Archive for the ‘Senate’ Category

Support for Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate in the Indiana Senate race whose comments about rape created an uproar, has imploded according to a new poll:

Richard Mourdock’s support has collapsed following his comments about rape at a debate last week, and the GOP nominee in the Indiana Senate race now trails by a significant margin, according to a new independent poll released on Friday.

The Howey Politics Indiana/DePauw University Battleground Poll shows Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly leading Mourdock, the state treasurer, 47 percent to 36 percent. Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning is at 6 percent, and 11 percent of likely voters remain undecided. The poll was conducted Oct. 28-30 by Democratic pollster Fred Yang and Republican pollster Christine Matthews, who surveyed 800 likely voters, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points.

In September, the two candidates ran neck-and-neck, with Donnelly ahead by just two points, 40 percent to 38 percent. But now, a significant gender gap has opened up, according to the poll. Men favor Donnelly by two points, 43 percent to 41 percent, a 6-point reversal from September, when Mourdock led by 4. But women now choose Donnelly by an 18-point margin, 50 percent to 32 percent. In September, Donnelly led by 6 points among female voters.

Donnelly has also consolidated Democrats, winning 88 percent of the vote among his own partisans, the poll shows. In comparison, Mourdock wins just 70 percent of Republicans, and Donnelly also leads among self-identified independents, 51 percent to 17 percent.

Overall, just 30 percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of Mourdock, compared to 49 percent who view him unfavorably. In September, 26 percent had a favorable opinion of him, versus 32 percent who had an unfavorable opinion. Donnelly’s image rating is healthier: 36 percent favorable, and 31 percent unfavorable.

This, along with Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments, were – second only to Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comments – the biggest Republican gaffes in this election cycle. Again as was the case in 2010 (the Nevada, Delaware and Colorado Senate races), the Republicans are blowing what should have been a winnable race by nominating inexperienced or more extreme candidates who have made disastrous unforced errors.

The Indiana Senate race should have been a no-brainer for the GOP, especially in their effort to win control of the U.S. Senate. Longtime moderate incumbent Richard Lugar would have been a shoo-in for the general election, had he not lost the primary to the Tea Party-backed Mourdock. Moral of the story: the Tea Party might be good to win primaries, but aren’t always good for the general, even in a red state like Indiana.

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Completely unexpected news from Capitol Hill:

The species known as the moderate Republican seemed to move one step closer to extinction on Tuesday when Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, announced that she will not run for reelection this year.

“After an extraordinary amount of reflection and consideration, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for reelection to the United States Senate,” Snowe said in a statement on the Maine Republican Party’s Facebook page.

Snowe’s surprise announcement that she will not seek a fourth term has dramatic resonance. As one of the last of the truly moderate Republicans, Snowe is part of a breed that’s disappearing from Congress. Her vacating a seat in a state that has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992 greatly strengthens the Democrats’ chances of holding on to the Senate, and it gives strategists at the National Republican Senatorial Committee reason to cry in their beers.

GOP officials in Washington were given little notice by Snowe of her decision. One senior GOP source said Snowe only informed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the NRSC chair, of her decision this afternoon. She had more than $3 million in the bank and was on cruise control in her reelection bid, giving Republicans no reason to believe that she was heading toward a retirement.

This is bad news for Republican hopes in winning back the Senate this fall. A race that was a sure thing for them has now turned into a competitive race which they will have to spend time and money defending. This is a very real chance for the Democrats to pick up a Senate seat in New England. President Obama will win the state in the fall, but the fact it’s a presidential year means that more of the die hard voters and activists will turn out. By riding Obama’s coattails, the Democratic nominee could go over the top and win the Senate race. It’s not a sure thing though – keep in mind Maine currently has a Republican governor.


Read this blog post by James Fallows over at The Atlantic. Fascinating and sobering in terms of what it means for the present state of governance in the country and what it could mean for the future.

The report is a doozy (PDF file)…  Will live-blog details as I read them, including quotes and page numbers as necessary (Note: page numbers are based on their number in the PDF file, not the number that appears at the bottom of each).  Watch this space.

REACTIONS:

Statement from Sen. Ensign’s attorney Paul Coggins: “I am confident that the Department of Justice will conclude that Senator Ensign fully complied with the law.”

