Thursday, October 09, 2003

That Was Then, This Is Now 

Let's start with the NOW:

As you've no doubt heard, a bugging device was discovered in the office of the Mayor of Phildelphia this week, only four weeks from an election. The FBI has confirmed it's theirs. Mayor Street is a Democrat. The election is a rematch with his previous Republican opponent, one Mr. Katz.

Happily, all the proper people are properly shocked, and are properly demanding that the FBI offer an explanation. Gov. Rendell, D. is, and Senator Spector, R. is, and even Mr. Katz is, "breathtakingly shocking" is how he put it, though what aspect he found shocking wasn't specified.

The federal prosecutor on whose behalf the FBI planted the bug has specified that Mayor Street is not the "target" of whatever investigation required the bugging of the Mayor's office. More information will not be forthcoming, although the prosecutor has reassured all who might worry that his office remains, as ever, non-partisan.

Thus far, I have heard no demands for a congressional investigation. Nor has any media commentator I have thus far read or heard suggested that this incident could spell trouble for the Bush administration, especially following so closely on the matter of Ms. Plame.

I haven't mentioned that Mayor Street is black, and Mr. Katz is, well, not, because we live in a color-blind society.

We don't have to imagine how differently might a similar occurance have been handled by a Republican congress during the Clinton administration. All we have to do is remember "Filegate."

But of course, that was THEN:

June, 1966, in the midst of a presidential election, congressional Republicans discovered that the Clinton White House had asked for and received from the FBI hundreds of background files of White House employees, many of them from the previous Bush administration. The White House confirmed that such had happened, but denied any of the files had been gathered for the purpose of finding "dirt" on political opponents. The President, Vice-President and their chief of staff, Leon Panetta, weren't entirely sure for what reason the files had been requested, promised to investigate, and admitted upfront that such a request should not have been made, said it must be some sort of bureaucratic snafu, but agreed the FBI should not have surrendered the files.

Without objection from the White House, the matter was added to Ken Starr's portfolio, and various committees of congress vowed to have as many hearings as necessary to get to the bottom of what had gone on. Interestingly, not one Republican was able to point to a single incidence of leaked information from the files having been used against any so-called Clinton foe, whether directly by the White House, or anyone else, but shades of the Nixon enemies list were invoked often.

Most of the immedate coverage has long since disappeared behind archived walls, but you can get the flavor of the moment, so like the flavor of so many other moments during Clinton's White House years, from these classic two sentences by Sen. Hatch:

The White House conducted what appears to be "a definite effort to find dirt on Republicans," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, charged Sunday. "Now, whether that's true or not, I don't know. That's why we have to do this investigation."

In the same CNN report, dated June 23rd there is also this from then Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich:

The administration also was being pressed by Republicans on another front. House Speaker Newt Gingrich Saturday renewed his threat to have White House officials declared in contempt of Congress if they don't turn over 2,000 pages of travel office files.

"These people cannot continue to stonewall, obstruct, delay and lie. And they need to turn over those 2,000 pages by next Wednesday," Gingrich said. The White House has claimed executive privilege over the papers, which have been subpoenaed by a House committee.

The committee is investigating the firing of seven travel office employees early in the Clinton administration and how the administration reacted to earlier inquiries into those dismissals. (emphasis mine)

The firing of the Travel Office employees had occurred in the early months of 1993. There had been copious congressional hearings about the incident by the Democratic controlled congress, the first Independent Counsel had investigated and found nothing illegal; Ken Starr, having decided to throw out all the work of the previous Counsel and start over, "travelgate" was under investigation once again, so what 2000 pages of information could possible have been so vital to the furtherance of the "common good?" How could there even be 2000 pages of files?

Here's how.

The subpeonas being resisted by the White House were asking for any material from any White House official or lower rung staff member, who had had any meetings, phone calls, shared mash notes or email exchanges with any other official or lower rung staff member, in which the word "travel" or "office" was uttered. If I exaggerate for effect, so was Speaker Gingrich. He was manufacturing a Clinton administration claim of Presidential priviledge. Much later, of course, when both "gates," travel and file, were shown to be groundless shams, Ken Starr still included in one of his impeachment counts, Clinton's misuse of such priviledge.

