I've been promising for a few days now that I was going to do a post on Anne Armstrong, whom I've dubbed the grande dame of Republican scandal. I'll get there, I'll get there. But first let me talk about why I think it's important.
By now, I think all reasonable people agree there are a number of curious discrepancies in the Deadeye Dick shooting story. And while I think the rumors floating out there have a germ of truth to them, I don't think they can fully explain the story. Oh, sure, I'm sure alcohol was a big part of the story. First Katharine Armstrong the 100-yard eyewitness says "No, zero, zippo" then she admits on background that there might have been a few beers in the picnic basket? Then Dick sheepishly admits to a beer. (Though my former fake ex-husband tells me that the hunters around Jackson Hole--where Dick lives when he's not playing Texan--don't drink beer when they hunt, because it makes them pee; they drink whiskey.) I think the alcohol aspect is especially likely since the people who went to the hospital on Saturday night--Ben Love, Mercedes Whittington, Bob Hixon, and George Willeford--made up the entire other hunting party. If Dick's hunting party was drinking heavily, it would make sense that none of them would go to the hospital while still shit-faced.
But the alcohol can't be the sum of the story. If it were, Katharine Armstrong and Dick would not have made such herculean efforts to avoid mentioning Pamela Willeford, who after all really did see the accident since she was standing right there next to Dick (that is, if we can believe the stories they've been telling).
Now, I don't buy the rumors that Dick was hiding an affair with Willeford. I mean, if I were a cuckold, I don't think I'd be visiting the guy whom my wife's lover just shot. Not unless this is a real 1970s swinger crowd, Texas style. (Though I am reminded of the rumors about John Bolton at Plato's retreat, so I suppose it is possible.) I think Dick was trying to hide the presence of Willeford for other reasons.
The other reason folks have mentioned for the secrecy about the shooting is that Katharine Armstrong, a registered lobbyist for Baker Botts, wanted to hide her close meetings with Cheney. I think there's more promise here--to which I'll return shortly. But before I look at that, I want to consider the way the manager of a nearby ranch characterized the lunch discussion on Sunday.
The manager of a ranch in neighboring Brooks County attended a quail lunch at the Armstrong Ranch headquarters midday Sunday with Cheney. Lavoyger Durham, manager of El Tule Ranch, said the luncheon talk was of "North Korea, India, China, Taiwan."
This conversation, remember, occurred shortly after Katharine Armstrong finally revealed news of the shooting to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, but before the Caller-Times had published the story. This is the period when Dick is supposed to have been "in meltdown" (indeed, Durham says that Cheney canceled Sunday's quail hunt, so he must have been in meltdown). But in spite of all this, in spite of the fact that this crowd is still deeply in crisis mode, they're talking about world affairs.
Anne Armstrong, Grande Dame of Republican Scandal
Given that background, consider Anne Armstrong's amazing biography. In addition to some really amazing career moves (the first woman Ambassador to the UK, the board of Halliburton), her career has remarkably tracked the outlines of the big Republican scandals of the last half-century.
|Anne Armstrong Event
||Associated Republican Scandal
||Cabinet-level Counselor to Nixon and Ford
||Ambassador to the UK
|1980||Reagan-Bush Campaign Co-Chair||October Surprise
||Board Member, Halliburton
||Cheney commissions KBR to study
privatization of military contracts (1991); Cheney named CEO Halliburton (1995)
|1981-1990||Chair, Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board||Iran-Contra|
||Armstrongs fund Karl Rove + Company
|1997||Texas A&M Regent||George HW Bush Library opens at TAMU, 1997|
Now, let me be clear. Aside from Armstrong's activities while Chair of PFIAB under Reagan, there is little evidence to connect her directly to these scandals. (Though if you want to put pull up a selection of all the best conspiracy
theories--replete with the Knights of Malta, the Trilateral Commission,
and the Council on Foreign Relations--do no more than
Google Anne Armstrong and William Casey.) By showing these chronologies side by side, I'm trying to show that Armstrong has been there, at the least as a trusted insider, through Watergate, the October Surprise, and Iran-Contra. Aside from Rummy and Dick--whom Amstrong apparently met during the Ford Administration--and the Bush family taken as a whole, there are few people whose careers have tracked the big Republican scandals as closely as Anne Armstrong.
