Is Larry Craig peering through the revolving door?

Notes from the political sidelines.
Oct. 18 2007 4:41 PM

Golden Hand Signals

Is Larry Craig peering through the revolving door?

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Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007

Hour of Lauer: Of the many unsolved mysteries in the case of Larry Craig, the greatest is simply, why won't he leave? He has no support left back home. He stands no chance in court. His entire party taps its feet, in vain, for him to go.

Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman may have found the answer. According to Popkey, Craig isn't sticking around to clear his name or save his Senate seat. He's out to salvage his hopes of a lucrative lobbying career. The public relations blitz is meant to plant reasonable doubt with the only jury Craig still cares about: K Street.

As Popkey points out, Craig is all too familiar with the case of Bob Packwood, the last Republican senator from the Pacific Northwest to be driven from office by scandal. Craig served on the ethics committee when it investigated Packwood. He voted to expel his friend but hugged Packwood afterwards and sobbed as he went into the Senate cloakroom.

Packwood's political career was over as soon as the lurid details of his sexual harassment hit the press. But rather than spare himself and his party further embarrassment, Packwood fought the charges for three years, leaving only when the Senate ethics committee voted unanimously for expulsion.

Packwood's consolation prize for three decades of fondling and unwanted advances: a $1.5-million-a-year lobbying practice that sold clients on the other contacts he had made in Congress.

Popkey says that in August, before the restroom scandal became public, Craig acknowledged he could make more than $600,000 a year as a lobbyist:

"You step out of the House or Senate, if you have seniority, you've developed areas of expertise," Craig said. "Quite a bit can be made, there's no doubt about that, whether you're representing Idaho interests or national interests."

Craig has stepped out, all right. As Popkey concludes, there's no longer any doubt whose interests he's representing.

Television critics everywhere have been wondering why Craig would put his wife and country through the humiliation of talking with Matt Lauer about whether he was gay or perhaps bisexual. Craig's latest double-entendre: "It's no to both."

Luckily, the country was spared, as only the critics were watching. We averted our eyes with good reason. Say what you will about Larry Craig, he's one politician willing to tell people things they don't want to hear. For example, he told KTVB in Boise, "I've got a bit of a streak of civil libertarianism right down my middle." America may love a comeback, but Craig's ratings flop suggests that some figures are beyond redemption.

Yet in many respects, the financial redemption Craig is apparently seeking is a more profound scandal than the crime his guilty plea was meant to cover up. The door he's peering through now is the revolving one.

In this, for once, Craig is not alone. A lobbying career is no longer a safety net for defeated members of Congress. For most congressmen, it's now the cornerstone of their retirement plan. After 27 years in Congress, Craig is out to prove there are no penalties for early withdrawal.

Even in the wake of Jack Abramoff and the last wave of Republican scandals, the new ethics law only extended the cooling-off period for former members of Congress from one year to two. To get a foot in the revolving door, real reform would prohibit senior government officials and former members from lobbying for five years or more.

For weeks, Republicans have complained bitterly about the price their party is paying for Craig's galling selfishness. If Popkey is right, they might try turning it to their advantage. When a corporate executive refuses to leave after his personal life becomes a public-relations disaster, the board often offers a buyout. A desperate GOP could try the same tack when scandal-ridden members won't go: fill their saddlebags with money if they'll leave town by sunset. The corporate world calls that a "golden handshake." In the Craig case, golden hand signals just might do the trick. ... 4:40 P.M. (link)

Monday, Oct. 15, 2007

Infamous:Who says Idahoans don't have a sense of humor? At the Idaho Hall of Fame ceremonies in Boise on Saturday night, emcee David Leroy even got inductee Larry Craig to crack a smile. Leroy, a former attorney general, filled his speech with all the cultural references you'd expect from an Idaho Republican at a Craig event: Truman Capote, Brad Pitt, "hot ticket," and "bitch."

Leroy's theme was the price of fame. The Hall of Fame audience of 220 paid $50 a plate. As Leroy pointed out, "As the cameras outside testify, this banquet is a hot ticket." Ever the good sport, Leroy read the crowd quotes from famous people about fame: Jean Jacques Rousseau ("Fame is but the breath of the people and that is often unwholesome"); Brad Pitt ("Fame is a bitch, man"); and Truman Capote ("Fame is only good for one thing — they will cash your check in a small town.").

