Sunday, September 14, 2003

The root of scandal

Atrios has been posting about L. Jean Lewis today. This is a potentially devastating scandal for the Bush administration, because Lewis' appointment raises the specter of a serious coverup.

The important point is this, from the Newsweek story on her appointment:
ALTHOUGH THERE’S BEEN no public announcement of her return to government, Lewis has been given a $118,000-a-year job as chief of staff in the traditionally nonpartisan Defense Department’s inspector general office. With 1,240 employees and a budget of $160 million, this office is the largest of its kind in the government. It investigates fraud and audits Pentagon contracts, including the billions of dollars being awarded in Iraq to companies like Halliburton and Bechtel.

Of course, there are many, many questions about the propriety of Lewis' appointment. As the story goes on to point out, Lewis' behavior as an RTC investigator was not only highly partisan, but riddled with illegal behavior.

This fact was raised by Mollie Dickenson in Salon back in 1998, with this still-definitive piece:
"Starr Chamber: The deep and twisted roots of Kenneth Starr's Clinton inquisition stretch back to the dark corners of the 1992 presidential campaign.

The relevant material on Lewis is on the second page:
On Sept. 2, 1992, Lewis and Iorio sent a criminal referral to Charles Banks, the Republican-appointed U.S. attorney in Little Rock, in which she named Bill and Hillary Clinton as "possible witnesses" to and "potential beneficiaries" of criminal wrongdoing in the failure of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan. In violation of RTC policy, she began calling Banks and Irons. Irons testified that she left numerous messages asking "what the FBI was doing with the referral." Irons thought her calls were inappropriate and "refused to give her status reports." In further violation of RTC policy, Lewis responded by traveling from Kansas City to Little Rock on Sept. 18, 1992, and dropping in on Irons unannounced to press her case. Little Rock FBI agents said they were "concerned about Lewis' objectivity and overall professionalism." Lewis told the FBI that "her boss, Richard Iorio, kept asking her to try to find out what it [the FBI] was doing."

Lewis' numerous phone calls to U.S Attorney Banks' office also struck him as "unusual. I saw no need for the sense of urgency except for who the witnesses were [the Clintons] ... so it caused me to be very circumspect about it." The calls "came between early September and Oct. 16," said Banks. Assistant U.S. Attorney Floyd Mac Dodson recalled that Lewis made these calls "between the first of September and probably November, around election time ... I got the impression she thought I was not moving fast enough."

Lewis later swore under oath that she hadn't contacted the FBI or Banks' office until after the election, in December 1992 -- a statement that was refuted by the testimony and contemporaneous notes of Irons, Banks and numerous other federal law enforcement officials.

It's always worth remembering that the Whitewater case was itself built on perjured testimony. And that wasn't Lewis' only bit of perjury:
A far more serious threat to Republican plans occurred in July when the RTC finally drew up charges against Lewis and Iorio for an agency investigation, among them improper disclosure of confidential documents, secretly taping RTC employees (Lewis said the recorder "turned itself on"), keeping confidential documents at home and using government equipment for personal gain.

But then Kenneth Starr intervened:

On Aug. 22, in his first official act, Starr subpoenaed the RTC's records on Lewis. On Sept. 27, he ordered the RTC to suspend its investigation of her and instead impaneled a grand jury to investigate those at the RTC who were investigating Lewis. Lewis and Iorio were reinstated at the RTC, and testified against the Clintons in November l995 Senate hearings.

In Lewis' 1995 appearance before the Senate Whitewater committee, she was confronted with her "lying bastard" letter, and then was exposed as having lied about surreptitiously tape recording the RTC lawyer. Lewis collapsed into tears, was briefly hospitalized and has since dropped from sight. Starr continues to protect her and the Bush administration by keeping under wraps the RTC investigation into her activities.

Lewis remained under wraps until now. Clearly, there is abundant evidence that Lewis committed all these crimes. Instead, she has faced no consequences.

The really germane question is this: How exactly did L. Jean Lewis rise suddenly from the ranks of minor RTC investigator to the overseer of a massive Defense Department bureau? What exactly were her qualifications? The ones she put on display for the RTC: Namely, ginning up scandals against Democrats, and covering up scandals against Republicans.

Where there is smoke, there is fire. If I were a Beltway reporter, I know I would be immediately sniffing around Lewis' department to figure just what kind of fraud vis a vis corporate dealings in Iraq she may now be in charge of covering up. Are there any real journalists left there?

(Some more reading on L. Jean Lewis: From The Consortium and American Review. Of course, be sure to also check out Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, pp. 176-178, and 194-197.)

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