Forum: The strange world of Curt Weldon
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Precisely what is going on inside Mr. Weldon's noggin is anyone's guess.
Curt Weldon's problems would be manageable if they were solely legal. Lots of congressmen are accused of trading on power to help their children, and in Washington, ethics is largely defined by whatever doesn't embarrass your colleagues into apology.
Dennis Roddy is a Post-Gazette staff writer (email@example.com, 412-263-1965).
So when Mr. Weldon, a 10-term Republican from the Philadelphia suburbs who has made his reputation as a defense policy savant and well-wired player inside the party caucus, found himself publicly identified as the target of an FBI investigation last week, he did the usual: He called the timing suspicious, complained it was a political vendetta by the left and noted that he'd already been cleared by the inerrant House Ethics Committee.
But, in an interview with student reporters at the University of Pennsylvania, he also suggested that the goods against him were somehow tied to documents that former presidential adviser Sandy Berger smuggled out of the National Archives. It was a glimpse into what should have made voters in his district nervous some years ago: The Hon. Curtis Weldon, R-Pa., displays a worldview that just gets loopier and loopier.
In the span of four years, he has pinned an American flag medal on Moammar Gadhafi, declared the existence of a U.S. intelligence program that identified the 9/11 hijackers in advance but did nothing about it and sat with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon at a function that ended with the Rev. Moon being crowned "the True Parent" of the world. Mr. Moon expressed his gratitude for the accolade by revealing that he is The Messiah.
Precisely what is going on inside Mr. Weldon's noggin is anyone's guess. Mine is that he is one of those occasional pols who strays off message and entraps himself in the mixture of conspiracy theory and love of attention that blurs perspective to the point of caricature.
This possibility first surfaced in my mind 10 years ago when I was invited to attend a party given by several defense contractors in honor of then-Rep. Joseph McDade, who had just been acquitted on corruption charges based, in part, on gifts he received from lobbyists. When someone's that brazen, you grab a martini and watch the action.
Mr. Weldon turned up with his adviser on space-based missile defense, a tatty looking man known as Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. When he is not protecting us from incoming missiles, Mr. Baxter plays guitar for The Doobie Brothers.
Why employing a rock guitarist as a defense expert did not disquiet Mr. Weldon's colleagues to the point of intervention, I cannot say. Why his appearances with the Rev. Moon and Col. Gadhafi did not stir discussions about his probity, if not sanity, we cannot know. What remains true is that in Washington, the powerful get to be viewed as eccentric, the powerless as insane. The latter are not heeded, and the former can only be dealt with by catching them in a scandal more conventional than their psychoses.
Consider one of the projects that Mr. Weldon is accused of shilling for on behalf of a Russian company with financial ties to his daughter: an elliptical, airborne drone. A ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Weldon pitched the U.S. Navy on the purchase of a flying saucer.
The Moon connection is perhaps the most intriguing and certainly the most troubling. A decade ago, Mr. Weldon developed a keen interest in North Korea and its arms program, and led, at one point, a congressional delegation to Pyongyang to suss out the regime's intentions. Not long after, he attracted the attention of Rev. Moon's Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, one of a half-dozen Moon front groups.
Over the years, as documented by writer John Gorenfeld, Mr. Weldon spoke at various IIFWP-sponsored functions, including a 2002 luncheon in New York in which he shared the afternoon section of the program with Chung Hwan Kwak, Rev. Moon's second-in-command.
Mr. Weldon picked up $3,000 in honoraria from Rev. Moon's group. On June 19, 2003, he joined Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., in praising the Moon-sponsored American Leadership Initiative, and in co-chairing a June 24 gathering at the Rayburn Office Building to present "Ambassadors for Peace" awards.
Lest there be any doubt about who knew what, Mr. Davis's remarks in the Congressional Record -- the same ones in which he identifies Mr. Weldon as co-chair of the affair -- lauds "the founders of Ambassadors for Peace, the Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung, for promoting the vision of world peace."
By this time, Mr. Weldon also had traveled to Libya, where he played pin-the-flag-on Gadhafi during one his forays as a freelance diplomat. Mr. Weldon is practiced in getting out of the room just in time. Invited to speak at the now-famous Moon reception and coronation, he took the lectern and spoke of his diplomatic outreach. Then, according to his version, he left the room, unaware that The Rev. Moon was about to be crowned, as if the good reverend would not seem odd enough without one.
What was going on here was not bribery, drunkenness or the seduction of House pages, loathsome as two of these three might be to the average newspaperman. It is abetting co-option, a more insidious, and perfectly legal, way of undermining the Republic.
"Moon is not trying to convert people. He is absorbing people," explained Philip Wentz, a longtime Moon watcher based in Alabama.
That absorption extends to other realms for Mr. Weldon. Two years ago, he professed to reveal "Able Danger," an intelligence program so secret that apparently only he was able to penetrate it. The project, he said, identified 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta at least a year before 9/11. At the same time, Mr. Weldon authored a book, "Countdown to Terror: The Top-Secret Information That Could Prevent the Next Terrorist Attack on America ... and How the CIA Has Ignored It."
Based largely on tips from an Iranian exile whose stories had previously been vetted and rejected by the CIA, the book essentially suggests that the best way to prevent the next terror attack would be to listen to Curt Weldon. Once again, Mr. Weldon had been lured to the dark corners of conjecture by someone with something to trade, not for cash, but for access. That is the sort of thing the FBI is not empowered to investigate. But it seems like something an electorate ought to know.Rep. Curt Weldon speaks at an event sponsored by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in an undated photo that appeared on the "I Approve This Messiah" website. The photo being held reportedly shows Mr. Weldon bestowing a peace medal upon Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published October 22, 2006 12:00 am