Monday, July 18, 2005

Congress and the Deputy Chief of Staff

That was then:

In the matter of: : :
[Bill Clinton's Deputy White House Chief of Staff]

Friday, June 14, 1996

... Mr. Ickes, before you are sworn in, I would like to provide you with some background information concerning this investigation and your appearance here.

As you know, pursuant to the authority of the committee under rules 10 and 11 of the House of Representatives, the Government Reform and Oversight Committee is investigating the White House Travel Office matter. This matter refers to all events leading to the May 19th, 1993, firings of the White House Travel Office employees. It includes all information provided about the White House Travel Office and any employees of the White House Travel Office any time from January 1st, 1993, to the present.

Our investigation also encompasses the activities of Harry Thomason, Darnell Martens, Penny Sample, and their activities at the White House, as well as all allegations of wrongdoing concerning the Travel Office employees.

The committee investigation is reviewing all actions taken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice, both prior to and after the firings, including the actions by any field office personnel and any White House involvement in coordination or attendance of interviews.

The investigation includes, but is not limited to, the investigation and prosecution of the U.S. v. Billy Ray Dale, and all investigations and subsequent reviews of the Travel Office firings by any agency, including, but not limited to, the FBI, OPR review, the Justice Department-OPR review, IRS, internal review, the Treasury Inspector General review, the General Accounting Office review, the proposed U.S. House of Representatives Resolution of Inquiry considered and voted on in the House Judiciary Committee in July of 1993.

I will note for the record that we have been joined by Chief Investigative Counsel Barbara Olson.

We are reviewing all actions relating to or describing the criminal investigations into the White House Travel Office matter, including any subsequent action or activities of any kind as a result of the above-mentioned events by the White House, the Treasury Department, the IRS, the General Services Administration, the General Accounting Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Independent Counsel, both Mr. Fiske and Mr. Starr, and the Department of Justice up to the date of this request, unless otherwise limited.

Do you understand that your answers are to include all information which you have involving these subjects?

Mr. Ickes. Yes.

This is now:

Congressional Record: July 14, 2005 (House)

Mr. Speaker, the Democrats' witch-hunt of the week is aimed at my friend Karl Rove. I have had the pleasure of knowing Karl for over 20 years. I believe he is a man of honesty and integrity who loves his country and serves it well. He was also a key player in the President's reelection and clearly Democrats want revenge. Based solely upon their partisan interpretation of selected press reports, some Democrats are now calling for his resignation.

Mr. Speaker, if trial by headline is the standard in the Nation's capital, I have some other headlines I would be happy to share, and we know that they suggest that some Democrats may have been involved in illegal activities. Yet I do not hear my Democrat colleagues calling for their resignations.

Let us abide by the American standard that all are innocent until proven guilty. Democrats should end their trial by headline, their character assassination, and their constant Bush bashing. Instead, I hope that they will choose to work with Republicans on a bipartisan basis to save Social Security, win the war on terror, and create more jobs for American workers.

In the process of looking through the Congressional Record for this post, I came across at least two Republican representatives who had a Wall Street Journal editorial called "Karl Rove, Whistleblower" read into the record. You may be familiar with it. It says, for instance, "...we'd say the White House political guru deserves a prize -- perhaps the next iteration of the "Truth-Telling" award."

I know, I know, it's The Wall Street Journal editorial page. I won't belabor the point. If you really want to think about this in relation to The Press, I'll commend to you a 1996 piece by Joe Conason in The Columbia Journalism Review that examines the role of the "MSM" (though they weren't called that then) in the atmosphere surrounding "Travelgate", just for comparison.

A federal office is discovered handing out lucrative, no-bid deals to private contractors over a period of many years, without so much as a written contract. Auditors from a major accounting firm find that the office did not keep adequate records for many of its transactions, which ran into millions of dollars annually. Eventually, it comes out that the director of the office has secretly funneled more than $50,000 into his personal checking account. Later still, it is revealed that when an anonymous staff whistleblower wrote a letter to the General Accounting Office years earlier, alleging favors from contractors and other improprieties, his complaint was brushed aside by the White House counsel -- even though the office director admitted accepting contractor gifts, which legal experts say may have been a violation of federal law.*

But because the people who ran the office had catered faithfully to the needs and desires of the White House press, most of this is ignored by the media. Instead, when the implicated director is fired and eventually prosecuted by the Justice Department, he becomes a victimized hero in the national media, and the officials who fired him become the villains.

In the famous "suicide note" that was eventually discovered in his briefcase, [Vince] Foster wrote: "The press is covering up the illegal benefits they received from the travel staff."

The services provided apparently went well beyond the mere booking of fares and rooms. Dale and his associates, by many accounts, became federally funded valets to the travelling journalists, servants who knew the imperial tastes of their masters, from the best hotels right down to the premium brand of whiskey each one preferred.

... a more questionable travel office practice ... journalists "point proudly to expensive collectibles and furnishings in their homes that were collected from around the world and on which they paid not one penny of duty. . . . All this was abetted by the White House travel office."

More recently, in a deeply sympathetic profile of Dale that appeared in the February 1996 Washingtonian magazine, it was suggested that the travel office director knew intimate secrets about his journalistic pals -- including their trips to foreign brothels and their sexual liaisons. It's not necessary to believe such lurid suggestions, however, to understand the fierce loyalty Dale's devotion engendered.

[Brit] Hume noted on an ABC broadcast that the travel office was something "that the press cares a lot about . . . you might not want to mess with it too much because there'd be a lot of press interest..."


* This would be Billy Dale, who was later tried for embezzlement. According to Conason, he "at one point had offered in a letter to federal prosecutors from his attorney to plead guilty to one count of embezzlement, but without admitting any "intent to permanently deprive the United States or any other person of the use of those funds." The letter also said Dale would, without admitting to any wrongdoing, return $69,000 and serve a brief jail sentence. The Justice Department had rejected the offer."

He was acquitted, so you shouldn't infer guilt from that. No, really, you shouldn't.

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