August 29, 2014

Ex-State Senator admits he took $73,000 ‘under the table’ to work on 2012 presidential campaign

Kent Sorenson (file photo)

Kent Sorenson (file photo)

A state senator who resigned after being accused of taking payments to work on a 2012 presidential campaign has pleaded guilty to taking $73,000 worth of what prosecutors call “under-the-table” money.

The U.S. Department of Justice today announced 42-year-old Kent Sorenson of Milo has pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice and one count of causing a presidential campaign to falsely report its expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.

Sorenson had been the chairman of Michele Bachmann’s campaign for the Iowa Caucuses, but Sorenson now admits he started secret negotiations in the fall of 2011 to switch to the Ron Paul camp, in exchange for money. Prosecutors say some of the $73,000 paid to Sorenson was concealed by transferring the money to a film production company and then to a second company before it got to Sorenson.

In his plea agreement, Sorenson admits he lied to a lawyer hired by the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations that Sorenson was paid to work on a presidential campaign, which is a violation of senate rules. Sorenson will be sentenced later.

Michele Bachman at a 2011 news conference.

Michele Bachman at a 2011 news conference.

Sorenson resigned from the state senate in October soon after the independent counsel hired by the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee released a report concluding it was “manifestly clear” that Sorenson was paid to work on Bachmann’s presidential campaign. Senator Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids leads the Senate Ethics Committee.

“Iowa is squeaky clean, even though once in a while we have a problem,” Horn told Radio Iowa an hour after Sorenson resigned.

Sorenson sent an email to supporters last October saying he “did not do anything illegal” or “immoral.” Sorenson accused his attackers of a “witch hunt” and he argued the investigation had been “rigged” against him because of his public opposition to the Iowa Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling. The first person to publicly accuse Sorenson of taking money to jump ship and join the Ron Paul campaign was Michele Bachmann.

“I had a conversation with Kent Sorenson and…he told me he that was offered money,” Bachmann said. “He was offered a lot of money by the Ron Paul campaign to go associate with the Ron Paul campaign.”

Bachmann made those comments during a news conference on December 29, 2011 — the day after Sorenson attended a Ron Paul rally to announce he was jumping from Bachmann to Paul’s camp.

F. Montgomery Brown, Sorenson’s attorney, released a written statement today, asking for privacy for Sorenson and his family.

“Mr. Sorenson’s pleas are part of the process of taking complete responsibility for the series of compounding errors and omissions he engaged in, aided and abetted, and participated in with others,” Brown wrote. “…This is a very sad day for Mr. Sorenson, his family, and his friends, many of whom were in attendance in court. To the extent others may take glee with his predicament, there is nothing that can be done.”

Sorenson owned and operated a cleaning business in Indianola before his election to the Iowa House in 2008, then he won a seat in the Iowa Senate in 2010. In a September 19, 2013 deposition that was part of the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee’s investigation of the allegations against Sorenson, he was quizzed about why he was being paid by the Ron Paul campaign.

“What was the consulting work that you were doing?” asked Mark Weinhart, the independent counsel investigating the case for the ethics committee.

Sorenson replied: “I don’t think that’s relevant to the investigation…I’m not going to answer the question.”

Weinhart also asked: “What was it that made you so valuable that they would pay, I think, well over $60,000 during the course of 2012?”

Sorenson, in his answer, suggested his value was as a future candidate for federal office.

“I don’t know if you understand how this works, but he had an interest in me possibly running for the U.S. Senate in this election cycle,” Sorenson said in the deposition. “…I would probably be one of the front-runners right now (if not for the ethics investigation). A lot of people believe that.”

(This post was updated at 3:27 p.m. with additional information.)

Ben Carson greeted in Iowa by chants of ‘Run, Ben, Run’ (AUDIO)

Crowd at the Carson appearance.

Crowd at the Carson appearance.

A retired neurosurgeon who is the author of a book that’s on the New York Times best-seller list spoke to over 400 Republicans in Iowa’s capital city tonight. Supporters in the crowd wore t-shirts and waved signs encouraging Ben Carson to run for president in 2016.

“It’s been a little while since we’ve been to Iowa, a wonderful, wonderful place — particularly if you like corn,” Carson said to start his remarks, then Carson and the crowd laughed.

Carson said this is no time for Republicans to relax because of the stakes in this fall’s election.

