Monday, November 25, 2013
National Spotlight Shines Harshly On "Shadow Governor" Jay McCleskey; Breakthrough National Journal Article Imperils Martinez's National Standing; NM Impact Developing; Guv Candidate Calls It "Rot at The Top;" Republicans lead McCleskey Takedown; Downs Deal Resurfaces; Complete Coverage
It certainly changed forever the life of Jay McCleskey and perhaps that of his benefactor, Governor Susana Martinez.
The anticipated article from the National Journal on McCleskey--known variously as the "Shadow Governor," the "Fifth Floor" or the "Karl Rove of New Mexico"--lived up to its hype.
It was a smash hit in the political community where it began circulating in thousands of email boxes and on Twitter and Facebook accounts in the early morning hours. It was a bomb with McCleskey and his acolytes who have held power with a tight grip for three years, not hesitating to use a toolkit packed with the implements of intimidation and deployed without restraint on anyone who dared blocked their path.
If there has been a man more feared or loathed in New Mexican politics in the past 50 years, we can't remember it. You could almost hear the sighs of relief from his many foes as he was finally unmasked but in a fair and temperate manner that hung its hat on the raw truth. And, oh my, how the truth hurts.
The article from the venerable, nonpartisan DC-based National Journal--read widely and deeply among America's political leadership and intelligentsia--was so exhaustive and left in its wake so many political and legal threads--that it was like someone kicked over a basketful of snakes. You could only watch with wonder and amusement as they slithered in all directions. It will be impossible for the Governor and McCleskey to put them all back in the basket. The best they can hope for is to contain the most poisonous among them.
It's true--as a number of readers pointed out--that much of what was revealed to the nation about McCleskey and the state of New Mexico politics has been reported or alluded to on this blog. Obviously, we're pleased to see our rigorous and mostly lonely blogging on McCleskey's questionable activities and the unprecedented accumulation of governmental power by a political consultant confirmed and vindicated.
But this piece by Chicago-based writer Daniel Libit was chock full of new revelations, exhaustively researched and reported and packaged in a form that delivered the high impact that only American journalism practiced at its highest levels is capable of.
THE DAMAGE DONE
That it is revealed that she is essentially a figurehead who has ceded just about all of her power to McCleskey is another sharp right to the jaw. And her Sarah Palinesque aura--not quite knowing all she should--completed the definition of her as a poseur--a pretender--not anywhere near vice-presidential. Heck, not even gubernatorial. The charade has ended. If she wants back in, she has mucho work ahead of her.
Even if the casual reader did not delve deeply into the content, they were greeted with this damning headline:
"The Man Who Discovered Susana Martinez Could Also Be Her Downfall"
That was surely enough to catch the attention of Governor Christie and his aides and that of Senator Rand Paul or any of the other would-be Republican presidential nominees. It also raised eyebrows and more questions for the national press gaggle that specializes in all things presidential. The story was widely distributed by national reporters via social media.
Suddenly, a small packet of pixels had Susana's place on the list of VP contenders dropping as fast as a penny thrown off the Empire State Building. She went into free fall and if she's going to reverse it, someday she will have to do something about her McCleskey problem. It's simply too bothersome for a possible president or his operatives to deal with.
Unlike her, the Prez contenders aren't joined at the hip with McCleskey. Susana would need a surgeon practiced in separating Siamese Twins to rid herself of Jay. But in Washington, dropping troublesome operatives is done as casually as bursting a pimple on a nose.
Many of you in the bleacher seats are saying, "So what, Joe?" Susana never really has had a chance to be on a national ticket. It's a fantasy manufactured by Jay."
You have a point if you feel that way, but if Susana doesn't share your view and believes in life after Santa Fe--and really has fire in the belly for some kind of slot on the national scene--she is going to have to do something about McCleskey. He's now so radioactive in DC that they'll grab for their Geiger counters when he rolls down K Street.
