Washington Prowler

The Real Deal

Fred Thompson continues to impress. Alberto Gonzales in trouble -- and what about the Deputy A.G.? What Ailes Democrats and media. Reagan Romney.

By 3.12.07

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"Anyone who doubts that [former Sen.] Fred [Thompson] isn't the real deal needs to look at his performance on Sunday and rethink things," says a senior Republican National Committee official. "You can't watch him or read the transcript and wonder what the dynamic would be like with him in the race."

He's referring to Thompson's appearance on Fox News Sunday, where, unlike candidates like Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain, Thompson has no problem addressing where he stood on issues from abortion, gun control, and campaign finance reform.

"It isn't just Fred," says the RNC official. "You see and hear [former Gov.] Jeb [Bush] and you realize what the GOP field is missing. You see those two guys and you want to vote for them. With most of the guys in the race now you just feel like eventually you're going to have to vote for them simply out of party loyalty."

Thompson has no campaign staff in place and is not seeking support from his former colleagues in the Senate, despite published rumors that former Sen. Howard Baker was on Capitol Hill last week seeking support for him. "Thompson wouldn't do that to McCain and [Sam] Brownback and other former colleagues," says a Republican Senate leadership aide. "My understanding is that some members asked Baker about what he thought Thompson was doing, and Baker answered honestly: he didn't know. Baker was not pushing Thompson up here."

ALBERTO IN TROUBLE

"One day there will be a new attorney general, maybe sooner rather than later," Sen. Arlen Specter told reporters last week, in referring to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Word out of Specter's office is that in the wake of the "Slaughter of the Gonzalez Eight," those U.S. Attorneys recently forced out, and the internal report of FBI errors under the USA Patriot Act, the senator is quietly seeking support from his Republican and Democrat colleagues to call for Gonzales's resignation.

That push has already begun. On Sunday, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer called for Gonzales to resign.

We're hearing that Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are also looking at Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who has been strangely silent on a number of issues of late. McNulty, who previously served as U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Virginia and in the Department of Justice during first President George H.W. Bush's administration, is believed by many to have played a key role in the forced resignation of the U.S. Attorneys.

McNulty further fanned the flames of outrage among conservatives by insisting that many of those pushed out the door at DOJ were removed for cause, namely, poor management evaluations.

"It's becoming increasingly apparent that the long knives that took out those U.S. Attorneys were coming from McNulty's office," says a Senate leadership staffer, who points to recent revelations that the DAG's chief of staff, Michael Elston, made what some in Washington interpreted to be threatening or intimidating phone calls to the outgoing USAs. Elston has denied that those types of calls were made.

"McNulty doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut and his head down," says a Republican staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The amount of harm he has done to his own reputation by impugning the reputations of others is remarkable."

McNulty has made no secret within his circle of political allies that he has larger ambitions than being Gonzales's deputy.

"If I had to guess, he views himself as the logical replacement for Gonzales should he be forced out," says an acquaintance who says he's familiar with McNulty's thinking. "You have Schumer calling for Gonzales to resign, and who's close to Schumer? Former DAG Jim Comey and [special prosecutor and U.S. Attorney] Pat Fitzgerald. Both of them are close to McNulty, and if you look at who got pushed out, they're USAs who weren't part of the Comey/Fitzgerald/McNulty crowd."

McNulty is also thought to be interested in running for elective office in Virginia, where he would run as a law and order Republican. "But being associated with this debacle at DOJ isn't going to help him one bit," says the Senate leadership aide. "Some people thought Attorney General [John] Ashcroft was a problem. I don't think there is a single Republican in Washington who isn't wishing that Ashcroft and his people weren't back there now. This never would have happened on their watch."

Rep. Henry Waxman, according to House Oversight Committee sources, has asked investigators on his staff to look into the USA firings, the role of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys and the office the Deputy Attorney General, and for ways to tie personnel in those offices to other potential investigations they have been examining since 2004, including the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Gonzales is also suffering from a sub-par press office, where in yesterday's Washington Post, his deputy director for public affairs, Brian Roehrkasse, claimed that Gonzales had begun initiatives that had seen "a tenfold increase in child-predator cases, a doubling of human-trafficking cases and a doubling of gang-related convictions by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives."

Only problem: all of those programs were initiated under former Attorney General Ashcroft's leadership.

FOX TROTS
Nevada State Democrat Party chairman Tom Collins had already made the decision to pull out of the Fox News co-sponsored presidential debate to be held in his state in August.

Late Friday, Collins and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, released a letter -- via MoveOn.org -- announcing that the state party was insulted by remarks made by News Corp executive Roger Ailes and was no longer participating in the Democrat presidential debate. Fox News was co-sponsoring the event.

According to sources inside CNN and MSNBC, officials of the state party made calls to both networks on Monday, March 5, inquiring if there was interest on the part of either cable netlet to be involved in the debate should "negotiations" with Fox News break down.

"They asked specifically about Keith Olbermann as the moderator," says the MSNBC source. "They said that discussions with Fox weren't working out."

One problem: the discussions between Fox News and the state party had long been completed, and a deal announced.

Last Thursday night at the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation Awards dinner in Washington, D.C., Ailes joked that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama "was on the move" and that President Bush was going to have to ask the Pakistanis to find him.

Democrats in Washington and Nevada claimed Ailes was comparing Obama to a terrorist, when it was clear from the joke that President Bush was the butt of the humor.

"This was just a convenient ruse for them to get out of the debate that was causing them heartburn on the far left of the party," says a Senate Democrat leadership staffer. "Reid and Collins have been talking about getting out from under the deal for at least a week. Reid was tired of getting asked about it."

Incidentally, some reporters were happy not to hear the remarks that Ailes delivered at last week's Radio and TV News awards dinner, where Ailes happened to be one of those honored.

A number of reporters from the Associated Press and Reuters who were present at the event used a standing ovation to sneak out of the ballroom before Ailes spoke. "He's not a journalist and I'm not going to waste my time," said one reporter for a wire service, as he stood outside the room. "I need to find a drink, anyway."

The mini-walkout was ironic, given that Ailes's well-received speech was on the need for greater diversity of thought in newsrooms.

REAGANIZING
Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney wants to remind people of the golden age of GOP glory, the administration of President Ronald Reagan. So no surprise, then, that he is attempting to surround himself with just about anyone connected to that era. In the past two weeks, he has dined privately with Jack Kemp in Washington and met privately in Boston with several former Reagan White House aides whom he is attempting to woo onto his campaign.

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