Friday, March 16, 2007

A fine day for another document dump

It’s Friday, and you know what that means:

It means that the Bush administration could stage another document dump, releasing new information that makes it look bad, and hoping all the while that relatively few people will take notice - because the news audience is generally smallest on a Saturday.

There have been several document dumps already this week in the prosecutor purge scandal – thanks to the actions of some Justice Department officials who are trying to stave off congressional inquisitors – and there’s no reason why somebody in the besieged administration wouldn’t save the best for week’s end. The Justice Department has already indicated that more dumps are imminent. Presumably, new material might help Congress decide whether attorney general Alberto Gonzales and other Justice officials lied under oath about the purge program.

Friday afternoons are the perfect time to leak the most embarrassing stuff, because reporters are generally busy with Sunday story deadlines, or they’re too time-squeezed to give the documents the fullest possible reading, or they’re less likely to be able to reach their best sources (many of whom have typically left for the weekend), or because they too are trying to leave for the weekend.

Just check out these cursory samplings from the Bush administration’s Friday track record: Last Friday, FBI director Robert Mueller III held a briefing and confessed that his agency had misused the Patriot Act to conduct unwarranted domestic surveillance. On the Friday before the Super Bowl, somebody leaked the latest National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that, for the foreseeable future, Iraq’s freedom-loving leaders will he “hard-pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation.” On four different Fridays in 2004, the Pentagon dribbled out the records of President Bush’s National Guard service. On a Friday in April of 2005, his Department of Education released the weighty report which detailed how the administration had secretly paid $240,000 to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, in exchange for some friendly columns about Bush’s no-child-left-behind policy. And last year, the congressional GOP got into the act; late on an autumn Friday, Mark Foley resigned and split town.

(And yes, absolutely, Bill Clinton did Friday dumps as well. But he’s not in office now; Bush is. To those who invoke the Clinton-did-it defense at every turn, I shall merely paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld and point out that we go to press with the president we have, not the one that we might want to have.)

Hey, I might well be proved wrong about today. But we do already have our first Friday incident - the latest from Bush press secretary Tony Snow, who has now renounced a falsehood that he had floated earlier this week.

On Tuesday, he stated that the purging of insufficiently partisan prosecutors had been the brainstorm of White House counsel Harriet Miers. On Thursday, even after newly released emails showed that Karl Rove had mentioned the idea even before Miers was in the job, Snow still stuck with his spin ("the email does not directly contradict nor is it inconsistent with Karl's recollection").

Now, on Friday, it turns out he was for the spin before he was against it. Here's the new party line: "It has been described as her idea but...I don't want to try to vouch for origination....At this juncture, people have hazy memories."

It has been described...Looks like Snow is taking refuge in the passive voice defense (see Tuesday post).

Meanwhile, as we await other possible Friday developments, perhaps we should check in with the ’08 Republican presidential candidates and see what they have been saying about the unprecedented firing of eight federal prosecutors for apparently partisan political purposes. Here’s the rundown…it must be here somewhere...OK, here’s the deal:

They have said nothing.

Rudy Giuliani, a former prosecutor himself, someone who might be sensitive about the issue of insulating prosecutors from partisan politicking, has not issued a single statement. Nor has Mitt Romney, whose spokesman says that “what we’re focused on right now is the promotion of our candidate.” Nor has John McCain, who told reporters yesterday that he was open to “anything you want to talk about” – then muzzled himself when the purge was brought up.

Why so quiet? That’s an easy one:

Taking a stand would be a lose-lose proposition. If they tried to distance themselves from this latest Bush administration disaster, by publicly endorsing the traditional principle that federal prosecutors should be treated professionally rather than as political hacks, they would probably help themselves with the swing-voting independents who have already soured on the Bush regime – but they would tick off the diehard conservatives they will need in the primaries. On the other hand, if they publicly took the Bush line and declared the purge to be no big deal, they’d please the conservative primary voters – but they’d tick off the swing voters who are crucial in a general election.

The time is ideal, however, for one of these guys to finally go on record, and have minimal impact. It’s a Friday.