TPM News

Grover Norquist, the conservative activist and head of Americans for Tax Reform, chatted wih TPM about the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and how enthusiasm is still high among Republicans even after last year's electoral drubbing. He also explains how the conference has approached one of the most famous conservatives of all: George W. Bush.

The Coleman campaign could potentially be in some serious hot water in their effort to prove that double-counting of absentee ballots occurred, after it was revealed that they concealed evidence involving the testimony of a key witness, Republican precinct worker Pamela Howell.

But here's the thing about Howell's testimony: The story itself appears to be true. Democratic precinct worker Shawn Isenhart, who served in the same precinct with Howell, confirmed to me that there was indeed a failure to properly label the original and duplicate copies of a few damaged absentee ballots in that precinct.

Isenhart was there when the precinct workers realized what had happened, which was the key event in Howell's testimony. He thinks it happened to around six ballots, but could possibly as high as 15.

These instances of human error, when election workers failed to fully prepare and label the copied ballots, were the first step that created the potential for a very small number of votes to be counted twice during the recount -- or in some cases the opposite occurring, and the vote not counted at all. This was due in large part to the rules that both campaigns had agreed to in conducting the recount, for how to handle these ballots, and which the Coleman campaign has since declared to have been improper and illegal.

However, my own observation after speaking to Isenhart is that this doesn't really redeem Team Coleman. If anything, it shows just how sloppy and reckless they've been in making their case.

Read More →

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) is now making a very interesting threat to his national party: If you keep trying to force me into retirement, I'll just resign -- and hand the seat to the Democrats.

Bunning reportedly said at a campaign fundraiser in Washington that the rumors being spread about his possible retirement, or of a potential Republican primary challenger, have been hindering his fundraising efforts. "I would get the last laugh," Bunning said, according to three sources speaking to the paper. "Don't forget Kentucky has a Democrat governor."

Bunning has previously threatened to sue the NRSC if he gets a primary challenger. If he were to take this revenge on them through this particular method, that would immediately bring the Democrats to 59 seats. Add in an Al Franken victory in the Minnesota election dispute, and you now have 60 seats -- the filibuster-proof majority.

One of the Courier-Journal's sources was clearly worried: "It's not because he's old and senile -- he's always been like that. He'll tell you what he thinks."

Late Update: Upon further reflection, it occurs to me that Bunning is a brilliant strategist, if this is indeed true. It's the political equivalent of nuclear brinksmanship, with the threat of mutually-assured destruction as a safety mechanism against widespread war and conflict.

One of the interesting things at CPAC is the extensive Bush bashing. Newt Gingrich, this morning, attacked the "Bush-Obama" policies on bailouts and stimulus. John Bolton attacked Bush's policies on Iran and North Korea. Not surprisingly, Ron Paul took extensive shots at Bush. (He also fired at broadside at U.S. entry--in World War I.) I guess we shouldn't be shocked that conservatives are putting distance between themselves and the unpopular former president. What is surprising is that there are no shots at John McCain for his campaign or his moderate positions on climate change and immigration. It's all about Bush. I have a video coming up soon with Grover Norquist in which he offers some thoughts on the topic.

It looks like Bobby Jindal's staff has been trying to do some damage limitation on that phony Katrina story -- with some help from Politico. But it's blowing up in their faces.

Picking up on an earlier post at Daily Kos, we wrote a post yesterday that raised questions about a key anecdote in Bobby Jindal's big Tuesday night speech.

You can watch the key excerpt here, but here's the transcript:

During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office I'd never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: 'Well, I'm the Sheriff and if you don't like it you can come and arrest me!' I asked him: 'Sheriff, what's got you so mad?' He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go - when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn't go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, 'Sheriff, that's ridiculous.' And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: 'Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!' Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.

In our post, we reported -- among other red flags -- that we couldn't find any news reports that put Jindal on the ground in the affected area during the time when a boat rescue would have been needed. As we noted, we called Jindal's office twice before posting to ask them to verify the incident, but heard nothing back.

This morning, Politico's Ben Smith, noting that we and others had raised questions about Jindal's story, posted a response from the governor's chief of staff, Timmy Teepell:
It was in the days following the storm. Sheriff Lee was a hero who worked tirelessly to rescue those in danger, and he didn't take kindly to bureaucrats getting in his way.

That didn't really seem to clear things up either way -- indeed it admitted that it wasn't "during Katrina" as Jindal had originally said. Still, the headline of Smith's post characterized the statement as "stand[ing] by" the anecdote.

Team Jindal probably would have been wise to leave things there.

