Sunday, February 05, 2006

Fool's Bet Revealed by Tim Russert: John Boehner as Crusader Against Corruption

I couldn't believe my ears, and neither could Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert, but here it is.....a portion of the transcript from today's Meet the Press on NBC.

In it, Russert is interviewing the new leader of the House of Representatives, Rep. John Boehner, newly elected by House Republicans, in large part to clean-up Congressional corruption. Or at least to pretend to.


"MR. RUSSERT: Let’s turn to the whole issue of lobbyists, corruption, travel, congressional travel. Speaker Hastert, your boss, had a proposal on the table, which you dismissed as childish.

REP. BOEHNER: That’s not true, Tim. That’s not true. What I said were there were a lot of childish proposals out there. We’ve gotten proposals from the Democrat leadership, the House leadership, every group known to man, and that’s what I was referring to.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, here’s exactly what the article said: “‘House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s proposal to end all privately funded trips would be counterproductive,’ Boehner said. ‘Members could be required to seek pre-approval from the House Ethics Committee of any trip,’ he said. But he added ‘Members need to understand what’s happening in the world. They need to understand what’s happening with industry. That won’t happen if they’re locked up in a cubbyhole here in the Capitol.’” And you went on to say, “We shouldn’t be treated like children.”

REP. BOEHNER: That comment was made several weeks ago, all right? Denny Hastert and I are very close friends, we’ve worked together closely over the last 15 years, and we’re going to continue to work closely together. He’s the boss. And he and David Dreier have worked on a package of ethics and lobby reforms.

We’re—Mr. Dreier is now working with Democrats, trying to come together with a package. And we need to allow the members to engage in this process, to come up with a package that’s real. Not something that looks good and sounds good, but something that will, in fact, bring greater transparency to the relationship between members of Congress and those who lobby us.

MR. RUSSERT: But the speaker did want to eliminate privately funded travel for congressmen, and you...

REP. BOEHNER: I’ve got, I’ve got my doubts about that, but that doesn’t mean that he and I don’t feel strongly that we’ve got to have a lobby reform bill passed the Congress here in the next several months.

MR. RUSSERT: When you say you have your doubts, many point to your own behavior. From 535 members of Congress, John Boehner ranked number 10 according to PoliticalMoneyLine, which did analysis of this. Over the last five years they say John Boehner received trips which would equal $157,000, privately funded.

And they point out where you went, which is—and here’s, here’s a list,. Congressmen Boehner: White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia, where the Green Briar Resort is, eight times; Boca Raton, Florida, six times; Scottsdale, Arizona, four times; Monterey/Pebble Beach, California twice; Edinburgh, Scotland, home of St. Andrew’s Golf Course, twice. Foreign travel: Rome, Venice, Brussels, Paris, Barcelona. To the American people looking at that, they’re saying those aren’t exactly the global hot spots in terms of conflict. But they are places that you’d want to go and relax or play golf.

REP. BOEHNER: People want—people invite me to give speeches. And, and as you know Tim, you know, I’ve got 11 brothers and sisters, my dad owned a bar. What you see is what you get. And I’ve got a very open relationship with lobbyists in town, with my colleagues, with the press, and with my constituents. And, and as a result, you know, people invite me to go give speeches, and I go give them. And you also learn a lot about these industries. It’s easy to point out where I’ve gone around the world, but when you start to look at the people that I’ve worked with—you know, going to, to Scotland with the Transatlantic Policy Network.

Now, understanding the relationship between members of the European Union and members of Congress, and trying to build closer ties, this is something that’s very beneficial for members of Congress. And I believe that—that—that privately funded travel ought to be pre-cleared. There ought to be a good public purpose in members going on a trip, and if there isn’t, then they shouldn’t go.

MR. RUSSERT: Many voters will say, Congressman, rather than going to a plush resort, why don’t you just meet these guys in your office?

REP. BOEHNER: These industry meetings occur in nice places. And—and that’s where the—that’s where the events are, that’s where the speeches are. And if you get invited, you got to decide whether you can go or not go, or whether it’s worthwhile.

MR. RUSSERT: You said this, according to The Washington Post: “‘Yes, I’m cozy with lobbyists,’ Boehner told lowmakers—lawmakers concerned about his K Street lobbyist connections, ‘but I have never done anything unethical.’” Is that the standard?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, everything I’ve ever done in my entire political career has been to the benefit of my constituents and the American people. They’re the ones who dictate what I do every day. I know who I am, and I know why I’m here, not because I wanted to be a Congressman, but because I wanted to do things on behalf of my constituents and the American people. And I—there’s nothing in my entire political career, no decision I’ve ever made, where they weren’t the winners.

MR. RUSSERT: So you would be against eliminating private funding of trips for Congressmen.

REP. BOEHNER: I think having pre-approval of these trips would be a more forthright way to go.

MR. RUSSERT: By whom? A board of public integrity, or your fellow Congressmen?

REP. BOEHNER: No, I think the Ethics Committee process really, in fact, is back up, it’s working. They know what the rules are, they interpret the rules. And frankly I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a trip when I didn’t ask the Ethics Committee for their advice before I went.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, why not an independent board?

REP. BOEHNER: Congress is charged, the members are charged, House and Senate, with setting up their own rules and enforcing their rules. If you bring more transparency to this relationship between those who lobby us and members, more transparency with what members are doing on trips, I think let the public decide.

MR. RUSSERT: One of the other areas that—people who are watching this would like to reform, the amount of money lobbyists spend at conventions. And they point to the vast number of parties, money spent at both political party conventions. According to your hometown paper, “One of the most famous parties at the Republican Convention simply known as the ‘Boehner party,’ thrown every night until the wee hours. It’s in John Boehner’s honor, and is organized by lobbyists.” Would you eliminate those?

