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We Report... You Deride

Friday, March 26, 2004  
Trial by Perjury

Let's begin talking about whether Richard Clarke is a perjurer roughly at the point where Josh Marshall washes his hands of the question -- with Bill Frist's disingenuous suggestion that he does not know whether Clarke's motives are "partisan gain, personal profit, self promotion, or animus because of his failure to win a promotion in the Bush Administration."

Frist obviously isn't a lawyer. And while I'm not either, I can tell you what one would say in a summation.

Is it likely that Richard Clarke would deliberately perjure himself-- about the most controversial issue in the history of the United States-- for any of those motives? (And, yes, this is probably a more polarized topic than slavery or whether to enter World War One, now.)

Is it likely that he would perjure himself in front of (a) first a congressional subcomittee and then a group of reporters (both times, when he knew his words were being transcribed) or (b) television shows that reached the entire country last week?

Better yet, let's ask the question why would be lie? There are typically four motives for perjury. One is that the person is a sociopath, a zealot or mentally ill-- in each case, someone for whom truth has no meaning.

Another is to avoid a greater danger. For example, you're being investigated for embezzling and you tell the auditors that your boss ordered you to do it.

A third reason is unwillingness to admit a mistake. Martha Stewart or Lyndon Johnson probably didnt intend to tell outrageous lies, but they could never find a convenient time to come clean and the level of dishonesty kept rising.

The last reason is if the reward for the risk is high enough. You're paying me to say I was with you on the night that your wife was killed.

Do any of those motivations apply? Reason one is possible. One never knows what's in someone's heart.

Reason two isn't-- there was nothing bearing down on Clark, compelling him to start falsely accusing W.'s regime. Reason three doesn't apply-- in that scenario, the lie has to be the first thing the person does. Here, the early acts (the briefing saying Bush was doing well) is supposed to be the truth.

Reason four? Doesn't work, if we assume Clarke is rational. If he did it for money, the probable returns of royalties from a book are offset by the likelihood of paying huge legal fees to defend himself against perjury. Also, if he wants to write a book called "I WAS BILL CLINTON'S TOP TERRORIST AIDE AND I SAY 9/11 WAS ALL SLICK WILLIE'S FAULT!", he's got a guaranteed fortune in book sales.

He couldn't have done it for power-- Democrats are such wusses that no one would hire him for any position of power after this uproar.

If the reward was revenge--being the guy who blows W. out of office for not promoting him-- the timing is wrong. Going public in March of 2004 gives W. plenty of time to recover--and, remember, the book was written even earlier (it's been held for clearance for months by the White House.)

Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh demonstrated the correct way to time an event. The Friday before the 1992 presidential election, he released a notes written by Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger, which stated that Bush I approved of the deal.

In short, the only way Clarke does this for personal gain is if he is too naive or foolish or arrogant to calculate risks and rewards properly. In other words, reason one again-- he's lost his grip on reality.

Again, it's possible-- he's reported to be brilliant but arrogant-- and those guys can go bad.

But let's consider the other possibility-- that W.'s regime is deliberately lying-- and examine their motives.

Consider reason one. Are they zealots-- people with no understanding of-- or regard for-- the truth? They've proven that, time and again.

Reason two-- the alternative to lying is worse. That certainly fits-- if they don't discredit Clarke, they're going to be forced to accept culpability for 9/11.

Does reason three-- committing egregious acts to disguise minor failings-- apply? It would seem so. My opinion of these people is incredibly low, but I don't believe they deliberately intended to put the country in danger by not pursuing al-Qaeda.

But is it likely that they childishly refused to admit that any of Bill Clinton's ideas made sense, got bit in the ass by it and started covering up? Damned straight it is.

Finally, is sliming Clarke a high-reward, low-risk strategy? Absolutely, because there is no risk. The only way W.'s regime can be shown to be lying is if they release information that is currently classified-- and which they can argue is still essential to national security.

If the Democrats insist on releasing the information, it's partisan politics. And what are the odds that members of the Republic Party will hold their nominee for president accountable?

The bottom line is that of the four most common motivations for perjury, only one corresponds with Dick Clarke's behavior: he has lost control of his ability to reason cogently.

But all four motivations could explain the behavior of W.'s regime. Each reason benefits them in some way.

Having a motive to act doesn't prove that action was taken. But it makes it easier to believe that it occurred. We live in a cause-and-effect world, where rational people try to do things that benefit them and avoid things that will hurt them.

