A couple months back, I got a little irked that critics of my article ‘Practice to Deceive‘ kept trying to tar the argument I made as a ‘conspiracy theory’ even though the article alleged no such thing.
To say that people have been dishonest isn’t the same as saying they’ve engaged in a ‘conspiracy’. It just means they haven’t told the truth. Or, at least that they’ve been, shall we say, too parsimonious with it. But, of course, a charge of dishonesty has to be refuted on the merits while labeling an argument a ‘conspiracy theory’ allows you to dismiss it out of hand.
Now, back then, I could scarcely reveal my irkitude to you, the vaunted TPM reading public. But in truth the irkification was there — vouchsafed away in my heart and revealed only in hidden gritted teeth, but there nonetheless. And then one cloudy, wet, dreary day I was walking down the street in my neighborhood. And it suddenly occurred to me: most of the characters calling me a conspiracy theorist spent a big chunk of the last decade pushing the claim that Vince Foster had been whacked in a safehouse in Northern Virginia and then dumped off at Fort Marcy Park to make it look like a suicide. And then, well … suddenly the sun started shining a bit brighter and the blue sky sloughed off its clouds. And somehow all seemed well with the world. Or at least with my neighborhood — I don’t want to project.
Admittedly, not all of them thought Hillary herself had done the deed with Walther PPK and a silencer, and wearing one of those khaki tunics Blofeld wore in You Only Live Twice. But I think you get the idea.
All of which is, I suppose, to say that this public writerly scuffling over regime change and related matters can be a rather rough business.
There’s a new rush of articles claiming that the term “neoconservative” is actually no more than an anti-Jewish slur or codeword and that its use is at a minimum analytically meaningless, almost certainly ill-advised, and quite possibly a form of cloaked anti-Semitism. This of course ignores the fact that the term is itself a coinage of neoconservatives and has been in common usage by them and their opponents for almost three decades.
When the gentiles start charging Jews with uttering anti-Semitic slurs you know there’s something funny in the water.
In any case, the latest brouhaha is over Sam Tanenhaus’s upcoming article in Vanity Fair, Paul Wolfowitz’s statement about WMD contained therein, and now whether Wolfowitz actually said what Tanenhaus claims he said. Over the weekend Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol wrote a short piece in the Standard purporting to show that Tanenhaus had in fact distorted Wolfowitz’s words, taken them out of their proper context or simply twisted their meaning.
Now, the problem with verbal interviews is that, unlike the case in written English, people tend to speak in fragments and not always in a purely linear fashion. And that often makes quotations ambiguous and open to different interpretations.
Having said all that, I think that Kristol’s review of Tanenhaus’ material is at least not the final word.
Let’s begin with the paragraph from Tenanhaus’ piece that raised the whole ruckus in the first place …
When we spoke in May, as U.S. inspectors were failing to find weapons of mass destruction, Wolfowitz admitted that from the outset, contrary to so many claims from the White House, Iraq’s supposed cache of WMD had never been the most important casus belli. It was simply one of several reasons: “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Everyone meaning, presumably, Powell and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Almost unnoticed but huge,” he said, is another reason: removing Saddam will allow the U.S. to take its troops out of Saudi Arabia, where their presence has been one of al-Qaeda’s biggest grievances.
Kristol has two beefs with Tenanhaus here — one on the ‘bureaucratic reasons’ point, and another on the Saudi Arabia point. For now I’m going to focus on the second beef. Here’s Kristol …
As for Tanenhaus’s suggestion that Wolfowitz somehow fessed up that the war had a hidden, “unnoticed but huge” agenda–rationalizing a pre-planned troop withdrawal from Saudi Arabia–we refer you, again, to the actual interview. In an earlier section of the conversation, concerning the current, postwar situation in the Middle East, Wolfowitz explained that the United States needs to get post-Saddam Iraq “right,” and that we also need “to get some progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue,” which now looks more promising. Then Wolfowitz said this:
There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed–but it’s huge–is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. . . . I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things.
Tanenhaus has taken a straightforward and conventional observation about strategic arrangements in a post-Saddam Middle East and juiced it up into a vaguely sinister “admission” about America’s motives for going to war in the first place.
(Note: the transcript is one prepared by the Pentagon and online at the Pentagon’s website.)
Now, if I understand Kristol, he’s saying that Tanenhaus took a Wolfowitz observation about what’s happening in post-war Iraq and twisted it into a statement about one of the reasons we went into Iraq in the first place. In truth, Wolfowitz’s statement only talks about benefits after the fact, not explicitly at least about reasons for going into Iraq. You wish Tenanhaus had been a good reporter and followed up to clarify this point — i.e., whether this was just a fringe benefit or whether it was one of the reasons for invading Iraq in the first place.
Well, look how Tanenhaus did follow up — the part of the transcript which comes immediately after the portion Kristol quoted, but which Kristol didn’t include.
Tenanhaus: Was that one of the arguments that was raised early on by you and others that Iraq actually does connect, not to connect the dots too much, but the relationship between Saudi Arabia, our troops being there, and bin Laden’s rage about that, which he’s built on so many years, also connects the World Trade Center attacks, that there’s a logic of motive or something like that? Or does that read too much into —
Wolfowitz: No, I think it happens to be correct. The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but — hold on one second —
From this point, the conversation gets interrupted a few times by a phone call, and Wolfowitz goes into his point about bureaucratic reasons. But the first chance Tanenhaus gets to speak again he returns to the same point.
Tanenhaus: So this notion then that the strategic question was really a part of the equation, that you were looking at Saudi Arabia —
Wolfowitz: I was. It’s one of the reasons why I took a very different view of what the argument that removing Saddam Hussein would destabilize the Middle East. I said on the record, I don’t understand how people can really believe that removing this huge source of instability is going to be a cause of instability in the Middle East.
I know this referring back and forth to the transcript is a touch tedious. But looking at the interplay of the conversation it seems pretty clear to me at least that, contrary to Kristol’s argument, Wolfowitz made a somewhat ambiguous statement. Tenanhaus followed up in order to clarify what he meant. And Wolfowitz goes on to say exactly what Tanenhaus said he said: that the need to get US troops out of Saudi (and eliminate the goad to terrorism and instability they created) was an important reason for the invasion.
On this point at least, Kristol seems on pretty shaky ground saying that he distorted Wolfowitz’s meaning. I think Tenanhaus’ point about ‘bureaucratic reasons’ holds up pretty well too. But I’ll leave that for another post.
Now, as it happens, I think Wolfowitz was right about this — both right in the sense that this was one of his big reasons, but also right in the sense that this was one of the strongest reasons for taking military action against Saddam. In fact, this was one of the key reasons that originally persuaded me of the need to settle our dispute with Saddam. The premise of most mainstream foreign policy types was that we had Saddam ‘in a box’ and that we could contain him there indefinitely. But, as I said in my original article on Iraq, I became persuaded that we were in that box with Saddam and that being there was, perversely, hurting us a lot more than it was hurting him. As I wrote then, as early as “1996 and 1997, [the in-the-box argument] was no longer clearly true. Saddam’s regime was thriving under sanctions, even as his people suffered under them (a condition he could have alleviated, but didn’t). As their condition deteriorated, so too did the U.N. Security Council’s support for maintaining the U.S.-backed sanctions. We were in the box now just as much as Saddam was. And time was on his side, not ours.”
The measures we had to take to keep Saddam in his box were leading to blowback like al Qaida’s attacks on the United States.
My God, when they say down the memory hole, they ain’t kiddin! There now seems to be a secret competition — perhaps it was announced and I just didn’t hear it — for the Iraq-hawk who can come up with the most ingenious, Orwellian, up-is-down rewriting of the history of the year-long lead-up to the Iraq war. To this point, the strongest entries are those whispers out of the Pentagon, arguing that it was Colin Powell and the State Department who made them make such a big to-do about weapons of mass destruction.
I take my hat off to those folks. That was a pretty solid entry. But when it comes to disingenuous agitprop you just never want to count Bill Safire out. And the old master comes in with a rock-solid entry in Monday morning’s column.
