It’s that time of year again! As the nation’s largest government watchdog organization, each year Judicial Watch publishes its list of Washington’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians.” The purpose of the list, which is widely distributed in the press, is to put the spotlight on the year’s most egregious incidents of secrecy, corruption and abuse of power. This list is a powerful tool to educate Americans about the bipartisan problem of corruption in Washington, so please share it far and wide.
The 2010 list, in alphabetical order, includes: Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Rahm Emanuel, Former Obama White House Chief of Staff, Senator John Ensign (R-NV), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), President Barack Obama, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. But it appears she still needs an ethics lesson. Boxer presided over a year-long investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee into whether two of her Senate colleagues, Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Kent Conrad (D-ND), received preferential treatment from Countrywide Financial as part of the company’s “VIP” program. (Senate ethics rules prohibit members from receiving loan terms not available to the general public.) In fact, according to The Associated Press, during an Ethics Committee hearing Boxer asked “the bulk of the questions.”
However, Boxer failed to mention (or disclose on her official Senate Financial Disclosure documents) that she and her husband have signed no less than seven mortgages with Countrywide! At the time of the hearing, Boxer reportedly indicated she had paid off two Countrywide mortgages, but did not mention the others.
The evidence clearly showed that Dodd and Conrad knew they were receiving preferential treatment despite repeated denials. Yet Boxer’s Senate Ethics Committee allowed Dodd and Conrad to wriggle off the hook with a light admonition that suggested the two Senators should have exercised better judgment. The same, apparently, can be said of the Committee’s own chair, who either neglected to mention or outright lied about her own dealings with the corrupt mortgage company.
Rahm Emanuel, Former Obama White House Chief of Staff didn’t earn the nickname “Rahmbo” for being a mild-mannered shrinking violet. He served as Bill Clinton’s chief money-man at a time when the Clinton campaign was corrupted by foreign money. He defended the “worst of the worst” Clinton scandals, and, in fact, earned his reputation as a ruthless political combatant by fiercely defending President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky investigation. (Notably, Emanuel also served on the board of Freddie Mac when the company was involved in fraudulent activity.)
The bottom line is that when the Clintons’ dirty work needed to be done, Emanuel did it and apparently without question. That didn’t change under Obama. Remember when the Obama White House wanted to manipulate Democratic primaries in 2010?
Emanuel teamed with his then-Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina to allegedly interfere with Senate elections in Pennsylvania and Colorado by offering federal appointments to Rep. Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff. Sestak and Romanoff were not Obama’s favored candidates, so Emanuel and Messina apparently attempted to unlawfully persuade them to abandon their campaigns.
A Judicial Watch complaint to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel on June 15, 2010, tells the story: “As widely reported in the media, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, on behalf of the Obama Administration, have both used their position and influence as highly placed federal employees to affect the outcome of federal elections in direct violation of the Hatch Act, which states that an employee may not ‘use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.’”
And then, of course, there’s Emanuel’s participation in the Blagojevich scandal.
According to sworn testimony during the “Blago” trial, Emanuel served as Obama’s chief negotiator with the Blagojevich team as the former Illinois Governor attempted to illegally sell Obama’s former Senate seat to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, the federal prosecutor cut short the case against Blagojevich and Emanuel and other Obama insiders were never called to testify.
Emanuel left the White House under an ethical cloud and has decided to throw his hat in the ring for Mayor of Chicago, where he again stands accused of ignoring the rules and violating the law regarding candidate residency requirements.
Senator John Ensign (R-NV): In a scandal that first broke in 2009, Senator Ensign publicly admitted to an affair with the wife of a long-time staffer. And the evidence indicates Ensign then tried to cover up his sexual shenanigans by bribing the couple with lucrative gifts and political favors.
According to The New York Times, after Ensign’s aide, Douglas Hampton, discovered the affair, “Mr. Ensign asked political backers to find a job for…Hampton. Payments of $96,000 to the Hamptons also were made by Senator Ensign’s parents, who insist this was a gift, not hush money. Once a lobbying job was secured, Senator Ensign and his chief of staff continued to help Mr. Hampton, advocating his clients’ cases directly with federal agencies.”