I don't know about Rousseau, and Brad Pitt can speak for himself. But I don't care what the Idaho Statesman says -- Truman Capote was not gay!

Even Craig made a quip, telling the audience: "My fame of the last month, I would liken to the definition Brad Pitt gave it." Late-night comics agree: Larry Craig is the joke that won't stop running.

Craig was a controversial choice, but Hall of Fame board member Michael Ritz told the Associated Press that the board felt honor-bound to let him in. "We thought, 'It's kind of going back on your word,'" Ritz explained. "Once a person has been sent a letter and voted into the Hall of Fame, it would be kind of like breaking a promise." That, of course, is something Larry Craig would never do.

If you missed the Boise ceremony, stay tuned: Craig wants a national audience, too. In an interview with Matt Lauer that will air on NBC Tuesday night, Craig lashed out at Mitt Romney for dumping him the day the arrest story broke: "He not only threw me under his campaign bus, he backed up and ran over me again." Apparently, there's no "I Brake for Bad Boys" bumper sticker on the Mitt Mobile.

For days, Romney has been fending off charges from John McCain and Rudy Giuliani that he can't be trusted. Now Mitt's constancy is under fire from Craig, the Republicans' leading authority on saying one thing and doing another.

Last week, Republicans were stunned to find out that Craig won't go. This week's revelation is worse: Craig won't go quietly. In the early days of the scandal, he acted like a man who would neither fight nor switch. As he told Lauer, now he has launched a public relations blitz to show the world, "I'm a fighter." Craig isn't just haunting Republicans from the political grave; he's inviting them to come join him.

When the Craig War Room started up last month, the political world scoffed that it was too late. But look now: after only a few weeks of damage control, damage is everywhere.

Sen. Craig has long advocated that the best way to prevent forest fires is to start brush fires. He's at it again. Most of us cringed back in June when Craig's response to hundreds of people in Lake Tahoe who lost their homes to wildfire was, "I don't know if I want to smile, or I want to cry." This time, we feel the same way.

The most disturbing news in the Lauer interview is that Craig's wife didn't learn of his arrest until she heard about it on TV. His latest apology isn't going to make her feel much better:

"I should have told my wife. I should have told my kids. And most importantly, I should have told counsel."

Forget "women and children first" – that's how they did damage control on the Titanic. These days, crisis has forced embattled Republicans to adopt a new definition of family values: first, tell all the lawyers.

Mitt Romney said the same thing in last week's debate: "You sit down with your attorneys and [have them] tell you what you have to do." When Romney and Craig agree on so much, it's a shame to see them fighting. ... 3:22 P.M. (link)

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Friday, Oct. 12, 2007

The Thinking Feller: Of all the honors Gore has earned over the course of his career, the title "Nobel Laureate" may be the most fitting. Not since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson has America seen a political figure with such a scientific mind. If there were a Nobel Prize for poetic justice, Al Gore would win that, too.

In 1992, Gore wrote that "Archimedes, who invented the lever, is reported to have said that if only he had 'a place on which to stand' at a sufficient distance from the earth, he could move the world." Like a scientist, Gore has spent his career looking for ways to see the planet from that perspective.

For many politicians, all politics is retail. Some prefer to give the view from 30,000 feet. Al Gore doesn't stop there. The most striking feature of his office in the Senate and the White House was an enormous photograph of Earth, taken from outer space.

Fifteen years ago, in Earth in the Balance, Gore displayed another favorite photograph—a computer-generated mosaic image of Abraham Lincoln. From up close, the photo looks like a random checkerboard of gray squares. Only from a distance does Lincoln's picture become clear.

George W. Bush's presidency is a monument to the perils of shortsightedness. With the Nobel, Gore has finally been rewarded for taking the long view.

Unlike science, politics can be a depressingly monosyllabic business: "Peace is at hand"; "Read my lips"; "Bring him on." One of Gore's first crusades to save the planet went after an unpronounceable villain with a week's worth of syllables: chlorofluorocarbons. That issue didn't win him the Democratic nomination in 1988, although it later earned him a nickname from George H.W. Bush: "Ozone Man." But the effort to protect the ozone layer was a success, and the scientists who discovered the threat from chlorofluorocarbons won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995.