Separately, spokespersons for the FEC and the Department of Justice declined to comment on the Boxer/Isakson letters referring the case to them.

REPORT DETAILS:

CREW gets a shoutout… Melanie Sloan takes a victory lap: “The Committee’s investigation began after it received a complaint on June 24, 2009, from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ( CREW ). CREW supplemented that complaint on October 6, 2009. These filings presented allegations of sexual harassment/employment discrimination, post-employment ban violations, and issues related to payments to Douglas and Cynthia Hampton, Senator Ensign s former Administrative Assistant and campaign treasurer.” (p. 8 of the file)

Credible evidence of violations: “Based on the record in this matter, the Special Counsel respectfully submits that there is substantial credible evidence that provides substantial cause to conclude that Senator Ensign violated Senate Rules and federal civil and criminal laws, and engaged in improper conduct reflecting upon the Senate, thus betraying the public trust and bringing discredit to the Senate.” (p. 10)

Ensign plays hardball: “When a prominent Nevada constituent declined to hire Mr. Hampton, Senator Ensign instructed John Lopez, his Chief of Staff, to jack him up to high heaven and inform the constituent that he was cut off from Senator Ensign and could not contact him any longer.” (p. 10) Update: More details…  the constituent was identified as Nevada political consultant Sig Rogich.  Looking back on the episode, Lopez later testified: “I just wanted to mention that when the Senator asked me to do that, I really felt like this is wrong. I remember really feeling like that
was abusing the office, you know, cutting someone off from official action because he didn’t hire [Hampton], I thought I had qualms about what I was asked to do.” (p. 29)

Violations of One-Year Ban: Hampton “improperly contacted” on at least 12 different client matters, initiated at least 30 contacts to Ensign’s office and other Senate offices during the one-year ban period. (p. 10)

Office Policies Included Shredding and Gmail Accounts: “Before and after Mr. Hampton’s termination and during the time period when the Senator was helping Mr. Hampton get clients, Senator Ensign instituted office policies that had the effect of making Mr. Hampton’s contacts harder to detect, including a shredding policy, discouraging use of official Senate email accounts in favor of Gmail, and directing that all inquiries of the Committee go through Mr. Lopez, the person he directed to interact with Mr. Hampton.” (p. 11)

$96K Severance Payment: The $96,000 paid to the Hamptons from the Ensign Family Trust Fund constitued a severance payment. Ensign’s affidavit to the FEC saying it wasn’t severance payment is false. (p. 11) Update: Affidavit re: $96K signed by Ensign’s parents saying money was part of pattern of them giving money to the Hamptons, including all expenses paid trip to Hawaii in 2006.  Report calls these affidavits “misleading and potentially false.” (p. 12)

Potential Obstruction of Justice Violations: Ensign deleted documents and files knowing they were likely to be subject to legal claim. Also deleted his personal Gmail account which he used instead of his Senate account. Contents from Gmail account could not be reviewed for the investigation. Ensign deleted at least 5 documents after receiving document retention notice from Ethics Committee in October of 2009.  (p. 13)

Violation of Office Policies: Report says Ensign violated his own office policies regarding sexual harassment and fraternization. Report says Ensign engaged in behaviors that would have led to the termination of one of his employees according to his own office policy. (p. 13)

Affair Began After Burglary: After burglars broke into the Hamptons’ Nevada home, Ensign allowed them to stay at their place until the door was repaired and Cynthia Hampton felt safe to go back to the house. The affair began shortly after the Hamptons moved into the Ensign home. (p. 18)

Losing His Mind: When Ensign began pursuing Cynthia Hampton, “She asked Senator Ensign if he lost [his] mind, and he replied yes.” (p. 18)

Late Night Fodder Material: Hampton’s reaction after finding out about the affair – “When the cars were parked in the airport parking lot, Mr. Hampton jumped out of his car and chased Senator Ensign in the airport parking lot.” (p. 19)

What Happens in Vegas: Ensign and Hampton ended the affair around Christmas of 2007, but resumed again a month later. They would have trysts in Vegas hotel rooms reserved in her name, because “it always had to be under my name, it could never be under his name.” (p. 19)

