Why Tom Davis Shouldn’t Be Obama’s Cyberczar

Aside from the questionable logic of appointing yet another Republican who won’t get us a seat in Congress, I’ve got three specific objections to the possibility that Tom Davis, former Republican Congressman from Northern Virginia, might be named as Obama’s Cyberczar.

Tom Davis, a moderate Republican from Virginia, has emerged as a leading candidate for the Obama Administration’s newly created position of cybersecurity czar. Sources familiar with the White House’s deliberations on the subject say Obama officials feel a Washington power player would make a better candidate than a tech guru. "They want someone who understands technology issues, but more importantly, knows how to get things done in Washington," says a cybersecurity expert who has been consulted by the White House. "There are very few people who have that combination of skills, and Davis is at the top of that short list."

First, it’s one thing to name a Republican to a post, but yet another to name the former head of the Congressional re-election campaign. When Davis headed the NRCC, after all, he did two things of questionable ethics which surely hurt Democrats’ cause. It was under his leadership, after all, that the NRCC made some changes (the permission for outside employment, and the lumping of all committee accounts into one) that laid the groundwork for the money laundering problems discovered last year.

While I was buried in the White House’s amazing email fraud yesterday, the Politico posted an article further developing the NRCC accounting story. The Politico describes three roots to the accounting fraud. The NRCC no longer required executive committee approval for certain expenditures, it consolidated all its accounts, and it permitted people to work outside the NRCC.

Under Virginia Rep. Tom Davis and New York Rep. Thomas Reynolds, who chaired the committee from 1999 until the end of 2006, the NRCC waived rules requiring the executive committee — made up of elected leaders and rank-and-file Republican lawmakers — to sign off on expenditures exceeding $10,000, merged the various department budgets into a single account and rolled back a prohibition on committee staff earning an income from outside companies.

These changes gave committee staffers more freedom to spend money quickly and react to a shifting political landscape during heated campaign battles, and House Republicans were able to claim larger majorities after the 2000, 2002 and 2004 elections.

And there is some evidence that the White House was already breaking the Hatch Act–using government resources to support House and Senate campaigns–when Davis was NRCC Chair.

By far the most interesting thing (to me at least) in today’s WaPo story on how Karl Rove mobilized Administration resources to commit massive Hatch Act violations is this:

"He didn’t do these things half-baked. It was total commitment," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), who in 2002 ran the House Republicans’ successful reelection campaign in close coordination with Rove. "We knew history was against us, and he helped coordinate all of the accoutrements of the executive branch to help with the campaign, within the legal limits."

At the very least, hiring Tom Davis would be the equivalent of George Bush hiring Rahm Emanuel–hiring a cutthroat operative who has worked against your side. Only, with Davis, there’s some suggestion his actions may have crossed the line of ethics if not law.

More troubling, to me, is the role Davis played in thwarting Democratic investigations of Bush’s chronic problems with emails. Remember, both the investigation of the use of RNC emails among Bush appointees and the investigation of the missing emails went through the Oversight Committee. And, in his role as then-ranking member, Davis did what he could to stymie that investigation. Last year, for example, Davis helped the White House make sure Steven McDevitt–the guy who first discovered the extent of the missing emails–could not testify before the Oversight Committee. Davis repeatedly suggested that pushing to get the RNC emails would be an improper infringement on the RNC’s political freedom. Most interesting, perhaps, Davis used his position to demand emails that might reflect an investigation into his own role while RNCC head. 

All of this might be considered a natural role for Davis to have played while Ranking Member of a committee investigating his party’s funny business with email. Or, given the way that Davis repeatedly intervened during hearings to assist the Bush Administration with legal problems, it might have been complicit cooperation in a cover-up. 

But whatever it is–do we really want a guy with a history of politicizing email to be in charge of our nation’s internet security?


Obama, I understand this show of bipartisanship is really important to you. But this one–the consideration of Tom Davis to be your cyberczar? It’s just downright stupid.

38 replies
  1. Redshift says:

    Tom Davis? I’m beginning to think that the administration’s only consideration for appointments is to try to taint non-wingnut Republicans in the eyes of the wingnuts by associating them with the “illegitimate” Obama regime.

