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What's In A Lie?

Christopher Brauchli

And when at last the police came,
Her little pranks she did not deny,
For to do so she would have had to lie,
And lying she knew was a sin.

-Tom Lehrer, About a young maiden I'll sing a song

The one thing we've learned but Mr. Bush has not, is that depending on whom you do it to, lying can be a crime even if you are not under oath. Mr. Bush knows that if his in-house liars, of whom he has an abundance from whom to select, lie under oath they may be subject to criminal prosecution. He thinks if they are not under oath when they lie to Congress it's not a crime. There's a reason for his confusion. He told the biggest lie of all and has not been prosecuted for it. What he doesn't realize is that's not because he was not under oath. It's because he didn't tell it to a Congressional committee. He told it to the entire world and that's not a crime even though to date it's gotten 3400 American soldiers killed, more than 25,000 American soldiers wounded and depending on what reports you choose to read, between 200,000 and 600,000 Iraqis killed. Mr. Bush's lie is the lie that continues to give, as more soldiers and Iraqis die and are grievously wounded daily. All Mr. Bush has to do to educate himself on the two methods of criminally lying is to examine two guilty pleas entered by two former members of his administration.The most notable was Scooter Libby, Mr. Cheney's former chief of staff. His lie couldn't hold a candle to George Bush's lies but it was under oath. He was convicted of lying to a Grand Jury and obstructing justice. Compared with the war-starting lies of the Cheney-Bush team, it barely registers on the scale that measures such things.

Steven Griles was formerly the Deputy Secretary of the Interior. He lied but not under oath. He pled guilty to obstructing justice and lying before a senate committee in connection with the Jack Abramoff scandal. Mr. Griles learned, as may others in the administration, that lying is a sin even when not told under oath if told to the right people.

At the same time these stories were playing out, another story making the rounds involved another highly placed liar in the Bush administration, Alberto Gonzales. It involved the firing of 8 United States attorneys. The firing may or may not have been for political purposes and for our purposes that is immaterial. What is astonishing is watching Mr. Gonzales's memory at work. In what some might describe as early onset of Alzheimer's, Mr. Gonzales's memory is constantly and publicly refreshed by facts.


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When the controversy first erupted, Mr. Gonzales was asked about his involvement in the firings. At a news conference on March 13 he said that he knew prosecutors were being evaluated but it was not something he had followed closely. As he explained in his March 13 press conference: "I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That's basically what I knew as the attorney general." Pressed by reporters he said: "I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood." Towards the end of March it was disclosed that Mr. Gonzales and his senior advisers discussed firing United States attorneys at a meeting that took place 10 days before the firings were accomplished. In the Alice in Wonderland White House world in which Mr. Bush lives, a spokesman said the most recent disclosures did not mean Mr. Gonzales was lying on March 13. Tasia Scolinos, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, said the meeting didn't contradict his news conference statement that he was not "involved in any discussion about what was going on". Those skilled at reconciling two contradictory statements to demonstrate why neither is a lie can practice their skills on those statements. Another spokesman carried the explanation one step further saying Mr. Gonzales didn't remember the November 17th meeting. That is understandable since November 17th was a long time ago.

The foregoing should help Mr. Bush understand it makes no difference whether his lackeys raise their right hands and lie or keep their hands in their laps and lie. What they should remember is this. If they lie to the whole world, as Mr. Bush does, it's not a crime. If they lie to a Congressional committee, it is a crime. Instead of worrying about whether members of his administration will testify under oath, Mr. Bush should consider suggesting they tell the truth. Were they to do that there would be no possibility of criminal charges being filed since truth telling is not a criminal offense. In this administration, however, truth telling would come as a surprise if not a shock.

Mr. Brauchli has been practicing law in Colorado since 1961. A former president of the Boulder and Colorado Bar Associations and a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, Mr. Brauchli has been writing weekly political commentary since 1985. His column has appeared in newspapers around the country including the Los Angeles Times and the Laramie Daily Boomerang as well as many websites. His home page can be found at Human Race and Other Sports. Email to:

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