February 10th, 2009
09:36 AM ET

Sins of commission: Senator Leahy's truth squad

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/09/art.getty.leahy.jpg caption="Sen. Patrick Leahy's comments are likely to re-ignite a simmering debate about how actively to focus on past political and legal policy disputes."]

David Gewirtz | BIO
Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Publishing

Can Congress multitask... With the global financial crisis dominating all of our attention, can members of Congress deal with anything else?

Separating out the overwhelming urge to question whether Congress can even do one thing right, the question of Congressional multitasking comes up because Senator Patrick Leahy has just proposed the creation of a "truth and reconciliation" commission to investigate alleged wrongdoing by the Bush administration's Justice Department.

Talk about a political hot-potato!

Leahy, of course, is a Democrat, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. No doubt, calling for a commission to investigate the former President and his Justice Department smacks of a political witch hunt.

And, really, do we need to be tilting at windmills, digging up old skeletons, when we've got such a bigger issue facing us all?

Well, here's why we should do it:

Institutional knowledge

Corporate management gurus often talk about the concept of "institutional knowledge," the facts, concepts, war stories, deals, and history of an organization. The key to institutional knowledge is it transcends the individuals currently engaged with the organization.

Access to institutional knowledge is considered critical for business success and continuity. It's no less true when it comes to running a country. Edmund Burke was one of the few British members of Parliament who supported the American colonies in our dispute with King George. When he famously said, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it," he was speaking of institutional knowledge on a national level.

Regardless of whether you're talking to a loony liberal or a crackpot conservative, one thing just about everyone will agree on is that the Bush administration kept much to itself. Even Republicans agree. Richard Nixon was certainly not one for public disclosure and yet even his special counsel, John Dean, recently called the Bush administration the most secretive, ever.

I've personally spent the last few years attempting to recover some of that knowledge, by searching out White House email messages that have seemingly disappeared. We know, for example, that thousands of email messages from 2002 and 2003, the time of the build-up to the Iraq war, are simply...gone.

The lack of public record for much of the time George Bush and Dick Cheney ran the country is itself a matter of public record. Because of their penchant for secrecy, America has fractured institutional knowledge about much of what went on inside the Bush administration that led to a major war.

Apart from any political vindictiveness, there are both practical and patriotic reasons for knowing the full details of the Bush administration's actions. An accurate record is important to history, so we, as a society, can go back years or decades later to understand our own intent and to better understand our leadership.

Perhaps more than anything else, an accurate record of the Bush administration (and, by extension, any Presidency) is important because we have a new team in power every four to eight years. The new team may need to go back through the records to see needs to be clear on what was promised, what decisions were made, the reasoning behind decisions, and the facts and observations used, so they can apply all that institutional knowledge to future decisions.

Without a doubt, the Obama administration is going to have to make some tough decisions. While many decisions may be made along party lines, we Americans can also hope decisions are made in the full light of understanding.

So, what about Leahy's investigation? Is it something we need now?

Such bad timing

Oh, Senator Leahy, if only you'd grown a pair three or four years ago, when it might have done America some real good.

Recriminations are not useful, not right now.

Now, we need to focus on what America needs most, and what it does not need is more partisan bickering. Without a doubt, we have questions about the Bush administration. But answering those questions won't get workers back to work nor help citizens keep their homes. Instead, Senator Leahy's truth squad will simply serve to ratchet up the acrimony.

It's not really, then, a question of whether Congress can multitask. It's really a question of whether members of both parties can work together for the common good.

There are honest disagreements on the fundamental philosophy about how to fix the mess we're in. Democrats seemingly want to spend it all on fru-fru hybrid cars and re-sodding the National Mall, while it looks like Republicans once again want to give it all to bankers and the super-rich - because those jokers have certainly proven they can be trusted with our money.

When faced with a threat against our national security, all Americans need to pull together. This financial crisis is a threat against our security. Nothing should be a higher priority than working together, turning the tide, and saving the American dream (or at least making sure we all have a bed to sleep in).

