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It was a real Cinderella story.
When last heard from, Virginia resident Joe Sestak had been – in the words of the Philadelphia Inquirer – “unceremoniously fired” from his job as a deputy chief of naval operations. This was in August 2005. In January 2006, Sestak quietly retired from the Navy.
Looking about for a new career, Sestak decided, improbably enough, on Congress. The nostalgic admiral eyed not the Virginia district in which he lived, but the Pennsylvania district in which he had last lived as a boy. More daunting still, he would be facing off against popular 10-term maverick Republican, Curt Weldon.
Despite the odds, the political novice proved master rainmaker – it must have helped to leave the Navy under a cloud – as he somehow managed to muster a $3 million war chest within months. Former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger pitched in big time. Now a lobbyist – quelle surprise – Berger hosted a serious fund-raiser for the admiral in Washington and lent the Sestak campaign his firm’s director of communications to serve as the official campaign spokesman.
The donor list for the recently dumped Sestak – the Navy cited “poor command climate” for the dumping – read like a who’s who of international mismanagement. There was, of course, the disgraced Berger. Then there was the disgraced former CIA director, John Deutch, who had signed a criminal plea agreement in connection with his mishandling of national secrets a day before being pardoned by the outgoing President Clinton. One interesting contribution came in from the disgraced Mary O. McCarthy, recently fired from the CIA after failing a polygraph on leaked classified information in regards to CIA prisons overseas.
When I visited with Weldon in late July, the congressman was aware of the forces massing against him. And he thought he knew why. Weldon had made it his business to find out what Berger had been seeking in the National Archives and why he had gotten off so lightly. Weldon had previously exposed Able Danger, the Army intelligence unit that had targeted 9-11 conspirators months before the attack only to be thwarted by various bureaucracies. He had also written the book, “Countdown to Terror,” which highlighted intelligence failures throughout the various agencies and made him few friends therein.
I had driven to Washington to visit Weldon with Mike Wire and his wife, Joan. Mike is the storied “man on the bridge,” the single most critical eyewitness in the ongoing saga of TWA Flight 800, the 747 that was inexplicably blown out of the sky on the night of July 17, 1996. His wife is a pro-life activist in suburban Philadelphia. She and her daughter had arranged the meeting.
On the way down, we voiced our shared expectation that Weldon would usher us into his office, listen to us politely for 15 minutes, tell us he’d look into it, and send us on our way. As it turned out, he ushered us into his office at 11 a.m., listened to us more than politely, and at 1:30 p.m., after two and a half intense hours, I stood up and announced that I had family obligations back in New Jersey and had to go. Joining us for that entire period was Russ Caso, Weldon’s chief intelligence aide. They were both all ears.
We began by showing them the eyewitness section of the video, “Silenced.” Mike Wire then elaborated on his own role. Although there were 270 others who saw what Wire had seen, the CIA chose to base its notorious zoom-climb animation, the one used to discredit all eyewitness testimony, on Wire’s perspective. The problem, of course, is that to make his testimony work either the CIA or the FBI fully fabricated an interview with Wire that never took place.
For my part, I connected the political dots: the players, the motivation, the rough logic and the ad hoc decisions of the improvised cover-up. None of this shocked our listeners. There was an obvious overlap between those involved in misdirecting the TWA investigation – the Clintons, Berger, Richard Clarke, Jamie Gorelick – and Sestak’s donor list.
We also discussed Sandy Berger’s motivation in rifling the archives and shredding documents, the most under-investigated story since TWA Flight 800 itself. I speculated that Berger destroyed certain copies of a Bojinka summary, which I know for a fact President Clinton had read and annotated in the summer of 1996 after the TWA disaster. Given the events that have followed, I am convinced more than ever that the 9-11 hearings were engineered to avoid all reference to TWA Flight 800.
What is undeniable is that Berger risked his entire career to purge this information from the files. That he should be directing the political campaign against the man most likely to expose him should have been newsworthy, but it was not.
In 2006, the media had no greater goal than to give Congress back to the Democrats. In Pennsylvania, that meant telling the story of Cinderella Man, Joe Sestak.
On Sept. 24, 2006, former president Bill Clinton – the man with the most to lose if the truth about Berger’s deceit or TWA Flight 800’s destruction is ever revealed – took a momentary break from his on-air hectoring of Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace to stump for Sestak. Curt Weldon was the only Republican candidate that Clinton mentioned by name during his Fox eruption. On Sept. 30, Former NATO chief Wesley Clark came to Pennsylvania to stump for Sestak. On Oct. 5, Clinton himself came to town on Sestak’s behalf.
Still, with three weeks out, polls had the popular Weldon up 7 points over the novice Sestak. Then, things got dirty. On Friday, Oct. 13, Greg Gordon of the liberal McClatchy Newspapers’ Washington Bureau broke a story that two anonymous sources had shared with him, namely that Weldon had “traded his political influence for lucrative lobbying and consulting contracts for his daughter.”
On Monday morning the 16th, the FBI raided the homes of Weldon’s daughter and a friend, allegedly for fear that documents would be destroyed if they did not do so sooner. By noon of that same day, a group of nearly 20 Democrat protesters were protesting outside Weldon’s district office in Upper Darby, carrying matching signs that read, “Caught Red-Handed.”
I attempted to contact both Gordon of the McClatchy papers and the local Pennsylvania newspaper, the Delco Times. I left messages telling them there was more to this plot than met the media’s blinkered eye. I got no response from either. The Wires tried as well without success. The media had their story and were running with it. On Nov. 7, Sestak won with 56 percent of the vote. Americans, we were told, had had enough of that “culture of corruption.”
Those who are interested in Parts I or II of the extraordinary and still anonymous review of what really happened to TWA Flight 800 – about which I wrote last week – please contact me through my web site, Cashill.com.
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