Beyond the short-term problems, Republicans are particularly anxious about the sprawling investigations of conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose business and political dealings regularly brought him into contact with dozens of lawmakers and top White House officials. Among insiders, he was one of the most familiar faces among the generation of operatives and lobbyists who came of age when Republicans took control of Congress after the 1994 elections.I think VandeHei and Baker stumble, however, in letting the Republicans try to reframe this issue.
"The one that people are most worried about is Abramoff because it seems to have such long tentacles," said former congressman Vin Weber (R-Minn.), a lobbyist with close ties to the White House. "This seems to be something that could spread almost anywhere . . . and that has a lot of people worried."
The current atmosphere is not what Bush envisioned as a candidate in 2000. Coming off the Clinton years, which were dominated by seven independent counsel investigations and the impeachment of the president, Bush vowed to run a cleaner and more ethical Washington. "In my administration," Bush told voters in Pittsburgh in October 2000, "we will ask not only what is legal but what is right, not what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves."When people, especially Republicans, talk about scandal, they are talking about the Clinton administration, not Reagan or Nixon. What they fail to acknowledge is that the Clinton investigations were led by a Republican Congress that was focused on "getting" Clinton. After years of investigation, little of anything came out. Clinton did commit perjury by lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinski. Yet given the incredible depth and breadth of the investigations into the Clinton administration and their background, very little bubbled up.
But scandal historically has ripened in second terms, including Watergate for Richard M. Nixon, the Iran-contra affair for Ronald Reagan, and the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation for Bill Clinton. "It always comes back," said Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia scholar who has written on Washington scandals. "There may be a couple of dry years occasionally, but it is a style of American politics -- always has been, always will be. And now it's back with a vengeance."
Some administration allies lament the return of the scandal culture. "There was essentially none of that for the first five years," said Indiana Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (R), Bush's first budget director. "That doesn't make the current situation any easier to watch."
Other White House advisers see politics behind the recent spurt of investigations. "Some of it is cyclical politically," said Leonard A. Leo, who has taken leave as executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society to help promote the Miers nomination. "And some of it, I'll be honest, is when the left and the Democrats are losing the battle of ideas, they turn to manufacturing scandal."
In contrast, the investigations that have reached out and touched the President and top Republican officials have come from the government itself. The request to investigate the Plame leak came from the CIA. The Abramoff investigation had been underway for years in the Justice Department. The DeLay investigation is being led by a Democrat, but it comes after numerous examples of DeLay's own party rebuking his techniques (He was rebuked by the House Ethics Committee three times. After which he proceeded to change the House rules so he could retain his leadership position even if he came under indictment, a rule change they abandoned when the public saw through the ploy).
The problems faced by the White House and the Republican Party are of their own making. The Democrats have certainly been willing to help along the process, but they are essentially only holding open the door as the feds shove them through.