Washington Prowler

Democrat Dirty Tricks

One of them comes back to haunt a leading House liberal. But who gave him the okay? Also: Deciding Bush's travels will cost him.

By 5.16.02

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AN ADMISSIBLE ADMISSION
Rep. James McDermott acknowledged in court papers last month that he leaked to two reporters a recording made of a cell phone call between Rep. John Boehner and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Dick Armey and Rep. Tom DeLay. The conversation between the House leadership included how best to spin the expected House Ethics Committee report on Gingrich's fundraising tactics for non-House related projects.

A Florida couple using a scanner intercepted the December 1996 conference call, most likely picking up the signal from Boehner's cell phone. The couple then traveled to Washington, D.C. and handed the tape over to McDermott, a liberal Democrat from Washington state and then member of the House Ethics Committee, who says he listened to the tape, considered it to be of significant public interest, and then leaked its contents to two Capitol Hill reporters.

McDermott's admission comes in filings related to Boehner's lawsuit accusing McDermott of violating a federal wiretapping law barring people from disclosing information they know was obtained by illegal intercepting of a "wire, oral or electronic communication." McDermott had at times denied he was the source of the leak, and been coy on other occasions about his role in the matter. But he has repeatedly denied that he broke any laws. And he is probably pretty sure of that because, according to several Democratic House leadership staffers, more people than just McDermott heard the tape before it was leaked -- specifically, House Democratic leaders Dick Gephardt and David Bonior.

"I know that Gephardt and Bonior heard it before McDermott leaked it," says one congressional staffer. "They told McDermott to talk to Democratic counsel about whether possessing the tape was illegal. Then they wanted to know what the legal ramifications might be if it was leaked. Everyone seemed to understand at the time this was a hot tape."

"This wasn't just Jim. It was about the House Democratic leadership trying to embarrass Newt and get a leg up," says another staffer. "McDermott wouldn't do anything like this if others above him didn't also know."

Gephardt and Bonior and other Democratic leaders have repeatedly denied they knew anything about the tape before it was leaked. Boehner's lawsuit is being adjudicated in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. The couple who made the original tape were fined $500 for illegally intercepting the call.

OUT OF BOUNDS
When Bill Clinton was in the White House, he enjoyed playing at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club out near Manassas, Virginia, where buddy Vernon Jordan is a member. But he wouldn't always use Marine One, the presidential chopper, to get there. He was known to have his motorcade drive him out the 50 or so miles to the course, on Interstate 66. The result was hundreds of thousands in overtime that state and local Virginia police forces had to pay their deputies and troopers to monitor the highway off ramps and on ramps along the presidential duffer's route. Because the White House and Secret Service refused to reimburse them for the trouble, these overtime costs were ultimately borne by Arlington County and Fairfax County, Virginia, as well as the Virginia State Police. On several occasions, House and Senate Republicans raised this matter of presidential security costs for personal time, only to be shot down by Democrats who accused them of being petty and partisan.

But now that a Republican is in the White House, Democrats see things differently. According to a political analyst inside the Democratic National Committee, the party has asked House and Senate members to request an expedited GAO report on the costs of President Bush's trips on behalf of Republican candidates around the country.

"Basically, Democrats are going to demand that the Republicans cover the costs a Bush trip imposes on state and local governments," the DNC analyst explains. "That should drain a little more soft money out of the RNC's coffers.

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