Rot in the daylight

    Sick of the State of the Union coverage? Me too. So many good stories were ignored this week. For instance this little gem, which further details the institutional rot of the previous presidential regime:After an exhaustive, three-year probe, featuring 100,000 document pages and interviews with 80 Bush administration officials, an independent oversight agency reports that the Bush team repeatedly and routinely broke the law by politicizing a slew of government agencies, making them subservient to the electoral needs of the White House.I recognize, of course, that this story concerns rampant illegal behavior that took place between 2001 and 2007 – a vanished era, at least in the minds of anti-Obama amnesiacs, who seem to think that history began on Inauguration Day 2009 – but there’s an old tradition in this country about holding people accountable for misdeeds, or, at minimum, exposing misdeeds to daylight for the purpose of squaring the history ledger. So let us proceed.The federal Hatch Act, enacted in 1939, prohibits federal employees (who work for all taxpayers) from engaging in partisan politics while on the job. According to the Office of Special Counsel, the Bush administration broke this law at least 75 separate times. Among other things, the administration decreed that federal workers, during work hours, shall attend mandatory briefings, in which White House officials gave instructions on how they could help elect Republican candidates. The briefings featured PowerPoint slides detailing the “GOP ground game,” the “Republican offensive,” and the “Republican defense” in key races nationwide. (The Bush team said these briefings were merely “informational discussions,” but the OSC didn’t fall for that one.)On another front, seven Bush Cabinet officials illegally used federal money to take campaign trips to battleground states (including Pennsylvania), to boost the prospects of Republican candidates on more than 100 occasions – under the guise that such travel was merely official business. Federal law prohibits officials from using taxpayer money for such partisan purposes, but they got away with it. The taxpayer was not reimbursed. The OSC report calls this “a systematic misuse of federal resources.”All told, at least 10 federal departments and agencies participated in the illegal behavior, including: Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Energy, Small Business Administration, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The guy who headed the whole scheme was Bush’s top political guru, Karl Rove. (I know, you’re shocked. By the way, Rove surfaced for an interview on Fox News earlier this week, right after the report was publicly released. Fox host Jon Scott didn’t ask the paid Fox contributor to comment on the report, because Scott took care not to mention the report at all.)Actually, the sleaze meticulously documented by the OSC first came to light in March 2007, when a few of the practitioners were hauled to Capitol Hill to explain themselves. I wrote about it at the time. My favorite episode was when Lurita Doan, the Bush appointee who ran the General Services Administration, tried to deny that she had attended a mandatory GSA briefing about the 2008 House and Senate Republican races, a briefing conducted by a Rove deputy. She acknowledged being there, and seeing a PowerPoint slide entitled, “2008 House targets” – but, she said, “I do not want to speculate on what was intended on this slide.”Moments later, a congressman asked her: “What, if anything, do these slides have to do with the GSA’s core purpose of procuring supplies and managing federal buildings?” To which she replied that the partisan briefing was merely “a team-building meeting.” At another point, she was confronted with a witness deposition stating that she had talked up GOP prospects while in the workplace (she had asked a colleague, “How can we use GSA to help our candidates in the next election?”). In response, she told the congressional panel that, no, “I do not have a recollection of actually saying that.”A slippery bunch. And today the Bush miscreants will slip away without any sanctions. The Hatch Act has no provisions for retroactive punishment, the OSC says it didn’t make any criminal referrals to the Justice Department, and the Justice Department has been silent on whether it would file any charges. This story will be dead and buried by week’s end…unless Darrell Issa, the new Republican watchdog on Capitol Hill, conducts hearings on the alleged crimes and prods Justice to act. Insert laughter here.

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