December 31, 2011

Bribery Scandal Almost Nabbed Newt

In 1997, hardworking FBI agents in Miami were on the verge (they thought) of snaring then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his second wife, Marianne, in a $10 million bribery scandal involving multiple ties to key elements of the Israeli lobby in Washington. However, then-FBI Director Louis Freeh stepped in, and the impending sting was called off.

This revelation appeared on page A-2 of The Washington Post on Dec. 15, but it has not been mentioned in The New York Times or been given any play in the major broadcast media.

While the Post downplayed the Israeli connection, a limited rendition of the story in one brief UPI report —published in only a few newspapers—never mentioned the underlying pivotal, in-depth role of Israeli-linked intermediaries in the matter.

Instead, the reports focused on international arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian’s ties to the affair, leading many readers to think Gingrich was involved in arms trafficking. In reality, it was the arms dealer, a longtime FBI informant, who was acting on behalf of the FBI in the effort to nab Gingrich.

The Post story was based on a far more detailed and revealing exposition of some 6,400 words by veteran intelligence correspondent Joe Trento, published on his website at

The entire scenario is complex, reflecting events taking place over several years time. But the bottom line is that Gingrich and his wife were allegedly attempting to shake down Soghanalian for a $10 million bribe and that, from the beginning, operatives for Israel were on the scene, acting as middlemen for the Gingrich duo.

Mrs. Gingrich first made a connection to Soghanalian through her position as a former paid pitchwoman for the Israel Export Development Corporation (IEDC)—a front for a group of Jewish billionaires eager to promote Israeli exports into the United States. Behind IEDC were such big names as Larry Silverstein, owner of the World Trade Center at the time of the 9-11 attacks; Sy Syms of the SYMS clothing chain; and Lawrence Tisch, who controls the CBS media empire.

Soghanalian said he was first approached by Morty Bennett of Miami, who told the arms dealer he had a business associate who had an “in” with Mrs. Gingrich and that it might be possible to use that connection on Soghanalian’s behalf.

Knowing U.S. sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq were preventing the arms dealer from collecting a legal debt of $54 million owed to him by Iraq, Bennett told Soghanalian that Mrs. Gingrich could help arrange—through her husband, then the speaker of the House—the lifting of the U.S. embargo so the arms dealer could secure his debt.

Bennett’s associate, Howard Ash—who had worked with Mrs. Gingrich at IEDC—was a major fundraiser for the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS), a Jerusalem-based think tank headed by Robert Loewenberg, who Mrs. Gingrich has described as a “friend.” IASPS also included another close Gingrich friend, former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), among its “trustees”—a relationship Weber now formally denies.

Following the contact from Bennett, Soghanalian—a longtime FBI informant who had worked closely with Richard Gregorie, the assistant U.S. attorney in Miami—reported the overtures from Mrs. Gingrich’s IEDC-IASPS associates to the FBI. The FBI expressed interest, urging Soghanalian to maintain contact with the group.

Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Gingrich visited Paris—under the auspices of IEDC and at the urging of Loewenberg—in the company of Bennett and Ash, where she met Soghanalian.

Mrs. Gingrich now claims she was soliciting a donation to IEDC from Soghanalian. However, Soghanalian told the FBI that Mrs. Gingrich told him in Paris that she could use her husband’s influence to get the Iraqi embargo lifted in return for “an understanding.”

Sometime later, Bennett came back to the arms dealer, saying Mrs. Gingrich wanted $10 million to get the job done.

Soghanalian was told $5 million was for Mrs. Gingrich; another $1 million was for Bennett. The recipients of the remaining $4 million were not named, but those who know how Capitol Hill bribery works presume this money would be used to help “grease the wheels” among other members of Congress who would help Gingrich expedite the operation.

Soghanalian told the FBI he was instructed the bribe was to be paid to the Washington office of IASPS, which would, in turn, launder the money to the Gingriches.

The IEDC-IASPS connection recurs throughout the scenario. Not only did another IEDC associate of Mrs. Gingrich, attorney David Yerushalmi, serve as counsel for both IEDC and IASPS, but both organizations also shared a number of employees and mutual funding sources.*

The FBI insisted it was vital that Soghanalian seal the deal directly with Mrs. Gingrich or her husband. This would clinch the criminal case against them.

As directed by the FBI, Soghanalian insisted he would not make the “donation” to the IASPS—the bribe intended for Gingrich—until he could meet Gingrich and his wife in private.

Pressured by Soghanalian, Ash told the arms dealer the House speaker would send “his own man” to Miami to meet with Soghanalian to facilitate arrangements for the meeting.

Gingrich’s “own man” was Ben Waldman. Closely tied to Netanyahu circles in Israel, Waldman—an associate of both televangelist Pat Robertson and the infamously corrupt pro-Israel Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff—had been Ronald Reagan’s liaison to the Jewish community. But at the time of the bribery conspiracy, Waldman was chief fundraiser for the IASPS.

Finally, with everything in place, the FBI set the trap for Gingrich. A lavish reception was scheduled for June 8, 1997 in Miami at a luxury home, which had actually been rented by the FBI for the sting. Soghanalian was supposed to meet Gingrich there and solidify the deal under FBI electronic surveillance.

However, at the last minute, FBI Director Louis Freeh sent down the order that Soghanalian was not to attend the event—which Gingrich did attend— and the two-year-long investigation was brought to an abrupt end just when the FBI might have caught Gingrich agreeing to accept the payoff.

Journalist Trento quoted one FBI agent, who said: “We got so close, and when the target was in sight, we were stopped by Washington.”

In fact, both assistant U.S. attorney in Miami Richard Gregorie and the FBI’s Miami attorney, Martin King, had wanted to pursue the investigation to the end, only to be frustrated by the FBI director.

Soghanalian has since died. Bennett, Ash and Waldman—and Mrs. Gingrich—all dismiss the reported events as a tissue of lies. Gingrich has yet to comment. FBI officials now assert there was never any evidence Gingrich was aware a bribery conspiracy was under way.
* Considering the revelations from the Gingrich bribery allegations, it does not seem a coincidence that longtime Gingrich associate Yerushalmi is today the driving force behind the ongoing, well-financed national Muslim-bashing campaign focusing on the danger Islamic law—sharia— supposedly poses to America. In fact, The New York Times reported on Dec. 21 that “long before he announced his presidential run . . . Newt Gingrich had become the most prominent American politician to embrace an alarming premise: that sharia, or Islamic law, poses a threat to the United States as grave [as], or graver than, terrorism.” The Times, however, did not mention the bribery scandal, its links to IEDC and IASPS, or even Yerushalmi, although it did point out that Gingrich and his ex-mistress—now his third wife—have produced a Muslim-bashing film.

December 30, 2011

DoD Says Military Intel Budget Request is Classified

The amount of money that the Pentagon requested for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) in FY2012 — around $25 billion — is classified and will not be disclosed, the Department of Defense said last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request for the figure.

The MIP budget request number “is currently and properly classified in accordance with Executive Order 13526 Section 1.4(g) concerning vulnerabilities or capability of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans or protection services relating to the national security,” the December 7 denial letter stated.

The decision to withhold the MIP budget request number is incongruous, considering that the MIP appropriation is unclassified ($24 billion in FY2011).

Not only that, but the amount of money that was requested for the National Intelligence Program (NIP) is unclassified and has been released by the Director of National Intelligence ($55 billion for FY2012).

“No identifiable damage to national security was caused by the release of the NIP budget request figure,” we noted yesterday in an appeal of the initial FOIA denial.

“From a classification policy perspective, there is no substantive difference between the NIP and the MIP. Each Program involves intelligence sources and methods requiring protection, classified acquisition programs, and other sensitive and properly classified activities.”

“Just as disclosure of the NIP budget request caused no damage to national security, it is clear that disclosure of the MIP budget request would be likewise harmless,” we wrote in the December 13 appeal.

Like other questionable classification choices, the decision to classify the MIP budget request is ripe for reconsideration and correction in the ongoing Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.

December 29, 2011

Former Ney aide says change of culture needed in U.S. capital

Neil Volz believes that Washington won’t change the way it operates without a change of culture.

“It’s hard to defend our system, because it doesn’t always make sense,” he said. “It allows people to do bad things.”

The Ohio native speaks from experience.

He spent more than a decade in Washington, first as press secretary and chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, and then as a lobbyist working for Jack Abramoff.

Volz became a central figure in one of the biggest political corruption scandals of the last decade, pleading guilty in 2007 to conspiring with Abramoff to bribe members of Congress.

Volz admitted to accepting meals and tickets to sporting events from Abramoff when he worked for Ney, and he admitted that he gave Ney and his staff things of value when he worked for Abramoff. Ney, in return, helped Abramoff’s clients.

Volz avoided jail time by cooperating with the Justice Department’s investigation of the case, serving as the chief witness against Ney, who once represented the 18th Congressional District, which includes the Tuscarawas Valley. Ney served 17 months in prison.

“I think we should focus on changing the culture, not the Constitution,” Volz said in a recent interview with The T-R while promoting his new memoir, “Into the Sun,” which he said gives an insider view into the scandal.

“If a handful of people chose to behave differently, the public could see some changes,” he said.

Much of the system that Volz worked under in Washington remains in place today – a system that is based on buying access to leaders, he said. “But you can’t find a leader who will admit that.”

If he could change one thing about the system, Volz said he would alter the congressional redistricting process — which was completed this year in Ohio amid much controversy.

“We should make the redistricting process more about representative government than the spoils of office,” he said. “If we did that, we would have a better pool of people in office.”

Yet he emphasizes that not everyone in Washington is corrupt and thinks it’s dangerous for the American people to distrust anybody in authority. “There are so many great elected officials working to make things better,” he said.

Volz — who grew up in Finneytown, near Cincinnati — got his start working for Ney as an unpaid intern in 1993, when Ney was serving in the state Senate. He moved to Washington in 1994 when Ney was elected to Congress.

“I was an idealist college student when I went to Washington,” he said, but step by step, he saw his idealism replaced by cynicism.

That began during Ney’s re-election campaign in 1996, when Volz realized that it was necessary to cut deals to stay in office. He had also come to enjoy the perks that came with power.

“It became easier for me when I thought, ‘Anything I can do to help Bob Ney is good for the district,’” he said.

When he left Ney’s office in 2002 to became a member of Team Abramoff, Volz became more focused on making money. He thought that if everyone else had been selfish and was cashing in on their connections, he might as well do it too. “We might not have been alone, but by no means was everybody doing it,” he said. “That’s part of the message of my book.”

Following his conviction on bribery charges, Volz found it impossible to find a job in Washington. He works as a janitor in a restaurant in southwest Florida and devotes much of his time to volunteering with the homeless.

“It’s a reminder that life is a roller coaster,” he said. “I got a lot of joy out of public service; that’s what brought me to Washington. But I lost track of that.”

Though he lives a different lifestyle now than during his Washington days, he said he is much happier. “When you’re making lots of money, you can do a lot of things, but it can’t bring contentment.”

During his current tour to promote his new book, he is talking to high school and college students, hoping to undo some of the damage he had done. Last week, he spoke at Martins Ferry High Schoolin Belmont County, urging the kids there to listen to their conscience and pay heed to the “red flag moments in your life.”

Volz said he is deeply sorry for what he has done.

“As I was walking into Martins Ferry High, I was reminded that eastern Ohio was the hardest hit by the Abramoff scandal,” he said. “It was very meaningful for me to simply say to those students that I was sorry. I will always be.”

He describes himself as a changed person.

“I’m very deeply into my faith,” Volz said. “That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gone through the scandal. In a way it’s been a blessing for me, though it caused pain for many, many people.”

He said he became a born-again Christian in high school, but turned his back on God when he was in Washington. He renewed his faith in 2008, thanks to his work with homeless veterans.

“It was through the fellowship of the veterans I was working with that I returned to God and became born again again,” Volz said.

December 28, 2011

You Won't Believe How Corrupt, Lazy And Stinking Rich Our Congress Critters Have Become

If our founding fathers could see the cesspool that the U.S. Congress has become today, they would roll over in their graves. Most Americans don't realize this, but we already have a "part-time Congress". Members of Congress only "work" a little over a third of the days on the calendar. The rest of the time they have off. It is no wonder why so many members of Congress are involved in so much corruption - they have so much free time on their hands that they are bound to get into trouble. Many members of Congress also use their positions of power and the information they learn during the course of their duties to become fabulously wealthy. At a time when incomes nationally are actually declining, our Congress critters are becoming stinking rich at a staggering pace. Yes, politics in America has always been a game that is funded and played by wealthy individuals, but things have gotten so extreme that it is hard to argue that average Americans have any control over Congress at all at this point. Instead of a government "of the people, by the people and for the people", we now have a government "of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy". If you doubt this, just keep on reading.

Over the past couple of decades, the "wealth gap" between members of Congress and average Americans has grown to ridiculous proportions. Things have gotten so bad that now even the New York Times is reporting on these things....

"Largely insulated from the country’s economic downturn since 2008, members of Congress — many of them among the “1 percenters” denounced by Occupy Wall Street protesters — have gotten much richer even as most of the country has become much poorer in the last six years"
So how wealthy have members of Congress become?

Many of you won't believe the statistics posted below. The truth is that Congress has become all about money. It takes huge piles of money to get elected to Congress, it takes huge piles of money to stay in Congress, and most members of Congress seem to be able to accumulate gigantic piles of money while "serving" their country....

