Leader Blues

Friday, June 15, 2007

EDITORIALS>>What Griffin didn't say

Timothy Griffin’s own Apologia Pro Vita Sua, delivered Thursday to a packed house at the Clinton School in Little Rock, fell considerably short of Cardinal Newman’s compelling explanation of his philosophical journey to Catholicism.

Griffin, a central character in Attorneygate, spent more than an hour recounting his life story, sometimes verging on tears, but shed not a glint of light on the subject everyone came to hear about: How the Justice Department came to dismiss a bunch of U.S. attorneys who had solid records.

All that Griffin was willing to say about the firing scandal was that he wanted the prosecutor’s job in eastern Arkansas because he wanted to return to Arkansas and that he was happily connected with friends in high places who were willing to help him get it.

Specifically, he denied several bits of speculation about what he was supposed to do with the job: reopen investigations of Hillary Clinton to damage her presidential campaign, embarrass Democrats or put himself in position to run for the U.S. Senate next year against Mark Pryor, whose objections to Griffin’s sneaky appointment set off the still burgeoning investigation of the prosecutor firings last year.

Griffin resigned from the job this month after Congress passed a law ending the president’s power under the Patriot Act to make open-ended appointments of U. S. attorneys without Senate confirmation. President Bush signed the act yesterday.
On the other subject, Griffin’s role in suppressing votes by Democratic-leaning people in the 2004 presidential election, he said he was innocent. But Griffin did not permit questions about any of it, at least not from the media. By pre-arrangement, the dean of the Clinton School would not recognize journalists for questions.

So the questions will have to be answered by others and perhaps by Griffin, under subpoena. House and Senate committees this week subpoenaed Harriet E. Miers, the president’s former counsel, and Joyce Taylor, a former colleague of Griffin in the White House political office.

Miers had been identified as the person who had insisted upon the firing of H. E. “Bud” Cummins III as the Arkansas prosecutor and the appointment of Griffin, although the White House has insisted that it had little to do with decisions to replace attorneys in states where partisan activity had engendered federal investigations.

An e-mail from Taylor, which the committees obtained this week, confirmed the White House’s interest in dismissing Cummins, whom she described as “lazy.” She said the controversy was hurting Griffin’s political career.

How the president of the United States came to be tracking the work habits of a federal prosecutor in eastern Arkansas is an intriguing question. Taylor resigned but seemed to be willing to testify. The White House, however, is resisting allowing either woman to be questioned under oath.

Sooner or later, the White House must accede to the demands of Congress and the people and settle the questions about the politicization of the Justice Department.

It can do that by allowing the general counsel and political staffs of the White House to testify under oath and by furnishing the paper trail between the president’s people and the Justice Department on the dismissals. Bill Clinton’s counsel and numerous aides had to testify before numerous congressional investigating committees.

The president’s old and loyal friend, Alberto Gonzales, hangs on as attorney general while aides all around him and his lingering connections in the White House counsel and political offices have fled. Gonzales has hardly a supporter left besides the president. The nation needs to believe that its chief law- enforcement agency is interested in one thing, firm and evenhanded justice.

Tim Griffin’s apologia ended with a touching and seemingly earnest regret about public service. He said his noble service in the government sector simply was not worth the ordeal of the past six months for him and his wife.

We wanted to ask, “What ordeal?” It was Bud Cummins who was fired and accused of laziness and underperforming by leaders of his party. A BBC journalist had reported in 2004 on Griffin’s “caging” of voters in Florida, which resulted in some voters being disenfranchised, but that was it.

But it was a strange lament for a man whose most prominent public duties were to dig up dirt to destroy men and women in public life.

Griffin first came into prominence in 2004 with the BBC broadcast and an article in The Atlantic magazine about the Republican and Democratic “opposition research” teams.

It recounted Griffin, then a research director at the Republican National Committee, standing in front of a banner that read “ON MY COMMAND — UNLEASH HELL (ON AL).” That was Al Gore, the Democratic nominee for president. Griffin’s duties were to pipe anti-Gore stories to the national media.

He had played a similar role in 2002, when he did opposition research on Mark Pryor. Griffin was quoted as saying in 2004, “We think of ourselves as the creators of the ammunition in a war. We make the bullets.”
One ought not to complain about ricochets.