Can you say “cover-up”?

According to the 9-11 Commission, the Bush Administration, apparently prompted by the Justice Department, is insisting that all interviews of federal employees by commission staff must be conducted with another person from the employee’s agency present. The intimidating message couldn’t be clearer: say the wrong thing and it will make trouble for you at work.

Kevin Drum notes that this is the same technique Saddam Hussein used to keep his scientists from saying anything useful to the UN weapons inspectors.

But I don’t think Justice needed to learn this approach from the Iraqis: it’s the same one used by criminal conspiracies of all sizes, from a small drug-dealing gang to Enron or the Mafia, except that in the context of a criminal case the person who sits there to intimidate the witness is called a “lawyer” rather than a “minder.” That’s an advantage of using grand juries as investigative tools: it keeps the lawyers out of the room.

The White House was asked about this and replied vaguely about the President supporting to the fullest the blah, blah, blah. That’s not good enough. Either the President orders that the rule about minders be abolished, or he’s chosen to be complicit in a cover-up.

Obviously the people around Bush are terrified about what might come out if the commission actually gets to do its job; Bush opposed the creation of the commission in the first place, and the White House has been trying to run out the clock ever since.

At least so far, the country doesn’t care about the missing WMDs, but it cares about this one. Time to make a major fuss. One possible legislative vehicle: a rider on the next appropriation bill that comes through banning the expenditure of any funds on “minding.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com