Thursday, April 05, 2007

The 'D' Word


I become frightened sometimes when I contemplate just how big a doofus Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) appears to be.

Yesterday I flagged the story, which a slew of others have already noted, about how Orrin Hatch completely made up a string of 'facts' about fired prosecutor Carol Lam. (I think Rachel Maddow was the first to flag Hatch's ridiculous whopper.)

What Hatch said on Meet the Press this Sunday was this ...

Take Carol Lam, for instance. Carol Lam was raised on your program, Tim, by Schumer. Carol Lam, it's amazing to me she wasn't fired earlier because for three years members of the Congress had complained that there had been all kinds of border patrol capture of these people but hardly any prosecutions. She was a former law professor, no prosecutorial experience, and the former campaign manager in Southern California for Clinton, and they're trying to say that this administration appoints people politically? Of course they do. That's what these positions are. But politically they've appointed people who have been approved by the Justice Department--the Judiciary Committee, in most cases, who have served well, are strong people and, and, frankly, these, these seven were really mishandled.

Now, this was a pretty powerful indictment -- except that Lam has never been a law professor, was an Assistant US Attorney for 14+ years and, of course, was never a campaign manager for Bill Clinton. Except for that, well... anyway, you get the idea.

So now, in response to the windstorm of chatter about his brazen falsehoods, Hatch has released a statement in which he says ...

My comments about Carol Lam's record as a U.S. Attorney were accurate, but I misspoke when making the point of discussing politically connected U.S. Attorneys. I accidentally used her name, instead of her predecessor, Alan Bersin, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

This is kind of classic on a couple levels. My comments were accurate, just not the facts I used in the comments.

But that's only the half of it.

The simple fact is that Hatch's explanation makes no sense. He's saying: In the course of attacking Carol Lam I inadvertantly used Lam's name when describing facts that may or may not apply to, Alan Bersin, a guy Bill Clinton appointed to the same office back in the mid-1990s.

Does that make any sense at all? Of course not.

Now, just before starting this post I was chatting with one of my colleagues here at TPM, trying to figure out what the hell Hatch's whopper was all about. My take was that the pattern of facts is simply too ridiculous to be a lie in the narrow and specific sense of a knowing falsehood. I think it's far more likely that this was something some talk radio hound or blogger either intentionally or inadvertantly mixed up. Hatch heard it and since he just ad libs through this scandal without having any idea what he's talking about he just decided to repeat it even though it's transparently ridiculous on its face.

Think about it: different presidents are more or less political in their US Attorney appointments. But no president appoints someone who's served as a campaign manager for a key political opponent. And certainly not this president.

The whole episode is just another example of Hatch's complete indifference to acquainting himself with even the most basic facts of the US Attorney Purge story. On the whole saga, he doesn't even rise to the level of being a hack. He's simply a joke.

Late Update
: TPM Reader CK disagrees ...

As a lawyer, my take on Hatch on the Lam episode as on other matters where I have observed him (espeically the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, but you may be too young to remember those) is that he is a very talented, very cynical, very dangerous trial lawyer. He has gotten his disinformation out there, he has a statement that he can claim is a correction (when it is not,as you point out), and so the disinformation stays out there, muddying up the waters as much as it can. That's what (some) lawyers do when they have no case -- they muddy the waters up and try to lead the triers of fact (in this case, the public) down irrelevant pathways. We saw this most recently with Lewis Libby's lawyer, too. He did a good enough job that no one was sure where the jury was going to go, even though the factual case against Libby was overwhelming.

Even Later Update: An anonymous TPM Reader thinks he's found where Hatch got his line. This reader points to the March 28th National Review article on the US Attorney story by Byron York. In that piece York writes ...

In 1993, Bill Clinton replaced the Republican U.S. attorney, a career prosecutor and veteran of 20 years in the Justice Department, with Alan Bersin, a law professor who had no prosecutorial experience but who had been a classmate of Clinton’s at Yale and head of the Clinton campaign in San Diego. (Bersin pledged to vigorously pursue Clinton priorities like environmental law.) In March 1998, Bersin resigned to become head of the San Diego school system.

So Hatch or someone who works for him glanced at York's article and caught this snippet and figured it might apply to Lam. Good enough for government work, I guess you might say.

-- Josh Marshall

[Rare editorial comment: the linked Byron York article is the very same one sent to me by my staunch GOP friend, as chronicled in this post.]

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