EXCLUSIVE: Wasserman Schultz’s ‘Islamophobia’ Claim Prompts Angered Marine To Go Public On Awans

Luke Rosiak
August 24, 2017

A Marine who provided key evidence in the FBI case against Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s former IT employee said he is appalled by her claim that Islamophobia led U.S. Capitol Police to frame the former staffer.

Andre Taggart alerted the FBI to damaged hard drives and a cache of electronics tied to Imran Awan, a former IT specialist for dozens of House Democrats. Awan is the central figure in a criminal investigation of suspected procurement fraud and violations of the congressional IT network, including diverting data to an off-site server.

The same day Taggart tipped the FBI, two of Imran Awan’s relatives went on the record to say they think he would do anything for money.

Taggart told The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group Wednesday that “it was amazing” that Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, describes Imran as a victim of religious discrimination by law enforcement. Taggart rented the Northern Virginia home of Awan, who had frantically moved out after learning authorities were onto him.

“It pisses me off,” said Taggart, a black Marine who says he votes Democrat. He believes Wasserman Schultz is crying wolf and devaluing the meaning of genuine discrimination, while also exposing herself and the nation to risks.

Wasserman Schultz claimed Imran Awan is being “persecuted” by the Capitol Police and FBI after she was told that he is suspected of “data transfer violations,” even as she lamented the seriousness of the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Wasserman Schultz was chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee when its IT network was hacked in 2016.

“I just want to get these [guys] locked up and exposed and now,” Taggart told TheDCNF. “The people who facilitated them should also be locked up, as far as I’m concerned.”

TheDCNF cited Taggart without naming him in a July report that the FBI had seized the hard drives and electronics. Imran attempted the next day to board a flight to Pakistan, but was arrested by the FBI at Dulles International Airport.

Taggart said he made the decision to no longer be anonymous because he is concerned that his fellow Democrats are making a grave mistake by ignoring a scandal with serious criminal and national security implications.

“I’m absolutely disgusted with everything going on in the country right now, mostly because of right-wing conservatives, but with respect to this situation, political affiliation is irrelevant,” Taggart said.

Imran Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, were indicted Aug. 17, 2017, on four charges related to sending money to Pakistan fraudulently in an apparent attempt to escape from a broader, ongoing investigation into cybersecurity and theft issues.

“Him, his wife, his brother, all working down there — there’s no way they could do this without help. If we can drag Trump and his wingnuts through the mud for the Russia influence that they are having, then it’s only fair that we also expose this s–t,” Taggart said.

After Imran Awan realized the hard drives and electronics had been left in the house he rented to Taggart, Awan threatened to sue him to get the equipment back. Awan also listed the house for sale shortly after signing a multi-year lease with Taggart, the latter said.

“They took advantage of us,” Taggart said, describing a series of financially aggressive and dishonest interactions he said he had with Imran.

Taggart said he believes the Awans would “do anything for money,” the same term others, including relatives, have used in describing the couple.

Wasserman Schultz has rejected concerns about Imran as “absurd” and “laughable,” even though he had access to all of her congressional emails and files, as well as her iPad password, is suspected by police of cybersecurity violations, and had long been accused of defrauding people for financial gain.

Also on Wednesday, an Awan relative, Syed Ahmed, told The Daily Mail that “for the sake of money they would have done anything… [Imran] might have been selling this information.”

Evidence suggests that the Awans were running a ghost employee scheme, collecting $6 million in salaries from taxpayers even though only a few of the six people on the House payroll actually performed IT work. Congressional offices signed off on those time-sheets for unknown reasons.

Imran Awan’s brother Abid operated a Virginia car dealership while being paid $160,000 annually working for multiple House Democrats. The dealership received $100,000 from an Iranian fugitive linked to Hezbollah, according to court records.

Amjad Khan, a former business partner, told the Daily Mail that “[Abid] would just go in [to the Hill] a couple times a week for a couple of hours, just to show his face. On paper, I think [Abid and Imran] were both working, but in reality only one was working, the other was running the [car] business.”

Khan added that “when he would go to D.C., [Abid] would spend $3,000 or $4,000 a night.”

Abid worked for New York Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke during a time when $120,000 in IT equipment went missing from that office. Clarke’s chief of staff signed a form ensuring the missing equipment wouldn’t become a problem with congressional auditors. Clarke’s office did not tell police at the time the form was signed, and Abid remained employed for six more months.

Clarke and her staff repeatedly refused to explain, even though the money would have been enough to hire four staffers to provide services for her Brooklyn constituents.

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Trump and McConnell Locked in a Cold War, Threatening the G.O.P. Agenda

Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin
August 22, 2017

The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility, complicated by the position of Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, in Mr. Trump’s cabinet, according to more than a dozen people briefed on their imperiled partnership. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and Mr. McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

The rupture between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell comes at a highly perilous moment for Republicans, who face a number of urgent deadlines when they return to Washington next month. Congress must approve new spending measures and raise the statutory limit on government borrowing within weeks of reconvening, and Republicans are hoping to push through an elaborate rewrite of the federal tax code. There is scant room for legislative error on any front.

A protracted government shutdown or a default on sovereign debt could be disastrous — for the economy and for the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Yet Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell are locked in a political cold war. Neither man would comment for this story. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, noted that the senator and the president had “shared goals,” and pointed to “tax reform, infrastructure, funding the government, not defaulting on the debt, passing the defense authorization bill.”