    Speaking as someone who’s lived in the district next door to his the entire time he was in Congress, Tom Davis’ only skill is as a vicious political infighter. You’re absolutely right that he’s the Republican Rahm Emmanuel. Other than that, he’s dumb as a post.

    “They want someone who understands technology issues, but more importantly, knows how to get things done in Washington,” says a cybersecurity expert who has been consulted by the White House. “There are very few people who have that combination of skills, and Davis is at the top of that short list.”

    I would dearly love to know who the anonymous “cybersecurity expert” was who was willing to say that Davis “understands technology issues.” He’s anonymous for a damned good reason — he’d be mocked for the rest of his career if he was willing to give his name.


      • Redshift says:

        He divorced his first wife and married Jeannemarie, who he had helped get elected to the House of Delegates. In her failed re-election bid for the State Senate last year, people dug up and put on YouTube an old campaign ad of hers in which Davis appears in a very husband-like role.

        • hackworth1 says:

          According to wiki, Davis helped her with her 1997 campaign for Virginia State Office. Davis divorced his doctor wife (3 kids) in late 2003 and married Jeannemarie in June of 2004. Jeanne earns 18K from her state job and 78K from ICG.

          Davis pressed the judge to let Abramoff cohort David Safavian off the hook without jail to no avail.

          Davis, like the bulk of tonedeaf Republicans, was an outspoken Terri Schiavo proponent (co-sponsoring a bill with Tom Delay.)

          • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

            Davis pressed the judge to let Abramoff cohort David Safavian off the hook without jail to no avail.

            That looks damning, particularly when combined with Abramoff’s almost-certain role in money laundering in order to siphon money to: (1) Republican candidates (of the nutwing-and-stupidity ilk, a la Sessions), and (2) illegal settlements on the West Bank.

            Safavian had been in business with Norquist, as well as having been one of Abramoff’s henchmen — enough to get him a golf trip to Scotland with Jack, Ney, etc.

            So Obama figures to give the Cyberczar spot to a guy who was head of the NRCC during its eMoneyLaundering days?

            This is bullshit.
            WTF is really going on here?

            Given the linkages to Abramoff, wouldn’t the FBI background check raise some mighty big red flags about Davis?
            Oh… nevermind, I forgot. It’s a political appointment.
            Silly me.

  2. PJEvans says:

    Why do we have to have yet another GOoPer in charge of anything more important then the location of trash cans at the local landfill?

    • Mauimom says:


      What is it with Obama and the “I’ll be bi-partisan by appointing a Republican”? Is this just another of Rahm’s plans — coming from his infinite, intimate knowledge of the Congress — to pick off a Republican in elected office.

      Newsflash to Rahm: you can pick these guys off if you will then send them to Palau. Don’t install them in any position of authority within the government.

  3. hackworth1 says:

    Most people I know voted for Obama because he was a Democrat. They were tired of eight years of Republican trickle-down. Tired of the war, tired of outsourced jobs, tired of bridges falling down, tired of tainted food, tired of Katrina, tired of being pissed on and being told it was raining.

    They were tired of the Republicans.

    Why must Obama keep foisting Republicans on us? We didn’t vote for Obama so we could have more Republicans in powerful positions.

  4. Civlibertarian says:

    Thwarted the email investigation? Another bit from Wiki (add your own snark):

    Davis had renamed the committee, removing “Oversight” from the title; one of Waxman’s first acts as Chair was to reinstitute the name

  5. Teddy Partridge says:

    This is a horrible idea for all the reasons presented here.

    A really, really, horrible idea. If appointed, he could very well be the first Obama official indicted, given his questionable ties to technology companies with their tentacles into agencies he was supposed to oversee but instead gave free rein in the post-911 national security state expansion. They donated to him and employ his wife.

    At the head of the campaign committee, he was the end user of all that corrupt Abramoff money that flowed in through the K Street Project. Why would Obama ever even consider hiring this guy? As far as his tech chops go, I bet he’s on AOL.

  6. Teddy Partridge says:

    Although (relevant only to Davis’s proposed title) I did like Obama’s joke last night at the stupid black-tie dinner about the new reality show filming at the White House: Dancing With The Czars.

    • Petrocelli says:

      “Leave it to Uighurs” was also great, The idiots in the audience either did not know how to pronounce “Uighurs” or did not know who “Beaver” was.

      John Hodgman was superb !

