NO PASSING THE TORCH
Last Thursday's New York Times ran a story saying that the Department of Justice was investigating the appointment of former Attorney General John Ashcroft as a monitor of a deferred prosecution of Zimmer Holdings, a medical supply company in Indiana that was investigated by U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in New Jersey. The Department of Justice quickly released a statement that there was no investigation of any kind under way.
So how did the New York Times get it so wrong? Apparently, bad information from its sources on the House Judiciary Committee and inside the offices of New Jersey Democrat Reps. Frank Pallone and Bill Pascrell, Jr.
In fact, based on information obtained by House Republican leaders, the Republican caucus is mulling whether to file for an ethics investigation into the actions of Pallone and Pascrell and their staffs in pushing the Ashcroft story.
"When you look at the record, both Pallone and Pascrell have been taking money from some of the same people in the same industry that Ashcroft is trying to keep clean," says a member of the House Republican leadership. "We're not talking about a couple of donor checks, we're talking hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars for both men."
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Pallone, who chairs the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, received over $2,008,729 --$1,201,647 from health PACs and $807,082 from donors identified as having ties to the healthcare industry. In fact, to date, with more than $350,000 banked, Pallone is the 10th highest recipient in the House of healthcare dollars from donors for the 2008 re-election cycle. Pascrell is the 6th highest, with almost half a million banked ($462,009).
And buried in those donor records is the point that may have the House Ethics Committee looking into the Jersey boys:
Consultants to the company that Ashcroft is monitoring, Zimmer Inc., have been donors to both New Jersey House members. According to Federal Election Commission filings, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, which consults for Zimmer, has a PAC that gave $23,000 in political contributions to Pallone between 1999 and 2007 and $2,000 to Pascrell for the 2000 election cycle.
Interestingly, neither Pallone nor Pascrell has asked the House Judiciary Committee to investigate their former colleague and political benefactor, former U.S. Senator Robert G. Torricelli, who chose to not seek re-election in 2002 amid rumors of campaign finance improprieties.
Torricelli has made a fortune from the same court-ordered oversight jobs that Ashcroft was given, though the circumstances of Torricelli's gigs are a bit more suspect. For example, the New York Times reported in 2003 that "The Torch" has made millions from overseeing a court mandated environmental clean-up job by Honeywell International in Jersey City, New Jersey. Torricelli personally receives at least $350 an hour from Honeywell, and the company is also required to pay the fees of all of the consultants and outside lawyers and experts that Torricelli hires.
Torricelli got the job, one of several he currently holds, from a federal judge Torricelli had recommended for nomination, and whose wife worked for then-Senator Jon Corzine.
"We asked if they wanted the Torricelli deal to be included in any Judiciary investigation or hearings," says a Republican aide on the House Judiciary Committee of Pallone and Pascrell. "And you can guess the response. They don't want to touch that case with a ten foot pole."
Finally, the Pallone shot across U.S. Attorney Christie's bow may be more personal than most people realize. The Newark Star Ledger reported back in 2006 that Christie had reportedly impaneled a federal grand jury that was investigating whether Pallone had been the beneficiary of improper and potentially illegal campaign finance actions by officials at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). As Josh Margolin and Ted Sherman reported in the Star Ledgerof February 19, 2006, in a story headlined "Jury is Probing Tales at UMDNJ of a Slush fund":
According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the ongoing federal investigation, Louis Copeland -- manager of government relations in the government affairs department -- told the grand jury he was instructed to contribute $1,000 to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.), a member of the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Copeland testified that after he made the contribution, he was repaid in cash, those sources said.
Documents obtained by the newspaper show UMDNJ's Washington lobbying firm, JordenBurt LLP, had urged a show of support for Pallone at a Sept. 27, 2004, event in New Brunswick. "His support has been invaluable in establishing bipartisan support for many of UMDNJ's projects," noted a memo from the firm.
"When you get down to it, this is classic Jersey politics," says the member of the Republican House leadership. "It looks like we have House members trying to 'do right' by their many benefactors, but they just don't understand how dirty they themselves are going to get in trying to smear a good man like John Ashcroft."
Less than six weeks after he signed on as the face of the national campaign, Huckabee senior political adviser Ed Rollins may be pushed out the door, according to Huckabee aides who are just beginning to sign on with the former Arkansas governor.
"[Rollins] stepped all over our victory narrative in Iowa with that stunt he pulled in the diner with that blogger," says one of the newcomers to the campaign, referring the Rollins overheard conversation in Iowa diner by a blogger, where he claimed that the Huckabee campaign would go negative in South Carolina against its competitors. "If there is a time to make some changes, it will be after South Carolina. We have lots of people lining up to help right now."
Perhaps that's a reference to political pundit Jim Pinkerton, who on Friday announced he was joining the Huckabee campaign in a senior position.
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