WASHINGTON -- All's well, Sen. Byron Dorgan of the great state of North Dakota has done come clean. Dorgan is the vice chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. In that capacity he accepted $67,000 in contributions from Indian tribes represented by the recently-indicted Jack Abramoff, a fabulous fixer here in the capital of the Free World. Abramoff, a Republican, has obviously been an equal-opportunity fixer, and apparently Dorgan was not above accepting his help, though Dorgan claims he never met the rogue and never backed any of his programs -- knowingly. Now there is an adverb to contemplate: "knowingly." The senator's aides admit that their boss did advocate some of Abramoff's programs while he was accepting the tribes' contributions, but he did not do so knowingly.
That is a good start on Dorgan's road back to respectability. Yet there is another far more serious bit of funny business he has been involved in. He, along with several crafty Democrats, has been attempting to deny the public the contents of an Independent Counsel's report that is believed to contain evidence of serious corruption and misuse of the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department back in the Clinton Administration. In this cover-up the Democrats have had assistance from a few dubious Republicans. It is time to let the public see this report.
The report is the work of the staff of Independent Counsel David Barrett. He was tapped back in the Clinton days to investigate allegations that then Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros lied to the FBI and committed tax fraud in attempting to conceal money he had paid a mistress. Cisneros pled guilty back in 1999, and that would have been the end of it had Barrett's investigators not found serious misbehavior in Justice and in the IRS related to Cisneros' problems. Cisneros was a very promising Texas Democrat, and the Clintons did not want him to come a cropper.
When Barrett completed his report the Clintons' lawyers, led by that legendary Clinton pettifogger, David Kendall, tried to kill off the report either by gutting it with redactions or by getting it buried altogether. Kendall entered some 140 motions pursuant to this goal. The report has been ready for publication since August, 2004 but Kendall's nuisance tactics have worked, and now what do we hear from the Clintonistas? They complain that Barrett has cost too much and taken too long. As they are themselves are the reason for much of the cost and delay, advocates of good government should be up in arms. This stratagem has been used too frequently by the Clintonistas to smear an officer of the court.
Barrett wants the report released in full. The reports of every other Independent Counsel have been released to the public in full, with only minor redactions where classified material might be revealed. There is a serious public-policy concern for releasing this report. It is the first independent investigation of the IRS by investigators armed with subpoena power. Civil libertarians concerned about the heavy-handedness of the IRS and its use as an instrument of political repression by the executive branch of the government know that this is very important.
Dorgan has led the campaign to deny the report's contents to the public. Last April he attempted to end Barrett's funding. He was thwarted then, but more recently he tried a new ploy. With Democratic Sens. Richard Durbin and John Kerry, he bootlegged into an Iraq-war appropriations bill an amendment that would suppress the report completely. Some Republicans defeated this attempt, but Dorgan and his allies are clever. Into a later appropriations bill they got language that would suppress 120 pages of the report relating to Clinton Justice Department and IRS misbehavior. If the butchered report were published in this shape, they promised to do nothing further to delay its appearance. Amazingly key Republicans in these negotiations agreed, Sen. Kit Bond and Rep. Joe Knollenberg. As things stand now, the expurgated report will appear and the public will be none the wiser as to how the IRS and Justice Department can be used to obstruct justice and harass private citizens.
Corrupt administrations in the future will have a free hand at playing politics the way they are played in a banana republic, or 20th-century Arkansas.