Still, the back-and-forth has been dramatic.

In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, then berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

In off hand remarks, Mr. McConnell has expressed a sense of bewilderment about where Mr. Trump’s presidency may be headed, and has mused about whether Mr. Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s elections and beyond, according to people who have spoken to him directly.

While maintaining a pose of public reserve, Mr. McConnell expressed horror to advisers last week after Mr. Trump’s comments equating white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., with protesters who rallied against them. Mr. Trump’s most explosive remarks came at a news conference in Manhattan, where he stood beside Ms. Chao. (Ms. Chao, deflecting a question about the tensions between her husband and the president she serves, told reporters, “I stand by my man — both of them.)

Mr. McConnell signaled to business leaders that he was deeply uncomfortable with Mr. Trump’s comments: Several who resigned advisory roles in the Trump administration contacted Mr. McConnell’s office after the fact, and were told that Mr. McConnell fully understood their choices, three people briefed on the conversations said.

Mr. Trump has also continued to badger and threaten Mr. McConnell’s Senate colleagues, including Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, whose Republican primary challenger was praised by Mr. Trump last week.

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If you’re an immigrant who was unlawfully brought to America as a child, you might be one of the more than 600,000 young adults registered under DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. President Trump has flip-flopped on whether he will undo the executive action that then-President Obama used to create the program, but now Texas has threatened to sue if Trump doesn’t undo the action. What’s the future look like for DACA? McClatchy White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez explains. Natalie Fertig –McClatchy

Trump aides plot a big immigration deal — that breaks a campaign promise

Anita Kumar
August 22,2017

Donald Trump’s top aides are pushing him to protect young people brought into the country illegally as children — and then use the issue as a bargaining chip for a larger immigration deal — despite the president’s campaign vow to deport so-called Dreamers.

The White House officials want Trump to strike an ambitious deal with Congress that offers Dreamers protection in exchange for legislation that pays for a border wall and more detention facilities, curbs legal immigration and implements E-verify, an online system that allows businesses to check immigration status, according to a half-dozen people familiar with situation, most involved with the negotiations.

The group includes former and current White House chiefs of staff, Reince Priebus and John Kelly, the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who both serve as presidential advisers, they said. Others who have not been as vocal publicly about their stance but are thought to agree include Vice President Mike Pence, who as a congressman worked on a failed immigration deal that called for citizenship, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, a Democrat who serves as director of the National Economic Council.

“They are holding this out as a bargaining chip for other things,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman with the Federation for American Reform, a group that opposes protecting Dreamers and is in talks with the administration.

On the other side, a smaller group — including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his former aides, Stephen Miller, who serves as Trump’s senior policy adviser, and Rick Dearborn, White House deputy chief of staff — opposes citizenship, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

 “He getting conflicting advice inside, and that’s caused hesitation,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations of Numbers USA, a group that opposes protecting Dreamers and is in talks with the administration. “Obviously president doesn’t want to make a decision but he has to.”

Miller was ordered not to brief the president on the issue in recent months, according to two of the people. A former campaign and transition aide, Miller has briefed Trump many times on Dreamers so his views are not unknown, but the president has a tendency to side with the last person who speaks to him and Kelly, who became chief of staff three weeks ago, has kept a tight watch on who gets to talk to Trump.

“The president knows where Stephen Miller stands,” said a former Trump adviser familiar with the situation who asked for anonymity. “It was discussed in the primary and general election. A new conversation is not going to change anything.”

The 5-year-old program launched by the Obama administration and known as DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — protects young people brought into the country illegally as children by their undocumented parents from deportation and allows them to attain work permits.

Ten states, led by Texas, have threatened to sue the U.S. government if it does not end the program by Sept. 5. They sent a letter, signed by nine Republican attorneys general and one Republican governor, from states including Kansas, South Carolina and Idaho. Another 20 states, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra urged Trump to refuse that request.

During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly said he would end the deferred deportation policy, calling it “amnesty” and an abuse of the president’s powers. But after inauguration, he not only failed to act but pledged to treat Dreamers with “great heart.”

“DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me,” he said in February. “To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids, in many cases not in all cases. In some of the cases they’re having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly.”

Some Trump aides express similar compassion for the Dreamers — roughly 800,000 immigrants currently protected by the Obama-era program — while others fear opposing the popular policy could lead to backlash with voters, business executives and donors.

The administration has continued to allow Dreamers to apply for the program and even renew their permits — at nearly the rate of the Obama administration — much to the dismay of some of his own supporters who want him to make good on his campaign promise.

Groups that support stronger enforcement are nervous about what they describe as “strong forces” from within the White House and throughout the administration that support protections for Dreamers. “That is why the anti-amnesty forces are very nervous about it,” said a source familiar with the discussions. “What’s going to happen?”

In June, the administration rescinded another Obama immigration program — Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, often called DAPA — that allowed parents in the country illegally with children who were citizens or legal residents to be receive renewable work permits.

The program — which could have affected up to 4 million people — had never gone into effect after an appeals court halted its implementation. Kelly, then the secretary of Homeland Security, decided to rescind the DAPA memo “because there is no credible path forward to litigate the currently enjoined policy.”

That decision signaled to advocates on both sides of the issue that while Trump plans to proceed with some of the immigration proposals that powered his 2016 campaign he may not want to rescind DACA.

