Is the Law Finally Closing in on John Murtha?

It takes a special kind of evil to use your position in Congress to undermine your nation's defense and harm the lives and reputations of your fellow citizens who've risked so much on its behalf. And it takes a special kind of party to be so blinded by self-interest and comity that year after year they let you remain in a position to continue that harmful behavior.

I had not paid much attention to Congressman Murtha since 1980, when he was taped suggesting he might accept a bribe to push through private asylum bills for Arab sheiks (who were actually FBI agents working undercover in an operation  to uncover corruption known as Abscam) if only they'd invest in businesses in his district. Then came his Haditha accusations where he slandered several young marines by accusing them of committing "cold blooded murder" in the incident. All but one has had the charges dropped against them.

Now that there are reports the FBI is investigating two companies closely identified with him which are big contributors to his campaigns and even larger recipients of his earmarked largesse of federal funds, I think a little review is in order.

To date, Murtha has escaped any consequences for his role in Abscam or Haditha. In the Abscam case the House Ethics Committee split along party lines, allowing Murtha to escape punishment although the special counsel resigned in protest.

Then came his "rush to judgement" on the incident at Haditha in Iraq:

On November 19, 2005, there was an incident in the then-insurgent infested town of Haditha in which a number of people were killed. Beginning in May of 2006, long before a full official inquiry, and prompted by a very suspect bit of anti-US propaganda in Time, Congressman Murtha hit the media circuit repeatedly. He publicly and falsely accused SSgt. Wuterich and the men of the Marines' Kilo Company of being involved in cold-blooded (premeditated) murder and of covering up the events of that day.

In  this matter Murtha is being sued by Wuterich, and to date is claiming immunity from prosecution. The plaintiff won the right to take discovery of him and that is as much as has been publicly reported to date .

Wuterich sued  Murtha, alleging he'd been libeled, that Murtha had repeatedly asserted "false and malicious lies" about Wuterich and his Company, that these lies were made with full knowledge that they were false and libelous and with gross negligence or reckless disregard for the truth, invading Wuterich's privacy and placing him in a false light. Further, the complaint alleges that since these lies were disseminated throughout the world by others, Wuterich has a new cause of action each time these false and defamatory stories were repeated publicly by any news outlet.

Murtha's slanderous statement, carried around the world and referred to in the suit as Count III (Republication), was this one:

"There was no firefight. There was no IED ... that killed those innocent people," Representative Murtha, D. Pa., said during a news conference on Iraq. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood, that is what this report is going to say."

To date, charges have been dropped against a number of the members of the Company. [Wuterich] had an Article 32 proceeding (equivalent to a grand jury) from Aug 30 - Sept 7. The IO issued a recommendation yesterday but the document has not been released to the public yet. He recommended that murder charges against SSgt Wuterich be dismissed.

Wuterich's counsel notes:

The charges alone, and the Marine Corps press conference that was held at the time of the announcement, already actually unequivocally refute many of Mr. Murtha's outrageous statements such as that the killings were committed in "cold-blood"(premeditated) and that Wuterich and his Marines were not fired upon.

At the time, I noted, "Wuterich offered Murtha an opportunity to resolve the dispute with a simple retraction. Congressman John Kline acknowledged that similar statements made by him were 'premature and inappropriate' and issued a public apology. Murtha has refused to do so and is the subject, therefore, of this suit."

In between skating on the Abscam charge and never really being held to account yet for slandering the troops, Murtha has used his position as chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee of the House of Representatives to funnel well over a hundred million dollars in earmarks -- largely but not exclusively on defense matters -- to confederates in his district who return to him substantial campaign contributions which permit his repeated re-election to office. If you think this pork game is harmless, you are not paying close attention: the process deprives the Department of Defense of the right to obtain the best equipment at the best, most competitive price for the troops and saddles it with services performed by companies on which it does not wish to expend its allotted funds.

