Still Waiting for Answers
Surely no one beyond a handful of the most self-deluded Republicans in Congress was surprised at the disclosure by George Tenet, the former intelligence director, that there was never a serious debate in the Bush administration about whether Iraq actually posed a threat to the United States.
It has long been evident that President Bush decided to invade Iraq first, and constructed his ramshackle case for the war after the fact. So why, after all this time, are Americans still in the dark about the details of that campaign?
For that matter, why don’t Americans know the full truth about Mr. Bush’s illegal domestic spying program or his decisions on how to handle prisoners of the war on terror? And now there are new questions begging for answers — about the purge of United States attorneys and about campaign pep rallies in executive branch agencies that might well have violated federal law.
For six years, the Republican majority in Congress ignored the administration’s power grabs, misdeeds and incompetence or, worse, pushed through laws that gave legislative cover to some of Mr. Bush’s most outrageous abuses of power. Now that the Democrats control Congress, they have opened the doors of government in welcome ways. But the list of questions just seems to grow.
We hope Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, enforces the subpoena of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss prewar claims about Saddam Hussein’s long-gone weapons programs. Ms. Rice, who was national security adviser before the war, says she has answered every possible question. Actually, we don’t have room for all our questions.
Just a few: Did she vet the briefing Mr. Bush got from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s rogue intelligence shop on Iraq’s alleged efforts to acquire uranium? The Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department thought, correctly, that the report was false. So why did Ms. Rice permit the president to repeat it to the world? Or did Mr. Bush also know what he was claiming was wrong?
The same applies to other claims about Iraq, including a false report about the purchase of aluminum tubes for bomb building, talk of mushroom clouds and fairy tales about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. When it became clear the intelligence was false, why didn’t Ms. Rice make sure the public found out? Before the war, Ms. Rice was not in a post requiring Senate confirmation, but she is now. If she refuses to testify, the House should hold her in contempt.
It is imperative for Senator John Rockefeller, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to finish two remaining studies on prewar intelligence that his Republican predecessor, Senator Pat Roberts, had no intention of completing. The first, on the errors made by the intelligence agencies in predicting what would happen after the invasion of Iraq, is expected to be finished next month. The final piece of the report will compare what administration officials said about Iraq with the actual information they had. Both reports are essential for understanding how this country got into this mess. Mr. Rockefeller will have to make sure the White House does not drag out the declassification procedure.
And then there are the questions about the purge of federal prosecutors. There is mounting evidence that many of the eight fired United States attorneys were punished for refusing to prosecute Democrats on phony election-fraud charges. Who ran this purge? And is it true, as it now seems, that others were rewarded for bringing weak corruption cases timed to close races?
For the last six years, the White House has also conducted seminars in each election cycle that certainly seem like an effort to use government agencies to help G.O.P. candidates. Did they violate the law that forbids the use of federal offices for campaigning?
Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s political “architect,” is at the center of both of these scandals. Congress needs to issue, and enforce, subpoenas to compel him and other top White House officials to testify.
Mr. Bush’s supporters are already arguing that Congress’s much-needed investigations are politically motivated and backward looking. Actually, the baldly political act was the Republicans’ refusing to do their constitutional duty of oversight for the last six years. Mr. Waxman said his panel issued four subpoenas to the Bush administration under Republican leadership. The same leadership issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to the Clinton administration.
As for looking back, Mr. Bush has hardly given up the habit of stonewalling Congress, or shown that he has learned the limits of his power. The war in Iraq not only continues, but Mr. Bush is escalating it and repeating many of the same myths about Saddam Hussein. The country does not need any more myths. It needs answers.