McKinney Mouths Off

Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney seems to have triggered a raw nerve among lawmakers with her recent suggestion on a Berkeley radio station that Congress should investigate whether the Bush Administration had prior knowledge of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. McKinney (D-Georgia) alleged that President Bush might have been protecting the interests of the Carlyle Group, an investment firm where George Bush, Sr., is a board member.

"Instead of congress investigating what went wrong, President Bush placed a phone call to Majority leader Tom Daschle asking him not to investigate the events of Sept. 11. And hot on the heels of the president's phone call was another phone call from the vice president asking that Tom Daschle not investigate," McKinney told Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein. "My question is what do they have to hide?"

McKinney quoted a Los Angeles Times report that on a single day in 2001 the Carlyle group had earned $237 million selling shares in United Defense Industries, the Army's fifth largest contractor. Bush's admonition to Daschle is all the more suspicious, she went on to say, because "The Carlyle officials say they decided to take the company public only after the Sept. 11 attacks."

From the uproar provoked by McKinney's remarks, you might think conspiracy theory had made a madcap escape from the dark corners of the Internet into hallowed halls of congress. McKinney's allegation drew fierce criticism and outright mockery from the media and several prominent national figures. The Washington Post quoted Carlyle Group spokesman Chris Ullman, "Did she say these things while standing on a grassy knoll in Roswell, New Mexico?" White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher also cast McKinney upon the proverbial green mound of Kennedy conspiracy legend. "All I can tell you is the congresswoman must be running for the hall of fame of the Grassy Knoll Society."

Senator Zell Miller, a fellow Georgia Democrat, issued a scathing response to McKinney's remarks. Apparently Miller felt his reputation as a Democrat, perhaps even as an American, was on the line. "It would be easy to pass this off as just another loony statement. But at second glance, it is more than that. It is very dangerous and irresponsible."

But McKinney's statement has struck a welcome chord with the man on the street, or some of them anyway. While lawmakers pushed their way to the podium to submit indictments of the congresswoman, aides at McKinney's office said they've entertained a barrage of calls from enthusiastic constituents. On Friday, McKinney issued a response to critics and supporters clarifying that she has no knowledge of any impropriety on the part of the Bush Administration and arguing, in essence, that there is nothing so radical about requesting an investigation.

"We hold thorough public inquiries into rail disasters, plane crashes, and even natural disasters in order to understand what happened and to prevent them from happening again or minimizing the tragic effects when they do. Why then does the Administration remain steadfast in its opposition to an investigation into the biggest terrorism attack upon our nation?" 

Whether or not there are sufficient grounds to warrant an investigation into negligence or wrongdoing among White House staffers, post-Sept. 11 congressional culture clearly offers no room for deviation from the pack. Congresswoman McKinney's initial remarks on Flashpoints indicate she is still mourning the theft of the 2000 presidential election in Florida, a sentiment that is no longer tolerable these days. In the aftermath of the Trade Center tragedy, any criticism of the Bush Administration is frowned upon. You're for the war or you're un-American. You support racial profiling or you support the terrorists. And somehow, after all those troublesome Supreme Court squabbles, the flag no longer has anything to do with free speech.

Perhaps she aimed a bit far with her accusations. Perhaps her suspicions are unfounded. But the impulse to question is quintessentially American. We're all innocent until proven guilty. There's no harm in questioning our leaders. After all, we elected them. Didn't we?

Gabrielle Banks is a senior editor at

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