These lobbying activities were seemingly in violation of the Senate’s “cooling off” period for lobbyists. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Under Senate rules, former Senate aides cannot lobby their former colleagues for one year after leaving Capitol Hill.” Hampton began to lobby Mr. Ensign’s office immediately upon leaving his congressional job.
Ensign seems to have ignored the law and allowed Hampton lobbying access to his office as a payment for his silence about the affair. And despite the claims of Ensign and his parents, the $96,000 in “gifts” provided to the Hamptons were clearly hush payments.
Nonetheless, on December 1, 2010, the Obama Justice Department announced it will file no criminal charges against Ensign, while the Federal Election Commission has alsodismissed a related ethics complaint. If there is to be justice for Ensign, it will have to be up to the corrupt (see Boxer entry above) Senate Ethics Committee, which is still considering the charges against the Nevada Republican.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA): In a story that continued to mushroom throughout 2010, Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) improperly intervened for Maxine Waters (D-CA) on behalf of his home-state OneUnited Bank to obtain Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds. When asked about the scandal, the Massachusetts Democrat admitted he spoke to a “federal regulator” but, according to The Wall Street Journal he didn’t remember which federal regulator he spoke with.” According to explosive Treasury Department emailsuncovered by Judicial Watch in 2010, however, it appears this nameless bureaucrat was none other than then-Treasury Secretary Henry “Hank” Paulson!
While Frank’s “partner in crime” in the OneUnited scandal, Congressman Maxine Waters, is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee (see below), Frank’s colleagues in the House have inexcusably ignored the Massachusetts Democrat’s connection to the OneUnited grant.
To this day, Barney Frank continues to defend his role in the meltdown of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, saying he was just as blindsided as the rest of America when the two government sponsored enterprises collapsed, triggering the financial crisis. Frank has been peddling this fiction ever since the economy collapsed in September 2008. But, asThe Boston Globe reported in a devastating article published on October 14, 2010, not many people are buying Frank’s lies anymore. And Frank knows it. Here’s an excerpt from the Globe:
The issue…in 2003 was whether mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were fiscally strong. Frank declared with his trademark confidence that they were, accusing critics and regulators of exaggerating threats to Fannie’s and Freddie’s financial integrity. And, the Massachusetts Democrat maintained, ‘even if there were problems, the federal government doesn’t bail them out.’ Now, it’s clear he was wrong on both points…
Frank wasn’t wrong. He was just lying through his teeth. Frank claims that he “missed” the warning signs with Fannie and Freddie because he was wearing “ideological blinders,” which was just his lame attempt to blame Republicans. But he did not miss them. According to evidence uncovered by Judicial Watch, he just chose to ignore them.
Judicial Watch obtained documents in 2010 proving that members of Congress, including — and perhaps especially — Barney Frank, were well aware that Fannie and Freddie were in deep trouble due to corruption and incompetence and yet they did nothing to stop it.
Moreover, as the Globe notes, in July 2008, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says he called Frank and told him the government would need to spend “billions of taxpayer dollars to backstop the institutions from catastrophic failure.” Frank, despite that conversation, appeared on national television two days later and said the companies were “fundamentally sound, not in danger of going under.” Less than two months later, the government seized Fannie and Freddie and the bailout began.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL): This year’s trial of scandal-ridden former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich ended with “Blago” being convicted of only 1 of 24 charges related to the scheme to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. But as the government plans its second attempt to prosecute the case, one person who should be on the hot-seat is Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL).
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. directed a major political fund-raiser to offer former Gov. Rod Blagojevich millions of dollars in campaign cash in return for an appointment to the U.S. Senate.”
How much cash?
The Chicago Sun Times put that figure at $1.5 million in its initial reports. But according to Jackson’s fundraiser, Raghuveer Nayak, the Illinois Congressman asked him to offer not $1.5 million, but a whopping $6 million in campaign cash to Blagojevich to secure the Senate seat!
In addition to his corrupt deal-making, in 2010 Jackson was also nailed for conducting an improper and potentially criminal relationship with a female “social acquaintance.”
Nayak told investigators that Jackson asked him to “pay to fly a Washington, DC, restaurant hostess named Giovana Huidobro…to Chicago to visit him.” Nayak reportedly did so twice.
