The Obama campaign is refusing to denounce Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s bizarre, below-the-belt claim that Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney failed to pay taxes for ten years. Without a shred of evidence, save for a mysterious phone call he claims to have received, Reid is accusing Romney of a serious crime, saying he is guilty until he proves himself innocent. The Obama campaign is using Reid’s dirty tactic to renew the distraction of Romney’s tax returns and overseas investments.
But Reid himself once faced charges of serious criminal wrongdoing that, he claims, were made “without a shred of substantiating evidence”–namely, that he was the Las Vegas mob’s man on the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Mobster Joe Agosto was caught on tape by the FBI boasting that “I gotta Clean Face in my pocket”–and “Clean Face,” it was suggested at the time, was none other than Harry Reid himself.
The charges caused immense damage to Reid, for whom the job at the Gaming Control Board was a springboard to higher office. Locals still remember the scandal. Columnist Jane Ann Morrison of the Las Vegas Review-Journal protested in February when a new local mob museum opened–and Harry Reid was portrayed as a savior, not a sinner.
Reid has always maintained his innocence, and a subsequent investigation found that Agosto’s boast was not true. But he felt that the federal government had tarnished him and his family merely by making the unsubstantiated charge public. He was still bitter about the episode thirty years later, and described it in detail in his 2008 autobiography, The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington:
Working on a full-time basis, the Cleanface investigators spent more than one thousands man-hours over five months reviewing every vote I cast as commissioner and interviewing my colleagues, clients, and friends to prepare a 77-page report for the Gaming Control Board chairman, Richard Bunker, who had replaced Hannifin. An outside accounting firm submitted all files related to my corporate and personal financial matters. Every rock they saw, they picked up and turned it over, twice. In February 1980, Bunker held an hour-long press conference to announce that the investigation had completely cleared me of any wrongdoing. But the ordeal had taken its toll. Terrible claims had been released by federal agents without a shred of substantiating evidence that created, in Bunker’s words, an “aura of distrust.” To me, the whole period was the worst time in my family’s life.
You’d think that Reid would have learned from that episode not to hurl serious criminal allegations without evidence. You’d think he would have learned about the tremendous effort it takes to clear one’s name once false charges have been made by government officials. You’d think he would have had some sympathy for the family of another man made to face McCarthyist tactics–accuse first, and leave the proof to the accused.
But Harry Reid has learned nothing, except that such tactics can be effective in causing maximum damage to political opponents. He may think he has nothing to lose: he was just re-elected in 2010, and has the state’s casino owners in his pocket and under his thumb. But Harry Reid has disgraced his office–and the Obama campaign. He should rename his autobiography: I Learned Nothing: Dirty Politics from Vegas to Washington.