Monday, November 05, 2007

Will Charlie Wilson's War Hurt Jack Murtha?

Here's the trailer for the upcoming Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts vehicle based on the book by the late George Crile. The movie is scheduled to be released on Christmas Day:

It will be interesting to see how the movie treats John Murtha (D-PA) -- particularly since the presence of Hanks and Roberts means that the movie will be seen by half of America.

According to John Fund, the book depicts a House Ethics Committee investigation closing in on Murtha, over his failure to report a bribery attempt (rather than his apparent interest in accepting the bribe).

But in 1981, the House Ethics Committee became concerned that Mr. Murtha had, at a minimum, violated House rules that required he report any attempt at bribery, which he had not. A special prosecutor, Barrett Prettyman, was appointed to oversee the committee's investigation. He soon expanded his probe beyond the six House members who were directly involved and began moving against Rep. Murtha. He was also rumored to be offering deals in exchange for testimony that would take the scandal inside the office of Speaker O'Neill.

That was the final straw from the irascible O'Neill. He determined to shut the investigation down, and the story of how he did it makes up a fascinating part of Mr. Crile's book, "Charlie Wilson's War" (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003)...

Crile reported that in early 1981 Speaker O'Neill called Rep. Wilson into his office and told him he wanted him to join the Ethics Committee right away. The Texas congressman had been pestering him for years to get a lifetime seat on the board the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. "It's the best perk in town," Mr. Wilson told Crile. "It means that I get the box right next to the president's box for the ballet when I want it. I get to go to all the cast parties, meet all the movie stars, and I get an extra invitation to the White House every season."

O'Neill made it clear he would appoint Mr. Wilson to the board he coveted, but that he would have to join the Ethics Committee to take care of the Murtha matter. "It's a package deal, Chally," O'Neill is said to have told Mr. Wilson.

"The word on Charlie was that he didn't talk," ex-Rep. Tony Coelho, who became majority whip after O'Neill's retirement, told Crile. "From time to time the speaker needed to mount irregular operations, and Wilson was one of those irregulars Tip could count on." Mr. Wilson didn't need any prodding for his task: "He was a happy warrior as he raced to the rescue of his imperiled friend John Murtha," Crile wrote.

Crile reported that prior to Mr. Wilson's arrival on the Ethics Committee, it had largely given Mr. Prettyman, the special counsel, a free hand in his probe. That quickly changed: "Before Prettyman could fully deploy his investigators to move on the Murtha case, he was informed that the committee had concluded there was no justification for an investigation." The Ethics Committee chairman, Rep. Louis Stokes of Ohio, suddenly declared "This matter is closed."

The page for the movie at IMDB does not list anyone playing John Murtha. Is this indicative of the fact that Murtha's Abscam troubles are not referenced in the movie, or that they show the scandal, but attribute it to an unnamed Member of Congress? The only hint I can find -- a review at AICN based on an early screening -- shows no mention either of Murtha, or of any Congressman who sounds similar.

Who would have thought an Aaron Sorkin movie would skate past something like that?

1 comment:

dave in boca said...

Ha! Aaron Sorkin also skated past Denis Neal's involvement with Charlie Wilson, which I as an employee of Neal & Company implemented. Back in '88 Denis & Charlie asked me to start up a PAC to raise a large sum of money. I did so after weeks of scrounging [and bumping into Bob Torricelli at several functions asking for cash only], we had around $25K, which Denis matched in a certified check which he asked me to take to DNC HQ by hand. I gave it to the DNC sherpa of John Kerry, who was DSCC chair that election cycle. That was July.

At his office Christmas Party in December, Denis asked me & Charlie into his office and shook my hand. He informed me that that $50K & "other considerations" had caused John Kerry & Chris Dodd to vote with the Republican minority on the Senate Foreign Relations Cte on aid to the Pak military. Denis said $450 million got by the House & Senate to Zia [who was killed that year] largely due to Kerry's behind-the-scenes manipulations.
Charlie winked, we all raised our glasses of single-malt, and Denis lit my cigar. [I honestly hadn't a clue until then that the DSCC check was anything but a good-will offering.]

That wasn't in George Criles' book either, but that's the way Washington "works." And I'm sure that would have been too "real-life" for Aaron Sorkin!

I blogged this on my site
a while back, but John Murtha isn't the only miscreant bribee in Charlie Wilson's saga.