We all know what “social acquaintance” means under these circumstances. Jackson says this is a “private and personal matter between me and my wife.” But not if it involves public funds or illegal gifts — issues which remain unsettled.
President Barack Obama: Remember the promise President Obama made just after his inauguration in 2009? “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”
Instead, Americans have suffered through lies, stonewalling, cover-ups, corruption, secrecy, scandal and blatant disregard for the rule of law…this has been the Obama legacy in its first two years.
In 2010, Obama was caught in a lie over what he knew about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s scheme to sell the president’s vacated Senate seat. Blagojevich’s former Chief of Staff John Harris testified that Obama had personal knowledge of Blago’s plot to obtain a presidential cabinet position in exchange for appointing a candidate handpicked by the President. In fact, according to Harris’s court testimony, Obama sent Blagojevich a list of “acceptable” Senate candidates to fill his old seat. Obama was interviewed by the FBI even before he was sworn into office. He claimed he and his staff had no contact with Blagojevich’s office. Unfortunately federal prosecutors never called the President or his staff to testify under oath.
The President also broke his famous pledge to televise healthcare negotiations. And in 2010, we learned why he broke his pledge. In what is now known as the “Cornhusker Kickback” scheme, Obama and the Democrats in the Senate “purchased” the vote of one of the last Democrat hold-outs, Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, who opposed Obamacare over the issue of covering abortions with taxpayer funds. Nelson abandoned his opposition to Obamacare after receiving millions of dollars in federal aid for his home-state, helping to give the Democrats the 60 votes they needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. Same goes for Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, who received a $100 million payoff in what has been called “The Louisiana Purchase.” (The Kickback was so corrupt that Democrats stripped it out at the last minute. The Louisiana Purchase, on the other hand, became law of the land.)
Obama lied about his White House’s involvement in this legislative bribery that helped lead to the passage of the signature policy achievement of his presidency.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): “Air Pelosi” is now grounded.
Judicial Watch uncovered documents back in 2009 detailing attempts by Pentagon staff to accommodate Pelosi’s numerous requests for military escorts and military aircraft for herself and her family as well as the speaker’s 11th hour cancellations and changes. In 2010, Judicial Watch kept the pressure on Pelosi, uncovering documents that demonstrated the Speaker was using U.S. Air Force aircraft as her own personal party planes. Overall, the Speaker’s military travel cost the United States Air Force $2,100,744.59 over a two-year period — $101,429.14 of which was for in-flight expenses, including food and alcohol.
For example, purchases for one Pelosi-led congressional delegation traveling from Washington, DC to Tel Aviv, Israel and Baghdad, Iraq May 15-20, 2008, included: Johnny Walker Red scotch, Grey Goose vodka, E&J brandy, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Maker’s Mark whisky, Courvoisier cognac, Bacardi Light rum, Jim Beam whiskey, Beefeater gin, Dewar’s scotch, Bombay Sapphire gin, Jack Daniels whiskey, Corona beer and several bottles of wine.
Moreover, Pelosi also abused the rules by allowing members of her family to join her on taxpayer-funded Air Force flights. For example, on June 20, 2009, Speaker Pelosi’s daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons joined a flight from Andrews Air Force Base to San Francisco International Airport. That flight included $143 for on-flight expenses for food and other items. On July 2, 2010, Pelosi took her grandson on a flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, which is northeast of San Francisco.
Judicial Watch’s efforts not only exposed Nancy Pelosi’s corrupt abuse of military aircraft, but they also led to reform when Rep. John Boehner announced after Election Day that, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, he will fly commercial to and from Ohio instead of using military aircraft.
Of course, it was Rep. Nancy Pelosi who famously promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, DC during the campaign of 2006 when the Democrats seized control of power on Capitol Hill. That did not happen. Aside from her own personal transgressions, Pelosi also turned a blind eye to corruption on the part of her Congressional colleagues (see Charlie Rangel entry below).
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY): On December 2, 2010, the House of Representatives voted 333-79 to “censure” Rep. Charles Rangel. Next to expulsion, this is the most serious sanction that can be taken by the House against an individual member. This censure vote followed an investigation by the Committee for Official Standards of Conduct, which finally convicted Rangel on 13 ethics violations, including:
- Forgetting to pay taxes on $75,000 in rental income he earned from his off-shore rental property. (Rangel was formerly in charge of the committee responsible for writing tax policy.)
