Tuesday, June 29, 2004

"How Clinton and Gore Turned a Blind Eye to Terrorism", Part 1 of 4

"How Clinton and Gore Turned a Blind Eye to Terrorism" is a pretty accusingly titled section.

Here's the first excerpt:

In the weeks and months following September 11, Americans began asking hard questions. Wasn't there any way these attacks could have been prevented? Why didn't the CIA know what was coming? How could we spend billions of dollars on intelligence and have such a massive failure?

After all, the rising threat of global terrorism - particularly the threat of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network - had been clear to U.S. policy-makers for years from the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, to the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa, to the suicide attack on the USS Cole in the fall of 2000.

From the beginning, President Bush expressed the outrage of the American people. He immediately took charge; there was no mistaking who was commander in chief. He made it clear that his first priority would be to hunt down the evildoers and bring them to justice. He and his team also made it clear that determining the causes of America's security failures and finding and remedying its weak points would be central to their mission. Other Republicans concurred.

"I absolutely believe that we have to go back and see what happened," said Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, on NBC's Meet the Press just one month after the attacks. He stressed the importance of determining what went wrong "so that we will not make the mistakes again that we made before and can reorganize our intelligence services."

Curiously, however, liberal Democrats - many of whom historically criticized, attacked, and sought to defund the CIA - at first showed little interest in an investigation of the roots of this massive intelligence failure. (It was only after they smelled political advantage that they began to jump on the bandwagon.)

"We don't need a witch hunt now, or certainly not next year in an election year," Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told the New York Times.

A witch hunt? That's pretty strong language. What might Representative Harman fear that the American people might learn - especially "in an election year"?

Maybe this: that the Clinton-Gore administration - starting with the president and vice president themselves - had turned a blind eye to the growing threat posed to Americans by global terrorist networks. And it cost us. Big time.
("Let Freedom Ring" pages 12-13)

Wow! So Hannity is contending that (1) Clinton refused to see the terrorist threat for what it was and this helped make the 9/11 attacks possible (2) Congressional Democrats realized this and sought to keep it quiet. Those are some pretty serious charges. Let's see if they hold up to scrutiny.

I'm going to work backwards and look first at the contention that the Democrats opposed an investigation into the causes of 9/11.

1.) Were Rep. Harman and other Democrats afraid that the an inquiry was going to go back and dig up some dirt on Clinton? If that were the case then they would fight any attempt to look back and investigate anything preceding 9/11, right? Maybe they would try to weaken any proposed commission or give it a mandate to only investigate intel after 9/11. Yet, the opposite was true.

An article in the New York Times entitled "House Votes for More Spy Aid and to Pull in Reins on Inquiry"* said that:

House members of both parties described an urgent need to change the culture of agencies that grew out of the long struggle with the Soviet Union.

"A community built on cold war priorities was ill prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century," said Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California. "On Sept. 11 everything and everyone changed."

But just days after the intelligence committee included in the bill an independent commission with subpoena powers that would be empowered to investigate the government's inability to forecast or prevent the attacks, Republicans moved to scale back the commission's powers and mission. Many said that as the nation braced for a long struggle against terrorism it was not a time to cast blame.

[Republican Porter] Goss [of Florida] proposed an amendment, which passed by voice vote, to strip the commission of subpoena powers and the right to grant immunity, and change its focus to an examination of structural impediments to the collection, analysis and sharing of intelligence information....Mr. Goss said that by looking forward to how procedures could be changed, the commission would "focus on the future" and "get away from the blame game." His amendment prompted the first partisan exchanges of the debate.

Democrats, who offered their own amendment, continued to push for a commission that would examine the events leading up to Sept. 11 and the failure to stop the attacks. They also objected to restricting membership to people with backgrounds in the government agencies under scrutiny.

"It is not about finger-pointing," said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the senior Democrat on the intelligence committee. "Unless we know how we got to where we are now, it seems it will be more difficult to prevent these acts of terrorism."