Safire begins by asking what the greatest intelligence failure of the war was? Something to do with WMD? Not at all. “It was the nearly unanimous opinion of the intelligence community, backed by the U.S. and British military, that the 50,000 elite soldiers of Saddam’s well-trained, well-equipped Special Republican Guard would put up a fierce battle for Baghdad.”
This is true to a limited extent — though the guys in uniform — i.e., the ones who actually fight wars — would argue that their aim was to make sure they weren’t undergunned if the Republican Guard did fight to the death.
But the contest entry comes next …
Happily, our best assessment was mistaken. Saddam’s supposed diehards cut and ran. Though Baghdad’s power and water were cut off, civilians were spared and our losses were even fewer than in Gulf War I.
What if our planners had believed Kurdish leaders who predicted that Saddam’s super-loyalists would quickly collapse? We would have sent fewer combat troops and more engineers, civilian administrators and military police. But the C.I.A. and the Pentagon had no way of being certain that the information about the Republican Guard’s poor morale and weak discipline provided by Kurds and Iraqi opposition leaders was accurate.
In other words, the lack of preparation for post-war reconstruction and the shortage of nation-builders is the fault of the CIA and the Joint Staff! If Tommy Franks and Eric Shinseki and the rest of them hadn’t been such whiners, Doug Feith would have been able to flood the place with MPs, bridge builders, Arabic-speakers and a whole tribe of Jerry Bremer clones! Who knew!
I think Safire is going to run away with this one.
Colin made me do it!!!
In various conversations and chats over the last couple days, I’ve heard the new spin again and again. It goes something like this. The international embarrassment, or at least discomfort, we’re now facing over our inability to find any WMD in Iraq isn’t the fault of the Pentagon or the Office of the Vice President or any of the other Iraq-hawks. It’s the fault of Colin Powell and the State Department.
Because it was the State Department and Powell that made the focus WMD, weapons inspections, and UN resolutions. Now, so the argument goes, we’re stuck with the embarrassment of not finding any WMDs. And we wouldn’t be in this spot if the folks at State — the internationalists — hadn’t prioritized the WMD issue above all the others.
This is a bogus argument and wildly disingenuous to boot, not least because it ignores an obvious and transcendentally important point: without playing the WMD card the hawks never would have gotten within a thousand miles of Baghdad. And they know it.
As I argued in my article ‘Practice to Deceive‘, for the chief hawks, finding and eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was only one reason — and perhaps even a secondary reason — to go to war. The broader aim was to commence a process of reforming and shifting the geopolitical balance of the entire region by installing free-market, pro-western democracies and rooting out the various political pathologies and sources of anti-Western violence that threatened US interests in the region and even at home. (Again, the details are in the Washington Monthly article.)
I think that plan, at least in its very broad outline, had some real merits (see my original story on Iraq in the June 2002 Washington Monthly).
The problem is that there was never any way you were going to get the American people to go to war for a longterm plan to democratize and institutionalize a cultural revolution in the Middle East on the theory it might arguably further US interests in the region. It was only the imminent or near-term threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction — and the possibility that Saddam might hand them off to al-qaida-like terrorists — that built public support for the war.
That’s it. Nothing else.
And that’s why the administration pushed this argument again and again and again, often hammering on the quite improbable notion that the Iraqis might soon have a nuclear weapon. (Remember Condi Rice’s line: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”)
You could support this war for many reasons — grand geopolitics, the demonstration effect, weapons of mass destruction, democracy, human rights, helping get our troops out of Saudi Arabia, etc. But the real proponents of war knew that WMD and terrorism was the only way to sell it to the American people. And that’s just what they did. The fact that they also said democracy and human rights would be a good thing doesn’t change that fact.
So it wasn’t the UN that made them do it, or State, or Colin Powell. If there was anyone who pushed them into making WMD the central issue, it was the American people. That doesn’t necessarily mean they made the argument in bad faith or that the war might not still be justified on other lines. But to suggest that State forced the hawks to hype the WMD threat is just the same sort of up-is-down, too-clever-by-four-and-a-half funny-business that made a lot of us distrust these guys in the first place.
Following up on the last post … After the initial squall over the manhunt for the Texas Democrats, state Representative Lon Burnam — a member of the Law Enforcement Committee — filed an open records request for documents relevant to the Department of Public Safety’s manhunt. After hearing news reports that files were being destroyed even after the issuance of that request, he filed a motion for, and eventually received, a restraining order barring further document destruction. Burnam also subsequently filed a motion to depose four members of the DPS.
In response to Burnam’s request, the Texas Attorney General’s office — acting on behalf of the DPS — demanded that Burnam reveal the names of his sources (i.e., those at DPS who had squealed) before any members of the DPS would be deposed.
“It is not possible,” says the AG’s filing, “to prepare for the preliminary injunction hearing or to prepare for the defense of depositions until Plaintiff identifies the source of the information that documents were allegedly destroyed after the receipt of the open records request on May 19th, 2003.”
(A copy of the Texas AG’s motion has just been added to the TPM Document Collection.)
Yesterday a judge ordered everybody to show up to get deposed next Monday, the four members of the DPS and Burnam and his legislative director.
On Thursday afternoon, I spoke to Burnam. He told me that he has “multiple sources” at the DPS who told him about the alleged document destruction. He also says he will identify his sources at the deposition on Monday, though he is currently trying to arrange some sort of whistleblower protection for them. When I asked Burnam why he thought the AG’s office placed such importance on finding out the identity of his sources, he said he thought “they are trying to find out what I know and who I know it from and how they can get to them.”
More on the Texas Dems. This from a Wednesday evening report in The Quorum Report, a Texas political newsletter …
“I will be able to reveal more in a couple of days but for now I have to
protect my sources. What I can say is there has been a development that I
would describe as significant.”
Bailey said he would likely be able to reveal more Friday. At his press
availability, Bailey disputed comments made yesterday by Gov. PerryÂ¹s office
that their involvement in the DPS search was negligible.
“My source in the DPS paints a very different picture,” Bailey said. “I was
told the DPS felt like they were puppets. That was their exact words. They
felt they were being manipulated throughout.”
Add to this the following fact: Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Dallas Fort Worth) is the Texas rep who sued the Department of Public Safety to prevent them from destroying any more records connected to the Dem manhunt. He is now being forced to reveal his sources at DPS. Burnam says the Texas AG “is apparently trying to find out who a whistle-blower is rather than stopping the illegal shredding of documents.”
And, finally, TNR has a very good lead editorial about the Texas shenanigans. Credit, lots of it, where credit is due.
The choice graf …
Why won’t this once scandal-obsessed city take what happened in Texas seriously? Sure, it involved neither sex nor money. But it involved something more serious: the blurring of the line between the power of the state and the partisan interests of those who run it–a line that represents the fundamental separation between a democracy and a dictatorship. When FBI files showed up in Bill Clinton’s White House, Republicans, with the help of the press, screamed with outrage, even though no evidence that they were used for any partisan purpose was ever uncovered. Yet, in this case, when we know that police powers were harnessed for partisan gain, the issue elicits laughs.
The inner rot laid bare.
“More disturbing than the false alarm and subsequent cover-up is the ease with which one of the most powerful federal agencies was seduced into a hunt for a citizen’s airplane. More abuses are almost sure to follow if the perpetrators get away this time, if controls on Homeland Security are not implemented and if secrecy prevails.”
That’s a choice graf from a must-read editorial on the Texas/Homeland Security shenanigans in today’s Austin American-Statesman.
I think it is only for strict party reasons that [Blumenthal] fails to mention Roger Tamraz and James Riady and all Clinton’s other thick-envelope direct donors, and concentrates instead on saying (at excruciating length) that Whitewater produced no smoking gun. This may be true, though it is not true that the Clintons ever acted as if they had nothing to hide or nothing to fear.
People’s evidence #492 that Orwell really does matter. And why it would have been nice to have him around in the late 90s, or maybe even in editing this review.
The hard hearted Senate. From the Times …
A last-minute revision by House and Senate leaders in the tax bill that President Bush signed today will prevent millions of minimum-wage families from receiving the increased child credit that is in the measure, say Congressional officials and outside groups.