- Misusing his congressional office, staff and resources to raise money for his private Rangel Center for Public Service, to be housed at the City College of New York. (He also put the squeeze on donors who had business before his House Ways and Means Committee, and used the congressional “free mail” privilege to solicit funds.)
- Misusing his residentially-zoned Harlem apartment as a campaign headquarters.
- Failing to report $600,000 in income on his official congressional financial disclosure reports, which contained “numerous errors and omissions.”
It is worth noting that the Committee did not consider other serious corruption charges against Rangel. For example, it has been alleged that Rangel preserved a tax loophole for an oil company in exchange for a Rangel Center donation. The Committee also did not consider the charge that Rangel used improper influence to maintain ownership of his highly coveted rent-controlled apartment — the same apartment he improperly used for campaign activities.
As this is Washington, politicians of both parties will pretend that censure is a serious punishment. But it is a “punishment” that simply requires Rangel to come to the well of the House and hear a disapproving statement read by lame-duck House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the real world, you get fired or thrown in jail for abusing your office and not paying your taxes.
Here is further context: The last time the House censured anyone was in 1983, when two congressmen (a Republican and Democrat) were censured for having sexual relationships with teenaged House pages. It seems that unless one is convicted of a crime, one can do anything as a congressman and not be thrown out of the House! The fact that the House has so rarely resorted to censure is more indicative of the lack of seriousness about ethics in Congress than of the so-called severity of the censure punishment.
Rangel should have been expelled from the House of Representatives.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY): On Election Day 2010, voters sent Congress a clear message: No more big spending or corrupt back-room deals! And what did House Republicans decide to do as one of their first moves for the new Tea Party Congress? Appoint Rep. Hal Rogers, also known as the “Prince of Pork,” to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
According to ABC News: “In two years, Rogers pushed through 135 earmarks worth $246 million. He’s brought tens of millions of dollars into his hometown of Somerset, Ky., so much so that the town has been dubbed ‘Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.’” Among the most egregious earmarks was a $17 million grant Rogers obtained for an “Airport to Nowhere,” a Kentucky airport with “so little traffic that the last commercial airline pulled out in February (2010).”
But the most serious charge against Rogers involves an earmark he obtained that could benefit one of his own family members.
Rogers secured $5 million in the House for conservation groups that work with wild cats, including the Cheetah Conservation Fund, a Namibia-based organization that employs Rogers’ daughter Allison. In fact, Allison Rogers serves as grants administrator. After she joined the organization in 2007, Congressman Rogers began his push for funding. In 2009, with help from Rogers, the bill passed the House by a 2-1 margin. (It has yet to be voted on in the Senate.)
Congressman Rogers claims he’ll change his stripes now: “No more earmarks. I’ll be the enforcer of the moratorium.” But Rogers’ 27 year history of wasting taxpayer funds on questionable projects is certainly cause for skepticism.
On November 9, 2010, Judicial Watch sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner asking him to reject a bid by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who made our 2009 “Top Ten” list, to once again serve as Chair of the Appropriations Committee, given Lewis’s penchant for influence peddling. Rep. Rogers, however, is no upgrade.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA): Now that Charlie Rangel has been “punished” for his wrongdoing is California Rep. Maxine Waters next up on the hot-seat?
The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (known informally as the House Ethics Committee) plans to hold hearings, although the committee delayed the trial indefinitely on November 29, 2010, citing newly discovered documentary evidence that may impact proceedings. According to The Associated Press, “The charges focus on whether Waters broke the rules in requesting federal help for a bank where her husband owned stock and had served on the board of directors.”
Judicial Watch has investigated the Waters/OneUnited Bank scandal for months. In fact, JW successfully sued the Obama Treasury Department to get documents and obtained explosive emails from the Treasury that provide documented evidence to support the charges against Waters.
