Joe Conason's Journal

Bush/Cheney's private recount 2000 air force included planes from Enron, Halliburton -- and Sallie Mae?

By Salon Staff
Published August 5, 2002 2:46PM (EDT)

Flying Air Kennyboy
The president can still rely on most of the press to ignore or downplay embarrassing and even potentially explosive stories. Heeding a consensus that stories about the 2000 election are "old news," no matter how much new information they reveal, most news organizations devoted little attention to Bloomberg's superb story last Friday about the Enron, Halliburton and other corporate jets used by the Bush-Cheney campaign during the presidential recount struggle in Florida. (The fraudulent tale about Kenny Boy sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom when Clinton was president got better play.)

Imagine the manufactured outrage if it were discovered that Al Gore had been chauffeured around on an Occidental Petroleum jet, after all the wailing about his family's ties to that benighted firm. Guess what? Bloomberg News reports that the guest passengers on the Oxy jet were Bush-Cheney politicos. There are still more interesting names on the list of companies that provided executive jets to the Bush effort in November 2000 aside from Enron and Halliburton. Among them are Reliant Energy, under federal investigation for manipulating energy prices in California; Anadarko Petroleum, whose executives enjoyed special entrie into Cheney's Energy Task Force; Tom Brown Inc., another oil outfit whose former CEO Donald Evans is now the Commerce Secretary; MBNA, the consumer-credit mammoth whose bankruptcy "reform" legislation is now being pushed by Bush; and, rather weirdly, Sallie Mae, the enormous financial services group that specializes in packaging and marketing government-backed student loans.

According to its own Web site, "Sallie Mae was originally established as the Student Loan Marketing Association, a government-sponsored enterprise, but began the privatization process in 1997. The [government-sponsored enterprise] will be phased out by 2006, and the company will be fully privatized." A disclaimer on the home page also explains that Sallie Mae "and its subsidiaries (other than the Student Loan Marketing Association) are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America." In plainer English, Sallie Mae is still directly tied to the federal government and will be for another four years. Why did its executives loan their jet to the Bush-Cheney air force? (And where do they go on that jet when they aren't lending it to politicians?)

Bully pulpit
To refresh your memory of the inspiring spectacle those company planes made possible, Robert Parry provides an updated account of what the Republicans did to win Florida. To improve your understanding of how and why Democrats are so often bullied that way, and what they can do about it, Michael Tomasky examines their psychological condition and prescribes a strong dose of partisanship.
[12:44 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2002]

Time for truth
The ugly, mendacious campaign to blame Bill Clinton for the national security disaster of last Sept. 11 should end today, with the publication of a revealing investigative report in Time magazine.

According to Time's sources in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, departing national security advisor Sandy Berger and the National Security Council's counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, who was held over, gave Berger's replacement, Condoleezza Rice, a series of urgent, extensive briefings on al-Qaida in January 2001. (Rice reportedly said she doesn't recall Berger's presence at these meetings.) They delivered a comprehensive plan to "roll back" Osama bin Laden's terrorist network that included assaults on its international financial structure, its branches from the Philippines to Yemen, and, most important, its headquarters in Afghanistan. The strategy proposed for destroying al-Qaida in Afghanistan was almost identical to the military action taken after the Sept. 11 attack, with bombing from the air supporting U.S. special forces units and a strengthened Northern Alliance. Clarke laid out the same plan for the vice president a month later.

The new administration's refusal to deal with the Clinton plan expeditiously represented "a systematic collapse in the ability of Washington's national security apparatus to handle the terrorist threat." The supposedly supercompetent national security managers such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were too arrogant and too preoccupied with other matters (such as national missile defense against North Korea) to counter the most serious threat to this country since the end of the Cold War.

Although the Washington Post has previously reported ongoing covert efforts by the Clinton administration to neutralize bin Laden and cripple al-Qaida, Time says this more open and aggressive battle plan was drawn up after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000. Rather than initiate a war that would have to be finished by their successors, the Clinton officials properly left the final decision to be made by the new president and his advisors. Unfortunately those hard-charging, tough-talking, bureaucracy-busting executives did little but shuffle paper until it was much too late. No wonder Cheney and Bush have argued so strenuously against an independent investigation of the events leading up to Sept. 11, which they should no longer be allowed to evade. The White House has issued a denial of the Time report, but its credibility on this subject is especially poor. The Senate Intelligence Committee ought to release any evidence it has gathered of the chronology of procrastination exposed in Time.

I debated the responsibility of the former president with Andrew Sullivan on this site months ago. Support for my point of view is unexpected but welcome from Time, a publication that never hesitated to attack the Clintons during the Whitewater years. Perhaps it is time for Sullivan, Rush Limbaugh and all the other conservatives who have smeared Clinton for his alleged fecklessness regarding terror to withdraw (at least stop repeating) their baseless accusations. "Feckless" seems like a better description of those who took over from Clinton and failed to heed the advice he left for them.
[7:55 a.m. PDT, August 5, 2002]

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