-Today, there are 250 members of Congress that are millionaires.

-According to the Wall Street Journal, the median net worth of members of Congress is now $913,000.

-The collective net worth of all of the members of Congress increased by 25 percent between 2008 and 2010. Meanwhile, the standard of living in the United States has fallen farther over the past three years than at any other time that has ever been recorded in U.S. history.

-After adjusting for inflation, between 1984 and 2009 the median net worth of members of Congress rose from $280,000 to $725,000 while the median net worth of all Americans actually declined slightly over that same time period.

-The collective net worth of all of the members of Congress is now slightly over 2 billion dollars. That is "billion" with a "b".

-In 2009, Congress was only scheduled to be in session for 137 days out of the 365 days of the year. In 2010, Congress was also only scheduled to be in session for 137 days out of the entire year. For much more on the pathetic "work schedule" of the U.S. Congress, just check out this video.

-The net worth of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi increased by 62 percent from 2009 to 2010. In 2009 it was reported that she had a net worth of 21.7 million dollars, and in 2010 it was reported that she had a net worth of 35.2 million dollars.

-The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, saw his wealth grow by 29 percent from 2009 to 2010. He is now worth approximately 9.8 million dollars.

-U.S. Representative Darrell Issa is worth approximately 220 million dollars. His wealth grew by approximately 37 percent from 2009 to 2010.

-The wealthiest member of Congress, U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, is worth approximately 294 million dollars.

-Those that won U.S. Senate seats during the last election spent an average of nearly $10 million on their campaigns.

-More than 5 billion dollars was spent on political campaigns back in 2008, and it is being projected that 8 billion dollars will be spent on political campaigns in 2012.

-When it comes to federal elections, the candidate that raises the most money wins about 90 percent of the time.

-Since 1964, the reelection rate for members of the U.S. House of Representatives has never fallen below 85 percent.

It is also amazing how deeply corrupt Congress has become. In a previous article, I detailed how a number of Congress critters used confidential information about the coming financial crisis that they received from U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in September 2008 to make beneficial stock market moves before the stock market crashed later that fall....

On September 16, 2008 Paulson and Bernanke held "closed door meetings" with members of Congress and warned them that the financial system was about to totally collapse.

But instead of racing out to save the financial system, author Peter Schweizer says that many of our representatives in Congress raced out to save their stock portfolios.

In his new book, Schweizer alleges the following....

*Schweizer says that U.S. Senator Dick Durbin sold $74,715 worth of stock on September 17th and $42,000 worth of stock on September 18th.

*Schweizer says that U.S. Representative Jim Moran sold off shares in 90 different corporations on September 17th.

*Schweizer says that U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse sold off at least $250,000 worth of stock between September 18th and September 24th.

*Schweizer says that U.S. Representative Spencer Bachus bet very heavily against the stock market in the days following the September 16th meeting and made tens of thousands of dollars doing so.

*Schweizer says that U.S. Senator John Kerry bought up approximately $350,000 of Bank of America stock and approximately $550,000 of Citigroup stock during October 2008 and November of 2008. It was during this time period that the bailout programs for the big banks were being developed and debated.
So has anyone gotten into trouble for any of that?

Of course not.

Congress critters play by an entirely different set of rules than the rest of us do.

At this point, the American people are absolutely disgusted with Congress. According to the latest polls, the approval rating for Congress is sitting at about 12 percent.

But of course the vast majority of our Congress critters will be re-elected over and over and over again.

Most members of Congress do not care about you. What they do care about is taking care of their political careers and taking care of their big donors. As noted earlier, it takes enormous amounts of money to win national elections in America, and most members of Congress are not about to do anything that will threaten the gravy train.

Our system is fundamentally broken. It is time to quit pretending.

But of course the mainstream media will never admit this, because mainstream media outlets are owned by many of the same corporations and wealthy individuals that fund political campaigns. For the establishment, the current system is working just fine.

So until the American people wake up and start demanding fundamental reforms, our Congress critters are going to continue to live the high life and we are going to keep on getting the same pathetic results out of Washington.

December 27, 2011

While President Obama Arrives in Hawaii Amidst Security and Fanfare, Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Slips Quietly into Big Island Resort

News that President Barack Obama arrived in Hawaii this weekend to join his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha in time for a Christmas holiday has been covered by news media worldwide.

The first family and their friends have been enjoying a reclusive 17-day holiday vacation in beach front homes in Kailua, Oahu.

But another powerful politician is here for the holidays as well, albeit on another island and with less media attention.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, who served as Speaker of the House and is now head of the House minority, is once again spending her Christmas at the exotic Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka'upulehu in Kona on the island of Hawaii.

Pelosi reportedly plans to spend her Christmas Eve at midnight mass in St. Michael's Catholic Church in Kailua-Kona.

Pelosi spent the last two Christmas holidays in Kona at the same hotel in an elaborate suite that rents for $10,000 a night.

The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai’s details its luxurious setting and amenities on its web site: “Gloriously revitalised, this natural tropical paradise offers more than ever to explore – with a newly expanded Spa, beachfront dining, fashion boutiques and new Deluxe Suites, in addition to Jack Nicklaus signature golf. Set on the Big Island’s exclusive Kona-Kohala Coast, this showpiece resort captures the essence of Hawaiian design, culture and tradition.”

Pelosi has her share of allies in Hawaii, including Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who she defended during his successful campaign for governor in 2010. When Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Mufi Hannemann claimed during the primary that Abercrombie was not effective in Congress, Pelosi issued a statement calling Abercrombie “outstanding, effective and courageous.”

Pelosi has been escorted by local police during her last two holiday visits to Hawaii Island at a cost of $34,000 to local taxpayers.

Obama’s trip to the island of Oahu has proved much pricier to state and federal taxpayers.

In a Hawaii Reporter story published last week, the total cost (based on what is known) for a 17-day round trip vacation to Hawaii for the President and his family and staff and security is an estimated $4,113,038.

That includes $3,629,622 for separate travel for the president and his family, $151,200 for housing for security, $72,216 for staff to stay in one of Hawaii's most luxurious resorts, the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki, and local police protection and ambulance detail for $260,000.

December 26, 2011

Is Obama administration probe of Sheriff Joe a ploy for Hispanic votes?

When the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report condemning Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “discriminatory” policing policies last week, some immigrant rights groups lauded it as a move toward immigration enforcement reform. Others, though, are worried it was nothing more than a conveniently timed ploy to regain support from disillusioned Hispanic voters.

Some say the Department of Justice’s release of details from a three-year investigation into alleged civil rights abuses by Arpaio is an admission that collaborations between local law enforcement and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can lead to discrimination. Others, though, questioned the timing of the report, which came as President Obama’s support among Latinos is waning. Immigrant advocate groups that have been critical of the president’s immigration policies, citing his administration’s record level of deportation, are asking why it took the government three years to condemn Arpaio.

“Them coming out now is somewhat timely and looks like a political move,” said Carlos Garcia, an organizer with Puente Movement, a migrants rights group in Arizona.

The report alleges that Arpaio, who last month endorsed Gov. Rick Perry for president, used his office to engage in “unconstitutional policing.”

“Specifically, we find that MCSO, through the actions of its deputies, supervisory staff, and command staff, engages in racial profiling of Latinos; unlawfully stops, detains, and arrests Latinos,” the report states. The findings led Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to suspend Arpaio’s Secure Communities program and his office’s 287g program, which allows officers to perform immigration functions provided they undergo specific training. Secure Communities, which is used statewide in Texas, compares the fingerprints of people in police custody against a federal database to determine if the individuals are eligible for deportation under federal immigration laws.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network said that if the move is purely meant to woo Latinos, it won’t likely help the president win their support.

“President Obama needs to terminate the Secure Communities and 287g program if he wants to be serious about being a champion for immigrant rights,” said Sarahi Uribe, the network’s national organizer.

But the Texas Democratic Party, which railed against proposed legislation to expand immigration powers to local police in Texas, defended the president.

“This is absolutely not about an election; it’s about doing what’s right. Sheriff Joe Arpaio was using his office to terrorize Latinos, and he needed to be stopped,” said party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña. “Were it not for President Obama’s administration, several Republican-controlled states would be implementing cruel legislation that unconstitutionally targets immigrants.”

But other Democrats said Obama should stop trying to please immigration hardliners while trying to appear compassionate toward immigrants.

“He’s just caught in this bind, and they haven’t really taken a step to define themselves in one direction or another,” said Douglas Rivlin, the spokesman for U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.
Further Investigations

The DOJ’s findings, whether steeped in politics or not, have spurred new hope among critics of the immigration programs that the federal government will investigate similar allegations around the country. On Tuesday, the department released the findings of another study accusing the East Haven, Conn., police department of discriminating against Latinos.

That report exposes a national epidemic of civil rights violations, the day laborer organization said in a statement, and it must raise questions about federal immigration programs that rely on local police.

The DOJ did not respond to inquiries about current investigations in Texas, although a former member of a government task force created to examine Secure Communities said there have been allegations of abuse here.

“There have been investigations in some of the Texas communities. Where, I couldn’t tell you because those are usually confidential,” said former Sacramento Police Chief Arturo Venegas. He was on a 19-person task force the Department of Homeland Security created in June in response to widespread criticism of Secure Communities and allegations that it was being used to deport nonviolent immigrants instead of the criminals. Venegas resigned, though, after the task force released its first report. He said Secure Communities should have been terminated altogether and not simply modified.

Uribe called the DOJ’s finding proof that the Obama administration is divided over the programs.

“So we feel like, in some ways, the truth is out with this Department of Justice report,” she said. “ICE is an accomplice to civil rights crisis in and outside of Maricopa County, and, if anything, I think it opens the door for renewed discussion on the Secure Communities program and calls to terminate it.”

Asked to comment about allegations in the DOJ report against ICE and its local law enforcement programs, the DHS press office referred to an ICE website that says the program is undergoing significant changes.

December 25, 2011

Time to end Washington's banana republic budgeting

House Speaker John Boehner caved yesterday and agreed to drop House demands for a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut. Instead, he agreed to the two-month extension backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. That spares millions of Americans from a tax increase that otherwise would have arrived Jan. 1.

But it also guarantees this whole sorry spectacle will be renewed in March 2012. Will Congress reach a permanent resolution of the issue then? Not likely. And even if it does, the tax code will still be jammed with hundreds of temporary tax provisions. The Joint Committee on Taxation says 84 tax provisions were scheduled to end this year if they aren't renewed. That's 10 times as many temporary provisions as expired in 1999.

While both parties are share responsibility for the debacle over the payroll tax cut, the Democrat-controlled Senate bears special attention. Under the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, Congress must produce a five-year budget plan every year. But in 2010, both the House and Senate failed to do so for the first time since 1974. After Republicans retook the House in November 2010, they got the lower chamber back on track by approving a 2012 budget plan this past April. No such luck in the Senate. It has now been 969 days, almost three years, since Senate Democrats have produced an annual budget plan, as they are required to do by law.

Senate defenders counter that it is often more difficult to get things done in the upper chamber. And it is true that the ever-present threat of a filibuster means 60 votes are required to pass most legislation. But annual budgets cannot be filibustered. Senate Democrats can pass any budget plan they want at any time by a simple majority. They have chosen not to do so. This failure damages the economic health and well-being of every American. Businesses don't invest or hire new workers when they don't know what their tax liability will be two months from now, let alone next year or five years down the road.

Another consequence of this budget abdication is the increasing frequency of temporary stopgap spending deals, hastily stitched-together continuing resolutions, and gargantuan omnibus appropriation bills that risk government shutdowns if they aren't approved. These measures also enable Congress to avoid making tough decisions on issues like entitlement reform by kicking the can down the road. And because they often include "must-pass" funding for multiple departments and agencies, they become Christmas trees decorated with hundreds of special interest provisions, including earmarks that encourage political corruption.

Worst of all, such all-or-nothing spending measures lead to irresponsible decisions like the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut. Now lawmakers have left town to "get home for Christmas," which is another way of saying they're taking a month's vacation from the rigors of ducking hard decisions. Whatever happened to not leaving until the work voters sent you here to do is done? This is banana republic budgeting and it needs to stop.

December 24, 2011

Four US officials plead guilty in voter fraud case

US Democrats found themselves at the centre of an election fraud scandal as four democratic officials and political operatives pleaded guilty to getting involved in an alleged scheme to “steal” the New York elections. As the Fox News – a mouthpiece for American conservatives - gladly reports, four Troy City officials have pleaded guilty to one count of various charges which range from forgery to falsification of business records. The critics are already linking the incident to the infamous ACORN voter fraud scandal of 2008, which had significant chances to ruin Obama’s election plans. However, the experts argue that while no Republicans were implicated in the conspiracy, voter fraud occurs “on both sides of the aisle”.

Troy City Council President Clement Campana became the key figure of the scandal linked with the 2009 Working Families Party primary. Campana was indicted on five felonies and one misdemeanor for allegedly defrauding voters during the elections. Three other officials pleaded guilty to felony charges for their involvement in the scandal, including Councilman John Brown, who now has a significant chance to spend six months in jail.

According to the indictment, Campana and his companions attempted to conspire to help candidates with the primary. The fraud scheme wasn’t complicated. The conspirators were trying to persuade voters to accept and sign absentee ballot applications. Then the officials were filled in the remaining parts of the applications with fraudulent information and filed them with the Board of Elections.