I mentioned that PFIAB was the exception, the period when Anne Armstrong can be shown to have been more closely involved in Republican scandal. Armstrong apparently helped draft Executive Order 12333, which provided new guidelines for intelligence work--including limited domestic surveillance and covert operations. Armstrong was involved in some of the wackier anti-Soviet conspiracy theories, including the allegation that the Russians attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul. And it is alleged that when Reagan dismissed half the PFIAB (but not Armstrong) in 1985, he was trying to cover up Iran-Contra. Armstrong has also had a hand in furthering the careers of both Rove and Cheney--Rove in 1981 when he was starting his direct mail company, and Cheney when he was named CEO of Halliburton. Consider that fact ... Anne Armstrong is one person who can claim significant pull from both the strongest poles within the Bush Administration.
So as we consider what Dick might be hiding about shooting Whittington, consider Anne Armstrong's long-term role in the Republican party.
Katharine Armstrong, Grande-Dame-in-Training
By all appearances Katharine seems to be adopting her mother's mantle as big Republican insider, and incidentally, as the most vocal representative of the Armstrong family. She, like her mother, has benefited from Republican patronage, including the Bush II appointment to the Texas Game and Wildlife Commission. And, like her mother, she is closely involved with the defense contractors that make Republican administrations rich.
But before we talk about her lobbying, I'd like to look at some of the high-level meetings Katharine has attended. Katharine Armstrong has been invited to sleep-overs at the White House. She attended the White House dinner for Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (and apparently sat next to the Prince). This was a public function, though, with everyone from Lynn Swann to Yo-Yo-Ma--they even let Mary Cheney's partner attend! So it's not surprising that the former daughter of the Ambassador to the UK and a close Texas friend would get an invite.
But Katharine's visits with Bush get more interesting when you look at her visits to Crawford. She was invited when Blair visited Bush at the Crawford Ranch in April 2002.
Bush and First Lady Laura Bush hosted Blair and his wife Cherie Saturday night for a dinner of pecan-smoked beef tenderloin and pineapple upside-down cake at the Prairie Chapel Ranch.
Also present were senior aides to both leaders, as well as Jenna Bush, one of the two Bush daughters, and Kathryn, the Blair's infant daughter, and Gale Booth, Mrs. Blair's mother.
Also invited was Katharine Armstrong Idsal, head of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
This was the meeting, recall, when Bush and Blair decided to go to war against Iraq.
Downing Street has consistently refused to disclose the date on which Mr Blair promised George Bush that Britain would join the US in an invasion of Iraq. But evidence obtained by the IoS suggests that it was as early as April 2002, when the Prime Minister met President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
A ruling by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, seen by the IoS, says the Government sought advice about the legality of a possible invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2002 as the result of "statements made in a particular press release".
The date of the release was 9 April 2002, the day after Mr Blair completed his two-day summit with Mr Bush in Texas. The implication is that immediately after the Downing Street official spokesman had denied that the meeting was a "council of war", the Government was investigating the legality of such a war.
So it appears (unless the "was invited" label suggests she didn't show) that Katharine Armstrong happened to be present the weekend Bush and Blair decided to go to war.
Then, last August, while Cindy Sheehan was camping outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Katharine Armstrong was visiting the ranch again.
"I'm going to have lunch with Secretary of State Rice, talk a little business; Mrs. Bush, talk a little business; we've got a friend from South Texas here, named Katharine Armstrong;
Now, this report appeared on Monday August 22, but Katharine's presence (the article is confusing, because it describes both Katharine Armstrong and Lance Armstrong, by last name, going on bike rides with Bush) is related to be the "Saturday before last" which would make it August 13, 2005. That's curious timing because of three events that happened earlier that week. First, on Monday August 8, Cindy Sheehan was told that she and her supporters might be arrested starting that Thursday, August 11.
