What if, during the gathering-storm decade of the 1930s, a senior White House aide in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration had been found to have taken big money from a company dealing closely with the Nazis? Would it would have been a huge scandal? Of course it would.
And what if, during the Cold War ’40s, a top White House aide to President Harry Truman had been caught taking cash from a company dealing with the Soviets? The question answers itself.
But now, in 2012, a White House aide in the Obama administration is revealed to have received a six-figure amount from a company connected to Iran, and nothing happens. The press doesn’t seem to care; the establishment is unruffled; even opposition Republicans have hardly noticed. If we, as a nation, had been this un-vigilant back during ’30s or the ’40s, America might not have survived.
More than two weeks after it ran, we can see now what should have been a big bang of a news story — the August 5 report in the Washington Post that David Plouffe, White House senior adviser, had accepted $100,000 from MTN, a South Africa-based mobile-phone company–a company that does multi-billion dollar business with Iran. Yet the story has, in fact, turned out to be a whimper.
At Monday’s White House press conference — the first such Q and A session in eight weeks — the press found time to ask questions about Syria, Afghanistan, and, of course, Mitt Romney’s taxes and Todd Akins’s idiotic words. Legitimate questions all, but the juiciest potential news story was Plouffe and his money; after all, here was the chance for a brave reporter to ask the President, face to face, why one of his closest aides had taken money, indirectly, from Iran. And yet none of the questioners seized the moment.
So who, exactly, is David Plouffe? He is a longtime Democratic political operative, perhaps second only to David Axelrod in the Obama political world; Plouffe was campaign manager for the 2008 Obama campaign, while Axelrod was chief strategist. Remaining in the private sector after Obama’s victory, Plouffe published in 2010 a partisan and hallowing book about Obama, The Audacity to Win: How Obama Won and How We Can Beat the Party of Limbaugh, Beck, and Palin.
In addition, Plouffe did what many others, in both parties, have done after a big political win; he cashed in on the speaking circuit. One of those speeches caused him quick grief; it was reported in February 2009 that he had taken $50,000 to speak in the repressive ex-Soviet state of Azerbaijan; the backlash from human rights activists forced him to donate the money to a pro-democracy group.
Given that precedent, it’s all the more remarkable that nobody in the media has made a stink about Plouffe taking twice as much money from MTN, a $15 billion-a-year mobile phone company, for a speaking gig to MTN executives in Lagos, Nigeria in December 2010. One of the firm’s assets is MTN Irancell, which is Iran’s second-largest mobile operator. Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal, MTN Irancell accounts for more than a fifth of MTN subscribers worldwide.
For its part, an MTN spokesman told the Post in its August 5 story that Plouffe was engaged “because of his expertise and his knowledge of the U.S. political scene.” But importantly, the speaking gig came three weeks after it was announced that Plouffe would be joining the White House staff. In other words, MTN wasn’t just paying to schmooze with a well-connected political insider; it was paying to schmooze with a future senior White House aide, someone who would have close access to the President and to national security secrets.
And while the same Post article added that the White House assured that Plouffe held no private meetings with MTN executives on his speaking trip, the questions of how one defines “private meeting” and whether or not Plouffe held meetings with MTN executives elsewhere seem not to have come up.