In 2005, Newsbusters detailed some of the Murtha deals in his district (which probably deserves the title"Porkapolis") then public:

  • Roll Call's Mary Jacoby observed that "Of the approximately $4 billion in ‘directed spending' contained in the $240 billion fiscal 1994 defense appropriations bill, more than $11 million is earmarked for projects in Murtha's district." Of this, $103 million went to "a non-profit research" company in his district known as Concurrent Technologies Company (CTC), "a subsidiary of the University of Pittsburgh Trust".
  • Jacoby's report continued breaking down the CTC earmark -- "$30 million was for the National Defense Center for Environmental Excellence [ed:whatever that is]. Forty million dollars for the National Center for Excellence in Manufacturing Technology, $10 million for the National Applied Software Engineering Center, and $23 million for the Computer-Aided Acquisition and Logistics Support (CALS_ Shared Resource Center (SRC)."
  • His behavior so outraged fellow House Democrat George Brown, chairman of the Science Space and technology Committee who felt that these earmarks bypassed normal competitive peer review processes, that Congressman Tom Foley had to intervene when Brown demanded to know the details of how these earmarked billions were being spent and request the Defense Department to release the documents related to these earmarks.

But as Newsbusters reports, the earmarks by Murtha to Porkopolis continued unabated. Notably in 1998, the Pentagon made clear that there were $4 billion in projects which it had never asked for, and when the Pentagon complaint drew the attention of the Washington Post, it focused a great deal of attention on Murtha again.

The paper reported, inter alia:

In the House version of the fiscal 1999 defense appropriations bill, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) has inserted $ 25 million in funding for DRS Laurel Technologies in Johnstown, his hometown. He inserted another $ 25 million or so in classified funds for a Johnstown drug intelligence center and millions more for a Johnstown research group studying ‘environmental excellence' and other issues.

[Snip]

In six years, stoked by Murtha's clout as the ranking Democrat on the House defense appropriations subcommittee, DRS Laurel's annual revenue has ballooned from $ 3 million to $ 70 million and its work force has grown from 45 to 260. Jack Donnelly, the president of DRS Laurel Technologies, credits Murtha "100 percent for opening the door" to lucrative Pentagon business.

Perhaps because they approved of Murtha's anti-Iraq war stance, reporting on the king of pork's earmarks tapered off somewhat. That is until last month when it was reported that the FBI, IRS, and Defense Criminal Investigative Service had searched  two Porkapolis businesses and the homes of the firms' founder, Kuchera Industries and Kuchera Defense Systems, which had reportedly received  "over $100 million in earmarks, thanks to Murtha's efforts."

This month, another firm with close ties to Murtha was also searched by the FBI. PMA group is headed by Paul Magliochetti, a former Murtha aide. (Another former aide, Julie Giardina, is also employed by the firm.)  According to the ABC report, the firm and Murtha have very close links indeed.

The PMA Group has benefited mightily from its ties to Murtha. In 2008, it brought in $13.8 million in revenue representing dozens of defense companies and contractors, many of which have donated heavily to Murtha. The veteran Pennsylvania Democrat has helped the firm secure millions in federal earmark dollars. Indeed, in 2008, PMA clients won $299 million in earmarks, according to figures compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

While the firm represents some defense giants like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, a large portion of their business comes from small defense firms headquartered in and around Murtha's district.

Today, the New York Times reports that the investigation has widened to contributions by PMA to Murtha and two other of his Democratic colleagues and allies on the Appropriations Committee:

In the first half of 2007, the PMA Group and its clients contributed more than $500,000 to three congressmen, Mr. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who is chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, and his close allies on the panel, Representative James P. Moran of Virginia and Representative Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana.

The lawmakers, meanwhile, earmarked more than $100 million in defense spending for PMA clients in the appropriations bills for 2008, according to a study by Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks earmarks.

In the last two weeks before the 2008 election, Mr. Murtha went on a last-minute fund-raising blitz, and PMA executives and clients gave him more than $100,000, according to a tally by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

[snip]

Experts in political law said the lawmakers could be required to return the improper contributions or, if they had turned a blind eye to fraud, they could be in legal trouble.

It is hard to see how any party that truly cared about the readiness of the military, the well being of the troops, or the national defense (not to mention the importance of curtailing wasteful government spending) could keep this man as head of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He has wasted so much money on foolish projects unwanted by the Pentagon, enriched himself in the process, and slandered the troops when it suits him. Whatever the case with the ongoing FBI investigations of firms intertwined with this man, retaining him in this important position sends an unmistakably odorous message about the Democrats' utter lack of concern for the troops and national security.