could conform to Mitch McConnell’s ideas on portability and tort reform.

It is true that, after 14 months of Fox’s relentless pounding of President Obama’s idea of sweeping reform, the latest Gallup poll shows opinion running 48 to 45 percent against the current legislation. Fox invariably stresses such recent dips in support for the legislation, disregarding the majorities in favor of various individual aspects of the reform effort. Along the way, the network has sold a falsified image of the professional standards that developed in American newsrooms and university journalism departments in the last half of the 20th century.

Raines proceeded to further discuss how Fox abuses journalistic standards:

For the first time since the yellow journalism of a century ago, the United States has a major news organization devoted to the promotion of one political party. And let no one be misled by occasional spurts of criticism of the GOP on Fox. In a bygone era of fact-based commentary typified, left to right, by my late colleagues Scotty Reston and Bill Safire, these deceptions would have been given their proper label: disinformation.

Under the pretense of correcting a Democratic bias in news reporting, Fox has accomplished something that seemed impossible before Ailes imported to the news studio the tricks he learned in Richard Nixon’s campaign think tank: He and his video ferrets have intimidated center-right and center-left journalists into suppressing conclusions — whether on health-care reform or other issues — they once would have stated as demonstrably proven by their reporting.

There are at least three answers I can think of (none of which are all that good) as to why Fox and the arguments they spread to the rest of the media are not challenged enough:

  1. Far too many journalists are lazy. They don’t see any point in taking on Fox or those who repeat the GOP/Fox line. It is easier to put on a conservative who repeats their usual lies, a liberal who might be telling the truth, and not to bother trying to determine the actual facts.
  2. Accusations of liberal bias. Conservatives whine about a mythical “liberal media” and the lazy journalists decide it isn’t worth fighting. Often this leads to putting on the lying conservative without even bothering to put on the reality-based counter arguments.
  3. Journalists often stick together. Sometimes this might even be due to a misguided belief this is necessary to defend freedom of the press. In reality it is the abuse of journalistic standards by Fox which is harmful to the free press. Fox is essentially a propaganda arm of the Republican Party and it should be treated just as an official GOP press office would be treated, and not as a legitimate news organization.
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Will Winning the Nobel Peace Prize Help Or Hurt Obama and Political Conditions in the United States?

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The natural reaction to finding that our president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize would seem to be an expression of gratitude, and perhaps even pride. Instead the far right used this to attack Obama, ironically making statements sounding little different from those of the Taliban and Hamas. Steve Benen notes that CBS White House correspondent Chip Reid questioned if “that this is going to widen the partisan divide and make things even more difficult to accomplish on every front.”

Hearing such an absurdity makes me miss once again the days when White House correspondents such as Dan Rather confronted Richard Nixon on Watergate as opposed to raising such a ridiculous right wing meme. Steve pointed out the absurdity of Reid’s question:

Reid’s fears that a Nobel prize the president did not seek might “widen the partisan divide and make things even more difficult to accomplish on every front” are almost comical. It reminded me of the scene in “Life of Brian” when Matthias says, “Look, I don’t think it should be a sin, just for saying ‘Jehovah.'” Shocked, the official overseeing his execution says, “You’re only making it worse for yourself!” To which Matthias responds, “Making it worse? How can it be worse?”

At this point, Republicans reflexively oppose every single policy Democrats embrace. The GOP has even decided to reject ideas they originally came up with. They’re running a scorched earth campaign … and Chip Reid thinks an unsolicited Nobel Peace Prize will make it “even more difficult” for the parties to find common ground?

Making it worse? How can it be worse?

If anything this can only make things better.

As Steve says, with current conditions there is no way to make matters worse, at least with respect to Republicans in Congress, as well as Republicans in leadership positions, talk radio, and Fox.

Fortunately these are not the only Republicans. When Obama strives for bipartisanship, he is looking beyond these people and considering all the people who have voted Republican in recent years. This includes both those who crossed over and voted for him, and Republican voters who voted against him but are open to supporting his positions based on the merit.

