Koch Brothers and the Road to “Citizens United”
Greg Palast: When billionaires break the law, they get the law changed
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And this is the second in our series of interviews with Greg Palast, who’s written a new book called Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps. And Greg now joins us in our studio in Baltimore. Thanks for joining us again, Greg.
GREG PALAST, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Glad to be back.
JAY: And, again, just to remind everybody, Greg writes for Rolling Stone. He’s a journalist for BBC Television’s Newsnight. And he writes for The Guardian and The Nation and Harper’s. And let’s talk about the new book. So we’re doing this series of interviews about the book, and today we’re going to talk about the Koch brothers.
PALAST: The Koch brothers. Right. The sub-subtitle of the book is Greg Palast investigates the Koch gang, Karl Rove, and their buck buddies. And I was an investigator before I was an investigative reporter, and one of the investigations I did was oil missing.
JAY: Investigator for who?
PALAST: I was an investigator for the federal government, and also I worked with native tribes. And there was oil missing from the Osage indian reservation. It was being siphoned off by Koch oil company drivers. And we thought some drivers, renegade drivers were out there sucking up some oil out of these old strip wellsâ€”you know, the horses that go up and down.
The way that they did it is they had the right to be there, but they had to pay for it. So they took 80 barrels, and then they’d write down 60, and they’d take 70 barrels, and they’d write down 50. You know, it was just a skim.
So I thought, well, we’ll grab a couple of guys. Follow the trucks back on a loading dock in Oklahoma. Who’s standing there saying, I want more, was Charles Koch. Charles Koch personally ordered the pilfering of oil.
Now, my first question isâ€”.
JAY: Now, you’ve written this.
PALAST: Yes, I’ve written this.
JAY: He has not sued you about this.
PALAST: No, and he’sâ€”has more mean lawyers than, you know, the mob. You know, plenty of consiglieri there.
JAY: So, Mr.Â Koch, you’re very welcome to come on The Real News at any time to refute all of this.
JAY: Go ahead.
PALAST: I’d love to talk to him about it. But the most interesting thing was my question: why? He was already a multibillionaire at the time. And so the amount of oil being stolen, you have to understand, is a few hundred bucks from a family from each of these native families, and they get some royalties. I said, why, but one of his executives asked the same question, why. And we know his answer because his executives were wired. And on the tape he said, I want my fair share, and that’s all of it. This is the Koch brothers.
And by the way, you’re wondering, since the FBI had the tapes, the video tapes, the witnesses, the oil, the whole thing, what happened? Well, if you look in Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, we have a chapter called “Target 67C”. And Target 67C is the name of the guy named Charles Koch who is being indicted with Koch Industries for theft from an indian reservation, racketeering, theft from federal properties. These are big felony crimes.
So what happened? The answer is: the money. As it turns out (and I have FBI agents who’ve been screaming about this, Justice Department people), prosecutors serve at the discretion, at the pleasure of the states’ senators. Well, Don Nickles, who was the Republican U.S. senator, was not pleasured by the prosecutors cuffing one of his big donors and benefactors, the Koch brothers, so the prosecutor was removed. The grand jury that was empanelled was not allowed to even look at the evidence. And one of Koch’s buddies, who became prosecutor, wrote him a letter saying, you will not be prosecuted, which is pretty funny. Like, he was told that. So that’s just the beginning. And all throughout the book, we have several chapters of [crosstalk]
JAY: But jump from that to Koch’s role in the elections.
PALAST: Yeah. So now what happens is that’s not good enough. Remember, he had to have a senator. So now he was then hit with three hundredâ€”the Koch brothers and Koch Industries were hit with 350 criminal violations of the federal environmental laws, Koch Industries. These are criminal violations, 350 of them.
They took those oil trucks that we followed, and after they skimmed the oil and got rid of the good stuff, they skimmed from the indians and they sold the oil, there’s still sludge at the bottom of these trucks. So they just open the spigots and dump them into rivers. So nice guys.
Well, that’s a crime. So now what do you do? As one of the things I say in Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, rule number one for billionaires, the way to avoid breaking the law is to change the law, not change your criminality, right? So they decide to get rid of the environmental protection agency and environmental laws and federal prosecutions. So they drafted something called “Contract for America”. If you remember, Newt Gingrich rode to power on this. And one group of investigative reporters said, this sounds like it was written just for the Koch brothers, the “Contract for America”. No, that’sâ€”but I checked it out. It’s not true. It was written by the Koch brothers.
