No Comment — March 14, 2008, 3:02 pm

Public Integrity, Redefined

Some of my readers complain that I am contributing to the feeding frenzy surrounding Spitzer-Gate, and that I should show a bit more perspective. Message heard. So here’s some perspective.

While a platoon of FBI agents were staking out the Mayflower Hotel in order to nab Spitzer in his tryst with a hooker (not named Cinnamon), here’s a good example of the Bush Administration’s astonishingly venal corruption which is not being investigated or acted upon. This reflects the morality of the current Justice Department, which can’t find the resources to look into the gang rape of a young woman from Houston, but is delighted to spend untold amounts catching a Democratic politician in consensual sex in a swanky hotel. No question in my mind about who the real perverts are.

So let’s turn to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD. If the Bushies arrived in Washington in 2001 with a political spoils mentality—a conclusion which few would dispute at this point—then the goings-on at HUD would rival the destruction of FEMA for the vaunted position as Exhibit A. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson is a prototypical “loyal Bushie.” He is described as a “longtime personal friend” and as a former neighbor of the president, and he appears to put that personal rapport above just about everything.

We have to congratulate Jackson for being candid. As the Dallas Business Journal reports, Jackson articulated his criteria for awarding contracts in explicitly partisan political terms:

“He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years,” Jackson said of the prospective contractor. “He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something … he said, ‘I have a problem with your president.’

“I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I don’t like President Bush.’ I thought to myself, ‘Brother, you have a disconnect — the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn’t be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don’t tell the secretary.’

“He didn’t get the contract,” Jackson continued. “Why should I reward someone who doesn’t like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don’t get the contract. That’s the way I believe.”

Of course, the litmus test that Jackson described, and which he actually applied, happens to be against the law. But no matter. The Justice Department is far too busy staking out love trysts at the Mayflower to be bothered with anything as trivial as corruption of the process of awarding federal contracts. After all, John Ashcroft himself knows the benefits of being a loyal Bushie and getting massively profitable non-bid contract awards. This is the way things are supposed to work: the rewards are supposed to flow to those who demonstrate loyalty. For those who don’t join the home team, tough luck.

Of course, Jackson not only fired a contractor because the contractor dared to speak publicly in a manner critical of President Bush, he also awarded a massive discretionary contract to Shirlington Limousine & Transportation Inc., which, as my colleague Ken Silverstein unearthed, was linked closely to Brent Wilkes and was used to transport congressmen, CIA officials and prostitutes to their rendez-vous with hot tubs, among other things.

And as U.S. Attorney Carol Lam quickly discovered, launching a criminal investigation into these matters was a career-stopper. You don’t look into the home team. Conversely, several of Lam’s U.S. attorney colleagues have learned how to play the game: if you focus on the love lives of Democratic politicians, you can keep your job, and you might well climb further up the Justice Department’s ladder than your abilities might otherwise warrant.

After the uproar over his Dallas Business Journal remarks, Jackson publicly insisted that he “didn’t touch contracts.” But the Center for American Progress lists a series of businessmen with close personal and financial ties to Jackson who have received no-bid contract awards from HUD.

Still, the most interesting recent disclosures about how things work at HUD emerged on Wednesday in the Washington Post.

After Philadelphia’s housing director refused a demand by President Bush’s housing secretary to transfer a piece of city property to a business friend, two top political appointees at the department exchanged e-mails discussing the pain they could cause the Philadelphia director.

“Would you like me to make his life less happy? If so, how?” Orlando J. Cabrera, then-assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, wrote about Philadelphia housing director Carl R. Greene.

“Take away all of his Federal dollars?” responded Kim Kendrick, an assistant secretary who oversaw accessible housing. She typed symbols for a smiley-face, “:-D,” at the end of her January 2007 note. Cabrera wrote back a few minutes later: “Let me look into that possibility.”

What’s all this about? It seems that Secretary Jackson was eager to persuade the Philadelphia Housing Authority to sell a vacant lot that it owned to Kenny Gamble, a close personal friend of Jackson’s. The Authority wasn’t interested in selling. They quickly ran into a buzzsaw of bureaucratic problems with HUD. In a lawsuit, the Authority has charged that all of this was motivated by Jackson’s personal pique over their failure to give his buddy a sweet deal.

The emails obtained by the Post suggest that the charges have teeth.

Now you might think that charges that a cabinet officer corruptly used his office for personal benefit, interfered with contract awards for political purposes, and broke a contract because he disliked the contractor’s political views, would come to the attention of the Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice and would be the subject of an investigation.

But you’d be wrong. They’re far too busy staking out love trysts at the Mayflower Hotel and launching massive investigations into junior college teachers who underperform their teaching plans. They understand the priorities of the Bush Administration perfectly. The Administration has its own understanding of the word “integrity.” And Secretary Jackson is a prime example of just what that word has come to mean.

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