Washington — Today's topic is credibility — specifically, recent claims by certain high-ranking present, former and perhaps soon-to-be-former Bush administration officials. The aim is to answer a simple question: Should we believe these three Bush loyalists if they tell us that rain falls down instead of up, or should we look out the window to make sure?
The present official is political czar Karl Rove, long regarded by friend and foe alike as some kind of cutting-edge genius, who seems to have the darnedest time figuring out this newfangled e-mail stuff.
Apparently he thought he had it figured out. The congressional investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys has revealed the fact that Rove and other political staffers at the White House conducted a good deal of business using private e-mail addresses — and laptop computers — provided by the Republican National Committee.
This was supposed to have been a way to avoid using government equipment to conduct partisan political business. But the White House now acknowledges that official business may have been done through this parallel system. By law, official White House communications are supposed to be preserved. But the administration now says that many of the RNC e-mails have somehow been lost — and also that millions of e-mails seem to have vanished from the official White House system, although they might have been captured on backup tapes.
We're supposed to believe that Karl Rove doesn't bother to keep track of his electronic correspondence.
On to the former official: World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who until 2005 was a deputy secretary of defense and a chief architect of the calamitous Iraq war. Not that Wolfowitz had much credibility left, after predicting before the war that Iraqis would greet U.S. troops as "liberators" and that the cost of the war would be mostly defrayed by Iraq's oil revenues.
Now we learn that when he took over at the World Bank, Wolfowitz personally dictated the terms of an agreement under which his girlfriend — Shaha Riza, a longtime World Bank employee — would be detailed temporarily to the State Department and receive a generous series of pay raises. By the end of Wolfowitz's five-year term, Riza will be making $244,960 a year. That's considerably more than the salary of her nominal boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — and Rice has to pay income taxes, whereas Riza and other World Bank employees do not.
Ironically, Wolfowitz has railed against corruption as the scourge of many developing countries, making World Bank aid contingent on transparency and accountability. Yet Wolfowitz first gave the impression that he recused himself from involvement in the Riza deal when, in fact, he was right in the middle of it.
We're supposed to believe that for a central bank official in, say, Nigeria to arrange a sweetheart employment deal for his girlfriend would be corrupt, but for Wolfowitz to do so is perfectly legitimate.
Finally, the perhaps soon-to-be-former official: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is certain that nothing improper happened in the firing of the U.S. attorneys but seems terribly confused about what role he might have played in the whole affair. Or might not have played. Or whatever.
The question at the heart of the affair is whether the eight federal prosecutors were fired for reasons of politics rather than justice. Gonzales maintains that politics had nothing to do with the firings. But if you take his version of events at face value, Gonzales doesn't actually seem to know just why the prosecutors were canned.
At first, he said he had nothing to do with the whole thing. Then he acknowledged that he did — after it was disclosed that Gonzales attended a meeting on the firings, held in his own office. Now he says that yes, he was given updates on the situation, and yes, he did approve the "final recommendations" of his aides to fire the U.S. attorneys. But somehow, in his mind, this doesn't add up to material participation.
Gonzales penned an op-ed published Sunday in The Washington Post that included this positively breathtaking claim: The attorney general of the United States writes that "to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign."
To his knowledge? What on Earth does that mean? Is Gonzales in the habit of making decisions without his own knowledge? Does he have multiple-personality issues?
Rove, Wolfowitz and Gonzales are making the last-ditch argument of a cheating husband caught in flagrante: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?
Eugene Robinson's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com
© 2007 The Seattle Times