When I joined Gore's Senate staff as a speechwriter in the mid-'80s, I felt like an English major at Caltech. From biotechnology to organ transplants to ARPANET, Gore approached every issue, large and small, with the same ferocious scientific curiosity. Even the liberal-arts assignments were impossibly comprehensive. My first week on the job, he asked for all available information on the decline of the nation-state.

The summer before the '88 primaries, Gore found out that the next debate in Iowa would be held in a hall with no air conditioning, where the temperature onstage would top 100 degrees. Gore asked his health-policy expert to find out whether there was any scientific way to keep candidates from sweating like Richard Nixon under such conditions. In fact, someone had come up with an inhibitor to keep the forehead from sweating, but apparently it had the unfortunate side effect of making sweat pour down the back of the head in buckets, like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. Gore took a pass, and redoubled his efforts to tackle global warming.

Then as now, Gore was obsessed with long-term trends. He championed the Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future and introduced a bill to create an Office of Critical Trends Analysis. The bill never passed, so he essentially manned the office himself.

In the politics of the moment, seeing the future often proved as much a burden as a blessing. When Earth in the Balance came out, Gore was attacked for imagining the end of the internal-combustion engine. Now even carmakers are trying to figure out how to prove him right. Gore has been making the same persuasive case on climate change for more than two decades. Only in the last two years did people start to see past the random checkerboard of gray squares.

One of America's greatest scientific minds, Thomas Edison, would have admired Gore's persistence, even if, thanks to Gore, the world will soon abandon the incandescent light bulb Edison invented. Gore spent decades in the political laboratory searching for the right filament to make a light go on in the public mind about global warming. If Edison was right that "genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," the world is lucky Al Gore has never been afraid to sweat buckets for the cause. ... 11:18 P.M. (link)

* Dept. of What Ifs: Today's Washington Post notes the irony that George W. Bush was in Florida when he learned of Gore's triumph. The Post also says "there was no congratulatory phone call" from Bush. He doesn't need to get snippy about it!  But the New York Times adds the most poignant historical irony:

"When his phone failed to ring early Friday morning, Mr. Gore assumed he had been passed over. He and his wife, Tipper, then turned on CNN to see who had been awarded the prize, only to learn it was him."

CNN projects Al Gore the winner! … 10:28 A.M.

Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007

DHS or Beta: Last year, Hollywood producer Joseph Medawar was convicted of conning investors out of $5.5 million for a bogus TV show on the Department of Homeland Security called D.H.S.: The Series. Medawar spent the money but never produced anything, which makes it the most realistic portrayal of DHS yet.

While the con man went to jail, you can still fall for his scam on the D.H.S.: The Series  Web site. Don't miss the fawning press clips, the souvenir mugs, or a cast synopsis that promises a nightclub-singer-turned-DHS-agent, a CIA-agent-turned-deputy-undersecretary, and a character named "Spyder, the Token Arab."

When the White House asked for Hollywood's help after 9/11, this is the war on terror they had in mind. The series trailer is a jumble of action clips and incoherent dialogue, such as, "Hey Johnny, do me a favor and say a prayer"—which sounds like the way Bush talked to Kerry on the 2004 campaign trail.

Unlike Washington, Hollywood couldn't figure out how to sustain a show with 170,000 extras. But as Slate V's brilliant video parody of Justice Scalia on 24 demonstrated last week, viewers are hungry for all the homeland thrills they can get. Luckily, a team of failed Washington insiders has stepped forward with an online, made-for-disaster TV network, just in time for the new fall season.

The venture is called "Homeland Security Television," which promises to be "television for a new generation of homeland security leaders." It's not as exciting as 24, nor as scary as Bin Laden's attempts to make al-Jazeera the network for a new generation of homeland security threateners. But it is the place to go to watch washed-up ex-Bushies star in homeland defense product infomercials.

The most promising new show is a pilot called Introducing Ridge Global, starring former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. The video opens with HS-TV's logo—a spinning, phosphorescent-yellow globe—followed by the logo for the opening credits: a spinning, sepia-toned globe. Say what you will about Ridge, but the man is a master with color.

