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Political grapevine

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted July 26, 2004

Every now and then I have loosely related matters I think would be useful to tell you, but independently do not warrant an entire commentary. So here are the items for your consideration:

Sandy Berger

A number of important Members of Congress believe that former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger leaked the problem he had about stolen documents on himself. The theory is that he knew he had been caught red handed. He knew the matter was coming to a head and would likely be made public. He leaked the story so he could retain control of some degree of the spin. He did manage to turn it around and make himself the victim while charging that the Republicans leaked the story in order to deflect attention away from the report from the 9/11 Commission. The problem is that Republicans actually like the report from the 9/11 Commission and some, such as Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, are urging the public to read it.

Congressman Tom Davis, (R-VA) is going to hold a hearing on the Berger issue. Perhaps when everyone is put under oath the truth will emerge. It seems Berger purloined five copies of the same memo, among other things. The problem for Berger is that the originals are also in the material waiting for the construction of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. That project is being managed by the National Archives. When officials of the National Archives reportedly saw Berger stuffing documents in his pants, they checked to see what was missing. They called Little Rock and got the memos replaced only this time they were marked in an invisible way. Berger apparently returned and saw those same documents, so he took them again. The library officials evidently tipped off the FBI who raided Berger's office where the marked documents were found. Republicans speculate that there was something in those documents that Berger didn't want the 9/11 Commission to see. He must have figured that some historians would come across the documents 50 years from now, but by then it won't matter. The objective was to deep-six something in those documents now.

By the way, former Clinton apologist Lanny Davis has described in his book, Truth To Tell: Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself: Notes from My White House Education, just how to leak stories on yourself in order to frame the issue if the worst is inevitable. Perhaps Sandy has read Lanny's book.

I startled a young reporter -- who was the twenty-fifth reporter -- to ask me about "rumors that Dick Cheney is going to be replaced on the Republican ticket". I blew a gasket. I asked him exactly who is saying this was going to happen because he said, "This is a story which just won't go away." Names! I wanted names!

He finally admitted that it was mostly "reporters talking with other reporters who are raising the story." Exactly. Except for former Senator Al D'Amato of New York, it is hard to find anyone who will say out loud they want to see Cheney off the ticket. I even asked this reporter if he could give the names of any Senator, Governor or Congressman who are saying, even privately, they want to see Cheney gone. He could not do so. I heard exactly the same thing about Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1972. Agnew (before anyone had an inkling of his problems) was extremely popular in the Republican Party both inside and outside of the Congress. There was no one demanding his resignation, yet the story of his endangered nomination persisted because the media wanted to make it happen.

As I told this young man: George Bush, if he is anything, is loyal. He would never dump Cheney, who has been a very important part of his Administration. His father wouldn't dump Dan Quayle in 1992...and there were actually people calling for that to happen. W. may be different than his father in some respects but not in that one. I am certain that this young Hill reporter won't raise the subject of Cheney to me again. My guess is if I could monitor his phone, he would try to continue the story with others.

Sometimes there are issues, which are happening sub rosa, which can have a greater impact on an election than millions spent on ads. I well remember when Lee Terry Sr. (the father of the current Congressman from Omaha), a popular Omaha, Nebraska broadcaster, was about to become Congressman in the mid 1970's when the AFL-CIO launched a massive rumor campaign. Voters got calls from "neighbors" asking if they knew about the elder Terry's supposed drinking problem. He had no drinking problem, but it worked. Terry went from being 15 points ahead on the eve of the election to losing by a couple of points. Yet this tactic never surfaced in public.

The same thing is currently happening on two fronts.

In Oklahoma, where a hot GOP primary is happening on Tuesday, some outfit is conducting a push poll asking voters that -- if they knew that former Congressman Tom Coburn had performed abortions in his medical practice -- would they be more or less likely to vote for him. Coburn is a vehement opponent of abortion. He performed two in his long medical career: both to save the life of the mother. Coburn seems on the verge of winning the GOP primary without a run-off. That sub rosa push poll on abortion, designed to drive voters away from Coburn, may be enough to force him into a run-off with former Oklahoma Mayor Kirk Humphries, who broke his pledge not to run a negative campaign by unleashing two vicious commercials against Coburn in the waning days of the campaign. Coburn is one of the most principled people ever to have served in office. He would be a right-wing version of John McCain if elected. For that reason, the establishment hates him. They will do anything including this vicious push poll to keep him from being elected. They want the more moderate and business-oriented Humphries, but if Coburn is forced into a run off they are much more likely to get liberal Democrat Rep. Brad Carson instead.

A similar sub rosa campaign is being waged against the Bush campaign claiming if given a second term, the incumbent Administration would re-instate the draft. Having worked for the Senator Gordon Allott, (R-CO) who, along with Scoop Jackson, (D-WA), was responsible for establishing the all volunteer military, I can assure you it would be political suicide for any Administration to make that move. (By the way George Will worked on this issue for Allott and Richard Pearle was Jackson's guy). But the word on the draft is being spread like wildfire and is having a much greater effect than any of the advertising on which Bush is spending millions. At some point, the President is going to have to confront that rumor up front. If he doesn't, an absolute non-public issue -- a wild rumor -- could defeat him. The Bush Administration does not have any plans -- none whatsoever -- to re-introduce the draft.

If we could find the people who are perpetuating these rumors, we ought to draft them -- for service in the Sudan.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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