Monday, June 4, 2007

Defender of the Indefensible

My favorite Republican scandal is back in the news, with that dean of compassion, that staunch advocate for the unfairly oppressed, Robert Novak, defending the poor, the pilloried, Lurita Doan, Administrator of the General Services Administration, from the harsh glare of unwarranted media attention and political machination.

Let's review: On January 26, Scott Jennings, a top aide to Karl Rove, gave a PowerPoint presentation at GSA to Doan and her top aides on highly political topics, such as which were the White House's top 20 2008 House targets (i.e., House seats they hope to pick up in 2008). Following the presentation, Doan, according to six witnesses, asked "how can we use GSA to help our candidates?" Then, just two months later, she testified before a congresstional committee that she had no recollection of saying that, and indeed had no recollection of the presentation at all. The politics were so blatant, the violation of law and ethics so obvious, that even the Bush Administration's own Office of Special Counsel has now released a comprehensive report that concludes that Doan violated the Hatch Act, which restricts political activities of federal employees.

Doan's faulty memory and comical lack of candor are evident throughout the report. With regard to the central allegation that Doan asked "how can we use GSA to help our candidates?", Doan was asked whether she denies saying that, or whether she just doesn't remember whether she said it or not. Doan's reply? That she doesn't understand the difference! Yes, it's true, when asked, "Is your testimony that you never said, how do we help our candidates, or something to that effect? Or is it that you don't remember saying anything like that?" she replied, "I don't understand the difference. I just do not understand the difference you're trying to make . . . " (See page 8 of the report, which notes that Doan was an English major.)

Enter Bob Novak. Novak starts by noting that OSC concludes that Doan violated the "68-year-old Hatch Act," as though the age of the Hatch Act is remotely relevant (he later refers to it as the "1939 Hatch Act"). The federal law against defrauding the government dates back to the 1860s, but I don't think you can get out of a charge under the law by saying that it's just so old that no one should care about it.

Novak hints that Doan is being pilloried because she tried to "institute businesslike procedures" at GSA. I guess I have to agree that misusing the government's massive contracting power to help favored political candidates would indeed be "businesslike" by today's standards.

Novak defends Doan's indefensible question about helping "our" candidates by noting that it was addressed to Jennings, the White House operative. May one ask, so what? Any suggestion that GSA use its contracting power to favor political candidates would be wrong, regardless of to whom it was addressed.

(It is true, although Novak does not stress the point, that there are different reports of exactly what Doan said. According to the OSC report, some witnesses remember her asking "how can we use GSA to help our candidates?"; others report that she said, "how can we help our candidates," which is perhaps not quite so damning. In my view, Doan's continued, patent lack of candor in remembering what she said justifies drawing an adverse inference regarding exactly what she said and meant.)

And naturally, Novak falls back on the favorite tactic of the Bush Administration and defenders -- attack the source. He suggests that the OSC report is "payback" by Special Counsel Bloch for the White House's failure to defend him from his own attackers.

The Doan scandal is merely the most obvious of the Bush Administration's excessive politicizing of everything the government does. We know this is going on everywhere. We have an explicit admission (by Monica Goodling) that the Justice Department trashed its once-proud tradition of nonpolitical hiring of career staff attorneys. Doan has been justly nailed, and if she doesn't resign, an impeachment inquiry would be appropriate.

1 comment:

Nitpicker said...

Sounds like Novak used Doan herself as a source for his column, a bad idea since she's admitted to being "totally paranoid." And that paranoia clearly shows in Novak's "explanation" of the facts.