Washington Prowler

Memo Matters

Harkin and Harry. Plus: Schumer choppers at the bit.

By 4.11.05

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HARKIN AND HARRY
Late last week a staffer for Sen. Mel Martinez admitted to being the author of the infamous Terri Schiavo "talking points memo." Senator Martinez also reported late last week that he handed a copy of the memo to Sen. Tom Harkin. Martinez says that Harkin was the only person to whom he gave a copy of the memo. That memo, which gained a great deal of attention after a Senate source handed the document over to both the Washington Post and ABC News, was initially thought to be a Democratic dirty trick.

The Prowler reported two weeks ago that Senate Republican leadership staffers had traced the memo to the opposition research office of Democratic Senate leaders Harry Reid, where they believed Democratic staffers had taken a set of talking points posted on the website of the Traditional Values Coalition and created the memo from those talking points. It appeared that the TVC had shaped those talking points from a March 8 press release from the office of Sen. Martinez.

Now, it appears the Martinez staffer used the March 8 press release (which remains posted on the Senator's website), as the basis for the talking points memo that Martinez handed off to Senator Harkin. Martinez claims he did so unaware of the political strategy in the memo, and because he'd been working with Harkin on saving Schiavo.

Harkin has been silent about his role in the "talking points memo" controversy, though a staffer in his Washington office late Friday denied that his boss could have been the source for the Washington Post and ABC News. "He hasn't said anything, but he wasn't working against Senator Martinez on this one. I can't believe he would leak the memo, particularly at the stage of the debate when he got the memo, which would have been before the floor vote."

He may not have leaked the memo, but he at least went to Sen. Harry Reid about it. According to a Reid leadership source, Harkin gave Reid a heads-up about the memo, telling him about the language, as well as the ham-handed language about how the Schiavo controversy could be a political boon to Republicans. It isn't clear that Harkin gave Reid a copy.

"Reid knew about the memo. He talked about its existence with staff," says the Democratic leadership staffer. "I don't know that he had a copy on March 18th, when this thing started erupting, but Reid was consulted about it."

Some Republicans now believe that it was Reid who tipped off the media about the memo's existence, and that the media went to Harkin and his staff. At one point, the Washington Post could not provide an original copy of the memo, perhaps because while it had been told about it, it had not yet received a copy.

While it is clear that the Martinez office was the source of the memo, questions remain. For example, Why, when it now is clear that the Washington Post and ABC News both got tipped to the memo by Democrats, did both initially report that the memo was being handed out by Republican leaders to Republicans?

"By now, the press ought to know that Reid will say just about anything to get what he wants, and Harkin is no better," says a Republican leadership staffer. "People forget that Harkin might have been right on Schiavo, but he is not above getting down in the trenches and playing dirty for his party."

CHOPPER CHUCK
Why was Sen. Charles Schumer so public in his attack on fellow Democrat Sen. Chris Dodd's attempt to steal a $6.1 billion Marine One helicopter contract from a New York State defense contractor? Because Schumer was feeling pinched by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

For decades, Connecticut-based Sikorsky was the builder of the President's helicopter, Marine One. But Lockheed recently won the contract to build the new version of the helicopter. The new Marine One will be built at a plant in upstate New York, and stands to create almost 1,000 new jobs.

Schumer, though, angered Lockheed and upstate Democrats when word leaked out that he had not been interested in attending the announcement for the contract award out of concern for public backlash if Lockheed lost the bid to Sikorsky. Neither he, nor Republican Governor George Pataki, expressed interest in attending the announcement with Lockheed employees at the upstate Oswego plant.

Senator Clinton, on the other hand, told Lockheed she would join employees at the plant regardless of the good or bad news. "Schumer found himself outflanked again by Clinton," says a Democratic staffer. "He initially didn't make the effort with this issue, and now he's playing catch up."

Dodd attempted to shift the funding for the Marine One back to Sikorsky through an amendment on a foreign spending bill last week. Dodd's amendment would have barred any companies with ties to terrorist-sponsoring states from producing components for Marine One. Lockheed has several European partners in the Marine One project, including at least one that had done some business with Iran in the past. Schumer blocked the Dodd amendment by putting a hold on the entire piece of legislation. He then promptly held a press conference and his staff sent out more than 300 press releases to local New York media outlets.

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