This is not the time for Senator Leahy's commission. This is the time for Congress to work with the President, big business and the financial industry to finally put America first, and the rest of us to hang on for dear life with the desperate hope it all won't end as badly as it looks like it might.

This is a time for us to fight for America, not fight amongst ourselves.

Later, once we've secured our economy and our populace, Leahy can go dig for skeletons.

Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Magazines, including OutlookPower Magazine. He is a leading Presidential scholar specializing in White House email. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.

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soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. WRS

    Dear Senator Leahy,
    Please be the next Harry Truman. As a Senator, he was chairman of a committee that tried to keep everyone honest. And, YES, I know that is a major problem in Congress. It would be just plain honest and above board for SOMEONE to investigate this economic blunder and tell the public, via every major news program, WHO where the parties that contributed to this problem. It didn't just happen, there were decisions made, bills passed, that allowed this to happen. WHO pushed the bill to allow people, who could not aford it, to buy a house with nothing down and questionable payments. Lets tell the truth all the way around. We know it had to be members of Congress, now tell the people who those members of Congress were. Let the people make the decision, with full knowledge, who not to vote for on election day. Can either branch of Congress be that above board and police its own people and actions. Would it not be a GREAT DAY when our Congress could and would be that honest and forthcoming to the people. A government of the people, for the people. I am glad that GOD blesses America, because our Congressional representatives don't. The good guys need to stop hiding the bad guys, otherwise, you are ALL BAD GUYS.

    February 11, 2009 at 6:13 am |
  2. Thomas

    Since the Neocons love to rewrite history . It would be good to see the facts and data that isn't withheld do to national security reasons.

    The Justice Department is a foundation of the people and the laws that make our country great . It would be a good starting point for investigating the truth in regards to bad judgment and misuse.

    A trickle down justice system of deceptiveness can only bring mistrust and failed policies.

    Wall street got drunk and there was no designated driver !

    February 11, 2009 at 2:14 am |
  3. Joanne Z

    If our laws mean anything, if we believe in our Constitution, we have no choice but to prosecute those who violated everything we stand for as a nation. If we don't, we are condoning the torture and the the privacy violations, and encouraging future administrations to try and get away with...God only knows what. Congress will do nothing, though. As usual.

    February 10, 2009 at 11:19 pm |
  4. Don

    If 'The Bush and Cheney Show' committed crimes against America during their terms in office, then, they should most certainly be brought to justice for those crimes. But, I don't think we should be distracted from this economic crisis to deal with those two right now.

    February 10, 2009 at 9:52 pm |
  5. Tom

    Bush and his Administration vowed to protect the constitution, they should be held responsible for their Secret actions.Not revealing the truth leaves a precident to be abused by future out of control polititions.

    February 10, 2009 at 9:02 pm |
  6. Les Nesman

    NO, NO, NO to more of this political posturing by both sides. Stop looking behind and start moving forward or get out of the citizens' way. We might elect some independents to represent us this next election if you guys keep focusing on the stupid and not the important.

    February 10, 2009 at 8:00 pm |
  7. Jim,California

    Talk about foxes gaurding the hen house. lets investigate them all on the Hill, see how many have skelotens in their closets.

    February 10, 2009 at 7:52 pm |
  8. Dan Stewart

    It is pretty clear that the Bush White House broke the law in a number of areas:

    Warentless wiretaps – (violated the U.S. Separation of Powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the First and Fourth Amendments.)

    Torture – (violation of The War Crimes Act and The Torture Statute)

    These two areas are clear and obvious areas where Bush broke the law, there are other areas where he could well have broken the law around political firings and the suchlike.

    For those that put your Political agenda ahead of the US constitution and rule of law, you no doubt bayed for Clintons blood over his affair with Lewinsky, torture and spying on US citizens makes that look trivial.