Because of the formula for calculating the credit, most families with incomes from $10,500 to $26,625 will not benefit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group, says those families include 11.9 million children, or one of every six children under 17.
The Senate provision that did pass was intended to help those families making $10,500 to $26,625 who do pay federal taxes and could have taken all or part of the $600 credit. The provision, which would have cost $3.5 billion, would have allowed those families to receive some or all of the extra $400 in the new law.
House Republicans, who acknowledged the gap on the child credit, blamed the Senate for insisting on its $350 billion cap, saying the low-income families could have been covered had the Senate been more flexible.
Add your wry quip here and stir …
Committee Chairman Kevin Bailey says “It may have been a technical violation of the law to destroy the documents. I don’t think there was an intent to cover up anything. So I don’t think there’s a need to look at it any further.” He’s leaving the investigation to Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s grand jury. (Alas, discretion does seem a Democratic virtue. But then, you knew that.) Meanwhile, he says he can’t do much more to investigate why Texas’ state Homeland Security Czar was in the command center leading the search for the Dems or why he gave the DPS the contact information for Homeland Security …
Mr. Bailey said he has no choice but to accept statements from the Texas attorney general’s office that Mr. Kimbrough was present in his capacity as a state lawyer, advising DPS and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on legal issues related to the hunt.
“And if that’s the case, I don’t see a problem. On the other hand, obviously, if they used the federal agency that’s designed to get terrorists, that might be a problem,” Mr. Bailey said. “I’m not sure it’s anything that I can really, or we can really, get information on.”
That’s from Thursday’s article in the Dallas Morning News, which also says: “Mr. Bailey said the committee can go no further concerning whether federal homeland security assets were abused.”
Finally, the folks at Homeland Security say they’re coming to the end of their investigation. But they still may not be releasing the tapes.
Let’s quickly touch on this matter of Maureen Dowd. I’m far from one of Dowd’s fans. In the last post I linked to an April 1999 column I wrote on her Pulitzer Prize — a piece that was, to say the least, not positive.
(For that matter, I’m no fan of Howell Raines, who did as much as anyone to advance the Clinton pseudo-scandals while he was editor of the Times Op-Ed page. Note to ‘wingers: think twice before you try to ditch him, he’s done a lot for you guys!)
Here’s the issue.
In a May 14th column (“Osama’s Offspring”) Dowd quoted the president thus …
‘Al Qaeda is on the run,’ President Bush said last week. ‘That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated … they’re not a problem anymore.’
And here’s the complete quote.
Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top Al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they’re not a problem anymore.”
That’s a very misleading ellipsis. Luckily, journalism has an established remedy for such a lapse: a prominent correction — probably at the footer of a future column. That corrects the misleading information and gives the equivalent of a pricey, over-90-mph speeding ticket to the columnist. Get enough of ’em and you lose your license.
Yet, predictably, this is being turned into case #3 in the Times scandal. Zev Chafets today in the New York Daily News wrote …
If Dowd intentionally misrepresented the President’s words, she is guilty of a journalistic offense much worse than Bragg’s intern problem, or even Blair’s fantasies.
It’s hard to imagine a more ridiculous statement. All sorts of arguable statements can be cobbled together by attaching a slippery ‘if this, then that’ phrase at the front of a wild-minded charge like this. But it’s still ridiculous. One misleading ellipsis is more egregious than chronic fabrication and plagiarism?
If this is the standard we’re going to apply for felony offenses in journalism — in OpEd’s no less — then the profession will rapidly be depleted to no more than a saving remnant. And many of those now going after the Times most ferociously would be among the first before the firing squad. None of them minded far more egregious ridiculousness when Bill Clinton was in Dowd’s crosshairs. (For what it’s worth, the earlier claim that the Times had misrepresented Henry Kissinger’s position on Iraq was utterly bogus.)
This gets to a bigger problem. As I said above, I have little positive feeling for Raines, only a touch more for Dowd. The Blair scandal has exposed some very serious management problems at the Times. And the more recent Bragg scandal-ette shows what I’d call an institutional arrogance that is at a minimum troubling. For that matter, how many other major stories did the Times utterly blow during the 1990s? Whitewater? An utter embarrassment. The Wen-ho Lee case? At least as bad. And there are many others.
And yet the agenda here is also unmistakable (not everyone criticizing the Times, certainly, but the usual suspects). As much as the Times is an institution with some serious problems, it is also one of those enduring institutions which stands apart from the government, clear partisan affiliation, the crudest dictates of money, and so forth — in other words, precisely what an organ of a free press, a part of the scaffolding of civil society, is supposed to do. A certain sort of conservative (an increasing number, but still only a part) have always seen it — rightly — as to their advantage to tear such institutions down.
That would leave the ground to a jumbling mix of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and feckless jabbering at the Nation and perhaps a reemergence of Phil Donohue — a world entirely to their liking. The difference between imperfectly striving for balance in reporting the news and making no attempt to achieve it whatsoever would be obliterated. Indeed, it would become just a quaint artifact.
That doesn’t all rest on the NYT of course. But it’s an important building block in the edifice.
“How do you like the book [The Clinton Wars]?”
“It’s really quite good.”
“The Post didn’t much like it.”
“Of course they didn’t like it. Most of it’s a scathing indictment of them.”
That’s a brief conversation I just had with a guy sitting next to me at my usual perch at the local Starbucks. I was busy making my way — slowly, but surely — through Sid Blumenthal’s The Clinton Wars. I’m a bit of a latecomer to the book, partly because I’m a slow reader. And I still haven’t finished it. I’ll review it more formally on the site when I finish. So far the parts I’ve liked the best are the profiles and character studies of various key political players from the 1990s, which I find very much on the mark.
(Obligatory disclaimer: Blumenthal is a friend.)
For several days, I’ve wanted to discuss the various reactions to Blumenthal’s book. One stood out to me: Mike Isikoff’s in Slate. I’m not sure how much point there is addressing its particulars. A few days after Isikoff’s piece appeared, Tim Noah thoroughly dismantled one of his charges about Sid’s ‘deceptions’ — in this case, statements outside the courthouse after his grand jury testimony. Beside that there’s another passage that I can’t see as anything else but willfully misleading. Isikoff notes a passage in Blumenthal’s book in which Jeff Toobin was looking for information on Henry Hyde …
As it happened, Blumenthal didn’t have much. But he confided that his mother had once worked in a secretarial pool in Chicago in the 1940s, and Hyde, then a Chicago area lawyer, had had a “reputation”âapparently, all the women had “avoided his office.” The details of this “reputation” didn’t become known until a few weeks later when another friend of Blumenthal’s, at Salon, broke the news that 31 years earlier the Illinois congressman had had an extramarital affair with a furniture salesman’s wife.
This unintentionally revealing anecdote is buried deep inside Blumenthal’s 822-page bloated opus, The Clinton Wars. Curiously enough, it seems to have been included because the author somehow thought it would exonerate him: Soon after the Salon story was published, Republicans in Congress accused Blumenthal of leaking it from the White House. No such thing was true, Blumenthal protests; the charge is just one more example of the recklessness of Bill Clinton’s enemies and their determination to “demonize” him.
The implication here is that Blumenthal is trying to clear himself of the charges and does a pretty weak job of it. In fact, Isikoff’s passage is intentionally misleading.
As most readers will know, Salon, rightly or wrongly, eventually published the story of Hyde’s past infidelities. But as pretty much everyone who was a reporter in Washington at the time knows, the materials upon which Salon based its story had been shopped around widely by a source who had a personal interest in getting them into print. Most news outlets had passed on the story. At least one other journalist — who I spoke to a few days ago — was working on reporting the story out when Salon went to print (to pixel?).
The relevant point is that the real ‘source’ of the story was contacting news organizations right and left. If Blumenthal had been leaking the story to news organizations the main thing he’d be guilty of is wasting his time since they all already had it. In any case, I think Isikoff knows all of this. So he is passing on an old accusation and hinting that it might be true, when in fact he must know that it is false.
