Dec 27, 2003 1:43 am


Here's Gene's excellent column for the week!

Gene Lyons
September 17, 2003

Bush II: Tragedy or farce? L. Jean Lewis Revisited

History repeats itself, Karl Marx famously observed, first as tragedy, then as farce. Like most Marxist dogma, it won't stand much skeptical scrutiny. Take the Bush administration, for example, tragedy or farce?

Judging by the president's wary expression during his recent speech calling for $87 billion to rebuild Iraq--enough to fund Medicare for two years, or pay the salaries of 1,740,000 teachers, cops or firefighters at $50,000 per annum--Bush himself clearly has no clue. Except that submitting the bill wasn't as cool as swaggering across an aircraft carrier flight deck to pronounce"mission accomplished" in a tailored aviator costume.

Polls show that with budget deficits approaching a record $500 billion, Americans are reeling from sticker shock. Indeed, Bush did such a bad job that Vice-president Dick Cheney emerged from his lair to make what a Los Angeles Times editorial called"sweeping, unproven claims about Saddam Hussein's connections to terrorism" on"Meet the Press." In another sign opinion is turning, the Washington Post gave front page space to an article demonstrating that much of what Cheney said was either factually false or sheer speculation.

But what really appeared to irk Cheney were suggestions that multibillion dollar, no-bid contracts in Iraq awarded by the Pentagon to his old company, Halliburton, may have had something to do with political influence. After cashing in $30 million worth of Halliburton stock options upon assuming the vice-presidency, Cheney says he has taken no further interest in the corporation's fortunes. He described as"political cheap shots," any suggestions to the contrary."Nobody has produced one single shred of evidence that there's anything wrong or inappropriate here," he said.

What's more, and this is where the story diverges into sheer slapstick, there's not much chance that Pentagon investigators ever will. Newsweek reports that none other than L. Jean Lewis, the preposterous GOP heroine of congressional Whitewater hearings, has been named chief-of-staff of the Defense Department's inspector general--an agency with 1240 employees and $160 million budget whose task is auditing Pentagon contracts for waste and fraud. It's a $118,000 a year job for a woman who once peddled"Presidential BITCH" t-shirts and coffee mugs mocking Hillary Clinton out of her government office at the now-defunct Resolution Trust Corporation.

Apparently Lucy Ricardo was unavailable for the job. When last seen publicly, Lewis was being half-carried out of a 1995 Senate hearing after fainting when Demo-crats began to question her about a letter by Little Rock's Republican U.S. Attorney Charles Banks refusing to initiate a September 1992 investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton's Whitewater dealings for which she'd presented no credible evidence."[T]he insistence for urgency in this case," Banks had written"appears to suggest an intentional or unintentional attempt to intervene into the political process of the upcoming presidential election."

Having prosecuted Jim McDougal's handling of Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, Banks knew perfectly well what Kenneth Starr eventually spent six years and $70 million dollars proving: the Clintons were, if anything, the pigeons in McDougal's flim-flams. He added prophetically that media coverage of the kind investigation L. Jean Lewis was frantically pushing tended to"'legitimize what can't be proven,'" adding that"I cannot be a party to such actions."

Both Banks' letter and Lewis's nationally-televised comic opera swoon, it will be recalled, went unreported in the New York Times and Washington Post, the two newspapers most deeply committed to the bogus scandal she helped them conjure out of thin air. It says a lot about today's Republicans that Banks' principled action in the face of the first Bush White House's covert efforts to convene an"October Surprise" probe of the Democratic nominee probably doomed his chances for a federal judgeship.

Documents showed that Lewis and like-minded RTC colleagues spent thousands of man-hours probing Madison Guaranty, ignoring Arkansas S & L collapses ten and twenty times larger in their futile quest. But if getting Whitewater upside-down disqualified a person from employment, half of official Washington and most of the city's name- brand journalists would be out of work.

Of much greater concern was Lewis's bizarre testimony. Under oath, she swore the"Presidential BITCH" T-shirts signified no political bias, and that she personally didn't mind being called a bitch. Before both House and Senate comittees she denied pressuring Justice Department officials to act before the 1992 election. But FBI agents and prosecutors testified that she'd hounded them repeatedly and made melodramatic statements about"altering history." Contemporaneous documents proved it.

Lewis also secretly recorded conversations with colleagues, misrepresented their contents, then swore that a defective tape- recorder had magically turned itself on. Senate investigators proved she'd actually used a brand new machine, and turned the matter over to Kenneth Starr for investigation. But you know what happened to that.

So rest easy, taxpayers, L. Jean Lewis is on the job.

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