    February 10, 2009 at 7:09 pm |
  9. jim Fallbrook CA

    Senator Leahy is just a biased democrat head hunter. I don't see him going after Bill Clinton when he lied under oath. I get it. The Democrats can break laws with impunity. They only apply to Republicans. How about Leahy do an investigation on the tax cheat Timothy Geithner. Now that is the fox watching the chicken coop.

    February 10, 2009 at 6:52 pm |
  10. Annie Kate

    Maybe Leahy should go ahead and dig for all he is worth. It might give people something to focus their anxieties and anger about the economy on so we don't take it out on each other. I don't see overlooking the things Bush and Cheney did and did not do and the more time that goes by the less likely it will be that we can piece together the puzzle left by their secretiveness.

    February 10, 2009 at 5:57 pm |
  11. John Erickson

    This is a waste of time and money. Move forward!

    February 10, 2009 at 5:45 pm |
  12. JC- Los Angeles

    How about stripping all the worthless politicians who comprise the House and Senate of their expense accounts?

    I can just see these titans of political compromise being turned away at Congressional Country Club or at Nathans in Georgetown or at The Capitol Grill.

    I guess guys like Christopher Dodd could just call their daddy; or Nancy Pelosi could use her husband's corporate card; or Tom Daschle could simply use his lobbyist credit card.

    Priceless hacks.

    February 10, 2009 at 5:39 pm |
  13. Theo

    It is very unwise to suggest it is political posturing to investigate what may have been UNLAWFUL activity at the DOJ. Why should there be one standard for a citizen being investigated for past unlawful activity and another for the personnel of the top government law enforcement agency? This sort of thing just pours gasoline on the fire of anger that we Americans feel that there is one set of laws for everyday Joes, and another set of laws, with no consequences attached, for the rich and powerful. Please, stop suggesting this is nothing more than a witch hunt!

    February 10, 2009 at 5:10 pm |
  14. earle,florida

    Wow,"Political Witchhunt",how about the,"Political Party Screening" of staffers,administrators,etc. by the," Bushies,and Rovian's" divide ,and conquer conservative agenda? Talk about,...

    February 10, 2009 at 4:23 pm |
  15. Bruce Budy

    Let's try to get this straight.

    1, It would be difficult to prove that the Bush administration committed any crimes, therefore we should not waste time and money pursuing the matter.

    2. It would be impossible to prove that the Bush administration protected us from an attack on our soil, therefore we should accept it as their greatest success.

    February 10, 2009 at 3:50 pm |
  16. Paul

    Either we are a country of law and order or not – go for it, Sen Leahy.

    Going forward we have to decide if our Constitution means anything. To restart the Justice Dept again, we need to clean up the messes that have played out since federal law enforcement has been dormant during the past eight years.

    If you don't also believe the Bush skirted the law, then you should have no worries about it being investigated. Most of us recognize that awful stink usually there's been something fishy going on.

    February 10, 2009 at 3:30 pm |
  17. Terry

    Patrick Leahy...."During his tenure as Vice-Chairman of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Leahy leaked a number of pieces of classified information, which led to his resignation from the committee. Leaks included information about a Reagan plan to topple the Gaddhafi regime in Libya, and another regarding the Iran-Contra affair. He deemed the Iran-Contra leak "careless" and accepted blame. There is a possibility that a leak of his led to the death of a covert agent in Egypt." This quote was sent to me ....google it.

    I wouldn't take his word or Rep John Conyers word...whose wife is under federal investigation. This subject is dead...this country was safe....let's see how safe we will be.

    February 10, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  18. Eric

    The truth is Greoge W Bush was not watching the candy store

    February 10, 2009 at 10:53 am |
  19. Mike, Syracuse NY

    Hmm, a “truth and reconciliation” commission. this sounds like the citizens committee that beheaded people after the French Revolution. Way to be bipartisan Leahy.

    February 10, 2009 at 10:47 am |