Meet Mark Leibovich’s Monster

image004As the clock struck 5:16 p.m. Wednesday, the email blast arrived. Or rather, Kurt Bardella, one of the star monsters in NYT‘s Mark Leibovich’s summer blockbuster, This Town, had risen from the ashes or the lava (Hollywood will figure out the proper visual). Meet Washington’s latest entrepreneur. Meet the town’s former Washington insider, the headline blared. Bardella is starting his own strategic communications firm, strategic being the key word, in that he gets to chose his own “adventure.”

Within mere moments, Politico‘s Jake Sherman, whose own emails may have leaked their way to Leibovich’s inbox for the book via Bardella’s untrustworthy fingertips, tweeted the news. And there Bardella was: out there in the aftermath of a book that would make him both famous for Washington and as infamous as one of the book’s other main characters, Tammy Haddad.

Back in April, I was in the grips of yet another White House Correspondents Dinner pre-party, not Tammy’s to which I’d been pointedly not invited. This one, an unusual warehouse party in Georgetown thrown by National Journal. I didn’t notice a whole lot of White House correspondents outside of ABC’s Ann Compton. One of the more interesting details about the party was that the toilets on the main floor were malfunctioning, so attendants stood outside the restrooms telling guests that they’d have to wait. Or better yet, they’d have to fight their way upstairs to the V.I.P. floor to use the commode. Upstairs, the smell of urine wafted into the hallway.

image002Back downstairs, I ran into Bardella who had flopped into an easy chair on the far side of the room. I’d known Kurt since his days in Rep. Brian Bilbray‘s (R-Calif.) office and had always enjoyed our interactions and found him helpful. By this point, it was well known that Bardella would figure into Leibovich’s book. So I asked him about it. Was he nervous, worried? Would he be embarrassed? While he wouldn’t comment at all on the record, he indicated that he might at a later point and went into a myriad of thoughts I can’t repeat because of our off the record agreement. But one thing I was instantly struck by was Bardella’s ultra-relaxed manner about the whole thing. He knew this was coming. Everybody knew this was coming. And his body language screamed that he didn’t have a care in the world about it.

Fast forward seven months, here we are at Bardella 2.0. Or is it 3.0.? The “2” might’ve been when his former boss, House Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), temporarily fired him in February, 2011, and he went to work for The Daily Caller while simultaneously writing op-eds for Politico, the publication that got him fired in the first place for leaking those emails to Leibovich for his book. It was Editor-in-Chief John Harris who spoke with Issa and pushed him on whether his own reporters’ emails or phone calls had been improperly shared.

At the time, in a Sunday letter to Issa, Harris wrote, “The practice of sharing reporter e-mails with another journalist on a clandestine basis would be egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances,” Harris wrote. “As the editor-in-chief of POLITICO, my concern is heightened by information suggesting that POLITICO journalists may have had their reporting compromised by this activity.”

Bardella gave the first big interview on his ambitious plans to launch his own firm to a virtually unknown publication, InTheCapital, on October 2 at 3: 15 p.m., which is why no one knew about it until he blasted the story out himself a few hours later. The reporter he spoke with, Tess VandenDolder, comically admits in her opening line that she was “a little intimated” to meet Bardella and that after an hour she was “quite taken” by his passion for politics and entrepreneurial spirit. The typo seems to make sense — was she so intimidated that she got flustered in her lede? But the sentiment doesn’t fit and the idea that she requires only one hour of spin to sway her is fantastic in the worst sense of the word. If you’ve met or listened to Bardella (please ignore this part, Howie Kurtz, this doesn’t apply to you since you might mistake him for a lawmaker), he’s not intimidating at all. The Bardella I’d known was an easygoing, jovial, fast-talking, skinny guy who could joke about the fact that he hadn’t graduated from college.