Say, does anyone remember the Off the Record Club? It was one of the most interesting details revealed at the Libby trial--that there's this group of GOP-lobbyist-hacks who meet monthly and serve as an on-call damage control group for the Republicans.
But [Richard] Hohlt's more significant role may be his leadership of a secretive social group of GOP heavy hitters and, occasionally, White House officials, who convene to smoke cigars and mull over politics. The group's name: the Off The Record Club. Hohlt is the club's "keeper of the flame," says one participant who, like others contacted for this story, didn't want to be named because it violates the group's rules. Each month or so for more than 15 years, Hohlt has booked a room at a posh Washington hotel or restaurant and invited the guests for dinner. Among the regulars, according to three participants: fellow lobbyists Ken Duberstein, Charlie Black and Vin Weber. Rove and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten "have both attended these meetings on occasion," says a White House spokesperson.
The club, participants say, helps the White House with damage control—they prodded GOP pols to back the president's post-Katrina cleanup—and thinks up ways to get the party's message across to the press. [my emphasis]
I haven't forgotten what the Off the Record Club is. I particularly remember that there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence thatthe leak of Plame's identity got laundered right through the group. Ken Duberstein set up the meeting between Bob Novak and Richard Armitage and then, when the shit started hitting the fan in the fall, he made some kind of obstructive call to Bob Novak. And Richard Hohlt seems to have pressed Novak to write a story on Plame; once Novak wrote that story, Hohlt gave a copy to the White House, three days before the story's publication. Right there, right at the heart of the leak case ... remarkable. You might call it the "Leak in a Box Club."
Equally remarkable is the way that the country's two leading newspapers seem to have forgotten all these details--particularly the detail that one shouldn't give an Off the Record Club member prominent copy in an article about the crime their colleagues may well have facilitated. It just seems like basic
blogger journalistic ethics, after all, that you don't go to a Crips member to find out his opinion on a murder committed by another member of the same gang. These guys, like any other gang members, are simply going to defend the gang.
Well, here's the NYT providing space to let Off the Record Club member Charlie Black argue that Bush's commutation decision was measured.
“I think he sincerely believed that Scooter was not shown proper justice,” said Charlie Black, a Republican strategist close to the administration. “We can get into the whole definition of justice versus mercy, but the point is the president didn’t say justice wasn’t done, he just didn’t think the sentence was fair and therefore he showed mercy.”
Mr. Bush comes at the decision a weakened leader, with his public approval ratings at historic lows for any president, his domestic agenda faltering on Capitol Hill and his aides facing subpoenas from the Democrats who control Congress. Those circumstances offer him a certain amount of freedom; as Mr. Black said, “He knows he’s going to get hammered no matter what he does.”
And here's the WaPo letting Off the Record Club member Vin Weber argue that Libby should have been pardoned rather than his sentence commuted:
Vin Weber, a conservative lobbyist and adviser to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said he was puzzled by Bush's deferring a decision on a pardon, given what Weber described as the overwhelming consensus in Republican political circles that Libby should be pardoned.
"We seem to have decided that we are going to prolong this thing as long as we can, which is drag this into the presidential election," he said. "I don't understand why. I don't know what their thinking is. . . . No Republican wants this issue to be alive in the next election."
Full disclosure: I was interviewed for one of these stories. I made the argument--as I have elsewhere--that this constituted obstruction of justice. You probably don't see that viewpoint reflected in either article, huh? Admittedly, I've eaten dinner once with the Wilsons, appeared on two panels with Joe Wilson, and had a nice chat with Patrick Fitzgerald once about playing rugby at Amherst. So I guess that makes me biased and therefore it's reasonable that the article in question left out my standpoint entirely. I'm so glad the club members of two people who are intimately involved in this crime got my column space instead--it's only right after all! Call it good reporting.