by Ralf Seiffe
The week I graduated from high school in 1971, a series of articles appeared in The New York Times reporting the origins and facts concerning the Vietnam War. Known as the “Pentagon Papers,” these documents became one of the primary sources demonstrating the duplicity of the Johnson Administration’s conduct of the war. They became a talisman for the Left and helped enlist many in its effort to sabotage the war.
Regardless of what one may think of the content of the Papers and their effects on the war, their publication demonstrated the importance of a free press by revealing the true nature of government when its interests conflict with the public’s right to know. In just over two weeks after the first installment appeared, the Nixon Administration moved to enjoin The Times from publishing additional stories and less than a month later, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the injunctions were unconstitutional prior restraint.
All this may seem like ancient history, but stay awake because Illinois’ own Tricky Dick Durbin is restraining an important government document with potentially damaging information and its cover-up may have great bearing on the 2008 presidential campaign.
In a curious link to Nixon and the Watergate Era, Janet Reno appointed the last “Special Prosecutor” to investigate the case of Henry Cisneros in May, 1995. Cisneros was the respected ex-mayor of San Antonio that Bill Clinton nominated to be his Administration’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. During his background check, Cisneros apparently told the FBI some things that were not true about his income and tax payments and when this deception was discovered, the Independent Counsel Statute came into play. David Barrett was given the $58 per hour assignment to investigate the “credible” evidence.
Eventually, Cisneros was indicted on some 18 federal charges; they were bargained down to a single misdemeanor and a $10,000 fine. One would think this would end the special prosecution. And, even if the plea was not enough to stop the process, consider what happened next. The central charge was when Cisneros was the mayor; he had paid his mistress by signing over checks he’d gotten for speaking engagements without reporting the income on his returns. That was the kind of problem Bill Clinton could certainly understand and so he pardoned Cisneros on his last day in office.
Rather than close his office, Barrett pushed forward, following up on suspicious information the Cisneros investigation had uncovered. His office continued on for another five years, until 2006, when Barrett released his final report, a 120-page opus with 500 pages of supporting information and some 2,500 footnotes. Despite the fact that the public paid some $21 million to produce the report and has waited more than ten years to read it, Barrett’s report as special prosecutor has never faced public scrutiny.
Rumor has it that there is scintillating information about the Internal Revenue Service’s flagrant handling of the Cisneros case by Clinton Administration officials. If the rumors are true, the report shows how the Clinton Administration manipulated the IRS to protect its friends and punish its enemies.
While it cannot be known for certain without reading the report itself, it reportedly contains information so damning that it has the same potential to destroy American’s faith in their government’s conduct in the same way that the Pentagon Papers did half a lifetime ago.
That’s apparently why our own Tricky Dick Durbin is acting just like the original Tricky Dick by exercising prior restraint on releasing the report. Along with Henry Waxman (D-CA) and others, Durbin has been keeping this report from the public ever since it was released. Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican made a half-hearted effort to get the report released but just succeeded in demonstrating how inert Republicans have become.
There is only one way to scotch these rumors and that is to release the report but that’s become unlikely because the Democrat Congress has just deep-sixed the report legislatively and the President concurred by signing the cover-up into law. The clear intent is to let the report disappear into the gloom of history.
This kind of Nixonian conduct would be hard for Democrats--and especially Hillary Clinton--to explain during the 2008 contest. Should Barrett’s finding find their way to the public’s attention, they could change the “inevitability” of Hillary’s march to the White House.
This brings us to the connection with the Pentagon Papers. Soon after The New York Times began publishing them, Senator Mike Gravel placed the bulk of the Papers into the Congressional Register. Gravel is the same recent Democrat Candidate for President who usually polls just behind Dennis “UFO” Kucinich. Back then, he was the powerful chairman of the Committee on Public Building and Lands and given that the Papers were produced in the Pentagon--a public building--Gravel must have reasoned that was close enough to concern his committee.
Of course the real reason the stone-throwing Alaskan included the Papers in the Congressional Register was that it made moot any argument about the secrecy of the documents. To take this step, he relied on Article I Section 6 of the Constitution which gives federal legislators immunity for what they do in the Congress saying “for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”
So, where are today’s left-wing heroes like leaker Daniel Ellsberg, The New York Times or Mike Gravel? Leaking is much easier now--just a keystroke and the file hits the Internet, much easier than trying to photocopy a 7,000 page document without anybody Pentagon guards noticing. In 1971, The New York Times justified publishing the Papers on the basis that the public had the right to know about “important government policy.” Isn’t executive branch tampering with the IRS also important public policy about which the public should know? And, isn’t there a retiring Republican on the Select Committee on Birdwatching willing to sing and put the report into the Congressional Record?
The answer is probably that any information will damage both political parties and it’s in their interest to combine forces to keep the report from inquiring minds. Or, perhaps the bulk of the public is not ready to accept the report, just like the Pentagon papers would not have had the same effect in 1968. But information like this will not stay secret forever; someone out there has a complete, untraceable copy. Look for it to come out in October.
A Happy New Year to all the Illinois Review's readers and a special thanks to all who have commented over this past year. Keep those cards and letters coming in 2008. And a special thanks to Alynn Patzer for reading and correcting these columns so they appear in standard English!