Joe Conason's Journal

Why doesn't Nancy Pelosi talk about the Westar case? Plus: Kenneth Pollack may regret the headline on his New York Times Op-Ed.


Salon Staff
June 20, 2003 8:02PM (UTC)

John Ashcroft's Westar connection House Democrats, including their alleged leader Nancy Pelosi, are treating the Westar case as if it's radioactive. In a recent NPR story about Westar -- the troubled Kansas utility whose officials allegedly tried to "influence" House GOP leaders with contributions to their campaign committees -- I heard Pelosi say she doesn't know anything about the burgeoning Republican scandal. Could that possibly be true? She sounded like a surrender monkey who hears, sees and speaks no evil. (Maybe she just needs some encouragement.)

Fortunately, a few others in Pelosi's party are bolder. Michigan Rep. John Conyers and DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe have demanded an independent investigation of the alleged influence-peddling scheme that has embroiled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin and Texas Rep. Joe Barton. John Ashcroft, the nation's chief law enforcement officer, doesn't exactly seem eager to probe this embarrassment in his home state of Missouri. When asked about Westar in New Hampshire the other day, the attorney general curtly responded, "No comment. Next question, please."

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Ashcroft's obvious discomfort may arise from the fact that Westar's former chief administrative officer, a gentleman named Carl Koupal, happens to be among his oldest political pals. Missouri Democrats say their connections date back to 1976, when Koupal ran Ashcroft's successful campaign for state attorney general. Eight years later Koupal managed Ashcroft's victorious gubernatorial campaign, then joined his Cabinet as the state's director of economic development.

Pelosi isn't the only liberal who has failed to find her voice about Westar. Curiously, the New York Times' editorial board also hasn't said anything about this matter yet, despite its usual -- and laudable -- obsession with campaign finance chicanery. (Just be thankful for Paul Krugman.)

Those billowing mushroom clouds Kenneth Pollack may yet regret the headline on his Times Op-Ed today, which promises "Saddam's Bombs? We'll Find Them." The text is somewhat more equivocal, as the hawkish author and analyst has been ever since Iraq's reputed arsenal of forbidden weapons proved so elusive. While Pollack offers various explanations for the continuing failure to find biological and chemical munitions, he cannot help wondering why Saddam didn't use or even prepare to use them when the coalition invaded. He suggests that the Iraqi dictator "may have been killed or gravely wounded in the 'decapitation' strike on the eve of the invasion and unable to give the orders." That theory was never very plausible -- and on today's front page of the same newspaper, it was officially discarded.

Pollack is too honest to pretend that the Bush administration didn't misuse and distort intelligence data to drive the world toward war. He believes that those allegations require investigation, partly because he heard the same charges repeatedly from his own sources in government. But he continues to cling to specious intelligence leaks about the suspected Iraqi nuclear program, which was the only convincing justification for a preemptive strike. (And as he worries in his conclusion, the chaos of war may only have dispersed any remaining Iraqi chemical and biological capabilities to other countries or more dangerous enemies, most obviously al-Qaida.)

Although John Judis and Spencer Ackerman make no prediction about what may eventually be discovered in Iraq, their stunning New Republic investigation outlines the dimensions of pre-war White House deception. Particularly damning is their debunking of the "mushroom cloud" scares by Bush, Cheney and other administration officials. As Judis and Ackerman point out, by last year the CIA had "generally endorsed the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which concluded that, while serious questions remained about Iraq's nuclear program -- many having to do with discrepancies in documentation -- its present capabilities were virtually nil. The IAEA possessed no evidence that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program and, it seems, neither did U.S. intelligence. In CIA director George Tenet's January 2002 review of global weapons-technology proliferation, he did not even mention a nuclear threat from Iraq, though he did warn of one from North Korea." So all the frightening fulmination about Saddam's bomb had less to do with mushroom clouds than mushroom propaganda: The White House kept Congress, journalists and citizens in the dark, and fed them all plenty of Pentagon manure.
[10:45 a.m. PDT, June 20, 2003

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