Saturday, April 08, 2006

Fresh misadventures in flackery

Is there possibly a more thankless job in public life than the one currently occupied by Scott McClellan?
Imagine having to stand in front of the White House press corps and defend President Bush right after the boss has been exposed in sworn testimony as a leaker of classified national security information. Imagine trying to square Bush's actions with all of Bush's previous condemnations of leakers as contemptable creatures that deserve to be fired.
It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. So McClellan gave quite a performance yesterday, one that conjured memories (at least for yours truly) of Ron Zeigler spinning the Watergate scandal for his '70s boss, Richard Nixon.
Just three quick highlights:

1. McClellan was asked to square Bush's aforementioned actions with his earlier statements. McClellan then replied: "There's a distinction between declassifying information that is in the public interest and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that could compromise our nation's security."
Translation: If Bush leaks, it's OK. If anyone else leaks, it's not OK. If Bush leaks, it's in the "public interest." If anyone else leaks, it's a threat to the nation's security.
Never mind the fact that what he leaked in the "public interest" was apparently self-serving material that was factually misleading (see my Thursday post). The larger question that comes to mind is this: If Bush can leak whatever he wants by deeming his actions to be in the "public interest," are there any checks and balances at all on his power to withhold, release, and control information?

2. The White House can't get its story straight. In the wake of Scooter Libby's sworn testimony that Bush authorized him to leak material from the National Intelligence Estimate - this was some time prior to July 8, 2003 - the White House now says that it wasn't really a leak at all, because the released NIE material had already been declassified at that point.
But here's the problem with that claim: McClellan held a press conference on July 18, 2003. The NIE came up for discussion that day - whereupon McClellan declared, "It was officially declassified today."
So...doesn't that mean Bush had authorized a leak of material that was still classified prior to July 18?
Here's where McClellan began to spin like a top. At times he tried to plead ignorance, saying that he couldn't recall what he had said on July 18, 2003: "I have not looked back at exactly what was said at that time."
But even though he says he hasn't looked back, he is nevertheless convinced that there would be no need to acknowledge any errors or inconsistencies: "I’d have to go back and look at the specific comments, but I’m not changing anything that was said previously. So let me make that clear."

3. Which brings us to the last highlight. At times he simply took refuge in the fact that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's case against Libby is now being fought out in the court filings. McClellan said: "There is no way for me about this issue without discussing an ongoing legal proceeding. And I can’t do that. We have a policy that’s been established. And I’ve obligated to adhere to that policy."
Within 10 minutes of saying that, he tried to refute a reporter by citing something that Fitzgerald had filed in court -- as part of the same "ongoing legal proceeding" that McClellan had just said he could not comment about.

It's hard to imagine that McClellan can survive much longer; this new Vanity Fair article probably won't help him much. But the real question is whether any replacement can do any better - given the administration track record that a new person would have to work with.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Libby and Rummy and Condi, oh my

The revelation yesterday that President Bush is apparently the leaker-in-chief is fascinating for many reasons.
There's the complicated legal question of whether a president can summarily declassify secret intelligence on a whim, without needing to at least go through some procedural channels. Indeed, legal experts, quoted here, contend that Bush at the very least should have honored his "professional obligation" by consulting with intelligence officials before leaking.
But, leaving that issue aside, what's truly noteworthy about this specific case - Bush authorizing Scooter Libby to leak classified material to a reporter during the summer of 2003, in order to retroactively defend the March launching of war in Iraq - is the fact his selectively leaked material was apparently false...and that the administration had good reason to believe, long in advance, that this material was false.
According to the federal court filings by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Libby has told a grand jury that he leaked to a reporter an intelligence report which contended that Saddam Hussein had been trying to obtain fuel for nuclear weapons. This leak was intended to refute the findings of ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had publicly concluded that Hussein had been doing no such thing.
But here's the mirthless punch line: The leak authorized by Bush apparently omitted the fact that, back in October 2002, Bush had received a classified "President's Summary," which informed him that the nuclear-fuel allegation was highly questionable, that experts from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Department of Energy's intelligence branch simply didn't believe it. (For more, read this March 30 piece by Murray Waas, of the nonpartisan National Journal; he's the best investigative reporter tracking this subplot.)
So let us review. Bush says repeatedly in 2003 that he doesn't like leakers. Now there are court papers, with testimony under oath that he himself leaked - and that the material he selectively leaked was not even necessarily true.
What is the White House saying about all this? Very little, at least for attribution. But, as this Washington Post report today makes clear, Bush's anonymous allies are working on a defense. Remember back in 1998 when Bill Clinton was parsing the word "is"? It's much the same thing today, except this time it's about what the meaning of the word "leak" is.
The anonymous defenders essentially told the Post that if Bush had leaked the classified identity of Joseph Wilson's CIA-employed wife (which he didn't), that would have been a bad leak. But since Bush authorized a leak to assure the public of his rationale for war, that was a good leak. As the source put it: "There is a clear difference between the two."
That is very enlightening. Because I was not aware, from previous Bush statements, that there was any distinction to be drawn between good leaks and bad. Bush certainly didn't seem to think so. He has launched criminal investigations to track down leakers. He said in September 2003 that if he learned who a leaker in his employ was, "the person will be taken care of."
But here's my favorite, from December 2001: "Somebody in our government wanted to show off to his family or her family in between Christmas and New Year's by leaking information in the press … I don't know why people do that. I guess either to make you [the press] feel good and/or to make themselves feel good."

