McCain Sells Out | Wal-Mart Gets Political | Capitol Hill Is an FBI Crime Scene

Compromised Principles—When is a compromise not a compromise? When one side gets almost everything it wants and the other is left high and dry. That’s what happened in the recent debate over the Bush administration’s “anti-terrorism” interrogation powers. On one side were a trio of Republican senators led by John McCain (R-AZ), who was in the familiar position of going toe to toe with Bush. For years McCain has cultivated a reputation as a Republican “maverick.” Only now he is thinking of another run for president, and he needs to play to the GOP base. This Bush could appreciate. Instead of heeding the senators’ demands, he resisted their stance, and the senators capitulated to the administration.

All involved said there had been a “compromise.” But under the draft legislation, the administration still gets to decide what is and is not torture. The CIA will continue to use harsh and legally dubious interrogation tactics against whomever it deems a terrorist. And the military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in June, will proceed, with congressional approval, to deny detainees the right of habeas corpus and coverage by international law. “Look, the ACLU and the New York Times don’t like the agreement,” McCain admitted afterwards.

But Republicans could barely contain their glee. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who originally threatened to block any accord, told theTimes that he “liked the compromise legislation even better than the bill his committee had passed.” The legislation cleared the House, with only seven Republicans voting nay, and was expected to pass the Senate as we go to press, preserving the principle integral to the administration’s governing philosophy over the past six years: that George W. Bush has the right to remain king.

The Wal-Mart Vote—Just as Democrats for years counted on unions to turn out voters, Republicans are relying on big business today. A trend that started in 2004 is expanding for ’06. The Business Industry Political Action Committee aims to register 2.1 million new “pro-business” voters in 15 targeted states. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching 1,000 websites for local companies and chamber groups, listing candidates’ positions on GOP-favored issues such as tort reform, environmental regulation and the “death tax.”

The biggest bucks come from Wal-Mart, which for years eschewed organized politics. In 2000, it didn’t crack the top 100 of political givers. But in 2004, it developed the third-largest corporate political action committee, contributing $2.1 million to political candidates, 80 percent of that to Republicans. As unions and Democratic politicians increasingly assail its anti-labor policies, this year Wal-Mart will distribute voter information packets to its 1.3 million employees. In August, the company sent “fact check” letters to workers in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. “We would never suggest to you how to vote,” the letter said, “but we have an obligation to tell you when politicians are saying something about your company that isn’t true.” Wal-Mart says its voter drive is strictly nonpartisan, although the underlying message it is broadcasting is clear: Republicans are good for business, and Democrats are anything but.

Capitol Corruption—Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), known as the “Mayor of Capitol Hill,” became the second congressman in the past year to plead guilty to accepting bribes from a lobbyist—and the latest casualty of the Jack Abramoff scandal. But he’s likely not the last. Five members of Congress are currently under investigation by the FBI for various offenses, including Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Conrad Burns (R-MT), and Reps. William Jefferson (D-LA), Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Alan Mollohan (D-WV). As scandal permeates the Beltway, the FBI has tripled the number of squads in Washington, assigning 37 agents full-time to an office near Capitol Hill. “Traditionally, a congressional bribery case might be conducted on Main Street, USA, but a lot of the stuff we’re finding these days is here in Washington,” an FBI source told the New York Daily News.

Law enforcement officials are also redefining what constitutes a bribe. In the past, prosecutors needed to prove an explicit quid pro quo between a member of Congress and a benefactor. But Ney pled guilty to forgoing his “honest services” by accepting trips, gifts and donations from Abramoff and a London-based, Syrian-born businessman known as “the Fat Man.” Taking campaign cash in exchange for favors, the Boston Globe wrote, is “an offense that comes uncomfortably close to business as usual in Washington.” No wonder the FBI is considering opening a fourth squad on the Hill.