Big, expensive words race by in Romney-esque proportion—"Demonstrated Leadership," "Strategic Vision," "Global Reach"—then pound the earth in staccato bursts: "Ridge. Global. LLC." The opening scene is straight from the terror-movie textbook: a wide shot of innocent pedestrians on Pennsylvania Avenue, with heart-pounding background music hinting that the nation's capital is about to be destroyed by terrorists. Then Ridge comes on to pitch his new firm, making clear that Washington will instead be destroyed by buck-raking consultants.

The video builds suspense with quick cutaways—the White House, vulnerable refineries, and chemical plants, a Blackberry that may have fallen into the wrong hands, an attractive blonde in one of Jennifer Garner's wigs from Alias. Ridge warns at the outset, "We'd like to go on the journey with you"—and what a ride it is. In place of clichéd spy-show banter, Ridge speaks in authentic swindlers' jargon, promising "pre-existing arrangements with subject-matter experts," help navigating the president's "critical infrastructure protection regimen," and the ability to "tap into both public and private sector leaders in terms of business opportunities."

Tom Ridge isn't just a household name, he's a household item: America's basements and attics are filled with duct tape and plastic sheeting he sold us before. So, RidgeGlobal must be disappointed that the show hasn't found much of an audience. When I stumbled onto it last week, the video had a total of 21 views. Next time, they should hire son-of-a-salesman Tagg Romney, whose video just passed "Sexy Girl Store" to move into eighth place with 145,000 views on Jumpcut.

Ridge isn't the only Homeland Security washout on Homeland Security Television. Former FEMA Director Michael Brown has a video pitching "inferencing technology." While Brownie and George Bush might seem better suited for a cautionary video on the use of infer and imply, this video shows a photo of them together, as Brown recounts how he told the president that Katrina would be "the big one."

Remarkably, Brown is pitching his data-mining company's ability to anticipate the unexpected: "It's easy to prepare for the things we know are going to happen, but not the things we don't know are going to happen." In his old job, he failed to prepare for either one—but then, FEMA didn't have inferencing algorithms. They didn't even have buses.

Tom Ridge and Michael Brown shouldn't feel bad if Homeland Security TV is a bust. It's not really their fault. They had the same problem in their old jobs—they were just miscast.

Hollywood knows better. In the network-TV remake, Ridge will be played with a twinkle by William Shatner. The role of Heckuva-Job-Brownie will go to Steve Carell. The inferencing between those two will be something to watch, and we'll all feel safer when we're in on the con. ... 2:36 P.M. (link)

Friday, Oct. 5, 2007

Bad Loan: The slogan of the Idaho Hall of Fame, which Larry Craig will enter next Saturday, is "Idahoans on Loan to the World." Thanks to Craig, Senate Republicans can plainly see that there's a crisis in the subprime sector.

Nobody really wants to be installed next to Craig, but two fellow inductees will find next Friday's ceremony especially awkward. Gov. Butch Otter has been waiting six weeks to name Craig's successor. He released a long list of all the Idahoans who've expressed interest in the job and reportedly settled on a replacement just in time for Craig's announcement that he's not resigning. Another inductee, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, desperately wants Craig's seat and will soon announce his attention to run in 2008, even if Otter doesn't nominate him.

Even Boise State coach Chris Petersen, whose Fiesta Bowl-winning razzle-dazzle earned him a place at this year's ceremony, doesn't have a trick play good enough to rescue Craig's busted snap. The Hall of Fame was right to worry that the concept of "real life heroes has been lost"—although when it set out to find inductees with "pages of life experience to inspire our up and coming generations," Craig's pages weren't the ones it had in mind. But it's all about the kids—and tickets are still available!

Senate Republicans can't catch a break: The colleagues they hate to lose are retiring, and the one guy they want to retire isn't budging. John Ensign, who has the unpleasant task of heading the Senate Republican Campaign Committee for 2008, doesn't mince words: "Senator Craig gave us his word. … I wish he would stick to his word." Like most Idahoans, Craig's colleagues take his backtracking personally. If a man's word is his bond, it's time to call the bounty hunter.