I could go on about various other points like this in Isikoff’s piece and other similar ones. But Joe Conason knows these particulars better than I do. And he’s been doing yeoman’s service shooting most of these canards down on his quasi-blog over at Salon. (Of course, much of this is contained in the book Conason wrote with Gene Lyons, The Hunting of the President — the best book on the scandals I’ve read.) Point being, others know these details a lot better than I do. So in commenting on these various reactions to Blumenthal’s book, I’ll focus less on the libretto and more on the score — which ranges from hostile second-guessing to a sort of compulsive neener-neenerism.
Blumenthal’s book is a harsh and incisive critique of Washington’s insider culture and its prestige press corps which is — as a group, if not individually — corrupt, rudderless and often insipid. (I’d say nasty, brutish and short, but many of them tower over me.) The coverage of the Clinton presidency is the ultimate example, with its whole swirl of babyboomer self-loathing, historical ignorance and nonsense, the willingness to be led around by black-minded reactionaries, politics as Society page, the whole lot of it. (Much of what I’m talking about here I discussed more clearly and crisply in a column on Maureen Dowd’s Pulitzer Prize in the now-defunct online magazine Feed in April 1999.) This is difficult for me to say — not least because I live and work and know many of these people, and consider many to be friends — and even more because I’m not nearly established as most and must rely on these folks for my livelihood. But there’s no getting around the truth of it. Blumenthal is disliked by many in DC because he is a critic — and to my mind, a devastating one — of their vapidity, ignorance and willingness to be used.
Is Blumenthal a Clinton partisan? Of course, he is. But it was never clear to me why this was more problematic than being a Ken Starr partisan, or a reflexive critic of the president — both of which could be said for most of the journalists who covered the Clinton scandal beat through the 1990s — and who now pillory Blumenthal for his lack of objectivity and balance. Blessed exceptions like the late and irreplaceable Lars-Erik Nelson of the New York Daily News are the exceptions that prove the rule.
The essential question about the 1990s is whether the scandals were principally a matter of Clintonian wrongdoing or his critics’ concerted opposition and resistance to his presidency using every, and often the lowest possible, means available. Mix in of course a lot of what Richard Hofstadter called ‘the paranoid style.’ Blumenthal picked choice #2. And, to my mind, he’s been vindicated on that choice again and again.
Setting aside the truly egregious examples like Sue Schmidt of the Washington Post, most journalists who covered this case either had no sense of the larger context of what was happening, or didn’t care. Often it was both, but more often the former. They were following a cookie-cutter script in which the prosecutors are the good guys and they eventually unearth a president’s vile misdeeds and bring him down in a mawkish morality play. To them, the whole melange of alleged scandals had no larger political context. It was just the Clintons being accused of this or that — the only larger meaning being how the First Couple supposedly represented various sorts of psychological and sociological maladies. The fact that few if any of the ‘charges’ ever held up under scrutiny didn’t matter all that much since the whole drama spawned by the antic accusations and defenses could be written off, as it were, as a charge against the psychological and sociological maladies ledger.
The truth is that what happened in the 1990s was very much of a piece with the capital’s and elite opinion’s reaction to presidents like FDR and Andrew Jackson. The famous line of contempt for Roosevelt among those of his class was that “that man!” (For a long time I wanted to write a book on the phenomenon of Clinton-hating — but the timing never seemed right. Blumenthal’s covered a lot of this ground.) The ‘scandal’ stories were the essence of the politics of the decade — peddled by scribes who most often didn’t understand the drama in which they were but bit players. Blumenthal, sharp elbows and all, has produced what is by far the best analysis to date of this larger political tableau.
I’ve got a lot more to say about this and will be doing so soon.
Committee Chairman Kevin Bailey (D-Houston) and his staff have now reviewed the tapes of the command center which the Texas Department of Public Safety set up next door to House Speaker Tom Craddick’s office to coordinate the manhunt for the runaway Dems. They were particularly keen to find out whether any Tom DeLay staffers went in to the command center during the time state troopers were requesting help from the Department of Homeland Security.
It turns out that long-time DeLay aide Jim Ellis doesn’t show up on the tape. But someone else does: Texas’ Homeland Security Czar, Assistant Attorney General Jay Kimbrough. “We don’t know how much of a role he played,” Bailey told the Houston Chronicle, “but it does appear he was very heavily involved in the process.” Bailey says Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) also popped in from time to time.
Three months ago, Kimbrough told the Dallas Morning News that he was in “in virtually constant communication” with the federal Department of Homeland Security. And it was Kimbrough who provided state trooper Will Crais with the phone number of the Air & Marine Interdiction Coordination Center, the subdivision of the Department of Homeland Security, which later helped track down the Texas Dems.
Angela Hale, spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, tells the Houston Chronicle that Kimbrough was in the command center in his capacity as Assistant Attorney General not that of Homeland Security chief. And in a sign that the higher-ups may leave Crais holding the bag, Hale said that it was Crais who asked for the number, which Kimbrough then provided.
“It wasn’t his idea,” said Hale in defense of Kimbrough, “and he didn’t make the call.”
Last Friday, Kevin Bailey (D-Houston), chairman of the Texas House Investigations Committee, received copies of surveillance videos of the “command center” next door to House Speaker Tom Craddick’s office, where the Texas Department of Public Safety ran the manhunt for the runaway Dems.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, Bailey’s committee and Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle have zeroed in on six hours between noon and 6:00 PM on May 12th as the most likely time that state trooper Will Crais placed his call to the Department of Homeland Security, roping them into the manhunt.
Bailey’s committee wanted to see if there was any evidence that members of Tom DeLay’s staff had entered the ‘command center’ during that period.
Over the weekend, Bailey and his staff reviewed the tapes and found that everything was in order except for a gap from 12:47 PM to 6 PM on May 12th.
Needless to say, this caught Bailey and company’s attention. Bailey told the Houston Chronicle, “I don’t know if people are trying to run out the clock so we’re not in town any more or if it’s just incompetence. Either one is bothersome.”
The DPS said the problem was due to a mechanical error. And late Monday, the DPS provided new copies that apparently contain the missing hours from the afternoon of May 12th. They’re now being reviewed.
Mention of DeLay’s staff would seem to be a reference to Jim Ellis, long-time DeLay aide and the head of DeLay’s leadership PAC Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC). Ellis was the one running the redistricting operation for DeLay down in Texas.
Yesterday Ellis confirmed to the Express-News that he was in Austin on the 12th and that he “could very likely have been” close to the command center “on my way to (Craddick’s) office.” But he insisted that, “At no time did I ever talk to anybody from DPS. I was there for a strictly political purpose, redistricting, and I did not talk to anybody from law enforcement at any time.”
Note the specificity of the words — he says only that he himself did not talk “to anybody from law enforcement.” Remember, DeLay also passed on information through Speaker Craddick.
Meanwhile, Bailey also told the Express-News “a Travis County grand jury investigating the destruction of records has apparently extended to some House members; Tom Ellis [sic], an aide to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay; and perhaps DeLay himself.”
Noted for future reference and discussion …
The press, naturally, has no program of its own. But in its slow slide toward undiscriminating prurience, it has contributed to the trend of illiberalism.
That’s from Sid Blumenthal, “Predators,” The New Republic, August 19-26, 1991, quoted in The Clinton Wars, p. 38. Also, be sure to see pages 108-114 on the Washington press corps and particularly Sally Quinn, the epitome of the same.
Finally, if you didn’t see it live, don’t miss the transcript of Blumenthal’s exchanges with Tucker Carlson today on Crossfire.
Much more on this soon.
In recent days there has been a spate of news stories and editorials on whether the US intelligence community might have greatly overstated Iraq’s WMD capacity and, if this is so, why this might have happened.
First, let’s stipulate that if we eventually find that Iraq had few if any continuing WMD programs, that would be a major intelligence failure.
Yet, we’re far from that point. What we can see — and this is the point of this new second-guessing — is that the maximalist estimates — those of vast chemical and biological programs and a reconstituted nuclear program — almost certainly cannot have been true. If these estimates had been accurate, we likely would have found more evidence of such efforts. And — even more likely — we would have found someone, somewhere in the program to squeal.
