Jewish World Review Oct. 8, 2003 / 12 Tishrei 5764

Paul Greenberg

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BRING BACK KEN STARR! | Again with the independent counsels. What a hoot to watch the politicos switch sides on this issue, like football teams trading sides of the field at the half.

We all remember the kind of partisans who used to be horrified - horrified! - at what that out-of-control wild man of an independent counsel (don't let Ken Starr's mild-mannered, bespectacled Clark Kent manner fool you!) was doing to poor Bill and Hillary Clinton, those innocents in the White House.

Well, now the same champions of our civil liberties are demanding an out-of-control wild man of an independent counsel of their own to go after the Bush administration. Fair, after all, is fair.

For connoisseurs of political ironies, the on-again, off-again debate over the wisdom and constitutionality of independent counsels offers a whole banquet.

This time the issue to be investigated, not that it really matters to those playing this game, is just who revealed the identity of a CIA analyst everybody in Washington seems to have known was a CIA analyst.

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This kind of screw-up will not surprise anyone who has watched the CIA's "secret" operations over the years; it's a wonder its agents don't wear special uniforms featuring gold braid, epaulets and red stripes down the pants leg, the whole ensemble topped off by a drum major's shako complete with feathers. And a sign on the back that lights up in the dark to announce: I AM A SECRET AGENT.

The official history of our Central "Intelligence" Agency really should have been written by S.J. Perelman.

The latest act in this zany show began with the appearance of the chief witness for the prosecution. He is, not necessarily in this order: (a) a former ambassador, (b) the husband of the allegedly outed CIA agent and (c) active in Democratic Party politics, specifically as an adviser and contributor to Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign. (He's just canceled an appearance before the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House lest he blow his own cover.)

A former member of the Clinton team, Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV had been dispatched on a hush-hush CIA mission to Niger in search of uranium, aka Yellowcake. Or maybe Moon Pie. Anyway, he then wrote up his findings, or rather the lack of them, in the top-secret pages of The New York Times, which hasn't had a big secret hit since the Pentagon Papers.

Next scene: Our man (briefly) in Niger proceeds to finger Karl Rove, this president's Sherman Adams, as the guy who leaked word that the ambassador's wife, the well-known CIA analyst, works for the CIA. This shocking revelation clearly endangered her, her team of operatives, the national security and Western civilization in general. Then, having accused, convicted and pretty much strung up Mr. Rove, Mr. Ambassador backed away from his accusation, but only kind of.

So let the games begin. Tom Daschle, who as the Democrats' leader in the U.S. Senate led the move to repeal the independent counsel law, is now leading the move to bring it back. He's being joined by the usual suspects in Congress - the party-line pols who used to loathe the very idea of an independent counsel. Like Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and much of the rest of the Democratic establishment. But now they clamor for what they once denounced.

Hillary Clinton, who once hated the very idea of a special counsel sticking his nose into her affairs, is now all for one investigating the Republicans.

"Poly-ticks," as Mister Dooley observed, "ain't beanbag." Beanbag, after all, is logical.

Hard as it is to take this show seriously, serious charges have been made - criminal charges. For it's against the law to reveal the identity of CIA agents, and it should be.

The White House counsel has already sent out a memo to just about everybody who works there not to destroy a single scrap of paper or erase a single electronic impulse that might be subpoenaed in this case. No more disappearing billing records that reappear months or years later in a White House storage room!

The president of the United States has said the right thing: "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know about it, and we'll take appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing."

By now the attorney general has assigned 11 career prosecutors in the Justice Department to the case, plus scads of FBI agents. For once his zeal isn't being criticized by the opposition. On the contrary, this time - as opposed to when he's tracking down mere terrorists - John Ashcroft's critics claim he won't be tough enough. (I told you this was going to be quite a show.)

It's all going to be interesting, if in a comic-opera way. Because we're about to find out whether the country really has a different kind of administration, one that takes the law seriously, or just another collection of slick pols who, when they find themselves under suspicion, insist that, to quote one of Al Gore's immortal lines, there's no controlling legal authority.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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