Washington Post Flags Democrat Mark Warner's 'Dictator' Smear of Opponent Ed Gillespie

The Washington Post is suggesting Democratic Sen. Mark Warner’s airing a factually challenged ad that claims his Republican opponent Ed Gillespie lobbied for a “dictator.” Buried on page B-4, reporter Rachel Weiner’s article doesn’t sound like a fact-check from the headline: “Attack ad from Warner links Gillespie’s former firm to ‘dictator’.”

In the ad, a female narrator claims “His firm even lobbied for five foreign governments, including a dictator now awaiting trial for war crimes.” The firm, Quinn Gillespie, was co-founded by former Al Gore chief of staff Jack Quinn.  

The “dictator” accusation has not been raised before. The alleged dictator is not named in the ad; he is identified only by the flag of the Ivory Coast. Background material from Warner’s campaign names him as Laurent Gbagbo, who led that country from 2000 until his arrest and transfer to the International Criminal Court in 2011.

Gillespie’s firm did represent Gbagbo’s government from November 2004 to April 2005, beginning shortly after government airstrikes in the Ivory Coast killed nine French peacekeepers and an American civilian. But Gillespie himself was not named as a lobbyist, and his campaign says he took a leave of absence from June 2003 to March 2005 to chair the Republican National Committee.

A 2012 New Yorker article reported that Jeff Connaughton, a Democrat and longtime lobbyist for the firm, “believed that the firm was trying to get the Ivorian regime to do the right thing by holding elections.” Connaughton flew to the Ivory Coast, met with Gbagbo and found that he “had no interest in democracy — he just wanted good P.R. The firm soon ended the relationship.”

The other four governments referred to in the ad (Costa Rica, the Bosnian Serb Republic, Pakistan and Macedonia) are likewise identified only by their flags, and there is no indication that Gillespie himself lobbied for them.

On the Metro page, the summary was “There’s no evidence that Gillespie lobbied for the Ivory Coast leader, but his firm did represent his government.”

Online, Glenn Kessler, the Post “Fact Checker,” also called foul on the Warner ad:

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a 1938 law, requires lobbyists for foreign governments to disclose the reason they have been hired “as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.” We have embedded below the relevant FARA disclosures filed by Quinn Gillespie. You will search in vain for Ed Gillespie’s name, as all of the documents are signed by Jack Quinn, his Democratic partner....

Indeed, the deal with the Ivory Coast was inked on Nov. 10, 2004, and ended in April 2005. Where was Gillespie when the deal was set? He was on leave as RNC chairman from June 2003 to until February or March 2005. So this claim hinges on perhaps a one-month overlap....

Gillespie spokesman Paul Logan noted that in December 2003 the firm was sold to WPP, a British public relations firm. He said Gillespie missed his third and final payout from the merger to join the Bush administration.

The ad’s shift from Gillespie’s lobbying to the firm’s lobbying is a slimy sleight of hand that most viewers of this ad would probably overlook. This is no evidence that Gillespie had anything to do with the Ivory Coast deal, which ended years before Gbagbo was shipped to the International Criminal Court. Gillespie certainly wasn’t there when the deal was inked, and he was barely back at the firm before the deal was terminated.

Yes, the firm briefly had a deal with the Ivory Coast. But there is no evidence Gillespie was ever involved, in either the lobbying or personally with Gbagbo. Warner earns Three Pinocchios.

It wouldn't be hard for the Post to dig up pictures of Warner schmoozing with Gillespie's partner, Democratic "dictator lobbyist" Jack Quinn. (See here.)

A fact checker probably wouldn't bother with the ad's opening, where they insist Gillespie is a "super lobbyist (New Republic, 1/10/14)". The words "super lobbyist" are not in the article (a rehash of a 2001 piece), but they do show up on the magazine's Ed Gillespie archive page.

Then he's called "the ultimate Washington insider." It's a good thing only the words "Washington insider (Fortune 10/19/06") are on screen. The word "ultimate" isn't used in the Fortune piece -- but what's amusing is Fortune paired him with now-Gov. Terry McAuliffe to assess the 2006 midterms. The words are in the headline: “Battle of the Washington insiders: With the crucial midterm elections upon us, political adversaries Terry McAuliffe and Ed Gillespie handicap the race.”

Tim Graham's picture

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