“When they did not pull the (DACA) memo, many took it a positive sign of the president’s intention as it relates to Dreamers,” said Rob Jesmer, a Republican strategist who has long sought an immigration overhaul and works with FWD.us, an initiative created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that is pushing to save DACA. “Frankly, I think his comments and actions show he wants to find a fair and equitable solution.”

Numerous polls this year show support for immigration at record highs with more Americans, including those who backed Trump, favoring a path to legal status for immigrants rather than deportations. Seventy-eight percent of registered voters said Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the United States, according to a Morning Consult poll in April.

Notably, that includes 73 percent of Trump voters.

Trump and his aides are eager for accomplishments while his presidency has been bogged down in multiple controversies, including investigations into the Trump team’s connections to Russian operations that meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s smart for them to use it,” said a Republican who is close to the White House. “If they could use it for a win, that would be good thing.”

Republicans, who control both the White House and Congress for the first time in 10 years, failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — their top priority — and a major immigration deal could be even more difficult.

While Republicans leaders have expressed willingness to begin spending money on a border wall, other pieces of what the White House wants, including curbing legal immigration and implementing e-verify, are unpopular. Some Republicans think that the White House is overly optimistic about the deal it can get done, especially after Trump spent August openly berating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

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August 21, 2017


There is more unrest in Charlottesville as city council’s regular meeting abruptly ended.

A protest erupted inside Charlottesville city council chambers August 21 as councilors held their first meeting since deadly violence played out in city streets on August 12.

The crowd screamed at councilors and eventually took over the meeting, which caused the police that were present to intervene.

The emotional crowd vows to see the statue taken down, even if it is by their own hands.

At one point, councilors and city staff fled the room as protestors jumped up where the council sits. Two protestors held a banner saying “Blood on your Hands.”

“You had multiple opportunities to intervene and you did not intervene one time.  We told you exactly what you needed to do and you did nothing,” said an unidentified man at the meeting.

The people in the crowd demanded answers about recent events that occurred in the city.

“You want to call yourself the capital of resistance the resistance was the medics that saved lives. The resistance are the citizens who are identifying the perpetrators of hate crimes,” said Emily Gorcenski.

They wanted someone held accountable.

“Somebody has to be held accountable not only for the blood of those three lives but for every injury that happened this past weekend.  And I’ll be damned if I see another one of my brothers or sisters get beaten or die,” said Don Gathers.

Charlottesville police officers flooded council chambers in an attempt to keep the crowd calm. Three people were hauled out of the chambers and arrested.

“You can drag citizens out of here. Your officers and look at the officers you brought here tonight versus who is usually here. What kind of statement are you all making?” said Nikuyah Walker.

The crowd called for the three people arrested to be released. At one point vice-mayor Wes Bellamy assured the crowd that those individuals would be released.

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Joe Hoft
August 20, 2017

It’s Now Official – No President in US History has Cut More from the US Federal Debt for a Longer Period of Time than President Donald J. Trump.

President Trump now can claim the longest and largest decrease of US Federal Debt in US history.

When President Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017 the amount of US Federal Debt owed both externally and internally was over $19 Trillion at $19,947,304,555,212.  As of August 17th the amount of US Debt had decreased by more than $100 Billion to $19,845,188,460,167.

No President in US history has ever cut the amount of US Debt by this amount and no President has resided over a debt cut like this ever. 

History buffs may say that this is incorrect because President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush oversaw US Debt cuts over a period of a few years after the Republican Congress led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich forced Clinton into signing a balanced budget.  We thought the same, but our analysis determined that this is actually not correct.

Congress did push Clinton into signing a balanced budget but the amount of US debt during this period actually increased.  This is confirmed through data maintained by the US Treasury at Treasurydirect.gov.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has performed audits since 1997 of the US Debt amounts outstanding.  In their analysis they show that when accounting for US Debt Held by the Public and US Intergovernmental Debt Holdings, the amount of US Debt has increased every year since their audits began.

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Maya Rhodan
August 21, 2017

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday addressed the notion of “fake news” — a phrase often appropriated and used incorrectly by President Donald Trump — distancing himself from Trump’s frequent use of the term.

“My view is that most news is not fake, but I do try to look at a variety of sources” McConnell said during a joint appearance with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Trump often dismisses wide swaths of the mainstream media as “fake news,” when the term in fact refers to fabricated news stories.

McConnell and Mnuchin appeared at a Chamber of Commerce event in Louisville, Kentucky, to discuss tax reform and other Republican priorities. It came after Trump thanked Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. for statements he made during an appearance Monday on Fox and Friends. Falwell said Trump “does not have a racist bone in his body.”

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Chuck Ross
August 17, 2017

A Missouri state senator said in a now-deleted Facebook post that she hopes President Donald Trump is assassinated.

Maria Chappelle-Nadal acknowledged on Thursday that she wrote a post which read: “I hope Trump is assassinated!”

She made the comment in an exchange with a left-wing activist who claimed that his cousin is a Secret Service agent.



Chappelle-Nadal confirmed to a reporter with St. Louis TV station KMOX that she posted the comment.

“I put something up on my personal Facebook page and it has now been deleted,” she said.

Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat, represents a district in a St. Louis suburb.

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Peter Hasson
August 15, 2017

CNN anchor Jake Tapper conceded in a recent interview that many of his peers in the media were slow to call out falsehoods from former President Obama because they were “much more supportive” of him.

“A lot of people on the left didn’t like it [when Tapper called out falsehoods from the president] before, and now they like it,” Tapper said in an interview with Rolling Stone published Tuesday morning.