“I’m not sure if we don’t take the Senate in November that there’ll even be an election in 2016 at the rate that we’re going because we will still have Harry Reid,” Carson said. “He still will be pocket-vetoing everything and the president will be expanding his executive powers and who is to say how long our republic can stand that.”

Ben Carson

Ben Carson

As Carson spoke, he strolled back and forth on a small stage in the Izaak Walton League banquet hall in Des Moines that had been decorated with American flags and political placards amid the hunting trophies displayed on the wall. Carson said one reason America can’t solve problems is because “political correctness” is keeping citizens from having “honest conversations” with one another.

“I hate political correctness,” he said. “I think it is a destructive thing. It’s antithetical to one of the founding principles of our nation — freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”

Carson was the closing speaker at the Polk County Republican Party fundraiser, then more than 100 people waited in line to get Carson’s signature on his book, which is titled “One Nation.”

Richard Hamann of West Des Moines, along with his wife and son, were among those waiting. Hamann hopes Carson runs in 2016 because he sees Carson as an effective communicator, in the mold of Ronald Reagan.

“(Reagan) communicated to the people, not at the people,” Hamann said. “Carson is right, talks to you and you understand what he is saying.”

And Hamann said Carson’s inspiring life story is an asset, too.

Thirty-two names were listed on a “straw poll” ballot handed out to those who bought tickets and attended tonight’s Polk County GOP fundraiser and Carson won. Some of Carson’s supporters came from surrounding states and arrived three hours before the event started and five hours before Carson arrived, to ensure they got in.

AUDIO of Carson’s speech, 32:00

Jim Webb says it’s time to ‘rejoin debate’ & he’s not ruling out 2016 run

Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb says he’s concerned about the future of the country — and he’s not ruling out a bid for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination.

“I am curious and it’s been good to meet with different people here and listen to how things are in Iowa,” Webb said late this morning.

Webb has logged over 800 miles in Iowa over the past two days as he campaigned with Democratic candidates here. Webb, a former Marine who is the author of nine books, began writing a biography in January of 2013 when he left the U.S. Senate after serving just one term.

“When the book came out at the end of May, I decided that it was time to come back in and really rejoin the debate,” Webb said. “We’re in a transitional period in the country and, you know, we need to have a strong debate inside the Democratic Party and between the two parties on where the country needs to go.”

Webb argued the prospect of facing Hillary Clinton in a 2016 primary shouldn’t prevent other Democrats from campaigning in Iowa.

“I think we ought to have more Democrats coming out here,” Webb said. “We need to stimulate a debate about where the country is.”

Webb is the guest on this weekend’s “Iowa Press” program on Iowa Public Television and he was asked to critique Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of state.

“I think there’s time to have that discussion later,” Webb said, laughing.

A reporter asked: “Why not now?”

Webb responded: “It would probably take up the whole show.”

Webb served as Secretary of the Navy in the late 1980s during President Reagan’s final two years in office and, in the late 1990s, Webb said he couldn’t “conjure up an ounce of respect for Bill Clinton when it comes to the military.” When pressed, Webb did praise Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration for a “pivot to Asia” that refocused on long-term U.S. interests in the region, but Webb is critical of the decision to intervene in Libya. Webb also discounts the idea Obama’s foreign policy can be boiled down to: “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff.”

“I’m not sure that was a fair way for somebody to summarize what the administration has done,” Webb said. “It’s a very complicated world right now.”

Webb is harshly critical of the idea, advanced by Hillary Clinton and others, that the U.S. should have taken steps to arm rebels in Syria at the beginning of the uprising against that country’s dictator.

“I can’t understand why people would have supported the notion of arming certain groups inside Syria a couple of years ago,” Webb said. “I say that not only as someone who has spent a lot of time working on foreign policy, but as a journalist in Beirut in 1983 when the word I got from Marines on the ground was: ‘Never get involved in a five-sided argument.’”

In 1982 President Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon on a peacekeeping mission. The 1983 bombing of a Marine compound at Beirut’s airport killed 241. Webb served as a Marine in Vietnam, but a battlefield injury forced him to leave the corps. Webb’s latest book is titled “I Heard My Country Calling” and it outlines his family’s record of military service.

Webb’s appearance on “Iowa Press” will be broadcast tonight on IPTV at 7:30.

Hillary & Bill Clinton to headline Tom Harkin’s final Steak Fry

Bill and Hillary Clinton are the headliners for Senator Tom Harkin’s Steak Fry in September.

“This is the last one,” Harkin said recently, “my 37th and last.”

