The Swift-Boating of Harry Reid
Yesterday the AP published an out-and-out hit piece that seeks to connect Harry Reid to the Jack Abramoff scandal. The traditional media wants very badly to make this scandal bipartisan, but in attempting to do so, the AP ommitted the facts and used shadowy, spurious logic to make their claim.
The article basically has two premises. The first is that Reid wrote letters helpful to Indian tribes represented by Jack Abramoff. That's what the first line of the article says. However, the facts inside the article paint a different picture.
Reid's office acknowledged Thursday having "routine contacts" with Abramoff's lobbying partners and intervening on some government matters — such as blocking some tribal casinos — in ways Abramoff's clients might have deemed helpful. But it said none of his actions were affected by donations or done for Abramoff.
"All the actions that Senator Reid took were consistent with his long-held beliefs, such as not letting tribal casinos expand beyond reservations, and were taken to defend the interests of Nevada constituents," spokesman Jim Manley said.
Harry Reid represents Las Vegas. That he would take steps to block the expansion of Indian casinos is perfectly logical. This may help tribes that already have their casino licenses, but it really just reflects Reid's long-held stances on this issue. He was doing it well before Jack Abramoff hooked up with any Indian clients. Reid was also getting money from tribes long before Abramoff entered the fray.
The second premise of the article is that Reid somehow conspired with Abramoff lobbyists to make sure the minimum wage in the Marianas Islands would remain under the national standard (the Marianas Islands are a US protectorate):
Most (Abramoff lobbyist contacts) were to discuss Democratic legislation that would have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory and Abramoff client, but would have given the islands a temporary break on the wage rate, the billing records show.
Reid himself, along his Senate counsel Jim Ryan, met with Abramoff deputy Ronald Platt on June 5, 2001, "to discuss timing on minimum wage bill" that affected the Marianas, according to a bill that Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff's firm, sent the Marianas...
The Marianas, U.S. territorial islands in the Pacific Ocean, were one of Abramoff's highest-paying clients and were trying to keep their textile industry exempt from most U.S. laws on immigration, labor and pay, including the minimum wage. Many Democrats have long accused the islands of running garment sweatshops.
The islands in 2001 had their own minimum wage of $3.05 an hour, and were exempt from the U.S. minimum of $5.15.
Republicans were intent on protecting the Marianas' exemption. Democrats, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record) of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller (news, bio, voting record) of California, wanted the Marianas to be covered by the U.S. minimum and crafted a compromise.
In February 2001, Kennedy introduced a bill that would have raised the U.S. hourly minimum to $6.65 and would have covered the Marianas. The legislation, which eventually failed, would have given the islands an initial break by setting its minimum at just $3.55 — nearly $3 lower than any other territory or state — and then gradually increasing it.
Within a month, Platt began billing for routine contacts and meetings with Reid's staff, starting with a March 26, 2001, contact with Reid chief of staff Susan McCue to "discuss timing and status of minimum wage legislation," the billing records say.
In all, Platt and a fellow lobbyist reported 21 contacts in 2001 with Reid's office, mostly with McCue and Ryan.
So the Democratic bill wanted to raise the minimum wage in the Marianas Islands. Abramoff and the Republicans wanted to stop it. Turns out that Harry Reid was a CO-SPONSOR of the Democratic bill. He spoke up for it in the Senate. And he always supported it. Scott Shields notes that, while Abramoff's firm tried to lobby Reid to change his mind, he never did.
The kicker, of course, is that for all of their effort, Reid never supported the Abramoff position. The very definition of "quid pro quo" is "this for that." In politics, this means something valuable like money or gifts for a politician's votes or some other form of official support. In this case, though Reid or his staffers may have taken meetings on the subject, it never amounted to anything. In other words, there may have been quid, but there was no quo. So this convoluted story is just that -- a convoluted story. No climax, no punchline, and most importantly, no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Reid.
Furthermore, Josh Marshall actually did what a journalist should do, and unlike the AP reporters, he called the lobbyist:
Then I got hold of Ron Platt, the lobbyist referenced in the passage above, on his cell phone while he was down at a conference in Florida. I asked him whether, to the best of his recollection, Reid had taken any action against the Kennedy bill. "I'm sure he didn't," Platt told me.
According to Platt, the purpose of his contacts was to see what information he could get about the timing and status of the legislation. Reid's position on the minimum wage issue was well known and there would have been no point trying to get his help blocking it. That's what Platt says. "I didn't ask Reid to intervene," said Platt. "I wouldn't have asked him to intervene. I don't think anyone else would have asked. And I'm sure he didn't." [...]
In this case, despite the AP story's narrative of lobbyist contacts, there doesn't seem to be any evidence whatsoever that Reid ever took any action on behalf of Abramoff's Marianas clients.
Wasn't that worth a mention?
Apparently not, if you're trying to create the illusion of balance. This is a typical smear attack couched in language that makes it seem like the smearee (Reid) was engaged in nefarious dealings, but upon close reading reveals nothing at all. The AP should print a full retraction.