So far, I have had occasion only once in the Valerie Plame inquiry to say something in praise of the White House. The White House Does the Right Thing, October 3. You can imagine, then, how annoyed I am to find out that the so-and-sos have double-crossed me: the decent thing I thought they were doing was in fact an unspeakably sleazy trick that makes sense only as part of a cover-up.
All those documents concerning the Wilson trip and conversations about it that White House staff has been ordered to come up with by tomorrow at 5 p.m. will not be going to the Justice Department. No, they’re going to White House Counsel — that is, to the lawyers for the President, who must be considered a likely suspect, at least as a co-conspirator or accessory.
Every staffer who turns something over knows that it will be made available to the President, who will be under no legal obligation not to share it with, let’s say, Karl Rove. (A lawyer has no obligation, and in general no right, to keep information from his client, unless it has been sealed by a court, and a client has no obligation to keep confidential anything he learns from his lawyer.)
So the Bush team plans to give itself two weeks to plan its cover-up, having as a starting basis a full set of the relevant documents, so that they can make sure that any lies they tell can’t be easily disproven. Note the headline: “Decision…riles Democrats,” as if no one but a Democrat could object to giving the criminals the first look at all the evidence.
Note that I am not accusing Alberto Gonzales of any unethical conduct here. If his client, the President, indicates that he would like to minimize the damage this affair does to his administration, and if he and Mr. Gonzales judge that having White House Counsel vet all the documents is the best way to accomplish that goal, then Mr. Gonzales is carrying out his duty to his client by doing so. Unless and until he has proof, rather than mere suspicion, that his client is currently engaged in criminal activity (such as obstruction of justice) or intends to engage in such activity in the future, his duty of “zealous representation” is paramount.
But Mr. Gonzales, and the President, are not the only players in this game. Is the Justice Department going to hold still for this? Is the Senate?
And how about you, dear reader? Are you going to hold still for it? Have you written to your senators yet? And, while you’re at it, how about writing a check to the Wesley Clark campaign, or to the campaign of whichever Democrat you prefer?
White House’s decision to give first look to its lawyers riles Democrats
10:12 PM CDT on Monday, October 6, 2003
By DAVID JACKSON / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON White House lawyers will review phone logs and other records supplied by presidential aides before turning the documents over to the Justice Department officials conducting the investigation into who leaked a CIA undercover operative’s identity, officials said Monday.
The disclosure inspired new Democratic calls for an independent inquiry.
“To allow the White House counsel to review records before the prosecutors would see them is just about unheard of in the way cases are always prosecuted,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaking on NBC’s Today show. “And the possibility of mischief, or worse than mischief, is very, very large.”
Administration officials said the White House counsel’s office may need up to two weeks to organize documents that some 2,000 employees are required to submit by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
The documents must also be reviewed for national security or executive privilege concerns and to ensure the filings are responsive to Justice Department requests for information, White House aides said. The department is investigating whether Bush administration officials exposed a CIA operative’s identity to reporters and a columnist, Robert Novak.
Bush: ‘Criminal action’
President Bush underscored his concern about the leak Monday, telling reporters: “We’re talking about a criminal action.”
The president said information would be submitted to the Justice Department “on a timely basis,” calling the investigation “a very serious matter, and our administration takes it seriously.”
“I’d like to know who leaked,” Mr. Bush added. “And if anybody has got any information, inside our government or outside our government, who leaked, they ought to take it to the Justice Department so we can find out the leaker.”
White House officials are required to turn in any documents they may have related to the principals in the matter, including former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, his wife, Valerie Plame, and any reporters who were contacted about the couple.
White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee said she could not put a timeline on when the documents might be turned over to the Justice Department but said the review would be expeditious.
It’s going to be done with the intent of getting to the bottom of this,” Ms. Snee said. “This is almost 2,000 people.”
Mr. Schumer and other Democrats have called for an outside special counsel, questioning whether Attorney General John Ashcroft can fairly investigate his patrons at the White House.
Mr. Bush defended his Justice Department, saying, “These are … professional prosecutors who are leading this investigation.”
Mark Rozell, a Catholic University politics professor who specializes in executive privilege, said it was reasonable for White House lawyers to take time to review the materials before sharing them with investigators. The length, he said, is up to the White House and its opponents.
“There can be an argument over whether two weeks is the appropriate amount of time,” he said.