What most of these articles and editorials share is a willful blindness or agnosticism toward the reality that must be clear to almost anyone who has followed this story over the last year. If there was a failure it was not an intelligence failure, but a political one — one among administration political appointees and those at the very highest level of the intelligence apparatus.
The story, again and again over the last eighteen months, has been of the intelligence bureaucracy generating estimates of Iraq’s capacities that are pretty much in line with what we’re now finding. Again and again, though, the political leaders sent them back to come up with better answers. The narrow facts of what I’m saying aren’t even in dispute, only the interpretation, and then only at the margins.
Over the last year, the word from folks at the Pentagon or from hawks close to the Office of the Vice President has been that the career people at CIA and the other intelligence agencies were either too cautious in their estimates or were intentionally low-balling their figures in order to undermine the arguments for a war they did not themselves support. Whether that was true or not, the salient point is that the politicals would not believe what the career intelligence types were telling them. The examples are almost too numerous to count — on chemicals, biological, nuclear programs, al Qaida links, everything.
(This doesn’t even get into the related issue of the heavy culling of uncooperative career civil servants at the Pentagon — many of whom were shut out and eventually left for assignments on the Hill, National Defense University and other similar locales because their advice, expertise and questions were deemed unhelpful to the cause.)
Our intelligence agencies have all sorts of problems. But they got this one pretty close to the mark. Anyone who acts as though we’ve got to examine why our intelligence agencies missed the boat on this one is either being willfully misleading or simply hasn’t been paying attention.
Here’s another thread of the Tom DeLay/Texas Redistricting story. It hasn’t yet gotten much attention. But it played an important role in the lead-up to the confrontation two weeks ago. It has to do with alleged Voting Rights Act violations tied to the DeLay-backed Texas redistricting bill.
Richard Raymond is a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives from Laredo. During the time the DeLay-backed redistricting bill was moving through the House, it was in the hands of State Representative Joe Crabb (R-Atascocita), chairman of the Republican-controlled redistricting committee. Raymond charged that in the process of rushing it through the legislative process, Crabb had violated the Voting Rights Act — the particulars are complicated but they have to do with legal requirements for bilingual notice and comment of changes to legislative districts, and so forth. (Raymond’s district is heavily Hispanic.) Raymond made a formal complaint to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, dated May 7th.
This complaint was at least a complication for moving the redistricting bill through the House, as Texas Republicans were then trying to do.
Now here’s where the story gets murky.
Earlier this month DeLay went to Texas to personally lobby for the new redistricting bill. According to Raymond, Republican colleagues of his from the House came to him and told him the following: DeLay had told them and other anxious House Republicans not to worry about Raymond’s Voting Rights Act complaint because he had gotten the complaint taken care of at DOJ and it would be quickly dismissed, in time to pass through the redistricting bill. In the words of Raymond’s lawyer, Raymond said he had “received reliable information that the normal processes of the Department of Justice for such complaints have been circumvented under pressure from Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas.” (To the best of TPM’s knowledge, there is no independent evidence of Raymond’s charges.)
After this, Raymond withdrew his complaint to the Justice Department, arguing that his constituents could not recieve a fair hearing there, and filed a lawsuit — making the same claims as the original complaint — in federal court in Texas.
Last week I asked DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy if there were any truth to Raymond’s charges about inappropriate contact between DeLay’s office and Justice. He said there was not. Roy said DeLay’s office had contacted Justice about Raymond, but only after Raymond publicly charged DeLay with trying to get his complaint dropped. (Still with me? Good.) According to Roy, this contact was strictly for the purpose of ascertaining whether Raymond had filed a formal complaint against DeLay and, if so, why DeLay’s office hadn’t been notified.
These claims and counter-claims have triggered an acrimonious correspondence between Raymond’s attorney and the Justice Department. Copies of three key letters — including one from Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Ralph F. Boyd, Jr. — have just been added to the TPM Document Collection.
“This smells, and I’m going to ask Andy Card of the White House to get into this this week, to examine any contacts that any federal officials had with federal departments…”
That’s from Joe Lieberman this morning on Fox News Sunday. It’s still a tad understated. But at least Lieberman is pushing this issue, which is more than you can say for just about any other politician beside the Democrats in the Texas congressional delegation.
We’ll see if Lieberman follows through.
Let’s get back to why so few in the press or among pols on the Hill are willing to take DeLay on.
With the pols, I think the answer is fairly straightforward. DeLay’s a bully. He threatens and brow-beats people and doesn’t give up. Democrats are sadly cowed by him. For people in his own party, DeLay is also a very important conduit of money. So he’s not someone you want to cross. (One seldom-discussed part of the state redistricting story is how dependent Republicans in the Texas state House were on DeLay’s financial largesse, and how important this was in bringing the crisis to a head.)
Journalists have given DeLay a wide berth for a distinct but related reason. For most of them, the story reeks of what people in the business call dog-bites-man. In other words, it’s just not surprising enough to be news. DeLay is widely-known — even relishes his reputation — for hardball, envelope-pushing tactics. The exploits of his money and access machine are both legendary and notorious. So, in a sense, where’s the story?
This and the Lott debacle are different in many ways. But in this respect they are similar. At least in the first few days, no one gave the Lott situation much attention because pretty much everyone knew that Lott was fairly unreconstructed on racial issues. (After all, only three years before, his close ties to a white-supremacist group had been widely reported in the Washington Post and other papers.) So it really wasn’t such a surprise that he thought this way.
DeLay is reaping a similar advantage because of what people in town already know about him. If it were Tom Daschle, and not Tom DeLay, I guarantee the reaction would be quite different. But it’s not simply a partisan or bias issue. It wouldn’t be the same with Bill Frist or Denny Hastert either. Some of this — no doubt — is due to the lack of a Republican mau-mau to stir up interest and push the press to pursue it. But a lot of it is the prism through which journalists themselves are seeing it.
The key here is that DeLay is benefitting greatly from his long-established reputation as someone who hugs the letter of the law while breaking its spirit, it not more, again and again.
How else do you explain the following situation: the House Majority Leader was directly and intimately involved in activities that are now the subject of investigations by two cabinet departments and grand jury proceedings in Texas. Yet Washington is still barely paying the matter any attention. How do you explain that?
On Trent Lott, December 8th of last year …
MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk about the removal of the Bush economic team. But one last point on race. David Broder, Trent Lott, the majority leader of the Senate, was at a birthday party for Strom Thurmond the other day and had this to say: “I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over [all] these years, either.”
John Lewis, a congressman, former civil rights leader, said that Strom Thurmond ran a segregationist campaign in 1948 and that Trent Lott is just dead wrong. Jesse Jackson called NBC News this morning and said Trent Lott is a Confederate and he should resign as majority leader. How big of a problem is this for Trent Lott?
MR. BRODER: It’s not the first time that he has had to explain his association with or references to that kind of race-focused rhetoric in the South. He was involved a few years ago speaking to a group that was pretty overtly racist in the South. Race remains, much as we would like it to be otherwise, a very, very important factor in our national life. And it is a decisive factor in Southern politics. Any Southern politician that you talk to can tell you with precision exactly what percentage of the white vote he or she needs to get, because all of them assume that 90 percent or more of the black vote is going to the Democrats. As long as that racial divide continues, any kind of comment like this on Senator Lott’s part is going to be–have all kinds of bad resonance.
MR. RUSSERT: Bob Novak?
MR. NOVAK: This was a birthday party, 100th birthday party, for Strom Thurmond. Trent Lott got out there and he winged it. That’s one of the dangers of not having a text. He thought it was a social occasion. He’s thinking what comes to his mind. He’s saying–if you listen to the whole speech, he’s making extravagant statements about Strom Thurmond, as he should on his 100th birthday. And he goes over the line. Now, the idea that Trent Lott thinks we should have a segregated America, that we should have had Strom Thurmond and Fielding Wright–Remember Fielding Wright, Tim?–his vice presidential candidate, as the people running America in 1949…
MR. SAFIRE: Well, nobody else remembers that.
