By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by Jack GouldHEY, MR. TALIBAN II
Since Sept. 11, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has angrily—and with no small dose of irony—blasted the Clinton administration for failing to topple the Osama bin Laden-connected Taliban in Afghanistan. What the Huntington Beach Republican never mentions is a fact the Weekly reported last September: Rohrabacher himself was cozy with the Taliban. In late 1996, he assured the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs that the Muslim group did not have terrorist ties, was no threat to the U.S. and would bring "stability" to the region.
Rohrabacher was, of course, wrong—and the truth apparently still hurts. During a Feb. 1 town hall meeting in Huntington Beach, the congressman was asked about his early support of the Taliban. He delighted the conservative audience by promising that the Weekly had fabricated the story. What he didn't tell them is that in a letter to the Weekly (published Sept. 27 and available in our online archives), Rohrabacher defended his pro-Taliban work as "hoping for the best."
The congressman's Republican colleagues weren't as gullible as his hometown crowd. In December, they blocked Rohrabacher from assuming control of a house subcommittee after noting his boneheaded lobbying for the Taliban. A Republican source told Congressional Quarterly that Rohrabacher has a history of "belligerent rhetoric."
Few members of Congress enjoy historical revisionism more than Rohrabacher. During the Wen Ho Lee/China scandal of 1999, the congressman chastised the Clinton administration for letting U.S. defense conglomerates sell high-tech missile technology to Communist China. The Weekly was the only paper in the country to note that, in 1993 and 1994, Rohrabacher led the fight to speed the transfer of U.S. military-related satellite technology to foreign governments, including the People's Republic of China. Hughes Electronics, a company that benefited financially from the looser regulatory environment, is a major campaign contributor to the congressman.
For seven years, Toledano has acknowledged most of the FEC's facts but argued to reporters that he did not violate federal campaign laws regarding contribution limitations and disclosure. A key part of his defense? He took the contribution, opened a secret bank account and used the funds without informing the party's executive committee all because he believed they would not approve his unlawful plan. According to Toledano's plea, his colleagues running the local Democratic Party were "virulent and vicious. . . . I could have proposed God, motherhood and apple pie, and it would have been voted down." A district court called Toledano's defense "far-fetched," "specious," "facially inadequate," "frivolous," "spurious" and "meritless."
When he wasn't ridiculing other Democrats, Toledano played the Reagan card. He invoked such phrases as "I don't recall," "I forgot," "I'm not entirely sure" and "I have no independent recollection" more than five dozen times during the case.
The appeals court was not amused. Toledano suspiciously had "persistent lapses of memory" and a "demonstrated penchant for playing fast and loose with the truth," noted Judge Alex Kozinski on behalf of the unanimous three-judge panel. "We conclude that Toledano has acted in bad faith, vexatiously and wantonly, and has willfully abused the judicial process."
The federal judges let stand the district court's ruling that Toledano pay a $7,500 civil penalty, ignored his pleas of financial hardship and then added one final blow. Though the FEC did not seek restitution for its costs in prosecuting the case, the Ninth Circuit ordered Toledano to pay the agency's attorney's fees for "unjustifiably wasting taxpayers' money" for seven years.
But maintaining this convoluted depiction through one measly 600-word story proved impossible—even for a newspaper that habitually soft-peddles Rackauckas' screw-ups. The makeover failed in just the second paragraph when Rackauckas spoke for himself. "Naturally, there are things that I look back on that I might do differently," he said. "But I like to move forward. I'm not going to dwell on the past. But whatever the lessons are from the past, then I'll try to dwell on those."
If confession is the first step in rehab, the Rackauckas quote—mind-numbing even for the notoriously inarticulate DA—suggests he isn't trying to fix anything except his image as a scoundrel. Even when he'd be expected to help the Times out with supportive statements, Rackauckas bungled it. Note the vagueness—"Whatever the lessons are"—with which he describes ethical lapses so voluminous it took the 2001-2002 grand jury 100 pages to describe.