      • Teddy Partridge says:

        I laughed out loud at Leave it to Uighers, and was amazed that the crowd didn’t. So was Obama. You do only rarely hear them called by their name on TV – -usually it’s “terror suspects from China who were never charged with any crime” or something.

        I bet you’re right — no one in the room knew who Obama was talking about.

  7. TarheelDem says:

    Why do I think “fox in the henhouse” when I see this.

    Is there absolutely no Democrat qualified to hand national cybersecurity?

    Does our entire national security apparatus have to be in the hands of Republicans and Leon Panetta?

  8. manys says:

    Some might call it a reacharound, and I don’t know enough about political machinations to say for sure, but there’s certainly a chance that Obama is attempting to co-opt the wingnut right. It’s hard to tell from within the events unfolding what the history will wind up being, but that’s a possible one.

    • Teddy Partridge says:

      Well, if that’s so, he can stop now.

      The GOP is at 23% approval, actually below Dick Cheney himself. No one rational still supports them. And Davis has proven himself competent at very little except sitting atop corrupt election committees, blocking oversight of the Bush Adminstration, and enriching his donors.

      • fatster says:

        He’s also very accomplished at being obnoxious.

        This is a ridiculous notion. Who is running the WH? Maybe they’ve picked up some Wingnuttery virus along the way since it seems they’re accelerating their move toward Bonkersville.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Watching Obama staff his administration with Republicans and soft-neocons is like watching Captain Kirk go through his auto-destruct routine on the Enterprise. Someone tell our nominal Democrat that he not only won the election, the Republicans demonstrably lost it.

    On this topic, in particular, the choice of Tom Davis would be bizarre. The last administration – hard-line rightwing ideologues all – has a remarkable track record of incompetence, non-compliance with the law and/or outright obstruction of justice, and bizarre outsourcing of digital telecoms management. Just the background for a full-disclosure, transparent government.

  10. emptywheel says:

    Greenstone appears to have been a December 2003 search. Recall that someone’s house was searched in that time frame. Also, note that one of the searches appears to have been 12/23. Wasn’t that one of the days when OVP’s emails were gone?

  11. scribe says:

    Was he not also somehow tied up in that deal where Congressional Republicans managed to get and keep access to the Congressional Democrats’ internal email and strategizing communications early in the Bush years? The hacking which was never prosecuted?

    If I’d wanted a Republican in the White House, I would have voted for McCain. I didn’t, and I didn’t.

  12. orionATL says:

    in case it might not have occurred to Plural You:

    as candidate obama began, and as president he continues, in the role of new-faced front-man for a large contingent of washington insiders. he really is NOT in control of his presidency – yet.

    and he may never be.

    at present, our president is very clearly taking orders from those he considers “wise political heads”.

    in chicago, obama learned to side with established political power.

    when he came to washington as a senator he continued that worldview.

    co-opting the goof ball republicans in washington? well the president could be attempting that.

    but then he would be trading the national interest for his own political benefit – and doesn’t that behavior sum a fair definition of a washington insider.

    by the by, davis by the way is no “moderate” in my view.

    in judiciary hearings i watched a year or so ago he came across as a (very)red-faced obstructionist clearly taking orders from the party and clearly intent of harming the judiciary committee’s investigation. this was not watergate-like bi-partisanship.

  13. Frank33 says:

    What? Marvin Bush, Chimpie’s smart brother, is not available? Marvin is already spying on everybody anyway.

    • freepatriot says:

      I agree

      Obama, I understand this show of bipartisanship is really important to you. But this one–the consideration of Tom Davis to be your cyberczar? It’s just downright stupid.

      it’s kinda hard to formulate an answer to that …

  14. Neil says:

    Davis has a job lobbying/rainmaking for Deloitte.

    Director of Federal Government Relations at Deloitte, LLP, and was recently named president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership.”

    Wouldn’t his government/lobbyist/government revolving door employment history be a violation of the Obama Administration’s hiring ethics adopted just earlier this year?

    Some small LAC in Western Mass honored him with an honorary doctor of laws this May. The write-up calls attention to his reputation as a bipartisanship pol and his work as chair of the select “committee that investigated the response to Hurricane Katrina and resulted in the widely acclaimed report A Failure of Initiative. LINK

    Widely acclaimed.