MR. NOVAK: …is–it’s nonsense. And I think that the idea that Jesse Jackson wants him to resign is ludicrous. I think it was a mistake. I don’t think he was at all serious, and I don’t even think we should dwell on it. The idea that race is important, I think, is the biggest problem for the Democrats as it is for the Republicans. And in South Carolina, where they had a disaster on November 5th, they were relying on the black vote and there are just not enough blacks to do it.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe Klein?
MR. KLEIN: Well, I don’t know. Maybe we should dwell on it a little bit, especially in an atmosphere where any Democrat is immediately saddled–where Max Cleland was saddled with Osama bin Laden in TV ads in Georgia. I think that if a Democrat had made an analogous statement, like if Henry Wallace had been elected in 1948, we would have had a much easier road with the Soviet Union because we would have just given them everything and there wouldn’t have been a Cold War. You would have been jumping up and down. And I think that this kind of statement in this country at this time is outrageous, and it should be called that.
MR. NOVAK: I think the problem, Joe, is that he didn’t come out with a statement saying, “Boy, oh, boy, I thought this over and we should have had a Thurmond administration.” He’s at a damn birthday party. I mean, this is the kind of thing that makes people infuriated with the media, is they pick up something that’s said at a birthday party and turn it into a case of whether he should be impeached.
MR. KLEIN: Yeah, it’s the media’s fault.
MR. NOVAK: Yeah, right. I think it is that we’re talking about it.
MR. BRODER: Why does the thought cross his mind that he…
MR. NOVAK: David, he’s kidding around. He is–I don’t know if you watched that speech. They were saying that this was the greatest living American, which Strom Thurmond certainly is not. It’s his birthday. He’s saying all these things. Boy, if he had been elected, we’d have been better off. Why don’t we forget it?
MR. SAFIRE: The thing that comes to mind with me is what we’ve all said here, that the black vote is monolithic, that it’s running 90 and 92 percent Democratic. I think that’s bad for black Americans. I think the same thing with Jewish Americans, that vote monolithically Democratic. The whole notion of losing your influence by being taken for granted is a great mistake by any ethnic or racial community.
And on Tom DeLay this morning …
MR. RUSSERT: It’s a very interesting time, generally, in my experience in Washington, intelligence, foreign policy truly became a bipartisan adventure mostly unless something went wrong and then there would be a lot of finger-pointing. More and more it seems to be breaking down along party lines. The most recent example was this Washington Post editorial Friday about something that happened in Texas. State legislators fled the state to avoid a vote on redistricting, went to Oklahoma. Congressman DeLay’s office has now acknowledged they called the Department of Justice and the FAA. The Washington Post wrote this editorial: “…somehow the search for the missing [Texas] Democrats came to involve the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and state records concerning the search were ordered destroyed… The public deserves convincing evidence that the document destruction was routine, not an effort to cover something up. …The public is entitled to know how a Cabinet department formed to protect America from terrorists ended up looking for Democrats who didn’t want to show up for work.”
Senator Biden, what’s going on?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, on the overall question of foreign policy, 100 percent of the Democrats supported the Republicans on Afghanistan, 80 percent of the Democrats supported it on Iraq. So I think that’s an exaggeration to say there’s a split. You look around here, these two guys are more together and we’re more together, and we’re Democrat-Republican, split. But on this issue of whether or not you’ll use domestic tools for–that are in the realm of foreign policy-related for domestic purposes, I don’t know enough to comment on that. I mean I just don’t know what happened there. I’m just not qualified to comment.
MR. RUSSERT: Anyone?
SEN. HAGEL: I think they all went to Kansas. If they really wanted to get lost, that’s where they’d go.
MR. RUSSERT: Whoa.
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, I shouldn’t say this, but they were in Dodge City, Kansas, and we hosted them. We had a barbecue, and it was–because our barbecue is a lot better than Texas barbecue and Oklahoma barbecue, and you can see just exactly what light I think this should be put in.
MR. RUSSERT: There goes the vegetarian vote, Senator Roberts. Senator Roberts, Senator Rockefeller, Hagel, Biden. Roberts, Rockefeller, Hagel, Biden. That’s a new Washington law firm, I think.
SEN. ROBERTS: That’s exactly right.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, two former CIA directors, Admiral Stansfield Turner and William Colby speak out almost 20 years ago about Middle East terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.
Hard hitting stuff.
Generally speaking, when a political scandal has serious legs, every day brings more damning details, with the momentum and seriousness of the new revelations increasing day by day. You also find out that seemingly voluntary disclosures from subjects of scrutiny were prompted by the knowledge that the information was about to come out through other, often more awkward, means.
That’s precisely what’s happening in the Tom DeLay/DPS/DHS story.
I got word earlier today that Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta had started an internal review to see if anything untoward had happened when Tom DeLay contacted the FAA and received information about the whereabouts of former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney. (Note to Source — you know who you are — you win big points from me on this one, buddy. I’ll never doubt you again!) I was traveling this afternoon and didn’t have time to follow up. But tomorrow’s papers confirm that this has indeed happened. According to a Transportation Department spokesperson, Mineta found out about DeLay’s contacts with the FAA on Wednesday, a day before DeLay ‘volunteered’ the information.
There are a number of articles giving the basic run-down of these details. But the best I’ve seen is that in the Houston Chronicle.
You begin to understand why Mineta might be concerned when you look down into the story and see how a significant part of the story DeLay told on Thursday now seems to be, as Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler used to say, ‘inoperative.’
When DeLay spoke to reporters on Thursday he said that the information he’d gotten from the FAA about one of the Texas Democrats’ private airplanes was information that was available to any member of the public. This revelation rightly raised eyebrows since this was the information DeLay relayed to his political allies in Texas. And it was also the information used to rope in the Department of Homeland Security. In itself though it didn’t appear to be a problem since this was supposedly information the FAA makes available to everyone.
Well, it turns out that’s not true.
Here’s the key run-down in the Houston Chronicle story …
DeLay told reporters Thursday that one of his staff members contacted the FAA for “publicly available flight information that any member of Congress gets from FAA, or you can get it off the Internet.”
He said he relayed to Craddick the information that the plane was in the air heading from Ardmore to Georgetown, but doesn’t know whether that information led to the discovery of the Democrats in Oklahoma.
DeLay’s office clarified Friday that the majority leader did not mean to imply that the FAA flight data was publicly available, but rather that the public could gain access to the information via commercial Web sites.
Bill Shumann, FAA spokesman, said the public does not have access to flight tracking data through his agency. But the information, generated by air traffic control centers throughout the country, is bundled and used by commercial companies, some of which make the data available online.
This, frankly, is a pretty big deal since it is really not that different from what the state trooper in Texas did with Homeland Security. Though some of this information is, according to the FAA spokesman, available through commercial services, DeLay clearly used his status as House Majority Leader to get the information directly from the FAA and presumably to do so more expeditiously than members of the public would be able to do. That’s called abusing your office.
Why is the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives using the powers of his office to help his political allies in Texas arrest members of the state legislature so they can be forced to make a quorum call and allow the passage of the DeLay-authored redistricting plan?
(Earth to David Broder, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert and the rest of DC’s wizards of high dudgeon: when will you start talking about this?)
There’s also another significance to DeLay’s use of his office to obtain information from FAA. His willingness to bend the rules in that instance makes it a lot easier to imagine he played some role in getting the Texas state troopers to call in Homeland Security.
That all focuses a lot more scrutiny on whatever contact took place between DeLay and Craddick on Monday, May 12th, the day all of this went down.
Here again is a clip from the Chronicle …
In disclosing the Transportation Department’s inquiry, spokesman Alcivar would not say exactly which office of the FAA provided the information for DeLay. Nor would he say whether DeLay used normal channels available to congressional offices for obtaining information not otherwise available to the public.
The details are significant because they could answer questions about how Craddick was able to discover that most of the so-called “Killer Ds” were in Ardmore — out of reach of Texas law enforcement officers who had been deployed to bring the legislators back to work.