Big Phone Bill: Hampton found out affair was continuing in February 2008 after discovering text messages on Ensign phone during CODEL trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. The phone bills for the calls during the trip totaled nearly $1,000. (p. 19-20)

“Put Your Pants On”: Sen. Tom Coburn, Hampton and others confront Ensign about the affair on Valentine’s Day, 2008. Ensign writes letter to Cynthia Hampton breaking it off but later admits it was a lie. Two days later, Hampton sees his wife’s and Ensign’s cars parked outside a hotel near their neighborhood and calls Ensign spiritual advisor Tim Coe. Coe calls Ensign, telling him I know exactly where you are. I know exactly what you are doing. Put your pants on and go home.” A few days later, Ensign tells Hampton he loves Cynthia and wants to marry her, and that he can’t work for him anymore. (p. 20)

I Wish I Knew How To Quit You: Ensign separates from his wife and moves in with his parents, and the affair continues through July 2008. Ensign bought two cell phones so they could communicate directly, and created fake Yahoo addresses for both of them.  Coe has Sen. Tom Coburn call Ensign’s father and tell him about the affair.  According to him, the call happened, and Ensign called him in a rage after hearing about his father. (p. 20-21)

Not a Happy Ending: The report notes that Cynthia Hampton has filed for divorce and bankruptcy proceedings, and is moving to California to work for an unidentified Christian organization. (p. 22)

Leaving Las Vegas: Plan to separate Hamptons from Ensign included possibility of moving them to Colorado and having Ensign take over mortgage on Hampton’s home in Vegas or buying it outright. Ensign not happy about idea of buying the house, says his father won’t help with the finances of helping the Hamptons relocate. (p. 22-23)

Coburn’s Role: “According to Mr. Coe, Doug was more confident talking to Senator Coburn about finances than he was us, and Mr. Hampton thought Senator Coburn could deliver John s father, who was wealthy. Senator Coburn played a support role, and encouraged Senator Ensign to consider the plans developed by Mr. Coe and others regarding transition and separation.” (p. 23)

Not-So-Golden-Parachute: During a lunch in Vegas, Ensign tells NRSC aides Michael and Lindsey Slanker that Hampton is leaving his office, but lies about the reasons why. The Slankers come up with idea of having Hampton work at their political campaign consulting firm November Inc. as a “platform” for his work. If Hampton could get clients, he could use November Inc. as “the business card.” Ensign’s response to the idea was “giddy” and he immediately called Hampton to tell him of the plan. (p. 23-24)

Pink Slip: Ensign fires Cynthia Hampton from her job in March of 2008, saying his father and wife wouldn’t allow her to continue working for him. (p. 24)

Severance Pay: The $96K severance package was calculated based on 2 months’ pay for him, a year’s pay for her. Here’s where the plot thickens: “The two discussed gift rules and tax law, and splitting up the payments into various amounts, totaling $96,000, as a way to avoid the payment of taxes on the amount.” (p. 25)

Vacation Money: In addition to the $96K, Hampton received $6K in his final paycheck from Ensign’s Senate office for 12 unused vacation days, which in fact he may have used. Report notes “his work attendance was significantly less in the months leading up to April 2008. Therefore, there were likely no vacation days available to Mr. Hampton upon his departure from the Senate.” (p. 27)

The I-word: Ensign’s chief of staff John Lopez testified before the Ethics Committee Special Counsel under a grant of immunity. (p. 28)

Not a Coincidence: “The timing of Senator Ensign’s interest in the destruction of records and communication with oversight committees coincides with the affair with Cindy Hampton, and Mr. Hampton s departure.” (p. 29)

Preparing to Lobby: “Mr. Hampton, because of his salary level, was required under Senate Rule 37 to notify the Ethics Committee within three days of commencing any negotiations for prospective private employment, and to immediately recuse himself from legislative matters affecting that prospective employer. Committee Staff and Special Counsel were unable to find evidence that Mr. Hampton ever filed such a notification.” Hampton left the Senate on May 1, 2008, and the report notes “Mr. Hampton was banned from contact with the Senate effective May 2, 2008,” because of ethics rules. However, the report says that just five days later, he e-mailed Ensign aide David Quinalty regarding FAA issues on behalf of a Nevada client. Ensign’s legislative staff figured out the implications of the email pretty quickly.

