Bush administration takes six blows in a row
By Barrie Dunsmore | March 11,2007
During a 24-hour news cycle last week there were these major stories: Six of the eight recently fired United States Attorneys told Congressional committees that they believed they lost their jobs because they wouldn't play partisan politics in their handling of high profile political corruption cases. Some also claimed they'd been threatened by the Justice Department not to go public with their complaints.
Nine American servicemen were killed in action Iraq.
More than 100 Iraqi Shiites making a religious pilgrimage were killed by suicide bombers. At least 200 were injured.
Seriously wounded soldiers told Congress about the neglect, bad housing and bureaucratic nightmares they suffered as outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington while two top army generals accepted responsibility and apologized to the soldiers and their families.
According to a new USA Today/Gallup Poll, six in 10 Americans want Congress to set a time table to withdraw all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2008.
And, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and a national security aide to President George W. Bush, was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice in the case of the leak of the identity of a CIA operative in the summer of 2003.
Any one of these stories would have been bad news for the Bush White House. As a group they represent a devastating political "perfect storm" because they paint a vivid picture of corruption, neglect and incompetence even while things continue to go badly in a war that a significant majority of Americans no longer supports and wants to end. It was enough to make the White House spokesman want to hide from the press, which Tony Snow tried to do by taking the day off. But neither he nor his boss can hide from the reality that Bush administration policies have created at home and abroad – a reality that seems about as bad as it can be but promises to get worse.
The case of the eight federal prosecutors is still developing. But from testimony so far it appears they lost their jobs for political reasons. Two of the prosecutors claimed they were dismissed after they resisted political pressure to help Republicans win elections. And there is now evidence that at least three Republican members of Congress directly contacted prosecutors regarding ongoing political corruption investigations. This is ethically wrong and may even be illegal. In either case, such political pressure cuts to the very core of prosecutorial independence, without which the federal judiciary system cannot function. There's a lot more to come on this story.
As for the Walter Reed scandal, it has now become clear that the problems there are symptomatic of the kinds of issues that wounded veterans, particularly those with brain injuries, are facing throughout the country. It's also coming to light that the Department of Veterans Affairs was not prepared to deal with the soaring number of new Iraq war veterans. This is a political hot potato that has the potential to be even more damaging than the Katrina debacle. It was almost amusing to see how desperately the president wanted to turn this over to a bipartisan commission to resolve. I'm sure that former Republican Sen. Bob Dole, himself a seriously wounded World War II veteran, and Donna Shalala, the Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, will do their best to try to mitigate some of the horrors wounded veterans are facing. To the extent that serious people in both parties want this to happen, there may be a bipartisan solution. However, let us not forget that just as in every other aspect of the Bush planning for the Iraq War, the lack of a strategy and resources to deal with American military casualties is inexcusable. It also shows the emptiness of the phrase "support the troops," which for this administration has always been more bumper-sticker slogan than real policy.
In that new USA Today Gallup Poll, in addition to the number of Americans seeking a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, there are some other numbers that are important as well. Now only 28 percent of people believe that the war probably or definitely can be won. That's down from 35 percent in December. But this poll also contains a warning sign for congressional Democrats as they seek to find ways to shape Iraq policy – six out of 10 people said they do not want Congress to deny funding for additional troops. As I have written previously in this space, the issue of funding could be political suicide for Democrats unless they have enough Republican support to make their proposals veto proof – and that point has not yet been reached.
Finally, the Libby verdict. An enormous amount of written space and broadcast time has been devoted to this story so I won't regurgitate the details. Suffice to say, what this trial was really about was how the White House reacted in the summer of 2003 when its rationale for the invasion of Iraq was beginning to crumble. The trial showed us that Libby was merely an instrument of his boss the vice president, who was obsessed in his desire to discredit his most dangerous critic at the time, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, husband of the outed spy Valerie Plame. Cheney wasn't just acting out of pique. His credibility was on the line. Cheney had led the charge in repeatedly citing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as the reason for the invasion of Iraq. By June 2003, we were conclusively learning that Iraq did not have such weapons.
For those who argue that there was no real crime committed in divulging the spy's name, and therefore there never should have been a trial, they are wrong. Just as Al Capone was prosecuted for income tax evasion because racketeering charges would have been difficult to prove, so was "Scooter" Libby nailed for perjury and obstruction of justice because the law regarding disclosure of a CIA agent's identity is not cut and dry. By the way, perjury and obstruction of justice are in themselves serious crimes. In lying to the FBI and the grand jury, Libby was simply being the good soldier in taking the bullet to protect Cheney. It seems most probable that he will eventually be rewarded for his loyalty with a presidential pardon.
That doesn't really bother me. Whether Libby actually has to do prison time is much less important than the fact of the trial, the details about White House machinations it revealed, and its clear-cut verdict.
Together they prove what we have long suspected – that for the past six years, the most toxic influence on the American body politic has been Vice President Dick Cheney.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News now living in Charlotte.