But the Democrats did not push the dispute to a recorded vote.

Why the Democrats didn't "push the dispute to a recorded vote", I don't know. What I do know, however, is that it sounds an awful lot like it was Porter Goss and the Republicans, at least in the House, who were fighting the idea of looking for answers back before 9/11. Attempts to take away the commission's subpoena powers were also a GOP initiative.

On the Senate side, Democrat Joe Lieberman said an inquiry "ought to tell the president and us to the best of their ability what went wrong, so we can make sure it never happens again." So the idea that Democrats were trying to squelch an investigation looks to be a false charge.

2.) Interestingly enough, both the Jane Harman and John McCain quotes Hannity cites come from the same New York Times article, "Lawmakers Seek Inquiry into Intelligence Failures"**. Hannity cut out the middle of the McCain quote. It's the part where he says that the purpose of an inquiry is "not in order to hang somebody at the yardarm or to disgrace anyone". That sounds vaguely like the sentiments expressed by Harman: a desire to avoid a "witch hunt".

Here's the "witch hunt" quote in context:

[Democratic Senator Joe] Lieberman said Sunday that members of Congress should not be the ones to carry out any inquiry. "It ought to be citizens," he said. "A lot of their meetings ought to be in private. But then they ought to tell the president and us to the best of their ability what went wrong, so we can make sure it never happens again."

McCain proposed that former Sens. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) and Gary Hart (D-Colo.) could run an inquiry. The two headed an earlier commission on national security that had warned that the nation was ill-prepared to face the terrorist threat of the new century.

Many lawmakers on the intelligence committee, however, argue that this is precisely their role and their duty. "Farming this out to other groups, I think, is inappropriate," Harman said. "I think we should do it in private and public."

Aware of how explosive the subject could become, she added, "We don't need a witch hunt now, or certainly not next year in an election year."

I think her point was the same as McCain's: In the wake of 9/11, looking for someone to make a scapegoat out of would be counterproductive to the mission at hand (i.e., getting the intel community on the right track). And when she said "[w]e don't need a witch hunt now", the "now" she was referring to was just over a month after September 11th, with the rubble still smouldering and the memory of the attacks fresh in everyone's heads. Definitely not a time for partisanship. I'm assuming that a desire to avoid "finger-pointing" is one reason why she is suggesting that some meetings be held in private. I also think that when taken in context, it's obvious that Harman was not objecting to an investigation, merely arguing over what form the investigation should take.

The insinuation that she fears what an investigation would turn up and therefore labels it a "witch hunt" in order to pre-emptively discredit it's findings was a distortion of the quote's true meaning.

3.) How does Hannity's assertion that Bush "and his team also made it clear that determining the causes of America's security failures and finding and remedying its weak points would be central to their mission" hold up to scrutiny? Not well.

First, there was going to be a joint House-Senate committee investigation. According to the CNN article "Bush asks Daschle to limit Sept. 11 probes":

President Bush personally asked Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle Tuesday to limit the congressional investigation into the events of September 11, congressional and White House sources told CNN.

The request was made at a private meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday morning. Sources said Bush initiated the conversation.

He asked that only the House and Senate intelligence committees look into the potential breakdowns among federal agencies that could have allowed the terrorist attacks to occur, rather than a broader inquiry that some lawmakers have proposed, the sources said.

Tuesday's discussion followed a rare call to Daschle from Vice President Dick Cheney last Friday to make the same request.

"The vice president expressed the concern that a review of what happened on September 11 would take resources and personnel away from the effort in the war on terrorism," Daschle told reporters....Although the president and vice president told Daschle they were worried a wide-reaching inquiry could distract from the government's war on terrorism, privately Democrats questioned why the White House feared a broader investigation to determine possible culpability.