ROT AT THE TOP
Susana's national aspirations--fantastical or not--are not her immediate concern. What is, of course, is her forthcoming campaign for re-election next November. This article lighted up the skies far brighter than any of the five Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls have thus far and it's an open question if any of them will effectively use it and the revelatory information it contains to break out of the pack.
Gary King was first to react, condemning the McCleskey behavior detailed in the article as "unethical" and as proof that Martinez "had abdicated" her office to a "vindictive" McCleskey.
Dem hopeful Allan Webber dubbed the revelations in the National Journal as The Rot at the Top.
Lawrence Rael chimed in: "(It's) time for New Mexicans to look. . . closer at the man behind the myth of Martinez."
State Sen. Linda Lopez came with this:
Thanks to the article, we have sources close to her operation detailing how Jay McCleskey is empowered to dictate policy, influence contracts, and keep millions of dollars in dark money well-cloaked and at an arm’s length from the governor, who can, politically, legally and conveniently feign ignorance.
State Senator Howie Morales, also a Dem Guv candidate, did not make a statement on the explosive article.
Attorney General King also said the conventional wisdom that Martinez is unbeatable was trashed by the damning article. Maybe, but that's going to have to be put to the test. And it's going to take a lot of money--a commodity about as plentiful in the Democratic camp as snowballs in Palm Springs.
THE LEGAL PERIL
Regarding the latter, former Martinez fund-raiser Andrea Goff dropped a bombshell in her interview.
She revealed that she received incriminating text messages from McCleskey after her father-in-law, Buster Goff, joined with other members of the State Fair Commission and voted to delay approving the controversial 25 year Downs racino lease.
"Buster screwed us. . . .He was supposed to pass it." McCleskey said in one text.
Buster Goff later switched his vote and the current Downs owners won the lease over a competitor.
That text and others that Goff turned over to the FBI sent our Legal Beagles barking. To them it was damning evidence against McCleskey and meant that there indeed had been bid-rigging.
To the Beagles:
The text messages Goff turned over to the FBI are direct evidence of wrongdoing and are admissible in court. McCleskey's own words implicate not just himself, but through his use of the word "us" the other conspirators in the rigging of the deal. . . .McCleskey's writing that Buster Goff was "supposed to pass it"--is proof of the rigging, and "Buster screwed us" of the conspiracy to rig.
McCleskey also linked the reason that Goff needed to approve the deal to the impact his failure to do so would have on William Windham, the Martinez campaign donor and an owner of the Downs. That's evidence that the deal was a quid pro quo which is necessary for the prosecution of some but not all federal corruption charges.
McCleskey also discussed ways to conceal additional campaign contributions that Windham attempted to make, but did not because he did not have a vehicle in place to conceal the funds from public scrutiny (conspiracy to commit money laundering, efforts to derive personal benefit, wire fraud, etc).
In response to Goff the Governor's office said: "Andrea Goff is a disgruntled former consultant who is no longer affiliated with the governor, and her wild-eyed accusations have no credibility."
Perhaps a year or so ago that statement would look as strong as reinforced steel. Not today. Not when everyone can see the blood in the water and the steel looking like tin.
MORE LEGAL BEAGLES
McCleskey's efforts to convince Andrea Goff to work on his behalf "off the books" could be used as pattern and practice evidence to conceal information from disclosure (reinforcing the money laundering). The texts--because they come from McCleskey--are as good from an evidentiary standpoint as if Andrea Goff had been wearing a wire.
The texts revealed by the National Journal from McCleskey to Goff reinforce the collusion in the administration that was depicted in the widely covered Downs emails. That is something the local media has not done.
While the Feds can take years to bring charges, this article confirms that there is a strong chance that it will eventually happen. Corruption cases are often filed many years after the crimes were committed.
JUST AN ADVISER
What stands out in the aftermath of all this is McCleskey's humble public moniker as the Governor's "political adviser."
He is not a government employee and has no official power but he has wielded more of it than anyone--seemingly even the woman elected to the office. He didn't get the nickname "Shadow Governor" for nothing. (Did you read the part where he sets up shop in a little anteroom next to Susana?)
