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Saturday, April 17, 2004


Why Gorelick should resign

Much has been made about Jamie Gorelick's conflict of interest as a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States when she played such an integral role in maintaining the "wall" that prevented the type of coordination between the law enforcement and intelligence communities that might have made it easier to prevent terrorist attacks.

Even Matthew Yglesias wasn't willing to put up much of a fight on the issue.

Moved over to the Corner, and I see this controversy has moved on to a somewhat different topic -- should she resign from the committee in light of this conflict of interest. I think it's pretty clear in light of what we now know (actually, it's pretty clear just in light of what her previous job was) that she shouldn't have been put on the committee in the first place. Resign now? Maybe...I don't know how disruptive that would be or what the commission's deadline is, but assuming it could be done without screwing everything up, I think it would be for the best.

I think it is worth asking how Gorelick got on the Commission in the first place. The memo in question was just recently declassified, so it is possible that nobody really knew about Gorelick's role until recently, except for Gorelick. If someone in the Bush administration knew about Gorelick's conflict during the selection process, they made a horrible mistake in allowing her to be on the panel.

After Rep. James Sensenbrenner's call for Gorelick's resignation, Gorelick and other members of the Commission have put up a tepid defense.

Gorelick said she would not resign and indicated the Wisconsin lawmaker may be looking for a way to silence her.

"When you ask hard questions of people who are in office, they take offense," she said.

The chairman of the bipartisan commission, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, backed her up, telling reporters, "People ought to stay out of our business."
...
Appearing on CNN, Gorelick said: "All of the commission members have some government experience. Everyone is subject to the same recusal policies. You could have had a commission with nobody who knew anything about government. And I don't think it would have been a very helpful commission."

I think there are a couple of problems here. First, Gorelick wants us to think that there is no difference between having "some government experience" and being a principal in the issue that is being investigated. Would Gorelick support the inclusion of President Bush as a member of the Commission. He has government experience, after all.

Second, her initial reaction is to paint this as a reaction by "people who are in office" (read: Republicans) because she is "ask[ing] hard questions"
(read: trying to score political points). I think this points to the true danger to the Commission that is posed by this whole situation.

What am I talking about? The increasing perception that the 9-11 Commission is not really about learning from past intelligence and counter-terrorism but is instead about playing electoral politics. Susan Estrich was on Fox News this morning debating Rich Lowry about the Commission and she accidentally let slip the real reason why most Democrats don't think Gorelick's role is relevant to the investigation of the Commission. You see, it is Bush, not Clinton, that is up for re-election. Of course, Estrich quickly tried to clarify and say that she was just saying that Bush's role is the only one relevant to the specific political discussion they were having.

I am not attacking Susan Estrich. She may have in fact meant what she said in her clarification. The point, though, is that Estrich illustrates the big problem with keeping Gorelick on the Commission. To do so sends precisely the wrong message about what the Commission is all about, and will, I fear, seriously harm the credibility of the Commission.


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