When I come across

Views

When I come across something fishy from the Bush administration, I try to use what I call the Clinton Test to keep myself honest and steer me right. As I’ve noted before in these pages, the Clinton Test is quite simply, how would I react to situation X if it was Clinton — someone I supported — rather than Bush — someone I oppose.

It’s a good rule of thumb because seeing a given action through the prism of someone whose motives you are inclined to view favorably is a good check on unwarranted suspicions.

Having laid out the Clinton Test, I think the report in this morning’s Dallas Morning News pretty clearly passes the test. In other words, this is more than worthy of criticism — no matter who is involved. According to the Morning News, all the White House documents requested by the Justice Department are first being reviewed and vetted by the White House counsel’s office.

That sounds a bit different from a normal criminal investigation, doesn’t it?

Now, it’s worth noting that the White House has the right — subject to a great deal of judicial interpretation — to claim executive privilege for certain sorts of White House communications. And one could imagine various issues which could come up in such documents for which a privilege might reasonably be asserted.

But it seems from the description in the article that the White House is getting to decide which documents the investigators get and which they don’t without having to go to the trouble, the contest, or the political fall-out of actually exerting privilege.

I’d like to hear more about just what the process is. But on the face of it, it seems like the entity being investigated (i.e., The White House) gets to determine what evidence can be used against it. I mean, I’ve heard of defendants’ rights and all. But this seems to take that notion a bit far, doesn’t it? If the Justice Department investigators have acquiesced in this scheme that also gives me the impression that they’re falling, shall we say, rather short of the Ken Starr level of zealousness.

Finally, let’s say there really are compelling national security and/or executive privilege grounds for refusing to turn over some of these documents. Isn’t that the best argument yet that the president should do the right thing and get to the bottom of this right now?

They could get to the bottom of this by the end of the day. If they don’t even try, I think we know why.

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