With his future tied to the outcome of a criminal indictment in Texas, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) is using an extraordinary array of campaign tactics to try to win his court battle and save his political career.
Other politicians caught in a legal bind have tried to make a similar case that they were victims of prosecutorial excess or partisan attack. But few have done it to the degree of DeLay and his allies, who have launched an aggressive campaign to portray the former House majority leader as both a victim of a vendetta and an irreplaceable champion of conservatism.
DeLay’s indictments in September on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to illegally funnel corporate money into the 2002 state election forced him to step aside as majority leader as required under House rules. Ever since, DeLay has pleaded with Republicans to hold off permanently replacing him while he fights the charges.
But power in Washington, if not exercised, slips away quickly, said a senior House Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to jeopardize his relationship with DeLay.
“DeLay knows this,” the lawmaker said. “He knows every day that goes by is a day he grows weaker.”
That is why he has struggled to maintain a high profile, even though some Republicans are openly worried that his ethical issues are tarring them while his unsettled role in the leadership is sowing discord.
Through his K Street Project, DeLay pushed to extend GOP dominance to the world of lobbying. His intervention in the fight to redistrict Texas to the advantage of House Republicans was another first. His willingness to hold open votes for hours and openly twist arms to secure victory carried political hardball to a new level. All of those have landed him in ethical hot water.
“And now he’s extending the permanent campaign to one’s own trial,” Mann said. “That sets a new precedent. This is not a man who lacks chutzpah.”
In the hours before the Justice Department informed the White House in late September 2003 that it would investigate the leak of a covert C.I.A. officer’s identity, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, gave reporters what turned out to be a rare glimpse into President Bush’s knowledge of the case.
Mr. Bush, he said, “knows” that Karl Rove, his senior adviser, had not been the source of the leak. Pressed on how Mr. Bush was certain, Mr. McClellan said he was “not going to get into conversations that the president has with advisers,” but made no effort to erase the impression that Mr. Rove had assured Mr. Bush that he had not been involved.
Since then, administration officials and Mr. Bush himself have carefully avoided disclosing anything about any involvement the president may have had in the events surrounding the disclosure of the officer’s identity or anything about what his aides may have told them about their roles. Citing the continuing investigation and now the pending trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, they have declined to comment on almost any aspect of the case.
The issue now for the White House is how long it can go on deflecting the inquiries and trying to keep the focus away from Mr. Bush.
“We’re at the very beginning stages of this, not at the end,” said Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, referring to the political impact of the investigation.
“The president, politically at least, has an obligation to say something to the American people to get some clarity about what did they know and what did they say,” he said.
But the Bush White House has always been good at what one close Republican ally refers to admiringly as “making their own reality,” meaning that the president and his top aides stick doggedly to their political script and agenda, refusing to be knocked off course. What Democrats consider stubbornness and detachment, Mr. Bush’s admirers consider determination, and in this case that trait suggests the White House will be in no rush to acknowledge mistakes or to offer detailed explanations that might swamp the president’s second-term plans.
Put simply, stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes, and sing “la-la-la-la!” as loudly as you can.
On Oct. 2, 1937, in the somewhat shady Lexington Apartments at 1200 California St. in Denver, Samuel R. Caldwell became the first person in the United States to be arrested on a marijuana charge. Caldwell, a 58-year-old unemployed laborer moonlighting as a dealer, was nailed by the FBI and Denver police for peddling two marijuana cigarettes to one Moses Baca, 26.
If you’re wondering why it took the U.S. government so long to bust a pot dealer, it’s because until the Marijuana Stamp Act was passed – on you guessed it, Oct. 2, 1937 – cannabis wasn’t illegal. Certainly, it had been vilified in newspapers with headlines such as “Murder Weed Found Up and Down Coast: Deadly Marijuana Plant Ready for Harvest That Means Enslavement of California Children.”
Neither was it deemed as some benign recreational drug by the nation’s law enforcement hierarchy.
Harry J. Anslinger, for example, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was a vociferous foe of cannabis. In his book, Assassin of Youth, he labeled marijuana “dangerous as a coiled rattlesnake,” and anguished, “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries, and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can be only conjectured.”
Indeed. Texas cops insisted that because it fueled a “lust for blood” and imbued its imbibers with “superhuman strength,” pot was the catalyst for unspeakably violent crimes.
Anslinger and many others would have dismissed the possibility that, 68 years later, Denver’s law-abiding citizens would vote to decriminalize the possession of an ounce-or-less of marijuana as nothing more than a pipe dream.
Much more real was the racism that anchored some of the original hysteria surrounding cannabis. At least that’s a contention of John C. McWilliams, a professor of history at Penn State University specializing in 20th century social-political American history and drug policy, who has written a book on Anslinger.
“Marijuana was associated with black jazz musicians and Mexicans in border towns – clearly racist stuff,” said McWilliams, who says Anslinger’s files are chock full of letters linking marijuana and minorities.
In fact, he cites part of a 1936 correspondence from Floyd Baskett, editor of the Daily Courier in Alamosa.
“I wish I could show you what a small marijuana cigarette does to one of our degenerate, Spanish-speaking residents,” Baskett wrote to Anslinger.
Certainly District Judge J. Foster Symes didn’t need convincing about the nefarious effects of the “murder weed.” In a dizzying swirl of law enforcement, Caldwell and Baca were busted on a Wednesday night, indicted on Thursday (they pleaded guilty) and sentenced on Friday.
“I consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics, far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine,” thundered Symes from the bench. “Under its influence, men become beasts, just as was the case with Moses Baca . . .
“Marijuana destroys life itself. I have no sympathy with those who sell this weed. I will impose the heaviest penalties. The government is going to enforce this new law to the letter.”
Then Symes backed up his tough talk by sentencing Caldwell to four years’ hard labor at Kansas’ mighty Leavenworth Prison.
And just to show Caldwell he was no softy, Symes tacked on the astronomical fine of $1,000.
However, Baca, beast though he may have become, got off relatively easy. Maybe Symes’ wrath had been sated somewhat: he sentenced the married father of three to a mere 18 months in prison.
And if you’re thinking there was any plea bargaining or reduced time for good behavior, both men served every single day of their sentence. Although history is unclear about what happened to Baca, Caldwell died a year after he was released from prison.
So great was the government’s indignation over marijuana that it didn’t seem to matter that, as McWilliams points out, “Marijuana is not even a narcotic.”
And so, today, as proponents of Denver’s Initiative 100 celebrate, it seems only fitting that they should perhaps pause, take a deep breath, and reflect upon the sad saga of Sam Caldwell.