I'm sorry. Oral sex in the Oval Office? Perjury in a federal court proceeding? No problem. One trembling lower lip, an oh-so-sincere apology, and all is forgiven. Almost ten years as the White House anti-terrorist chieftain with 9/11 as your legacy? No problem. Even without the lower lip action, one profound apology on behalf of a White House you didn't run and all is forgiven. In Wednesday night's press conference, by my count, President Bush was asked four times to apologize for 9/11, for Iraq, and for merely being there.
So sorry. The problem is that the White House pressies -- who used to be distinguishable from the Kerry campaign staff -- are trying desperately to be straight men for a Kerry campaign sound bite. They failed this time around because the president isn't taking -- and shouldn't take -- the rap for 9/11. But the Brenda Lee Press Corps will keep trying.
Please accept my apology. The shabbiness of it all (especially the performance of John Roberts of CBS, who should pay more attention to his badly-fitted whistling dentures and less to his WASP-fro hairdo) made the president uneasy. He had every right to be, because he knows it's a setup. They wouldn't give him the pass they gave his predecessor again and again. If he confessed error on anything remotely connected to 9/11 or Iraq, they'd be tut-tutting forever, saying that America should accept the apology of this nice but fatally-flawed man. They'd be so terribly sorry to question his fitness for the presidency, and point out that John Kerry didn't make those mistakes.
The reaction to this nonsense is lost in the maelstrom of news from the 9/11 Commission and about the fighting in Iraq. The president has only two things in his mind: winning the war, and winning the election. Unless he does the latter, we won't do the former. He -- and we -- can only expect the partisanship of the press to grow worse, hard as that is to imagine. The partisanship of the 9/11 Commission is no better.
IF THERE ARE APOLOGIES TO BE made, they should be emanating from one member of the increasingly partisan and decreasingly credible 9/11 Commission. No, it's not Richard Ben-Venomous, who at least has the good grace to be openly and sneeringly partisan. The bigger problem is former Clintonoid Deputy Attorney General and -- before that -- Defense Department General Counsel Jamie Gorelick. The Commission lost a lot of credibility on Tuesday when the Bush cabinet member the left most loves to hate, Attorney General John Ashcroft, went on the attack and hit Gorelick right between the eyes.
This column has for years -- and long before 9/11 -- bemoaned the utter fecklessness of the over-lawyered Clinton administration's approach to everything having to do with national security. I'm sure, Dear Reader, you remember the incident when Sandy Berger -- Clinton's national security advisor -- shunned the Sudanese offer of bin Laden on a silver platter because we didn't have enough evidence to indict UBL. And Loose Canons has often complained that the Clintons' approach went farther than the law required in the interest of political correctness. After 9/11, it's been obvious that the intel community was emasculated by laws dating back to the 1970s that made cooperation between the FBI, CIA, NSA and DIA impossible. And the Clintons made it worse.
Ms. Gorelick, as Deputy AG, wrote a memo in 1995 that added several layers of bricks to the top of the wall separating the FBI's criminal investigators and intelligence gatherers. It says, in part, "…we believe that it is prudent to establish a set of instructions that will clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation from the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations. These procedures, which do beyond what is legally required, will prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation." Appearances mattered more than allowing the investigators to put the pieces together before 9/11.
THE HEADLINES FROM Tuesday's hearing brought Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner to call for Gorelick to resign, as the Commission's rules require. Sensenbrenner was right, but he may not have been aware of the other big reason Gorelick has to be removed from the Commission. There's another big problem that Ms. Gorelick may be responsible for, and which should result in her answering questions, not asking them.
One of the appendices to Rowan Scarborough's book, Rumsfeld's War, is a previously classified study of why Clinton never used special ops troops to attack bin Laden. That study says that when the Clintons considered employing special operations forces against bin Laden, questions arose whether the Defense Department had the legal authority to engage in such covert operations. Part of it says, "Pentagon lawyers in the 1990s argued that DoD did not have the legal authority.…Only the CIA…had the license to conduct covert action..."
But, as the study found, the Pentagon lawyers' objection is wrong, and specific authority exists for the president to assign covert missions to the armed services. And who was the chief lawyer in the Pentagon in 1993 and 1994? None other than our gal Jamie. She left DoD for the Justice Department before bin Laden became a household word. But DoD top lawyers would have consulted with Gorelick on an issue that would be -- as that one was -- briefed to the Secretary of Defense, and probably to the president as well. Did Gorelick participate in the decision to nix spec ops? What advice did the DoD ask for and receive from her and the Justice Department on that subject? The Commission needs to find out. Under oath.
The 9/11 Commission can go along and play whatever games it may choose. But the serious people on it cannot hope for any credible result if Gorelick remains a member. She should be forced to resign, and called to testify under oath about both the 1995 Memo and the bad legal judgment that blocked the use of special ops against bin Laden. If the Commissioners are serious about finding what went wrong before 9/11, they should look to their left. Miz Gorelick deserves a shot at her own Brenda Lee moment, and damned little else.
TAS Contributing Editor Jed Babbin is author of the forthcoming book, Inside the Asylum: How the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think.
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