5/17/2007

WH muzzles watchdog board

Can grounds for impeachment be “a sum of parts?” If so, they’re adding up. This is a story you won’t want to ignore.

Deputy Attorny General Paul McNulty wasn’t the only person in the Bush administration to announce his resignation this week. Ever heard of Lanny Davis?

Who is Lanny Davis, what was his job and why is his resignation important?

Davis appeared on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” MSNBC, 15 May 2007, to tell his story. Transcript: LINK

Olbermann introduced him thusly, “Only this White House could have a watchdog group dedicated to making sure civil liberties are not muzzled as part of the counterterrorist effort, and then try to muzzle that watchdog group. Lanny Davis … has just resigned from the group in protest.”

Why Davis resigned

Davis resigned Monday from the president’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, “claiming the White House tried to influence the board‘s legally required annual report to Congress on its own efforts to make sure that counterterrorism efforts do not trample on privacy and individual rights.”

Davis was special counsel to President Bill Clinton and the only Democrat on the five-member board,

This watchdog group, appointed to look out for privacy and civil liberties in the war against terrorism, issued an annual report to Congress on the deterioration of those liberties, and the White House tried to “muzzle” its findings, making more than 200 revisions to the 49-page document.

Davis told The Washington Post “he no longer believed the five-member board was sufficiently independent to provide robust oversight of controversial government surveillance programs.”

Who is ultimately responsible for fixing the problem?

“I have to start by saying that this is a genuine difference of opinion,” Davis told Olbermann. “The White House counsel Fred Fielding, who was on the 9/11 Commission, disagreed with the process of editing and deleting aspects of our report to Congress. But, there are people in the White House and in the administration who saw this legislation putting us in the Office of the President as creating a board that was part of the White House staff - no different than anybody else. And, that was their opinion.

“My opinion was that the Congress intended us to provide real oversight, but in-house criticism and review of some of these programs that might have infringed on civil liberties, such as the national security letters, which the inspector general of the Justice Department did say constituted serious abuses. Now, that difference of opinion, with the White House counsel actually agreeing with my view, means that the real problem is Congress in creating what is a square peg in a round hole, putting what should be an oversight independent entity in the Office of the President.

“So I don‘t impugn any motives or bad faith to people who edited this report. I am looking to Congress to fix this problem. I originally thought, genuinely thought we could be independent within the Office of the President. As it turns out, it just does not work that way. Congress now needs to fix that problem.”

Conclusion

The Bush White House has been described as the most secretive in history. Why the attempt to cover up infringements upon the privacy and civil liberties of Americans? And, more important, why this penchant for secrecy and spying on civilians?

The development of this important story

The 9/11 Commission, which recommended establishment of the Board, openly criticized its annual report, saying the Board “did not do its job.” The Washington Post, 10 May 2007: LINK

The Bush White House made more than 200 revisons to the Board's first report to Congress, The Washington Post, 15 May 2007: LINK

Lanny Davis quits, The Washington Post, 15 May 2007: LINK

***

On a lighter NOTE, see next post.

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