Folks speculated at the time that the rumored arrests might be planned in response to two other events that would occur that week, a Thursday meeting with Condi and Rummy (and, according to the picture released by the White House, but not news reports, Dick) and a Friday fundraiser. As the NYT reported that week:
It is not clear how the White House will handle Ms. Sheehan. Mr. Bush usually comes and goes from the ranch by helicopter, but he might have to drive by her on Friday, when he is scheduled to attend a Republican fund-raiser at a ranch just down the road from where Ms. Sheehan is camped out. She will no doubt get another wave of publicity on Thursday, when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice join Mr. Bush at the ranch to discuss the war.
Here's how Stephen Hadley described the content of the principals' meeting:
The principals then met and Secretary Rice updated the principals and the President on the status of the Iran nuclear issue and recent developments in IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna. She also talked about next steps with respect to the six-party talks dealing with the North Korea nuclear issue, and also talked about preparations for a Gaza disengagement, which will begin next week.[my emphasis]
Now as it turns out, no one was arrested that Thursday, and the Bush motorcade drove right by Sheehan on Friday, so the speculations as to why they might be arrested were never more than that--speculations. Moreover, it is not clear when Katharine Amstrong arrived or whether she met with Condi and Rummy or attended the fundraiser (which was closed to the press). It seems likely that she attended the fundraiser, since it was basically a big get-together for the Pioneers:
About 230 people were attending the fundraiser at Stan and Kathy Hickey's Broken Spoke Ranch, a 478-acre spread next to Bush's ranch. All have contributed at least $25,000 to the RNC, and many are "rangers," an honorary campaign title bestowed on those who raised $200,000 or more for Bush, or "pioneers," those who have raised $100,000 or more.
And it seems likely, too, that she at least met Condi, who was clearly still around and "doing business" when Armstrong was there on Saturday.
Call me crazy, but it seems like Katharine is the "Where's Waldo" of Republican warmongering, showing up in Crawford every time these Republicans want to talk about going to war against some country in the Middle East.
Katharine Armstrong, Lobbyist and Waldo of Warmongering
Which is, I think, important context to consider the question of lobbying. Sidney Blumenthal provides a good introduction to Katharine's lobbying career.
Katharine Armstrong took up lobbying after her recent divorce. Her contracts include Parsons, a construction firm that has done work in Iraq, among others. Her business partner, Karen Johnson, a close friend of Rove's, does extensive business with the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and defense contractors. But Armstrong's protestations to news media that she does not lobby Cheney should probably be taken at face value given her background.
If Parsons Corporation can thank Armstrong and her partner for their success in Iraq, they have a lot to be thankful for. After Halliburton, they were one of the biggest contractors in Iraq, winning up to $3 billion of contracts to build new security facilities, rebuild public buildings, rebuild the infrastructure, build facilities for the US military, and work on oil fields in the area surrounding Kirkuk. Their work has been almost as plagued by quality problems as Halliburton, including several hospital reconstruction projects that left the jobs half done.
At the maternity hospital across town, Dr. Yassin could hardly disguise her mounting frustration. She said the contractor, the Parsons Corporation, had repaired the hospital's reverse osmosis water purification equipment, but that little else had been accomplished in the five months since the renovation began.
Only one of the hospital's four elevators is working, and that is the one Parsons left in operation while the others were supposedly being repaired, she said, adding that no one is working on the elevators now. Major Smith said Parsons had completed the work but that it was so shoddy the Army would not certify the elevators for use. He said the company had since agreed to bring in elevator specialists to redo the job.
Parsons was also supposed to fix the hospital's incinerators, but it completed the work without hooking up gas lines to fuel them, Dr. Yassin said.
So we know that Katharine has helped Parsons defraud the American taxpayer and the Iraqi people. But we don't know Katharine's primary contracting client. Or rather, we don't know which client of Baker Botts she lobbied for.
