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Mr. President, It’s That Pesky Mr. Accountability Again…


(Photo of President George Bush sucking down a deep whiff of ethanol fumes by Jim Young/Reuters via Yahoo.  H/T to twolf1 for the find on this picture — priceless!)

Um…Mr. President.  It's that pesky Mr. Accountability again.  He says he won't stop knocking until we answer:

The president and vice president can pretend it's not there, and can continue to hide behind their weak and transparent excuse for not commenting on an "ongoing criminal investigation".

But the trial is over. The investigation is over. And the conviction of a liar in their midst has made it more imperative than ever that the leaders of this country fully address the American people's legitimate concerns that the lies in question were intended to hide from public view even deeper skullduggery at the highest levels of the administration.

As special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald noted in his closing arguments (see my Feb. 21 column, The Cloud Over Cheney) Libby's lies have left all sorts of issues unresolved.

Cheney was at the fevered center of the effort to discredit administration critic Joseph Wilson, which resulted in the exposure of his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative. Indeed, Cheney was the first person to tell Libby about Plame. Cheney authored talking points that quite possibly encouraged Libby and others to mention Plame to reporters. Cheney was the only person to whom Libby confided his implausible cover story — that he had first heard about Plame from NBC's Tim Russert. And at Cheney's request, Bush secretly declassified portions of a National Intelligence Reports so that Libby could leak them to Judith Miller of the New York Times.

The White House yesterday once again trotted out its "ongoing criminal matter" rationale. But that was never much of an excuse and at this point it is utterly pathetic. Any danger of influencing the investigation or the jury pool, to the extent that was ever a legitimate concern, is past. The chances of a retrial are almost nonexistent. In reviewing a conviction, an appellate court cannot look outside the trial record. Fitzgerald says he and his fellow prosecutors are going back to their day jobs.

And there is an enormous public-policy factor here — something more important than the vague, theoretical possibility of influencing a fair trial. Just for example, no executive of any company would be allowed by his shareholders to remain mum on a top aide's indictment — not to mention conviction. He'd be fired.

Why are Bush and his aides hiding behind such hollow excuses? Probably because they know that if they did talk, it might just make things worse. Arguably, they still don't think Libby did anything wrong, putting them in the awkward position of disagreeing with a federal jury's verdict. And in explaining what they say really happened, they might risk either exposing more unseemly facts or being caught in a lie.

But the main reason they are hiding behind these excuses is that they can. There's been no public cost to them from not talking.

That, of course, is where the news media come in. When the public has a need to know and the government won't meet it, the media are at their most righteous in demanding information — and, when being denied, in constantly reminding everyone that the government is stonewalling.

Reporters yesterday glibly expressed no surprise by the White House's refusal to comment. The proper response, however, is sustained outrage, until every last critically important question is addressed.

Among those questions, just for refresher purposes:

* What did Bush know and when did he know it?

* Did Cheney tell Libby to leak Plame's identity to reporters?

* How involved was Cheney in the cover-up? How involved was Bush?

* Why is Karl Rove still working at the White House?

* What are the ethical standards for this White House? What is considered acceptable behavior and what is not? What is a firing offense?

There are days when I read a Froomkin column and say to myself, "Dang, I wish I had written that." Yesterday was one of those days. And I wanted to be certain that everyone saw this — because these are just the sorts of questions that journalists and members of Congress ought to be asking. Over and over again, until they are given satisfactory and thorough answers. 

And while all those media types and power brokers are at it, they should take a peek back through this Froomkin gem from Neiman, and refresh their collective recollections of those days when we had a President who didn't think of himself as some unilateral executive wannabe king.

The President and the Vice President work for all of us, not the other way around — and it is well past time that they were reminded of that fact. 

It is the job of the media to hold the President and his Administration to account for the mistakes they have made, not to simply slink around and hope for crumbs to fall off the Presidential table in the form of "exclusives" deliberately planted in some massive PR campaign.  I am not so naive to think that access is not a part of the job, and a necessary component of continuing to get good information which requires some compromises to be made in terms of what is or is not reportable.  But if your sources are using you as a vessel for manipulative, smarmy lies that they expect you to spoon feed a willing public?  At some point, shouldn't you ask yourself, "Is this ethical?  Is this my job?  Isn't it about time I stood up, found a spine, and asked a tough question?"  Or shouldn't you, perhaps, be honest with the public that you are a spineless shill who has sold your soul for face time on the teevee?

Harsh?  Yes.  But after Fred Hiatt's fact free screed yesterday, I am done being nice.  (And, btw, if you missed Watertiger's masterful point by point smackdown, do go and read it.)

It is the duty of members of Congress to provide meaningful and thorough oversight — this week's hearings on the US Attorney firings were an awfully good example of that process.  As were the hearings on the mess at Walter Reed.  More please.

Accountability, oversight and investigation by the media and members of Congress?  It is up to you and me to be certain that they do so.  Let's get to work.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com