Remember when the GAO asked to see who the members of Cheney's energy task force were, and executive priviledge was invoked, without provoking much comment or outrage, except from those nasty, uncivil, partisan Democrats? The explanation was that policy makers needed the freedom to consult honestly with advisors and couldn't if constantly fearful that such discussions might be made public. I happen to agree with that. But Clinton's right to presidential privacy was assaulted on an almost daily basis for most of his eight years in office. And what was at stake in "travelgate" that had anything to do with the daily lives of most Americans? Especially in 1996?

On the other hand, Cheney successfully stonewalled all attempts to find out how the Bush energy policy was evolved at a time when the California governor, Gray somebody, was asking the federal government to inquire into the possibility that the energy crises was being artificial created by energy traders. The Bush administration's answer was no, and no. Now we know that it was a manufactured crises. In large part by Ken Lay, the biggest fraud since the Wizard of Oz, and one of those whom Cheney, we now know, met with in framing Bush energy policy.

Anyone who paid attention to the first round of hearings about the FBI files would have known there was no scandal there. The files were part of a project started by the previous Bush administration and handed over to Craig Livingston during the transition. It had been an attempt to bring up to date the White House list of who should and did have White House access. Mr. Livingston had handled things carelessly, testified as such, claimed no priviledge, and promptly resigned, as did his assistant. That's what happened when you made a mistake in the Clinton White House; you resigned. Your resignation was then taken as further evidence of corruption, else why would you have resigned?

Two years later, filegate was still being investigated. The more the White House turned over to congress, the more Republican staff members found to question. And then there were the Judcial Watch suits on behalf of various agrieved Republicans whose files might have sat on Craig Livingston's desk. Mr. Livingston for his part, the part of a young man who'd become involved in the Clinton campaign, and then in serving in that administration, was treated, during his several appearances before congressional committees like a Mafia foot soldier; Republican staff members had made known that Mr. Livingston had once worked as a bouncer, a piece of private informationm, like that gathered in those FBI files, they felt no hesitation in releasing; if irony is dead nowhere else, it is certainly dead in the sensibilities of young Republicans. Henceforth, Craig Livingston was constantly referred to as the ex-bouncer who became head of White House security. Such are the nicieties of civil discourse David Brooks is so discouraged to see Democrats eschewing.

There was also an attempt to show that Mrs. Clinton was responsibile for hiring Mr. Livingston, which in the fevered imaginations of wingers everywhere would have proven that Hillary was behind "filegate."

Finally, in March of 2000, the new OIC, Robert Ray, released his finding regarding "filegate," that there was no there there, though he managed to phrase it in such a way that it sounded as if what he was actually saying was that he couldn't really prove anything bad had gone on, but probably it had. Not that Ray's nakedly partisan spin satisfied key elements of the right, who continue to insist that everything that was ever alledged about the Clintons (scroll down to find "Filegate" but there's lots to look at on the way there) was and is true.

Why bother with all this? Aren't the Clintons the past? Didn't all real liberals think they were fairly tacky anyway? We get what the media whores did; so why make ourselves look bad by defending the Clintons?

How about this? How about defending the truth? Because the assault on the Clintons continues, and it's part of the same machinary of scandal, smears, distortions, misdirection and divisiveness that the Republican Party honed to near perfection in the eight years of the Clinton presidency.

I don't suggest this as a primary task. But the failure to vigoursly defend the truth about the Clintons helped defeat Gore, continues to allow a Chris Matthews to compare a President Clinton unfavorably with an Arnold, and is making it harder than it should be to lay a glove on a Bush administration that, increasingly, is the true embodiment of every lie ever told about the Clintons.

corrente SBL - New Location
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~ Since 2003 ~

The Washington Chestnut
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