“I don’t want to compare President Obama and President Trump on these issues because they’re different and the scale isn’t even remotely the same. But President Obama said things that weren’t true and got away with it more for a variety of reasons, and one is the media was much more supportive of him,” he added. “The Obama White House thought I was self-righteous and a huge pain in the ass.”

The first eight months of Trump’s presidency has been marked by a hostile relationship with the press. Tapper’s network, CNN, has had an especially adversarial relationship with Trump.

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Trump ‘seriously considering’ a pardon for ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio


Gregg Jarrett
August 14, 2017

EXCLUSIVE: President Trump may soon issue a pardon for Joe Arpaio, the colorful former Arizona sheriff who was found guilty two weeks ago of criminal contempt for defying a state judge’s order to stop traffic patrols targeting suspected undocumented immigrants. In his final years as Maricopa County sheriff, Arpaio had emerged as a leading opponent of illegal immigration.

“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” the president said Sunday, during a conversation with Fox News at his club in Bedminster, N.J. “He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.”

Trump said the pardon could happen in the next few days, should he decide to do so.

Arpaio, 85, was convicted by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton of misdemeanor contempt of court for willfully disregarding an Arizona judge’s order in 2011 to stop the anti-immigrant traffic patrols. Arpaio had maintained the law enforcement patrols for 17 months thereafter.

The man who built a controversial national reputation as “America’s toughest sheriff” admitted he prolonged his patrols, but insisted he did not intend to break the law because one of his former attorneys did not explain to him the full measure of restrictions contained in the court order.

He is expected to be sentenced on Oct. 5 and could face up to six months in jail. However, since he is 85 years old and has no prior convictions, some attorneys doubt he will receive any jail time.

Citing his long service as “an outstanding sheriff,” the president said Arpaio is admired by many Arizona citizens who respected his tough-on-crime approach.

Arpaio’s widely publicized tactics included forcing inmates to wear pink underwear and housing them in desert tent camps where temperatures often climbed well past 100 degrees Fahrenheit. He also controversially brought back chain gains, including a voluntary chain gang for women prisoners.

Civil liberties and prisoner advocates as well as supporters of immigrants’ rights have criticized Arpaio for years, culminating in his prosecution. He lost his bid for reelection last year.

“Is there anyone in local law enforcement who has done more to crack down on illegal immigration than Sheriff Joe?” asked Trump. “He has protected people from crimes and saved lives. He doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.”

Stopping the flow of undocumented immigrants across the southern U.S. border was a central theme of the president’s campaign. Arpaio endorsed Trump in January 2016.

Trump indicated he may move quickly should he decide to issue a presidential pardon. “I might do it right away, maybe early this week. I am seriously thinking about it.”

Trump could decide to await the outcome of an appeal by Arpaio’s lawyers who contend their client’s case should have been decided by a jury, not a judge.

In a statement after the verdict, his attorneys stated, “The judge’s verdict is contrary to what every single witness testified in the case. Arpaio believes that a jury would have found in his favor, and that it will.”

Reached Monday for reaction to the possible pardon, Arpaio expressed surprise that Trump was aware of his legal predicament.

“I am happy he understands the case,” he told Fox News. “I would accept the pardon because I am 100 percent not guilty.”

The former sheriff said he will continue to be a strong supporter of the president regardless of whether he receives a pardon. But he also voiced concern that a pardon might cause problems for Trump, saying, “I would never ask him for a pardon, especially if it causes heat. I don’t want to do anything that would hurt the president.”

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Senator’s pet issue: money and the power it buys


WASHINGTON — In the early 1970s, Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr., a young and intense Republican lawyer, strode into the political science class he taught at the University of Louisville.

He didn’t introduce himself to his students. He went straight to the chalkboard and scribbled.”I am going to teach you the three things you need to build a political party,” he said, and backed away to reveal the words: “Money, money, money.”

Three decades later, the teacher has mastered the lesson like few in history.

An extraordinary political fund-raiser, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has used his skill to put himself on the brink of a remarkable career achievement. If Republicans hold the Senate in the Nov. 7 elections, he is expected to succeed retiring Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee as majority leader.

McConnell’s rise to the top of Congress is testament to the power of money in modern politics. He has raised nearly $220 million over his Senate career; he spent the majority not on his own campaigns but on those of his GOP colleagues, who have rewarded him with power.

“He’s completely dogged in his pursuit of money. That’s his great love, above everything else,” said Marshall Whitman, who watched McConnell as an aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and as a Christian Coalition lobbyist.

A leader in the field of tapping the wealthy for campaign cash, McConnell also led the opposition against efforts to rein in such donations through campaign-finance reform — a fight that has taken him to the U.S. Supreme Court and put him toe-to-toe against another emerging Republican leader, presidential hopeful McCain.

A six-month examination of McConnell’s career, based on thousands of documents and scores of interviews, shows the nexus between his actions and his donors’ agendas. He pushes the government to help cigarette makers, Las Vegas casinos, the pharmaceutical industry, credit card lenders, coal mine owners and others.

Critics, including anti-poverty groups and labor unions, complain that McConnell has come to represent his affluent donors at the expense of Kentucky, the relatively poor state he is supposed to represent. They point, for example, to his support last year for a tough bankruptcy law, backed by New York banks that support him.

McConnell waves away all criticism of his fund-raising.

