Keep America Safe: A Family Affair

It's no coincidence that just as Dick Cheney began his speech Wednesday night slamming President Obama for "dithering" on Afghanistan, a link to his talk shot up on the Web site of a new political advocacy group—the one being run by his daughter, Liz Cheney. 

The tie-in illustrates how the two Cheneys are working together to tear down Obama's standing on national-security issues—a goal they view as critical to vindicating the policies of the Bush-Cheney years.

Even as Cheney continues his attacks on Obama on a whole range of issues—including shutting down the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and the Justice Department's investigation of Bush-era torture—Liz Cheney's new group, Keep America Safe, is gearing up to run a series of targeted radio and Web ads hitting the president in the home districts of vulnerable Democratic congressmen, said Michael Goldfarb, a political strategist for the group.

The ads, according to Goldfarb will "drill down" on Guantánamo, highlighting the terrorist background of especially dangerous detainees and suggesting that Obama's policies might result in the accused terrorists being let loose and allowed to walk free in the member of Congress' district.

The theme of the new ad campaign is going to be "Do you really want this guy in the neighborhood?" said Goldfarb, who is an editor at The Weekly Standard magazine and a former spokesman for John McCain's campaign war room.

There are, of course, multiple ironies behind the ad campaign, starting with the fact that McCain also backed shutting down Gitmo. Moreover, Obama administration officials have repeatedly said the only Gitmo detainees they now expect to bring to the U.S. are those who will stand trial in federal courts—or those who will be locked up indefinitely in maximum-security prisons (though even that scenario may not fly with a skittish Congress). 

But Keep America Safe leaders, including Liz Cheney and Goldfarb's Weekly Standard boss, William Kristol, are convinced the issue has political traction. The group plans to morph the radio campaign in about six months into higher-profile television ads that will be deisgned keep the issue front and center during next year's congressional races.

All this will raise new questions about who is funding Keep America Safe. The group formally launched last week with a Web video ad soliciting contributions from the public and the group has already "exceeded expectations," Goldfarb said. But Goldfarb and Debra Burlingame, the sister of a 9/11 victim and also a director of the group, told NEWSWEEK that Keep America Safe had also received "seed money" from a small number of major donors—contributions that Goldfarb says has already put the group's finances into the "six figures." (He refused to say how much or who the donors are.) But one GOP fundraising source said there was considerable interest in helping to back the group at a meeting two weeks ago of the Republican Jewish Coalition, an organization that includes a number of wealthy Repubican donors, said Matt Brooks, executive director of the group. Among those who had expressed such interest, said another coalition member who asked not to be identified talking about fundraising matters, was Mel Sembler, President George W. Bush's former ambassador to Italy and a top GOP fundraiser who also served as the executive director of Scooter Libby's defense trust. (Sembler did not return a call seeking comment and Goldfarb said the group has so far not received any money from Sembler.)

No surprise, though, that also appearing at Cheney's speech before the Center for Security Policy was Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff. Despite Cheney's efforts, Libby never received a presidential pardon for his conviction in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. But the former Cheney staffer did get a consolation prize: the center's Service Before Sel" award—as well as a standing ovation, to boot.

Update: Mel Sembler says he will donate to Keep America Safe.

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