If we ask the question "What could he (or they) possibly have been thinking?", it is much easier to answer the question for W.'s regime than it is for Clarke. And if you look at the evidence-- well, I'll do that tomorrow.

10:39 PM

Don't Screw With The Eagles

Damn, is Richard Clarke good. This is about as masterful a performance as it gets.

Granted that Larry King is lobbing softballs at him. But getting softballs hasn't prevented Constantliar Rice or John Kerry from imploding their credibility or saying stupid things, has it?

[Rice is the Beltway's answer to Bull Durham's Nuke LaLoosh: a million-dollar mouth and a ten-cent brain. Her comments in the story-- which attempt to explain how Dick Cheney's "Clarke was out of the loop" and her own "He was in every meeting and never disagreed with our plans'" statements can be simultaneously true-- are priceless. By saying that (a) Clarke was in every meeting W's regime held on the subject of terrorism and (b) he didn't meet with Rummy, Powell, Tenet or herself regularly, she leaves only two possibilities: (1) either she or Cheney is lying through their teeth or (2) Rice, Rummy, Tenet and Powell didn't regularly attend meetings on terrorism.

Had the writer been a qualified Washington correspondent-- or merely someone with a functioning brain stem-- he or she would have torn the statement to shreds with sarcasm and forensic analysis. Luckily, she was speaking to Elizabeth "Light in the Loafers" Bumiller, who felt it was her duty to present it uncritically.]

But I digress. Clarke has completely blindsided W's regime because-- well, part of it is that they just aren't real bright. But Americans have an inbred disregard for anything having to do with structure, precedent or stability. (Only in this country could books with titles like Thriving on Chaos or Riding the Tornado become bestsellers.) In any other country, a government official with a 30-year career under seven different presidents would be considered a "brahmin", "mandarin", "elder statesman" or "sage" and treated with respect and deference-- if not obsequiousness and fear.

In this one, we call guys like Clarke "bureaucrats" and presume their intelligence to be limited, their initiative to be lacking (because they're not out in the corporate sector , making money), their personality to be bland and conclude that their organizational, managerial and communication skills are stunted.

My experience is that anyone who keeps their job when the leadership changes-- much less gets promoted-- must be both gifted and skillful. And when people use words like brilliant, arrogant and difficult to describe the person, it means they know how to defend themselves against attacks (and usually have a slew of confirmed kills, and bodies left lying by the roadside).

When W's thugs tried to pin the blame for Nigerian uranium getting into the State of the Union address on George Tenet, he unloaded half a dozen well-aimed warning shots and a passel of ninja throwing stars in short order. They ended up backing away. Clarke-- whose reputation as a streetfighter makes Tenet and Sonny Chiba look like Doris Day and Rock Hudson-- isn't anyone I'd want to get into a slanging match with.

3:22 AM

Thursday, March 25, 2004  
A League of Her Own

Here's the reason (scroll down) why The Newspaper of Record shouldn't be sending a former Woman's Page reporter to do a White House Correspondent's job:

"I think we were very deferential because ... it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time."-- Elizabeth Bumiller, The New York Times

Yes, it is tough. It requires a person who has proven that he or she has the experience to stand up and question the chief executive of a city or state publicly-- taking the exposure and ridicule that politicians hand out when you ask them something they don't really want to answer.

Send someone who doesn't have the experience or the strength of personality to do the job and you get precisely what The Times has gotten from Bumiller-- nothing whatsoever of value.

1:36 PM

Wednesday, March 24, 2004  
The Ugly Americans, Part MMCCLXII

I'm a little short on time, but if you wonder why W's regime is so universally despised, look no further than these five words:

King Carlos and Queen Sofia went row by row on Wednesday, clasping the hands of the bereaved or kissing them on the cheeks at an emotional state funeral for the 190 people killed in Spain's worst terrorist attack.

The Spanish monarch and his family joined Secretary of State Colin Powell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles, French President Jacques Chirac and more than a dozen other heads of state or government in the 19th-century Almudena Cathedral.

France sends their president. Endland sends both their Prime Minister and their next king. America sends... a cabinet secretary who has absolutely no authority to say anything without permission from the wingnuts, and has been punked so many times there are tread marks on his butt.

What, guys, was the Lieutenant Governor of Iowa busy?

11:48 PM

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