"I can't believe they thought they would get away with this," one of the voters said to Fox News. "I didn't get to cast my vote on my own. ... …They're corrupt. I am sure this goes on a lot in politics, but it's very rare that they do get caught."

The investigation lasted for two years and the Special Prosecutor Trey Smith even had to obtain court orders to be able to take DNA samples from five of the seven Democratic members of the Troy City Council to compare them with the DNA evidence found on the absentee ballot bulletins.

The incident, which casts a shadow on the whole Democratic Party, became a perfect gift for the conservatives who have already linked it to the infamous ACORN scandal of 2008. Unfortunately for the Democrats, they have little chances of being able to deny the allegations since the Working Families Party was closely associated with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now – the now-defunct organization, involved in a massive fraud scandal which almost cost Barack Obama his victory.

“Given the extensive relationship between Barack Obama and ACORN, our campaign also feels that Senator Obama has a responsibility to rein in ACORN’s efforts and to work aggressively against wide-scale voter fraud.”, McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis said in 2008. However, even his close connection with an organization whose crimes included registering Mickey Mouse to vote in Florida wasn’t enough to ruin Obama’s success. Today, when America feels more skeptical about Obama and his supporters, such allegations may bring much worse consequences.

However, the Democrats keep insisting that faking absentee ballots is a commonplace practice in the political game. And, considering the usual political tricks of the Conservative party, it is hard to deny this claim.

"This is an on-going scheme and it occurs on both sides of the aisle," Democratic operative Anthony DeFiglio told New York State police investigators.

"The people who are targeted live in low-income housing and there is a sense that they are a lot less likely to ask any questions." "It was common knowledge that these people were never going to receive an absentee ballot. This is a political strategy to get control of a third party line," added DeFiglio.

December 23, 2011

Jack Abramoff on How to Win Friends and Buy Congresspeople

When Jack Abramoff ran for eighth-grade class president at Hawthorne Elementary School in Beverly Hills, he was called into the principal's office because his father had exceeded the $15 spending limit by throwing a campaign barbecue. A tearful Abramoff immediately withdrew. He went on to become a football and wrestling star at Beverly Hills High School before entering Brandeis College in Massachusetts, where he became chairman of the state College Republicans.

After eight years as a Hollywood film producer -- Red Scorpion was his biggest credit -- Abramoff became a powerful Washington, D.C., lobbyist. Thirty years after his first food-related scandal, he used his own high-end restaurant, Signatures, to make deals and influence politicians. At his peak he earned more than $20 million a year and had, he now says, more than 100 congressmen in his back pocket.

But it all fell apart when the press started to raise questions about his treatment of clients. An outraged Congress, shocked -- shocked! -- that money had corrupted the political process, held hearings that focused on his treatment of Native American tribes who had hired him to protect their casinos. In 2006 Abramoff pled guilty to felony charges of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion and served nearly four years in federal prison.

A feature film, Casino Jack, and a documentary, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, cemented his status as the poster boy for government corruption. Last month he released his memoir, Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist.

L.A. WEEKLY: You hated the feature film, as well as the documentary. Why?

JACK ABRAMOFF: They made a movie that was too inside baseball. Most people couldn't figure out what was going on.

Would you consider doing your own film to tell your story?

Two is enough.

When you had your mini-scandal running for eighth-grade president, do you think it was foreshadowing the corruption to come?

If anything, it foreshadowed something good. Instead of fighting it when I knew I was wrong, I admitted it.

Did your kill-or-be-killed attitude in lobbying derive from sports?

I always felt, if you're going to compete, do what's necessary to win.

Whatever is necessary?

Unfortunately, that's exactly the ethos I used to have.

Do people lie more in Hollywood or Washington?

In Hollywood, they put the knife in your front; in D.C., they put it in your back. I found far fewer duplicitous people in Hollywood.

Which town is more corrupt?

D.C. In Hollywood, they're not working for the public. They're working for private companies.

But most people who invest money in films lose most of it.

Right. But not much of that involves people stealing money. It's just a tough business.

Do you ever wish you had never left L.A.?

Absolutely. How do you go through what I've been through and not think, "It's too bad I didn't stay in moviemaking"?

Has any of this altered your conservative views?

I still feel that having a limited government is a better idea. A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, and a libertarian is a conservative who's been indicted.

Are all the profits from the book going to restitution for your victims?

Yeah, that and debts.

How much do you owe in restitution?

$44 million.

How does that work?

It stays with me the rest of my life.

Why did you write Capitol Punishment?

Because I was made out to be a cartoon villain. And I know things about lobbying that nobody except those who've reached the very top know, and they don't talk because they're making money out of it. I think the American people deserve somebody telling them what is really happening in Washington.

Newt Gingrich says he did not lobby for Freddie Mac to earn $1.8 million. Do you buy that?

He cashed in on public service in a way that I'm talking about in terms of corruption. Lobbying isn't just meeting with the members. Lobbying is a process that includes strategic advice for companies.

You describe your college sidekick Grover Norquist as a genius. Hasn't his anti-tax pledge put the United States in a financial hole?

If anything, he's a bloody genius because he's succeeded in stopping taxes from being raised since 1990.

You say you've always fought bullies. Isn't the 1 percent bullying the 99 percent in America today?

I don't like the whole 1-versus-99 thing. Class envy is dangerous.

Politicians have to beg constantly for money, but you say that's not the primary problem. What is the primary problem?

Power. The primary problem is them wanting to stay in power. It's not just campaign contributions; it's also people giving each other meals, taking them on trips. Anytime a gratuity is given to a public servant, that is a bribe.

You tell about your son teasing President Bush about needing a business card and email. How did you feel when Bush said he couldn't remember ever meeting you?

I felt like Bush is a politician. Politicians are there when they need you, and when you need them, they're gone.

So these political friendships are all transactional?

Pretty much. People in politics are there to stay in power.

Do you think your win-at-all-costs mentality has contributed to the Washington gridlock?

It certainly contributed to my downfall.

You take a lot of shots at the media in the book. Do you think the media have a role to play in a democracy?

Of course. I understand why they do what they do, but when you're on the receiving end, it doesn't feel too good.

A lot of the outrage directed at you stemmed from the emails disparaging your clients.

I regret those emails more than anything else. I live with the fact that I said such stupid, boneheaded things. I am haunted by those emails every day of my life.

You say the best way to get control of a congressman's office is to offer a future job to the chief of staff. How does that work?

I would say, "I would like to talk to you about working for me." The minute that conversation started, I had basically bribed them. From that point forward, I found, they were basically working for us.

You say that 90 percent of the chiefs of staff were interested in future employment. Why?

Because they see how, in the lobbying world, people are just fabulously wealthy, including people who worked with them just two months ago before making the jump.

So what's the solution?

To say, if you take that job, you're not making that leap. When you're done, just get out of D.C.

Is that part of your reform recommendations? Members and their chiefs of staff cannot become lobbyists?

I would include every member of their staff.

Other recommendations?

Anyone who has business with the government shouldn't be allowed to make a contribution or give anything like a meal or a gratuity. And I'm now in favor of term limits -- three terms in the House and two in the Senate.

Are you allowed to vote?


Will you ever be allowed to vote?


December 22, 2011

The Administration Likes Foxes in Charge of Henhouses – Proof that OCC Foreclosure Reviews Are a Sham

“There Goes the Neighborhood,” which ran on 60 Minutes last Sunday, is a must-see piece. Scott Pelley walks through a pillaged house in Cleveland, slated for demolition in a county neighborhood stabilization program. This abandoned house is owned by Structured Asset Investment Trust 2003-BC11. An investor reports lists the property as “in foreclosure” despite no court filing. Ohio is a judicial foreclosure state, so a foreclosure filing requires a lawsuit, but there isn’t one.

According to the prospectus, Trust 2003-BC11 was underwritten by Lehman Brothers. Aurora Loan Services is the Master Servicer, though the entire trust was passed to sub-servicers. Specifically Chase, Option One, Ocwen, and Wells Fargo serviced 30.46%, 29.47%, 26.84%, and 12.19% of the loans.

The Murrayhill Company is the Credit Risk Manager. According to the prospectus Murrayhill “will monitor and advise the servicers with respect to default management of the mortgage loans.” Later, the prospectus clarifies “The Murrayhill Company, a Colorado corporation .. will monitor and make recommendations to the Master Servicer and the Servicers regarding certain delinquent and defaulted Mortgage Loans…”

Murrayhill literally wrote the book on how Aurora should deal with defaults for Trust 2003-BC11, then took upon themselves to the obligation to monitor that same book.

Colorado-based Murrayhill was founded by Sue Ellis Allon and apparently did spectacularly well back in the past. In a case study published by the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in 2003, the same Trust 2003-BC11 closed, Allon bragged her company enjoyed “more than 100% annual growth” for the prior three years.

Murrayhill was eventually acquired and merged into Clayton Holdings. Allon served on their Board of Directors. Eventually she formed Allonhill, her newest company, also in Colorado. Various news reports portray Allon as a “reformer,” really trying to get to the core of the housing crisis.

On September 9, 2011, Allonhill signed an engagement letter — a definitive agreement — with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), as part of the consent order wherein servicers agreed to submit foreclosure fraud for review by “independent” third-party companies. The engagement letter notes that Allon founded Murrayhill, “which pioneered the concept of independent third-party oversight of loans and servicers.” But there is no mention that Murrayhill was tasked with promulgating and monitoring Aurora’s default policies and procedures.

That is, OCC chief John Walsh signed off on hiring Allon to audit her prior work for fraud.

Let’s repeat that; the OCC — an arm of President Obama’s Treasury Department — signed off, allowing a company founded and managed by the woman who created Aurora’s foreclosure practices to audit her own firm’s work, and did so pursuant to a consent order and under the guise of consumer protection. Allonhill, the firm that promulgated and enforced foreclosure policies, is based less than a mile away from the address listed for Murrayhill, the firm auditing for foreclosure fraud on behalf of borrowers.

Until now there has been a mountain of circumstantial evidence that the Obama administration has been comfortable with foreclosure fraud. There is the conspicuous lack of prosecutions, unwarranted and unwelcome intervention in the 50-state Attorney General review, and references that infer robosigning is a “victimless” crime. But, until this disclosure, there has been no solid evidence the federal government is actively covering up bank-perpetrated fraud.

This arrangement clarifies that the Federal Government, at the highest levels, are comfortable, or even arguably complicit, covering up foreclosure fraud.

The section regarding Conflicts of Interest in the Allonhill contract reads “Allonhill .. represent(s) that this engagement does not create a conflict of interest…” But it is impossible to think of a more substantive conflict of interest — the notion that a former executive is supposed to bust herself — than this arrangement. Even Bernie Madoff hired a storefront accountant to robosign his audits; he didn’t have the chutzpah to appoint himself to the role.

The agreement continues, “Allonhill will implement various controls to manage conflicts and ensure that the loan review services are provided with an appropriate level of independence. These controls include: (a) Restricting any individual who was previous employed by, or otherwise under contract to provide services to, Aurora Bank from…” a long list that includes essentially everything Allonhill is supposed to be doing.

I guess they overlooked that the founder and CEO of Allonhill is the same woman that created and monitored the fraud Allonhill is supposed to be monitoring while working for Aurora.

Allonhill is so massively conflicted with regards to Aurora that the decision to engage the firm taints not only the entire OCC review process into question, but also every person involved in the review, and the Treasury Department itself. It is impossible to think of any company that could be more conflicted in performing these audits. Even Aurora itself could blame Murrayhill for the problems, but Allonhill can’t, at least not without implicating its own founder and CEO.

John Walsh, the head of the OCC, should finally be fired for incompetence. His boss, Bailout King Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, also deserves the axe. Congress should let the subpoenas fly in every directions, including and especially towards the White House, to figure out how this could have happened.

Forget just firing Allonhill and Walsh; every reviewer has to be fired: it’s clear that the entire review process is corrupt.

Once Walsh, the Bush appointee who was reappointed by Obama (“You’re doing a heckuva’ job, John”) is gone the new director should void these contracts, start from scratch, and be sure to disqualify anybody who had anything to do with this fiasco. In the interim, there is now a persuasive argument for a nationwide freeze on foreclosures until this mess is straightened out.

As the reviews are reformulated every document, every email, every engagement letter — absolutely everything — should be released without a single redaction. Any firm that doesn’t want to work in sunlight can simply decline to bid. I’m sure they’ll have plenty of takers. I’d personally be pleased to have one of these contracts, and would staff up a firm with top-notch auditors who would find foreclosure fraud.

News reports say that President “Hope & Change” Obama, who promised Hope but gave us the ineffectual and arguably outright harmful HAMP, has apparently decided to reincarnate himself in the likeness of President Teddy Roosevelt. He might want to think about this quote from President T. Roosevelt: “No man who condones corruption in others can possibly do his duty by the community.”

Paraphrasing from a Senatorial candidate I once adored, foreclosure is not a Blue State problem, it’s not a Red State problem, it’s an American problem. And it’s long past time the White House wakes up and doesn’t something besides protect the perps who caused this mess.

December 21, 2011

Are Some ‘Tea Party’ Politicians Just Politicians After All?

