Thursday, February 23, 2006

“Executive Privilege”

Given the current polarization of politics in the United States, it’s no longer possible to offer an analysis of issues that satisfies both Bush administration backers and the administration’s critics. Consequently, Of Principalities and Powers—following the lead of other media—has been forced to run competing versions of events in order to satisfy readers from both camps. Today’s topic is “executive privilege.”

Administration’s Scenario

Mr. Bush: “What have you got for me on those e-mails the special prosecutor is asking for, Al?”

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: “Nothing has changed, sir. I would love to turn them over to Mr. Fitzgerald, but we simply can’t. It’s a matter of executive privilege.”

Mr. Bush: “Surely we can find some way around that, Al. Those e-mails would prove conclusively that Vice President Cheney, his top aides, and other officials here in the White House had nothing to do with leaking Valerie Plame’s secret identity as a CIA operative.”

AG: “I know they would, sir, but our hands are tied.”

Mr. Bush: “Doggone it, Al, we have nothing to hide. We’ve got to cooperate with the special prosecutor any way we can. I’m firmly committed to running the most open and accessible presidency possible.”

AG: “Of course you are, sir, and I wish there was a way around this executive privilege thing.”

Mr. Bush: “Well somebody leaked her identity. That information didn’t just materialize out of thin air. Can’t we find out who did it?”

AG: “We’ve tried, sir. Believe me, we’ve tried. We’ve left no stone unturned, and we haven’t a clue. Nobody knows a thing about it.”

Mr. Bush: “Al, I can’t tell you how much it bothers me to have people thinking this administration would do anything so underhanded and vindictive as to expose a CIA agent and her contacts just to get back at her husband for saying we had our facts wrong when we were assembling the case for attacking Iraq. I mean, that would be totally despicable!”

AG: “It bothers all of us, sir. When people are alleging unfairly that the documents incriminate the Vice President, Mr. Rove, and your other top advisors, we would love to be able to set them straight.”

Mr. Bush: “Why can’t we, Al? Why don’t we just waive executive privilege in this case and give them the darned things?”

AG: “It’s not just executive privilege, sir. There are national security concerns. The e-mails referring to Valerie Plame also contain classified intelligence information about Iraq. Believe me, I went over every e-mail related to Ms. Plame-Wilson, and every single one Mr. Fitzgerald is seeking also contains classified material.”

Mr. Bush: “Couldn’t we just redact or black out the classified parts, leaving the parts referring to Ms. Plame unedited? That would satisfy security concerns and clear the Vice President once and for all.”

AG: “That a great idea, sir! Why didn’t I think of that? Let me just run that by my staff, to make sure there are no legal problems, and I’ll get right back to you.”

Mr. Bush: “Be sure you strike any vulgarities or obscenities that might have slipped out in the heat of the moment as well, Al. The public needs to be protected from anything offensive.

AG: “Of course, sir. I’ll see to it.”

Critics’ Scenario

Mr. Bush: “What have you got for me on those e-mails the special prosecutor is asking for, Al?”

AG: “It looks as if we found them all, sir. He hasn’t asked for anything yet that we didn’t either shred, delete, or withhold.”

Mr. Bush: “Good job, Al. I know it took you and your staff two weeks of round-the-clock work to comb through all that stuff and destroy the incriminating material, or squirrel it away under a claim of ‘executive privilege.’”

AG: “Well, you do what you’ve gotta do. If Fitzgerald had gotten hold of those e-mails, half the administration would have been impeached, and their staff hauled up on criminal charges.”

Mr. Bush: “I’m still worried about that time in ’04 when Cheney told federal prosecutors that neither he nor any of his senior aides had any involvement in revealing Wilson’s wife’s undercover CIA status to reporters. To top that off, he claimed that no one in his office had attempted to discredit her husband for criticizing our pre-war Iraq intelligence. I’m afraid that stuff’s too easy to disprove, and will come back to bite us.”

AG: “It’s not really a problem, sir. He didn’t testify under oath or under penalty of perjury, so there are no real consequences for the lies.”

Mr. Bush: “Well, that’s one weight off of my shoulders. Have you heard anything new from Fitzgerald?”

AG: “I’m afraid so. He sent an official letter to Libby’s defense team saying, and I quote, ‘In an abundance of caution, we advise you that we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system.’"

Mr. Bush: “Okay, so he’s on to us. He’s learned we’re withholding stuff from him. Big deal. What’s he gonna do about it?”

AG: “We’ll claim the usual—executive privilege, national security concerns, et cetera. It worked pretty well for Nixon. If it hadn’t been for those damned tapes, he’d have finished out his term in style. I’m not sure there’s anything Fitzgerald can do about it, without enormous pressure from the public and Congress. And we’re not going to get any pressure from this Congress.”

Mr. Bush: “That damned hothead Cheney! If he didn’t go off half-cocked all the time, life would be a hell of a lot easier. I spend half my time cleaning up after his messes.”

AG [Jokingly]” “Speaking of going off half-cocked….”

[Both men laugh, in spite of themselves.]

Mr. Bush: “Listen, I don’t care what Fitzgerald does or says. If it looks like he’s closing in, burn every shred of evidence, drench the whole lot with acid, bury the remains in a nuclear waste repository, and dare him to do anything about it. You didn’t hear me say that, and I want no minutes taken of this meeting. Do I make myself clear?”

AG: “Of course, sir. I’ll see to it.”

There you have it, reader—two conflicting views. Which appears more plausible to you? You decide!

© Tony Russell, 2006

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