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November 2, 2005

Continued: Yet Another White House Scandal

Roy Meachum

Since TheTentacle.Com readers have instant access to preceding pieces, we continue yesterday’s Yet Another White House Scandal:

Before the world learned that he was sexually coupling in a White House cloakroom, William G. Harding died; Bill Clinton enjoyed no comparable easy-out.

Lying before a federal grand jury about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky brought impeachment by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which watched in considerable dismay when their Senate colleagues failed to kick the Democratic president back to Arkansas.

And, in this near-view of history, that is what most people mention first about Mr. Clinton’s eight years in the Oval Office.

Nevertheless, no one I know has any serious doubt that Mr. Clinton could have been re-elected for a third term, except for the forbidding law. After all, surrogate Al Gore came within a few mutilated ballots of retaining Democratic banners high over 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Argument can be made that 2000’s near-loss created a bunker mentality in George W. Bush’s administration. The new president and all his men (and women) were already determined the first White House scion since John Quincy Adams should not meet his father’s one-term fate.

To that end, the terrorist attacks almost exactly nine months after his swearing-in was a political blessing; they enabled the younger Mr. Bush to demonstrate forcefully he was not his father, who had been accused in some quarters of being something of a “wuss.” The nation’s extreme right-wing never forgave the elder Mr. Bush for not ordering Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to invade Iraq and finish off Saddam Hussein, in the wake of Desert Storm’s 1991 great success chasing the dictator from Kuwait.

The real fight over that decision, staged behind closed doors, came between General Schwarzkopf’s direct superior, Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and their civilian boss, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney.

General Powell won; carrying the day with the president by his position the country didn’t need another Vietnam quagmire. Secretary Cheney, along with General Schwarzkopf, assented without ever agreeing, as the former Desert Storm commander made plain after his retirement.

As for Mr. Cheney, evidence suggests he viewed the 9/11 attacks as proof that he and Mr. Schwarzkopf had been right. As the vice president, he became the leading advocate for righting 1991’s “wrong” and in the process assuring the younger Mr. Bush’s re-election. Joining him were Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz.

On the public record, these three built the case for sending U.S. forces into Baghdad. Mr. Cheney was singularly adamant, insisting the Iraqi people would be so grateful they would shower the American invaders with flowers and kisses, in the manner of 1944’s French.

Their domination was so complete that Colin Powell, the then-secretary of state, reversed his position completely. Relying on “evidence” that was later proven false, he preached before the U.N. for the invasion that turned out worse than he had predicted nearly 10 years before.

Central to mounting the campaign was the vice president’s chief of staff. Lewis “Scooter” Libby left the spotlight to Mr. Cheney and others, while managing the all-important details deemed necessary to convince Americans that Iraq posed an imminent and deadly threat to the United States.

Although a United Nations inspection team vigorously denied the existence of any significant cache of weapons of mass destruction, every official in the administration argued otherwise, Mr. Libby most effectively of all.

While the vice president’s chief confidant, adviser and factotum warned others to avoid the media, which could not be trusted, he said, Mr. Libby set about a risky plan to subjugate an all-too-willing press. And he succeeded.

Not a single major publication or broadcast network offered clear and firm opposition to the Iraq invasion. In the run-up to March 19, 2003, The New York Times, in particular, became a veritable propaganda machine for Washington’s warmongers.

While much of the focus in the weeks surrounding Friday’s indictments has been fixed on Times reporter Judith Miller, the paper’s foremost expert on the Middle East joined the invade-Iraq chorus. Columnist Thomas Friedman later relented, but not until after it became overwhelmingly obvious that Colin Powell had it right, at the start.

As for Ms. Miller, only after she shed her martyr’s guise and left jail did we learn that she had been protecting the man who spoon-fed material for the series of stories she wrote for the Times, which offered “proof” for the administration’s insistence that weapons of mass destruction were poised to strike the world, not excluding the United States.

Not Ms. Miller but NBC’s Tim Russert, according to the indictment, supplied the really crucial denial to Mr. Libby’s claims about non-involvement in the link that leaked a CIA covert operator’s name to columnist Robert Novak.

Spy Valerie Flame’s husband, an ex-ambassador, had publicly blasted the administration’s charge that Saddam Hussein was negotiating to buy uranium fro Niger, in order to produce nuclear weapons. Outing her classified position was judged a form of payback.

Leaking has become a way of Washington life, Republican friends insist. So has driving while intoxicated, I reply, on a subject I know first-hand, having been hauled before a judge on DWI charges.

Similarly, referring to Democrat Clinton’s lie before a federal grand jury supplies no basis for excusing the crime by anyone else, of whatever political persuasion.

In recent days we have heard ad nauseum rationalizations that Mr. Libby meant to deceive no one; that he simply disremembered who said what to whom because of his heavy work load. If he were capable of that sort of catastrophic amnesia on such an important topic, I submit, he would never have served as chief of staff to such a master manipulator as Dick Cheney.

Last week’s indictments and tomorrow’s court arraignment shape up as merely the first shaky stages of a really big story that the press will now, in earnest, try to develop.

The New York Times, in particular, must seek to prove American journalism’s grand gray lady is no longer a toy in the Bush administration’s hands. For openers, ace reporter Miller should be shown the door.

And these are the circumstances that make the current situation different from most of the other White House scandals. It could very well be the Watergate for the new century.

Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has the mandate to uncover any and all lies by officials on the subject, which stretches into all Washington’s corridors of power.

As Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith wrote in Baltimore’s Sun on Sunday, Acting Attorney General James B. Comey’s letters delegated to Mr. Fitzgerald “all the authority of the attorney general” to investigate and prosecute “violations of any federal criminal laws related to the underlying alleged unauthorized disclosure.”

In other words, the U.S. attorney for Chicago cannot, in conscience, return to Lake Michigan’s windy shore until he satisfies every legal question posed by events that led to Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s resignation and indictment.

Justice and the health of this democracy demand no less.

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