In the latest Gallup poll taken the day before the last Republican debate on Thursday, Newt Gingrich was leading Mitt Romney by 20 points- 41% to 21%- among those who profess themselves to be “conservatives.” Gov. Romney, however, was leading the former Speaker by 10 points- 27% to 17%- among those who describe themselves as “liberal” or “moderate.”

Even Republican presidential candidate, and head of the congressional Tea Party caucus, Michele Bachmann, who invoked the name of George Will to accuse Mr. Gingrich, during Thursday night’s debate, of “tolerating infanticide,” once thought he was the greatest conservative since sliced bread. Does this count as a “flip-flop?”

Now, Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S. Carolina) has given her much-coveted endorsement of Mitt Romney. This is, perhaps, not a shock since, despite her rise to power on the wings of Tea Party support, she and Mr. Romney have had a mutual admiration society “thing” happening since 2008, when Ms. Haley served as Gov. Romney’s state co-chair for his presidential bid that year. Mr. Romney then supported her in her gubernatorial bid in 2010, for which she reportedly received $900,000 worth of ads paid for by the Republican Governors’ Association. After former Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed her, Ms. Haley’s status as a rising star of the Republican party was solidified.

Gov. Haley’s endorsement is considered significant because, since 1980, South Carolina has successfully picked the Republican nominee for president. Now, Gov. Romney undoubtedly hopes her Tea Party “glow” will rub off on him, since it appears many conservatives of the Tea Party philosophy are still supportive of Speaker Gingrich and some of the other Republican candidates. In a pointed dismissal of Mr. Gingrich, Gov. Haley said of Mr. Romney, “He is not a creature of Washington, and he knows what it means to make decisions – real decisions – not simply cast a vote.”

There is some speculation that Gov. Haley is actively seeking a vice presidential nomination, and may view this endorsement as a move in that direction. Gov. Romney has also received the endorsement of other politicians, considered to be “conservative,” such as Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), who has earned a Heritage Action for America (HAFA) score of 79%, Rep. Connie Mack (R-Florida), with a HAFA score of 90%, and former Republican senatorial candidate, Christine O’Donnell. Gov. Romney has said that Sen. Ayotte is on his “list” of potential vice presidential running mates.

Many of these supporters of Mitt Romney appear to be justifying their endorsement of him by pointing to his success as a businessman, an understandable discernment. But, despite the fact that Gov. Romney has made it clear he no longer wishes to dwell on his Romneycare project in Massachusetts (see video below), it remains a concern that many of these “conservative” politicians appear to have bought into his notion that “Romneycare” was good for his state, but not the entire country. This is especially difficult to swallow when, first, we continue to see that most Republicans in Massachusetts do not agree with their former governor, and, second, Mr. Romney himself, during a 2008 debate in New Hampshire, said, “I like mandates. The mandate works.”

If Mitt Romney is the nominee, he will get my vote, but I am certainly questioning many of these endorsements. All politicians are, after all, politicians, whether supported by the Tea Party, or not. We will be wise to “mind the gap” between our heads and our hearts as we move into the important year ahead of us.

December 20, 2011

Obama’s Watergate

A year ago this week, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered. He died protecting his country from brutal Mexican gangsters. Two AK-47 assault rifles were found at his death site. We now know the horrifying truth: Agent Terry was killed by weapons that were part of an illegal Obama administration operation to smuggle arms to the dangerous drug cartels. He was a victim of his own government. This is not only a major scandal; it is a high crime that potentially reaches all the way to the White House, implicating senior officials. It is President Obama’s Watergate.

Operation Fast and Furious was run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and overseen by the Justice Department. It started under the leadership of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Fast and Furious enabled straw gun purchases from licensed dealers in Arizona, in which more than 2,000 weapons were smuggled to Mexican drug kingpins. ATF claims it was seeking to track the weapons as part of a larger crackdown on the growing violence in the Southwest. Instead, ATF effectively has armed murderous gangs. About 300 Mexicans have been killed by Fast and Furious weapons. More than 1,400 guns remain lost. Agent Terry likely will not be the last U.S. casualty.

Mr. Holder insists he was unaware of what took place until after media reports of the scandal appeared in early 2011. This is false. Such a vast operation only could have occurred with the full knowledge and consent of senior administration officials. Massive gun-running and smuggling is not carried out by low-level ATF bureaucrats unless there is authorization from the top. There is a systematic cover-up.

Congressional Republicans, however, are beginning to shed light on the scandal. Led by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Darrell Issa of California, a congressional probe is exposing the Justice Department’s rampant criminality and deliberate stonewalling. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who heads the department’s criminal division, helped craft a February letter to Congress that denied ATF had ever walked guns into Mexico. Yet, under pressure from congressional investigators, the department later admitted that Mr. Breuer knew about ATF gun-smuggling as far back as April 2010. In other words, Mr. Breuer has been misleading Congress. He should resign - or be fired.

Instead, Mr. Holder tenaciously insists that Mr. Breuer will keep his job. He needs to keep his friends close and potential witnesses even closer. Another example is former acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson. Internal documents show Mr. Melson directly oversaw Fast and Furious, including monitoring numerous straw purchases of AK-47s. He has admitted to congressional investigators that he, along with high-ranking ATF leaders, reassigned every “manager involved in Fast and Furious” after the scandal surfaced on Capitol Hill and in the press. Mr. Melson said he was ordered by senior Justice officials to be silent regarding the reassignments. Hence, ATF managers who possess intimate and damaging information - especially on the role of the Justice Department - essentially have been promoted to cushy bureaucratic jobs. Their silence has been bought, their complicity swept under the rug. Mr. Melson has been transferred to Justice’s main office, where he serves as a “senior adviser” on forensic science in the department’s Office of Legal Policy. Rather than being punished, Mr. Melson has been rewarded for his incompetence and criminal negligence.

Mr. Holder and his aides have given misleading, false and contradictory testimony on Capitol Hill. Perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power - these are high crimes and misdemeanors. Mr. Holder should be impeached. Like most liberals, he is playing the victim card, claiming Mr. Issa is a modern-day Joseph McCarthy conducting a judicial witch hunt. Regardless of this petty smear, Mr. Holder must be held responsible and accountable - not only for the botched operation, but for his flagrant attempts to deflect blame from the administration.

Mr. Holder is a shameless careerist and a ruthless Beltway operative. For years, his out-of-control Justice Department has violated the fundamental principle of our democracy, the rule of law. He has refused to prosecute members of the New Black Panthers for blatant voter intimidation that took place in the 2008 election. Career Justice lawyers have confessed publicly that Mr. Holder will not pursue cases in which the perpetrators are black and the victims white. States such as Arizona and Alabama are being sued for simply attempting to enforce federal immigration laws. Mr. Holder also opposes voter identification cards, thereby enabling fraud and vote-stealing at the ballot box. What else can we expect from one who, during the Clinton administration, helped pardon notorious tax cheat Marc Rich and Puerto Rican terrorists?

Mr. Holder clearly knew about Fast and Furious and did nothing to stop it. This is because the administration wanted to use the excuse of increased violence on the border and weapons-smuggling into Mexico to justify tighter gun-control legislation. Mr. Holder is fighting ferociously to prevent important internal Justice documents from falling into the hands of congressional investigators. If the full nature of his involvement is discovered, the Obama presidency will be in peril.

Fast and Furious is even worse than Watergate for one simple reason: No one died because of President Nixon’s political dirty tricks and abuse of government power. But Brian Terry is dead; and there are still 1,500 missing guns threatening still more lives.

What did Mr. Obama know? Massive gun-smuggling by the U.S. government into a foreign country does not happen without the explicit knowledge and approval of leading administration officials. It’s too big, too risky and too costly. Mr. Holder may not be protecting just himself and his cronies. Is he protecting the president?

December 19, 2011

Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson Is Betting on Newt Gingrich

When Newt Gingrich called the Palestinians an “invented people” and accused the State Department of coddling those “who would censor the world on behalf of Islam,” it may have seemed to some to be head-scratching harshness. But his views on foreign policy, and particularly the Middle East, appear to be in lockstep with his staunchly pro-Israel backers, including the casino-owning billionaire who is one of Gingrich’s most generous supporters.

Las Vegas Sands Corporation chairman Sheldon Adelson is likely to open his wallet anew for Gingrich, already telling friends he’ll do what he can to make sure the surging GOP presidential candidate has the money to succeed. The largesse would follow years of Adelson’s generosity to Gingrich’s political and nonprofit efforts that included seven-figure checks to the political think tank that returned Gingrich to the policy arena after his fall from House speaker in the late 1990s.

“Sheldon has always loved Newt. He stuck with him through all of this,” says Fred Zeidman, an Adelson friend and major player in the American Jewish community who is backing Mitt Romney. “He stuck with him when he stumbled. Newt, I think, is very reflective of Sheldon’s mindset. Particularly with Israel.”

Zeidman told The Daily Beast that Adelson told him last week that he wanted “to give Newt Gingrich all the support he could possibly give him as long as he was in the race.”

Adelson’s office refused to comment on Gingrich. “Mr. Adelson’s thoughts on politics and elections are his personal views and he prefers not discussing them publicly,” it said.

Adelson is a whale of a donor, listed by Forbes as the eighth-richest man in America with a net worth of $21.5 billion, and his company controls the Venetian, the Sands, and the Palazzo along the Vegas Strip, as well as three gambling resorts in Macao. He also owns his own share of controversy. His company acknowledged earlier this year that it is under federal investigation as to whether it ran afoul of federal anti-bribery laws in its dealings in Asia.

And Adelson’s support for Israeli causes here and abroad has, from time to time, garnered headlines, too, like the time he started a newspaper from scratch in Israel that has backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

An Israeli-American friend of Adelson, who also advises Netanyahu, recounted Adelson’s role but would speak to The Daily Beast only on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak on behalf of the prime minister.

He said that in 2006, the three main Israeli newspapers were perceived to be hostile to Netanyahu: “The problem,” he said, “was that for Bibi, that all the newspapers just hammered him, all the time. He had been looking for a long time for a way to do something and Sheldon came along, and said, look lets just start at new one!” (Bibi is Netanyahu’s well-known nickname.)

In 2006, Adelson launched a newspaper called Israel Today, or Israel Hayom. It was to be a high-end product, not a cheap tabloid. But it was also to be less critical of Netanyahu.

At first, he had trouble selling ads. “So,” the person close to Netanyahu said, “Sheldon said, ‘Screw it, lets just give it away for free!’” The formula worked: it’s now the most widely distributed paper in Israel.

Adelson has claimed that he didn’t start the paper solely as a favor to Netanyahu. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he told the Jewish Telegraph Agency in 2009. But even so, Adelson’s paper “has been of enormous help and support to Bibi,” the Netanyahu adviser said, “because in a sense now that they control the flow of information in the media. [Adelson] has had enormous influence on how the public gets information and what information they are getting and it’s helped Bibi. Because it’s not a newspaper that’s out to get Bibi.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition brings together influential Jewish fundraisers. Earlier this month six GOP primary candidates, including Gingrich, gave speeches to the group. Insiders say that most of those fundraisers and donors supported Romney’s candidacy, but Adelson is unabashed in his support for Gingrich.

Zeidman, the friend and Romney supporter, says he called Adelson over the summer when it looked like Gingrich’s campaign had imploded to see he could bring the billionaire into Romney’s camp. “I called him when Newt was really looking like he was dead.” But he said Adelson assured him he would stick with Gingrich unless the former speaker pulled out of the race.

Zeidman said that even the fundraisers who backed Romney over Gingrich believed that Gingrich was the strongest pro-Israel candidate, but felt he had less of a likelihood of beating Obama.

Indeed, Zeidman said that he agreed wholeheartedly with Gingrich’s characterization of the Palestinian people.

“It’s the truth,” Zeidman said. He said that his only issue with Gingrich’s pronouncement was that as a politician, he should have been more circumspect. But “they are an invented people.”

As for Adelson himself, he is known, through his political donations, activism, and charitable contributions to support pro-Israel causes with his Israeli-born wife Miriam.

He is a staunch supporter of groups such as the Zionist Organization of America and other such groups, which believe Palestinians have no valid claims.

In one comment to the Jewish Telegraph Agency he said, “I am not against a two-state solution if it is on the right terms.” Tellingly, though, he added, “but I don’t think the right terms will ever be achieved.”

Adelson also sponsored a seminar in 2008 provocatively titled the “Islamic Jihad in America: What You Need to Know about Radical Muslim Infiltration of American Culture, Finance, Education, and Life.”

Earlier this year, in November, Adelson appeared on the stage of the Zionist Organization of America to present TV host Glenn Beck with a ”Defender of Israel” Award. “I’d never known a Christian Zionist like Glenn Beck,” Adelson said.

Those who know Adelson and Gingrich say the connection goes back over a decade. Still, it was in the last five years that Adelson began truly giving Gingrich massive funding.

The Gingrich affiliated “527” group known as American Solutions for Winning the Future was founded in 2006. Adelson’s money flowed to the group steadily from the beginning, first with a million dollar check, and continued through 2010. (The committee shut down in 2011.) In total Adelson contributed $7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that studies political donations.

Adelson, the center says, has already emerged as the second largest political donor for the 2012 political races, giving solely to Republicans. Indeed, he and his wife have contributed a staggering $180,000 to the Republican National Committee and Republican National Congressional Committee in 2011.

