Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has done nearly everything picture-perfectly right since the elections swept her into imminent power. From her statements the night of the elections to those the day after, to her approach to the new House to her adroit handling of possible leadership turmoil over the Majority Whip, Democratic Caucus chairmanship and vice chairmanship, she has said and done the right things and acted with finesse to prepare for her Speakership.
I know she means it when she says that she will change the way the House operates, making it more transparent, more honest, more deliberative and more productive. She has spine, drive, intelligence and the passion to be a historic figure in more ways than one.
I winced only a little when she said in a burst of election-eve exuberance that under her leadership, the 110th Congress would be the most honest and ethical in history; that is a rather high bar to set and then successfully leap. But having set that standard, it is fair to bring it up as the House Democrats consider the one intraparty contest Pelosi did not avert — the race for Majority Leader. Now that the contest between Reps. John Murtha (Pa.) and Steny Hoyer (Md.) is on full-bore, I want to elaborate on some comments I made in a column in mid-October, when most Members were not around and the incoming freshmen were just candidates.
There is one thing every House Democrat must do before going into the Caucus to cast that vote for Majority Leader: Go to video.google.com, search for “American Spectator John Murtha,” and then take 53 minutes and 40 seconds to watch the video that comes up.
It is a Jan. 7, 1980, video taken by the FBI during the Abscam sting, and it shows Murtha meeting with agents disguised as Middle Eastern businessmen running an outfit they called Abdul Enterprises and offering cash for political favors, including asylum for one posing as an Arab sheik. They offered $50,000 in cash to Members of Congress for helping them, and a number of Members took the money eagerly. One Senator and six House Members ultimately were convicted of charges including bribery and conspiracy.
Murtha was one of the lawmakers targeted by the FBI. He ultimately was not charged after he cooperated with the FBI and helped implicate some of the other Members. The ethics committee voted along party lines not to bring ethics charges against him — causing the panel’s special counsel, E. Barrett Prettyman Jr., to resign in protest. Murtha since has talked proudly about how he resisted the offers of cash for favors, portraying himself as a hero.
Watch the video, read the transcript and you will see a different story. The Murtha talking to the FBI did refuse to take the money — but here is what he said: “I want to deal with you guys a while before I make any transactions at all, period. ... After we’ve done some business, well, then I might change my mind.”
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