Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rep. Murtha and ABSCAM

For the vast majority of America (of those who pay attention to politics) the vision of Representative John Murtha (D-Pa.) is a white-maned, craggy-faced, former Marine who is demanding an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq after visiting many injured veterans.

The truth, though, may be somewhat different. Bob Novak writes in last week that John Murtha was designated an unindicted co-conspirator in the famous ABSCAM case in the early 1980s where several congressman were videotaped taking bribes from a phony Arab sheik.

Murtha got into politics in 1968 as a 36-year-old highly decorated Marine and in 1974 became the first Vietnam War veteran elected to Congress. By 1980, Murtha was a lieutenant of Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill and was moving to the top in the House when the FBI named him as one of eight members of Congress videotaped being offered bribes by a phony Arab sheik.

The other seven congressional targets took cash and were convicted in federal court. The videotape showed Murtha declining to take cash but expressing interest in further negotiations, while bragging about his political influence. Murtha testified against the popular Rep. Frank Thompson in the Abscam case, which created lifelong enemies in the Democratic cloakroom. The House Ethics Committee exonerated Murtha of misconduct charges by a largely party-line vote, after which the committee's special counsel resigned in protest.

That salvaged Murtha's political career but limited his public exposure. The current Almanac of American Politics says: "He speaks for attribution to few national or local reporters, hardly ever appears on television and rarely speaks in the House chamber." That reticence has disappeared the last seven months, as he became one of the party's most visible faces.
Murtha now wears his heroic combat record like a suit of armor. In recent House debate over the Iraq war resolution, Murtha dominated the Democratic side -- compensating for a lack of articulation with vehemence. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a freshman Republican from Texas, had the temerity to suggest that had Murtha "prevailed after the bloodbaths in Normandy and in the Pacific ... we would be here speaking Japanese or German." Murtha pounced on Gohmert, asking whether he had been in Normandy, Vietnam or Iraq as a combat solider. The Republican had not, and he meekly thanked Murtha for "all that he has done with the wounded."

Murtha disqualifies adversaries who have not tasted combat, which includes the vast majority in the Congress. He repeats the comparison between civilian officials in "air-conditioned chambers" and soldiers carrying "70 pounds every day facing IEDs." On "Meet the Press," Murtha referred to presidential adviser Karl Rove "sitting in his air conditioned office with his big, fat backside, saying, 'Stay the course!'"

Murtha was most likely a crook and absolutely showed awful judgment back in 1980. His judgment is still lousy.

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