But it will be in the coming presidential bid, where new groups known as “Super PACs” can collect and spend unlimited donations, that his immense wealth may matter the most.

“With Super PAC rules or lack there of, one Adelson is probably worth, you know, 20 Bush ‘Pioneers,’” said the Netanyahu adviser who is friends with Gingrich and Adelson. A “Pioneer” meant a donor who raised $100,000 for the Bush presidential campaign.

Indeed, Politico reported Thursday night that Adelson committed $20 million to a pro-Gingrich Super PAC. Adelson’s spokesman denied it, insisting to The Daily Beast that “the truth is that Mr. Adelson has made no commitments to a Super PAC.” An official at a “Super PAC” that has Gingrich ties told The Daily Beast that the political action committee had sent a letter Adelson, but had not heard back.

But one Republican fundraiser who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity said he understood that Adelson was trying to raise millions for Gingrich.

R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for the Gingrich campaign, said he knew nothing of any Adelson contributions to Super PACs and insisted that the campaign has no connection to the Super PACs. He did say Adelson and Gingrich are “good friends.”

As Adelson gears up political support for Gingrich, his company’s remarkable ventures in Macau, where he has several casinos, are likely to draw fresh scrutiny. The Sands Corporation disclosed this year that it was subpoenaed by the Security and Exchange Commission with regard to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits bribing foreign officials. Corporate filings say that the “company has also been advised by the Department of Justice that it is conducting a similar investigation.” The company is declining comment beyond its public filings.

The investigation evidently stems from allegations made by a former executive who worked for Adelson in the Macau gambling resort business. The executive in 2010 sued Adelson and the Sands Company, alleging that he was fired for refusing to carry out Adelson’s “illegal demands,” which he claims potentially violated anti-bribery laws.

The Sands has said it is cooperating with the federal investigation and denies the allegations in the lawsuit. Adelson earlier this year told investors, “I want to tell you that I am 100 percent—-no, 1000 percent—certain that neither I nor any senior or executive of this company, has ever asked any employee, let alone this former employee, to do anything improper.”

December 18, 2011

Romney’s cronyism problem is emblematic of contemporary politics

“Cronyism.” That word has been thrown around a great deal in the Republican primary battle. It’s bad when it’s done to lure companies to locate in a particular state, or to reward a political ally, but it’s worse when it’s used to increase government intrusion into people’s lives. That’s what happened when former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney pressed to get support for his health care reform, the widely acknowledged model for Obamacare.

The back story here is little known, but very damning. According to a 2008 report by the Heritage Foundation, at the time of Romneycare’s passage the two largest safety-net hospital systems in Massachusetts — Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) — had “become dependent on direct subsidies” and were concerned that, even accounting for the significant rate increases allowed under the new law, a shift to Medicaid managed care would hurt their bottom lines.

So to get his signature health care law passed, Romney and his allies agreed to a host of annual payments — including “MCO supplemental payments,” “disproportionate share hospital” payments and special “hospital supplemental payments,” targeted exclusively for the two systems.

At the last minute, more than $540 million in so-called “Section 122 payments” were inserted into the law, designed to supply BMC and CHA with an even bigger financial cushion over the next three years. In practice, these funds — which included federal, state and local taxpayer money — served as direct subsidies for the two providers’ expansions.

According to MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, one of the designers of Romney’s law and one of the experts who consulted with the White House on Obamacare, “The federal government was essentially supplementing the expansion of these inner city hospitals.” When some lawmakers suggested cutting back on the amounts, provider officials complained about all the great programs they’d have to shut down — such as BMC’s “food pantry.”

The irony is that the corporate cronyism it took to get Romney’s law passed proved its financial undoing, at least in the short term. As it turned out, the cost of these subsidies made the difference for Romneycare’s dubious financial stability.

Facing higher than expected enrollment, the Section 122 payments forced Massachusetts to prioritize more money for the required earmarks to BMC and CHA — money that might otherwise have been used to cover costs of patient care. According to the Heritage Foundation, in 2008 “Section 122 payments come to $180 million, while Commonwealth Care overruns are $153 million. … In effect, the state was subsidizing institutions, not patients.”

In the long term, the institutional subsidies and ever-increasing costs of coverage — Massachusetts’s premium costs have skyrocketed since Romneycare’s passage and are now the highest in the nation — are taking their toll on the fiscal sustainability of Romney’s plan. The latest estimates indicate that over the next decade the law will cost $2 billion more than Romney and his allies predicted. And Massachusetts is now considering the creation of its own equivalent of President Obama’s federal Independent Payment Advisory Board to clamp down on costs.

Corporate cronyism abounds in government today to an uncomfortable degree. By picking winners and losers directly in the halls of government — preventing competition, rewarding rent-seeking behavior and enshrining into law direct transfers from the taxpayers to corporate entities — leaders break faith with the constituents they claim to represent.

This is a lesson the federal government could stand to learn, along with state and local governments. Creating a friendly climate for business and job creation takes a lot more than writing a check with somebody else’s money.

December 17, 2011

Climategate Bombshell: Did U.S. Gov't Help Hide Climate Data?

Are your tax dollars helping hide global warming data from the public? Internal emails leaked as part of “Climategate 2.0” indicate the answer may be "Yes."

The original Climategate emails -- correspondence stolen from servers at a research facility in the U.K. and released on the Internet in late 2009 -- shook up the field of climate research. Now a new batch posted in late November to a Russian server shows that scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit refused to share their U.S. government-funded data with anyone they thought would disagree with them.

Making that case in 2009, the then-head of the Research Unit, Dr. Phil Jones, told colleagues repeatedly that the U.S. Department of Energy was funding his data collection -- and that officials there agreed that he should not have to release the data.

“Work on the land station data has been funded by the U.S. Dept of Energy, and I have their agreement that the data needn’t be passed on. I got this [agreement] in 2007,” Jones wrote in a May 13, 2009, email to British officials, before listing reasons he did not want them to release data.

Two months later, Jones reiterated that sentiment to colleagues, saying that the data "has to be well hidden. I’ve discussed this with the main funder (U.S. Dept of Energy) in the past and they are happy about not releasing the original station data.”

A third email from Jones written in 2007 echoes the idea: "They are happy with me not passing on the station data," he wrote.

The emails have outraged climate-change skeptics who say they can't trust climate studies unless they see the raw data -- and how it has been adjusted.

"In every endeavor of science, making your work replicable by others is a basic tenet of proof,” Anthony Watts, a meteorologist and climate change blogger, told “If other scientists cannot replicate your work, it brings your work into question.”

Is the Department of Energy to blame? The Climategate emails reveal correspondence only between Jones and his colleagues -- not between him and the DoE.

"What’s missing," Watts said, "is a ... directive from DoE that they should withhold station data gathered under their grant. The email may be there, but ... still under lock and key.”

Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, wants that key. He recently filed Freedom of Information acts with the DoE, requesting the emails they exchanged with Jones.

"So far no administration department has bothered to respond, indicating they … believe the time bought with stonewalling might just get them off the hook for disclosure," Horner told

"Not with us, it won't," he said.

The Department of Energy has until December 29 before it must legally respond to Horner's request.

When contacted by, DoE spokesman Damien LaVera declined to comment.

However, climate change researcher and blogger Steve McIntyre forwarded an email exchange from 2005 in which climate scientist Warwick Hughes asked an official at a DOE lab if he could get the data that the government paid Jones to collect.

"I am asking you to provide me with the following data … DoE has been funding [the data] since the 1980s," Hughes noted in his request.

But Tom Boden, of the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, told Hughes at the time that the DOE itself did not have the data, and that "you will need to contact Phil [Jones] directly. I spoke today with the DOE program manager who indicated Phil was not obligated under the conditions of past or present DOE proposal awards to provide these items."

McIntyre said he himself later had a similar exchange with the DOE, after which "I suggested that they amend this as a condition of further financing."

"I was surprised that the new emails show them actively taking the opposite approach," he added.

Asked about the connection with the Department of Energy, Simon Dunford, a spokesman for Jones’ Climatic Research Unit, told that Jones has changed his tune since the emails were made public.

"Prof Jones has already accepted he should have been more open, and has since made all the station data referred to in these emails publicly available," Dunford told

Watts said that while much of the data itself is now available, the methods of adjusting it -- statistical modification meant to filter anomalies, "normalize" the data, and potentially highlight certain trends -- remain a secret.

"Much of climate science, in terms of the computer processing that goes on, remains a black box to the outside world. We see the data go in, and we see the data that come out as a finished product -- but we don’t know how they adjust it in between.”

Watts said he would like to be given the adjustment formulas to make his own determination.

"The fact that they are trying to keep people from replicating their studies -- that's the issue," Watts noted. "Replication is the most important tenet of science."

December 16, 2011

Anger With Congress Reaching New Levels

Across a wide array of measures, Americans are now as dissatisfied with Congress as they were immediately before the 2006 and 2010 electoral landslides that ousted the majority party in one or both chambers, according to a year-end United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.

One year after Republicans made the largest gains in a midterm House election since 1938, the survey finds Americans still restless, dissatisfied, and profoundly pessimistic about Washington's capacity to make progress on the major problems facing the country.

In the survey, independent voters--whose shifts in allegiance helped trigger both the big Democratic gains of 2006 and last year's Republican revival--display little faith in either party, and register a strong initial inclination to vote against their own incumbent member of Congress. Not only a solid majority of independents, but also a surprisingly large share of Republican and Democratic partisans, say they are reluctant to give either party control of both chambers, preferring instead a divided government where both can "act as a check on each other."

All of this points toward more volatility ahead after three consecutive elections in which control of at least 20 House seats has changed hands between the parties--the first time that many seats have shifted that often since the immediate aftermath of World War II.

In recent decades, the closest America has come to a true "throw the bums out" election was the scandal-shrouded, recession-colored redistricting year of 1992, when 13 Republican and 30 Democratic House incumbents were ousted and another 65 members retired. This survey highlights the possibility that incumbents in both parties could face similar risks in 2012, another redistricting year shaped by economic and political discontent.

The Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 1,008 adults by landline and cell phone from Dec. 8-11. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The poll finds Congress receiving a positive year-end grade from a proportion of the public so small that it would seem members' supporters consist of little more than friends and immediate family.

Just 7 percent of those surveyed said that Congress this year had accomplished more than in other recent sessions. Fully 51 percent said it had accomplished less, while 34 percent said it had accomplished about the same.

That's the highest proportion of adults who have rated Congress's accomplishments as below-average in any previous Congressional Connection Poll or Pew Research Center poll since 1998. By comparison, only 36 percent said Congress had accomplished less than usual in a survey just before the GOP recaptured the House and severely reduced the Democratic Senate majority in 2010; only 43 percent had rendered a similarly negative verdict just before Democrats recaptured both the House and Senate in 2006.

This judgment produced rare agreement across party lines: sixty percent of Republicans and 51 percent of both Democrats and independents said this Congress had accomplished less than usual.

Similarly, just 6 percent said the two parties this year had worked together more than usual to solve problems; fully 80 percent said they had been bickering and opposing one another more than usual. That essentially ties the Congressional Connection Poll result from last summer as the most negative response on that question since the Pew Research Center began measuring it in 1998. The share of adults who say Washington is bickering more than usual is significantly higher than even during the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998.

In this swirl of discontent, President Obama receives slightly better marks than either party in Congress. Asked who has provided "the most responsible leadership this year on the key problems facing the country," a modest 34 percent plurality picked Obama, while 14 percent identified Democrats in Congress. Just 23 percent picked congressional Republicans as the most responsible, while an eyebrow-raising 20 percent of adults said none of them had demonstrated leadership.

Among independents, the number finding little leadership in any corner spiked to 29 percent. Only 57 percent of Republicans identified the congressional GOP as the most responsible; by contrast, over 80 percent of Democratic voters picked either Obama or congressional Democrats.

The poll found that just 9 percent of adults believe "most members of Congress have done a good enough job to deserve reelection," while a resounding 76 percent say "it's time to give new people a chance." That's comparable to the results on that question in a CBS/New York Times poll in fall 2010, and an even greater tilt against incumbents than in fall 2006.

Political strategists generally consider that measure less relevant than the related question that asks Americans whether they believe their own member of Congress "has performed his or her job well enough to deserve reelection." In the new survey, just 31 percent say yes, while 49 percent say "it's time to give a new person a chance"--results comparable to the findings last July. That's similar to the findings in October 2010 and much worse for incumbents than the attitudes in October 2006.

The most telling result on this question may be the inclination among independents, who provide the margin of victory in many districts and have careened between the parties over the past three elections. In the poll, just 25 percent of independents say they believe their own member of Congress deserves reelection, while 56 percent say they are now inclined to support somebody new.

Another telling measure of discontent is the resistance to investing either party with unified control of Congress. Although electoral analysts give Republicans a strong chance of holding the House while recapturing the Senate next year, just 18 percent of adults say they would prefer the GOP to control both chambers after the 2012 election "so they can implement their agenda." Only one-in-four want Democrats to exercise unified control. Fully 48 percent say they would prefer each party to control "one of the two chambers so they can act as a check on each other."

Divided government draws the most interest from independents, nearly two-thirds of whom say they would prefer that outcome. But, in another striking measure of disillusionment, even roughly two-fifths of both Democrats and Republicans say they would prefer split control that empowers each party to constrain the other.

