It takes an accidential shooting to dramatize the secretiveness of the Bush White House—especially compared to the ``document dumps’’ of the two Clinton terms.
Both Clintons—the former president and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)--had similar reactions to Vice President Cheney’s day long delay in revealing that he accidently shot his hunting companion, Texas lawyer Harry Whittingham, on Feb. 11.
If Cheney’s reluctance to put out a statement about the shooting occurred in isolation, I don’t think the Clinton’s would have used the language they did—accusing the Bush administration of secrecy and stonewalling.
But the Clintons--after years of forking over mountains of records for a variety of congressional probes during their time in the White House --Whitewater, Travelgate, campaign finance scandals and Ken Starr’s impeachment investigations—the Clintons know something about disclosure. Yes, at times they were reluctant—but with GOP investigators on their backs, the Clinton White House released scores of records.
In an interview on ABC’s ``Good Morning America’’ on Sunday, former President Clinton said ``I think the White House should have said something about it sooner. I think that it’s gotten a little more light than it would have because the administration has an enormous penchant for secrecy and for not telling anybody anything about anybody.’’
Last Tuesday, Sen. Clinton used the word ``stonewall’’ or a variation of it three times during a press conference with other Democrats called to criticize the Bush White House response to Hurricane Katrina.
1. ``We're now starting to get a litany of all the things that went wrong, both the things that were not done and the things that were done but done in an incorrect manner,’’ Sen. Clinton said.
``We are also still hearing reports that the White House continues to stonewall ongoing investigations. It is withholding documents, testimony and information that this nation deserves in order to better protect our citizens.’’
2. ``I support the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee's ongoing investigation. And Secretary Chertoff will be testifying before them tomorrow. But based on the track record thus far, it is fair to conclude that the stonewalling will continue.’’
3. ``If we don't fix the problems that exist now, if this White House continues to stonewall investigations while keeping in place the same officials who bungled the response in the first place, then every community in this nation is at risk, if man-made, terrorist or natural disaster strikes us.’’
I went to Clinton’s press conference with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Col.) to see what she might have to say about Cheney’s spraying his friend with birdshot.
That Clinton just riffed about stonewalling influenced how I framed the question to her.
I asked, `` You used the word stonewall a few times in your remarks. The big story in the news yesterday and today is Vice President Cheney and how long it took the news of his shooting to come out. Could you comment on that please?
Clinton replied, `` Well, I don't want to comment on that directly. But let me just say that a tendency of this administration, from the top all the way to the bottom, is to withhold information, to resist legitimate requests for information, to refuse to be forthcoming about information that is of significance and relevance to the jobs that all of you do and the interests of the American people.
`` I don't think that one incident alone tells the story, but putting it all together, going back years now, there's a pattern and it's a pattern that should be troubling.
``I don't care whether you're a conservative, a liberal, a Democrat, a Republican, independent: The refusal of this administration to level with the American people on matters large and small is very disturbing, because it goes counter to the way our constitutional democracy, with checks and balances and the fourth estate and all the rest of it that is supposed to keep us operating efficiently and constitutionally is supposed to work.’’
On NBC’s ``Meet the Press’’ on Sunday, host Tim Russert used the clip of Clinton’s reply to my question and asked Cheney counselor Mary Matlin to react.
``Putting aside the delicious hypocrisy there, what a missed opportunity. What if Mrs. Clinton had come out and said, "You know, I'm not a hunter, but I lived in Arkansas and I understand this is an accident, and these sorts of accident are not infrequent. I don't agree with Dick Cheney on many things, as you know, but I do know Lynne and Dick Cheney, and I have to believe, like any human being, he must be feeling awful right now for shooting his friend. And most of all, I don't know Harry Whittington, but there is a man lying in a hospital bed, and I think we should all pass our thoughts and prayers along to him. Now I'd like to talk about the serious business of this nation, things that I do not agree with the vice president on."
Well, one thing that Cheney and Clinton don’t agree on is how the White House is handling the ongoing investigation of convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The White House is refusing to release Abramoff’s ``wave’’ records, the logs of times when outsiders are cleared for White House visits.
When I was covering the Clinton campaign finance scandals in the late 1990s, White House advisor Lanny Davis would regularly release records of White House visits of donors and fundraisers to the media. And the wave records detailing Monica Lewinsky’s visits to the White House were turned over to Starr’s investigators.
Perhaps the trauma involved in Cheney’s accidential shooting made the situation unique.
But I can see how the Matlin model was a non-starter. There is a bigger picture to consider.