This morning, Dorothea was going off about Norm Coleman, our junior Senator from Minnesota. “Slim bag,sleazy, sleazy, low-life.” “Could you be more specific?” I said. “Why, yes, ‘lickspittle’:toady, flatter.” She got this from reading the Star Tribune article today:
Coleman compared to Sen. McCarthy by British legislator
Kevin Diaz and Rob Hotakainen, Star Tribune Washington Bureau Correspondents
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A day after Sen. Norm Coleman implicated a member of Parliament in a U.N. oil-for-food scheme, the British legislator shot back Thursday in a cross-Atlantic exchange of words.
The legislator, George Galloway, likened Coleman to the late U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a characterization that sets the scene for a televised confrontation on Capitol Hill Tuesday, one that could further raise the Minnesota Republican’s profile.
Coleman already has gained international attention for calling on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to resign as a result of the oil-for-food scandal.
The latest showdown began Wednesday when the Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations, which Coleman chairs, released a report accusing Galloway and former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua of accepting vouchers for millions of barrels of Iraqi oil — which could then be resold at immense profit — in exchange for their support of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Galloway, who was expelled from Britain’s Labor Party in 2003 for urging British soldiers not to fight in Iraq, responded by calling Coleman’s panel a “lickspittle Republican committee, acting on the wishes of George Bush.” He also likened Coleman to the late senator and anti-Communist crusader McCarthy.
“Joseph McCarthy must be smiling admirably in Hades,” said Galloway, vowing to come to Capitol Hill to confront Coleman on Tuesday, when the subcommittee holds a hearing on the allegations.
Coleman said he welcomes the encounter. “There will be a witness chair and microphone available for Mr. Galloway’s use,” he said.
Both Galloway and Pasqua have strenuously denied any wrongdoing. Only Galloway, however, has offered to rebut the allegations in person.
“I’ll be there to give them both barrels — verbal guns, of course, not oil,” he said. “I welcome the opportunity to clear my name. My first words will be ‘Senator, it’s a pity that we are having this interview after you have found me guilty. Even in Kafka there was the semblance of a trial.’ ”
Coleman parried Galloway’s assertion that the Senate panel rebuffed his efforts to respond to the subcommittee before.
“Contrary to his assertions, at no time did Mr. Galloway contact [the committee] by any means, including but not limited to telephone, fax, e-mail, letter, Morse code or carrier pigeon,” Coleman said.
Coleman’s allegations, part of his continuing probe of the oil-for-food program, produced big news overseas.
“I’ve just been watching Senator Coleman on television here tonight, which is the first time I’ve got a glimpse of him. It’s just clearly a kangaroo court,” said Ron McKay, a Galloway spokesman.
At a news conference, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the government has no plans to independently investigate the charges against Galloway, but he added that it “depends what emerges.”
The bipartisan committee report alleges that Galloway received allocations worth 20 million barrels from 2000 to 2003. Evidence in the report also suggests that he used a children’s leukemia charity he founded as a cover to conceal oil payments. Pasqua is alleged to have received allocations worth 11 million barrels from 1999 to 2000.
The oil-for-food program was set up by the U.N. to let Saddam’s government sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods during the period of U.N. sanctions following the 1991 Gulf War.
Since then, a number of investigations, including Coleman’s, have found that Saddam used the $64 billion program to peddle influence with officials in the U.N. and in foreign governments.
Galloway, a controversial figure in British politics, was re-elected to Parliament under the banner of his left-wing Respect Party in last week’s elections.
Veteran Congress watchers say the showdown with Galloway presents Coleman with unique political opportunities and risks.
“This is a dream come true for Coleman,” said David Schultz, who teaches American politics at Hamline University in St. Paul. “You don’t lose votes by picking fights with foreign officials. Though if [Galloway] were French it would have been better.”
Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said the encounter is bound to get a lot of attention, but he warned that it could backfire on Coleman if Galloway is able to disprove any of the allegations.
The charges against Galloway are not new, but rather more detailed than previous reports.
Galloway filed a libel suit over earlier British press reports on the allegations, winning $1.4 million from the Daily Telegraph last year. He also accepted undisclosed damages and a public apology from the Christian Science Monitor over a similar article alleging that he took money from Saddam’s regime. Documents in that report were later proved to be forgeries.
Andy Brehm, a spokesman for Coleman, said the subcommittee’s allegations are based on different records. “The documents in the subcommittee’s report have been substantiated by former Iraqi officials interviewed by [Senate] staff,” he said.
As for Galloway’s references to McCarthy and “lickspittle,” Brehm demurred: “We’re not going to dignify that.”
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