Meanwhile, you know that the war isn't going well when two of its leader/defenders within the Bush inner circle are sniping publicly at each other. It all started a week ago when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Great Britain that the U.S. effort in Iraq was less than perfect: "I know we've made tactical errors, thousand of them I'm sure."
Enter Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He is probably accustomed to hearing such critiques of his performance from people who he presumably dismisses as defeatists and hate-America types. But Rice? Bush's exercise partner? Isn't she on the team?
So he fired back in a radio interview on Tuesday, with the tone of a guy who didn't think that girls belonged on the playing field: "I don't know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest...(C)alling changes in military tactics during the war 'errors' reflects a lack of understanding of warfare."
It's a bad-vibe situation right now. Perhaps someone can leak something new, to make them all feel good.

By the way, the conservative push-back on the Bush leak revelation has begun.
The gist of the Bush defense was articulated today by Cliff May, an ex-GOP spokesman who has helped direct a neoconservative think tank, Project for a New American Century. Today he wrote, on the National Review website, that "there is no hint of a scandal here. There is not even any news here..." Essentially, he argues, "it’s in the job description of the President to decide what will remain classified (secret) and what will be de-classified and released to the press and public."
But here's the real test for May and his colleagues: Suppose Bill Clinton had been waging an unpopular war, and had decided to selectively leak classified material, which in itself was specious, to reporters in an effort to defend his war. Would conservatives be saying that Clinton was merely fulfilling his "job description"?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Cynthia puts the kibosh on Lapelgate

Republicans are rightly disappointed this afternoon. Cynthia McKinney has finally decided to put a cork in it. Last week's crusade has become today's apology.
From a GOP perspective, the Democratic congresswoman from Georgia had been the gift that keeps on giving. Last week, as previously noted here, she struck a Capitol Hill cop after he attempted to detain her at a security check point. She had swept past the metal detector, and she wasn't wearing the requisite lapel pin that would have ID'd her as a member of Congress. The cop sought to stop her for those reasons. She hit the cop, then held a press conference declaring that she had been discriminated against because she was black.
The whole thing has been escalating ever since, with reports that she might be arrested, and with fresh quotes from McKinney about how she has been oppressed. I believe she hit the media mother lode the other day, sharing her views with all major networks. This has been too much for most of her fellow House Democrats, who have been working overtime lately to demonstrate that they are on the side of cops, troops, toughness, and security forces everywhere.
And she has been a boon for Republicans who have been anxious this week for something, anything, that would step on the Tom DeLay debacle story. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's eyes reportedly lit up yesterday when a Fox Newshound interrupted a press briefing about DeLay by asking Hasert about the McKinney saga.
But this afternoon, all of a sudden, McKinney has packed away the PC rhetoric and changed her 'tude entirely, with remarks on the House floor: "There should not have been any physical contact in this incident. I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all and I regret its escalation and I apologize."
It's called, Stop the Bleeding.
And there's no doubt that Republicans will be disappointed, given the current disconsolate mood in the GOP camp. As one highranking Republican official emailed to me yesterday, "We could use some more McKinneys."