Jobs soundly trump the deficit as the country's top priority for 2012 in Congress. Asked what they would most like to see Congress accomplish over the next year, 53 percent picked "a plan to create more jobs," compared with 28 percent who place the top priority on a plan to reduce the deficit, and 13 percent who most want Washington to repeal Obama's health care plan. The tilt toward jobs is greatest among Democrats, but a majority of independents also list that as their top priority. Republicans split more evenly among jobs, the deficit, and repealing health care reform.

Drilling down deeper, the survey found more support for Democratic plans to increase employment by boosting spending on infrastructure and grants to states to prevent layoffs (21 percent) than GOP priorities of reducing taxes and regulation (11 percent.) Ten percent supported investment in renewable energy, another favorite of Democrats, compared with 9 percent who backed the Republican priority of ramping up fossil-fuel production.

Yet there's little expectation that Washington will make progress on any of these challenges. Only about three in 10 say they have "a lot" or even "some" confidence that "the government in Washington, D.C., will make progress over the next year on the most important problems facing the country"; nearly seven in 10 say they have not much or no confidence at all. That's also the most negative response the Congressional Connection Poll has recorded on that question. About twice as many Democrats (47 percent) as Republicans (24 percent) express at least some confidence progress will be made. But more than four in five independents are pessimistic.

That finding underscores the persistent strain of alienation in the survey among independent voters, who have repeatedly snapped back and forth between the two parties since 2004--and now approach another volatile election year expressing deep disenchantment with both sides.

December 15, 2011

Could Mitt Romney Be the First Jewish President?

On Wednesday morning, Mitt Romney received a giddy reception at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, D.C. The audience was clapping before he even set foot on stage, and the applause only got louder as his speech went on. Denouncing President Obama's Middle East policy as "appeasement," he pledged to make Israel his first port of call should he win the 2012 election. "I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel's existence as a Jewish state," he said. "I want the world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable."

It's inevitable that Romney's foreign policy views should win him some fans among Jewish Republicans, but he also draws a surprising level support among Jewish voters in general when compared to his Republican competitors. The socially conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would seem likely to be as alienating to Jews -- one of America's most liberal demographics -- as the evangelical Christianity of a Michele Bachmann. But September's annual American Jewish Committee poll of political attitudes found otherwise. If Romney were nominated by the GOP, he'd attract 32 percent of Jewish voters to Obama's 50 percent, it found. That figure doesn't sound big, but it's larger than Rick Perry's 25 percent or Bachmann's 19 percent (the survey did not ask about Newt Gingrich). It's also way ahead of the votes drawn by John McCain in 2008 -- 21 percent. Were it replicated on election day, 2012, it would be the most impressive showing by a GOP candidate in 24 years.

Of course, Obama's slide in the polls and Romney's moderate politics and comparative popularity among all voters might explain those numbers. But it's also possible that -- consciously or subconsciously -- Jewish voters feel more of a kinship with a man whose ethnic and religious experience in American has a surprising number of parallels their own.

In April 2011, Romney's wife told a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition that she felt at home with the group because, "Mitt and I can appreciate coming from another heritage." Certainly, Romney's biography touches upon classic Jewish themes of cultural "separateness". As journalist Benjamin Wallace-Wells observes of Romney's early career as a management consultant at Bain Capital: "Romney wasn't a Wasp. He never really talked to his co-workers about his Mormonism, but he sometimes joked with Jewish colleagues about how their religions made them all outsiders." The former Massachusetts governor has even picked up some lingo from members of the tribe, as Jews sometimes refer to themselves. In a speech at Yeshiva University in April 2007, Romney said will to succeed at Bain despite his outsider status was pure "chutzpah."

The faith that Romney grew up in has many fundamental differences from Judaism, to say the least. The LDS Church is more authoritarian; its members emphasize conformity, submission, evangelism, and religious hierarchy. In contrast, the Jewish rabbinical tradition favors debate and rejects efforts to convert others. Unlike Mormons, Jews also don't ask for secrecy to their rituals and don't attempt to bar nonbelievers from their places of worship (even if they don't exactly welcome them, either).

But there are intriguing similarities. Both groups theologically define themselves as "chosen" by God to fulfill certain prophesies. Mormons believe that they are descended through biblical Israel (usually through the tribe of Ephraim), making the Jews their "cousins". Like their "cousins," they refer to outsiders as "gentiles." Both cultures value education, oppose marriage outside the community, have strict dietary rules, and place an emphasis upon observing the Sabbath. They even share a sartorial tie: the devout in both faiths wear special undergarments.

But the most crucial similarity is the two communities' historical story of suffering. In the 19th century, the Mormons were chased across the U.S. by Protestant mobs and even subject to an "extermination order" in Missouri. The Church's founder, Joseph Smith, was murdered by vigilantes in 1844. From 1857-1858, the U.S. Army actually occupied Utah. Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, is reported to have told future LDS President Ezra Taft Benson, "There are no people in the world who understand Jews like the Mormons do."

Of course, the Mormon experience comes nowhere close to the Jewish history of persecution. But what's more important is that the average Mormon thinks it does. There is scattered evidence of anti-Semitism in LDS history, but the sense of a shared theology and history has translated into a genuine fondness on the part of Mormons for all things Jewish. The fourth elected governor of Utah was a Jew (Simon Bamberger, elected 1916) and the LDS Church provided funds to build the first Reform Synagogue in Salt Lake City. Mormons are discouraged from proselytizing in Israel and, since 1995, Mormons have stopped posthumously baptizing Jews who have died (an act they continue to perform for everyone else).

For Romney, all of this history translates into a profound admiration for the state of Israel. The candidate has promised to up aid to Israel and has accused Obama of throwing the country "under the bus." These foreign policy views help explain why he has attracted so much high-level Jewish Republican support to his campaign.

Another reason might be Romney's willingness to push certain buttons on the issue of the separation of church and state. The historical persecution of the Mormon community has taught it the value of keeping the state away from religion and vice versa. The eleventh Article of Faith of the LDS Church reads: "We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." In an 1865 declaration, the Church also stated, "We do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion." The skeptic might ask how such apparent respect for separating church and state squares with the LDS campaign against gay marriage in California. One answer is that Mormons draw a distinction between faith and morality, seeing matters of religious freedom as different from sexual identity and behavior. Either way, there's room for Romney to be legitimately perceived as a supporter of the separation of church and state -- it's a position he has defended more vocally than his other serious competitors in the GOP field.

At the Las Vegas Republican presidential debate a few days after Pastor Robert Jeffress called Mormonism a cult, Perry argued that men like Jeffress, a supporter of his then more formidable candidacy, were free to consider a man's religion when deciding how to vote. Romney angrily countered with what could have been a speech by Ted Kennedy: "That idea that we should choose people based upon their religion for public office is what I find to be most troubling, because the founders of this country went to great length to make sure -- and even put it in the Constitution -- that we would not choose people who represent us in government based upon their religion, that this would be a nation that recognized and respected other faiths, where there's a plurality of faiths, where there was tolerance for other people and faiths. That's a bedrock principle." Many Jewish viewers might have cried, "Amen to that." Its occasional moments of mainstream sanity like this that continue to make Romney such an attractive pick to swing voters and Republicans desperate to win.

In 1998, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the African-American novelist Toni Morrison suggested that Bill Clinton was "our first black President." Putting aside his skin color, Morrison argued, "Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas." The analysis remains deservedly controversial, but it did offer a plausible cultural explanation for why so many African-Americans identified with -- even loved -- Clinton. Over time, one can imagine a similar dynamic developing between a substantial minority of Jewish Americans and the first Mormon major-party presidential nominee. In a country where race and religion remain politically divisive, such a surprising synergy would only be a good thing.

December 14, 2011

Newt Gingrich, Marianne and the Arms Dealer:

On October 5, Sarkis Soghanalian, once the world’s largest private arms dealer, died at 82. He had sold weapons to scores of dictators including Saddam Hussein, and he took many secrets with him to his grave. But one secret he did not take involves Newt Gingrich when he was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. DCBureau has learned that Gingrich was at the center of a U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation in the late 1990s for a scheme to shake down the arms dealer for a $10 million bribe in exchange for Gingrich using his influence as Speaker to get the Iraq arms embargo lifted so Soghanalian could collect $54 million from Saddam Hussein’s regime for weapons he had delivered during the Iran-Iraq War.

Soghanalian was an FBI informant and was responsible for launching one of the most sensitive and secret investigations in FBI history involving the former Speaker and his second wife. According to Marianne Gingrich, it took the direct intervention of then FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to “get the investigation called off.” Freeh did not return emails and telephone calls for comment.

Former FBI Director Louis FreehA convicted felon with a long history of working with United States intelligence, Soghanalian cooperated with the FBI in the two-year investigation which included secretly taping emissaries with connections to Newt and Marianne Gingrich. The cast of characters include personalities no Hollywood screenwriter could invent. One participant was involved in the Florida SunCruz scandal that resulted in the gangland-style killing of one of the cruise lines owners. Another was a used Rolls Royce salesman who pretended to be part of the international arms trade. A third was a penny stock promoter.

For several years, FBI agents instructed Soghanalian to get beyond the men who claimed to have ties to Gingrich and insist upon meeting with Gingrich and his former wife directly to prove that they could deliver the Speaker. But just before Soghanalian was to meet Gingrich and his former wife at a private Miami Beach fundraiser on June 8, 1997, arranged by one of these men, FBI headquarters called off the investigation. Washington ordered the FBI in Miami not to secretly tape record the fundraiser and to stop Soghanalian from attending. Marianne Gingrich, in a series of telephone interviews from her homes in Georgia and Florida, acknowledges meeting the arms dealer in Paris but insists her participation was to solicit an investment from Soghanalian for her former employer, the Israel Export Development Corporation (IEDC). She says the company was running short on cash and her meetings with the arms dealer had nothing to do with Iraq and arms dealing. Newt Gingrich did not return repeated telephone calls for comment.

Soghanalian said in a series of interviews before his death that men associated with Marianne Gingrich convinced him that Speaker Gingrich would use his influence to lift the embargo and allow Soghanalian to collect the millions of dollars owed to him by Iraq “in exchange for a $10 million payment to Gingrich through his associates.” Soghanalian was to pay the money – not to the Gingriches directly – but through a think tank, The Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies (IASPS), which has offices in the United States and Israel.

Saddam Hussein’s government owed Soghanalian for arms he had delivered – all with the permission and knowledge of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, but he could not be paid because Iraq was under a U.S. and United Nations embargoes. After his release from prison in the mid-1990s, Soghanalian settled in Paris and started rebuilding his arms business. In the United States he faced a $54 million IRS tax lien for profits he had never received from the Iraq arms sales. He told associates that he was trying to figure out a way to collect the monies owed to him. One of those friends was a London-based Kurdish Iraqi who had close contacts with Israeli intelligence and a car salesman from Miami named Morty Bennett.

Bennett saw Soghanalian’s money problems as an opportunity. He says he passed the information from his Kurdish friend to Howard Ash, a friend from the Rolls Royce dealership in Miami where Bennett worked. Ash was a fundraiser for the IASPS, the think tank, and had worked at the IEDC with Marianne Gingrich.

In May 1995, while visiting his wife, Shirley, and his grandchildren in Palm Springs, California, Soghanalian got a phone call from Bennett. Soghanalian had never heard of him before, but Bennett says he used the name of their mutual acquaintance in London who had experience in the Kurdish arms trade to get Soghanalian to talk to him. Soghanalian said before his death, “My ears perked up when he said he had an arms deal for me in Ecuador. There are a lot of pretenders in the business, but he seemed interesting, and I always need new information for my FBI friends, so I met with him.”

That May 1995 phone call from Bennett to Soghanalian resulted in a two-year FBI investigation so sensitive that details have never before been made public. The goal of the investigation, according to a Justice Department official, “…was to see if Gingrich, through his then wife, was involved in an attempt by political associates to solicit bribes.” One of the team of FBI agents involved in the case says, “The investigation was called off before we were permitted to finish making a case.” Another agent says it was just “too politically sensitive. We got so close and when the target was in sight, we were stopped by Washington.”

According to Bennett, the entire scheme to solicit $10 million dollars from the arms dealer was Howard Ash’s idea. Ash did not return repeated calls for comment left on his answering machine or with a woman who identified herself as his employee.

Soghanalian said of when he and Bennett met, “Bennett claimed that he and a partner named Howard Ash had an ‘in’ with Speaker Newt Gingrich on behalf of the Israelis…They asked me if I would invest with them in the deal.” The “in” that Bennett and Ash had was Gingrich’s then wife Marianne. In addition to being a fundraiser for the IASPS, Ash was also Marianne Gingrich’s boss at the Israel Export Development Corporation (IEDC). Soghanalian said, “Bennett told me they just hired her before Newt was made the Speaker.” In early 1995, Marianne Gingrich says, she was promoted above Ash to Vice President of Marketing. “He resented my promotion,” she says.

