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Tim Griffin's improbable path to 2nd District 

click to enlarge Tim Griffin image

Right-wingers holding opinions beyond the pale have been showing up in improbable offices, but the starkest anomaly has to be the Second Congressional District seat, Tim Griffin, Prop.

You know the obvious perversion. The district once represented by Wilbur Mills, the father of Medicare, and most recently by Vic Snyder, a low-key liberal who practiced politics on a rare civil plane, is now represented by a Karl Rove acolyte who built his career on gutter politics.

Less known is that the district that launched Bill Clinton into national politics, gave him his biggest margins, hosts his presidential library and which he considers his political home is represented by a man who earned his credits by his unrelenting efforts to destroy the man from Hope.

And he's likely to win a second term against Herb Rule, an old friend of Clinton and his wife who runs a campaign weakly supported by the Democratic Party.

Griffin was elected in 2010 by a harmonic convergence of events and by the fact that most people knew nothing about him except for the national scandal that brought him to the district in 2006.

So let's review the sub rosa political career that preceded.

His first job seems to have been 17 months on the staff of the independent counsel who investigated Clinton's housing secretary, Henry Cisneros, who prior to his confirmation had given the FBI misleading answers to questions about hush payments to his mistress when he was mayor of San Antonio. The investigation became the most trivial but longest independent-counsel probe in history.

Griffin's role earned him a job with the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, led by the notorious Clinton hater Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana. After announcing that Clinton was "a scumbag" and that he was "after him," Burton opened an investigation of illegal foreign campaign contributions. Burton sent Griffin and the rest of the team after fundraising only for Clinton and Democrats, not Republicans. Griffin was a lawyer for Burton's investigators.

He teamed up with people with a similar passion for embarrassing the Clintons, including David Bossie, who had won fame in 1992 for his forays into Arkansas on snipe hunts with Floyd Brown and Clinton conspiracy wackos.

Burton's investigation quickly became a fiasco. The committee's chief Republican counsel, a former U.S. attorney, resigned because he was not allowed to impose professional standards on investigators. Burton's lawyers issued 1,285 subpoenas, took 161 depositions and obtained 1.5 million pages of documents — more than 99 percent of them aimed at Democrats. The investigators went after Clinton's Arkansas friends, including Ernest Green, the hero of the Little Rock Nine, by then a Lehman Brothers executive who had given to Clinton and the Democratic Party since 1992. In three days of hearings, they tried futilely to get Green to say that his 1996 gifts were not his own but foreign.

Republican congressmen called the investigation "incompetent" and "a big embarrassment, like Keystone Cops." A former senior Republican investigator said "90 percent of the staff doesn't have a clue as to how to conduct an investigation."

The big disaster, attributed to Bossie, the best known of the investigators, was the prison tapes of former Clinton friend and assistant attorney general Webb Hubbell, who was in prison for defrauding his old law firm partners, including Herb Rule.

Burton's men subpoenaed the confidential tapes of Hubbell's phone conversations with his wife and friends. A selectively edited and doctored transcript, made to insinuate guilt by the Clintons in Hubbell's activities, was leaked to the Republican-friendly press.

Even House Speaker Newt Gingrich was outraged and in a GOP House caucus in May 1998 called on Burton to apologize for his investigators' conduct and to fire Bossie as a signal. Burton shortly did both.

Bossie left and so did Griffin. Bossie began to run the political nonprofit Citizens United, which continued his Clinton obsession. He produced the infamous Hillary film that was supposed to destroy Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008 and that led to the more infamous Supreme Court decision in 2010 that opened the floodgates for the corporate buyout of elections. (Bossie would throw a fundraiser for his friend, Congressman Griffin.)

Griffin turned up in Arkansas that summer running the campaign of Republican Betty Dickey, who would lose a race for attorney general to Mark Pryor. Griffin surfaced for the first time in the Arkansas media when it turned out that he was behind months-long efforts by Pryor, joined by newspapers, to force Dickey, a prosecuting attorney at Pine Bluff, to release her office's telephone records.

Dickey would reveal finally that Pryor had been after one of her deputies, a man named Tim Griffin, who had been making calls for her campaign from the prosecutor's office. Griffin was on the prosecutor payroll for a while but she moved him to the campaign payroll when Pryor demanded her phone records. She said Griffin had run her campaign for three months but had returned to Washington to work with David Bossie. Reached by the Democrat Gazette in Washington, where he said he was working for a House committee, Griffin said he was sure he had used his credit card to pay for all the political calls from the prosecutor's office. Of course, political calls by a public employee from public facilities are illegal regardless of who pays for them.

You know what happened then. Griffin went to work for the Republican National Committee hunting loose or pompous remarks by Al Gore and other Democrats and leaking them to sympathetic newspapers. Griffin's tactics were detailed in a 2004 article in The Atlantic Monthly.

In October 2004, when he was deputy communications director for George W. Bush's re-election, Griffin sent an email to the Republican National Committee with the famous notation "Re: caging" on a list of 70,000 registered voters in Democratic-leaning precincts in Florida, mainly black and Hispanic voters. Many of the addresses on Griffin's list were homeless shelters and other facilities or were military personnel. The RNC sent registered letters to them and when they were returned presented them to registrars to cancel their voting rights.

Finally, as an employee of Karl Rove's White House political office, Griffin finagled in 2006 to have his brief former employer, Bud Cummins, Vic Snyder's 1996 opponent, removed as U.S. attorney so that he could get the job. White House emails showed that Rove had lobbied to get him the job. Griffin got a six-month interim appointment.

A perfect resume for Congress.

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