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Armstrong Ranch: A GOP Bada Bing?

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We've only scratched the surface, but the more we learn about the Armstrong Ranch, site of the Cheney shooting, the more it feels like the GOP equivalent of Tony Soprano's joint, the Bada Bing.

CNN described the remote 50,000-acre Armstrong ranch as "a private getaway." It's the kind of place the goodfellas of the Republican crew can go to kick back, put their feet up, have a beer (or two) with lunch, talk a little business, raise a little money, make a few deals, maybe meet a girl.

Of course, at the Bada Bing the girls are strippers; at Armstrong they're the ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. But both hot spots feature quite a bit of gunplay.

According to Austin American-Statesman reporter Robert Elder, the Armstrong is "a favored destination spot for this type of Republican with social connections, a fair amount of wealth... Certainly if you have access to the vice president or other high level administration officials, corporate officials, it gives you really a unique opportunity to kind of relax, talk, and who knows what happens from there."

Well, Dick Cheney knows. He's been kicking back at Armstrong for over 30 years. Also in the know: President Bush and Laura, Bush 41 and Barbara, Karl Rove, and James Baker, all of whom have been frequent guests at the ranch.

The rest of us can get an idea of "what happens from there" by piecing together some of the very cozy connections between the Armstrong Ranch Mafia.

Take ranch proprietress, shooting eyewitness, and in-a-pinch vice-presidential press secretary Katharine Armstrong, who has parlayed her hunting relationships into a number of well-paying gigs.

For instance, in 1999, back when he was Governor, ranch regular George W. Bush appointed her to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Two years later, she became the Commission's chairman.

In a 2003 interview, the Dallas Morning News asked Armstrong what had she done to "gain an appointment to the TP&W Commission, which is considered one of the plums of gubernatorial appointments?" Replied Armstrong: "I didn't do anything. In fact, I was shocked when Governor Bush's office called me... What Governor Bush told me is that my name just came to him in a 'eureka' moment."

Give her points for honesty: "I didn't do anything." Except hanging out with W, polishing their shotguns, flushing coveys of quail, and bagging their limit. Eureka!

Her bird-hunting bud James Baker has also flushed some lucrative lobbying deals her way. According to NBC News (via Attytood), Baker's law firm Baker Botts paid Armstrong $160,000 in 2004 to lobby the White House. When asked what she did in return for the money, Armstrong told NBC she'd set up a meeting at the White House for a Baker Botts client. She also said that she'd gotten fellow dove-killing enthusiast Karl Rove to speak at a Baker Botts function. Hmm, 160 Gs for setting up a meeting and a Karl Rove speech? Nice work if you can get it.

Of course, Katharine learned how to leverage a shared love of blasting small animals for political advancement the old-fashioned way -- at her mother's cocked elbow. Anne Armstrong first met Dick Cheney when they both worked in the Nixon White House. Soon after, he began visiting the family ranch. In 2000, Anne's late husband Tobin described the idyllic Cheney/Armstrong outings to the AP: "We go out when the dew is still on the grass and then hunt until we shoot our limit. Then we pick a fine spot and have a wild game picnic lunch." Unless we accidentally shoot one of our hunting party in the face. Then we put off the wild game picnic until dinner.
 
Anne and Dick seem to have developed a mutual admiration while tromping around the Armstrong ranch, shooting their limit. While Dick was Gerald Ford's White House chief of staff, Anne was appointed ambassador to Great Britain. Anne later returned the favor: she was a member of the Halliburton board when Dick was hired as the company's CEO.
 
Put it all together and I think I'm starting to get a better picture of why Dick Cheney was "so confident that Katharine [Armstrong] was the right one" and "an excellent choice" to put the shooting story out.
 
Eureka! And bada bing!

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