by Max Brantley
Coverage here of remarks by prosecutors and Sen. Jay Bradford yesterday in defense of Mike Beebe relative to his role in the Senate while the Nick Wilson scam was in progress. The defense was occasioned by ads run by the Coalition for Arkansas' Future, a Republican front group attacking Beebe.
About all that: Nothing happened in the Senate in those days without at least the tacit approval or understanding of Beebe and his closest ally Morril Harriman. The Wilson legal fee scam was specifically enabled by work in the arcane and important little world run by Harriman known as the special languages subcommittee. The federal grand jury that indicted Wilson even heard evidence that Harriman's lobbyist/lawyer wife had expressed interest at one point in sharing in the legal work created by the ad litem program to represent kids in divorce cases. The ad litem deal was part of broader wheeling and dealing that produced, among others, a new building for the state Supreme Court. But you can be part of legislative wheeling and dealing and not necessarily a player in, or even knowledgeable about, felonious intentions. At the outset, the ad litem program looked mostly like a sweetheart deal -- smelly, maybe, on account of how some insiders seemed set to reap most of the benefits, but not illegal. It's not illegal, after all, to pay lawyers under a special program aimed at insuring decent representation for kids in tough circumstances. As former U.S. Attorney Paula Casey pointed out, it took the grand jury many months to knit together all the various parts and find the criminal activity, which Wilson eventually admitted. His name wasn't even on the legislation. Casey's office went aggressively after every angle. Beebe emerged untouched. Many other Democrats did not. Does that mean he wholly escapes any taint from his years at the epicenter of an institution too often controlled by special interests and special pleaders? Not at all. It's a fair subject for discussion in the election. Just as A$a's lobbying and penny stock opportunism reflect on his public service.
As I remarked to a Republican yesterday, however, neither of these stories -- Nickgate or lobbygate -- seem to have legs, much as he or I might wish otherwise. The Wilson matter is doubly difficult to sell on account of its age and complexity and the utter absence of a smoking gun to put in Beebe's hand.
But where the A$a camp disclaims any knowledge or involvement in the 527 group's ad re Beebe and Wilson, please. It's a piece of a coordinated Republican campaign for governor. The Republican Party is sending out fact sheets on the Wilson case. The A$a media machine is pumping out the details, too. Which is fine. Just don't insult our intelligence by treating the Republican-financed Beebe smear ad as an independent effort in any but the strictest technical sense.