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Monday, February 07, 2005
You're a better man than I, James Watt-din
Powerline's Buttrocket takes up the case of kindly old James Watt:
I read Moyers' piece after several readers pointed out to us how over-the-top it was. I knew that Moyers' claims about Watt couldn't possibly be true, for two reasons. First, the concept of stewardship is so fundamental to Christian theology that the claim is laughable on its face. Second, I remember the Reagan administration. James Watt was a controversial figure; but one thing he was not controversial for was advocating environmental pillaging, on the theory that Jesus would be back any day now. That would have been quite a news story in the early 1980s, had it been true.
I did some quick Google searches without finding anything noteworthy; in particular, I couldn't find Mr. Watt's Congressional testimony online. I put the matter aside, not having time to pursue it further.
Friday morning, I was sitting in my office when my telephone rang. On the phone was a soft-spoken man who said, "I'm calling for Mr. John Hinderaker."
"Speaking," I responded, in the brusque tone I use when fielding cold calls.
The man said, "My name is James Watt."
Mr. Watt is retired now, and has been out of public life for many years. He is a kindly gentleman who, with the aid of his grandson, enjoys surfing the web and keeping up on the news of the day. And he is understandably unhappy about being casually defamed by Bill Moyers.
Yep, ol' Jimmy Watt just spends his day surfing the internets, maybe sitting on the porch whittlin' and thinking about those 18 felony counts he dodged...
On 2 January 1996, Washington lobbyist and former US Secretary of the Interior James Watt pleaded guilty to withholding documents and information from a grand jury in 1990. In exchange for his guilty plea, 18 felony perjury charges against him were dropped. Watt had intentionally concealed documents which had been subpoenaed during a grand jury investigation into the Reagan-era HUD scandal. He received five years' probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $5,000 fine.
Say it ain't so, Jimmy:
Former Interior Secretary James Watt was sentenced to five years of probation on Tuesday in connection with a 1980s influence-peddling scandal at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth also ordered Watt, one of the most controversial figures in the Reagan Administration, to perform 500 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine.
Watt pleaded guilty in January to a misdemeanor count of withholding documents from a federal grand jury investigating alleged corruption at HUD. The plea agreement wiped out 18 felony charges against him. He faced up to six months in jail on the misdemeanor charge.
Before the plea bargain, Watt had been charged with felony counts of perjury and making false statements to cover up his work as a consultant seeking federal aid from HUD after he left government in 1983.
Want some more? Sure you do:
James G. Watt looked so happy the other day flashing a confident grin and the thumbs-up sign as he emerged from a federal court in Washington. He hasn't had so much fun since the old days when he was secretary of the Interior opening the entire U.S. coastline to offshore drilling and clearcutting ancient forests.
Why shouldn't he be smiling? Watt copped a plea to a single misdemeanor charge of attempting to mislead a federal grand jury and thereby avoided trial on 18 felony charges. When indicted, Watts had proclaimed his innocence and asserted, "I am trusting God that justice can arise . . ." Thanks either to divine intervention or a slick plea bargain, Watt is now looking at serving six months max.
A light sentence indeed for the top fish caught in the Reagan-era influence peddling scandal that left 16 other well-connected conservative Republicans convicted for hustling a Department of Housing and Urban Development program intended to provide housing funds to the poor. Six years and $2 million in fines later, it affords a perfect case study of why programs for the poor are in such trouble; they have been run, for the past three decades of mostly Republican administrations, by reverse Robin Hoods.
Do you remember Watt, the moralizing free-marketeer czar of Interior who once tried to ban the Beach Boys from performing on the Capitol Mall because they might attract an "undesirable element?" He was contemptuous of everyone who wasn't into raping the environment, dismissing environmentalists as "Nazis" and deriding members of a federal advisory panel overseeing his activities as "every kind" of mixture. "I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple."
Well, once forced out of office by the excesses of his garbage mouth, he did what any good believer in downsizing the federal government would do: He ripped it off. He became a consultant to developers looking to cash in on HUD money. Watt had been in the Reagan Cabinet and was on intimate terms with the hapless Samuel Pierce, who served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Watt didn't claim any expertise in urban housing, but he knew how to use a telephone. He got $300,000 for a couple of phone calls to HUD on behalf of a Maryland developer.
Bilking the poor can be a lucrative way of life and apparently a largely legal one. What is not disputed is that Watt received $500,000 from clients who were granted very profitable housing contracts after the former Interior secretary intervened with HUD.
Watt, in his own testimony before a House subcommittee, conceded that he was in the influence peddling business and that it was quite profitable. Referring to $100,000 he made from a project in Puerto Rico, he said of his developer client, "That's what they offered, and it sounded like a lot of money to me, and we settled on it."
Former independent counsel Arlin M. Adams claimed that the investigation of Watt enabled the federal government to recover $10 million intended for low-income housing in the Virgin Islands that had found its way into rich people's pockets.
In the end, Watt's penchant for erasing computer files may have been his salvation. When questioned if he had a memorandum of talks with Pierce on a housing project, he stated: "I intentionally don't make such memoranda so that lawyers like you won't be able to get them." So much for divine intervention.
No wonder why the lawyers over at Powerline love him so much. He's a dream client...
Interesting sidenote: Watt's attorney was William Bradford Reynolds:
In addition to its board of directors, the Federalist Society has a board of visitors (formerly the board of trustees).  The Society's board of visitors includes Judge Bork and William Bradford Reynolds, President Reagan's assistant attorney general for civil rights who was so controversial that his 1985 nomination for promotion to associate attorney general was defeated by a Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee. During his confirmation hearings, critics claimed that as head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, Reynolds had refused to enforce civil rights laws and ignored court rulings with which he disagreed.  Republican Senator Arlen Specter accused Reynolds of giving misleading testimony, "disregarding the established law," and "elevating [his] own legal judgments over the judgments of the courts." 
And the judge who slapped him on the wrist was Judge Royce Lambreth:
Federal Judge Royce Lamberth is best known for the ease with which he approved dozens of discovery motions that allowed fellow conservative Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch to dig into the public and private life of President Bill Clinton. But Lamberth was considerably more strict last March, when he raised procedural concerns about a requested FBI wiretap involving a member of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Lamberth's doubts sparked an internal investigation at the Bush Justice Department into the FBI's monitoring of several terrorist organizations, including Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. That inquiry, officials told The New York Times, "might have hampered electronic surveillance of terror groups."
You have to appreciate the whole Circle of Life vibe these guys give off....