Tag Archives: investigative journalism

Pay-to-Play Scheme in NY Senate Seat Pick?

Senator-designate Kirsten Gillibrand (right) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a lunch meeting with New York Governor David Paterson at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Senator-designate Kirsten Gillibrand (right) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a lunch meeting with New York Governor David Paterson at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Photo: Getty Images

 BLAGO AIN’T GOT NUTHIN’ ON THIS

Ever since Caroline Kennedy mysteriously withdrew her name from consideration for Hillary Clinton’s former U.S. Senate seat last Wednesday night, and Governor David Paterson’s surprise pick of Kirsten Gilibrand on Friday, many have wondered aloud: who the heck is Kirsten Gillibrand, and why did a Democratic governor choose a relatively unknown upstate Blue Dog whose voting record is more Republican than Democrat? 

Well, that’s a very good question to ask. Why did Paterson pick Gillibrand, when it seemed Kennedy was the obvious choice? And why did the Governor turn so nasty towards Caroline after she withdrew from the race? Why would he authorize one of his PR flacks (who, it turns out, is a former Bush White House staffer!) to “anonymously” kneecap Kennedy, spreading damaging stories to the press about Caroline’s supposed tax issues, nanny issues, and marital issues (stories Paterson now admits were totally false)?

The answer may not be in anything that Caroline did to piss off the Governor. It was what she didn’t do.

Here’s the REAL crux of the Paterson/Kennedy/Gillibrand senate seat story that the mainstream media won’t touch with a 10-foot pole…apparently becaue they’re all too busy flapping their lips about Blago and his really great hair:

Senate appointee Kirsten Gillibrand’ s former law firm is Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

David Boies, the senior partner at the firm, contributed $25,000 to Gov. Paterson’s campaign committee on December 23, 2008, while the governor was considering Gillibrand’s candidacy.

Boies’ son Chris, also a partner in the firm, contributed another $25,000 on the same day.

Source: The Village Voice (Jan. 22, 2009)

OK, go back and read that again. The timing of these campaign contributions reeks. Dec. 23, in the heat of the Senate seat competition?
Not TOO obvious, eh?
But wait…it gets better. Much, MUCH better. Read on.

THE MILLION-DOLLAR D’AMATO CONNECTION

This isn’t the first time Gov. Paterson’s engaged in a bit of pay for play and been called out. Less than two months after taking office, he had another little “issue” with a new hire in his press office, as reported by the New York Daily News’ Elizabeth Benjamin (who has been hot on the Governor’s heels over those nasty rumors he authorized his paid PR flack Judy Smith to leak “anonymously” about Caroline Kennedy).

Also, more info from the New York Times here on an “interesting” $3 million fundraiser Paterson held in December, while the senate seat contest was still hot. Check the guest list very, very carefully…

Then see this Village Voice article from Jan. 27, 2009 about the Paterson-Gillibrand-D’Amato connection, which reports that D’Amato gave Paterson a stunning $500k at a holiday party last year during the heat of the senate seat competition. That’s certainly enough money to buy D’Amato prime placement in the front row of Paterson’s press conference announcing Gillibrand as his senate pick…and perhaps it bought um….other things as well. (cough)

Here’s an excerpt from the Voice‘s investigative report which unravels the fascinating relationship between Gillibrand and D’Amato (it’s all in the family, baby!), and how the two came to be so strangely close to Governor Paterson:

“D’Amato wound up in the camera frame throughout the hour and a half press conference by design. Governor David Paterson’s staff kept the dignitaries in a holding room and walked them onto the stage in a prearranged order, positioning D’Amato at center stage, where his presence was a not-so-subtle advertisement of his influence with both the governor and the state’s new senator, a potential boon to Park Strategies, his multi-million dollar Washington and Albany lobbying business.

Gillibrand’s first job was as an intern for two summers in D’Amato’s senate office, and her father, Doug Rutnik, was so close to D’Amato that, while still married to Gillibrand’s mother, he covertly double-dated with the then single senator, squiring a D’Amato press aide on a two-week Caribbean tryst to celebrate the senator’s re-election in 1992…

…Because Rutnik’s ties to D’Amato, George Pataki, and the former GOP senate majority leader Joe Bruno are Albany legend, it was hardly a surprise that Gillibrand wanted D’Amato there. What no one could quite figure out is why Paterson did.

A Voice review, however, of two campaign finance committees–Paterson’s and the New York State Democratic Committee, which Paterson controls–reveals that D’Amato may be Paterson’s largest single fundraiser.

D’Amato hosted a $1,000-a-plate dinner for Paterson at the Coyote Grill in Island Park on November 2, and Paterson went to the Christmas party sponsored by D’Amato’s firm on December 10, and most of the $581,400 in contributions connected to D’Amato that the Voice has identified were given to Paterson’s committees near those two dates.”

YOU SAY TOMATO, I SAY D’AMATO

Now, let’s do the math, shall we?

More than $500,000 from the December holiday party, and at least $15,000 from the Coyote Grill fundraiser in November (based on an invitation list of 15 persons at $1,000 a plate), that’s a pretty good chunk of change, wouldn’t you say? And all of it raised by Uncle Al. No wonder he’s the governor’s new BFF!

While the $50,000 in contributions to Paterson from Gillibrand’s very close friends and former law partners on Dec. 23rd is not a huge amount in NY politics and is unlikely to buy anyone a state job, let alone a U.S. senate seat, more than half a million dollars from D’Amato should be enough to get *anybody’s* attention focused on Uncle Al’s longtime BFF Kirsten Gilibrand.

It certainly got Gov. Paterson’s attention.  

 

Hey, ya know, it may be cold and flu season in New York, but those figures are nothing to sneeze at.

And these are just the suspicious contributions we know about. There may be even more yet to be revealed. But adding up the estimated $15,000 from D’Amato’s November fundraiser, plus the whopping $500,000 from D’Amato’s December fundraiser (both lowball estimates, by the way), plus the $50,000 given by Gillibrand’s former law partners David and Chris Boies on Dec. 23 — puts a ballpark figure of nearly $600,000 in Paterson’s war chest.

Add to THAT all the smaller contributions from individuals and businesses raised by D’Amato for Patterson prior to those two fall fundraisers mentioned above (detailed here in the Voice’s excellent investigative piece), you’re looking at a Grand Total of well over a million dollars.

Cha-Ching! 

BLEEPIN’ GOLDEN

That being the case, wouldn’t this make Paterson guilty of doing the exact same thing that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is currently being accused of? And more blatantly than Blago would have ever dared? (Which is really sayin’ something, as Blago is anything but subtle!)

I can hear that phone call now:

PATERSON: “I’ve got this thing and it’s bleepin’ GOLDEN! I’m not just gonna give that bleepin’ senate seat away for nuthin’!”

At a press conference last month, noting that Blagojevich has been under investigation for years for pay-to-play corruption charges, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald expressed his amazement that the activity would continue. “You might have thought in that environment, pay-to-play would have slowed down. The opposite happened. It sped up,” he said.

Apparently, no one warned Paterson to be careful since the heat was on. Or perhaps Paterson was warned and chose to arrogantly assume that he was ten feet tall and bulletproof. So far, Paterson seems to be. No one has even dared to raise a pay-to-play question regarding his senate pick…until now. So we’ll go ahead and ask a few questions:

Is it conceivable that Gov. Paterson got miffed at Caroline Kennedy because she was not willing to give him “anything but appreciation” for that Senate seat?

Could it be that Kennedy was too smart (and principled) to grease the Governor’s eager palms and potentially get herself embroiled in an explosive political corruption case? And did the Governor get pissed off because Caroline wisely stood her ground, held on to her integrity, and turned the other cheek?

CAROLINE WOULDN’T PLAY BALL

From our initial investigation, we can find no evidence of any campaign contributions given to Paterson by Kennedy or anyone connected with her.

Caroline is well-known for her avoidance of making financial contributions to New York Dems in local races, and this New York Daily News article from December 25, 2008 (curiously published just two days after friends of Gillibrand gave the Guv $50,000) flat-out states that Kennedy’s unwillingness to “play the game” may cost her the senate seat:

Caroline Kennedy’s supporters say she could raise tons of money as a senator, but when it comes to writing checks to New York Democrats, she’s been largely AWOL.

This decade, other than a $1,000 donation to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the Camelot heiress has not financially supported any Democrat seeking city or state office in New York, records reveal.

Some say Kennedy, who is worth at least $100 million, missed an opportunity to curry favor among Democratic pols to establish herself as a serious political player as she lobbies Gov. Paterson for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat.

NONE DARE CALL IT CORRUPTION

Starting to see what’s really going on here? Gillibrand was willing to pay-to-play (with a little help from her “sugar daddy” D’Amato) and Kennedy was not. A million-dollar payoff to the Guv’s campaign fund was cash she wasn’t willing to pony, Macaroni.

Therefore, Gillibrand got the gig. It ain’t rocket science, folks. Just politics as usual.

Only difference this time is that the Governor of Illinois is being impeached for even suggesting (although not completing) such a transaction, while Paterson (who apparently did complete the transaction) is skating away like Tonya Harding. The local New York and national media plugs their ears and hums a tune, refusing to investigate any suggestion of Blago-type graft and corruption happening here. They hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Thanks to the Kansas City Star for pointing out an issue that both the New York Post and New York Times heartily agree on — that NY governor David Paterson is now officially Worse than Blagojevich after the media circus that surrounded his naming a replacement for the Senate seat left vacant by Hillary Clinton. But still, that’s as far as the media is prepared to go. None dare call it corruption.

Hmmm…wonder if anyone has been tapping Paterson’s phone during this senate contest? They were certainly listening to Gov. Spitzer’s calls in an effort to catch him in a liason with a high-priced hooker. Seems to me the authorities might have wanted to keep an eye/ear on Gov. Paterson during this selection process, especially in light of the Blago scandal. Under those circumstances, a case could easily be made for probable cause.

So WHERE ARE THE PATERSON TAPES? And where’s the investigation? Where’s the outrage? Where’s the impeachment?

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Help RFK and Greg Palast Fight Election Fraud

WHERE ARE THE VOTES?

One million Democrats attempting to vote in this year’s primaries found their names missing from voter rolls. WHERE THE HELL DID THEY GO?Palast and Kennedy

Law professor Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and journalist Greg Palast are launching an investigation. We want to know: where are these votes? Who swiped them? How? And how do we prevent it from happening in November?

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Bobby Kennedy, in his masterful article in Rolling Stone, exposed how Ohio votes vanished in 2004. The Palast team, for BBC Television, unmasked the vicious ‘scrub’ of Black voters in Florida in 2000.
Now Kennedy and Palast have joined together with an extraordinary team of investigators to hunt the missing votes of 2008 BEFORE we have a repeat of 2000 and 2004.

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Our investigation is non-partisan. It’s not about saving Democrats, but saving DEMOCRACY.

But we know who’s playing games with the ballots.

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Yours,
Greg Palast

To get involved, please visit Greg Palast’s website and show your support!

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The War Against Castro Is NOT Over

AMERICAN TERRORISTS: “THIS IS HEZBOLLAH IN FLORIDA”

Think the U.S.’s secret war against Fidel Castro ended 40 years ago? Think again.

On this week’s Ring of Fire radio show, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. interviewed Joe Conason of the Nation Institute about an explosive investigative report which recently appeared in Salon on the terrorist training camp in South Florida known as Alpha 66.

Conason (also a longtime friend of Bobby’s) explained how Alpha 66 has been allowed to operate and engage in Operation Mongoose-type mischief against Cuba since 1961, even though the U.S. government supposedly abandoned such activities during the Kennedy administration. The truth of the matter, as this article details, is quite another story.

Here is an excerpt from Salon.com:

Alpha 66 training camp

(At the entrance to the Alpha 66 training camp outside Miami. Image by Dando Valle.)

The “Terrorists” of South Florida

Anti-Castro Cuban exiles who have been linked to bombings and assassinations are living free in Miami. Does the U.S. government have a double standard when it comes to terror?

Editor’s note: Research support was provided by the Puffin Foundation Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.

By Tristram Korten and Kirk Nielsen

Jan. 14, 2008 | OUTSIDE MIAMI, Fla. — On a hot subtropical Sunday, deep in the humid brush bordering the Everglades west of Miami, Osiel Gonzalez squints down the worn barrel of an AK-47 rifle and squeezes the trigger. With a crack and kick the bullet whizzes over a field of neatly trimmed grass and hits a human silhouette on a paper target 40 yards away.

Gonzalez wipes the sweat off his brow and smiles. Perspiration stains the neck and armpits of his camouflage jacket. All around him are men in fatigues, some flat-bellied on the grass shooting rounds, others cleaning their weapons or picking through ammunition boxes. The air is thick with cigar smoke. At age 71, Gonzalez is still one of the best marksmen at this training camp for Alpha 66, the paramilitary Cuban exile group formed in 1961 “with the intention of making commando type attacks on Cuba,” as the organization’s Web site baldly puts it. Gonzalez hopes to put his skills to use when the second revolution comes, the one that will tear his homeland free from the grip of communist dictator Fidel Castro. At that point Gonzalez hopes to have a Cuban soldier in his sights, not a paper silhouette.

Plans to attack Cuba are constantly being hatched in South Florida. Over the years militant exiles have been linked to everything from downing airliners to hit-and-run commando raids on the Cuban coast to hotel bombings in Havana. They’ve killed Cuban diplomats and made numerous attempts on Castro’s life.

But, other than an occasional federal gun charge, nothing much seems to happen to most of these would-be revolutionaries. They are allowed to train nearly unimpeded despite making explicit plans to violate the 70-year-old U.S. Neutrality Act and overthrow a sovereign country’s government. Though separate anti-terror laws passed in 1994 and 1996 would seem to apply directly to their activities, no one has ever been charged for anti-Cuban terrorism under those laws. And 9/11 seems to have changed nothing. In the past few years in South Florida, a newly created local terrorism task force has investigated Jose Padilla and the hapless Seas of David cult, and juries have delivered mixed reviews, but no terrorism charges have been brought against anti-Castro militants. The federal government has even failed to extradite to other countries militants who are credibly accused of acts of murder. Among the most notorious is Luis Posada Carriles, wanted for bombing a Cuban jet in 1976 and Havana hotels in 1997. It is, perhaps, a testament to the power of South Florida’s crucial Cuban-American voting bloc — and the political allegiances of the current president.

In Greater Miami, home to the majority of the nation’s 1.5 million Cuban-Americans, the presence of what could credibly be described as a terrorist training camp has become an accepted norm during the half-century of the anti-Castro Cuban diaspora. Alpha 66 and numerous other paramilitary groups — Comandos F4, Brigade 2506, Accion Cubana — are so common they’ve taken on the benign patina of Rotary Clubs with weapons.

But Alpha 66 members are eager to remind you that even if they are graying and prosperous they are not toothless old tigers. Their Web site boasts that “in recent years” they’ve sabotaged Cuba’s tourist economy by attacking hotels in the beach resort of Caya Coco. At the group’s headquarters in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, the walls are hung with the portraits of dozens of men who have died on Alpha 66 missions.

To reach Alpha 66′s South Florida camp you have to drive to the farmlands west of Miami’s sprawl, then wait for a guide. You follow the guide down a winding, pitted dirt road for a few miles until you get to a gate and a yellow watchtower hung with an old-fashioned school bell. Behind a wall of trees and shrubs is a compound that looks like a hunting lodge. A low-slung wood-plank bunker with a deck and awning provides refuge from the sun.

Before hitting the range, the men — there are no women here today — had done maneuvers, marching in double file around the field, while a short, barrel-chested former Cuban army officer named Ivan Ayala barked directions: “Columna izquierda!” Many of the aging, uniformed men laboring to make it around the field are veterans of the failed CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 and alumni of Castro’s jails. Some, like Osiel Gonzalez, even fought alongside Castro against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, before Castro’s turn toward communism. Most, if you believe them, have a “commando” mission or two with Alpha under their belts — landing on a remote beach and burning sugar cane fields, or strafing a shoreline with machine-gun fire. In other words, they’ve walked the walk of counterrevolutionary violence, even if it’s now reduced to a shuffle.

