Conor Lamb Holds Narrow Lead Over Rick Saccone in PA's District 18 Congressional Race

In a closely watched race for PA’s 18th District Congressional seat, Democrat Conor Lamb has a 627 vote advantage over Republican Rick Saccone as of this afternoon with all absentee and polling ballots counted. Some provisional and military ballots must be counted which won’t be final until next week. However, there may not be enough of them to make a difference in the total.
For now, Lamb has declared victory while Saccone has not conceded. Republican leaders outside of the district are leveling blame at Saccone. According to the Washington Post, Corry Bliss of the Congressional Leadership Fund called Saccone a “joke.” In my view, the joke is on Bliss. His group ran expensive false and negative ads in the district. For instance, a series of ads claimed Lamb was a follower of Nancy Pelosi. To the contrary, Lamb does not support Pelosi and has argued for new leadership in the party. If anything, those ads may have alienated suburban Republican voters and pushed them toward Lamb who ran a positive and issues oriented campaign.

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While Saccone’s judgment is open to question (he thinks David Barton is a fine historian), his Republican record and resume are consistent with Trumpian populism. He has been a state legislator, has years of foreign service (even if embellished), and thinks Trump walks on water. In my opinion, all of the complaining about “candidate quality” is an effort to put the best face on what must be a very frightening prospect for Republicans running in 2018. There are numerous districts around the nation where GOP representatives are more vulnerable than the GOP slot was in PA’s District 18.
While a recount is not mandatory in a close House election, Saccone’s team has not ruled out the potential of legal maneuvers to hold up the declaration of a Lamb victory. The outcome might not be official until the legal challenges are exhausted.
 
 
 

The Guardian Confirms Reporting on Rick Saccone's North Korea Experience

On March 1, I reported that those serving with Rick Saccone in North Korea did not recall his time in North Korea as he has portrayed it during his

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campaign for Congress in PA’s 18th District. Saccone has claimed he was a diplomat negotiating daily with the North Koreans and was the only American in North Korea for a year between December 2000 and December 2001.
Then, on March 10, The Guardian posted a reported which confirmed and extended my article.  Reporters Benjamin Haas and Ben Jacobs spoke to Ambassador David Lambertson and a South Korean official who served with Saccone. Lambertson confirmed to Haas and Jacobs what he told me. The South Korean, Kim Joong-keun, said of all the Americans he worked with Saccone was ranked “at the bottom.”
Saccone has used this experience in his campaign ads and Donald Trump referred to Saccone’s North Korean experience during his campaign stop over the weekend. Trump said Saccone told him things about North Korea that his experts didn’t know. Before a friendly crowd, Trump made Saccone’s few months of experience in North Korea into a matter of great prestige which is exactly what Saccone has been doing the entire campaign.
Saccone’s ad on North Korea:

In fact, according to career foreign service officers who served at the same time as Saccone, he wasn’t the only American in the area and he wasn’t there a year. His work with the North Koreans did not rise to the level of a diplomat according to those who also represented the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization as did Saccone.
The PA Congressional race is very close with the newest Monmouth poll out today showed Saccone’s Democrat challenger Conor Lamb ahead by a six point margin. The special election is tomorrow.
Additional Articles:
Nonprofit Cornerstone Television Endorses Christian Nationalist Rick Saccone in PA’s 18th District Congressional Race
Announcement for Rick Saccone’s U.S. Senate Bid Featuring David Barton

Nonprofit Cornerstone Television Endorses Christian Nationalist Rick Saccone in PA's 18th District Congressional Race

Posted on Thursday, an episode of Cornerstone Television‘s Real Life featured an interview with GOP candidate for Congress in PA’s 18th District Rick Saccone (source – start 15:38). Cornerstone CEO Don Black interviewed Saccone and offered his endorsement, encouraging viewers to vote for him. Watch:

And then after the interview Black added a specific call to viewers to vote for the “man of God.”

Cornerstone Television is a nonprofit organization and as such is not supposed to offer political endorsements for candidates. The Johnson Amendment is still in place and even if the IRS goes easy on churches, Cornerstone Television is not a church. From the IRS website:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

The Lord is Leading America?

In the first clip, host Black asked Saccone if America’s greatest days are ahead. Saccone said the Lord was leading America now.  Saccone equates this with a strong economy and strong markets. At the same time, I think many Christians are lamenting the leadership of a President who has paid a porn star for silence, prefers white immigrants to dark skinned ones, and rips apart families at our borders.  The evangelical church is widely regarded as a joke and many leaders mock the importance of moral leadership.
This episode provides yet another lesson about what is wrong with identifying Christianity with one political party. Eventually the religion and the politics are so intertwined that they become indistinguishable. The religious talking points and the political talking points are the same. Strong markets, economic prosperity, and voting for the GOP are now all the Lord’s work.
Hallelujah!
 
Other posts on Rick Saccone:
Former Colleague Question Rick Saccone’s North Korea Diplomat Claims
David Barton Endorses Rick Saccone
Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone Square Off in PA District 18 Debate
 

Rick Saccone Asked Mother of Addict What She Would Cut to Fund Opioid Addiction Treatment

Listen to GOP candidate for Congress in PA’s 18th District reply to a mother of an addict during a public hearing on the opioid crisis last year in Lewistown, PA. The hearing was part of a series held around the state on the topic.  The video of the entire hearing is 2.5 hours long and can be viewed via this link.
Near the end of the hearing, a mother told her gut-wrenching story of trying to get help for her son who is an addict. Obviously, the system didn’t work for him and she told her story as a way to provide insight into changes needed legislatively to help address the many inefficiencies in the system. To me, Saccone’s cold reply falls flat. Watch:

After telling her about his wife’s dental implants, he asked this woman where she would cut funding to put money into drug treatment. He told her, “We’re going to try to cut the budget, alright? So where do I take it from? Do I take it from education? Do I take it from Alzheimer’s? Do I take it from autistic children? You say you want more funding. Where would you think I should take it from, in those budget line items?” He then paused as if to wait for an answer. I can only imagine how that mother felt.

