Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Murtha's Ethical Past and Present

Much is made by the media and the Democrats about Jack Murtha's heroic service in Vietnam, and his newfound and allegedly principled anti-war stance. Yesterday, I dealt with some of the likely motivations behind Murtha's recent fiery denunciations of the Iraq War, our soldier's morale and then his knee jerk accusations that our soldiers had murdered civilians in Haditha. Today, an astute reader, Lauren, provides a link whose sourcing from whom I liberally borrow, which may shed further light into the Congressman's motives for his posturing--as it appears that ethical problems may have caused him to generate a smokescreen.

Murtha's family ties to lobbying interests are now under investigation in the House after the 2005 appropriations bill, partially authored by Murtha, granted at least $9.5 million to at least four clients of a lobbying firm, KSA Consulting, where a former Murtha staffer and Murtha's own brother, Robert "Kit" Murtha are principals. And it matters because Murtha is the ranking member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, in prime position to dole out pork to individuals in the defense industry who have the right connections.

The first signs of trouble for Murtha came this time last year with this L.A. Times article copiously detailing KSA clients, their contacts with Murtha, and awards to them with Murtha's prints on them. And given that he believed that he was looking at the convening of an ethics probe per this article (which goes into further detail about Rep. Murtha's colorful ethical past), Murtha apparently decided to avoid an embarrassment, and work a very effective PR end-run in November by adopting a bombastic leftist stance on the Iraq war that made him wildly popular with the media. Politically clever and morally reprehensible, and were that the sum of Murtha's problems, it would be enough to disqualify him from opining as to the morality of the Iraq War. But we're not even close to being done, as Murtha's hands are unclean at least as far back as 1980.

Murtha was one of the several Members of Congress whose name became associated with the Abscam scandal. Abscam was an FBI sting which caught several Members of Congress and one Senator accepting bribes in a sting operation. Murtha was one of those targeted by the sting. And while he escaped prosecution, his refusal of bribe money was quite equivocal. In the FBI video that the CNS article links, Murtha can be heard saying "I'm not interested. I'm sorry--at this point." Then the CNS article notes that Murtha further states on a portion of the tape not provided that, "You know, we do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested, maybe I won't."

For those who aren't too clear on this, the right response when offered a bribe is an unambiguous refusal, not a wishy-washy response. The next thing is to walk out and pick up the phone to the FBI and report what just took place, which he also appears not to have done. But Murtha escaped prosecution and was cleared of House Ethics Committee punishment chiefly because of the work of former Rep. Don Bailey (D-PA) whom Murtha later faced and defeated in a primary challenge caused by redistricting.

Bailey declared himself to be Murtha's savior on the House Ethics Committee in 1980. But in 2002, Bailey wrote a letter to Murtha and then published it after Murtha's surrogates accused him of lying when Bailey revealed to a third party a few disclosures Murtha had made to him years before surrounding Absam and other ethical shortcomings. The bottom line of the letter is that Murtha admitted to Bailey (after Bailey defended him in the Ethics Committee) that he did not escape prosecution for Abscam because there was a belief in his innocence, but because he agreed to cooperate with the FBI. Further, Bailey implies that Murtha did not immediately and voluntarily report the bribe attempt to the FBI. But the major thrust of the letter deals with Murtha's award of two Purple Hearts. And Bailey claims that, based on Murtha's admissions to him, that the Hearts were improperly awarded.

The letter details a conversation where Murtha, in a moment of humility and relief after fearing for his legal and professional posterior, had a get-real moment with Bailey, admitting that at least one of his two purple hearts was undeserved, and that he went through improper channels to get them. That's a pretty heavy charge to level against someone, but very easy when the charge comes in the form of an admission in a very emotional expression of honesty.

Forgetting for just a moment that this calls into question Murtha's integrity, this account of allegedly unearned Purple Hearts strikes at the very heart of that which makes him most valuable to the Democrats--his record as a decorated veteran.

Bailey's motivation to lie is missing. Murtha was not a lightning rod in 2002. Further Bailey seems interested in clearing the air and the record after Murtha called him a liar (about Murtha's own record) rather than Bailey covering his own rear. These men were once friends. And it makes much more sense that Bailey is offering a sobering account of Murtha's ethical failures than Murtha being wrongly accused. And if Bailey is lying, then Murtha should not hesitate to produce every last document supporting the award of those Purple Hearts. Failing to do it, he is stripped of his political usefulness to the Democrats, left as just one more angry anti-war crank trying to generate some selfish political momentum and a smokescreen to minimize or avoid altogether publicity and damage from an embarrassing ethics inquiry.

So we have a man with a checkered ethical past. Most unfortunately, such a thing is not a rare find in Washington. But what I find most astounding is that this man, with an ongoing record of ethical troubles, puts himself on the front page of every national newspaper, using a military career with decorations of questionable merit as his platform, and inveighed against what he claims is someone else's dishonesty and failures. It speaks of breathtaking arrogance, stupidity, or a disturbing lack of shame as he looks upon his own anything-but-admirable record of professional misdeeds.

And if Murtha's war opposition and disgraceful accusations toward our soldiers were indeed done to put himself in a Majority Leader position and to squelch news of an ethics probe, as I believe they were, and if the claims which I mention here are as accurate as Don Bailey and CNS report, Rep. Murtha has much in the way of apologizing to do as he cleans out his office, dismissed for moral and ethical unfitness to hold it, capped off by a betrayal of American soldiers in harm's way in order to cover himself and get ahead within his party.

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