During last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Bernard Kerik was in federal prison, serving time for tax fraud and lying to federal investigators. At this year’s conference, the former New York police commissioner received a warm welcome from CPAC attendees as he spoke about sentencing reform, and Rick Perry even thanked him for his service.
A half-hour earlier, the crowd of conservatives cheered on Oliver North, the Marine at the center of the Iran-Contra scandal, as he attacked President Barack Obama for drawing “phony red lines with a pink crayon.”
Dinesh D’Souza, the filmmaker facing criminal charges over allegedly funneling donations to a Senate campaign, took the stage an hour later to preview his newest movie.
CPAC is different things to different conservatives: A chance for 2016 presidential candidates to preen before GOP activists, for example, and a turn on the national stage for ambitious state-level pols eyeing higher office.
...Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s onetime chief of staff, was scheduled to sit on an afternoon panel, seven years and one day after a jury convicted him of perjury, obstructing justice and making false statements to the FBI. But he was a no-show. The topic of the discussion: “What are the big alternative ideas conservatives should present as Obama’s term ends?”
Libby was sentenced to a 30-month prison term. Bush commuted the jail time but declined to pardon him, despite aggressive lobbying by Cheney. Libby is now at the Hudson Institute think tank. A conference spokeswoman did not respond to a question about why he was not there.
Also spotted wandering the halls of CPAC was Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader who was convicted in 2010 on a money-laundering charge. But the conviction was overturned on appeal in September, and it was just announced this week that he will begin writing a weekly column for The Washington Times.
Al Cardenas, who chairs the organization that puts on CPAC, defended all the invitations, noting that every speaker – regardless of his past – has something substantive to add. On Kerik, he said that there has been a major evolution in the conservative view on law-and-order issues.
“We now have 15 or 20 years of the harsher penalties and the consequences of that,” he said. “There’s a growing realization that we’re using up a lot of taxpayer money with negative consequences for our society, so isn’t it time to take a second look at our corrections system?”