Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL SECURITY AS A POLITICAL GAME....Frankly, I don't really have an opinion about whether Jamie Gorelick should resign from the 9/11 panel. After all, she's had a conflict of interest for a long time and so has the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow. If the commission decides to get rid of either or both of them, it's fine with me.

But can I ask another question? Yesterday's conflict-of-interest charges were based on a 1995 memo by Gorelick about the wall between criminal investigations and counterintelligence. Here's how John Ashcroft presented it to the commission:

The basic architecture for the wall in the 1995 guidelines was contained in a classified memorandum entitled "Instructions for Separation of Certain Foreign Counterintelligence and Criminal Investigations."

....Although you understand the debilitating impact of the wall, I cannot imagine that the commission knew about this memorandum. So I have had it declassified for you and the public to review.

Full disclosure compels me to inform you that the author of this memorandum is a member of the commission.

You can just feel the cleverness oozing from Ashcroft's pores as he felt "compelled" to mention that Gorelick was the author of the memo, can't you? It's like watching a high school student council meeting.

But there's a serious question here. The fact that Ashcroft was so pleased with himself makes it obvious that he declassified this memo for the sole purpose of embarrassing Gorelick, an action that continues a Bush administration pattern of casually declassifying anything that helps their political cause but refusing to declassify anything that might hurt them. The classic case occurred in 2001 when Bush actually declassified part of a conversation between Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that reflected poorly on Clinton but refused to declassify the rest of the conversation even when Clinton requested it.

Doesn't this deserve more attention? The executive branch has the sole authority to declassify documents, and when they use that authority selectively to bait their political opponents it's not much different from using the IRS or the FBI to harrass them. Where's a wall when you need it?

UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review apparently agrees.

Kevin Drum 3:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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