And it may wind up as the biggest ever. Harkin’s annual fall fundraiser has been a proving ground for presidential candidates of the past. This year’s September 14 event will mark Hillary Clinton’s first appearance in Iowa since her 2008 campaign and it will be seen by many in the Democratic Party as a first step for a 2016 campaign.

Hillary Clinton’s husband was the final speaker at the 2003 Harkin Steak Fry and over 10-thousand people turned out on a hillside in Indianola that year. It rained most of the day, but the sun came out just before the former president took the stage.

“I’ll never forget it,” Harkin said, laughing and shaking his head as he said: “Bill Clinton.”

Harkin ran for president in 1992, but he dropped out of the race in March and endorsed Bill Clinton. In 2008, Harkin did not endorse any of the candidates competing for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, but his wife, Ruth, campaigned extensively for Hillary Clinton.

In a prepared statement released today, Senator Harkin said Bill and Hillary Clinton are “close friends” who “have contributed so much good, inspiring leadership to this country.” Harkin talked about the upcoming Steak Fry during a Radio Iowa interview in late July.

“I hope we have a really good last Steak Fry and I think we will. There’s only one thing left to do: pray for good weather,” Harkin said, with a laugh.

This will be Bill Clinton’s fourth appearance at a Harkin Steak Fry. Hillary Clinton spoke at the event in 2007 along with the other Democratic presidential candidates running that year. A farm in rural Madison County was the site of the first-ever Harkin Steak Fry. In 1991, Harkin used the event to launch his own presidential campaign. The 2014 edition of the Harkin Steak Fry will be staged on the balloon field on the east side of Indianola.

Perry blasts Obama for ‘not leading from the front’ (AUDIO)

Rick Perry at the Iowa State Fair.

Rick Perry at the Iowa State Fair.

Speaking at the Iowa State Fair today, Texas Governor Rick Perry accused President Obama of committing a series of “foreign policy debacles” and putting the country at risk by decisions that “hollow out” the military.

“Whether it’s in Libya, in Egypt, In Israel, in Syria, Ukraine and now what we’re seeing back in Iraq with ISIS, America not leading from the front,” Perry said. “As a matter of fact in some of these places America not leading at all and I think it’s time for some real change in Washington, D.C. ”

Perry, a former Air Force pilot, faulted Obama for failing to follow through on his warning to Syria in 2012, about the use of chemical weapons in that country’s civil war.

“When a red line is drawn, that red line needs to mean something in the world,” Perry said, to applause from the crowd. “It needs to mean that America’s going to stand with her allies and the enemies need to fear what we’re about.”

Rick Perry talks to the crowd.

Rick Perry talks to the crowd.

Perry is wrapping up a four-day trek through the state of Iowa that started Saturday with a speech to a large gathering of Christian conservatives. He’s held a series of fundraisers for Republican candidates in Iowa and Perry made a pitch during his speech for several GOP candidates, including Senate candidate Joni Ernst.

“Iowa can play a very important role in the trajectory that this country goes in,” Perry said.

Perry, wearing a black shirt and black jeans as he strolled around the fairgrounds in Des Moines, joked that it “has been a relief” to be out of the Texas heat for the past few days. It was 91 degrees in Austin at high noon today. Perry ran for president in 2012 and has said he is considering another bid for the White House in 2016.

AUDIO of Perry’s speech, 12:00

Crowd of Iowa conservatives gets preview of 2016 messages

Ted Cruz talks with reporters.

Ted Cruz talks with reporters.

The third annual Family Leadership Summit drew a large crowd of Christian conservatives to Ames Saturday and a handful of prospective Republican presidential candidates outlined how they’d turn the page after President Obama leaves office.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz drew the crowd to its feet with what he described as “a path to winning” conservative victories.

“I am convinced come 2017, with a new president in the White House, we will repeal every word of ObamaCare,” Cruz said, near the end of his speech.

And Texas Governor Rick Perry got a roar of crowd approval when he mentioned his recent decision to send Texas National Guard troops to the southern border.

“The message to the president of the United States is clear,” Perry said. “If you will not secure the border of our country, then the State of Texas will.”

Mike Huckabee, the victor of Iowa’s 2008 Caucuses, spoke of the “deep-seated anger” among conservatives about Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of political groups.

“We have every right to be angry and to demand accountability from a government who would do that to us,” Huckabee said, to applause and a few whistles from the crowd. “May I say, I’ve got a simple solution. Repeal the 16th Amendment and put in the Fair Tax, get rid of the IRS, the Lois Lerner’s of the world and rid ourselves of this criminal activity in the name of tax collection.”