This request to Daschle is also mentioned by John Dean in his book "Worse than Watergate". Here's a passage where Dean offers his ideas as to why the Administration wanted to limit the investigations:

Given the dimensions of the government's failure, it was inevitable that several congressional committees, in both the House and Senate, quickly expressed plans to investigate. But this was exactly what Cheney wanted to avoid. With the Democrats in control of the Senate and the Republicans in control of the House, the White House had only partial control over Congress. Working behind the scenes, however, Cheney was able to do what a White House does when it does not want to be investigated - stop the process by jamming the gears of government.

Both Bush and Cheney spoke with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in late January 2002 about the probes. The Washington Post reported that the "president said the inquiry should be limited to the House and Senate intelligence committees, whose proceedings are generally secret" and that Cheney told Daschle, "A review of what happened on September 11 would take the resources and personnel away from the effort in the war on terrorism." It was not a viable excuse to forestall an investigation. When they failed to block the congressional inquiry, Bush and Cheney next used their political influence to control it.

Cheney employed well-proven tactics....First Daschle and then the House Republican leadership agreed (out of concern for "national security") to permit only the intelligence committees to investigate 9/11. Then to further limit those inquiries and prevent separate investigations by the House and Senate intelligence committees, an "unprecedented" (only because Democrats controlled one house of Congress, Republicans the other) joint committee was formed by combining the two committees. With thirty-seven members constituting the joint inquiry, the impact of the investigation was immediately weakened. Cheney understood that all members of such a high-profile undertaking would jealously seek to be involved, which dilutes the effort. For example, the time allotted to any single member for questioning witnesses must be limited, so everyone gets his turn, and the staff cannot assist three dozen plus members as it can a few. And reaching agreement on anything is difficult with such expanded membership, not to mention mixing the House and Senate together. In short, such large joint committees are remarkably cumbersome and poor at investigations, and for that reason they are rarely used....Finally, since all the information was controlled by the executive branch (i.e., the White House) and much of it subject to national security classification, Bush and Cheney could - and did - control what would be provided to the joint inquiry. The committee would get only what Bush and Cheney wanted it to get.

...The White House took an unprecedented stance in refusing to permit either Don Rumsfeld, as secretary of defense, or Colin Powell, as secretary of state, from testifying about matters relating to pre-9/11 counterterrorism activities. ("Worse than Watergate, pages 111 - 113)

The results from the joint committee***:

One panelist, Tim Roemer, a Democrat who just retired from Congress, complained in a statement he issued last month as a member of the House-Senate panel that the congressional probe suffered because such officials as Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, John Ashcroft and Condoleezza Rice "were not questioned directly about issues related to the Sept. 11 attacks."...Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a key architect of the legislation forming the commission, said the Bush Administration "slow-walked and stonewalled" the House-Senate inquiry.

A New York Times article on the congressional committee titled "White House Drags Its Feet On Testifying At 9/11 Panel"* seems to back up McCain's comments. In this case Sen. Richard Shelby, another Republican committee member, is quoted:

But Senator Shelby also warned that the committee was running out of time to finish its job, and indicated that he believes Bush administration officials have delayed cooperating fully, knowing it has a deadline to meet.

"We were told that there would be cooperation in this investigation, and I question that," he said. He added that he believes that the joint panel may run out of time, and that an independent commission to investigate the terrorist attacks may be needed to fill in the gaps.

Next up, the independent 9/11 Commission. To again quote John Dean:

Because of the lack of White House cooperation with the joint inquiry, the families of 9/11 victims began lobbying Congress to create an independent commission, with subpoena power, to investigate 9/11, even before the congressional effort had been completed. Bush and Cheney, of course, objected. ("Worse than Watergate, page 113)

The Administration's treatment of the independent commission is described in "Administration Faces Subpoenas From 9/11 Panel"****:

The chairman of the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks [Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey,] said that the White House was continuing to withhold several highly classified intelligence documents from the panel and that he was prepared to subpoena the documents if they were not turned over within weeks....

