Washington Prowler

The Leaker as Plumber

A leading Democrat Watergate operative turns against Fred Thompson. Plus: Romney's picking at straws.

By 7.9.07

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QUESTION TIME
Scott Armstrong, former Democrat Watergate investigator, who many former colleagues on the Watergate Committee believe leaked inside information about the investigation to Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and then apparently parlayed those ties into a job as a Post reporter, wasn't happy enough with his 15 minutes of fame back in the 1970s. Now that his former colleague on the committee, former Sen. Fred Thompson is garnering some attention, Armstrong is elbowing his way back into the news.

Armstrong went public last week, claiming that Thompson had secretly been a mole for President Richard Nixon and the White House during his time as minority counsel to the Watergate Committee. Armstrong was apparently irked that Thompson was attempting to take credit for asking a question of former White House aide Alexander Butterfield that revealed to the public the existence of an Oval Office recording system.

Thompson learned of the system from witness interviews conducted by, among others, Armstrong and his GOP investigative counterparts. The Associated Press makes much of the fact that Thompson asked a question for which everyone on the committee already knew the answer.

"For the most part, there isn't a single witness that goes before a House of Senate committee who hasn't told us beforehand what he or she is going to say," says a current Judiciary Committee career staffer. "The Boston Globe and the Associated Press know this, but they treat the Watergate hearings like they were somehow different. Big surprise."

In fact, Woodward and Bernstein routinely reported ahead of time what Watergate investigators were discovering during the interview and interrogation process, sometimes breaking news that was bound by lawyer-client privilege. While Armstrong claims he was attempting to find a mole working for the White House, others were trying to find a mole working for the Washington Post.

"There were a number of us who were trying to figure out who was leaking to Woodward, and we never were able to find out," says a Washington, D.C. based lawyer, who back in the early 1970s served as a junior aide to one of the senators sitting on the committee. "Once everything was over and Armstrong went to work at the Post, it all made sense."

Perhaps the recent attempt for the spotlight wasn't such a smart thing, as it raises the specter of Armstrong's own background. He has a history of raising his profile, but then getting burned.

Back in 1985, Armstrong founded the National Security Archive, a group that was operated through the leftist Fund for Peace. The Archive encouraged the leaking of national security information to the public. Armstrong, according to insiders at the Ford Foundation, was too extreme politically for the foundation, which at the time was the Fund for Peace's key donor. Armstrong was pushed out.

Today, Armstrong is involved in another leftist group, the Information Trust. Again, its mission is the enabling of federal government leakers of classified information. Information Trust, according to Senate Intelligence Committee staff and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials, is believed to have played a critical role in the leaking of national security and intelligence data to the New York Times and Washington Post about the CIA's secret prisons that housed al Qaeda terrorists overseas. The organization also is believed to have assisted in the leaking of information on the SWIFT financial monitoring system out of the Treasury Department.

Given the organization's reputation and Armstrong's, it's not surprising that a Democrat mouthpiece like the Boston Globe would play this game on Thompson.

PICKING AT STRAWS
If you subtract the 100 or so "guests" former Gov. Mitt Romney brought with him to stuff the ballot box in Florida on Saturday night, Fred Thompson won another straw poll.

As Erick Erickson over at RedState pointed out on Saturday, Romney, struggling in the polls everywhere he isn't spending money on media buys, is reduced to also buying up straw polls to promote his candidacy.

He will have plunked down close to an estimated $5 million to make the Ames Republican Straw Poll in Iowa next month a personal political rally (no other major GOP candidate will be participating), and that includes outbidding by sometimes three times as much his nearest competitor for bus rentals to get his folks into Ames.

Romney did something similar over the weekend in Hollywood, Florida, at the Young Republicans convention there. Romney paid for the YR dinner, according to several YR board members, but with the proviso that the straw poll rules be changed so that anyone attending the dinner could vote (previously, only YR delegates voted in the straw poll).

Romney, and his on-site organizer, Jordan Sekulow, bused in about 100 Romney donors, all of whom appeared to exceed by at least 20 years the under-40 age requirement typically used as a guideline for YR membership.

"We're all young at heart," said one Romney backer, who happily submitted a ballot for Romney and claimed to be "younger than 70."

In the end, Romney won the straw poll with 168 votes. Fred Thompson, who made a surprise appearance at the YR luncheon earlier in the day, came in second with 103. Rudy Giuliani was far back in 3rd, with 37.

"I guess Governor Romney did need every one of those 100 tickets he used," said a YR board member. "This isn't one of our finer moments."

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