George Bush Is Engaged in an Epic Battle to Cover His Ass

Something astonishing happened the other day in the House: The Democratic leadership found some courage. After over a year of demoralizing, often inexplicable capitulation, they actually gathered the fortitude to push back slightly against Republicans on so-called national security issues. The Republicans' response was swift: They took their ball and went home, after a brief stop at a prearranged press conference on the Capitol steps.

Two issues caused the dispute: One, in a stunning display of rudimentary oversight, the House issued contempt citations for two former Bush staffers, Harriet Meiers and Josh Bolten, who've been ducking House subpoenas for months now. This was predictably dismissed by weepy Minority Whip John Boehner as a "partisan fishing expedition," a boilerplate cliche if ever there was one.

The second issue, which the indignant Republicans preferred to discuss, for obvious reasons, was the House Democrats' refusal to cave on retroactive immunity for telecom companies, like AT&T and Sprint, for collaborating with the White House in spying on domestic internet and phone communications, which, to be clear, was tremendously illegal.

What's less encouraging, but interesting, is that the Democrats were ready to sign off on extending the repugnantly named Protect America Act, except for telecom immunity. To Bush, this made the bill dead on arrival. That's right; Bush promised to veto the bill if it reached his desk without a get out of jail free card for Comcast.

It's hard to line that up with the apocalyptic tenor of Bush's exhortations regarding the bill. If the warrantless domestic spying provisions of the Act were not renewed, Bush warned, Osama bin Laden would rain fire upon us all. But he was planning to veto them if they came to him without immunity. Naturally, this makes no fucking sense. Either Bush is willing to risk another 9/11 to embarrass the Democrats, or he's lying when it comes to the threat posed by having to get a FISA warrant -- retroactively, after the fact -- for domestic surveillance. I think he's lying, but I suppose it could be both.

It's interesting that these issues are what it takes to really outrage Republicans -- threaten huge corporate giants with lawsuits, or exercise congress's constitutional oversight powers. Of course, it's only natural that the Republicans would shudder at the prospect of effective investigations being conducted in the House. If the Democrats actually start following through on the legal options to compel testimony, it's only a matter of time before everyone's implicated. But telecom immunity?

Republicans are, of course, fundamentally pro-corporate, even more so than modern Democrats. But to go to bat this hard on behalf of an industry seems anomalous even for them. All a congressman usually has to do for his biennial bribe is vote in a corporation's interests, not engage in tantrum theatrics. There's more than pedestrian corruption at work here.

Of course, there is the terror issue, and in a most perilous election year, Republicans would like nothing more than to be able to run on the "Dems are sissies" platform. If they can keep people frightened and badly misinformed, they may manage to make telecom amnesty into a winning issue for them come November.

But to do that, they have to lie. A lot. They have to feign outrage, and actual concern for the wellbeing of their fellow Americans. They're doing their level best. To hear Republicans tell it, requiring a rubber-stamp warrant, after the fact, to spy on Americans is like mailing plutonium to Iran. Bush's spiel was grade A horseshit from start to finish:

"Because Congress failed to act, it will be harder for our government to keep you safe from terrorist attack. At midnight, the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will be stripped of their power to authorize new surveillance against terrorist threats abroad. This means that as terrorists change their tactics to avoid our surveillance, we may not have the tools we need to continue tracking them--and we may lose a vital lead that could prevent an attack on America…. Instead, the House held partisan votes that do nothing to keep our country safer. House leaders chose politics over protecting the country--and our country is at greater risk as a result."

Then sign the bill without the telecom amnesty provision, and work on that part later. If it's nearly as vital as Bush says, he's providing aid and comfort to the enemy by not compromising, right?

"If the Protect America Act is allowed to expire, Americans will be at risk," echoed Boehner, despite having just voted against a three-week extension on the bill, like all his fellow Republicans in the House.

What the hell is going on here? When you compare the truths of this dispute with the rhetoric from the White House and its mouthpieces, there's really no other conclusion than that this country has gone fucking bonkers. Reality and public perception don't even share a zip code anymore. After years of constant, obvious lies, their ridiculousness compounded by countless revelations of their falsehood, Bush is still sticking with the same despicable, transparently manipulative bogeyman bullshit he started with. And like-minded jackasses in the media, like Bill Kristol on Fox News Sunday, still have the inconceivable gall to say things like, "I think it's kind of unbelievable, frankly, that -- it's a judgment call, we don't know -- not to give the administration the benefit of the doubt."

The benefit of the doubt? A judgment call? Sorry Bill, but fuck you. Your judgment's been shit; your President's judgment's been shit, and both of you are documented liars. So forgive the hell out of the rest of us if there's no doubt to benefit from when it comes to whether the president is a fucking fraud. The entire administration is a fraud. Every department is a fraud, staffed by fraudulent people, hostile to its stated mission and intent on its nullification, by death or paralysis. There may never be proof, especially if Bush gets his way. But what thinking person can muster much doubt that the administration is listening not just for terrorist chatter, but to anyone they want -- political enemies, reporters, chicks they're into --whoever?

In 2006, after Andrea Mitchell asked New York Times reporter James Risen, who broke the domestic spying story, out of the blue, "You don't have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?" Risen did not, but NBC scrubbed the question from its transcripts of the interview, later explaining that the story had been "released prematurely," that they had not "completed" their reporting. But they didn't call the allegation irresponsible, or speculative, or any other dismissive adjective they could have used. They essentially confirmed that they had reason to believe that Bush was secretly wiretapping a prominent CNN reporter.

And why the hell wouldn't he, after all? Without a reviewable record of warrants, it's not as if anyone can possibly find out -- unless somebody sues the telecoms, and specific, decidedly non-terrorist surveillance targets are identified in the ensuing discovery process. And that is why the Republicans are going apeshit over retroactive immunity, not just to protect the telecoms, but to cover their own asses. If it ever comes out that their secret, illegal domestic wiretaps were not targeting al Qaeda, but Al Gore, the jig is finally up. The entire "trust us, we're hunting terrorists" rationale, as thin as it always was, will lose any residual integrity, and the GOP may never recover. And they know it. And maybe, hopefully, the Democrats finally know it too.

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