Next month the Washington Times, the conservative newspaper with close ties to every Republican administration since Reagan, celebrates its 25th anniversary. Former President George H.W. Bush will be the headliner.
And the former President deserves the honor. Barbara Bush ought to get a rousing cheer as well. The two of them have been beating the bushes for Reverend Sun Myung Moon for years.
Moon and his Unification Church came to America in the 1970s and quickly plunged into Washington politics. “In the 1970s, church officials organized prayer breakfasts and rallies in support of President Richard M. Nixon, dispatched young female members to infiltrate congressional offices and had extensive ‘operational ties’ with the Korean Central Intelligence Agency as part of the agency's efforts to influence U.S. officials, according to a 1978 report by a House subcommittee,” the Washington Post would later report.
Those ties became fodder for the 1976 Koreagate scandal, which centered around the figure of Washington lobbyist Tongsun Park, a man legendary for his lavish parties and gifts of cash in white envelopes. He, too, was long suspected of being connected to Korean intelligence; he was also an influence peddler of great renown, and anywhere from 30 to more than 100 members of congress were said to be under his thumb at the time. Park was never charged with any crime in connection with Koreagate, but last year he was convicted on conspiracy charges for his role in Saddam Hussein’s United Nations oil-for-food machinations.
Moon was not prosecuted in connection with Koreagate, but he later became a target of an IRS investigation and in 1982 was convicted of conspiracy and filing false tax returns. He spent 18 months in federal prison. It was also in 1982 that he launched the Washington Times, which—with its access to conservative figures and reporters drawn from the newsroom of the defunct Washington Star —soon became essential reading for political news junkies.
Through the early 80s, while Bush served as Vice President, Moon operatives were building ties with the New Right—flying Hill staffers to junta-ruled El Salvador, and supporting the Nicaraguan contras’ fight against the Sandinista government. The late Terry Dolan, chairman of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) and often credited with pioneering the modern political attack ad, helped Moon burrow into the conservative mainstream.
A Moon group, the Confederation of Associations for the Unification of the Societies of the Americas (CAUSA), contributed $500,000 to Dolan’s Conservative Alliance in the early 1980s. “We're trying to combat communism and we're trying to uphold traditional Judeo-Christian values,” James Gavin, special assistant to Moon’s top deputy, Col. Bo Hi Pak, told the Washington Post. “The Washington Times is standing up for those values and fighting anything that would tear them down. Causa is doing the same thing, by explaining what the enemy is trying to do."
Four years after leaving the White House, in 1996, Bush traveled to Buenos Aires for the opening of Moon’s pan Latin American newspaper, Tiempos del Mundo, and according to the Washington Post received $100,000 for his trouble. Then he accompanied Moon to Uruguay to help open a seminary. His son Neil received $1 million from a Moon foundation for an educational company. (Much of what is known about Moon comes from the efforts of a tiny group of reporters, including blogger John Gorenfeld, as well as Robert Parry, the former AP reporter who broke many of the Iran contra stories. Bill Berkowitz and Fred Clarkson are two others in a small band of reporters who have followed the Bush-Moon connection.)
The Houston Chronicle in 2006 obtained evidence that Moon’s Washington Times Foundation had contributed $1 million to Bush’s presidential library using the Greater Houston Community Foundation as a conduit.
The deal came to light in a rather roundabout way. When he was asked if Moon’s $1 million went to the library, Jim McGrath, the family spokesman, told the Chronicle, “We’re in an uncomfortable position. … If a donor doesn’t want to be identified we need to honor their privacy.” He was then asked whether the money was meant to suggest to the Bush family that the time was at hand for President George W. Bush to grant Moon a pardon for his 1982 conviction McGrath replied, “If that’s why he gave the grant, he’s throwing his money away. … That’s not the way the Bushes operate.”
For the Washington Times extravaganza on May 17, Bush will appear in the National Building Museum’s monumental Great Hall. Moon, resplendent as always, will deliver the Founder’s Address.
James Ridgeway is Mother Jones’ Washington Correspondent.