Robert Loewenberg, Head of the IASPS.Marianne Gingrich says her boss at the IEDC, David Yerushalmi, called and asked her to make the trip to Paris. Yerushalmi served as counsel to both the IEDC and the IASPS. She says that by this time the IEDC was running out of money and she was no longer on the payroll. “David told me that Howard Ash and his wife had been at the Parc Monceau Hotel in Paris for days and still did not have an answer from this arms dealer and that Ash said he needed me to come to get an answer. He paid for my expenses and even though it was at an inconvenient time, I made the trip.” She says she thought the meeting was to win Soghanalian over as an investor in the IEDC. When asked why she would be willing to meet Soghanalian, a convicted felon, when she was no longer being paid by the IEDC, she says because her friend, Robert J. Loewenberg, the head of the IASPS, and her former boss at the IEDC, David Yerushalmi, “wanted me to meet with the arms dealer in Paris as a potential investor. …I believed that Robert Loewenberg had good ideas about free trade in Israel and this would help keep it going.”

David YerushalmiMarianne Gingrich says she did not have a good relationship with Ash after she was promoted over him. She says, “He (Ash) really wanted me in Paris, and I thought that was a little strange. He just never had been very nice to me…but he was nice in Paris.” David Yerushalmi, who says he hired both Mrs. Gingrich and Ash, disputes Mrs. Gingrich’s allegation that there was tension between them.

As Marianne Gingrich tells it, she did not expect her job back at the IEDC if Soghanalian made the $10 million investment because she was already too busy “working with Newt on his book projects. I let him attend a meeting by himself on one of the book deals, and he left more money in that meeting than I would have made in a year working at the export zone. I decided then and there Newt needed me to handle these things.”

Mrs. Gingrich made clear that throughout their marriage money was an issue. “We were so pressed he could not even set aside money for congressional retirement until 1991. Living on his paycheck was very, very hard… Newt was like a child when it came to handling money,” she says.

Morty Bennett says he was also in Paris for the meetings with Soghanalian, Mrs. Gingrich, Howard Ash and his wife. As Bennett tells it, he began to “feel uncomfortable with what Ash was trying to do with Sarkis. My antennae should have been sharper.”

Hotel Mermoz, ParisBennett stayed at the Hotel Mermoz, which is around the corner from the Israeli Embassy in Paris and was a few blocks from Soghanalian’s luxury apartment on one of the most fashionable residential areas in Paris, not far from the Elysees Palace, home of the French president.

Bennett says that while he was at the hotel between meetings with Soghanalian, the Mermoz manager called him saying a man was asking whether Mrs. Gingrich was staying in his room. “I got on the phone and the man was Newt Gingrich. I explained to him she was not staying at my hotel.”

According to Mrs. Gingrich, her interest in Israel began on an eight day trip to Israel she and her then husband took in August 1994, paid for by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel’s largest Washington, D.C. lobbying organization. Mrs. Gingrich says Robert Loewenberg, the president of IASPS, was impressed with “my knowledge of planning and asked me to attend some meetings in Israel regarding the free trade zone.” She says that led to her being offered the position with IEDC. “Robert Loewenberg was telling me about some of the problems with the Knesset. The head of the Israeli central bank was opposing the free trade zone. I looked on the itinerary, and I went with him to a meeting and asked some good questions and the banker changed his mind. It had nothing to do with Newt. I went to the meeting. The guy kept calling me. He didn’t care about Newt. At one point he asked me to make a trip to Israel with some business people.” After the meetings in Israel with Loewenberg, the IEDC hired Mrs. Gingrich. She says that one of the reasons she took the job was “we did not have enough money. Money was always an issue with Newt…”

According to David Yerushalmi, there was no connection between IASPS, the think tank, and IEDC, the organization working for a free trade zone in Israel. But Mrs. Gingrich tells a different story. She says, “The same American Jewish funders supported both organizations and Howard Ash raised money for IASPS while he worked for the IEDC.”

A group of very wealthy Americans provided the funding for IASPS and IEDC. Both organizations shared some employees. David Yerushalmi, who represented both organizations as general counsel, wrote in an article:

“In June of 1992, a group of leading U.S. Jewish businessmen formed a company that was to become the Israel Export Development Company (IEDC). The founders of IEDC, men like Robert Tishman, Larry Tisch, Sy Syms and Larry Silverstein, were ardent supporters of the State of Israel. But like many Americans, they were leery of investing directly in Israel. However, it was their fears that made them ready to support the rather grandiose proposal embodied in IEDC’s mandate… To contemplate a real direct investment in Israel was not in the cards. The reason was simple: Israel didn’t play by any fixed rules…It was a land without any real legal protections or level playing fields. The horror stories by these men and their friends about ‘doing business’ in Israel were legion. Until IEDC came along, this was a nasty truth better kept under wraps and avoided. Philanthropy – yes; entrepreneurship – no.”

Sarkis Soghanalian and assistant Veronique Paquier the Paris air show.In Paris, Soghanalian openly and frequently talked about finding a way to get the Iraq embargo lifted. He said he had been approached by “people connected to Newt Gingrich who were setting up a meeting with his wife to talk about what could be done for me.” Tony Khater, who was Soghanalian’s majordomo, confirmed the plans for the meeting with the Speaker’s wife.

Soghanalian said Howard Ash had brought up Mrs. Gingrich’s name “to convince me they were serious.” Soghanalian said he called a number of people to try to find out if the IEDC was a legitimate operation.

New York developer Larry Silverstein, who is best known as the main lease holder on the World Trade Center complex in New York, backed both the IASPS and IEDC. When word got out in 1995 that the IEDC had hired Mrs. Gingrich, Silverstein told The Wall Street Journal that her husband was one of several members of Congress heavily lobbied to support the Israeli free trade zone proposal. Mrs. Gingrich, who had no experience in international trade, said at the time, “If I were going to get a political payoff, it would not be for the amount of money I am making.” She said her salary in August 1994 was $2,500 per month, “plus commissions.” Then Speaker Gingrich told The Baltimore Sun, which broke the story of Marianne’s employment, that his wife had previously owned her “own business.”

In a recent interview, Marianne Gingrich says she got the job at the IEDC because she had impressed her bosses. “I was able to contact a lot of business people, and I started calling them, especially Jewish people. I went to the head of Home Depot, for example. I tried to identify them and say, ‘Here are opportunities.’ The Jewish community is an incredible community…I thought it was a good idea…I thought it would help Israel.”

Calls to Larry Silverstein’s office for comment on this story were not returned.

No one involved with the IASPS or IEDC knew that after that first telephone call from Morty Bennett to Soghanalian, the arms dealer stopped by the Miami FBI office to see his old friend, Richard Gregorie, an assistant U.S. attorney. Gregorie, a veteran public corruption prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office, had used Soghanalian as a source for years.

Sarkis Soghanalian and Tony Khater in a helicopter over Iraq, 1984.At the time, Soghanalian had been helping the FBI with several investigations that were unrelated to this one. Soghanalian told Gregorie and several FBI agents that he had a “bad feeling” about why he had been approached. The agents advised him “to make arrangements for another meeting and to keep track of all the details.” Tony Khater, Soghanalian’s top aide, says, “The FBI was aware of every contact Sarkis had with these people. The FBI told Sarkis to push for meetings with Gingrich and his wife. The FBI instructed Sarkis to attend the meetings, if they could be arranged.”

Morty Bennett and Soghanalian met with Howard Ash and Marianne Gingrich in Paris in July 1995. Soghanalian was extremely busy with business generated by the recent Paris Air Show, but he tape recorded the conversations with Bennett and Ash and provided copies of those tapes to the FBI.

Mrs. Gingrich says Loewenberg and Yerushalmi sent her on the trip to meet Soghanalian because “Howard Ash has been over there for weeks. His wife is over there. Can we wait it out, can we work it? The company needed money to last. They called me up and asked me to go over there. I didn’t get paid to go to Paris. They paid for my expenses, but the trip came at a bad time for me. I had to rush over for the weekend and come back because my nephew was coming to visit.”

Soghanalian said, “Marianne came one weekend with Ash and met me and Bennett. I took her to clubs and we had several dinners and luncheons.” In interviews in Paris in 1995, Soghanalian said that he was “making arrangements to get the arms embargo lifted” and that is why he was meeting with Mrs. Gingrich.

A frustrated Marianne Gingrich says it became clear to her from her initial conversations with Soghanalian in Paris that he was not interested in investing in the IEDC. “…Howard Ash and his wife had been there a long time, and my bosses wanted an answer from him. My job was to get him to say, ‘Yes,’ or, ‘No,’ and that was not easy.”

Soghanalian, a popular figure in Paris, took Mrs. Gingrich and her associates to legendary places like Regine’s and several famous restaurants where they posed for photographs with the arms dealer. Finally, Mrs. Gingrich got an answer. “The last night all of us went somewhere till two or three in the morning…It was final. He said, ‘No.’ I caught the first flight out in the morning.”

Soghanalian had a different version of events. He said that he told Ash and Mrs. Gingrich that he would talk to the Iraqis about making an investment in the free trade operation but that he would not personally invest. “I told them this may be a way of getting my money out of Iraq and doing something good for Israel…I also told Marianne I wanted to meet her husband so we could discuss a high speed train opportunity in Florida.”

Around this same time in 1995, Bennett and Ash were involved in a bizarre penny stock scheme. According to an article in the Sun Sentinel, their connection to the IEDC was used to drive up investor interest in a penny stock being promoted by a couple who called themselves Eisenhowers and held themselves out to be relatives of former President Dwight Eisenhower. Bennett, the car salesman, was described to the business press and potential investors as an Israeli consultant while Ash verified claims that the penny-stock company, Triangle Technology, had a deal to build in the IEDC’s free trade zone in Israel a $40 million dollar factory to revolutionize military aircraft x-ray inspections. Marianne Gingrich’s – as well as the very rich businessmen like Larry Silverstein’s – involvement in the IEDC was also used to reassure potential investors in the penny stock scheme. These claims and associations caused the penny stock to soar before the entire venture collapsed and many investors were left with worthless stock.

Because of changes in Israeli tax law, the free trade zone effort lost its investment appeal and the IEDC shut down. But, Morty Bennett says, “Ash still wanted me to push Sarkis. He told me to call him again.”

As Bennett tells it, on January 23, 1996, Ash instructed him to call Soghanalian at his Miami horse farm with a surprising bit of news. Bennett said to the arms dealer that Marianne Gingrich had told him the Iraq embargo could now be lifted. According to the FBI memo, “Bennett stated that it would cost the source [Soghanalian] ten million dollars to get the job done.” Bennett confirms that the FBI memo is an accurate description of what he told Soghanalian. Bennett says that Howard Ash promised him $400,000 if Sarkis made the $10 million payment.

According to Tony Khater, that is when the FBI sting operation went into high gear. That week Miami agents began officially taping conversations between Soghanalian and Bennett. The Miami office received approval for the wiretaps from the Justice Department in Washington. In its memo on the case, the FBI says: “…This matter may relate to a member of Congress and is, therefore, a sensitive investigation… [that] requires Department of Justice (DOJ) notification.”

The first official FBI tape captured Bennett telling Soghanalian that “Gingrich wanted ten million dollars to get the job done.” The split would be “$5 million for her, $4 million for unexplained purposes and $1 million for Mr. Bennett,” according to the FBI memo. Bennett asked Soghanalian for $550,000 in advance.

Bennett says, “I was operating under explicit instructions from Howard Ash. He told me exactly what to tell Sarkis in my conversations with him.”

Soghanalian became even more suspicious when Bennett asked him to deposit $250,000 into his bank account as a tax-deductible donation to the IASPS. “I began to think they were getting me involved in some Israeli intelligence operation,” Soghanalian said. He told the FBI that Bennett asked for an additional $300,000 fee, “preferably… in cash.”

Vin WeberThe IASPS was founded in 1984, according to its website, and has strong ties to conservative politicians in Israel and the United States. It is connected to the Likud Party in Israel in much the same way the Heritage Foundation associates with the GOP in the United States. According to Mrs. Gingrich, Robert Loewenberg, who runs IASPS, recommended her for her job at the IEDC. Howard Ash worked with Mrs. Gingrich at the IEDC and as a fundraiser for the IASPS. Washington lobbyist and former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber was one of Newt Gingrich’s closest associates in Congress and personal friends at the time of some of these events. Weber was a trustee of IASPS, according to IRS 990s, and was mentioned in IASPS newsletters. Weber says his relationship with IASPS ended “many years ago. I never knew I was a trustee.”

Soghanalian, a consummate actor, developed a clever and ironic response to their overtures, with the approval of his FBI contacts. He told Bennett that he would talk to the Iraqi government about financing the entire deal. At the suggestion of the FBI, Soghanalian asked to speak to Mrs. Gingrich in person. Soghanalian said, “Bennett told me not until a week after the deposit was made…It was funny because Bennett said Mrs. Gingrich was very concerned about being caught on tape.”

Bennett says, “Everything I told Sarkis was done under the instructions of Howard Ash. He gave me the words.”

In early February 1996, Bennett told Soghanalian he could not arrange a meeting with Mrs. Gingrich for at least three or four weeks. A few days later Bennett called Soghanalian and asked for another $500,000 to be wired directly into Ash’s account at the IASPS.

Under FBI agents’ instructions, on February 12, 1996, Soghanalian demanded to talk to Mrs. Gingrich. “Bennett was nervous. He said it would scare her, and I should only make small talk and, if I brought up the payments, she would hang up,” Soghanalian said. “Bennett kept putting me off. He told me she had not called him back but he had a better idea. He would get me with both of them once I gave him the deposit. Bennett said that this Institute would hold a fundraiser where we could meet confidentially with Gingrich and his wife.” According to the FBI memo, Soghanalian told Bennett he would not pay $10 million without first talking to Mrs. Gingrich directly “to receive assurances regarding the specifics of this deal.” Another year passed before Bennett called him back.

