Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's always about the crime

Josh Marshall keeps us up-to-date on the U.S. Attorney purge:

So now we've got another story. It's all Deputy AG Paul McNulty's fault apparently. Right.

Catch the headline. "Testimony Contradicted Gonzales in U.S. Attorney Matter, Sparked Controversy."

Here's the lead.

The firestorm over the fired U.S. attorneys was sparked last month when a top Justice Department official ignored guidance from the White House and rejected advice from senior administration lawyers over his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The official, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, ignored White House Counsel Harriet Miers and senior lawyers in the Justice Department when he told the committee last month of specific reasons why the administration fired seven U.S. attorneys — and appeared to acknowledge for the first time that politics was behind one dismissal. McNulty's testimony directly conflicted with the approach Miers advised, according to an unreleased internal White House e-mail described to ABC News. According to that e-mail, sources said, Miers said the administration should take the firm position that it would not comment on personnel issues.

Until McNulty's testimony, administration officials had consistently refused to publicly say why specific attorneys were dismissed and insisted that the White House had complete authority to replace them. That was Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's approach when he testified before the committee in January.

I just feel like I've died and gone to muck ridiculousness heaven.

I can almost imagine Harriet Miers pitching the ABC reporter on this nonsense. Okay, sure, probably not Harriet Miers. But same difference. Look at the logic here. If McNulty just would have stuck to the Miers line forever -- the Miers line being to refuse to say why the unprecedented US Attorney firings had taken place -- then everything would have been fine.

It's true that the claim that the firings were performance related set off a chain reaction of events. Most importantly it pushed some of the US Attorneys to defend their professional reputations.

But this is the classic case of mistaking the symptom for the disease. As McNulty could see, refusing to give any explanation for an unprecedented firing of multiple US Attorneys with active investigations or prosecutions of prominent Republicans simply wasn't tenable. Vague lies about performance problems was the least worst option available.

Frankly, simply reviewing the multiple instances in which Bush Justice Department officials threatened the firees with attacking their reputations if they didn't go quietly, I have real doubts whether any of the performance related line started with McNulty. But it hardly matters. The fuse was lit when the White House ordered the DOJ to fire the list of US Attorneys for hurting Republicans and not damaging Democrats. A really good cover story might have kept the thing hidden but a blanket refusal to discuss the matter -- in a department the Congress oversees -- was never going to cut it.

There's this old line the wise folks in Washington have that 'it's not the crime, but the cover-up.'

But only fools believe that. It's always about the crime. The whole point of the cover-up is that a full revelation of the underlying crime is not survivable. Let me repeat that, the whole point of the cover-up is a recognition that a full revelation of the underlying bad act is not survivable. Indeed, the cover-ups are usually successful. And that's why they're tried so often. Just look at this administration. They're the ultimate example of this truth.

Just consider Watergate -- the ur-scandal from which this bit of faux wisdom emanates. Of course, there had to be a cover-up. How long would Richard Nixon have lasted in the White House after he came forward and admitted that he had a private team of professional crooks breaking into the opposition party's headquarters and committing various other crimes at his behest? How would that have gone over?

Same here.

Enough of this shambling foolery. The controversy wasn't 'sparked' by the break down of the cover-up. The 'controversy' is about the underlying bad acts. To say that there's a scandal because the cover-up didn't work is no more than a dingbat truism -- something you really would expect from Miers.

This is about finding out what really happened. All the effort that has gone into preventing that tells you the tale.

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