How would anyone deal with a sudden fire, demolishing a home, destroying private possessions representing experiences over a lifetime? What if it happened to an important accidental witness, testifying against powerful political figures? What if it occurred during her absence from home, on a trip to give testimony to Congress?
What if she and her family were the targets of arson?
I wonder what sort of courage it took for Jill Simpson to take the risks she took. A few days after the fire, she was tailed at night along a lonely rural Mississippi road for miles by a large automobile which eventually overtook her, then forced her own car off the road.
Police caught the other driver. He was a former police officer who told state troopers he had been hired to follow her, that he had only forced her off the road by accident. Two times. He was a former officer of the law, so they decided he was telling the truth and let him go.
Jill Simpson had volunteered to work in a Republican campaign. She had been told to listen in on telephone conversations and transcribe them. That is how she heard about Karl Rove.
Over the years, Rove had developed a reputation for dirty tricks: Using stolen letterheads to disrupt opposing events. Starting whispering campaigns.
The whispering was especially noteworthy. One opponent was a secret lesbian (she wasn’t). Another, a children’s rights advocate, was secretly a child abuser (he wasn’t). During the 2000 Presidential campaign, in South Carolina, John McCain was secretly the father of an out-of-wedlock interracial child (he wasn’t).
Nice guy, that Rove.
In 2006, several federal prosecutors went public with a shocking story. Karl Rove had ordered them and others, where possible, to cut short any investigation and stop any prosecution against Republicans. And they were to look for any possible way to go after Democratic targets.
They were all Republicans. They all refused. They were all fired.
As Jill Simpson followed her instructions and transcribed telephone conversations, she heard about one of those targets: the Democratic governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman. Participants assured each other that Karl would keep his promise and use the Justice Department to get Governor Siegelman out of the way. For good.
It is unlikely that Jill Simpson was motivated by some partisan passion. She was a lifelong Republican. She was a conservative activist, volunteering over the years in many Republican campaigns.
But she objected to what she had heard. And she contacted investigators about it. After she swore out an affidavit and traveled to Washington to testify under oath, her house burned to the ground. Then she was forced off the road at night in rural Mississippi. Twice. In one night.
Karl Rove said she was lying. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, he explained:
But to be clear, you did not contact the Justice Department about this case?
Uh, I read about…I’m going to simply say what I’ve said before which is I found out about Don Siegelman’s investigation and indictment by reading about it in the newspaper.
But that’s not a denial.
Uh I-I’ve I’ve I’ve uh uh uh you know huh, I read about, I heard about it, read about it, learned about it, for the first time by reading about it in the newspaper.
Jill Simpson answered with a simple statement. She had testified under oath. If she was not truthful, she could face criminal charges.
What I want him to do is go and swear in front of the United States Congress and swear what he is saying is true.
Eventually, Karl Rove did agree to answer questions. But he refused to do it under oath. If he lied he could not be prosecuted.
One phrase has changed, even in television dramas:
“A trip to Banana Republic would have killed you?”
The term “banana republic” is not as tightly defined as it once was. O. Henry invented the term in 1904 for a book of short stories. We once used it as a generic term for a Central American country, economically dependent on banana exports, with all the institutions we associate with representative democracy, but few of the freedoms. For most of the 20th Century, the right to vote in such places was tightly restricted to the elites. Rulers threw political opponents in jail. They, themselves, were legally invulnerable, since they controlled the police, the military, the courts, and all the levers of government.
Kind of like Louisiana under Huey Long in the 1930s. Or Putin’s Russia today. Or perhaps, in the future, our own government.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified, under oath, in front of a hostile committee for 11 hours straight about emails, the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, and anything else about which angry conservatives wanted to question her. Hours more were spent answering FBI queries. Multiple formal investigations found nothing wrong. Accusations collapsed in on themselves. She kind of made Republicans look silly.
The Trump campaign, along with Russian participation in social media, took a different tone. There was no possible rebuttal against whipped up mob fury. Such is the nature of campaigns.
The lock-her-up roar of conservative crowds (lock her up, lock her up, lock her up) is no longer restricted to the mob-like activities that are sometimes part of campaign politics. President Trump has expressed frustration with his inability to have Mrs. Clinton and other opponents investigated at will. Now we have this from NBC News:
WASHINGTON — A Trump administration official said Friday that a revived investigation of the Clinton Foundation “has been going on for months.”
The original FBI investigation into the last US election by what currently passes for government in Russia had been another source of open frustration. President Trump complained about it on television and in what he thought was a private meeting with a top Russian spy.
The Russia investigation began after a Trump staffer went on an alcohol binge in London and drunkenly spoke to an Australian official about things the Trump campaign could only have learned from Russia. During the 2016 campaign a longtime FBI asset, a British former spy named Christopher Steele, was hired as a contractor to develop information on a political newcomer named Donald Trump. Unknown to Steele, his short-term employer had been contracted by Republicans, then by Democrats.
Some of the information he developed from his Russian contacts, and others, has been salacious, involving video recordings and Donald Trump and prostitutes and a bed in a room once occupied for a night by President and Mrs. Obama. More alarming to Mr. Steele was a coordinated plan his sources told him had been directed by Vladimir Putin. Putin intended to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.
Christopher Steele turned his information over to the FBI. It turned out to support what the FBI already knew.
Some of Mr. Steele’s sources have denied giving him information, denials which are understandable during dangerous times in Russia. Some of what Mr. Steele discovered has since been verified. Some has been challenged. None has been disproven.
Mr. Steele’s temporary employer testified to a Senate committee. Republicans were shocked by what they heard. They took immediate action. They directed the FBI to investigate with an eye to arresting on criminal charges … well … Christopher Steele. It seems Mr. Steele told the FBI he had shared the material with several news organizations.
From the Republican referral document:
…we are respectfully referring Mr. Steele to you for investigation of potential violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, for statements the Committee has reason to believe Mr. Steele made regarding his distribution of information contained in the dossier.
So Republican politicians suspected he got the news organizations and the dates of distribution wrong.
We are told by political observers that the use of the Justice Department to prosecute political opponents and those who might expose wrongdoing is unprecedented. Sadly, that is untrue.
We have the previous Republican administration. We have Mr. Rove.
We might be forgiven for thinking the corruption of law enforcement is endemic to Republican governance. We might hope that this danger can be lifted in 2021. We might even work hard to be sure the danger to freedom never, ever, happens again. We might keep Republicans out of power until our grandchildren’s grandchildren have grandchildren.
“A trip to Banana Republic would have killed you?”
The term is regaining some of its original meaning, applied in a direction we would not have so strongly suspected in another century.
In completely unrelated news, Tina Johnson, a woman who accused former Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of groping her, lost her home and belongings to an arson fire.
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