Monday, December 24, 2007

Fear of subpoenas ‘crippling’ the White House?

The Carpetbagger Report

As she departs the White House, and steps down as Bush’s chief terrorism adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend stopped to tell the NYT how disappointed she is with the political climate in DC.

Promoted to domestic security adviser in 2004, she became a loyalist and said she was leaving wearied by the acrimony that hangs over Mr. Bush’s last year in office.

“I find it both offensive and crippling,” she said. “When both career people and political people are worried about getting subpoenaed, it’s hard to get a lot accomplished.”

Oh, those poor, poor White House officials. If only Congress would go back to ignoring the administration’s scandalous, sometimes criminal, behavior, the president and his aides would find it much easier to go about their business without the fear of accountability. Apparently, we’re supposed to feel sorry for the whole bunch.

But does the Bush gang really find all of this really “offensive and crippling”? What’s offensive about congressional oversight?

For that matter, why is it that executive-branch officials, who presumably aren’t doing anything wrong, feel “crippled” by the fear that they may be asked to account for the decisions?

It just sounds so ridiculous, I’m surprised a top White House official would even say this on the record.

Besides, if the Bush gang really wants to talk about “offensive and crippling” subpoenas from Congress, let’s not forget how Republicans ran (.pdf) the House Oversight Committee in the 1990s.

Before the Republicans took control of Congress in 1995, congressional authority to issue subpoenas was viewed as a serious power to be exercised judiciously. From at least as far back as the McCarthy era in the 1950s to the Republican takeover in 1995, no Democratic committee chairman issued a subpoena without either consent from the minority or a committee vote. This long-standing tradition of restraint was abandoned, however, during the congressional investigations of the Clinton Administration.

The Government Reform Committee is the primary investigative committee in the House of Representatives. During the Clinton Administration, the chairman of this Committee unilaterally issued over 1,000 subpoenas to investigate allegations of misconduct involving the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Party. The Committee issued 1,089 subpoenas during the six years that Dan Burton served as chairman from 1997 through 2002. During this period, 1,052 of the Committee’s subpoenas - 97% - targeted officials of the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Party; only 11 subpoenas related to allegations of Republican abuses. (emphasis added)

Burton handed out subpoenas like candy. He subpoenaed 141 different Clintonites. He held hearings — for 10 days — on the Clintons’ Christmas card list. In one instance, Burton was so reckless, he subpoenaed the wrong man (looking for someone with a similar name). In another instance, Burton fired a bullet into a “head-like object” — reportedly a melon — in his backyard to test the theory that former White House counsel Vincent Foster was murdered (this from the man who is now warning against “sensational disclosures”).

But Frances Fragos Townsend thinks it’s “offensive and crippling” for Congress to expect the White House to explain matters such as the politicization of the Justice Department and the destruction of CIA evidence of torture.

It’s as if lawmakers have it in their heads that Congress is a co-equal branch of government with oversight responsibilities. The nerve.

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