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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Late Nite FDL: Barbara Comstock, The Early Years

Well not so early really, May 1998. But certainly in time to be part of the Lynch Clinton party, white sheets and all. From The Hill (Nexis/Lexis):
At its heart, the fiasco over the release of tapes of Webster Hubbell's prison phone calls by Rep. Dan Burton's (R-Ind.) campaign finance probe highlights the sharp divisions that have plagued the House inquiry from the outset.

On the one hand are the political operatives like Oversight Coordinator David Bossie -- workaholic, Burton loyalist, savvy media handler, anti-Clinton zealot and 32-year-old volunteer firefighter from Burtonsville, Md.

They have often found themselves at odds with the professional investigators and trained prosecutors on the staff of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

The dispute pitted those who favored building a strong case in the hearing room vs. those who tried their case in the media; those whose approach was methodical vs. those who wanted a more scattershot probe; and those who sought a clear organizational structure vs. those who were more freewheeling.

Political hands, for example, had recommended releasing transcripts of all the tapes of convicted Justice Department official Webster Hubbell's conversations, committee sources said. The professionals were dead set against a general release.

In the end, a compromise was reached in which part of the transcripts were released. Ironically, it was this compromise that gave Democrats a wedge to charge that the Republicans had doctored the tapes, leading to Bossie's forced resignation last week.

While Bossie has been a source of friction between the two camps, his announced departure also seems to have inflamed some tensions.

Some aides have looked on with astonishment in the days following the forced resignation of Bossie, who has remained in his office -- talking with reporters, meeting with staff and reading files almost as if nothing had happened. On Tuesday, nearly a full week after Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) reportedly ordered his ouster, Bossie still maintained his office and had not yet moved his belongings.

Bossie loyalists have continued to assist him, despite his departure from the committee. One committee investigator and friend, Kristi Remington, even accompanied him as he visited in the studio of ABC's "This Week," where he appeared on Sunday morning's broadcast. Remington was shown on camera outside the studio holding Bossie's cellular phone and a briefing book with red tabs marking important pages.

Chief Counsel Richard Bennett, who has run the investigation since last September and has avoided being identified in either the political or professional camp, described Bossie's lingering as routine, saying there was no need for him to be rushed in packing his things.

The political aides, led by Bossie and Chief Investigative Counsel Barbara Comstock, a close ally of his, recommended the release of full transcripts of the tapes.

Meanwhile, professional investigators and prosecutors, whose position was advanced by Bennett, feared that the release of the tapes would be an abuse of the committee's power. The Privacy Act makes it a crime for executive branch officials to release such conversations to all but Congress, which exempted itself from the law.

Overruling his chief counsel and siding with the political aides, Burton ordered that the tapes be released. But in an olive branch to the professionals, the chairman acquiesced to Bennett's desire to have the tapes edited to remove conversations that would constitute an unwarranted intrusion on Hubbell's private conversations.

Bossie and Comstock assigned two committee attorneys fresh out of law school to the tape transcription task. According to witnesses, they did not use official transcription equipment that would have made their jobs easier. Committee aides acknowledge that at least two important transcription errors were made in the process.

A third -- and ultimately more damaging -- error was made in the editing process, aides acknowledge. A conversation exculpatory to first lady Hillary Clinton was also removed.

Aides say the editing was a Bossie and Comstock joint project. "Dave and Barbara were the editors of this transcript," said one source.

Neither could be reached for comment. At deadline time, Bossie had not returned a phone call and Comstock was on her way back from a trip to France.

Republican committee aides differed as to how the mistaken transcript was made. "I don't believe he did it intentionally," Bennett said in an interview. "I believe there was a good-faith effort to accurately edit the tapes."

Another who sides with the professionals said, "I have a hard time believing that this was done by accident."

The first public signs of the rift between political aides and professional investigators occurred last July when Chief Counsel John Rowley resigned, causing three others to leave as well. In his letter to Burton explaining his action, Rowley, a former assistant U.S. attorney, cited Bossie's "unrelenting self-promoting actions."