In a recent interview, he said he never allows money to influence him. His donors support him because they like his pro-business, conservative philosophy, he said, so it’s hardly proof of corruption when he does what they want.

Supporters say, furthermore, that Kentucky benefits from having McConnell at the top, regardless of criticism over how he got there. McConnell uses his clout to steer millions of dollars to projects back home, said Steven Law, the senator’s former fund-raising aide, now top deputy to McConnell’s wife, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Once he secured his own Senate seat, McConnell skillfully forwarded money to GOP senators who needed it, building a path to what he truly wanted — the No. 1 job.

McConnell is hardly alone in his quest for cash. Money cascades into politics these days. Senate races burned through $543 million in 2004, up nearly 50 percent from the previous election cycle. And although some argue that the power of political money can be corrupting — witness this year’s imprisonment of former U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., for bribery — McConnell has raised his millions without any evidence of improper personal benefit.

But someone who can raise more than $90 million for his allies — as McConnell did twice, as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — is golden when it comes time for GOP senators to elect a majority leader. That’s not counting the millions McConnell sends to GOP colleagues from his own political-action committee and campaign fund.

Some senators shy away from fund-raising duties because of ethical concerns. Top donors tell senators what they want from upcoming votes, and top donors get special treatment, said retired Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. Their calls to Senate offices are returned first, Simpson said, and their wishes are a priority when action is taken.

“I didn’t enjoy it at all,” Simpson said. “I just felt uncomfortable.”

Yet McConnell never blinks, Simpson said.

“When he asked for money, his eyes would shine like diamonds,” Simpson said. “He obviously loved it.”

McConnell denied that he’s more devoted to money than anyone else “in my line of work.”

“Building up your finances so you can amplify your voice is critical to any successful political activity,” McConnell said. “It’s a central part of the process.”

Still, the symbiosis between McConnell and his donors raises questions about who’s really in charge.

‘A choking sensation’

Take his longtime friendship with cigarette-maker lobbyists, revealed in hundreds of corporate documents made public during litigation. Records suggest a close working relationship behind the scenes.

They instructed him on smoking-related legislation. He offered to amend bills on the Senate floor at their direction. During the 1990s, when he attacked the Food and Drug Administration for its anti-smoking efforts, he followed talking points they fed him. Their attorneys helped draft a bill he filed to protect their companies from lawsuits, as well as his correspondence to the White House to oppose federal smoking-prevention programs.

In turn, they gave him gifts, including Washington Redskins football tickets and many thousands of dollars in speaking fees to supplement his Senate salary. They paid for their own voter polls in his 1996 Senate race, to monitor his progress.

But their real support — millions of dollars in donations — came between important Senate votes. The lobbyists assured him: “We will provide maximum help very early.”

In 1998, McConnell helped to kill a proposal to curb youth smoking. About four months later, he called lobbyists at R.J. Reynolds Co. and asked for $200,000 in corporate “soft money” that he could pass to Republican senators in elections. In an e-mail exchange, the lobbyists settled on “doing an additional 100,000 to him immediately and then seeing what we have left at end of next week.” The $200,000 was more than their company could swallow at once.

“Are you feeling a choking sensation?” Tommy Payne, vice president of external relations, asked John Fish, senior director of federal government affairs, in the final e-mail.

Three months later, rival Philip Morris Cos. sent McConnell $150,000 to distribute to GOP Senate campaigns and $100,000 for his pet non-profit program, the McConnell Center for Political Leadership at the University of Louisville, according to industry and college documents.

McConnell helps people who help him, inside and outside Kentucky. Consider Guardsmark, a Memphis, Tenn., security firm with clients nationwide.

Guardsmark founder Ira Lipman and his employees have given more than $66,000 to McConnell’s campaigns. McConnell has described Lipman as a friend whom he calls to arrange Tennessee fund-raisers.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, demand for private security boomed. Lipman thought it would be useful for his employees to have access to the FBI fingerprint database, then available only to law-enforcement agencies. McConnell co-sponsored the necessary legislation.

“Today our nation is on its way to becoming safer and more secure,” Lipman said in a press release after President Bush signed the bill into law in 2004. And Lipman credited McConnell.

The Inner Circle

Unlike other senators, McConnell, 64, typically avoids the mass fund-raising that brings small donations of less than $200 from working-class Americans through direct mail, phone banks and the Internet.

His donors are likely to start at $1,000. He favors intimate receptions where he can offer them his full attention, leaning in to listen, saying little, holding a glass of wine without paying much attention to it. His Rolodex is one of the best. He is president of the century-old Alfalfa Club, which gathers the nation’s richest and most powerful on the birthday of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, for cocktails and filet mignon.

McConnell seldom opens his own wallet. In the past decade, he has given only $10,000 of his personal funds for campaign donations. Asked to explain that, he pleaded poverty. In his view, it’s wealthier people who support campaigns.

“I don’t have a whole lot of money to contribute,” said McConnell, whose Senate salary is $165,200, and who has homes in Louisville and Washington — the latter a handsome Capitol Hill townhouse assessed at $1.3 million.

McConnell’s invitations to the wealthy to become lifetime members of the “Senate Republican Inner Circle” ($15,000 for life or $2,000 a year) guarantee private dinners and valuable briefings with “the men who are shaping the Senate agenda,” including himself, caucus leaders and committee chairmen.

“Americans are big on rewards these days. Financial rewards in the stock market — cash rewards on your credit cards — luxurious rewards in the travel industry,” McConnell wrote in one invitation. “But a special group of Americans is experiencing one of the greatest reward programs ever, because they took the initiative to become a Life Member of the Inner Circle.”

