Man Without Qualities

Friday, March 26, 2004

Who Thinks They Can Win This Way? III: The Passion Of The Apologists

Yes, Bob Kerrey's visage was priceless as he argued that the "background" footage of Richard Clarke flatly contradicting the critical elements of his book and his sworn testimony shouldn't have been released to the public. Perjury, anyone? For political reasons I don't think it will happen, but not because the perjury didn't happen. Poor Martha Stewart: she just supposedly wanted $50,000. Mr. Kerrey's pain as he offered this wan apology in the face of Mr. Clarke's disgrace was all the more exquisite because the former Senator has on many issues before the Commission taken his job seriously, unlike some of the other Democrats sitting near him.

The image of Kerrey Agonisties seems destined to be reproduced on the faces of many on the liberal/Democratic side. Consider Fed Kaplan's tortured effort in Slate. A helpful e-mailer provided this screed in the morning mail. I was just emerging from the paroxysm of laughter it induced when (via Henry Hanks) I noticed Rich Lowry's handy short-form fish-in-a-barrel fusillade at Kaplan that - despite its brevity - even includes a restatement of Kaplan's fish (er, I mean, "arguments"):

At least according to Fred Kaplan ... Clarke has been caught contradicting himself... [H]ow Kaplan would explain the discrepancy[?] ... He doesn't. Kaplan makes two points.

1) ... Clarke's prior testimony to the 9/11 commission ... didn't focus on the Iraq War. His book sounds different because it does focus on the war. ... This won't wash. Yes, there is a lot of Iraq in the book, but there is also a lot of argument about how Bush did, as Clarke has put it, "virtually nothing" about al Qaeda prior to 9/11. ...

2) Kaplan explains that Clarke had limited choices when he was asked to give that 2002 briefing. ... [I]t is theoretically possible for Clarke to give a generous version of the facts in 2002, then write a more complete and critical account once he becomes a private citizen. But this is manifestly not what Clarke has done. He has written a book arguing that Bush did virtually nothing, when we know from Clarke's briefing that it was the Bush team that began to change counterterrorism policy and move it in a more aggressive direction after it had been frozen in place since late 1998. Clarke defenders like Kaplan have to square the book with the briefing and none of them that I have seen have done it--and in my opinion, it can't be done.

Rich is transparently correct, as the obvious pain on Bob Kerrey's face manifested. One can almost pity Clarke apologists like Fred Kaplan for the agony they must feel when they write as he did in Slate.

Almost ... but then not.

MORE: No perjury prosecution? Perhaps I spoke too soon:

In a highly unusual move, key Republicans in Congress are seeking to declassify testimony that former White House terrorism adviser Richard Clarke gave in 2002 about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Friday.

Frist said the intent was to determine whether Clarke lied under oath — either in 2002 or this week — when he appeared before a bipartisan Sept. 11 commission and sharply criticized President Bush's handling of the war on terror.

"Until you have him under oath both times you don't know," Frist said.

One Republican aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the request had come from House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Rep. Porter Goss, the chairman of the House intelligence committee.

Actually, while an oath is always nice to concentrate the witness's mind, Senator Frist may be quite wrong. The federal False Statements Act should already apply to Mr. Clarke's statements to the Commission - under oath or not. The False Statement Act applies to every matter within the jurisdiction of every executive, legislative and judicial agency of the U.S. government. Is the Commission an "agency?" A quibble. Under the Act, it is a crime for any person:

* To knowingly and willfully falsify, conceal or cover up by any trick, scheme or device any material fact.

* To make any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation.

* To make or use any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry.

Punishment for a violation may include fines and imprisonment for up to five years.

That the Republicans alone want to release Mr. Clarke's testimony suggests that they believe it will do neither Mr. Clarke nor the Democrats any good. Release it and let the voters decide. But charging Mr. Clarke with formal perjury or violation of the False Statements Act would probably be a big political mistake. It would look vindictive, especially if brought by the Department of Justice.

On the other hand, perhaps this is a good case for appointing one of those Special Counsels that the Democrats generally love so much - to investigate and, if necessary, indict, Mr. Clarke. That would only be fair to Martha.


"My challenge to the Bush administration would be, if (Clarke) is not believable and they have reason to show it, then prosecute him for perjury because he is under oath, Kerry told CBS's MarketWatch. "They have a perfect right to do that," said Kerry.

Perhaps Senator Kerry will next ask for appointment of a Special Prosecutor, thereby completing his effort to give the Administration complete cover in attacking every iota of Mr. Clarke's credibility. Sheesh.

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