but, I told you so.
Last night President Bush said Democrats in Congress were more interested in "scoring political points" than in getting at the truth behind the firing of U.S. Attorneys. He’d tell us everything we needed to know, but he wouldn’t "go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants." "It will be regrettable if they choose to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show trials when I have agreed to make key White House officials and documents available," he said.
I wrote here in December about what the Bush Administration would say about oversight hearings by a Democratic Congress. I could just modestly provide a link in a comment to someone else’s diary, maybe the one today about what Tony Snow thought about executive privilege when the Republicans were in the majority in Congress and Bill Clinton was President.
But instead I think I’ll repeat what I said in December, word-for-word:
They’re Afraid We’ll Be Like Them
by Rep Brad Miller [Subscribe] [Edit Diary]
Tue Dec 05, 2006 at 08:03:38 AM PDT
I’ve written here before about the Republican aversion to accountability, or at least to holding Republicans accountable.
Any effort at accountability is "finger pointing" or "reopening old wounds." Either way it is just distasteful partisanship by Democrats, an effort to gain partisan advantage by assigning blame instead of finding solutions.
The sanctimony has already begun over the prospect of oversight hearings by the Democratic majority in Congress. The Washington Times warned just before the election that a Democratic majority would "exercise their considerable oversight powers...relentlessly. Armed with the power to issue subpoenas to executive-branch officials for the first time in a dozen years, House Democrats would promptly paper the executive branch with so many subpoenas that key administration officials will be so busy preparing for testimony that they will not be able to do their jobs."
Rep Brad Miller's diary :: ::
In other words, they think we’ll act like Republicans. After Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the House Government Reform Committee issued more than 1000 subpoenas to investigate alleged misconduct by the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Party, or two for every day Congress was in session.
Are Republicans worried that congressional investigations will be burdensome? The Clinton Administration produced two million pages of documents, an average of 4,000 pages of documents for every day Congress was in session.
Are Republicans worried that congressional investigations will be intrusive? Three Clinton Chiefs of Staff—Mack McLarty, Erskine Bowles and John Podesta—testified before Congress, as did four White House Counsels, the Chief of Staff to the Vice President, the Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and an assortment of White House officials with "deputy" or "assistant" or "deputy assistant" in their titles. A total of 134 Clinton Administration officials testified in public hearings on alleged Clinton Administration misconduct, and 141 Clinton Administration officials spent 568 hours in depositions before congressional staff. They testified to private discussions with the President, and the documents that the Clinton Administration provided included notes of discussions, internal e-mails and memos, and preliminary drafts of documents. Republicans in Congress routinely demanded documents detailing internal administration deliberations for evidence that political considerations had improperly influenced Clinton Administration policies, and the Clinton Administration routinely provided the documents that Congress demanded.
Are Republicans worried that congressional investigations will pursue trivial matters without any sense of proportion? The Clinton Administration provided records to identify who had attended White House movies, private White House dinners and lunch at the White House mess, and who had sat in the President’s box at the Kennedy Center. Congress took 140 hours of testimony in public hearings and depositions on whether the Clinton White House had misused the holiday card list for political purposes.
Are Republicans worried that Democrats will launch sweeping investigations based upon unsubstantiated allegations? In 1997, Congressman Gerald Solomon, then Chairman of the House Rules Committee, notified the FBI with great fanfare that there was "evidence" that a Chinese-American fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee was guilty of espionage and had sold secrets to the Chinese. Two years later the Government Reform Committee launched an investigation into whether the absence of indictments was the result of political interference with the FBI’s investigation. The Government Reform Committee chairman, Dan Burton, subpoenaed the interview notes from the FBI’s investigation.
That proved to be a mistake.
No one the FBI interviewed had a clue what Solomon was talking about. And the interview notes that the FBI produced included the notes of their interview with Solomon. Solomon had talked to a Senate staffer at a congressional reception who told Solomon that he had heard about the espionage from an unnamed employee of the Department of Commerce. Solomon had never met the Senate staffer before and couldn’t remember his name, but described the staffer as "a male in his thirties or forties, approximately five feet ten inches tall with brownish hair."
When President Bush took office, of course, virtually all oversight by Congress of the executive branch stopped. "Our party controls the levers of government," Republican Congressman Ray LaHood explained in 2004. "We’re not about to go out and look under a bunch of rocks to try to cause heartburn."
I watched the last six years of the Clinton Administration from North Carolina, well outside the beltway. As a citizen, I was appalled by the shameless partisan abuse of oversight powers by the Republican congress. I have no interest in getting even now that I am part of a Democratic majority in Congress and the President is Republican.
But we need to correct the utter failure of the constitutional duty of oversight for the last six years.
Oversight is not just about causing heartburn for the other party. A great American political scientist, Woodrow Wilson, wrote that "the informing power" of Congress —- the power to expose abuse of power, corruption and waste -- was probably more important than Congress’s "legislative function." Oversight investigations inform Congress’s decisions about legislation and funding. And oversight investigations provide unflattering scrutiny of abuse of power and corruption. Yes, political embarrassment can be a wholesome, proper purpose of oversight investigations. Political embarrassment punishes misconduct, and it is a deterrent to conduct that would be hard to explain in public.
Henry Waxman, the next Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, wrote in the Washington Post in 2004 that "the absence of oversight invites corruption and mistakes. The Founders correctly perceived that concentration of power leads to abuse of power if unchecked." The absence of oversight by the Republican Congress of the Bush Administration had done the Bush Administration no favor, Waxman said. "Lack of accountability has contributed to a series of phenomenal misjudgments that have damaged Bush, imperiled our international standing and saddled our nation with mounting debts."
President Bush isn’t likely to see oversight hearings by Congress as helpful, of course. But during World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt welcomed scrutiny by the Democratic Senate into fraud and mismanagement by the military and military contractors. In fact, Roosevelt asked the chairman of the committee to be his running mate in 1944.
That’s right, last night President Bush complained that the Department of Justice had already provided three thousand pages of documents to Congress, while the Clinton Administration provided an average of four thousand pages of documents for every day Congress was in session.
Even though I could not resist saying "I told you so," I really take no glee in being right about this.