Another shootout at Credibility Gap

Now, granted, I recognize that the news below isn't nearly as important as today's mega-reported revelation that Merideth Vieira will become Matt Lauer's smiling couchmate, but what the heck, there's a war on:

Here's President Bush, on Sept. 30, 2003: "“There’s just too many leaks, and if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is.”
Here he is again, on Oct. 28, 2003: "I’d like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information.”
Perhaps he should be looking in the mirror?
Today there are two reliable reports, here and here, that indicted vice-presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby - obeying a specific order from Bush - leaked the contents of a highly classified intelligence document to the media during the summer of 2003 in order to defend the administration's rationale for war in Iraq.
That choice nugget is contained in papers filed yesterday in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Libby told the grand jury that he leaked the classified information based on "approval from the President through the Vice President." Sound crazy? You can read the whole court filing for yourself, here. The wires have picked up this story, too.
A question for Bush at his next press conference: "Sir, concerning the apparent leaks of classified national security information, and the sworn testimony by your vice president's top aide, do you intend to get to the bottom of all this?"

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Your homeland protectors in action

More shenanigans at everybody's favorite agency, the Department of Homeland Security.
I suppose that if deputy press secretary Brian Doyle could not be reached for comment, this is what he was apparently busy doing.
The creepiest part of the report is that he was arrested last night while "awaiting what he thought was a nude image of a girl who had lymphoma." But what's most disturbing is that he was allegedly willing to disclose the name of his employer, as well as his government-issued cellphone number, to an Internet contact whom he thought was a naked underage girl. Sounds like that behavior (tracked by an undercover detective, posing as a girl) could be considered a homeland security breach.
By the way, this arrest of a Homeland Security official is not to be confused with this week's scheduled trial of another Homeland Security official, Frank Figueroa, who has pleaded innocent to charges that he exposed himself to a teenage girl in 2005 at a Florida mall. He's on suspension at the moment. He's the former chief of the department's program to combat child predators. No further comment is required.

John, Tom, and Katie

In his latest attempt to capture the hearts and minds of Democratic liberals (the same voters who will dominate the 2008 presidential primaries), and to stake out a position on Hillary Clinton's left flank, John Kerry has published his most outspoken antiwar manifesto.
Writing today on the NY Times op-ed page, the senator continues his quest to shed all vestiges of his old flipflop image by declaring that he wants to set two firm Iraq deadlines, both of which are designed to get all the troops home, pronto.
Step one: Tell those Iraqi politicians to shape up and form a unity government by May 15, "or we will immediately withdraw our military."
Step two: Assuming that the Iraqis get that message and do the deal, America should then establish "a schedule for withdrawing American combat forces by year's end."
Kerry is thus going a little bit further than he did last autumn, when he gave a speech saying that troops should be withdrawn only in accordance with "a specific timetable," as opposed to "an arbitrary timetable." One can make the case that May 15 is "arbitrary," since there's no intrinsic importance to that date. Whatever. It's just wordplay, because any Iraq proposals floated by Democrats are dead on arrival, anyway.
Kerry can't hope to influence the Bush administration's war strategy (who can?). What he does hope to influence is the Democratic antiwar constituency. Since Hillary Clinton seems to be staking out firm centrist ground for '08 (she voted for the war, she's unapologetic about it, she says little about deadlines or timetables), her likely rivals are working to her left. That's where Kerry is jockeying with folks like Russ Feingold. Feingold has the censure issue, which the left loves, so Kerry is trying to own the antiwar issue.
(Good luck to him. Feingold, reacting to Kerry's proposal, released a statement today that began, “Since August 18, 2005 I have been calling on the Administration to aim to redeploy U.S. military personnel from Iraq by the end of this year..." That's Feingold's polite way of saying, "Hey, loser, I was there first!")
Assuming that Kerry is even viable again in '08, assuming that he can refute F. Scott Fitzgerald's contention that there are no second acts in American lives, the question is whether Kerry can win over the liberal skeptics who think he waffled too much in '04. We shall see. This comment, posted today on the website, suggests that his quest could be arduous:
"Maybe if he came out with this (Iraq) statement when he was running, it just might have swung the race enough...I'm sure he will make a decisive statement on the Swift Boat Guys any day now."

