Capital Briefs: Dec. 25-29

‘A Giant Void’

In 1997, Jim Gilmore rocketed into the governorship of Virginia, using the slogan “Ax the Tax,” which highlighted his campaign promise to eliminate Virginia’s steep personal property tax on cars. He fulfilled much of that pledge, but not all, because of the Democrats in the Virginia legislature.

Last week, Gilmore announced that he was exploring a bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, pointing out that there did not yet appear to be a committed conservative running. “What I think, John, that I bring,” he told John Gibson on Fox News, “is a long and consistent record of being a Reagan conservative. I think I’m the kind of committed conservative with a long track record that is in a position to put together a national campaign to actually win the election. When I ran for governor of Virginia, I didn’t say I was one thing in one part of the state and another in another part of the state. [I didn’t change] my issues, my positions.”

When Gibson asked him if this was a swipe at Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Gilmore said, “No, but I am saying that I’m a consistent conservative and have been my entire life. I was a Reagan delegate in 1976, and I believe there is a need for a committed conservative in the race. I think there’s a giant void there right now, and people are looking for another candidate.”

Speaking of Hillary

After looking at polling numbers, Sen. Evan Bayh (D.-Ind.) precipitously dropped his presidential exploratory effort only two weeks after he started it. “The odds were always going to be very long for a relatively unknown candidate like myself, a little bit David and Goliath,” said Bayh. “And whether there were too many Goliaths or whether I’m just not the right David, the fact remains that, at the end of the day, I concluded that, due to circumstances beyond our control, the odds were longer than I felt I could responsibly pursue.”

Bayh adviser Bill Moreau told the Indianapolis Star, “Data shows that the Democratic primary voters are going to reward the loudest, angriest candidate, and that’s just not Evan Bayh.”

Barr-ing His Soul

In a discussion with Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi last week, former Republican Rep. Bob Barr (Ga.) explained his recent switch to the Libertarian Party. When Gizzi noted that Libertarians are boasting that their candidates siphoned off just enough votes to defeat Republican Senators Jim Talent (Mo.) and Conrad Burns (Mont.) and thus tip the Senate to Democrats, Barr said, “Republicans lost not because of a handful of Libertarian candidates but because people saw a vast disconnect between what they were saying and what they were doing. There’s a lack of vision and concrete accomplishment by Republicans in Congress and the administration.”

The former congressman was also critical of Bush and blamed the problems in Iraq on “the insular nature of a President who surrounds himself with people who agree with him.” While ruling out a future race for office as a Libertarian, Barr told Gizzi he will help his new party “identify and recruit good candidates—something that has not always been their strength.”

Kerry, Dodd, Assad

Senators John Kerry (D.-Mass.) and Christopher Dodd (D.-Conn.) continued their party’s separate diplomatic approach to Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad, with whom they met for two and a half hours in Damascus last week.  Earlier this month, Sen. Bill Nelson (D.-Fla.) had traveled to Damascus to meet with Assad.

Kerry emerged from the meeting to call the Associated Press and gush about the possibilities of working with Assad. “I feel quite confident in saying this was a conversation worth having and that the [Bush] Administration ought to pursue it,” Kerry said. “I feel very strongly about that…It’s worth following up on a number of avenues.” One avenue that definitely needs to be followed up on with Assad concerns the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. As noted on this page last week, according to the UN’s Mehlis Commission report, then-Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri traveled to Damascus for his own meeting with Assad on Aug. 26, 2004. Assad insisted that Hariri support suspending the constitutional term limit on Lebanese President Emile Lahood. Assad told Hariri that if he did not do so, he would “break Lebanon over your head.” On Feb. 14, 2005, Hariri was blown up by a car bomb on the streets of Beirut.

Berger’s Burglary

He came skulking out of the National Archives in the dark of night, pockets jammed with purloined documents—classified documents. “He headed toward a construction area,” say notes taken by a federal investigator. “Mr. Berger looked up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the [Department of Justice], and did not see anyone.”

He shoved the document under a construction trailer. Later, he retrieved them, brought them to his office, cut some into pieces and threw them away. These are the facts of how Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy Berger destroyed certain documents dealing with the Clinton Administration’s handling of al Qaeda that the 9/11 Commission might have had an interest in reviewing. The details of Berger’s crime were revealed in a National Archives Inspector General’s report acquired last week by the Associated Press.

In 2004, when it was first revealed Berger was under investigation for stealing classified documents, Berger said, “I deeply regret the sloppiness involved, but I had no intention of withholding documents from the commission, and to the contrary, to my knowledge, every document requested by the commission from the Clinton Administration was produced.”

When the Bush Justice Department accepted Berger’s guilty plea to a simple misdemeanor, punishable by a fine, the department claimed there was no evidence Berger had taken the papers to conceal them from the 9/11 Commission. When the IG report was released, Berger’s lawyer was still insisting that the Archives retained copies of all the Berger documents. But out-going House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R.-Va.) isn’t buying it. “There is absolutely no way to determine if Berger swiped any of these original documents,” said Davis. “Consequently, there is no way to ever know if the 9/11 Commission received all the required material.”