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Pioneering Corruption–and Political Payback

[Note, I know a lot of you will still be watching the Oscars, so feel free to comment on GOP corruption OR Hollywood movies as you so desire.] 

I've written two posts on the remarkable number of Bush Pioneers and Rangers who have either been indicted (or, like Kenny Boy and Abramoff, found guilty) of felonies or are intimately tied to some criminal wrong-doing. Back in May 2006, there were already enough of these Pioneers of Corruption to man two prison flag football teams. I'll do a new count sometime soon–but first I'm going to have to figure out a sport that requires more players than football…

It seems that the whole corrupt GOP enterprise created by Tricky Dick has morphed into a system shamelessly called "Pioneers and Rangers," as if their creative means to bilk the American people were somehow noble.

Well, last week, we learned of another way the GOP is pioneering new ways of political corruption. Michael Isikoff revealed how some of Bush's top donors brokered GOP campaigns against GOP opponents.

But Hohlt's more significant role may be his leadership of a secretive social group of GOP heavy hitters and, occasionally, White House officials, who convene to smoke cigars and mull over politics. The group's name: the Off The Record Club. Hohlt is the club's "keeper of the flame," says one participant who, like others contacted for this story, didn't want to be named because it violates the group's rules. Each month or so for more than 15 years, Hohlt has booked a room at a posh Washington hotel or restaurant and invited the guests for dinner. Among the regulars, according to three participants: fellow lobbyists Ken Duberstein, Charlie Black and Vin Weber.


The club, participants say, helps the White House with damage control—they prodded GOP pols to back the president's post-Katrina cleanup—and thinks up ways to get the party's message across to the press. [my emphasis] 

Now, Murray Waas has been reporting about GOP operatives' involvement in this case for years.

During the initial stages of the Plame investigation, the RNC was at the forefront of the Bush administration's effort to stymie demands for the appointment of a special prosecutor and to continue the campaign to discredit Wilson. To some career investigators, the RNC appeared to be acting as a proxy for the White House in attempting to thwart the naming of a special prosecutor.

But the public face of that involvement was people like Barbara Comstock, Cliff May, JimmyJeff GannonGuckert, and Ken Mehlman. The paid shills of the party.

The details about the Off the Record Club reveal that it's not just the paid shills who were–and are–involved in this plot. It's also the big money donors. And they have been involved in bigger ways than just placing stories or giving quotes to salvage the Bush White House. Ken Duberstein, Off the Record Club member, is the guy who set up the meeting between Armitage and Novak. He also obstructed justice intervened between Armitage and Novak when everyone was trying to make up one semi-consistent story to tell the FBI. It turns out that his buddy–Off the Record Club member and Super-Ranger Richard Hohlt was the guy who negotiated a story between Rove and Novak and back to Rove and the White House to out Valerie Wilson. Retrospectively, it seems clear that Pioneer Charlie Black

Some GOP loyalists dismissed yesterday's indictment as a blip that will quickly be forgotten. "If we are going to reach conclusions about stains on the presidency, let's wait until he's [Libby] convicted," said veteran GOP strategist Charles R. Black. Calling Bush's administration "remarkably clean," he added: "The amazing thing is that they went almost five years without having any kind of scandal."

And Vin Weber

"Obviously, the best thing for the Republican Party is to have this all end as quickly as possible," said former representative Vin Weber (R-Minn.), a close White House adviser. "But at the end of the day, you cannot ask a guy who all of us think is an upstanding and honorable guy to give up his legal rights."

…have always been in the right place at the right time to try to tamp down this scandal. [I do hope that CREW and the Wilsons have calculated that it'll be easier to sue Cheney, Libby, Rove, and a bunch of John Does if they can show that those John Does are not government employees. Because it sure seems like Richard Hohlt's deep pockets have become "fair game" now.]

You see, I've long believed that after Tricky Dick went down, they didn't change their approach. They just found new entities through which they could carry out the same kind of dirty tricks. The NH Phone Jamming scandal and the OH GOP Party used a number of Pioneers and Rangers to steal victories in key states. Pioneers Jack Abramoff and Brent Wilkes brokered off our nation's interests. Charles Wyly is a big sugar daddy funding misleading GOP smears campaigns. And now we learn these thugs are laundering their criminal smears through Pioneers and Rangers, too, a bunch of rich fellows masquerading as "lobbyists." 

It really is getting to the point where we ought to start going down the list of Pioneers and Rangers and asking how each has advanced the criminal plots of the GOP, because it's sure beginning to look like the Pioneers and Rangers program is just a brilliant front for old-style Dirty Tricks.



Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel is an American journalist whose reporting specializes in security and civil liberties.