Crashing the “Grand Old Party”

In the 2004 Colorado Senate race, Republican candidate Pete Coors ran on an anti-lawyer platform. The Democratic Party, he claimed, is full of trial lawyers, and electing his opponent, Attorney General Ken Salazar would only add yet another to the Senate. The trial lawyer argument is a popular broad swipe at the Democrats. Interestingly enough, less than a year after the last election, the survival of the Republican Party depends on the abilities of trial lawyers—not those vying to hold political office, but those fighting to keep the Republicans out of jail. Typically, political scandals are the subject of gossip and consternation within the Beltway, but rarely cared for or understood by the general American population. Unfortunately for the GOP, it doesn’t take a political science major to figure out that the Republican Party is facing severe legal problems. A few weeks ago, Newsweek ran a cartoon depicting President Bush attending a Republican leadership meeting. The catch was, the meeting was being held in the visitors center of a jailhouse, and the men speaking with Bush were separated by steel bars and donning jumpsuits with their prison numbers. While this comic clearly hyperbolizes the situation, Republicans have many reasons to worry about the adverse electoral consequences of having their party viewed as a corrupt and even criminal entity. Last Friday, the White House took a severe political blow when Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, I. “Scooter” Libby ’68 was indicted by federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald on five counts of providing false testimony, perjury, and obstruction of justice. Of all the legal problems facing Republicans, these indictments may have the most devastating repercussions. Firstly, the CIA leak investigation and its resulting indictment paint the Bush Administration as a ravenous team willing to attack and smear any of its critics. Opponents of the Administration have leveled this claim in the past, but it receives new and more intense scrutiny under the magnification of the criminal investigation. The investigation also forces the Bush team to revisit its decision to invade Iraq based on the so called stockpiles of WMD that Saddam possessed. Last week, the war hit a sad milestone when the total number of United States soldiers killed in Iraq surpassed 2000. Even President Bush, an ardent sports fan, can understand the dismal score of his Iraqi campaign. Soldiers killed: 2000+, stockpiles of WMD found: zero. The legal problems of the GOP go beyond the West Wing, reaching the leadership of both houses of Congress. Just weeks ago, Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas was indicted on a charge of criminally conspiring with two political associates to inject corporate contributions into 2002 state elections. The elections helped the Republican Party reorder the congressional map in Texas and cement its control of the House in Washington. Delay has been belligerent in the face of legal battle, accusing his prosecutor Ronnie Earle of being a zealot partisan. Not even his extensive PR campaign could keep Delay from being booked in a Texas Jail, a process that required him to take fingerprints and a mug shot. Oddly enough, Mr. Delay smiled brightly into the prison camera. Seeing a mug shot of their party leader certainly didn’t bring smiles to the rest of the Republican party. Criminal investigations are not limited to the House. The Republican leader of the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist, is also facing an ongoing criminal investigation. Senator Frist has been subpoenaed to turn over personal records and documents as federal authorities step up a probe of his July sales of HCA Inc. stock. The Securities and Exchange Commission issued the subpoena within the past two weeks, after initial reports that Frist was under scrutiny by the agency and the Justice Department for possible violations of insider trading laws. Even though Frist’s legal troubles may not be as deep as his counterpart in the House, the effect of having one more Republican investigation in the news is damaging. The Republicans, firmly entrenched as the governing party in Washington, have become the corrupt entity they accused the Democrats of being just a decade ago. The Republicans campaigned last year on the issue of morality. In the 2006 Congressional elections, the American people have two clear choices: a Democratic party full of trial lawyers, or a Republican party whose survival is dependent on them.