“Mr. Quinalty testified that in every way I could think of, [this email] struck me as inappropriate and odd and something I should take note of. Mr. Quinalty immediately took the email to Pam Thiessen. Ms. Thiessen testified that upon review of the email, she concluded that it look[ed] like he [Hampton] broke the law, broke the ethics ban. Ms. Thiessen had Mr. Quinalty print out multiple copies, and gave one to Mr. Mulvihill, with instructions to take it to the attention of the Ethics Committee. Ms. Thiessen then spoke with Mr. Lopez, and stated that on its face [the email] was illegal. So I told John Lopez this is illegal activity, that it’s got to stop, and that Doug Hampton was being cut off from the leg. [legislative] shop. Ms. Thiessen then announced to the entire legislative staff that Mr. Hampton had broken the law and no one was to help him. Members of Senator Ensign’s legislative staff recalled this announcement in their testimony.”(p. 31-32)

Compartmentalized Contacts: Ensign and Lopez agree to limit all dealings between Hampton and the office to the two of them, effectively removing the rest of the staff from the process. Lopez told him about the ethics concerns about Hampton’s lobbying efforts, to which Ensign responded with what Lopez described as a “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude. Lopez was ignorant about the affair until Ensign called a staff meeting to announce it in 2009. (p. 34-35)

Coburn the Negotiator?: Hampton’s lawyer testifies that Coburn acted as a negotiator between him and Ensign for a possible multimillion dollar settlement on behalf of his clients. Coburn denies it in testimony to the committee. This discrepancy could come back to haunt Coburn. Stories with headlines like “Tom Coburn gets new scrutiny in Ensign scandal”  and a lead paragraph alleging “the Oklahoma Republican may have not been completely candid when questioned by Senate investigators about the still unfolding scandal,” are not good. (p. 44-45)

Going Public: After hearing of Ensign’s rejection of the offer, Hampton decided to go to the media with his case, writing a letter to Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. A few days later, Hampton forwarded a copy of the letter to Sen. Rick Santorum, at the time a paid Fox News contributor. Santorum tipped off Ensign, and this forced him to make a public statement admitting to the affair in June of 2009. (p. 45)

Semantics About Severance: Staff and counsel reviewing his prepared text announcing the affair suggested removing all references to severance or payments. Attorney Chris Gober explained the legal concerns in an email to Ensign’s communications director:

“[t]he statement, as currently written, raises a host of
potential criminal issues for the Senator. The language
draws a direct connection between the affair, the
termination of the staffers, and the severance payment.
Although the statement attempts to legitimize the reason for
the payment, it’s awfully odd that he made the payments
from personal funds. If this statement doesn’t get the
attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, then nothing will.” (p. 48)

Questions About Ensign FEC Affidavits: The report alleges that Senator Ensign and his parents may have been less than truthful in affidavits they filed with the FEC regarding the $96K. “The affidavits of the senior Ensigns and of Senator Ensign appear to be misleading and potentially false on the central issue of the FEC investigation the nature of the $96,000 payment from the senior Ensigns to the Hamptons and the purported pattern of generosity from the senior Ensigns to the Hamptons.” The Special Counsel says that inconsistencies between facts and affidavits merit further investigation by DOJ and FEC. (p. 51-52)

The Senate Ethics Committee just published its findings on the John Ensign investigation.  It also published letters referring the case to the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission saying Ensign and others had violated laws relating to their relevant jurisdictions.

Stay tuned for more details.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) has looked at the photos of Osama bin Laden’s body and has described them on the record.  Based on his account, it seems like pretty gruesome stuff:

In an interview with The Atlantic Wire after he returned from the CIA headquarters, Inhofe described the photos he saw. He said he was shown 15 photos. A dozen of those were taken at the Abbottabad compound and appear to be “taken right after the instant he was shot.” They sound gruesome. They show a massive head wound in the ear and eye. “The brains were coming out of his socket,” Inhofe said. But he said three other photos were taken on board the ship before bin Laden’s sea burial. In these, the body has been cleaned up and Inhofe, who has advocated releasing the photos, said, “It’s much more reasonable to show the public these photos.”

Crisis averted.