National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Leahy Flexes, Bush Sweats

I’m tearing down my giant portrait of Superman hanging over my mantle, and replacing it with one of Senator Patrick Leahy. I think he might look quite fetching with arms folded and a big red cape.

It is very refreshing to see someone in the U.S. Congress flexing his bulging biceps up underneath Bush’s nose.

Bush showed sweaty hands this week as he insisted Leahy and the Congress have no right to place his key lieutenants under oath, under penalty of perjury, in a public hearing on Capitol Hill. He offered a private, classified briefing by Karl Rove and some of his other top advisors, definitely not under oath.

“Boy, have I heard that one before,” Sen. Leahy retorted, paraphrasing. “How many times have I been in on such private briefings only to emerge and find out in a day or two, from the papers, what I was never told in that briefing!” The senator, as head of the powerful Judiciary Committee, said he’s fully prepared to go ahead with subpoenas.

When it comes to the “public’s right to know,” you can’t expect the already besieged President Bush to gain much popular support for his insistence on secrecy and non-accountability. Not now, and not for some time now.

On the contrary, in some major votes this week, the Senate has been almost unanimous in stripping powers from the White House that it seized under the cover of the Patriot Act, and demanding it return them to the proper rule of law.

Members of Bush’s own party are increasingly sharing the demand that Bush face up and come clean concerning his six years of gross disregard of such factors. This White House is only beginning to face the public wrath represented by the outcome of last November’s election.

Democrats in this case are not as interested in the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as they are in unearthing the extent to which the White House ordered purges of competent, qualified attorneys in the Justice Department, replacing them with cronies and ideological fellow-travelers.

Within the bureaucratic bowels of the executive branch at all levels, complaints of such purges, and ideological substitutions, have been rampant for years. Needless to say, such behavior also extended to friends of the White House outside the government in terms of sole-source government contracting and so forth.

Meanwhile, Bush’s GOP cronies on the Hill howled this week when the new Democratic leadership on the Hill invited former CIA Agent Valerie Plame Wilson to testify about the damage done to her and her CIA mission by the July 2003 “public outing” that she blamed directly on the White House.

In a failed rear-guard action, Republicans argued that “nothing useful” could come from such a hearing if it were public, since Plame would be restricted from speaking in such a setting about her CIA role.

But, the Democratic leadership saw a tremendous national benefit from the public hearing, because it showed the American people watching just how damaging the White House’s “outing” of her actually was. She insisted her outing by the White House was “reckless” and for “purely political purposes.”

An important facet of the Plame Wilson case that came to light more clearly during her testimony this week involved the extent to which her “outing” was done not only as a political retaliation for the anti-Bush stand taken by her husband, Former Ambassador Joe Wilson, on matters concerning the alleged (and non-existent) Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction.”

Although she was unable to say so directly, it can be surmised from what she said that the White House’s objective in “outing” her covert CIA identity was also for the purpose of shutting down the entire CIA operation of which she was a part, since that dealt with intelligence concerning “weapons of mass destruction” claims.

The White House intended to replace legitimate CIA intelligence with its own cooked version to justify its invasion of Iraq, and therefore wanted not only to punish Ambassador Wilson, but actually to blow apart a major CIA intelligence operation by “outing” Plame. As Plame testified, with her exposure, everyone she associated with in her travels and domestically was irreversibly compromised. Her entire intelligence network and its mission had to be scuttled.