Crowd stands, turns and makes pledge to one another during Pastor Rafael Cruz’s address.

Crowd stands, turns and makes pledge to one another during Pastor Rafael Cruz’s address.

Lerner is the former IRS official who has publicly admitted the agency inappropriately targeted some groups.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal got waves of applause for denouncing the so-called “Common Core” for schools which some conservatives believe is an attempt to federalize education in America.

“The federal government needs to get out of our classrooms,” Jindal said, to extended applause.

Rick Santorum, the winner of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, urged his fellow Republicans to expand the party’s message beyond the “job creators” — to reach “working class” voters.

“Republicans talk about businesses and Wall Street and Democrats talk about government programs and hand-outs. And where’s the rest of America?” Santorum asked. “We need an agenda that talks to them, that’s a pro-growth agenda — don’t abandon the things that we believe in — but focus on the things that are going to matter to the folks in America who are struggling and feel left behind and left out of the conversation.”

Hear all the speeches here.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul did not attend the event, but he sent a video that was played for the audience Saturday afternoon. Perry is still in the state today, campaigning with Iowa candidates on the 2014 ballots. Tomorrow Perry will speak at the State Fair.



Five potential presidential candidates speak at Family Leadership Summit (AUDIO)

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee

Five Republicans who may run for president in 2016 addressed a crowd of Christian conservatives in Ames today, with the event’s final speaker delivering a scorching indictment of President Obama’s foreign policy.

“With all of our friends, they no longer trust us and our enemies no longer respect us and they certainly don’t fear us,” former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said, “and today the world is a more dangerous place because of it.”

AUDIO of Huckabee’s speech, 26:00

Huckabee, the victor of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. Huckabee accused President Obama of doing too little, too late to help the Kurds in northern Iraq.

“They stand there tonight battling with little more than the hopes that America will once again be a nation that values people who love freedom and love God,” Huckabee said. “And why aren’t we there?”


Rick Santorum

None of the other could-be candidates addressed the developing situation in Iraq during their remarks at the third-annual Family Leadership Summit. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, the winner of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses, told the crowd he’ll depart August 17th for a trip to Israel.

“And I’m heading to Israel because I’m embarrassed for my government,” Santorum said, and the crowd applauded. “I want to show the people of Israel that there are people around this country who stand in solidarity with them…even though the Obama, Clinton Kerry regime over the past five years and that is fighting for its life.”

AUDIO of Santorum’s speech, 27:00

Texas Senator Cruz criticized the Federal Aviation Administration for its now-retracted advisory that U.S. airlines should halt flights into Israel.

“All of us, our hearts are breaking at what’s happening in Israel,” Cruz said. “As rockets rain down on the nation of Israel as we’ve discovered a network of terror tunnels coming in, dug by Hamas terrorists and coming up in kindergartens for terrorists to kidnap and murder young children.”

AUDIO of Cruz’s speech, 25:00

After the summit, Cruz told reporters Iraq is “the latest manifestation of the failures” of the foreign policy vision of President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“The appropriate response is for the president of the United States to delineate a clearly-stated military objective that hinges off of U.S. national security interests. The president has not endeavored to do that,” Cruz said. “And indeed, if military action is still ongoing, the president needs to come to congress and seek authorization from congress for military action.”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal briefly mentioned the “shooting war overseas,” but he focused mainly on domestic issues and the situation along the U.S./Mexican border.

“I’ve got a very simple message for the president of the United States. We don’t need a comprehensive bill. We don’t need another thousand page bill. He simply needs to man up. He needs to secure the border and he needs to get it done today,” Jindal said. “There are no more excuses. No more delays.”

AUDIO of Jindal’s speech, 27:00

Texas Governor Rick Perry drew applause from the crowd for mentioning his recent decision to send Texas National Guard troops to the border. Perry also called the president’s foreign policy a “muddled mess.” Each of these five men spoke of their Christian faith and, as Perry did, encouraged the crowd to stand firm in their Christian beliefs.

“You have the power to save America and to make America strong again,” Perry said.

AUDIO of Perry’s speech, 16:00

Rafael Cruz, a pastor who is the father of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, also spoke at today’s event, telling the crowd it is time to elect “righteous leaders” rather than “the village idiot.”

Organizers of today’s summit announced Saturday, August 15, 2015 as the date for next year’s Family Leadership Summit. That would be the same day as the Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll, if the party chooses to hold one.