Belaboring the Obvious

Monday, November 27, 2006

About that House Intelligence Chairmanship....

It seems to be on every pundit's mind these days, and those pundits are doing their utmost to shape the debate as one of Pelosi v. Harman. Harman is consistently portrayed as the "centrist" and Pelosi the wild-eyed, rabid leftist.

Glenn Greenwald's probably got the right take on this. The Beltway boys and girls want Harman because she represents them, and her elevation to chair of the intelligence committee would validate their previous positions on the issues--even though they and Harman were, well, flat fucking wrong on all of them.

Greenwald says Harman is "smart and knowledgeable," but is wrong on the issues. I'd say she was completely wrong on the evidence before the Iraq AUMF, and then, after being briefed on what were clearly illegal surveillance programs (programs which Bush admitted that he'd authorized and would continue to authorize), Harman sided, once again, with a corrupt President. So, wrong on the evidence and the analysis of the evidence and fully on-board with illegal activities by the White House. Smart? Emphatically not. Ideologically bent? Probably.

If Jane Harman is actually knowledgeable about the workings of the committee and the matters it is intended to oversee, she's been badly deficient in doing her duty. I'd almost prefer that she were stupid and venal (anyone who was as easily suckered by an idiot like Bush deserves that assessment), rather than see her as competent and still willfully supporting illegality.

The pundits have been pushing, as a far-second alternate, Alcee Hastings, in part because he has the House Black Caucus behind his appointment. And yet, Hastings was impeached and removed from the bench when a federal judge. The impeachment in the House was led by John Conyers, Jr., another member of that caucus. Whether Hastings knows anything about intelligence has not been explored as an issue--only his ethics have been questioned. What little I could find about Hastings suggested that, if appointed, he would turn the committee to matters of interest to him, particularly with regard to Africa. If true, that would make him another ideologue, and a clueless one, to boot. But, at least Hastings--after seeing the same evidence as Harman--had the sense to vote against the Iraq war resolution.

The war the pundits have been promoting between Pelosi and Harman and the consistent treatment they've applied to Hastings (focusing on his prior ethical problems rather than his technical fitness for the job) are meant to obscure one thing--there's no formal seniority hierarchy on the committee. There are other, better candidates to do the work the committee must do if the Dems are to live up to their promises to the public to once again fulfill their oversight obligations and do the investigative detail work which will be absolutely necessary to bring an out-of-control Executive branch to heel. By focusing so tightly on Harman and Hastings, the Beltway beggars intend to restrict the public debate to just those two possibilities.

Rush Holt is another possibility, and there's no good reason why Pelosi shouldn't also consider someone who is not on the committee at the present time. In fact, if the membership rules do not change, Pelosi will have to pick three new Democratic members, anyway (current membership is split 12R/9D). So is Lynn Woolsey, who is both very progressive and has been outspoken about the way in which the war was foisted on the public, and would likely bring a bit more skepticism to intelligence oversight (as Porter Goss ably demonstrated, being buddies with the same people one is overseeing and injecting partisan politics into the investigation of intelligence misbehavior isn't exactly good practice).

Whatever Pelosi decides, her decision should advance one principle--toughness about what the Bush White House has done in the past six years regarding misuse of both intelligence and the intelligence services. The excesses of this administration are orders of magnitude beyond the worst of what Nixon's bunch did, and the House Select Committee on Intelligence should be willing to investigate--and expose--those excesses. If the reputations of prominent intelligence personnel suffer, so be it. Their obligation is first to the law and to the people represented by the Constitution and second to any administration. If Pelosi caves and does not appoint someone to that committee with the same tenacity and single-mindedness as a Conyers at the Judiciary Committee, or a Waxman at the Government Reform Committee, we can expect the abuses to continue. We have a right to know what the Bush administration has been doing in our name.


  • Allow me another take on Rep. Harman's qualified support of the domestic surveillance program. Maybe, just maybe, she was being a good Democrat and backing her Majority Leader. When the surveillance program was first proposed and instituted, Jane Harman was not the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee - the ranking member at that time was Nancy Pelosi.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, another reason for downgrading Rep. Harman's status on the committee, in direct contravention to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, is to create further distance between Speaker Pelosi's link to the Intel Committee.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:17 AM  

  • Normally, I simply leave comments to stand for themselves, but the post from "anonymous" distorts the actual record.

    First, members of Congress were not briefed at the time the illegal program "was first proposed and instituted." That program was initiated almost immediately after 9/11 without consultation with Congress. Briefings of a select group in Congress only occurred later.

    There were Democrats briefed on this program--and in particular those briefed by Cheney himself--who had reservations about what they were briefed on (the briefings in question were the ones the White House insisted be without staff present and be strictly secret--no mention of such briefings could be made) and some (Rockefeller, for example) made it clear that Cheney had been deceptive when describing the extent of the program. Harman did not have similar objections at the time.

    Pelosi's office is on the record that after being briefed on this program, she sent a letter to the White House outlining her reservations and doubts about the program. That letter remains classified by the White House.

    Moreover, it was Pelosi, not Harman, who challenged the White House on its claim that Congress had been extensively briefed--and noted that the White House had even classified the list of people who had been briefed on it.

    Harman, by contrast, has consistently supported the program (until very recently)--even after it was known publicly that the program, contrary to Cheney's assurances, was much more extensive and blatantly in violation of FISA.

    I have no doubt that there's some kabuki involved in this--Washington is, after all, Washington, but the salient points in my original post still apply--Harman's been either commendatory or lax toward a law-breaking President, and that's not an attitude that encourages me to believe that she will be aggressive in determining the extent of executive overreach in this and other intelligence matters.

    I have to take Harman at her word--and in the context of the times--when she says that she's "the best Republican in the Democratic Party." That makes her ill-suited to investigate this administration.

    By Blogger Montag, at 3:05 PM  

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