The Republican Party just spent $3 million to try to prevent a guy from serving 10 months of jail time for sponsoring crank phone calls. I'm speaking, of course, of James Tobin, who just got sent to jail (directly, do not pass go and do not get bail while waiting to appeal) for his role in jamming Democratic phones on election day 2002. As a point of comparison:
The RNC's legal fees exceed the $2.4 million spent by Sununu, the winner of the U.S. Senate race.
Or, for another point of comparison, a bunch of Neocon donors (but not, it should be emphasized, the Republican Party itself) plan to spend $5 million to make sure Scooter Libby doesn't do anything that might send Dick Cheney to jail. Compared to $3 million for a crank phone call crime that--as far as we know--implicate no one more senior than Ken Mehlman.
Does that seem rather like overkill to you? $3 million dollars for an offense--telephone harassment--with a maximum sentence of two years?
Yeah, seems like overkill to me too.
And to make things interesting, Ed Gillespie is struggling to find a way to shield the White House from any responsibility for the decision to spend $3 million to defend a guy for sponsoring crank phone calls.
Early this week the WaPo came out with Ed Gillespie
falling on his sword claiming all credit for the astounding decision to spend $3 million to defend a guy for sponsoring crank phone calls.
Former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie decided to pay Tobin's legal fees. "He was accused of doing something in his capacity as an RNC consultant, and we believed him to be innocent," Gillespie said. While the RNC had no contractual obligation, "it's the custom, not written anywhere, that you covered your people," Gillespie said.
Gillespie said he informed the White House, but did not seek formal approval, before authorizing the payments. Mehlman said that under his chairmanship, consulting contracts now explicitly declare that independent contractors must be prepared to pay their own legal costs in civil and criminal cases.
But the local Union Leader (you know, I think rampant Republican corruption thing is doing wonders for building local newspaper investigative skills) provides more data.
The former chairman of the Republican National Committee remembers telling someone at the White House that he had decided to have the RNC pay the legal defense bills for convicted phone-jamming conspirator James Tobin, but he can’t remember who.
Ed Gillespie told the New Hampshire Union Leader yesterday he informed the White House after he decided to authorize payment.
“I’m not going to guess,” he said. “It was years ago, but as a matter of routine, I would have told somebody over there.”
If someone at the White House had expressed displeasure with his decision, Gillespie said, “It was too late. I had made the decision and they were not involved in it.”
Gillespie, you see, is trying to claim that no one at the White House approved the decision to spend $3 million to defend a guy for sponsoring crank phone calls. He would have you believe that, even if someone objected, it was too late to reverse the decision. He had already made the decision to pay the fees, you see, it was final.
Except that he hadn't yet authorized the payment.
Even by Ed Gillespie's account, he informed the White House that the RNC would pay for the defense before he authorized the payment. Mind you, old Ed doesn't remember whom he told. Perhaps it was the same person in Ken Mehlman's office who received 22 calls during the election?
Now, it could just be me. But I can't fathom why an organization would spend $3 million defending a guy in such an embarrassing, stupid crime. For that matter, I can't imagine what they spent money on, for a relatively simple case.
So what do you suppose the real reason for the big investment in James Tobin's defense was? What was it that was so incriminating that the Republicans would spend three-fifths of what they're spending to protect Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and George Bush?
I don't really have the foggiest clue (probably by design, huh, Karl?). This was the election where Republicans made significant gains to retake the Senate (and get a bit of a cushion). It was the election where Max Cleland was imputed to support bin Laden, where Republican squawking about Wellstone's funeral ended up tipping Norm Coleman over Walter Mondale. But those are legal dirty tricks, and they're in other regions, far away from anything James Tobin, RNC Regional Director, might know about. There were also close elections in MO (Jim Talent v Jean Carnahan), LA (Landrieu v a Republican mob), and CO (Allard v Strickland) without, as far as I remember, big controversy.
The other possibility, of course, is that the GOP invested so much in James Tobin's defense because they don't want too much scrutiny into what they do with Republican-affiliated phone telemarketers. Though I just can't see it. That would suggest the Republicans would use databases and the phone system to conduct dirty tricks. Nahhh! I don't believe it.