Armstrong was paid $160,000 in 2004 by the powerful legal firm Baker Botts to lobby the White House, according to records she filed with the U.S. Senate as required by lobbying disclosure rules. The records indicate she was paid the money after she "communicated with the White House on behalf of Baker Botts clients."
In a phone interview, she told NBC News that in return for the money in one case, she set up a meeting at the White House for a Baker Botts client, although she said she felt she could not release the client’s name.
"A meeting for doing something with one of their clients," she said, describing the event. "I’m not at liberty to say which." She says she cannot remember which White House official the meeting was with. She also said that during the inauguration proceedings, she got Karl Rove to speak at a Baker Botts function. "I got them Karl Rove," she said.
Records indicate that early in 2005 she ended her dealings with Baker Botts.
A $160,000 meeting? Not as much as the $9 million Abramoff commanded to set up a White House meeting. But a pricey meeting nevertheless. And given Katherine's demonstrably faulty eyewitness skills, I suppose it's not a surprise that she can't remember whom she was lobbying.
Baker Botts clients include many energy companies, some white collar criminals, and some SEC violators. Two "companies" it had notable dealings with in 2004 include the Saudi royal family (defending them against a suit holding them responsible for 9/11) and Halliburton. In fact, Halliburton hired Baker Botts lawyer James Doty, the guy who got Bush off his Harken energy insider trading problems, to investigate the circumstances surrounding Halliburton's bribery in Nigeria.
We have no way of knowing whether Katharine was lobbying on these clients' behalf, or someone else (though frankly, I suspect neither Halliburton nor the Saudis would need Katharine's services at the White House, since they could just call Bandar Bush or Cheney). But it's worth noting that Baker Botts was named the Global Oil and Gas Law Firm of 2005.
The point being that, if Katharine is "lobbying" for someone, she's doing a lot more than simply setting up meetings. She's got personal ties to Parsons and Halliburton, two of the five big DOD contractors with inside bids for Iraq business (and any other business that arises out of little Republican adventures). And she has a history of popping up at meetings that seem to be cabal sessions to plot the next oil war. And, apparently, an aspiration to replace her mom as the Grande Dame of Republican Scandal.
What about Ms. Brown Negley?
One more detail we ought to consider when asking what Dick is trying to hide--the least discussed house guest, Nancy Brown Negley. Described in the NYT piece as a philanthropist "whose family once controlled Brown & Root," she is described elsewhere as the heiress to the Brown & Root interest. Brown & Root, of course, has become Halliburton, the big beneficiary of the Iraq war, as well as a great deal of other defense contracting. By all appearances, Negley's primary occupation is to give money away (and to good, artsy causes, too!). But she, too, has ties to one of the construction/DOD contractors making a killing off of this war.
Q How was the hunt?
THE PRESIDENT: It was good fun. You know, when you hunt quail, you get a lot of exercise. As you know, I like exercise. And so my Dad and I, and Ms. Negley, whose ranch we were on, walked a lot of territory, watched the dogs work, and knocked down some birds.
Q How many?
THE PRESIDENT: I think I shot five. The limit in Texas, I believe, is 15. I'm not that good a shot, but it was a lot of fun.
And it was Ms. Negley's ranch manager--hers is the El Tule ranch--who is probably in a bit of trouble right now for blabbing about the world affairs conversation at last Sunday's lunch. I'm not sure what Willeford was doing there (though she has also done sleep-overs at the White House), but she seems to have been the guest of a bunch of people benefitting from George Bush's "long war."
Which is all a way of suggesting that we're thinking too small. I'm not suggesting that every time the Bushes or Cheney get together with these old Texas DOD contractor families, they start a war. Perhaps they just like to maintain their privacy in case they find they need to start a war and profit off it handsomely. But there's much more of a history with these folks--particularly between the Armstrongs and Republican crooks--than you can fit in a little bottle of beer.
Update: Corrected spelling of Negley's name, per William Ockham.