Another Time, Another Scandal

Posted: Jun 07, 2014 12:01 AM
Another Time, Another Scandal

Talk about déjà vu. Once again the party out of power is demanding an investigation. To which the administration responds: (a) There's nothing to investigate because, (b) we've already investigated and explained it, (c) too much time has been wasted on it as it is, (c) the country has more pressing problems that need our attention, and (d) any or all of the above. Or, to put it in more concise fashion: Move on, there's nothing to see here.

Nothin' doin', says the loyal but insistent opposition, aka the Republicans in the House. Yes, there have already been seven different investigations in addition to 13 hearings on what happened before, during and after the bloody massacre at Benghazi, which took the lives of four brave Americans. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, wasted no time counting them all up, and noting that none of them had hit pay dirt.

But that was before a smoking gun was discovered in the form of an email from a political operative at the White House laying out the administration's cover story for its mouthpieces to repeat--a version of events that fell apart once there was enough time to examine it. So let's start Investigation No. 8.

Besides, the GOP has a fighting prosecutor to lead the next investigation, and he doesn't care how many reams of documents the administration released about Benghazi while holding back the key one. "I'm not interested in summaries, I'm not interested in synopses," says Trey Gowdy, a congressman from South Carolina who's been chosen to captain the GOP team this time around. "I'm interested in access to the documents . . . and I'm not interested in whether the appropriate questions were asked in the past."

To which Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip in the House, responds in his always eloquent way: "That's baloney."

I can identify. I've been there. It was another scandal in another year, another decade, another century, a whole other era. That scandal was dubbed Watergate, after the apartment building where the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee had been burglarized, raising questions and setting off demands for an investigation. I was writing editorials at the time in that key listening post, Pine Bluff, Ark., and it all sounded like baloney to me.

Week after week, month after month, our editorials in the Pine Bluff Commercial pooh-poohed the whole idea that the White House was involved in some nefarious conspiracy to cover up the truth. But then we -- and the country -- learned that the attorney general of the United States, the Hon. John N. Mitchell, who was married to a Pine Bluff belle, character, and heavy drinker named Martha Beall Mitchell, had been lying about Watergate all along. And even more surprising, at least to me, Martha had been telling the truth.

The scales fell from my eyes. Why, it hadn't been baloney after all. The Pine Bluff Commercial would sponsor a nationwide drive to erect a monument to Martha, and I was proud to lead it. People all over the country sent in their little $5 and $10 checks to help build it. Blessed are the poor. These folks had believed Martha all along. It was both embarrassing and cleansing to be have been proved wrong, and I was grateful to her.

I can still hear echoes of that old scandal in this new one. Some of the lines don't seem to have changed much at all: "After 12 weeks and two million words of televised testimony, we have reached a point at which a continued, backward-looking obsession with Watergate is causing this nation to neglect matters of far greater importance to all of the American people. We must not stay so mired in Watergate that we fail to respond to challenges of surpassing importance to America and the world. We cannot let an obsession with the past destroy our hopes for the future." -- Richard M. Nixon, Address to the Nation, August 15, 1973.

I had a friend back then, Steed Joyce, who after years of keeping track of supplies at the Cotton Belt railroad, decided to go off and became an Episcopal priest. He tried to warn me not to put my trust in princes, specifically R. Nixon and his minions. To commemorate my folly he sent me a beautifully calligraphed scroll in the perfect Hebrew script he'd learned in seminary. It's a copy of Verse 1, Chapter 8 of the Book of Nehemiah: And all the people gathered themselves together before the water gate . . . Steed, now the Reverend Mr. Joyce, had thoughtfully penned the Hebrew words for Watergate, Shaar Hamayim, in red. So I couldn't miss them.

I've still got that little piece of Scripture, now preserved in a simple black frame, hanging on my office wall where I can see it every day. Just in case I'm ever again tempted to dismiss talk of a White House scandal as baloney.