Joe Conason's Journal

Does it matter if an alleged criminal belongs to one political party or another? Ask Rush Limbaugh.

By Salon Staff

Published September 19, 2002 4:37PM (EDT)

Party poop
Those indefatigable researchers at the Smoking Gun, unlike many who profess to report the news, never settle for anything less than primary sources. And instead of merely quoting from all the stuff they dig up from file cabinets, bureaucracies and databases all over the world, the TSG presents the actual documents for readers to examine. Today, inspired by Rush Limbaugh's bizarre routine on the Buffalo "al Qaeda Democrats," TSG reveals the party registration of an infamous criminal -- a man recently convicted of a truly heinous crime. Which party did this ghoul belong to? (Hint: Not the Green Party.) More pertinently, what does it mean, if anything, that an alleged criminal or convicted criminal belongs to one party or another? Perhaps "the greatest radio host of all time" will answer if politely queried with e-mails to or a call to his ever-vigilant screeners.
[2:32 a.m. PDT, Sept. 19, 2002]

Blair bolsters Schröder
The demon-of-the-day in conservative circles is German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, targeted today on the Wall Street Journal editorial page by a leading member of the right-wing opposition in the Bundestag, and in a barely coherent column by William Safire. The latter crudely attempts to defame Schröder as anti-Semitic before moving on to his alleged resentment of "German book-publishing hegemony" in the United States. (Safire doesn't mention that his most recent book was published last November by Crown, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann AG.)

Rather than address the reasons for European concern over President Bush's unilateralist tendencies, Safire and other conservatives merely denounce foreign critics as closet anti-Semites and pals of Saddam. But if Schröder is so irresponsible, how do they explain Tony Blair's decision yesterday to express strong support for him, on the eve of hard-fought national elections in Germany? According to the Daily Telegraph, the prime minister said that his German colleague had merely been asking "sensible questions," and that he didn't doubt that eventually the leaders of the West would be acting together to deal with Iraq. (Readers fluent in German can let me know whether the Tagesspiegel newspaper interview with Blair was accurately reflected in the Telegraph.)

Now, an independent probe
A few preliminary conclusions may be gleaned from yesterday's hearings on Capitol Hill, and they aren't flattering to the White House. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was either amazingly misinformed or baldly untruthful when she declared last May that nobody "could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." The evidence revealed by the congressional investigation shows clearly that American intelligence agencies received several warnings, over a period of years, that al-Qaida contemplated such an airborne attack. Most newspaper accounts today spare Rice any comparison between her excuses and the committee report's findings, but the embarrassing videotape of her May remarks aired on the networks last night.

The committee's findings are damaging to George Tenet but the CIA director emerges unscathed compared to former FBI director Louis Freeh, who seems to have ignored Tenet's "declaration of war" on al-Qaida four years ago. Freeh still seems mysteriously exempt from press scrutiny; it will be interesting to see whether he is called as a witness in these hearings. And finally there is the matter of the Bush administration's continuing effort to conceal what both this president and his predecessor were told about the threat from al-Qaida. Senators of both parties have complained generally about White House obstruction of this investigation, and its refusal to declassify "any references to the intelligence community providing information to the president or the White House." There is bipartisan agreement that this stonewalling has no national security justification. Let's hope that the Senate swiftly approves the McCain-Lieberman legislation for an independent commission.
[9:42 a.m. PDT, Sept. 19, 2002]

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