How About Taking it From Your Expense Account?

Perhaps Saccone should consider cutting his expense accounts rather than autism or education. Saccone has been a big spender of tax dollars for his personal use while a legislator in Harrisburg. According to the online news site Intercept, “Saccone spent $435,172 in taxpayer money using his expense account” during his seven years in office.
If only he could be forced to answer some questions in return.
I saw the link to the YouTube video in the NBC News article which gives a helpful rundown of the differences between Saccone and his Democrat challenger Conor Lamb on addressing the opioid problem. The prevalence of addiction is high in Western PA where economic recovery has been slow to materialize. Although government cannot legislate the problem away, policy which allows existing funds to go to treatments needed by addicts can be enacted.
The special election is a week from tomorrow with Saccone and Lamb are in a statistical dead heat.

Former Colleagues Question Rick Saccone’s North Korea Diplomat Claims

According to a career foreign service officer, Rick Saccone, the GOP candidate for Congress in the upcoming PA 18th District special election, stretched the truth when he called himself a diplomat in a campaign ad. David Lambertson, former ambassador to Thailand also denied that Saccone was the only American working in North Korea at the time as Saccone claims on his website. Lambertson said that two others were involved, including himself, and that very little negotiating occurred.
The March 13 contest in PA’s 18th District between Saccone and Conor Lamb is being closely watched around the nation. Donald Trump won the district by 20 points in the presidential election, but currently Republican Saccone is up by only three points over Democrat Conor Lamb in a recent Monmouth University poll.
Saccone’s ads tout his military and foreign affairs service over the youthful Lamb, a former prosecutor. Saccone has long been interested in the Korean peninsula, spending many years in South Korea. He also spent some time in North Korea which formed the basis for the claims now being scrutinized.
In a campaign television ad, Saccone says he was “a diplomat in North Korea.”

On his website, Saccone claims:

His experience also includes being the only United States citizen living in North Korea that negotiated with the North Korean regime on a daily basis.


The claim has been repeated in press reports (see also here, here) like this one from the Washington Examiner:

And during the George W. Bush administration, he held the distinction of having served as a diplomat to North Korea from 2000 to 2001 and was the only U.S. citizen living in Pyongyang at the time.

A Diplomat?

At the time, contact between North Korea and the U.S. was limited. President Clinton signed the Agreed Framework in 1994 which called for a nuclear power plant to be built in exchange for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The organization formed to support the construction of the power plant was called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). According to one of his books on North Korea, Saccone was given a job of representing the U.S. on site. He portrays the position as an exclusive one beginning in December 2000 with no other American presence. He said David Lambertson welcomed him to North Korea. In Living with the Enemy: Inside North Korea, Saccone wrote:

Suddenly I was headed North as a representative for an international organization building a nuclear power plant on the east coast, north of Hamheung, in an isolated region known as Geumho. The lone American at the site, along with one Japanese and about 800 South Koreans.
KEDO was formed as a key element of the Agreed Framework signed during the Clinton administration. Under this international agreement, the North agreed to shut down its nuclear program in exchange for two 1000 megawatt Light Water Reactor power plants built by a U.S. led consortium consisting primarily of American, South Korean, Japanese, and later European Union participation.

Regarding the claim of being a diplomat, I asked another former KEDO representative and former ambassador to Thailand David Lambertson for his perspective. Lambertson told me that he worked for KEDO on a part-time basis for five years and during that time visited North Korea a dozen times. Altogether he spent “a total of a year and a half there.” He said Saccone visited the North “two or three trips maximum.”  Because the Agreed Framework with North Korea required an American presence, someone rotated in and out of North Korea about every month or six weeks. He said, “When Saccone did it there were three of us, and then later on just two.” He said Spence Richardson replaced Saccone after a month to six weeks. “Saccone was most certainly not there for a year.”
About the claim to be a diplomat, Lamberson said,

As to whether Saccone was a “diplomat” in North Korea, I suppose that depends on one’s definition of the term.  We occasionally had to work out solutions to problems that arose at the work site (a nuclear power plant was being constructed), but it was rare that the American’s role rose to the level of “negotiator.”  Most of the negotiating took place in periodic meetings in which senior representatives of KEDO headquarters in New York came to the work site or to Pyongyang for discussions with the North Koreans.  I participated in numerous such meetings, but only in a support role.
All in all, I’d say that if Saccone is claiming to have been a “diplomat” in North Korea, he is stretching the facts just a bit.  Politicians are known to do that.

Lambertson’s account also contradicts Saccone’s website claim that he was the “only United States citizen living in North Korea that negotiated with the North Korean regime on a daily basis.” According to Lambertson, negotiations weren’t frequent and he and Richardson spent most of the time there. None of the KEDO annual reports refer to the American on the ground as a diplomat.
I also spoke by phone with Desaix Anderson who was the Executive Director of KEDO at the time Saccone was hired. Anderson, who was Executive Director from 1997 through mid-2001, did not recall Saccone’s involvement with KEDO at all. He remembered Lambertson and Richardson but not Saccone. He referred me to Lambertson for more specifics about what happened on the ground in North Korea.
I reached out to the Saccone campaign via email earlier today but did not receive a response.
Lambertson was appointed ambassador to Thailand by George Bush and served with distinction as did Anderson, who was the first envoy to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam after the U.S. established diplomatic relations. Given their accounts, I hope Saccone will come forward with a correction or explanation for his characterization of himself as a diplomat and as the sole representative for the year 2001 to the North Korean government.