Just a few last thoughts about Tom DeLay, whom I wrote about in a newspaper column today. While saying goodbye yesterday, he received the predictably easy ride yesterday from his friends at Fox News, so, in an effort to be fair and balanced, a couple of his statements do need to be contested.
1. He said that his decision to quit his congressional seat had absolutely nothing to do with the ever-spreading Jack Abramoff scandal, which has now swallowed up two of his former top aides (Tony Rudy, Michael Scanlon, both of whom have pleaded guilty). In DeLay's words yesterday, "The Abramoff affair has nothing to do with me."
Here are the follow-up questions that Fox News could have asked:
"If quitting the Congress has nothing to do with the Abramoff scandal, why did you make that decision just 72 hours after Rudy pleaded guilty to corruption and bribery charges? Did something else happen that prompted your announcement at this specific juncture, or did it have something to do with the fact that, 72 hours earlier, your name surfaced repeatedly in the Abramoff-Rudy court filings that were part of Rudy's plea deal? And are you saying we should discount a similar pattern last January, when you resigned your House leadership post just 96 hours after Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion?"
2. DeLay, apparently as part of his self-rehabilitation effort, tried in the interview to distance himself from his widely-known nickname, "The Hammer." He said: "I don't see myself as The Hammer."
Fox bought that. But Fox could have asked:
"If you don't see yourself that way, then why have your aides long been quoted as saying 'He likes the reputation of being the Hammer'? And why, in a 2003 ceremony, did you give a velvet-covered hammer to one of your colleagues? And why, at a dinner in your honor last May, did your friends and allies present you with a frosted marble cake decorated with chocolate hammers, while the band played 'If I Had A Hammer?'"

Speaking of goodbyes, Katie Couric gave hers this morning on The Today Show. As every American who has never heard of Russ Feingold surely knows by now, Katie is bound for the chair once occupied by Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite.
And now that she's going to the hard-news side, I just want to say, "Congrats, Katie, the watchdogs are biting already!" She has yet to utter a word on CBS, but the right is already accusing her of the dreaded "liberal tilt." Read this and enjoy.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Hammer whacks himself

I begin today with a quote from an eminent 19th-century British historian, and I will end this post with a quote from a feisty old Texas gal.
It was Lord Acton who wrote, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Who better to confirm Lord Acton's observation than Tom DeLay?
It has certainly been a precipitous plunge from power. A mere eight months ago, DeLay was still "The Hammer," the unbeaten and unbowed wielder of Republican clout in the U.S. House, a cinch to retain his cushy congressional seat in suburban Houston. Yet today, already stripped of his leadership post, he has decided to give up his seat before the voters opt to kick him out.
He says today that he'll quit Congress this spring, in order to focus on an issues agenda that will include nurturing a closer relationship between religion and politics. He neglected to mention that, as an indicted criminal defendant, he will also be compelled to focus on the issue of staying out of jail.
(At this juncture, let me interject the most amusing line of the day. Republican national chairman Ken Mehlman has just issued a statement praising DeLay on the occasion of his "retirement." No, Ken. When you leave a job at a ripe old age, without a single cloud over your head, and you move to Florida and eat the early-bird specials and play tennis until your old knees give out...that's the proper use of the word "retirement.")
Anyway, DeLay tells Time magazine that he's quitting because "I can evaluate political situations," meaning that he's not sure he has enough votes to win re-election as a backbench congressman. But this argument is a tad incomplete; it's akin to what Richard Nixon said in 1974 when he resigned the presidency.
Nixon said he was quitting because "I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress," when, in reality, it was because he faced impeachment and conviction for high crimes and misdemeanors. DeLay's statement about "political situations" omits the most important fact of all: A legal noose might be tightening around his neck.
Federal investigators have already determined that his own House office has been the scene of a criminal enterprise. A former top DeLay aide, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty last week, admitting that he had conspired with Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff (now a convicted felon) to corrupt public officials, engaging in these actions while working for DeLay. He is the second ex-DeLay aide to plead guilty to criminal charges in recent months.
DeLay himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing in this federal probe; his current indictment stems from the alleged violation of Texas election laws. But it's clear that, at the very least, he will spend much of this year fending off questions about the feds.
He might also spend the rest of this year fighting off the feds, as well - and now he has a big pot of money for legal expenses. He told Fox News this morning that he decided to quit his seat and dump his re-election bid because he wanted to spare his constituents a "nasty" campaign. But it just so happens that, under federal election rules, a candidate with legal woes who quits his race is permitted to transfer all his campaign money into his legal defense fund. (The rules are explained here.)
The best way to assess DeLay's rise and fall is to focus on the big picture. His ties to his former good friend Abramoff are merely symptomatic of DeLay's longstanding efforts to fuse the '94 conservative revolution to the K Street lobby-finance machine; he married conservative ideology to big money; power became not merely the means, but the end in itself. And then Lord Acton's observation kicked in.
Which brings me to the feisty old Texas gal, Beverly Carter. I met Beverly 11 months ago, while I was on a fact-finding mission to DeLay's Texas district. She's a Republican precinct chairwoman who has known DeLay since the late '70s, when he was novice state legislator with a mustache and a pin-striped suit with bell bottoms and a reputation for having a good time (his nickname was Hot Tub Tom).
Beverly told me last May that she had DeLay all figured out:
"We Texans don't mind...pigs feeding at the trough. Here's the thing, though. Pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered. And Tom has been a hog."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Queen of de-nial