Craddick spokesman Bob Richter said Friday that Craddick and DeLay spoke about the matter May 12, but that Craddick does not remember who initiated the call.
“He doesn’t remember any details at all about that day,” Richter said. Acting on a vote of House members present May 12, Craddick ordered the missing representatives arrested and returned to the Capitol, as allowed under House rules.
The fact that Craddick “doesn’t remember any details at all about” the day which was probably the most consequential of his career in public life doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence.
Here, though, are the questions I think we need to have answered …
I’ve looked and I don’t think the press reports note the precise time of DeLay’s contacts with FAA, DeLay’s calls to Craddick, or the call Lieutenant Will Crais (who, remember, was working out of a command center in the conference room adjoining Craddick’s office) placed to the Department of Homeland Security bringing them into the manhunt.
I think if we knew that timeline we’d be a big step closer to knowing whether DeLay’s fingerprints are on the call to Homeland Security.
More tomorrow on why the press and the Dems are frightened of taking on Tom DeLay, why the press’s relative inattention to this story is due to a blindness similar to that which made them slow to catch on to the Trent Lott story. Also, more on Sid Blumenthal’s new book and the sound and fury directed against it.
Yesterday, in testimony before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, Tom Ridge again declined to release the full transcripts of the taped conversations between his agency (DHS) and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) because the tapes were the subject of “potentially a criminal investigation.”
Now, as I noted in yesterday’s post, there are lots of reasons already detailed in published reports that tell you that folks at the DPS and likely some Texas state pols giving them direction are in some trouble (filing false reports, document destruction, etc.).
The big question has been whether the trail of the particular skullduggery over the tracking of planes (the subject of a “potentially” criminal inquiry) leads back to a certain office in Washington, DC. To date, Majority Leader Tom DeLay has insisted that he did no more than provide “constituent service” for State House Speaker Tom Craddick in passing on to the Justice Department his requests for federal agents to arrest the runaway Dems.
Now it turns out that the information the DPS used to contact the Department of Homeland Security came directly from DeLay’s office. Let’s go to the story in Friday’s Houston Chronicle …
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay admitted Thursday he provided Texas Speaker Tom Craddick with the same information that state police used to enlist a homeland security agency in the search for runaway Democratic legislators.
DeLay said his staff used public information at the Federal Aviation Administration to track former Texas Speaker Pete Laney’s airplane.
Laney was among 55 Democrats who broke a House quorum on May 12 to kill a congressional redistricting bill sought by DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Craddick and DeLay wanted the errant legislators arrested and returned to the House to force a vote on the bill.
“I was told at the time that that plane was in the air coming from Ardmore, Oklahoma, back to Georgetown, Texas,” DeLay said of the FAA’s information, which he said was also available on the agency’s Web site. “I relayed that information to Tom Craddick.”
Texas Department of Public Safety officers working in Craddick’s office had the same information when it contacted a federal air interdiction agency to seek its help in finding Laney’s airplane. The federal agency has since said it was misled into believing Laney’s airplane was missing and possibly had crashed.
Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge, meanwhile, said Thursday his agency is investigating “potentially criminal” misuse of the federal air interdiction service by the DPS.
DeLay said he played no part in the DPS’ decision to contact the federal air interdiction service. And Craddick denies knowing anything about how the DPS came to call the agency.
“I don’t know who contacted who,” Craddick said.
The chain of events and contacts connecting the Majority Leader to a criminal investigation is now drawing awfully tight. (Keep in mind: the entire redistricting map power grab was orchestrated from Washington by DeLay and it’s increasingly apparent that much of the manhunt was too.) It’ll be interesting to see whether this town’s chief buzzmasters and propriety hounds start to take notice.
Here, as promised, is my piece in The Forward on the conference in Washington put on last Saturday by the Social Democrats, USA. These are the folks who might say, paraphrasing the famous line of the immortal Irving Howe, “Blair is the name of our dream.” (That’s a bit of an inside joke, which may require some explaining unless you’re over sixty, have the last name Walzer, or just read a lot of really old back issues of Dissent. But I can certainly relate to the sentiment.) As I said yesterday: “These are, simply as I can put it, the neo-cons who never quite became neo-cons.”
The central point of the event was the creation of a political movement that combined a progressive agenda at home with a tough, democratizing internationalism overseas. Or as their statement put it at one point …
Support for the labor movement at home and for energetic American assistance to democracy abroad are today two points of practical focus for Social Democrats, USA. If this combination somehow seems unnatural, we would argue that it is the lens of our political culture that is clouded: the two actually fit naturally together.
I’m not sure what to say about the piece or the conference other than what is contained in the article. But I did thoroughly enjoy it — or, perhaps better to say, it provoked my thinking in ways that have continued on since it ended.
One thing that struck me was the utter certainty of some of the panelists that to have disagreed with the Iraq war was something on the order of having blinked at Munich, taken a post in the Vichy government, or generally acted as an amoral wimp at a hundred other points over the last hundred years.
I’m thinking particularly here of Jeffrey Herf who said, among other things, that the German government’s opposition to the Iraq war was a sign of “Germany’s lack of complete understanding of armed anti-fascism.”
He combined that with what I could not help but see as a tendentious, strained reading of Germany’s role in international politics under the Schroeder government. He ended by arguing, as I understood him at least, that Germany had to come to grips with this misjudgment, this historical error, before it could get back on history’s, and presumably our, good side. It was rather like what Paul Wolfowitz told the Turks a few weeks ago: say you’re sorry.
Regular readers of this site will know I have very mixed feelings about Iraq and still find the arguments for having dealt with it militarily quite compelling. But this sort of Iraq war ideological triumphalism irks me on any number of levels. Most of all, I think this is so simply because it was such a very close call. To place Iraq into the category of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia is a crude perversion or even cheapening of the past. That hubris strikes me as even more misbegotten given what’s happened since the war ended. I don’t think the fact that we have yet to find any WMD necessarily weakens the argument for the long-term threat the Iraqi regime posed. (I’ll try to explain why in a later post.) But the increasingly likely possibility that the Iraqis had little or no offensive WMD capacity does serious damage to those who tried to present the situation as one of imminent danger. In any case, this struck me as one of the weakest parts of the event.
As I’ve said earlier, and would like to discuss at more length later, the French are one thing. But I think what happened in Germany in the lead-up to the war was a much more complicated and ambiguous development. Certainly, the country’s domestic politics, and Schroeder’s need for a defining issue in a very close election, played an important role. But the decision-making — as nearly as I’ve been able to make it out — was a far cry from the cartoonish, euro-weenie stereotyping that one sees in so much of the press coverage in the United States.
We in the United States sometimes think of the German Greens as some sort of wild New Leftish fringe party that the German Social Democrats use to put together a majority for their governing coalition. But this is far off the mark. For those who believe in progressive government at home and democratic internationalism abroad the German Greens are one of the most compelling and dynamic forces in Western political life today. I recently went to a dinner/discussion put on for a visit by Katrin GÃ¶ring-Eckardt, leader of the Green caucus in the German Bundestag. Though she opposed the war, it was a more nuanced opposition than one might have expected. And there was a lot in her thinking that struck me as in line with the sort of democratizing internationalism that many of us have in mind to help create. (GÃ¶ring-Eckardt is from the former East Germany, a fact, I thought, which must play an important role in her views of these issues.)
Just as I suspected — and, to be honest, just as anyone with half a brain must have suspected — the Texas Department of Public Safety’s claim that federal regulations mandated its records destruction turns out to be laughably bogus.
As predicted, the law they’re trying to hang this on is a rider that goes along with a certain kind of federal aid to state law enforcement. The regulation is intended to prevent law enforcement from compiling intelligence dossiers on people unless there is a “reasonable suspicion” that they are involved in criminal conduct.
The intent of such a regulation isn’t hard to understand and seems quite well-reasoned. The federal government doesn’t want to be subsidizing any state-level penny-ante J. Edgar Hoovers. But this, on it’s face, seems altogether inapplicable to the current situation. And it’s not just me saying so.
