Bob Schaffer and the real CNMI story, Part 1

This is the first in a series of articles responding to three front-page articles in the Denver Post by reporter Michael Riley which attack former Congressman and current Senate candidate Bob Schaffer for a fact-finding trip Schaffer took to the Northern Marianas Islands (“CNMI”) in 1999. Disclosure: I know Bob Schaffer and have contributed to his Senate campaign but I am not and have never been employed on any basis by Schaffer's, or anybody else's, campaign. In April, the Denver Post ran three front-page articles by reporter Michael Riley attacking former Congressman and current Senate candidate Bob Schaffer for a fact-finding trip Schaffer took to the Northern Marianas Islands (“CNMI”) in 1999. (The links to the articles in question: April 10, April 11, April 13) The type of misleading information and partisan rhetoric used in those “news” stories demands response, not only to the facts of the case but also to the likely source of Mr. Riley’s information. In a series of articles, I shall not only demonstrate the multiple problems with the Denver Post’s stories but I’ll also provide information based on interviews with: • Bob Schaffer • A former senior staffer for Bob Schaffer • Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition • Benigno Fitial, Governor of the CNMI • A government official from the CNMI who was involved with many Congressional (and other federal government) visits to the islands, including Schaffer’s visit • A former Congressional staffer who investigated corruption in the Clinton Administration’s Department of the Interior specifically related to CNMI issue Liberal web sites such as ColoradoPols.com, TalkingPointsMemo.com, and DailyKos.com also piled on with uncritical acceptance of the Post’s claims as well as incorrect “information” of their own. (For perspective, DailyKos is so far to the left fringe that they call the Denver Post “so pro-Republican”.) While each of these sites has offered commentary worth of rebuttal, most of it is premised on the Post articles, so I will not spend much time discussing those web sites directly. Additionally, I have obtained documents which were the product of subpoena by Congress regarding officials at Department of the Interior during the Clinton Administration -- people whom I believe are the most likely source, whether directly or indirectly, for Mr. Riley based on their past behavior patterns. A selection of documents will be made available in PDF format as part of this series. Because most of the people I’ve interviewed for this series of articles work for government or in jobs where they must interact frequently with government, I will not be disclosing their names even though some of them gave me permission to do so if I felt it to be necessary. At the completion of this series of articles, a series which I expect to be run in about 8 installments, I will make available the entire text of the series in one file. --------------------- The first of the Post’s hit-piece trifecta appeared on April 10, 2008 and was entitled “Abramoff ties cloud Schaffer's '99 fact-finding trip”. The article begins with a misleading implication and continues as thinly-veiled Democratic propaganda against Bob Schaffer. For those who haven’t been following the story, the articles attempt to tie Bob Schaffer’s fact-finding trip to the CNMI, a trip, which was funded by the Traditional Values Coalition (“TVC”), to Jack Abramoff, and then attempts to make readers believe that Schaffer somehow had ties to Abramoff. Separately, the article presents a description of working and living conditions in the CNMI which was not supported by the findings of people, including Schaffer or others, who went to look into allegations of sweatshops and “forced abortions”, thereby implying that Schaffer supported mistreatment of workers. I will get into the motivations behind the CNMI allegations in the latter part of this series, but it is important to set the context now: The CNMI’s 1976 covenant with the United States allowed the islands to administer their own labor and immigration systems. This allowed the islands to set lower minimum wages than were required in the 50 states, as well as allowing them to efficiently bring in (and send home) workers. Garments from the CNMI are allowed to have a “Made in the USA” tag in them, giving them advantage over many Asian garment producers in an industry that often had to deal with quotas, and with an American population that from time to time was very interesting in “buying American”. This lower minimum wage meant that the CNMI could produce garments much cheaper than unionized garment factories in the US. And while that translated into huge savings for any Americans who bought clothes, it infuriated the unions and their serfs in the Democratic Party. This was the source of the hatred of the CNMI and especially its garment industry which spurred criminal activity within the Clinton Administration and created the allegations of worker mistreatment which Bob Schaffer and others determined to be almost entirely fictional. “Partly arranged” by Abramoff? In the article’s third paragraph, Michael Riley notes that Schaffer “didn’t say that the trip was partly arranged by the firm of now-jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff”. The implication is that this is something Schaffer should have disclosed. However interviews with former Schaffer staffers and others have made it clear that to their knowledge neither Schaffer nor his staff had any dealings with Preston Gates regarding the trip. The only indication of Preston Gates having even a tangential relationship to the trip was that the airline tickets were possibly purchased through their travel agent. According to a former senior staffer for Schaffer, his former Chief of Staff, Susan Wadhams, noticed the Preston Gates name on the jacket of the tickets and contacted the Traditional Values Coalition and the Ethics Committee to verify that the tickets were paid for by TVC, and only by TVC, and that the trip itself complied with all Ethics requirements. The senior staffer told me that it was extremely unlikely Schaffer would have been involved in that process or those inquiries “because it is the Chief of Staff’s job” to take care of such matters. Any reimbursement by Preston Gates to TVC for the trip, if it happened at all (since it has never been shown), was and remains unknown to Schaffer, to the Executive Director of TVC, and, as far as I can tell, to the Post reporter. Near the end of the article, Riley admits that TVC paid for the trip and quotes Dick Wadhams (whose late wife, Susan, was Schaffer’s Chief of Staff at the time) who re-emphasizes that “whatever involvement (Abramoff) had with Traditional Values Coalition wasn't known at the time.” And while Riley then tries to tie TVC to Abramoff, he notes that it was only “later investigations” which made any connection between the two. No connection to Abramoff According to the former staffer, “We never worked with Jack Abramoff. As a matter of fact, I never met him until months after Bob retired – and I would have met him had he been involved with our office in any way since I was aware of all of Bob’s meetings. ”. And according to Schaffer himself, “Remember, most people including me hadn’t heard of Jack Abramoff in those days. Preston Gates was just another lobbying firm.” In fact, after serving three terms in Congress, Schaffer honored his term-limit pledge and did not run for re-election in 2002, whereas the scandals surrounding Abramoff did not come to light until 2005. Schaffer added, “…my trip to the Marianas was paid for by the Traditional Values Coalition. Furthermore, I did not accept anybody else’s schedule as to where and when to go on the island during my investigation of the labor and ‘forced abortion’ claims.” Indeed, if Preston Gates were close to Bob Schaffer, why did they never, as a firm or Abramoff as an individual, contribute to Schaffer’s campaigns or PAC, as they did for Mark Udall? Coming in the second article of this series, a detailed discussion of the Traditional Values Coalition, the lack of any evidence of improper behavior by Preston Gates in the CNMI, and the truth about a "palm-studded beach resort".