REP. BOEHNER: I would—if I—it were up to me I’d, frankly, think—rethink the whole convention process. You know, back in the old...

MR. RUSSERT: Eliminate lobbyist money.

REP. BOEHNER: Well, now, I don’t even know why we have these conventions any more. You know, back in the old days, it was—it was—they were real conventions, they made real decisions. Now they’re made-for-TV events and a large number of parties. I go to bed every night at 10:00. These conventions that require me to be up much later than that are very difficult.

MR. RUSSERT: But would you eliminate lobby-sponsoring parties honoring congressmen every night at these political conventions?

REP. BOEHNER: That’d be fine with me. Then I could go to bed on time.

MR. RUSSERT: There was a big episode in your life back in 1995 when there was—Bob Herbert in The New York Times wrote a column about something you did. I want to find out what you learned from it. Here’s how Herbert wrote it. “One day last summer, 1995 Representative John Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Conference, decided to play Santa Claus.

He took it upon himself to begin handing out money from tobacco lobbyists to certain of his colleagues in the House floor. He was not deterred by the fact that the House was in session, and that he was supposed to be attending to the nation’s business. He was not constrained by any sense that passing money around the floor of the House of Representatives was a sacrilege.”

REP. BOEHNER: It was a big mistake, and I regret it. I shouldn’t have done it. It was an old practice that had gone on in the House for a long time, and I do regret it. But I also worked with Speaker Gingrich at the time to change the rules of the House to prohibit the practice. And now if you look, when we pass the new rules in the next Congress, handing out a PAC check on or near the House floor is prohibited.

MR. RUSSERT: You gave $5,000 from your PAC—leadership PAC to Tom DeLay’s defense fund.


MR. RUSSERT: You think Tom DeLay’s innocent?

REP. BOEHNER: I do think he’s innocent.

MR. RUSSERT: If he is acquitted and chooses to come back to Washington and wants to become majority leader again, would you step aside?

REP. BOEHNER: I’m sure we’ll talk about it. Tom and I have a different approach.

MR. RUSSERT: You would talk about it?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, Tom and I have—have different approaches. But I think what’s going on in Texas with Tom DeLay is unfortunate, unfair and highly partisan. And that’s why I gave him that money out of my PAC, to help him pay for his tremendous legal costs.

MR. RUSSERT: But if he’s acquitted and decided to come back to Washington and reclaim the majority leader position, you would consider...

REP. BOEHNER: Under—he stepped down as majority leader. He vacated his seat. We had an election, and I won. But I like Tom DeLay. He’s been a great leader for our party. He’s a friend of mine, and we’re going to continue to work closely together.

MR. RUSSERT: But would you step aside for him?

REP. BOEHNER: I said we would talk about it.

MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk about Jack Abramoff, because his name, lobbyist, “The Shadow,” hangs over Congress. According again to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “John Boehner’s Freedom Project PAC got $27,500 from the Chippewa tribe, Choctaw Indians and other tribes in California, Louisiana” that Jack Abramoff represented.

Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, also Republican, had received some $18,000 from clients of Jack Abramoff. He gave the money back because he was concerned about the perception. Will you give the money back?

REP. BOEHNER: No. Those tribes gave money to my political action committee. It had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff. I didn’t know Jack Abramoff. I may have met him once. I had no relationship to him, and the money that I raised from those tribes had nothing to do with him. I worked with those Indian tribes and others on education issues, on labor issues, and he had nothing to do with it, so why would I—why would I give the money back?

MR. RUSSERT: But had you ever received a nickel from those tribes before they were represented by Jack Abramoff?

REP. BOEHNER: I have no idea.

MR. RUSSERT: The answer’s no.

REP. BOEHNER: I—well, no. Other people represented those tribes as well. Understand, Jack Abramoff, knowing that I...

MR. RUSSERT: But they didn’t give you—they didn’t give you money until they were represented by Abramoff.

REP. BOEHNER: No. I became chairman of the Educational Workforce Committee in 2001, where I began to work closely with them on their issues. I had nothing—Jack Abramoff didn’t like me. I didn’t do earmarks, the things that he exploited for his own political and financial gain.

MR. RUSSERT: According to his records, however, there were 17 contacts between his lobbying team and your staff and—and a meeting with you also.

REP. BOEHNER: Some of his under—underlings worked with some low-level employees in my office. I’m telling you, I never met the man. The money didn’t come through him. And, frankly, I think four out of the five tribes have written us a letter at our request saying that the money they gave had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff.

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned Newt Gingrich, the former speaker. This is what Newt Gingrich has said. He “cautioned Republicans that they risk losing control of Congress majorities—congressional majorities if they try to put all the blame on lobbyists. ‘You can’t have a corrupt lobbyist unless you have corrupt member of Congress or a corrupt staff. This was a team effort,’ Gingrich said. ‘If Republicans intend to retain a majority, then they need to take the lead in saying to the country we need to clean this mess up. But any effort to push this under the rug, to say this is just one bad apple: That’s baloney.’”

REP. BOEHNER: That’s correct. What we need to do, and I agree with Newt’s approach here. Because it all starts with the member and the staff. And what we need to do is to make sure our members understand what the rules are, understand what’s ethical behavior. Because if we don’t begin the process ourselves, we’ll never restore the trust between the American people and their Congress.

MR. RUSSERT: So you don’t want to eliminate private funded trips. You do not want to have an independent office of public integrity. What do you want other than immediate disclosure?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, all of the violations that we’ve read about and the corruption we’ve read about, were people who violated the laws of the United States of America and/or the rules of the House. All of—all of this. And so, as we begin to look at how do we best clean this up and how do we begin the process of restoring trust, I think sunlight is the best disinfectant.

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