Those rewards are greatly anticipated by corporate leaders who want a say in Senate decisions. After the Inner Circle welcomed Geoffrey Bible, chief executive at Philip Morris, he sent a copy of the announcement to his aides.

“So now I’m in,” Bible wrote in the margin. “See if we can make the most of it.”

In an interview, McConnell said his invitations exaggerate the intimacy at some events in order to get people to write him a check. A major GOP Senate fund-raiser can draw 1,000 people, he said. No donor ever uses social time with senators to influence Senate business, he said.

“They want their picture taken with you; that’s all it amounts to,” he said.

As McConnell’s influence grows, so does the value of his company.

Lobbyist Kent Hance organized a reception for McConnell in March at the Dallas home of oilman R.H. Pickens. Hance said it raised about $50,000 for McConnell’s 2008 re-election from a few dozen investors and executives. (McConnell spent $5.7 million on his 2002 campaign and already has banked half that sum for 2008.)

Millionaires and billionaires wanted to hear how McConnell plans to further cut their taxes, Hance said.

“He’s gonna be the next Senate majority leader, so we didn’t have to hold a gun on people to get ’em to attend,” Hance said. “Everybody wants to be his friend now.”

Speaking in 1994 at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, McConnell explained his fund-raising: “I prefer to get (money) from individuals who voluntarily choose to give to me because they like what I stand for.”

However, because he now raises the majority of his money nationally, not in Kentucky, it’s not uncommon for his donors to know scarcely anything about him, except that he is a powerful man.

Corporations and professional groups that want a friend in Washington instruct their employees and members to give generously to the rising senator.

At a New York luncheon last fall, McConnell received about $60,000 from scores of workers at two financial giants, UBS and Citigroup, which had just successfully lobbied Senate Republicans for a tough bankruptcy law that makes life harder for credit card debtors.

President Bush praised McConnell by name as he signed the law.

Christopher Hagstrom, a UBS Financial Services securities lender, said managers spread the word to write a check to McConnell. His suggested sum was $1,000, which he gave. Hagstrom said he is barely aware of McConnell, other than “he has the backing of the guys here.”

McConnell has said he encourages donors to send the maximum allowed by law, then arrange for their families to give, too. Before he takes checks from minors, he said, “they, of course, have to be signed by the children.” (It is legal for children to give, if they do so willingly and use their own money, which the Federal Election Commission says is hard to determine.) He gets tens of thousands from donors identified as “students,” usually in sums of $1,000 each.

Pressed for time, McConnell regularly skips daily Senate business. In 2005, for example, he missed 83 percent of his assigned committee hearings about government spending and agriculture. He said it’s “absurd” to question the hearings he misses, given his busy leadership schedule. “Every day is a series of choices about how to spend your time,” he said.

However, he attends myriad receptions in Washington and around the country. These events are scheduled by McConnell’s fund-raising office, run by former banking lobbyist Alison Crombie Kinnahan out of a corporate lobbying firm a quick walk down the street from McConnell’s Capitol office.

McConnell says his coast-to-coast collections are appropriate because he is no longer a mere Kentucky politician. He is “a United States senator.”

Even in Congress, which devotes evenings and weekends to taking money, McConnell is considered extraordinary.

Not physically: Relatively small in stature and with a pale complexion, he is formal and reserved. Other senators cultivate a folksy demeanor to connect with folks back home. Senate aides compare approaching McConnell to meeting a girlfriend’s father.

But he brings in the money. In 2002, GOP senators elected him to their No. 2 post — majority whip — after his record-breaking four years as chairman of their fund-raising machine, the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He’s one of only two senators in decades to serve consecutive terms in the grueling job. In fact, this year, the GOP struggled for months to find anyone to volunteer as chairman for 2008.

Under McConnell, the NRSC paid off a $6 million debt, said former NRSC aide Stuart Roy, who later joined Chao’s Labor Department. McConnell raised $91 million in one term and $96 million in the next.

He disgusted a few colleagues by focusing on televised attack ads. What McConnell calls “amplifying your voice,” others saw as dragging public debate into the gutter.

Many politicians sling mud at their opponents. But McConnell is thought especially brilliant at finding a potential weakness in his opponents, crafting an attack around it and hammering it home, again and again, with blistering commercials — which is where so much of that money goes.

McConnell learned under Republican media consultant Roger Ailes, who handled paid media for his 1984 campaign and is now the head of Fox News Channel.

Not everyone has blessed the approach.

“This nonsense of savaging your opponent and making their noses grow long and their ears grow hairy and big, that’s something my 6-year-old and 8-year-old find quite amusing. It’s great theater, but I don’t know what it does to improve the culture of politics or governance or leadership in this country,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., in a 1998 challenge to McConnell’s command at the NRSC.

But Republicans stuck with McConnell. He built Senate loyalties by redirecting millions of dollars he raised through his own PAC, dispensing $5,000 and $10,000 at a time. He pledged this year to send $1 million of his funds to pay for other senators’ races.

“His fund-raising is like a corporation, a booming, full-time business,” said Whitman, the former Republican Senate aide.

“He has people in charge of reaching out to new donors, people in charge of massaging the old donors and staying in contact with them, and people in charge of collecting,” Whitman said. “This goes on throughout the year, every year.”

McCain vs. McConnell

In the Senate, McConnell cast himself as the anti-McCain.