Instead, they went back to Smith, now telling him, in Smith's words, that Jindal "didn't imply" on Tuesday that the story "took place during the heat of a fight to release rescue boats." (Take 30 seconds to read Jindal's actual words, and you'll see that's flatly untrue -- but no matter.) Rather, Jindal spokeswoman Melissa Sellers told Smith, "It was days later .. Sheriff Lee was on the phone and the governor came down to visit him. It wasn't that they were standing right down there with the boats."

Smith added:
She said she thought Lee, who died in 2007, "was doing an interview" about the incident with the boats when the governor described him yelling into the phone.

In other words, Jindal only heard from Lee later that this had happened. He didn't actually see it happening and played no role in it himself. We posted a few hours ago, noting that Jindal's office had admitted the story was false.

But then things got weirder: Jindal's people went back for yet more.

Smith soon posted an update explaining that he had misunderstood Sellers earlier. According to Teepell, Smith now wrote, rescue efforts were in fact still underway when Jindal met with Lee. And Jindal overheard Lee yelling on the phone to justify a decision he had previously made, not giving an interview about the episode, as Sellers' earlier version had had it.

In fact, that whole thing about Jindal overhearing Lee giving an interview? It's now gone from Smith's post (though, thanks to the dangers of syndication, it remains here) as if Jindal's office never said it.

There's more. Amazingly, Sellers then argued to Smith that there is no difference between Jindal's original story as told Tuesday night, and the one her office finally settled on this afternoon. And even more amazingly, Smith added another update in which he transcribed that argument without comment, as if it were reasonable.

Then the capper: With Jindal's office now satisfied with the third iteration of its story -- a version that clearly acknowledged that the first version, told Tuesday night to millions, was false -- Teepell went back to Smith with the following comment:
"This is liberal blogger B.S. The story is clear."

And Smith, in yet another update, published it.

Good work all round!

Today I had the opportunity to speak with Dean Barkley, the Independence Party candidate who received 15% of the vote in the Minnesota Senate race, and he confirmed to me that if there is indeed a new election -- an idea that Norm Coleman has been floating -- he will be a candidate.

Barkley doesn't think a do-over will actually happen -- nor does he think it should happen -- and he traces the Coleman rhetoric to one reason. "Well that's probably because they're coming to the realization that they're gonna lose. It's that simple," said Barkley. "He's lost some pretty significant motions and decisions in court the last week, and I think he's coming to the realization that he's not gonna prevail in the finality. So obviously if you don't want to lose, you're gonna do everything you can to muddy up the waters."

But if it does happen, Barkley is in. "I wouldn't mind having another shot at the apple -- bring it on," Barkley told me. "If it was a do-over with everybody, not just Coleman and Franken. They seem to think they're the only two people with a stake in the outcome."

He added: "I might win it this time, after the behavior of those two."

Read More →

It's looking more and more like Senator David Vitter (R-LA), the staunch social conservative whose career became mired in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal in 2007, will have a very interesting re-election campaign on his hands for 2010, with yet another name being floated as a potential primary challenger.

Former Rep. John Cooksey, who ran for Senate in 2002 and came in third place with 14% in the multi-party open primary that Louisiana used at the time, is reportedly prepared to spend $200,000 of his own money on the race if a draft site shows him that he could get enough support.

Fun fact: Cooksey got in trouble during the 2002 cycle when he compared turbans to diapers, prompting the NRSC to recruit another Republican to get into the race against Dem Senator Mary Landrieu.

There are already two others who are considering getting into the GOP race, as well: Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who would be challenging Vitter from the standpoint of a Christian Right activist, and porno star Stormy Daniels, who would wage a campaign to highlight Vitter's personal hypocrisy.

Looks like Ken Lewis isn't so eager to reveal what he knows about those controversial Merrill bonuses.

ABC News reports that that the Bank of America CEO -- subpoenaed recently by investigators for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo -- refused to provide the AG's office with a list of which company execs got bonuses, and how much they were worth. (For good measure, ABC adds that Lewis traveled to New York for his testimony in a $50 million corporate jet. You can see video of Lewis' arrival here.)

In response, Cuomo's office issued a subpoena to B of A to turn over that information.

The session with Lewis was "ugly and combative," in ABC's paraphrase of New York officials.

Merrill CEO John Thain earlier refused to divulge similar details about the bonuses during his own sitdown with Cuomo's investigators -- claiming B of A had told him not to. But after the AG's office obtained a court order, he was more forthcoming.

We'll see whether the same thing happens with B of A. But for now, it looks like the Bush White House's approach to subpoenas -- that they're optional -- is becoming more widespread.

Your reporter tried to get a little private time with the former Massachusetts Governor but the throng around Mitt Romney was such that we wound up piggy backing on the interview of Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Here it is:

On "Radio Row" at the CPAC you'll find pols lined up to talk with conservative talk show hosts. After he stepped away from speaking with G. Gordon Liddy, TPM caught up with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay about where the GOP is heading and should head: