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Twin Town High (vol. 8)
Commentary: Vin Weber — A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Thursday 10 November @ 22:12:31
[see also the Pulse cover story, "Is CACI off the hook? Pulse’s response to CACI" by Rubenstein, December 21-28, 2005.]
by DAVID RUBENSTEIN
The last week of October, with the indictment of Scooter Libby, the conclusion of the Harriet Miers fiasco, and the 2,000th U.S. death in Iraq, was arguably the worst week for the Republican party since Watergate. But it was a spectacular success for one Minnesota politician: our man inside-the-beltway, political operative par excellence and former six-term Republican Congressman, Vin Weber.
First New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks writes that Weber is just what the floundering Bush administration needs to steady itself. Three days later, Weber is in the New York Times again, this time on the front page, same subject, and quoted as an expert. (“You cleared the board of a couple big problems,” he says. “It gives us a chance to start rebuilding.”)
Back home, he’s on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midday with Gary Eichten,
taking calls for most of an hour. Then it’s on to the Star Tribune op-ed
page, for a “dialogue” with Annette Meeks, CEO of Minnesota’s
Republican think tank, the Center of the American Experiment (Weber sits on
the board). He rallies the troops. She promotes Weber’s old pal Newt Gingrich
(fresh from a $2,500-a-plate dinner at the Center) for President.
Star Tribune and MPR play Minnesota-nice and give Weber a pass. He’s billed
as the former Congressman, an influential Republican with a long political history.
MPR also notes his affiliation with the Humphrey Institute at the University
of Minnesota. Neither mentions what he does for a living. Weber is managing
partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Clark and Weinstock, “a consulting
firm providing strategic advice to businesses interested in the policy-making
process of the legislative and executive government branches,” as it’s
described on the Humphrey Institute website.
In other words, lobbying, often known as influence-peddling when it’s
done by well-connected former office holders like Weber.
Among the better-known Clark and Weinstock clients is the Pharmaceutical Research
and Manufacturers of America (“PhRMA”). If your elderly parents
are losing sleep trying to decipher the new Bush administration drug plan, you
can thank Vin Weber, among others. In 2001, when this turkey was being hatched,
Weber got some unwelcome publicity when it was reported that he was talking
to Bush’s senior advisor Karl Rove. He was trying—successfully as
it turned out—to make sure the program would be totally privatized and
there would be no “price controls.” In fact the law ended up being
written so that the government was even precluded from negotiating discounts.
Weber's meeting with Rove made the news (Washington Post, July 21, 2001) only
because it became known that Rove at the time owned almost a quarter million
dollars worth of drug company stocks, a fact that apparently sank into the Washington
cesspool and out of sight like a rock into a feedlot lagoon.
Weber’s connections have become legend. In addition to his six terms in
the U.S. Congress from the Second Congressional District in southern Minnesota,
he was Midwestern regional chair of Bush’s presidential campaign. Before
that he was a prominent member of John McCain’s kitchen cabinet. (That
has worked out well for Weber because much of what his clients pay him to accomplish
takes the form of legislation that will pass through McCain’s powerful
Senate Commerce Committee.)
Clark and Weinstock client is CACI International, a private defense and intelligence-gathering
firm. An official army investigation of Abu Gharib prison was scathing in its
treatment of CACI. The report's author, Major General Antonio M. Taguba, singled
out two of the company's employees as having major responsibility for what transpired
there. (CACI later denied that one of them worked for the company.)
Big companies and trade groups like PhRMA and CACI, and other Clark and Weinstock
clients like Cargill, ExxonMobil, Microsoft, and the now defunct Arthur Andersen
accounting firm, have one thing in common. They operate within a maze of law
and regulation that they must constantly shape and reshape to their liking in
order to prosper. Firms like Weber's, working out of sight and under the muck,
enable them to do it.
But you could say that CACI, with its Iraq-war connection, is more than just
a business for Weber. Although he managed to stay out of the service during
the Vietnam War, he has never had qualms about advocating that others take a
bullet for the supposed salvation of the free world, including in Iraq. In 1998,
Weber joined Donald Rumsfeld and such grizzled veteran chickenhawks as John
Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz and Cold War retread Elliott Abrams, to sign an open
letter to President Clinton. The letter (which can be found here)
tried to goad Clinton into a war with Iraq and suggested anything short of that
would be “weakness.”
“American policy,” they wrote, “cannot continue to be crippled
by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.”
Sometimes it seems that the fortunes of the Texas-based wing of the Republican
party and the more refined McCain-Weber wing—now perhaps to include a
resurrected Newt Gingrich, who counts Weber among his closest confidants—are
like two ends of a teeter-totter. When one goes down, the other goes up. But
it’s important to bear in mind the axle hardly moves. It just rotates.
John Vincent Weber sounds so benign and reasonable, and looks so much like a
cherub that’s about to blush, that sometimes it’s hard to remember
who he is. ||
David Rubenstein is prize-winning twin cities journalist, frequent contributor to Pulse, and occasional contributor to The Nation and to Minnesota Law & Politics. His articles and commentaries have also appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, New York Times and other regional and national publications.
*UPDATE: After the release of the Taguba report referenced in this commentary, it became known that one of the two contract workers identified by General Taguba as a CACI employee in fact worked for another company. Meanwhile other CACI employees have been implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal and CACI has been sued by the Center for Constitutional Rights. The extent of CACI’s responsibility for abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib is one issue being addressed in that lawsuit. (See “Is CACI Off the Hook?” in Pulse December 21-28, 2005)
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