John McCain, the once and future GOP presidential candidate, is a fiery reformer drawn to television cameras. McConnell, a defender of the status quo, mocks “reform” efforts with a smirk. He prefers to cut deals in private.

Other senators are wary of butting heads with the media-savvy McCain. Not McConnell. When McCain’s reform proposals displease Republican Party donors, McConnell outmaneuvers the maverick.

“McConnell is not scared of McCain,” said Mark Buse, a former McCain aide for two decades and now a lobbyist. “Because he knows the (Senate) rules better than most people, he does very well by them.”

They have had epic clashes:

* In 1998, McCain pushed a bill to curb youth smoking through new tobacco advertising restrictions.

Senators voted it down after a closed-door lunch for Republican senators in which McConnell — according to news reports — told colleagues that cigarette companies would help them with campaign advertising if they voted against the bill.

Health groups protested that McConnell sold out the nation’s youth.

McConnell refused to publicly discuss his luncheon remarks. But the bill did fail, and federal election records show that cigarette companies poured hundreds of thousands of dollars through McConnell to Senate GOP campaigns.

* In 2000, McCain pushed a bill to outlaw gambling on college sports, which is legal only in Nevada.

Among those arguing for the bill was University of Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith, who said Las Vegas bookies legally set the point spreads that form the basis of illegal betting everywhere else.

McConnell was befriending Las Vegas casinos, which opposed the bill. In 1997, he and then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., flew to Las Vegas on the corporate jet of Steve Wynn, owner of Mirage Resorts, to kick off a series of GOP fund-raisers. “We wanted to have support from that industry,” McConnell said later.

They got it. Casinos in the American Gaming Association — whose chief lobbyist, D. Brett Hale, is a former McConnell aide — gave more than $2 million to the NRSC during McConnell’s chairmanship in 1998 and 2000, up from $375,000 for the 1996 races.

McCain’s gambling bill easily passed in committee but languished for four months while he pleaded with Senate GOP leaders to allow a floor vote. They said they could not find time. When they finally agreed to a vote, Nevada’s two senators — both Democrats — were ready to block it with objections. It died.

News reports identified McConnell as one of the senators working against the bill. McConnell recently denied that.

Doris Dixon, who lobbied the Senate for the bill, said McConnell was part of the effort to keep it from getting a floor vote. Dixon was then director of federal relations for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. She said McConnell and his aides refused even to meet with her side.

“Sen. McConnell was instrumental in blocking it from going forward,” Dixon said. “He was talking to other Republican senators about the problems it would pose for him as chairman of their fund-raising committee, which was taking money from Nevada.”

McConnell had pleased his Las Vegas donors earlier by persuading Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., to withdraw an amendment that would have ended the federal tax deduction for gambling losses.

The deduction costs the government millions. Coats wanted it replaced with a deduction for Americans who support scholarship programs for poor children. But the gambling industry said the deduction was crucial for its biggest bettors.

* Also in 2000, responding to fatal crashes involving Ford Explorers with Firestone tires, McCain pushed a safety bill to require automakers to report serious defects to the government or risk prosecution.

McCain’s bill passed in committee but stalled when several senators placed anonymous “holds” on it, blocking a floor vote. McCain angrily cried, “The fix is in!” Business groups and Senate GOP leaders backed the shadowy stall tactic.

News reports and McCain’s office identified McConnell among the senators placing a hold.

“I was there, I was intimately involved with lobbying on Sen. McCain’s bill, and Sen. McConnell definitely was actively opposing it,” Joan Claybrook, president of watchdog group Public Citizen, recently said.

McConnell, an advocate of anonymous holds, recently denied placing a hold in that case. He said he and the Senate voted for McCain’s safety bill, and it became law.

However, what really happened — according to congressional records and interviews — is that the Senate killed McCain’s bill by blocking the vote. In its place, the Senate adopted a weaker House bill sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and supported by the auto industry. McCain reluctantly accepted it as a compromise.

Critics said Upton’s bill did not require automakers to analyze their data for evidence of defects, and it allowed government secrecy to keep the public from learning of safety problems.

McConnell took more than $75,000 from automakers in the five previous years, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. Ford Motor Co.’s Washington advocacy team, which spent more than $8 million lobbying in 2000, was led by Janet Mullins Grissom, who was McConnell’s first Senate campaign manager and chief of staff.

People who know McCain and McConnell say they dislike each other. In separate interviews, the senators were respectful. McConnell said he feels no animosity over their “terrific battles.”

Asked about McConnell, McCain smiled tightly and shrugged. “One thing I’ve learned in politics, I try never to look backwards in anger,” McCain said. Then he turned away.

Enemy of reform

Campaign donations by “special interests” corrupt the Senate, Mitch McConnell warned — in 1984.

As Jefferson County judge-executive, McConnell challenged incumbent Sen. Walter “Dee” Huddleston, D-Ky. He flew to a breakfast at Washington’s Capitol Hill Club to ask the major PACs for money.

They refused. They backed Huddleston. So the underdog bit the hands that wouldn’t feed him.

“Huddleston For Sale to the Highest Bidder,” accused one of his campaign press releases attacking the senator’s PAC and special-interest money. McConnell depicted Huddleston as solely concerned about cash.

Within days of his surprise victory, McConnell launched fund-raising for his 1990 re-election, tapping the very Huddleston donors he had criticized. PACs alone gave him more than $41,000 before he took office.