People close to Rowley described extreme philosophical differences with Bossie, and those differences were also apparent in Bossie's relationships with other professional prosecutors and investigators.

While Rowley tried to be a methodical investigator, Bossie branched out in a hundred directions at once hoping to hit paydirt somewhere. Whereas Rowley insisted upon a firm organizational structure for the probe, Bossie liked things fluid and seemed to answer only to Burton. While Rowley was satisfied with developing a strong hearing record, Bossie worried most about having a strong media strategy, and according to numerous committee aides, constantly leaked materials to reporters.

So tied was Bossie to reporters that committee aides said he carried two cellular phones with him at all times. Though Bossie was reprimanded for leaking confidential documents early in the investigation, he has always denied leaking, even to fellow investigators who know otherwise. "He would expect for you to believe that he never talked to the press," a GOP colleague said. But "I know that both Barbara and Dave talk to the press all the time."

When Dick Bennett arrived in September, many expected to see a change. "Bennett clearly thought, 'I'm in control now,'" said a friend. Quickly, though, he found his power diminished by the drive, institutional knowledge, and political access of Bossie and Comstock. "I think Bennett in the end has succumbed to Bossie," the friend said.

"The people who are in charge of this committee are Dave Bossie and Barbara Comstock -- period," lamented one Republican aide. "Dick Bennett is at best a figurehead of some kind. Almost immediately, Dick Bennett learned that Dan Burton would take sides with Bossie, always. To see a former U.S. attorney who's 50-something years old kowtow to a 32-year-old man who's fireman, that hurts."

Bennett friend Bob Rohrbaugh downplayed any rifts, saying he did not see any while he served as former senior investigative counsel for the committee. "I'm sure the whole matter with Mr. Rowley . . . left a bad taste in people's mouths," he said. But when he came on board in September with Bennett, "I didn't see really the tensions that I expected to see."

Others like Charles Little, a seasoned investigator for the IRS who joined the committee last July, saw the relentless self-promotion of which Rowley warned. He left the committee last fall after only several months. "I knew it wasn't going anywhere," he said.

"Ninety percent of the staff doesn't have a clue as to how to conduct an investigation," he complained. "Ninety percent."

Little said he received a stack of paper when he first arrived and asked committee aides for an overview of the evidence that they were pursuing. Instead of depositions and documents, the papers consisted primarily of press clippings.

"The committee totally operates by the spin placed by the papers the day before," he said. "They reacted within 24 hours of any press article."

"There's no plan," confirmed one remaining committee aide. "I have to underscore that. There's no plan."

Professional investigators also complain that political aides have siphoned off committee talent and resources on projects that do not always have a clear connection to the investigation of campaign finance abuses, such as to assemble feminist viewpoints of alleged sexual harassment in the White House and to catalog all statements critical of the White House by former presidential adviser Dick Morris.

Most committee investigators interviewed said they believe that, despite momentary lapses, the overall investigation has been well-run and highly professional. But they also have to confront lingering doubts even among Republican investigators, one of whom confided this week, "I'm ashamed to be part of something that's so unprofessional."
So basically they've hired the dirtiest, most rat-fucking crook they can find to be in charge of Scooter's loot and PR because really, who else is better suited for the job.

She's no doubt providing the benefit of the insights she got while being at the DoJ when they were investigating Scooter to Scooter. And her first official on-the-job hit was challenging Fitzgerald's whole investigation as lawless and unethical. That takes some set of stones.

(Update: marky reminds us that this creative tape editing by GOP operatives was all the rage back in the day.)

Tomorrow night: Barbara flogs the War on Terra for fun and profit.

Meanwhile, I was checking out our ActBlue page and I just thought I'd give a bit of a rundown of the totals to date:

Ciro Rodriguez

$24,726 Eschaton
$18,572 Firedoglake
$16,605 General Netroots Page

Ned Lamont

$14,211 General Netroots Page
 $5,848 Eschaton
 $5,348 Firedoglake

And that, quoth Paris Hilton, is hot.

Update: Mike Stark, onen of our Roots radio advisors, is putting together a little radio action for tomorrow. Should be a hoot.