Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2002 / 22 Kislev, 5763

Peter Roff

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Capital Comment | (UPI) Shuffle off

President George W. Bush has, as expected, named former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as his choice to be the new department's first secretary. Bush made the announcement in the White House East Room as he signed the legislation authorizing the creation of the new Cabinet department.

Bush also announced that Gordon England, currently the secretary of the Navy, is going to be nominated to be deputy secretary and that former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., now the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, would be tapped for the job of under secretary for border and transportation security. No word yet on who will be tapped to replace England and Hutchinson in their current posts. Those jobs are not yet vacant but both would be highly coveted by administration allies in need of a place to go after the November 2002 election. One person the president is said to be eager to place in his administration is the outgoing speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, James E. "Pete" Laney.

Laney is a Democrat but is also a close friend of the president and a political ally dating back to Bush's tenure as governor. In November, the Republicans won a majority in the Texas House, creating the need for a new speaker with an "R" after his name. No one is suggesting Laney for either of the two newly vacant posts but, as the post-midterm administration shuffle begins and current appointees resign or move to new jobs, look to hear his name bandied about on a bunch of short lists.

In the interests of security

The feud between outgoing Senate leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and radio's Rush Limbaugh continues to simmer. Last week Daschle, in his final news conference as leader, accused Limbaugh of inciting attacks on him and his family through his comments about Daschle's leadership on his national radio program.

These kinds of feuds are nothing new. Attacks on politicians and public figures by members of the media are a regular part of the American democracy -- just ask Fala or Checkers. Nevertheless the imbroglio brings to mind the way in which supporters of former President Clinton went after former federal Judge Kenneth Starr while he was the independent counsel.

Appendix E of the Office of Independent council's final report -- Financial Information Regarding the Office of the Independent Counsel for the Period August 5, 1994 to March 31, 2001 -- says Starr's office spent $2,252,104 for what is called "protective services." This expenditure was 3 percent of the total across all the different investigations, including but not limited to the Lewinsky matter.

As explained in footnote 3 on page 136, "Expenditures for protective services became significant as the office received many serious threats regarding the safety and security of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr during the Lewinsky investigation." Public documents indicate this was the first time an independent counsel found it necessary to spend funds on personal protection for himself and his staff. But, then again, none of them was ever subjected to the deliberate campaign of character assassination Starr was forced to endure.

Some of his critics, mainstream Democrats not those on the political fringe, went so far as to suggest Starr represented the single greatest threat to American democracy and that he was part of some "vast right wing conspiracy," which may have been enough to spur threats and violence. According to one former OIC staffer, one knife-wielding man actually made it up to Starr's office -- albeit on a day he was not present -- and was apprehended, tried and convicted.

There's a party going on

Winning Margins PAC, formed to help Democrats raise funds through small dollar contributions, is hosting a fundraiser for Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on Dec. 4. The event, which will be held at the historic Frederick Douglass House in Northeast Washington, is the latest for the group that boasts it has become "the sixth-largest ideological PAC donating to Democratic candidates" in the country, despite its focus on small contributions. On the steering committee for the soiree are such notables as former U.S. Rep. Jim Chapman, D-Texas, Washington public relations and lobbying guru Gloria Dittus and attorney Jack Krumholtz. None of them is probably aware that Douglass, famed abolitionist and an adviser to U.S. presidents beginning with Abraham Lincoln, was a Republican.

Musical chairs

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is the new co-chairman of the Congressional Forum on Technology and Innovation. Wyden replaces West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller as the Democrat chairman of the forum, an initiative of the non-partisan Council on Competitiveness. The forum presents briefing sessions on cutting-edge science and innovation policy issues for members of Congress and their staffs on topics including national cybersecurity, broadband technology, and biodefense. "To win the war on terror, to strengthen our economy and create family-wage jobs, and to maintain its position as the leader of the free world, the United States must stay at the forefront of technological innovation and application," Wyden said. The Tech Forum, held monthly while Congress is in session, will next meet in February on the topic of electronic medical records.

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