Tuesday, October 25, 2005

afternoon oys 


Texas senator who voted to impeach President Clinton on perjury and obstruction of justice now calls such charges 'technicalities.'

BACK in 1999 when the U.S. Senate tried and ultimately acquitted President Bill Clinton after he was impeached by the House, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas had no doubt about the seriousness of the alleged crime. Clinton stood accused of lying under oath and obstructing the investigation of his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.

"What would we be telling Americans," Hutchison asked, "if the Senate of the United States were to conclude: The president lied under oath as an element of a scheme to obstruct the due process of law, but we chose to look the other way. I cannot make that choice. I cannot look away."

As news accounts indicate special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald might be preparing to bring perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Bush administration officials involved in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, Hutchison is taking a different view. Appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, she seemed quite willing to look away from such violations this time around.

The senator decried the tendency of prosecutors and district attorneys to "go for technicalities, sort of a gotcha mentality in this country." If Fitzgerald does return indictments, she hoped that they would involve a crime and not some "perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on a crime."

When Meet the Press host Tim Russert pointed out the contradiction between her past and current positions on perjury and obstruction, Hutchison responded that there were other charges against Clinton and, "I'm not saying that those were not crimes. They are." Hutchison went on to express sympathy for homemaking maven Martha Stewart, convicted "where they couldn't find a crime and they indict on something that she said about something that wasn't a crime."

One cannot pick and choose when a charge is justified. Lying to investigators and grand juries is not a technicality. Our system of law depends on the ability of law enforcement to get at the truth, both in interviews with investigators and in sworn testimony in court. The penalties can be personally devastating and often do not hinge on other crimes. Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros continues to be dogged by a decade-long investigation set off by his admitted lies to FBI agents vetting him for a Cabinet post about how much money he had paid a former mistress, an act that was not a crime.

If Hutchison found perjury and obstruction reason enough to throw a president out of office, surely those offenses would be sufficient cause to charge people if they obstructed a probe of a potential violation of national security laws. The unmasking of a covert CIA operative can have life and death consequences for previous associates met over the years in countries around the world.

Public officials such as Sen. Hutchison do not enhance their stature when they seem to support one standard of justice for officials of the opposing party and another for their own. What was good for the Democratic goose in the Clinton impeachment trial should be good enough for the Republican gander in the Plame investigation.

Powell Has Lost His Power

But it occurs to me that there are still others who need to speak out -- which takes us back to October 19. The same day that Wilkerson was blasting away at the administration in Washington, far away in upstate New York, the man whose staff Wilkerson chiefed, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, was delivering a speech on the current world situation to a gathering at the University of Buffalo. Surveying the landscape from Europe to China to the rest of Asia, Powell concluded: “We’re not doing bad at all.”

Has anyone in this town embarrassed himself in the last five years more than Powell? At least George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld believe this toxic gimcrackery they’ve been peddling to us. Powell never believed it, and he still peddled it. There’s a word for that, and it isn’t “honor.”

Powell needs to follow Wilkerson and Brent Scowcroft and come clean.

I know he won’t; Wilkerson acknowledged at the New America lunch that Powell was upset with him for speaking out. But if Powell has any sense, he’d spill whatever beans he’s got, and soon.

Undoubtedly, wherever Powell goes, he is accorded respect. People line up to shake his hand, tell him how thrilled they are to meet him, thank him for his service to the country. Schools and VA hospital wings and such will be named after him (as they should be -- he has made history); attendees will scramble to have their pictures taken with him. And then, once he’s left the room, the liberals will whisper “whore” and the conservatives will whisper “wimp.”

Powell is finished as a person of influence. Totally finished. Am I exaggerating? Look at the way the Associated Press reported his Buffalo visit. In a 13-paragraph dispatch, five were devoted to slagging Powell through the voices of the people protesting outside. (Four of the eight positive paragraphs were one-sentence quotes.) Maybe the protestors were loony left and maybe they weren’t, but the point is the amount of play the AP writer gave them: O.J. does better than that with wire services.

OK, the AP report is a small example, but think about it: Whether you’re liberal or conservative, when is the last time you heard anyone in your circle speak of Powell in reverential tones? In Washington, and I reckon a lot of other places, it just doesn’t happen.

If I were at Hill & Knowlton and Powell came to me, I’d put it simply: “Buddy, drop the loyal-soldier thing. It’s past the point of diminishing returns. America knows you’re defending a bunch of people who a) you don’t really agree with, and b) gave you a royal screwing every chance they could. They’ve played you, and the country knows it.

“Loyalty was good, post-September 11. But now we’re post-post-September 11. People want truth today. Wilkerson and Scowcroft set the table for you. What are you worried about -- your reputation in GOP circles? You’re cooked there anyway. The conservatives haven’t forgotten your defense of affirmative action at the 2000 convention. And as for the war, they all think you leaked and submarined the boss. Look at the Fitzgerald investigation; these people are going down. Don’t stay on a sinking ship. Going public is the only way to get your reputation back. You have nothing to lose -- and a mint to make on your memoir.”

I know; Powell won’t do it. But we may be hearing from him whether he likes it or not. Remember the famous “S” memo that was circulated on Air Force One during the Africa trip? It was generated in the State Department. Powell surely read it -- and he surely knows several things about the White House crusade against Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, and about ginned-up case for war in general. If Patrick Fitzgerald’s probe spreads wide enough, Powell may be breaking ranks not at the New America Foundation or in The New Yorker. He may be doing it in a deposition.

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