JAY: How do you know that?
PALAST: They’veâ€”that’s how they fundedâ€”that’s when they funded the creation of the heritage institute and they created something called Citizens for a Sound Economy.
And then something else happened. There’s another chapter called “The Hunt for Triad”. It turns out that suddenly the reason why Newt Gingrich won, which shocked everyone, including Bill Clinton, was that 25 Democrats lost their seats because there was a group called Campaign for our Children’s Futureâ€”sounds very niceâ€”who suddenly spent millions of dollarsâ€”they spent millions of dollars fightingâ€”running ads, smear ads, against Democrats. Now, this was a time when we didn’t see big money in campaigns. So they ran all these smear ads in the last week of the campaign. Like, you know, they said, oh, oneâ€”.
JAY: What year are we in?
PALAST: This was theâ€”we’re talking the ’94 midterm elections, and then again it continued in ’96. And so how did the Republicans take these seats of these massive millions of dollars in money smearing these Democrats? And, now, it was traced back, again, by FBI congressional investigators, thisâ€”who are theseâ€”who was concerned about the children’s future? It had nothing to do with children. It went back to a company called Triad, which is the name of Chinese money-laundering games. Behind Triad was Koch Industries.
Now, here’s the kicker, okay? At that time it was a crime for corporations to give money to elections campaigns. So this was another federal crime committed by the Kochs.
So that’s how we have todayâ€”now we zip the tape forward to Citizens United decision in 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Theyâ€”through their massive donations, they were able toâ€”and games, they were able to get the court that they wanted.
At that point, there was this little group called Citizens United, which somehow hired the most expensive lawyer in the United States, Ted Olsen, to argue their case at the Supreme Court. But no one asked, how did they get Ted Olsen? He didn’t volunteer. He was given leave from his day job as general counsel for Koch Industries. So Koch Industries, this was the way that Koch Industriesâ€”.
JAY: Which frees the Koch Brothers, in this election, to spend whatever they want.
PALAST: Right. And not only that, but (very important) it decriminalized their prior behavior. The Kochs were always giving money through Koch Industries, but it was criminal. They just decriminalized it. So it’s not just what they could do now, but that they got away with theirâ€”basically, any attempt at bringing them to justice before.
And I want to give credit to a Republican senator, Fred Thompsonâ€”remember Mr.Â Law and Order, the guy who plays a federal prosecutor on Law and Order? As you’ll see in Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, Fred Thompson wanted to blow the whistle on the Koch brothers, even though he was a Republican, ’cause I guess he took playing the part of a prosecutor kind of seriously, right? And he was told by Trent Lott, then the senator, the Republican majority leader in the Senate, back off, and his investigation was shut down. And why didn’t the Democrats, who knew all about it, scream bloody murder?
JAY: Yeah, why?
PALAST: One did, and it’s [“[email protected]’sini], but they gotâ€”he told me the Koch brothers got him. That’s when the Keating Fiveâ€”he was smeared. And he said the Koch brothers were behind him losing his seat, ’cause he wanted to bring up this issue. But Fred Thompson, a Republican, shut it down.
And the Democrats didn’t complain, because it was a trade, it was a deal, as you’ll readâ€”and true-blue democrats might be upset to hear this, but Bill Clinton apparently had taken not a small amount of change from his billionaires, called the Riady family. They’re not American citizens. He met 95 times with them in the White House. That means he met with Chinese billionaires more often than his own daughter, Chelsea. And heâ€”apparently, money went into the Clinton campaign and other favors were done by the Riadys, big favors for the Clintons. That’s a real impeachable offense. Forget the stains-on-dresses stuff. This was really impeachable. And Trent Lott told Senator Thompson, we don’t do the Riadys and Clinton, and they don’t do the Kochs. So it was a billionaire trade. And that’s how the game’s played.
JAY: Okay. More of this is all in Billionaires & Ballot Bandits. And if you want to get more detail on this and much more like it, it’s in the book.
Just one other point. If, Mr.Â Koch or Mr.Â Clinton, you would like to join us to refute any of this, you’re more than welcome.
One more time, no one’s sued you yet?
PALAST: No one’s sued me yet. And these guys are not afraid to sue anyone. They threaten all the time.
JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us.
PALAST: You’re very welcome.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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