But what of the real Governor--the one who took the oath of office that cold January 1 in 2011? She's an ambitious politician who unhesitatingly hitched her wagon to that of Jay's and now has to do some unhitching. Whether she has come to that conclusion or not, just about everyone else under the sun has. For our codependent Governor, the day of reckoning for the deal she struck with her Svengali draws near. Even Nixon had to dump Haldeman and Ehrlichman.
Will there be a breakup of this symbiotic political duo? It depends. Did the Governor read that National Journal article like a partisan or like the former District Attorney she is? We know she has to be fretting over what the piece did to her political standing among national donors and the national media when it comes to the VP prize. But does she feel threatened by something much more troubling?
There's the ABQ Downs racino wheeling and dealing. Then there's the millions of dollars that have flowed through her SusanaPAC, her re-election campaign and the 2012 Reform NM Now PAC. All of them were led by McCleskey who received hefty commissions from them and who--according to the National Journal--appears to be pulling in some $300,000 a year, not counting advertising commissions.
That's an astounding sum in a little state like ours. And the spending and expense records of these entities may be ripe for exploitation not only by her political opponents but by government and media investigators (We'll save the "NM Competes," the dark money nonprofit entity for tomorrow).
No matter how tight Jay and Susana may be, they are not husband and wife. If and when she sees that her survival interests conflict with his, will she just swallow hard and stay the course? Or will she start to slowly oar away?
Susana Martinez has needed Jay McCleskey in an almost desperate way, so much so that in the words of Harvey Yates, he was allowed to assume extra constitutional power. Now the worm has turned and McCleskey needs Martinez as much as she needs him--not just for a meal ticket--but for protection from the pack of wolves that has taken up residence outside of his "Fifth Floor"office.
The floodgates are now open in the NM Republican Party. It was not lost on anyone that all the named critics in the National Journal piece were prominent Republicans--and most prominently--former NM GOP Chairman Harvey Yates. And then there was that diss of McCleskey by current NM GOP Chairman John Billingsley. The argument by the McCleskey faction that it was a handful of disgruntled R's was not convincing. An untold number cower in fear.
The outing of McCleskey dilutes the potion he has relied on to keep everyone in line. That potion is equal parts fear and intimidation. Now with the national media--and we assume law enforcement--on high alert for any McCleskey mischief, disgruntled Republicans (and Democrats) have less reason to remain closed mouth in their dislike for the current regime. Not that Martinez is going to draw a Republican primary foe next year, but that prospect has gone from unimaginable to something like highly unlikely.
Several readers wondered if we will now get an investigation of allegations that law enforcement has been used to run checks on the license plates of political opponents as well as using the NCIC data base for political purposes. We know it's a story that one TV station was looking into....
Yes, it was strange that McCleskey posed for a series of pictures for the magazine article. The supposed #1 rule of a political consultant is not to become the story....
The author of the National Journal piece--Daniel Libit--was born and raised in ABQ. He graduated from ABQ Academy...
McCleskey is fond of compiling "dossiers" on reporters, bloggers and perceived political foes who he finds disagreeable (talk about Nixonian!). Now his targets have his dossier--all 5,400 words of it. When he waves theirs, they can wave his back. His credibility and that of his enforcers has taken a severe hit. In other words, "Thanks for the dossiers, Jay. We'll get back to you on that...."
And what of future stories from the media on what has really happened and is happening in politics and government? The turning over the reins of power by a sitting Governor to a mere political operative--now fully outed before the USA--has been woefully under covered.
Whatever the reasons for the hesitancy of a number of the state's journalists and investigative reporters to report the brutal reality of these dark years--of what really has been happening--especially those at the freshly scooped ABQ Journal--they now have the cover of national power and a substantial number of Republicans. They, too, can now go after some of those snakes that have escaped from the basket....
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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013. Not for reproduction without permission of the author