Out in Idaho, one citizen has stepped forward to answer the call. Brad Bristol, a nonaligned voter from Nampa, Idaho, just launched an Impeach Craig Web site. As the Idaho Statesmanreports, Bristol was already mad that Craig supported comprehensive immigration reform, and couldn't take it anymore when the senator refused to leave as promised. Bristol hopes his Web site, Idahopower-less.com, can get the job done in 120 days, but admits that Craig is not much for deadlines. Craig's Senate colleagues can rest assured—their signatures will be kept confidential.

The Idaho Post-Registercalls Craig a "serial liar," and nothing the man does can surprise anybody anymore. Even so, folks are scratching their heads about the excuses their allegedly intelligent senator gave yesterday for staying. Craig claimed that the past three weeks showed him he could continue to represent Idaho effectively. He said a replacement couldn't match his seniority or prime committee assignments, neglecting to mention that his colleagues have stripped his seniority and made clear that his only prime assignment will be to appear before the Senate ethics committee.

Craig ended his press release: "When my term has expired, I will retire and not seek reelection. I hope this provides the certainty Idaho needs and deserves." That's just what Idahoans and Republicans wanted to hear from Larry Craig—another promise. ... 3:05 P.M. (link)

Thursday, Oct. 4, 2007

Ol' Blue Eyes: Now that Minnesota Judge Charles Porter Jr. has rejected Larry Craig's request to withdraw his guilty plea, a nation of tabloids is rushing to print with headlines about his demise. But here at the Craig War Room, we take a different view. In his order, Judge Porter actually says the nicest things anyone has said about Craig since the scandal broke back in August.

The judge rebuffs Craig's "illogical" legal arguments and offers Craig's lawyer, Billy Martin, only a backhanded compliment for conceding an obvious point. Judge Porter politely dismisses the ACLU's defense of Craig's rights to free speech and free sex, explaining that the real issue was the disorderly conduct of the defendant's "eyes, hand, and foot."

Yet Craig is used to having his motions denied. By all accounts, his lawyers will take his case to the Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court. Today's setback is just the first step in a legal strategy of three-taps-and-you're-out.

In the meantime, Craig can bask in all the high praise from the bench. For starters, Judge Porter goes on for 27 pages without telling a single joke at Craig's expense (unless you count a wry statement of fact, "The Defendant did not flush the toilet"). Jay Leno and David Letterman can't restrain themselves for 27 seconds.

Even as he tosses out Craig's arguments, the judge finds a way to toss him compliments as the reason. When Craig's defense team contends their client was rushed, the judge applauds the senator's "calm and methodical" behavior in the pre-plea period. While Craig's lawyers portray a client intimidated by the police, Judge Porter sees "a degree of confidence" in the senator. The judge even brings up Craig's "blue eyes"—twice.

As grounds for rejecting the motion, Judge Porter sets out to prove that Craig's boneheaded, career-ending admission of guilt was, in fact, an "intelligent plea." As a result, the ruling is full of praise for Craig's thinking, calling him "an educated adult" and repeatedly noting how smart he is: "The Defendant, a career politician with a college degree, is of, at least, above-average intelligence." If that's the case, Lake Wobegon may finally have found its senator.

Judge Porter goes out of his way to mention a detail most of us missed: When he sent his guilty plea to the prosecutor, Craig attached a handwritten thank-you for his cooperation.

Any Idaho mother would be proud. The late-night comics may say Larry Craig is a dumb, disorderly peeper. But the judge says he's smart as a hack, with blue eyes and good manners to die for. ... 4:59 P.M. (link)

Monday, Oct. 1, 2007

I Said No, No, No: Newsweek's cover story concludes that "the politician Romney has been chiefly interested in organizing and packaging himself into is a man who seems to have no history, and, as a result, no heart." If only he had a much-loved ad campaign about his past  …

One Romney supporter seems to have a history—the unsinkable Larry Craig. You can always judge a man by his arrest report. As the sergeant who busted Craig recalls: "I pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, 'No!' " Now it's happening again. State, party, and country are using every known signal to point Craig toward the exit—but, once again, the senator is dragging his feet and saying, "No!"

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