There are Republican voters who do like Obama. While I have no numbers on this nation wide, I do know people who voted against him but believe he is doing a good job. It probably does help when Obama points out that he is considering Republican ideas, such as on health care reform, even if he does not pick up any Republican votes outside of the state of Maine. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize is also likely to improve how such people see him.

This may or may not help much, but I cannot see any way that it can hurt.

Sure, talk radio will attack him over this, but things couldn’t get any worse here. Even this might help us if it helps demonstrate to rational people just how nutty the right wing noise machine and conservative movement is. This will show that, while liberals criticized Bush over real matters of policy, the fanatics of the right simply hate him. Besides hating him as a person, they hate the American values he represents, and the conservative movement which would oppose such a man under any circumstances will never tolerate the thought of having a black man in the White House.

For the authoritarian right, to have a president who supports diplomacy and international cooperation as opposed to preemptive warfare and torture is unthinkable. Historian Douglas Brinkley, who has worked on books about Americans including Theodore Roosevelt, John Kerry, and Ronald Reagan, has this impression of the award:

No matter how his presidency develops or the planet evolves, he has already confirmed his place of greatness. For he didn’t just write “The Audacity of Hope,” he actualized it on the campaign trail of 2008. We spend billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to win over hearts-and-minds to the American Way. President Obama has done the same service on the cheap.

Many will appreciate this accomplishment world wide, perhaps including some Americans who have voted Republican.

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Democracy and Protests Against Health Care Reform

I’ve had numerous posts regarding the distortions being spread by those protesting health care reform. Opposing such spread of misinformation, and disagreeing on principles, should not translate into opposition to protests and questioning of government in principle. Ezra Klein writes that It Is Democracy, Not Health Reform, That Is Sick. He concludes:

What we’re seeing here is not merely distrust in the House health-care reform bill. It’s distrust in the political system. A healthy relationship does not require an explicit detailing of the “institutional checks” that will prevent one partner from beating or killing the other. In a healthy relationship, such madness is simply unthinkable. If it was not unthinkable, then no number of institutional checks could repair that relationship. Similarly, the relationship between the protesters and the government is not healthy. The protesters believe the government capable of madness. There is no evidence for that claim, which means that there is no answer for it, either. That claim is not about what is in this bill, or what government has done in Medicare and Medicaid and the VA. It is about what a certain slice of Americans think their government — and by extension, their fellow citizens — capable of.

The protesters are wrong in their facts on this case but a certain amount of distrust of the political system is a prudent thing. The founding fathers even advised this. Ezra doesn’t believe the government is capable of madness. Has he forgotten Vietnam, Watergate, Iraq, and the entire Bush years? Remember when we argued that protest was patriotic?

I also disagree with Ezra’s lack of respect for the importance of “institutional checks.” The breakdown of such checks is responsible for many of the horrors of the Bush years. In reforming health care, as in most government action, the devil is in the details and it is important that we institute the right institutional checks.

Ezra ends with mention of Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA. Government has been successful in one out of three here. Medicare does an excellent job of providing coverage for the elderly and the disabled and, with some tweaks, would be an excellent model for a public plan. Medicaid, due to limited funding to care for the poor, is a total disaster and ideally I would like to see it abolished with Medicaid patients instead transferred to the public plan if it survives. I have also discussed in previous posts how those outside of the medical profession such as Klein are misled by faulty data to believe the VA system is far better than it really is. While some liberal bloggers might be mislead by faulty data on the VA, many of those who have experienced its flaws first hand have legitimate reason to question those who promote this as a desirable system. Fortunately  a totally government run program such as the VA isn’t on the table.

There is a lot of misinformation being spread by the right, but there are also legitimate questions about health care reform. Questions about what types of “institutional checks” will prevent “madness” on the part of government is not unreasonable. Of course the protesters should also keep in mind that, while no government program will be perfect, there is also a lot of madness in our current system.

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