Our very own Baghdad Bob appears to be in deep denial.
I'm referring, of course, to Katherine Harris, the one-time Florida Republican secretary of state who made her bones in the 2000 election overtime by ruling for candidate George W. Bush at every key juncture. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Harris has been running for the U.S. Senate in Florida this year, seeking to oust Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson - a race the GOP would dearly love to win, because Nelson's removal would virtually ensure that Bush's party retains its Senate majority in November.
But the problem right now is that the Harris campaign is imploding in a spectacular fashion that is virtually unprecedented in a major Senate race. For that reason alone, it is worth noting.
And the only person who doesn't seem to realize this is Harris herself, who seems determined to behave like Baghdad Bob. He was the flak for Saddam Hussein, known to his comrades as Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who used to make jaw-dropping statements that had no relationship with reality. (April 7, 2003, at a time when U.S. troops were flooding the streets of Baghdad: "The Americans are not there. They're not in Baghdad. There are no troops there. Never. They're not at all.")
Harris, who was lionized at a 2001 Inaugural Ball as another Joan of Arc, keeps issuing statements about how her Senate campaign is alive and well ("we are stronger as a campaign today than we were yesterday," she declared on Sunday) -- an interesting perspective given the fact that, in a short period of time, she has been on the receiving end of resignations from:
Her chief political strategist.
Her director of field operations.
Her campaign manager.
Her campaign press secretary.
Her campaign treasurer.
Her pollster.
Her media consultant.
Her national financial director.
And the traveling aide who dispensed bumper stickers.
She was never the GOP's first choice for the race - because of her polarizing reputation (she will galvanize Democrats to show up en masses in November) and because, frankly, a lot of Republican insiders simply don't like her very much - and that was even before she got hit with questions about why she took $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions from disgraced defense contractor Mitchell Wade, who recently pleaded guilty to bribing a California congressman.
At this point, Harris apparently has only one option left, the option often taken by politicians who are locked in a downward spiral. And, of course, she is taking it already:
She's blaming the media, which she says has "relentlessly and personally" attacked her.
She's promising to name a new team of aides tomorrow. No word yet on whether Baghdad Bob submitted a resume.

Frist's doleful dilemma

Bill Frist has Bob Dole disease.
I was struck by that realization this morning while reading a new profile on Frist. The current Senate Republican leader is lamenting how hard it is to run for president while holding down a leadership job on Capitol Hill. That's exactly what Dole used to say, back in 1996, when he was Senate Republican leader and trying to run for president at the same time. The record will show that Dole wound up not as leader of the free world, but as a pitchman for Viagara.
Frist may not do any better.
It's a (true) cliche that half the U.S. senators wake up every morning and see a future president in the mirror, but it's a mystery why that is so. Take a guess how many Republican senators have made it to the White House during the past century: One. That would be Warren G. Harding, and the only reason he made it was because the GOP power brokers in a 1920 smoke-filled room had to come up with a compromise nominee.
And take a guess how many Democratic senators have made it during the past century: One. That would be John F. Kennedy, and that ascent was more attributable to his dad's backstage clout than to anything he accomplished in the Senate (where he accomplished little).
Voters just don't like to elect establishment insiders who make a living by talking a lot and casting thousands of ambiguous legislative votes that can be explained every which way. If that was deemed to be an attactive quality, maybe we would have elected Howard Baker or Alan Cranston or John Glenn or John Kerry or Bob Kerrey or Paul Simon or scores of others I could cite at random.
Frist thinks he can fix the problem by quitting the Senate - the article today says that he will find it liberating to leave - and that reminded me of Dole's decision to do the same on May 15, 1996, to "leave behind all the trappings of power, all comfort, all security," as Dole put it that day. But it did Dole no good. He stayed trapped by his long record of amendments, compromises, and all the attendant parliamentary arcana. And he still talked in legislatese.
Frist may be similary trapped, by the problem of being a Washington insider (12 years, in his case) while yearning to be seen as an upstart outsider. He'll try to boost the latter image this week, with a tough-on-immigrants bill that is designed to please the grassroots conservative base. But his prospects for White House succeess are not strong.
I can't share the withering assessments of the good doctor that I am hearing these days from many Republicans, because even the comments themselves are off the record. But this one, from a highranking GOP leader in a key primary state, has been authorized for use:
"He started his campaign thinking he could come on like Marcus Welby, and he's ending up like Bob Dole."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Contrarian thoughts on censure