  15. freepatriot says:

    all together now, people. Just like in rehearsal:




    Ted “Toobz” stevens CREATED teh innertoobz

    insist on the original, accept no substitutes

    oooops, I might have accidentally doubled up on teh pain medication, my bad …

  16. FromCt says:

    The democratic party is an opposition party…to my politics, my way of thinking. Daily Kos is stirring from it’s origins, it’s purpose of “electing democrats”, because, some members are accepting what their own eyes and ears plainly show them.
    You can succeed in electing democrats, but then what? They are still a right of center party, in the main. I’ve dismissed the one party with two right wings.

    The rich and the super-rich: a study in the power of money today‎ – Page 173
    by Ferdinand Lundberg – Biography & Autobiography – 1968 – 812 pages
    Kennedy, even with no war providing an excuse for a coalition, awarded his chief
    Cabinet posts to Republicans from the camp of big wealth. …

    Gore Vidal, who shared a common step-father with first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, summed up the status quo, presciently:


    …Distantly related to Jackie Kennedy, he does not romanticize JFK. “He was one of the most charming men I’ve ever known,” says Vidal. “He was also one of the very worst Presidents.”

    He’s been a Democratic candidate for the House from New York and for the Senate from California. Today, he ridicules the Democrats for supineness. …

    …“We are beyond law, which is not unusual for an empire; unfortunately, we are also beyond common sense.” …

    …Q: Talk about the role of the opposition party, the Democrats.

    Vidal: It isn’t an opposition party. I have been saying for the last thousand years that the United States has only one party—the property party. It’s the party of big corporations, the party of money. It has two right wings; one is Democrat and the other is Republican….

  17. nonplussed says:

    I hope everyone watches him on C-span Washington Journal second hour. It will be up for your viewing pleasure on C-span.org soon. You’ll need to see Tom explain in his own words why he is a partisan hack unfit to be in any position of power, let alone an allegedly Democratic Administration!

  18. atonemusic says:

    Richard Clarke, an expert in this field with a non-partisan moral compass, would be an ideal choice.

  19. oldtree says:

    Why hire anyone but an IT professional for the job? Why would anyone hire a politician that can’t possibly understand the depth of the work required? You hire a tic to pitch cars or insurance or something that requires the bamboozle. You hire professionals for jobs that require skills a tic simply can’t afford to have. Why put a liar in place of someone that can answer the questions truthfully?

  20. Nell says:

    This is yet more too-clever-by-half electorally motivated meddling of the ‘Judd Gregg to Commerce’ variety.

    Jim Webb will face a tough campaign against Davis exactly because of the potential to cut into his votes in the outer NoVa suburbs. But I wish the DNC (Kaine) and White House (Emanuel) would quit trying to kill two birds with one stone every single time out. It demonstrates a serious disrespect for the nominal functions these appointments are supposed to fill, and lack of confidence in real political fights.


  21. Oval12345678akaJamesKSayre says:

    Is it written in the Bible or in our Constitution that we have to have our most critical systems hooked up to the internet? Are we just too lazy, too cheap, too stupid or too crazy to disconnect our electrical power grid from the internet? Funny, our electrical power distribution system worked fine for over one hundred years without being connected to the internet. Do electrical engineers have to be able to work at home? It is time to disccnnect our most vital systems from the internet. Cut the cable; cut the cord; disconnect.

  22. JaneaneTheAcerbicGoblin says:

    What the hell is wrong with Obama? Didn’t the Judd Gregg fiasco teach him anything? I guess he doesn’t learn.

    Obama, I understand this show of bipartisanship is really important to you. But this one–the consideration of Tom Davis to be your cyberczar? It’s just downright stupid.

    That’s a great one.

    Besides, “bipartisanship” is not on the high list of priorities right now. It’s jobs and health care, two things Republicans despise.

  23. halfwaytoconcord says:

    Bruce Scheneir and other leading cyber security experts were the first to say we don’t need no stinking cyber czar.

    A monolithic centralized structure cannot improve security and only threatens to weaken many more competent efforts. Diverse, coordinated, transnational efforts that engage users, ISPs, banks, insurers, vendors, and law enforcement will be more effective.

    Truth be told—politics aside— the only thing the tech community is interested in is for Obama and Congress to get their heads out of their asses on the issue of Net Neutrality.


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