Why Republicans Need to Clean House

Clearly, vis-à-vis former Rep. Mark Foley’s over-attentiveness to underage male pages, House Republican leaders had their priorities wrong.

The priorities—in this order—should have been to: 1) Protect the pages; 2) Get Foley help; and 3) Protect the Republican House majority. Ironically, attending to Nos. 1 and 2 would have helped 3.

However, it would be equally faulty logic to say: “Republicans have misplaced priorities; therefore, Democrats must have properly placed priorities.”

That may well be what voters conclude—if the Democrats’ attempt to play the old trick of making it seem they are wearing the white hat of law and order by painting their opponent as wearing the black hat of sin and corruption, succeeds.

But, if you consider the documented behavior of Democrats waiting in the wings—no doubt measuring the drapes—for their expected takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives on November 7, the reality that Democrats are not the national saviors they would have us believe, comes into sharp, startling focus.

Rep. John Murtha’s Abscam scandal performance 26 years ago is particularly illustrative on this point. According to American Spectator reporter David Holman in his report, “Murtha and the FBI: The Director’s Cut”:

Murtha has repeatedly maintained his innocence in the Abscam sting operation, even as recently as this year. However, his November 20, 1980 testimony in the trial of Congressmen Frank Thompson (D-N.J.) and John Murphy (D-N.Y.) and the FBI’s complete undercover video of his January 7, 1980 meeting with its agent and informant reveal a man showcasing his political influence and apparently tempted to take a $50,000 bribe. On the tape, Murtha appears eager to arrange his own, long-term deal with the supposed representatives of Arab sheiks, and to cut out Thompson and Murphy… Through the years, Murtha has maintained that he only met with the FBI agents to discuss investments in his district. His testimony, the video, and the cases of other congressmen snared in Abscam suggest that “investments in the district” was a common Abscam defense for those accused of bribery.

This article caught my eye because one of my clients is former Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.). Being the inquisitive reporter that I am, naturally I “Googled” Senator Pressler early on and was impressed to discover that he was the only elected official who failed to take the bribe in the Abscam sting or, as Washington Post reporter Martin Schramm summed it up, “He spurned the ‘Arabs.’” (Washington Post, February 4, 1980.)

Schramm’s article reveals what I have come to appreciate as classic Pressler: He couldn’t imagine that these Arab sheik dudes, whom he later described as “flaky,” would try to lure him into doing something “illegal.”

Meanwhile, Murtha happily acceded to the would-be sheiks’ request for help getting into the country, conveniently forgetting to report this request—which, to Pressler, was clearly “illegal”—to the FBI or the Ethics Committee, of which Murtha was a member.

For all these shenanigans, federal prosecutors designated Murtha “an unindicted co-conspirator.” But, as Robert Novak reported in his column, “Murtha’s Second Act,” the Ethics Committee “exonerated Murtha of misconduct charges by a largely party-line vote” prompting the committee’s special counsel for the Abscam investigation, E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., to abruptly resign the same day. (Prettyman, it should be noted, comes from a prominent Democratic family—the D.C. Circuit Courthouse having been named after his father, who was appointed to that court by President Harry S. Truman.)

Now Murtha, wearing the white hat he’s acquired as a result of alleged Republican sin and corruption, is poised to ascend to the position of House majority leader.

To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon:” “The stuff that nightmares are made of!”

So what’s a voter to do? Throw the bums out! That would be nice except the voters would be tempted to throw out the whole lot. And, that’s just not practical.

So, here’s a practical suggestion for changing the electoral dynamic: Why don’t House Republicans present voters—now—with their leadership slate for the 110th Congress. This forward-looking move would be an opportunity to present a fresh agenda by turning over a new leaf in Republican governance. Such a step would, of course, require Republicans to choose—now—who would run the House of Representatives if they retain power, which Republicans might balk at. But, then, if they don’t clean House, it may all be a moot point if Murtha and his white-hat-clad Democrats take over on November 7. [For those who consider this suggestion hopelessly naïve, I commend to them “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” a classic film which explores the futility of coveting power.]