After six years, the White House now confronts a new game.
Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is no better evidence of that tenet than the current administration. The problem for the Bush administration is that after years of its having had a free pass, the Democrats now control the Senate and the Congress, and with that, the power of the subpoena and the ability to investigate allegations of corruption.
When the Republicans controlled the Senate and the Congress, there was no check or balance on the Bush White House. No accountability. Any allegation of corruption was whitewashed. Whether the allegation was that the administration had lied about pre-war intelligence to gain authorization for going to war (a more impeachable offense than lying about a blow job); what Dick Cheney discussed with oil-company executives before introducing energy legislation (oil-company executives originally testified that they did not meet with the vice president but some have now acknowledged that they did); whether the administration had authorized secret, illegal wiretaps (the FBI has admitted it has); or whether prisoners were being illegally detained and tortured (can you say waterboarding?), the Republicans have been steadfast in their support of the President. They have refused to subpoena witnesses, squelched investigations, and stiff-armed Democrats who persisted that allegations of corruption deserved investigation.
The only bright spot in the partisan stonewalling was the appointment of Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate and prosecute anyone involved in the illegal disclosure of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. We know the result of that investigation and prosecution—the conviction of Scooter Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff and the person who apparently took the fall for Cheney’s overzealous defense of the administration’s pre-war strategy.
What a difference an election cycle makes. In November, when the Democrats took back control of Congress, they regained a useful tool—the power to investigate allegations of corruption, the power to hold congressional hearings to investigate such allegations, and the power to subpoena witnesses and to compel them to testify at investigative hearings.
Lo and behold, there has been a sudden shift at the White House, previously known for its steadfast secrecy. The veil has begun to lift. The new defense secretary, Robert Gates, appeared and played nice during questioning before the Senate. People actually showed up and admitted at Congressional hearings that the conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital were deplorable. Gates took responsibility and made something happen. Heads rolled.
More tellingly, after the Democrats took over, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales voluntarily appeared before Congress. After years of arguing that the White House’s secret wiretapping program did not require court approval, Gonzales immediately changed course and conceded that it did.
Later, after eight U.S. attorneys were simultaneously dismissed, and Democrats questioned those dismissals, Gonzales voluntarily appeared again before Congress and offered that the eight attorneys who had been fired simultaneously were not fired “for political reasons” but because of “job-performance reasons.”
That latter statement does not appear to stand up to scrutiny. Two fired U.S. attorneys later testified that they were told by an acting associate attorney general that they were fired for political reasons. Two others testified that several Republican officials had called them and attempted to influence their prosecutorial decisions. One was fired after obtaining a guilty conviction of a Republican congressman. And one testified that he was questioned by then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers, who asked him to explain why he had “mishandled” the issue of a criminal voter fraud investigation sought by Republicans, which the prosecutor had independently decided not to pursue.
Because the Democrats are in the majority and could actually ask questions about the firings, we now know that Miers originally wanted to fire all 93 U.S. attorneys simultaneously, but then reduced that to “targeting” the eight who were ultimately fired after others pointed out that the firing of all 93 might result in political upheaval. (Remember, Harriet Miers is the intellectual giant that Dubya nominated to sit on the Supreme Court and then withdrew her nomination when the Democrats made an issue of her lack of qualifications.) And we have also learned that although the dismissals were not supposed to be politically motivated, one of the would-be replacements was a Karl Rove favorite, as Gonzales’ chief of staff revealed in an e-mail when he wrote that the filling of the position was “very important to Harriet [Miers] and Karl [Rove].”
Before the Democrats took over, this, too, would have been whitewashed. The Democrats, as the minority party, could not request documents or compel the testimony of any individual unless the Republicans agreed. But that all changed when the new Congress was sworn in on January 2, 2007.
On March 9, the House of Representatives judiciary committee wrote to the White House and requested documents and e-mails that might reflect whether the U.S. attorneys were dismissed for political reasons. The letter also stated that the judiciary committee would like to interview White House officials. And the Senate judiciary committee indicated it might like to hear again from Gonzales and to hear for the first time from Harriet Miers and Karl Rove.
These three individuals should be given the opportunity to explain themselves. They should be compelled to appear before Congress and to testify, under oath, about their actions. They should be forced to answer questions and to tell the truth—something the Bush administration has not had to do much in the past six years because it has not been forced to answer any of the tough questions.
The individuals who do come forward and testify would be well served to remember something they should have learned during the impeachment trial of President Clinton—that lying under oath is a crime. Ask Scooter Libby.
Writing from the liberal side, Houston attorney Daryl Moore has a general practice and is board certified in civil appellate law.