“There was a lot of atoning to do,” lobbyist Benjamin Cooper told the Herald-Leader during a McConnell fund-raiser, a month after the 1984 election.

In a recent interview, Huddleston said he heard complaints.

“It got back to me pretty quickly,” Huddleston said. “Mitch went to the people who had supported me and told them that if they wanted any kind of representation in the Senate from this day forward, they had better pony up to him, starting now. Open your checkbooks.”

Not true, McConnell countered. He didn’t have to threaten anyone, just welcome them with open arms. It’s common for “special interests” who backed the loser to switch sides after an election, he said.

“I’ve always found it a bit amusing,” McConnell said. “They all have a right to support whomever they choose. And when they’re not supporting you, you have every right to complain about it.”

McConnell continued publicly warning about corruption while privately raising as much money as he could for his first decade in the Senate. Democrats, then the party in power, held the fund-raising advantage. McConnell called for campaign-finance reform to neutralize their edge.

“The electoral process suffers from real and perceived special-interest influence,” he wrote in a Herald-Leader opinion column in 1990.

Everything changed in 1994. Republicans seized Congress. Money shifted to the GOP. And in an about-face, McConnell became Washington’s fiercest enemy of campaign-finance reform.

For years, he beat back McCain and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., as they tried to ban unlimited “soft money” contributions from corporations, unions and the wealthy. That opposition became his signature issue. Money equals speech, he said, so limiting donations is akin to gagging a political protester.

When McCain and Feingold’s Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act passed in 2002, McConnell called it “stunningly stupid.” He sued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop it — and lost.

He resents Republican reform sympathizers.

In 1998, Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash., challenged first-term Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. McConnell’s job as NRSC chairman was to assist GOP Senate campaigns. But Smith called for campaign-finance reform and assailed “the old boys and the old establishment.” McConnell limited her funding to a fraction of the more than $400,000 he was authorized to provide to her. Smith was defeated.

“We ended up with no money to put on any kind of TV or radio advertising,” Dale Foreman, who was chairman of the Washington state Republican Party, said recently. McConnell gave him a frosty reception when he flew east to plead Smith’s case, Foreman said.

“He clearly had strong opinions on campaign-finance reform, and anyone who disagreed with him, Republican or not, was not going to get any help,” Foreman said.

McConnell denied snubbing Smith because she called for reform. He said she simply could not win. “She was never in the game,” he said. But in McConnell’s NRSC fund-raising material sent to donors before the 1998 election, Murray was described as “highly vulnerable to defeat.”

GOP senators were happy to let McConnell lead the charge against reform, freeing them from taking a politically risky stand, said Brian Minnich, a McConnell aide in the 1980s.

McConnell insisted that voters do not care — “This issue, for average Americans, ranks right up there with static cling,” he said in a public television interview — and that was true, at least for Kentucky.

His 2002 election opponent, Lois Combs Weinberg, recently said her polls showed only five percent of the state’s voters objected to McConnell’s opposition to campaign-finance reform.

McConnell’s ardent pursuit of money set him apart and made him a leader. He is baffled by politicians who complain about having to ask for money, said Minnich, now a lobbyist.

“He wasn’t embarrassed by fund-raising,” Minnich said. “And he never forgot the people who helped him. That’s key.”

‘It was thuggish’

Not every donor wants to pay forever. In 1999, a group of prominent corporate leaders — including some of McConnell’s donors — led a rebellion against his fund-raising style. To his great anger, they endorsed reform.

One of them was Edward Kangas, who was worldwide chairman and chief executive of accounting giant Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu from 1989 to 2000.

Kangas was no purist. In 1995, he and other Deloitte executives put together about $20,000 for McConnell. Kangas said Deloitte wanted “visibility” as it lobbied for the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, making it harder for investors to recover fraud losses. The GOP Congress passed the act over President Clinton’s veto.

Consumer advocates howled, but McConnell backed the act. Arthur Anderson & Co. — the accounting firm later disgraced by its role in the Enron Corp. fraud — encased a copy of the bill in plastic to keep as a trophy. It also gave McConnell $3,000 about the time of the Senate vote.

Sending money to politicians on occasion is standard business, Kangas said. But it began to feel as if whenever Congress met, lawmakers called to mention upcoming votes that could help or harm Deloitte, he said. And a donation request would follow.

“It was a shakedown,” Kangas recalled, declining to say whether he specifically referred to McConnell.

“It’s often a regulated industry, like the banks, the financial services companies, the pharmaceuticals,” he said. “An executive gets a call from a politician — or someone close to the politician, who everyone knows speaks for him — who says, ‘Hey, it would be really appreciated if you could show us some support right now.'”

So Kangas joined other corporate leaders at the Committee for Economic Development — a Washington-based business group — in endorsing the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill.

McConnell was outraged. He mailed angry protest letters to CED members and their companies to warn that their reform advocacy would crimp the income of the Republican Party.

“I would think that public withdrawal from this organization would be a reasonable response,” he wrote. At the bottom, he scrawled personal messages naming individuals and concluding: “I hope (name) will resign from CED. Mitch.” “Mitch was not completely happy,” Kangas said, chuckling.

“It was thuggish,” said Charles E.M. Kolb, the CED’s president.

Kolb, a White House adviser to the first President Bush and an appointee under President Reagan, previously had donated to McConnell, but he resented McConnell’s tone. His group stood firm.

Continue reading at Lexington Herald Leader.