Mr. Kean's comments on Friday came as another member of the commission, Max Cleland, the former Democratic senator from Georgia, became the first panel member to say publicly that the commission could not complete its work by its May 2004 deadline and the first to accuse the White House of withholding classified information from the panel for purely political reasons.

"It's obvious that the White House wants to run out the clock here," he said in an interview in Washington. "It's Halloween, and we're still in negotiations with some assistant White House counsel about getting these documents - it's disgusting." [NOTE: This sounds very similar to Sen. Shelby's comments above regarding the congressional committee.]

He said that the White House and President Bush's re-election campaign had reason to fear what the commission was uncovering in its investigation of intelligence and law enforcement failures before Sept. 11. "As each day goes by, we learn that this government knew a whole lot more about these terrorists before Sept. 11 than it has ever admitted."

Interviews with several other members of the commission show that Mr. Kean's concerns are widely shared on the panel, and that the concern is bipartisan.

Slade Gorton, a Republican member of the panel who served in the Senate from Washington from 1982 to 2000, said that he was startled by the "indifference" of some executive branch agencies in making material available to the commission. "This lack of cooperation, if it extends anywhere else, is going to make it very difficult" for the commission to finish its work by next May, he said.

Timothy J. Roemer, president of the Center for National Policy in Washington and a former Democratic member of the House from Indiana, said that "our May deadline may, in fact, be jeopardized - many of us are frustrated that we're still dealing with questions about document access when we should be sinking our teeth into hearings and to making recommendations for the future."

Congress would need to approve an extension if the panel requested one, a potentially difficult proposition given the reluctance of the White House and many senior Republican lawmakers to see the commission created in the first place.

"If the families of the victims weighed in - and heavily, as they did before - then we'd have a chance of succeeding," said Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who was an important sponsor of the legislation creating the commission. He said that, given the "obfuscation" of the administration in meeting document requests, he was ready to pursue an extension "if the commission feels it can't get its work done."

Sadly, I could go on. Remember how hard it was to get Condi Rice to testify under oath after Richard Clark's testimony? They claim they have their reasons (national security, for example), but the result, nevertheless, is that the Bush Administration's actions (or lack of action) have hampered efforts by the 9/11 commission to "determin[e] the causes of America's security failures and [find] and [remedy] its weak points" and this runs counter to Hannity's claim. Hannity, once again, is wrong.

4.) When Hannity said "[o]ther Republicans concurred" with Bush, did he mean that they concurred with Bush on just an investigation or was he also including the previous statement about hunting down the guilty parties, too? Hannity said that Bush "made it clear that his first priority would be to hunt down the evildoers and bring them to justice". Was there an insinuation that the Democrats didn't concur? Just in case there was, here's a rebuttal:

In a statement on September 12, 2001, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat and a liberal, said that "[t]he world should know that the members of both parties, in both houses, stand united in this: the full resources of our government will be brought to bear ...in hunting down those responsible, and those who may have aided or harbored them."

What about a commitment to defending America? Were the Democrats on board? In the October 22 article Hannity cited, in addition to the "witch hunt" remark, Jane Harman is also quoted as saying: "Protecting against the next waves [of terror attacks] is job No. 1, job No. 2 and job No. 3." So, it wasn't just the GOP that concurred with the president.

* * *

I think that at this point it's pretty clear that Hannity's assertions about liberal Democrats, as a rule, being against investigating the intelligence community until it was politically advantageous (whenever that would have been) are false.

We're working backwards, so the next assertion to tackle is if Clinton refused to recognize terrorism for what it was (and thus effectively helped bring about 9/11). We'll look at that next time.

*This is a "pay-per-view" article on the New York Times' web site.

**This is a free version of the New York Times article that appears on the Chicago Tribunes web site.

***This is a free version of a Time article that appears on the "SkyScraperSafety" web site.

****This is a free version of the New York Times article that appears on the "GlobalIssues.org" web site.