Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Good stuff

One well-known politician in Washington was overheard this week discussing his personal angst regarding a widely heard political commentator in town and his repeated violation of the “off-the-record” rule.

“Every time I tell him something, and explain that it is ‘off the record,’ I hear it broadcast the next day. And every time I confront him about it, he says: ‘I know it was off the record, but it was too good not to use.’ ”

Who knows anymore?

In light of news yesterday that D.C. Council member and former Mayor Marion Barry tested positive for cocaine after a recent court-ordered drug test, maybe a joke circulating around the John A. Wilson Building isn’t such a stretch of the imagination: that his honor wasn’t really “robbed” at gunpoint in his apartment kitchen recently; rather, it was “a drug deal gone bad.”

Honest politician

“Unfortunately, we Republicans have taken earmarking to an unprecedented level. It is now our responsibility to clean it up.”

That’s an honest assessment from Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, who is out to reform the practice of earmarking — spending items slipped into appropriations bills without congressional oversight.

In a letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Mr. Flake goes so far as to say that it is “no secret that over the past several months, our reputation as a governing majority has taken a beating. It is clear that continuing … indictments, possible indictments, plea deals, tainted campaign contributions, etc., has severely eroded public trust.”

Worse yet, he said, disgraced lobbyist “Jack Abramoff reportedly referred to the Appropriations Committee as a ‘favor factory.’ ”

And here’s the kicker: “No one who has seen the process firsthand, as we have, would honestly dispute his characterization,” Mr. Flake told his Republican boss.

All about money

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has been keeping close tabs on Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is out raising money for Democrats this week, even though his name continues to surface in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Those in charge of Republican campaign coffers find it ironic that Mr. Reid, despite the cloud hanging over his head, has been raising money in Western Republican “red” states that backed President Bush in 2004 (his final stop today is Nebraska, having stumped for cash earlier this week in Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Idaho.)

Mr. Reid has called the Abramoff affair a “Republican scandal,” telling Fox News viewers: “So don’t lump me in with Jack Abramoff. This is a Republican scandal. Don’t try to give any of it to me.”

Nevertheless, the NRSC continues to peddle as many links as it can find between the Democrat and the disgraced lobbyist, not the least being a letter Mr. Reid wrote in 2002 to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton on behalf of an Abramoff client.

“The day after Reid penned his letter, clients of Abramoff donated $5,000 to Reid’s leadership [political action committee],” the NRSC states.

Madison’s notes

Don’t look now, but that’s former Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III participating in this week’s contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Or at least that’s the Heritage Guide to the Constitution, co-edited by Mr. Meese, sitting on the desk of Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, as he takes in Judge Alito’s testimony this week surrounding the nominee’s interpretation of the Constitution.

“It’s obviously playing a significant role in the Alito hearings,” Rebecca Hagelin, vice president of the Heritage Foundation, tells us.

The thick volume contains the opinions of more than 100 of the nation’s top legal analysts who have examined, line by line, the Constitution and its contemporary meaning. They zero in on the original intent of the Framers as the authoritative standard of constitutional interpretation, relying heavily on their early writings, particularly the “invaluable” notes taken at the Constitutional Convention by James Madison.

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or

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