- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

Daschle explains all

Sen. Tom Daschle apparently was stung by revelations of how he managed to exempt his home state of South Dakota from environmental regulations and lawsuits in order to allow logging to prevent forest fires.

Mr. Daschle, the Senate majority leader, dispatched an aide to press galleries on the Hill yesterday to drop off copies of a letter in which the senator attempted to explain why the measure was different from one offered earlier this year by Rep. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who is challenging Mr. Daschle's protege, Sen. Tim Johnson, in the November elections. Mr. Daschle and Mr. Johnson did not lift a finger for the Thune legislation, which died in the Senate.

"Apparently you are not aware that the Thune provision did not include the linchpin of my amendment a locally negotiated consensus agreement on thinning to prevent forest fires," Mr. Daschle said in the letter to Rep. James V. Hansen, Utah Republican, and Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican.

While Mr. Daschle did point out that environmental groups such as the Sierra Club were part of the consensus agreement, he did not mention that some of these same environmental groups have been running ads against Mr. Thune and until now fiercely opposed logging in South Dakota, as they do everywhere else.

Mr. Daschle said he would oppose similar exemptions for logging in other states unless they included such a consensus.

Daschle aide Chris Bois, in e-mails and hard copies of Mr. Daschle's letter, included a preface in which he denounced the story Wednesday by reporter Audrey Hudson of The Washington Times as "grossly inaccurate." However, Mr. Bois did not provide a single example of anything in the article that was inaccurate, and Mr. Daschle did not mention the news story in his letter.

Wonders never cease

"The fallout from this year's forest fires is accomplishing wonders such as the sight of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle running into the protective arms of the Republican-controlled Forest Service. Quick, someone get water to revive the Sierra Club," the Wall Street Journal says.

"Last week, Mr. Daschle slipped language into a spending bill that would exempt his home state of South Dakota from key environmental laws. 'The fire danger in the Black Hills is high,' said Smoky the Bear, er, Mr. Daschle, and this legislation will 'avoid costly, time-consuming lawsuits' and 'get the forest thinned and property protected.'

"Well, knock us over with a chainsaw. We are thrilled that the nation's top Democrat now agrees that environmentalist obstruction is behind today's Western fires. And far be it from us to question his motives. But a few uncharitable folks are pointing out that South Dakota Junior Senator Tim Johnson is fighting for his political life against GOP Congressman John Thune.

"This spring, Mr. Thune tried to insert a similar South Dakota cleanup measure into the farm bill hoping to pre-empt deadly fires. But Messrs. Daschle and Johnson, at the bidding of environmentalists, let it die. Now that fires are raging back home, however, Mr. Johnson is taking a political beating and so the pair are trying to convince voters it was their idea all along."

Free Cheney

"Recent reporting has it that the vice president has been invisible lately owing to his lawyers who counsel silence in the face of the SEC investigation of his former firm, Halliburton," Kate O'Beirne writes at National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com).

"According to New York's Daily News, the president would like to have Cheney available to make his administration's case on the economy, corporate corruption, and any other old thing that inquiring minds might want to know, but has reluctantly approved the grounding of his wingman. That's a mistake. Is there a political figure in recent memory who benefited from taking his lawyers' strictly legal advice when caught in the middle of a political storm? Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party," Mrs. O'Beirne said.

"Dick Cheney happens to be the most reassuring figure in an administration badly in need of an authoritative, reassuring figure. He is nimble with the media. Sure, if he joins Tim [Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press"] on Sunday morning, he'll be asked about the SEC investigation and about the mega-bucks he made at Halliburton. So he handles those three or four questions and moves on.

"Q: 'Do you think your old firm will be cleared of wrongdoing by the SEC?' A: 'I don't want to say anything about the matter to avoid being accused of trying to influence the SEC's important work in any way.' He insists that he won't comment about the former, and that he ran a successful company. I, for one, share the president's view that Dick Cheney can handle hostile assaults. (Remember that wonderful debate moment when Cheney instantly offered to help Joe Lieberman achieve financial success by putting him in the private sector?)

"Dick Cheney's absence from the scene hasn't kept both issues out of the news, and it's unlikely he would look more defensive on air than he does in absentia."

Check that

Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday that his proposal to immediately destroy government records of people who buy guns won't mistakenly help criminals get them illegally.

Other "records that are maintained can be used to detect the illegal purchases," Mr. Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee, responding to a General Accounting Office report released earlier in the week.

Mr. Ashcroft last year suggested shortening from 90 days to no more than one business day the time during which the government keeps records on people who try to purchase firearms.

But the GAO, Congress' watchdog agency, said that one-day destruction of records would mean that the FBI, which conducts background checks on people who buy guns, would not be able to go back and check its work to look for fraudulent transactions or mistaken approvals.

Only seven out of 235 illegal gun sales between July 2001 and January 2002 were noticed after one day, the GAO report said.

On the record

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat and House minority leader, is sticking to his prediction that the Democrats could pick up as many as 40 seats in November.

"Well, what do you mean 40 winnable seats? You mean that it's possible that the Democrats could pick up 40 seats, is that what you're saying?" anchor Judy Woodruff asked Wednesday on CNN's "Inside Politics."

"There are 40 seats out there that are in contest, where we have a great candidate, they're running a great campaign, and we can win a seat back from the Republicans, which would put us back in the majority," Mr. Gephardt replied.

"So are you going on record with that?" Miss Woodruff asked.

"I hope for 40. I'm predicting at least six." Mr. Gephardt said, the latter being the exact number the Democrats need to reach parity with the Republicans.

"All right. Hoping for 40, but saying that 40 are winnable. All right," the anchor summarized.

"Forty are winnable." Mr. Gephardt repeated.

One last service

"Microsoft lobbyist Kerry Knott and public-affairs powerhouse Ed Gillespie were for many years the political brain trust behind Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican," United Press International observes in its Capital Comment column.

"They are credited with developing the strategy that took Armey from obscure back-bencher best known for sleeping in his congressional office to the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference and, ultimately, to the No. 2 position in the House of Representatives. Now that Armey is retiring, Knott and Gillespie are performing one last service for their former boss: They are leading the effort to raise the funds for Armey's official portrait," the wire service said.

"The cost of the portrait, which will hang in the U.S. Capitol, is rumored to be close to $100,000. If all the former members of Armey's staff now in prominent positions in the administration and in the K Street lobbying corridor contribute the maximum $2,000 donation, it should take no time at all to raise the necessary funds."

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