The conventional wisdom about Russ Feingold goes something like this:
The Wisconsin Democratic senator is hurting his own party by seeking to censure President Bush, with an official Senate rebuke that's one step short of impeachment; that Feingold is making the Democrats look soft on terrorism by arguing that Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program is an outright violation of federal law; that Feingold's bid to punish the president is a display of Bush-hating zeal that will turn people off to the Democrats in general (despite the fact that most Senate Democrats are refusing to endorse Feingold's move).
Yes, sometimes the conventional wisdom is absolutely correct.
But sometimes it pays to be a contrarian, and this might be one of those times.
First of all, as nonpartisan analyst Stuart Rothenberg pointed out the other day, there is broad public antipathy toward Bush these days, especially because of the war, and he is no longer viewed by most Americans as an effective steward of the war on terror. In such a climate, it is easier for a Democrat to argue that Bush deserves to be held accountable for his actions.
As Rothenberg told the New York Times, "If (censure) is discussed in at all a reasonable way, that may add to its credibility. When you have presidential approval ratings this bad, you have a public that is not predisposed to rally to the president and not predisposed to reject the criticism."
Secondly, even though it's widely assumed that only liberal Democrats believe Bush broke the law by setting up a warrantless surveillance program, that conventional wisdom is factually incorrect. Two days ago, in a Senate hearing on the censure idea, one of Feingold's most reputable witnesses contended that Bush is using 9/11 as a "preposterous" excuse to slowly and steadily amass "unprecedented" presidential powers. In short, he said, "You can lose a republic on the installment plan every bit as efficiently as at one fell swoop with a coup d'etat."
The speaker was Bruce Fein, who served as assistant director of the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy...under Ronald Reagan. Fein, who supports censuring Bush for "official misconduct," also supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton. This is also the same conservative scholar who, last winter, argued that "President Bush presents a clear and present danger to the rule of law." (The Republicans who assail the censure idea never mention Fein. You can read his prepared statement here.)
My point is that Fein's involvement is evidence that concerns about Bush and the law are not limited to the left side of the political spectrum. And this is exactly what conservative analyst William Kristol brought up this morning on Fox News Sunday. Kristol is not a fan of Russ Feingold's censure move, but he too believes it may be a more politically potent idea than conventional wisdom would suggest.
Kristol cited a national poll showing that 38 percent of Americans back the censure idea, with 45 percent opposed. Then he said:

"That's an amazingly high number, that Feingold already has 38 percent...If he keeps making the case that this (warrantless program) is illegal, and the Republican response is 'Oh, we're a little uncertain (about the legality), but this (censure) is a little harsh,' who's going to win that argument? If the Republicans believe that the president has done the right thing - which I believe - they should introduce a resolution commending the president for eavesdropping on terrorists, and force the Democrats to vote on that. But the Republicans are in a fetal position, and the Bush administration is in a fetal position, and Feingold makes his case articulately...And of course Feingold is going to win that debate."

I couldn't find the poll to which Kristol was referring. But I did find a Newsweek poll, conducted in mid-March, that puts support for censure at 42 percent, which arguably strengthens Kristol's point.
So, I'm just asking: Are all those Senate Democrats who are fleeing from Feingold - are they possibly misreading the public mood?