They deny they have anything in common with the militants hiding in the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan. “No, we are not terrorists,” says Gonzalez, the second-in-command and a co-founder of the group who, when he is not donning fatigues and shouldering a rifle, is a financial consultant. “We don’t want to kill civilians.”

“Our goal is to free our country for our children and grandchildren,” drawls Al Bacallao, who has already retreated to the porch’s shade behind Gonzalez and the shooting range. The 61-year-old Bacallao was raised in Georgia after arriving from Cuba at age 8, and is the rare Cuban exile with a Southern twang. “The United States fought for its liberty, why can’t we?”

But Alpha members may have a fluid definition of what a civilian is. Raking the coast with .50-caliber machine-gun fire certainly does not exclude civilian casualties, nor does attacking tourist spots. By his own admission, Bacallao, who joined Alpha 66 23 years ago, has gone on several missions to Cuba. In 1993 U.S. authorities arrested him and a boatload of other men setting out for the island.

…”Let me tell you, we were treated like animals,” he says. “And all we were trying to do was liberate our country.”

But if he was treated like an animal, he is not in a cage. Federal prosecutors charged him and his companions with illegal weapons possession but a judge dismissed the case against most of the men, and a jury found the rest not guilty. Like other anti-Castro exiles before him, despite violent acts he is free to continue reporting to the training camp, and free to continue preparing for counter-revolution.

…Judy Orihuela, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Miami office, insists the agency will investigate any group that intends to violate U.S. law and poses a violent threat. At the Department of Justice in Washington, Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the national security division, rejects the notion that federal law enforcement shows leniency toward exile militants. Boyd maintains the DOJ would never attempt to influence a local case for political reasons and is blind to community or political pressure. “We pursue charges based on the evidence, not on other considerations,” he says.

“That’s sheer bullshit,” counters Wayne Smith, who was chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba under Presidents Carter and Reagan from 1979 to 1982, making him the de facto U.S. ambassador to Havana. Smith, who now runs the Cuba Program at the D.C.-based Center for International Policy, invokes the names of two of the most notorious Cuban exiles to argue that the U.S. does, in fact, play favorites. “We are certainly not applying these laws objectively in the case of Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch and a whole lot of others who have been involved in terrorist activities. We say that countries must take action against terrorists, but we’re clearly not. And I think it’s because we’re sympathetic to their actions.”

At the beginning of Castro’s reign, the U.S. was more than sympathetic to the militant exiles. In the 1960s, the U.S. government actively encouraged and supported anti-Castro violence, including the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. “Throughout most of the 1960s, rolling back the Cuban revolution through violent exile surrogates remained a top U.S. priority,” says Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive and a specialist on U.S. policy toward Cuba. With exile involvement, the U.S. government made numerous attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro between 1961 and 1975, though the number cited in the title of the British documentary “638 Ways to Kill Castro” may be an exaggeration. Many anti-Castro Cubans went to work for U.S. intelligence and compiled long résumés of covert activity. In the 1980s, some assisted with the Reagan administration’s covert effort to arm the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Cuban-American entanglement with the CIA eventually bled into U.S. politics; two of the five “plumbers” who broke into the Democratic Party’s national headquarters at the Watergate in 1972 were Cuban-American. Tolerance for anti-Castro militancy, meanwhile, also had domestic consequences. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s and into the ’80s, exiles carried out dozens of bombings and assassinations in Miami and other American cities, targeting people they deemed too accommodating to the Castro government.

…Still, however, the militants continued to train within the borders of the U.S., and to amass weaponry. Retired Army Col. Larry Wilkerson remembers attending briefings during Caribbean war game exercises from 1992 to 1997 where he learned of the exiles’ capabilities. “We would always be fed this intelligence and I was astounded at how many suspected caches of arms they had access to not just in Florida, but in California, New Jersey and other places; light machine guns, grenades, C4, dynamite, all manner of side arms and long arms,” recalls Wilkerson, who was former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005. “It was a veritable terrorist haven. This is Hezbollah in Florida, if you’re looking at it through Havana’s eyes.”

Story continues here. Read it and forward the link to your friends.

Copyright 2008 Salon.com.

 

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