According to a late report in the Star-Telegram, a Stanford law professor agrees …
Still, several legal scholars found trouble with the feds-made-us-do-it argument. William Gould, a law professor at Stanford University, said the code only applies to individuals engaging in criminal activity.
It says an agency shall “collect and maintain criminal intelligence information concerning an individual only if there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal conduct or activity …”
In this case, the absconded Democrats did not break any laws, and they were not considered criminals, said Gould, who has expertise in both federal and state law.
“In order for the state laws to be overridden, there has to be relevance,” Gould said. “I don’t see that conflict here.”
The very destruction of the records, says another law prof quoted in the Star-Telegram, may have been a violation of federal regulations that require the preservation of records. And the Austin American-Statesman adds that the same federal guidelines also require state law enforcement agencies to “make assurances that there will be no harassment or interference with any lawful political activities as part of the intelligence operation” — a requirement which at least arguably might apply here.
More to the point is Texas state law, a point Gould makes oblique reference to in the passage quoted above.
The DPS seemed to be relying on a demonstrably inapplicable federal regulation to override a demonstrably applicable state law. Texas state law, according to an expert quoted in the Star-Telegram, mandates the retention at least of all correspondence related to an investigation for at least three years. And the DPS’s destruction order specifically requires the destruction of “correspondence.”
And there’s one more thing. The very federal regulation the DPS says forced it to destroy the records of investigations of non-criminal conduct also explicitly forbids the investigation of non-criminal conduct.
Now, clearly, the ridiculousness is flying pretty fast and furious here. So let’s take a moment to review. The DPS appears to have violated Texas state law by destroying the records. To justify this, they point to a federal regulation which a legal expert says is plainly inapplicable. And the very regulation they’re trying to hang their hat on seems to bar the original conduct itself.
So how does the DPS argue it’s way out of this? Well, you can’t say they aren’t creative. According to DPS spokesman Tom Vinger, it was a criminal investigation. So they were entitled to conduct it. But only for a while! When they discovered that the legislators were out of state and couldn’t be arrested, then it stopped being a criminal investigation. As Vinger told the Austin American-Statesman, “That’s when this (federal code) kicked in, because clearly we had records now that were of a noncriminal variety.”
This stuff pretty much defies editorial humor since it’s difficult to find an analogy more ridiculous and bamboozliferous than the actual argument they’re making. Texas Governor Rick Perry disagrees. His spokesperson says he accepts the DPS’s explanation.
However that may be, it’s hard to see how the DPS — and probably some politicians giving them orders — haven’t stepped in it pretty deep. Whether some of that stickiness reaches back to the puppeteers in DC is another matter.
So it turns out that the Texas Department of Public Safety — the agency that tried to track down the runaway Dems on the order of Speaker Tom Craddick and even pulled in the Department of Homeland Security — destroyed the records of the search because of their extreme civil liberties scrupulosity.
So says the DPS at least.
As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported yesterday, the day before the runaway Dems returned to Austin, a commander with the DPS sent out an email instructing troopers to destroy all documents and photographs connected with the search.
The explanation provided by the DPS is that this was required by federal civil liberties guidelines.
Or, as this new AP story puts it …
The Texas public safety department said that it destroyed the records because federal regulations prohibit it from keeping intelligence information that is not part of a criminal case.
Now, I believe part of the issue here is that these were civil, not criminal, arrest warrants. The state constitution gives the Texas House Speaker the authority to have missing legislators arrested and forcibly brought to the chamber. But being absent isn’t a crime, thus no criminal arrest warrants.
But let’s set that aside for a moment. Does this regulation even exist? In each of the stories I’ve read this evening, the writer passes on that claim without any comment giving the reader a clue as to whether it has any validity.
Is there really a federal regulation stipulating that nothing that police agencies compile — pictures, notes, phone logs, anything — can be kept unless it pertains to a specific criminal investigation? I find it really hard to believe that such a sweeping regulation exists. Now, mind you, my question is not purely rhetorical. I have certainly asked such questions before, with great incredulity, only to find out that yes, believe it or not, the answer is ‘yes.’ It just doesn’t sound true to me, though — and I think the failure to mention any specific regulation and the, shall we say, diminishing credibility of the source makes me think so even more.
I can imagine that there may be rules against police departments setting up their own private intelligence agencies, and keeping dossiers on people who haven’t committed crimes. But that seems like a far cry from what we’re talking about here. This is just keeping some record of what took place. Is there usually such haste and punctiliousness about complying with this ‘regulation’?
For the moment I’d say that what we have here is, at a minimum, an uncharacteristically rapid and total effort to safeguard the runaway Dems’ civil liberties. But the first thing I’m curious to know is whether such a regulation — applied in anything like the way we see here — even exists. Or, is it something they just made up on the spot to explain what looks very much like an attempt to cover their tracks.
Tim Bergreen, head of the new group Democrats for National Security, and Donna Brazile have an Op-Ed today in the Wall Street Journal on the Dems’ defense gap. What catches my eye, and heartens me, is Brazile’s name on that byline. I saw her speak at last Saturday’s Social Democrats, USA conference on a very similar theme. Explaining the political and intellectual lineage of this group (the SDUSA) would take too many hundreds of words. (These are, simply as I can put it, the neo-cons who never quite became neo-cons.) In any case, I have an article coming out on the conference in a couple days. And I’ll post a link when it hits the newsstands. But suffice it to say for now that the essence of the endeavor was an attempt to build a democratic left that is progressive at home and muscular, internationalist and Wilsonian abroad. It was an exciting event.
More on all this soon.
“Did Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) try to get the Feds to hunt down the runaway Texas Democrats or not? Itâs coming down to one manâs word against anotherâs. On one side youâve got Tom DeLay, and on the other youâve got â¦ well, Tom DeLay.”
That’s the lede of my new column in The Hill which goes over some of Tom DeLay’s, let’s say, not altogether consistent statements about just how involved he may or may not have been in trying to get the Feds to arrest those Texas state legislators and haul them back to Austin to make a quorum call.
Yesterday Democrats in Washington were giving Tom Ridge a hard time for not agreeing to turn over the transcripts of the calls that the Texas Department of Public Safety made to the Department of Homeland Security to get them involved in the manhunt.
Now this morning, the Forth Worth Star-Telegram — the paper that broke the original story of Homeland Security’s involvement last week — reports that “one day before Democrats ended their boycott of the Texas House last week, the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered the destruction of all records and photos gathered in the search for them.”
Oh, Fred, Fred, Fred … It starts with getting those calls returned from Dan Quayle’s office and it leads to this.
Fred Barnes has a new piece out in the most recent Weekly Standard on the dust-up down in Texas. (I can’t link because it’s subscribers only.) He tells readers that Democrats have no legitimate complaint since: “There’s a word for what Republicans want to do–gerrymandering. But of course that is quite normal. When Democrats controlled Texas, they regularly gerrymandered …” The rest of Barnes’ article is devoted to pushing the argument that Democrats — shrieking in a wilderness of public disapprobation — are devoted to “extreme measures that break sharply with the routine course of politics and governing … order of the day.”
Now there is one detail in this saga that Barnes somehow forgot to mention: mid-decade redistricting — absent a voting rights lawsuit — has been virtually unprecedented for the last century and entirely unprecedented since the mid-1950s, in Texas and every other state in the union. You might even call the bar on such gerrymanderly double-dipping part of the “routine course of politics and governing.”
Fred, let’s not give tendentiousness a bad name, okay?
The Republicans sensed doom, and to block the Assembly from having a quorum to do business, they scurried across L Street to the Hyatt, and hunkered down. Reporters stalked the hotel corridors, looking for lawmakers.
“Is there a session? Gee, I hadn’t heard. First chance I get, I’ll check on it,” then-Assemblyman Ross Johnson, R-Irvine, told The California Journal.
Brown also sent the Assembly’s sergeants at arms to hunt down the Republicans, but they never found them.
After less then a day, the Republicans left town, leaving only Democrats when the Assembly convened on Dec. 8, 1994. The speakership was left unresolved until January.
Back to the drawing board.