For instance, a January 13, 2009, email from Brookly McLaughlin, Treasury’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, expresses surprise at Waters’ apparent conflict of interest:
Further to email below, WSJ [Wall Street Journal] tells me: …Apparently this bank is the only one that has gotten money through section 103-6 of the EESA law. And Maxine Waters’ husband is on the board of the bank. ??????
Judicial Watch also uncovered documents detailing the deplorable financial condition of the bank at the time of the cash infusion, which showed that the bank would have been an unlikely candidate to receive TARP funding without intervention from Waters and Frank.
Aside from OneUnited, there was yet another scandal with Waters’ fingerprints all over it.
According to The Washington Times: “A lobbyist known as one of California’s most successful power brokers while serving as a legislative leader in that state paid Rep. Maxine Waters’ husband $15,000 in consulting fees at a time she was co-sponsoring legislation that would help save the real-estate finance business of one of the lobbyist’s best-paying clients, records show.” That “real-estate finance business” was labeled a “scam” by the IRS in a 2006 report.
Where Are They Now?
(Updates on Selected Judicial Watch “Ten Most Wanted” Alumni)
Jack Abramoff, Former Lobbyist: Jack Abramoff appeared on Judicial Watch’s 2006 “Ten Most Wanted” list for his role in a slew of public corruption scandals that led to the convictions of 20 people, including former Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney.Abramoff was sentenced that year to nearly six years in prison for a fraudulent casino deal. In 2008, Abramoff received a concurrent four-year sentence “for conspiring to defraud the government, corrupting public officials and defrauding his clients in a separate case.” In December 2010, Abramoff completed a six-month stint at a Baltimore pizza joint, which officially concludes his prison sentence, and he is now on probation for three years. In 2010, Abramoff was also the subject of a new film called “Casino Jack,” which stars actor Kevin Spacey. Spacey received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the disgraced former lobbyist.
Former Senator Roland Burris (D-IL): Former Senator Roland Burris made Judicial Watch’s 2009 “Ten Most Wanted” list for his corrupt (and ultimately successful) attempt to secure Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat from then-Governor Rod Blagojevich. According to Reuters: “Roland Burris came under fresh scrutiny…after disclosing he tried to raise money for the disgraced former Illinois governor who named him to the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama…Burris said he looked into mounting a fundraiser for Rod Blagojevich — later charged with trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat — at the same time he was expressing interest to the then-governor’s aides about his desire to be appointed.” Burris changed his story five times regarding his contacts with Blagojevich prior to being appointed to the U.S. Senate. Three of those changing explanations came under oath. As a special appointment, Roland Burris’s term ended in November 2010, and he is no longer in the U.S. Senate.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX): Congressman DeLay was embroiled in a series of scandals while serving as majority leader for House Republicans, earning him a spot on Judicial Watch’s 2006 “Ten Most Wanted” list. DeLay, who was also investigated for his ties to “Ten Most Wanted” alumnus Jack Abramoff, resigned his post as majority leader in 2005 and resigned from Congress in 2006. In November 2010, DeLay was ultimately convicted of “illegally funneling corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002,” according to The Associated Press. “He faces five years to life in prison on the money laundering charge and two to 20 years on the conspiracy charge.” Mr. DeLay is adamant he did nothing wrong and plans to appeal the verdict. Mr. DeLay is also the only “Ten Most Wanted” alumnus to appear on the television dance competition Dancing with the Stars.
Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT): Senator Dodd made Judicial Watch’s “Ten Most Wanted” list in 2008 for his corrupt relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and for improperly accepting preferential treatment from Countrywide Financial as part of the company’s corrupt “Friends of Angelo” VIP program. Then he made the list again in 2009for undervaluing a property he owns in Ireland on his Senate Financial Disclosure form. Dodd allegedly obtained a sweetheart real estate deal for the Ireland property in exchange for his assistance in obtaining a presidential pardon (during the Clinton administration) and other favors for a long-time friend and business associate. It seems the scandals were too much politically, and in 2010 Dodd announced he would not run for re-election. Despite his ethical lapses related to the financial sector, Dodd’s name (along with Barney Frank’s) is affixed to the “Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,” the huge regulatory overhaul of the financial sector passed and signed into the law earlier this year. In January 2011 he will be out of office.
For previous versions of the annual Top Ten list, please go here.
Until next week…