Dec 9, 2005
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "No wonder they call us the Stupid Party," said a disgusted Republican operative in Washington. "You've got to wonder what these guys were thinking."
At issue was the publication of a report by David Barrett, an independent counsel who has spent the better part of a decade looking into some of the most hair-raising allegations of presidential malfeasance in American history.
Like most independent counsels, Barrett didn't set out on such a mission. He was assigned the duty of looking into whether former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros committed tax fraud in trying to cover up payments to a former mistress.
Yet, as published reports have indicated, he soon discovered that he was onto something much bigger. He found unsettling evidence that Justice Department officials were actively interfering with the probe and even conducting surveillance of Barrett and his office. Worse, there were indications that Team Clinton was using key players at the IRS and Justice to harass, frighten and threaten people who somehow got in the former president's way.
The pattern was set early on, when the White House sicced the FBI on Billy Dale, who had served as the director of the White House Travel Office since the days of John F. Kennedy. They mounted a baseless probe of Dale's finances, while chasing after his daughter, his sister and others. Dale was guilty of holding a job coveted by presidential pal Harry Thomasson. But rather than simply firing Dale, the Clinton White House chose to destroy him.
By all accounts, the 400-page Barrett report is a bombshell, capable possibly of wiping out Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential prospects. At the very least, it would bring to public attention a scandal that would make the Valerie Plame affair vanish into comical insignificance.
Democrats know this. Using provisions in the independent-counsel statute that permit people named in a report to review the allegations against them and file rebuttals, attorneys close to the Clintons have spent the better part of five years reviewing every jot and tittle of the charges arrayed against their clients and friends.
This careful and continuous monitoring of the report explains why Sens. Byron Dorgan, Dick Durbin and John Kerry took the highly unusual step earlier this year of trying to slip into an Iraq-war spending bill an amendment to suppress every word of the Barrett report. (Every other independent counsel finding has been printed in its entirety, with the exception of small sections containing classified material.)
Alert Republicans, pushed by talk-radio listeners and bloggers, managed to short-circuit that effort, but Democrats patiently pursued their goal. They got what they wanted recently, when the House and Senate met to iron out differences in yet another appropriations bill. Democrats inserted language that would prevent public release of the 120 pages of the report listing the Clinton transgressions. They offered what may have looked like a good deal. They promised not to object to letting Barrett continue with any prosecutions already underway.
Republicans negotiators, led by Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich, took the bait. They agreed to keep the public in the dark about the important stuff in exchange for a big, fat nothing. Unbeknownst to Bond and Knollenberg, Barrett shut down his grand juries three years ago.
The move represents more than just boneheaded politics. It's grossly irresponsible. If the report contains the kind of bombshells that have been hinted at in reports published by The Wall Street Journal and National Review, among others, the public not only has a right to know, Congress has a duty to investigate.
If Barrett has found evidence that officials at Justice and the IRS served as a praetorian guard, that means some bureaucrats felt it appropriate or beneficial to ignore their duty to the public and instead to perform dirty work for the people who oversee their budgets.
Another big "if": If such behavior were covered up, the malefactors would conclude that they may do the same thing again for other presidents.
Something stinks, and the only way to get at the truth is to release the full report. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who fought a lonely battle to ensure the document's publication, is furious. So is House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc. The question is whether Republican leaders Bill Frist and Denny Hastert will step in and ensure the report's publication, or whether they'll just sigh and look the other way.