Conason argues that Shtup-gate, the scandal of Rudy Giuliani billing obscure New York City agencies hundreds of thousands of dollars for security on trysts with mistress Judi Nathan, as well as solo travel by his then wife Donna Hanover, deserves less attention than Giuliani's business ties with the al-Qaida-friendly emirate of Qatar, whose Interior Minister Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani has long been accused of harboring 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and helping him escape U.S. capture in 1996.
Why, Joe? Say it ain't so! Must we really choose between two big scandals? Can't reporters be all over both?
There's plenty of space in the media for both Giuliani stories. Of course Conason's right: The tale of Giuliani's business ties to Qatar has bigger national security implications. It raises questions about his fitness to be president in two ways: Coziness with emirates tied to terror doesn't look good for a guy vying to be America's Next Top Terror Fighter. And the cash involved should remind everybody that the mayor of 9/11 got rich off 9/11, selling his experience and connections to the highest bidder, including in this case a nation that is more implicated in 9/11 than, say, Iraq.
But Shtup-gate matters too. While Giuliani is now claiming the story, originally reported by Politico, "is a typical political hit job with only half the story told," he and his staff refused to answer reporter Ben Smith's questions when he raised them before publication. Now the story the Giuliani campaign is telling makes no sense. The security charges in question were billed to obscure agencies like the Loft Board and the Office for People With Disabilities, Giuliani flacks say, to keep cops from having to pay expenses out of their own pocket and wait to be reimbursed. Eventually, the police department reimbursed those agencies. But strangely, security charges for other Giuliani city business seem to have been accounted for the right way. City comptroller William C. Thompson told the New York Times his predecessor asked questions about the billing practices and never got answers. "It's definitely not the preferred way that one would like to see business conducted," Thompson said. Michael Bloomberg's administration has abided by routine accounting practices for mayoral security, according to the Times.
Meanwhile, it looks like some of the travel-security charges billed to strange agencies in those years were for his wife Donna Hanover's trips to California, while Giuliani's affair with Nathan was progressing. And on Thursday ABC News revealed that Judi Nathan got security protection and police department drivers while she was the mayor's girlfriend, when such services were also being provided to Hanover and their two children, now estranged from the ex-mayor. "She used the P.D. as her personal taxi service," a former city official who worked for Giuliani told ABC News. (And to think it's poor monogamous Mitt Romney who's fighting stereotypes about Mormon polygamy!)
Sure, the Giuliani-Nathan scandal is getting more attention partly because sex sells: It's fun to write about Shtup-gate. (Talking Points Memo is calling it the "Shag fund.") But it's not about sex, it's about corruption. Sticking the public with the bill for his extramarital affair, and then hiding the evidence in obscure city agencies, is part of a Giuliani pattern, from his ties to crooked Bernie Kerik to his decision to get rich off 9/11 and then refuse to release the full list of law and consulting firm clients he has racked up, even at the height of a presidential campaign. John Edwards likes to say Giuliani is "Bush on steroids" mainly because of his ignorant macho bluster on foreign policy, but it's also because his pattern of cronyism and self-dealing could make the secrecy-obsessed, ethically challenged scofflaws of the Bush administration look as clean and high-minded as your local League of Women Voters.
So I say, absolutely, the media should get to the bottom of Giuliani's ties to terror coddlers in Qatar, and ask the list of questions Conason suggests in his column at every opportunity. But they should also continue to dig into the way Giuliani bilked taxpayers to finance his affair with Nathan. It's starting to look like Mr. Law and Order thinks certain laws don't apply to him, his cronies or his mistresses.