Lawsuits! Shady associates! Dirty money! It's very hard to keep track of what the hell's been going on in these final days of the Norm Coleman-Al Franken showdown in Minnesota, so here's a little cheat sheet for you to keep track.
- Rentgate: This was the first of Coleman's several election-season scandals. In June, National Journal reported
that Coleman was living in the Capitol Hill basement apartment of a
powerful Minnesota BFF of his, telemarketing maven Jeff Larson, once described as
"perhaps the most powerful GOP operative nationwide." Coleman was
paying $600 a month, less than the former nursery I rented in a
decaying flophouse when I first moved to Washington as an intern, and
was several months delinquent in his rent. (He sold Larson some
furniture to make up for it.)
This one fizzled, but was briefly revived when Larson was revealed to be the fashionista behind Sarah Palin's $150,000 Neiman Marcus purchases.
- Suitgate: In early October, Ken Silverstein of Harper's alleged
that another big-dollar buddy of Coleman's, Iranian-American
businessman Nasser Kazeminy, was in the habit of dressing Coleman in
fancy suits from Neiman Marcus (the same Minneapolis Neiman Marcus, as
it happens, where $75,063 of the offending Palin duds were purchased! Oh, what a tangled web!).
Kazeminy, a "reclusive" businessman and Bob Dole pal who primarily lives in a $19 million Palm Beach mansion, was a longtime bankroller -- along with his family members, who all prolifically donate to the same causes -- of Coleman's political career: The Kazeminys have donated at least $119,800 to Coleman over the years, including a one-time $45,000 deposit into Coleman's PAC before soft money was outlawed, and sprung for trips to Paris, Jordan, and elsewhere on Nasser's private jet. A few suits isn't much compared to $120 grand, but Coleman hadn't disclosed any such gifts, which, if he did receive the suits, counts as pulling a Ted Stevens.
Coleman finally pseudo-denied the allegation, but only after four days of humiliating, Talmudic non-denials, including a painful press conference in which his forlorn secretary responded to reporters' specific questions with the same odd mantra, "the senator has reported every gift he's ever received," twelve times.
Uh oh, Kazeminy came back! This one's the creepiest-sounding Coleman
scandal, and, if true, the worst. This week, Houston businessman Paul
McKim, formerly the CEO of an oil-rig servicing company half-owned by
Nasser Kazeminy, introduced a lawsuit
accusing Kazeminy of -- get this -- forcing him to funnel $75,000 to
Coleman through the Minnesota insurance firm she works at. Juicy
detail: McKim alleges that Kazeminy told the oil-rig servicing
company's CFO that "U.S. senators don't make [expletive deleted]" and
that was why he was ordering payments to the Minnesota firm.
On the dirty-trick side of the evidentiary ledger: Its too-perfect timing, as well as rumors flying around that the suit has been or will be withdrawn (as of this writing, it still stands). On the this-is-legit side: McKim is apparently a Republican donor, not a Democrat; he's retained serious Houston counsel (unlike, say, Obama tormentor Larry Sinclair, whose disbarred, kilt-wearing lawyer did not cast, er, a respectable sheen on his lawsuit); and Coleman initially reacted fearfully to the suit, briefly cancelling some campaign stops.
Where there's smoke coming out of more than one window, there's probably fire.
But what's the most infuriating thing about all this? Despite the avalanche of weird news about Coleman, the race is still tight, with Franken running behind Obama in the state. Yesterday, the Intrade betting market was down sharply on Franken's chances of unseating Coleman, giving him just over a 50% shot at a win. Besides some damaging ethics stories of his own on the tax front, I guess that doggone it, people just don't like Franken.
Meanwhile, Coleman's now trying to gin up some distractions of his own: Yesterday, he announced he was suing Franken for defamation in one of the comedian's negative ads. So much for Coleman's Yom Kippur resolution to keep the race positive.Eve Fairbanks