Marianne Gingrich, 2012According to Tony Khater, in January 1997, Bennett started calling Soghanalian again at the Miami horse farm. Soghanalian told the FBI, and the Miami field office asked Washington headquarters for an extension of the wiretap, since authorization to continue recording had run out. Section Chief Paul Philip signed the memo along with several other FBI agents. Richard Gregorie, the assistant U.S. Attorney, was a key supporter of the probe. The memo said that Gregorie and the FBI’s Miami lawyer, Martin King, both favored moving ahead with the Gingrich-Bennett investigation. Gregorie, the memo said, “sees no entrapment issues.”

The request was approved and the investigation continued. The FBI recorded the February 2, 1997, conversation between Soghanalian and Bennett. Officials involved in the case, Soghanalian and Khater all confirm that Soghanalian also contacted Ash at the request of the Bureau. “Ash said I should work through him and not Bennett to get to both Gingriches. They were competing for the money,” the arms dealer said. Ash reassured Soghanalian “that Gingrich would send his own man down to Miami to meet with me.”

That man was Ben Waldman, a longtime Republican operative with strong ties to the Christian conservative movement. He was not unknown to the FBI. “His name coming up in the investigation got our attention,” says an official close to the investigation who asked not to be identified. Waldman’s name had surfaced in an earlier federal investigation of bribery and kickbacks during the Reagan administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development that resulted in the indictment and subsequent plea bargain of former Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt and other top officials – but not Waldman.

What worried Soghanalian about Waldman were not his connections to the Christian Right, but his connections to the Likud Party in Israel. “My friends in Israel told me there was an effort by the Christian Right to join with right-wing political parties around the world,” Soghanalian said. “Reagan’s people had started this in the 1980s. They even tried to use me to make contact with the Baath Party in Iraq in 1983.”

At the time of the FBI probe, Waldman was listed as the chief fundraiser for IASPS, where Ash, through Bennett, had instructed Soghanalian to send the $10 million. David Yerushalmi, who was the IASPS lawyer, confirms that both Waldman and Ash had fundraising roles at the Institute at the time. When Waldman met with Soghanalian, he said he was a Vice President of the Institute.

For the meeting between Waldman and Soghanalian, the FBI rented a luxury, waterfront home on a canal not far from the posh commercial section of downtown Ft. Lauderdale. Tony Khater says, “The meeting would be a luncheon. I had to order in an Orthodox catered lunch for Waldman.”

On cue from the FBI, Soghanalian opened the front door of the luxurious one-story house. Waldman admired the home and asked Soghanalian about the yacht docked at the backyard pier. “As we ate the lunch, Waldman asked me to donate $20,000 to this institute of his. It was the same place that Bennett wanted me to use to pay him off. I kept trying to talk about other things, like the Iraqi arms embargo,” Soghanalian said. “I asked him could Gingrich get the sanctions lifted if I paid that man the money.”

The man Howard Ash picked to replace Morty Bennett as the man to separate Sarkis Soghanalian from his millions was a former Reagan White House aide with a long history in conservative Republican and Israeli politics. Though Waldman looks like an aging boy scout, by the time he met Soghanalian for a kosher lunch, all arranged by the FBI, he had accumulated an impressive dossier of business and political associates. Waldman was among the young Republicans who grew close during the Reagan administration – men like Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff and Adam Kidan. He was President Ronald Reagan’s liaison to the Jewish community. He also raised funds for the Institute. In an interview in the 1990s, Waldman identified himself to National Public Radio as a Vice President for IASPS.

Waldman played a key role in bringing Jewish conservative voters into the Republican Party as an aide in the Pat Roberson 1988 presidential campaign and as executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, now the Republican Jewish Coalition. He had close business and personal ties to disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. By 2000, Waldman was president and part owner of SunCruz Casinos, a controversial offshore gaming company with organized crime connections. Another owner, Gus Boulis, was battling Abramoff for control of the company. Boulis was shot dead in his car a year later.

Reached for comment, Waldman refused to go on the record, but, prior to that, he did acknowledge he had worked with Howard Ash at the IASPS. When asked specific questions about his meeting with Soghanalian, he says, “First of all, I am not going to go on the record and, second, this happened so long ago, anything I am going to tell you is going to be clouded by my poor memory and lack of specificity. I am not in that business anymore. It is not the right thing to talk about.”

Khater, Soghanalian, and the FBI tapes reveal that at the luncheon Soghanalian insisted to Waldman that he would donate to IASPS only on the condition he could meet with Speaker and Mrs. Gingrich in private. After the luncheon, prosecutors and FBI agents in Miami were convinced that the case should be aggressively pursued.

Working with Ash, Waldman planned a fundraiser for the Institute in Miami for June 8, 1997. Waldman later confirmed to the FBI that it was Ash who gave him Soghanalian’s name as a potential donor. The reception was to feature Marianne Gingrich and “a surprise guest.” FBI agents made plans to bug the fundraiser. In mid-May, the FBI’s Miami field office once again requested permission to tape record the meeting.

According to sources inside the FBI, Neil Gallagher, then the deputy chief of the FBI’s criminal division, after seeking the advice of a half dozen other FBI and Justice Department officials – but not Attorney General Janet Reno – ordered the investigation closed. The Miami field office and prosecutors were dumbfounded. They said Gallagher shut down the investigation just when Soghanalian was to meet Gingrich and his wife at Ben Waldman’s fundraiser.

After his retirement from the FBI, Gallagher said: “We can’t go around encouraging people to offer bribes to elected officials – we don’t do that…” When called recently for comment about the case at his home in Davidson, North Carolina, Gallagher says, “I can’t talk about this. You have to call the Justice Department.”

Another senior FBI official does not believe Gallagher’s explanation: “Do you remember the Abscam case? That is where FBI agents posing as rich Arabs bribed members of Congress. Gallagher did not object then. The truth is the Bureau thought Clinton was through because of the impeachment [proceedings] and they saw Gingrich as the most powerful man in America.”

In one recent interview Mrs. Gingrich says that she was unaware that Soghanalian had been invited to the fundraiser that was held in a private condominium in Miami Beach. She says that Joe Gaylord, her former husband’s political aide, would have handled such events. Gaylord did not return repeated phone calls for comment. A Miami Herald article puts Gingrich in Miami on this date. The fundraiser took place as planned on Sunday, June 8, 1997. Soghanalian, under orders from the FBI, did not attend. Twenty-five guests enjoyed a reception with Marianne Gingrich at an upscale oceanfront condominium in Miami. Her “surprise guest” that morning, her husband, Speaker Newt Gingrich, spoke about and urged support for free-market reform in Israel.

In a later conversation about the event Mrs. Gingrich confirms she and her husband attended the IASPS fundraiser with “about fifty other guests…We stayed about an hour and Newt was a surprise guest.”

After their meetings in Paris in 1995, Marianne Gingrich says she did not hear Soghanalian’s name again for several years. “It was in October of the last election year, 1998, and I get a call from Victoria (Toensing), and I was in Ohio and just found out I had MS, and I had to go into treatment. I was on heavy steroids; I am in the middle of a medical mess, high as a kite on steroids. I had to go to the Cleveland Clinic.” Marianne Gingrich was traveling with her assistant to speak to a conservative group in Ohio. She had scheduled a side trip to see a MS specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. “I get told I have to immediately get treatment. His nurse had MS, and she had the treatments available. Then you have to take pills to come off of it…. I am in the middle of that. I get a call from Victoria, and I said, ‘Just handle it.’ I am drugged up and high as a kite and I was bloating…I wasn’t supposed to be under stress,” she says.

According to Mrs. Gingrich, the entire controversy caught her by surprise. “No hint of this until Victoria called me….to tell me I was being investigated for arms dealing,” she says.

Victoria Toensing, Mrs. Gingrich's private attorney and former Reagan administrative official.Victoria Toensing, a former Reagan administration official, was Mrs. Gingrich’s private attorney. She and her husband, former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova, were one of the most prominent political couples in Washington in the 1990s. Mrs. Gingrich says, “She told me the Justice Department suspected I was involved in arms dealing.” Ms. Toensing confirmed to the media in 2002 that her client did meet with Soghanalian in Paris, but she said that Mrs. Gingrich went only to help “Mr. Ash secure funding from Mr. Soghanalian…The only information she was given … was that he was a Mid-Eastern investor.” Toensing said Mrs. Gingrich knew nothing about the arms dealer’s background despite the fact that Soghanalian had been well known in Republican circles for years in Washington and Florida and had attended several Republican fundraisers that the Gingriches had also attended. In addition, Soghanalian had appeared on 60 Minutes and Nightline prior to the meeting in Paris.

According to Mrs. Gingrich, Toensing told the FBI that her client’s conversations with Soghanalian were “limited to obtaining funding for IEDC and trivial social conversation. Nothing more.” In a prepared statement for the media in 2002 Toensing wrote: “Mr. Soghanalian decided not to invest, and Ms. Gingrich never saw or talked with him again.” Mrs. Gingrich says that Toensing’s efforts to kill the investigation went all the way up to FBI Director Louis Freeh, who made the final decision. Toensing did not return several telephone calls for comment.

Soghanalian’s recollection was far different. He said that after Paris “they (Ash and Bennett) were calling me every day to see how I got along with Marianne.”

Soghanalian told the FBI that he said to Mrs. Gingrich “that Iraq owed me $54 million, and I asked her whether she, with the help of her husband, could get the United Nations embargo against Iraq lifted so I could be paid.” Soghanalian said he also asked her if her husband could help him win congressional backing for a scheme to build a high-speed train through Florida. “Ash had told me this is one of the deals I could invest in – she could help us through Newt,” Soghanalian said. The FBI 302s confirm Soghanalian’s account of this part of the conversation. Soghanalian said Mrs. Gingrich told him “that she could get congressional support for the train, but her organization needed money for investment.”

Marianne Gingrich says, “I was just trying to keep the conversation going about his potential investment. I may have been polite, but I don’t remember ever discussing the arms embargo…I would have never suggested he invest in high speed rail. It was something I knew about, and it was impractical and a poor investment.”

This statement contradicts an earlier account by Victoria Toensing, who said in the 2002 statement, “Neither Iraqi sanctions nor a Florida bullet train … were ever brought up.” The lawyer went on: “It is not unusual for con artists to make false claims about well-known people.”

In a recent interview Mrs. Gingrich did recall the discussion about the possible bullet train deal. “I was humoring him, making small talk,” she says. Despite what is on the FBI tapes, Waldman denied in interviews at the time that there was ever a direct discussion of Speaker Gingrich assisting Soghanalian in getting the UN Iraq embargo lifted in return for money. Waldman claimed he was simply trying to humor Soghanalian, since he was a potential donor to the Institute. Newt Gingrich told the FBI that he “only vaguely” recalled Waldman’s name. He said, “To the best of my knowledge, I never sent anyone anywhere on behalf of the Institute.” The investigation took place while Gingrich was under other unrelated congressional ethics investigations and in the middle of the Clinton impeachment proceedings.

Newt Gingrigh and third wife Callista.A short time later, Newt and Marianne Gingrich separated and went through a contentious divorce. Gingrich resigned as House Speaker and from Congress in January 1999 and married a congressional aide with whom he was having an affair.

On the night of February 6, 2001, Gus Boulis – who had sold most of his interest in the SunCruz gambling ship venture to Adam Kidan, Jack Abramoff and Ben Waldman – was driving home from work when he was gunned down. It was a classic mob hit. Adam Kidan, whom Jack Abramoff had brought into the company with Waldman, had ties to two organized crime families and became an instant suspect. (He denies knowing anything about the death.) While Kidan and Abramoff served prison sentences connected to the SunCruz case, the Miami U.S. Attorney’s office did not bring charges against Waldman, who owned 10 percent of the company. Today he lives in suburban Washington and sells dental equipment. As Abramoff tells it in interviews about his new book, congressional corruption is commonplace. In the book’s acknowledgements, he thanks his “lifelong friend and partner Ben Waldman.”

Howard Ash is still active in penny stock investments and charitable organizations from Miami to South Africa to Croatia. He is involved with a long list of ever-changing companies from a Miami Beach house at 4233 Sheridan Avenue, including Claridge Management, Ashtine Holding Group, Associated Medical Billing, Biocard Corporation, Biorecord Corporation, CMM Consulting Medical Industries, Judaica International, Shesha Holdings Inc. and many others.

On the website Dealmakers, he is described as “a seasoned international businessman with experience in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. In 1990, Howard co-founded Abrams, Ash & Associates, a Merchant Bank, and sold his shares in 1992. Since 1992 Howard has served as CEO, COO and CFO to a variety of high-profile, international companies, including Israel Export Development Corporation, CITA Americas, BioCard, Inc., and several publicly traded companies. Howard’s leadership provided development of business documents and corporate identity packages, business planning, strategy formation, web presence, operations and implementation, investment banking liaisons, and investor relations. Howard, a silent partner in Tudog Creative Business Consulting, leverages his extensive network of international contacts and international consulting firms to provide clients with the broadest and most effective services available.”

Morty Bennett says he is retired and loves living in West Virginia.