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Jerry Brown’s Basement Tapes

Capitol Letters


For sheer entertainment, it’s hard to imagine a less likely source of good times than a 93-page batch of musty internal documents from the state Attorney General’s office.

Among the state’s political junkies and cognoscenti, however, those papers, for the past week, have proven the most popular and engaging reading in recent memory.

Released by Attorney General Jerry Brown in response to a spate of demands under open public records laws, they provide a rare glimpse at the private dynamics between politicians and the journalists who cover them, as well as insights into the psyche of the man now favored to become California’s next governor.

Capitol Letters

There is a certain texture to who I am,” Brown says in one of the documents, a transcript of a lengthy interview with a national political reporter. “And it’s unique,” he adds, without a hint of modesty.

At a time when Brown has cleared the field in the race for the Democratic nomination for governor and runs far ahead in the polls of any potential Republican rival now running, the still-unfolding tale of the tapes has become an imbroglio worthy of its own reality show.

As Capitol Letters previously reported, the revelation that former Brown aide Scott Gerber made a practice of secretly recording interviews and conversations with reporters-a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of a state law generally requiring the consent of both parties to a taped conversation-triggered a political tempest in Sacramento.

Gerber quickly resigned, and Brown’s office rushed out the results of an internal report concluding that the press secretary did not break the law, and that no one else in the office knew of the taping. But a strange-bedfellow alliance of Republicans, news organizations, and a liberal consumer group has kept the issue alive, filing Public Records Act requests for documents connected to the affair.

She doesn’t have the scope. She didn’t work with Mother Teresa. She didn’t spend six months working in a Zen Buddhism [sic]. She didn’t take Linda Ronstadt to Africa. She didn’t have her own astronaut. I had : an astronaut. I put him on the state Energy Commission.”

The plot thickens because the Attorney General is also looking into the possibility that two young, conservative activists broke the law by making widely publicized, undercover video recordings of meetings with employees of the community organization ACORN; faced with political charges that the contrast between this probe and his swift exoneration of his own aide for similar actions displays a double standard about justice, Brown this week asked the Alameda County District Attorney for an independent investigation of l’affaire Gerber.

Amid the political controversy, the released emails, memos, and transcripts (available at tinyurl.com/yfbev3y) detail Brown’s extraordinary zest for politics, and his well-honed talent for handling the press.

In one case, an Associated Press reporter called Brown to respond to bombastic comments by attorneys for several men charged in connection with the death of Anna Nicole Smith. The attorney general tried to enlist the reporter in crafting his for-the-record comment, and urged him to call back if he wanted more bombast:

Did I respond enough do you think? Did I call him a Hollywood lawyer?” he asked, later adding: “Play with it and if you need any more rhetorical fusillade, call me, will ya? Because I : want equal firepower on both sides.”

In a Los Angeles Times interview, he browbeat a reporter asking about sizeable private contributions Brown solicited for a charter school he founded: “That’s the luxury you have! I can tell you’re a nice, middle-class kid, you’re not in the ghetto. Do you know they have murders in the state : this is not bullshit! This is life and death! I think you ought to be aware of that.”

In yet another interview, Brown responded to a political question by comparing himself favorably to Hillary Clinton, reeling off a greatest hits list of his eclectic career:

She doesn’t have the scope. She didn’t work with Mother Teresa. She didn’t spend six months working in a Zen Buddhism [sic]. She didn’t take Linda Ronstadt to Africa. She didn’t have her own astronaut. I had : an astronaut. I put him on the state Energy Commission.”

Summing himself up, Brown concluded: “So I don’t know how you compare it.” Indeed.

Clarification: In last week’s column, I imprecisely described the workings of a proposed “abortion neutral” amendment by Representative Lois Capps, which was defeated during the House debate over health-care reform. As the column stated, public funding could not have been used to pay for an abortion under the Capps measure. However, those receiving federal subsidies for insurance under the “public option” plan would not necessarily have been required to pay for them out-of-pocket; funds generated by premiums paid by private patients enrolled with insurers that participated in the public option, which would be segregated from public funds, would have financed those abortions.



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