Bush II: Tragedy or farce? L. Jean Lewis Revisited
    by Gene Lyons

   History repeats itself, Karl Marx famously observed, first as tragedy, then as farce.
 Like most Marxist dogma, it won't stand much skeptical scrutiny. Take the Bush
 administration, for example, tragedy or farce?

 Judging by the president's wary expression during his recent speech calling for $87
 billion to rebuild Iraq--enough to fund Medicare for two years, or pay the salaries of
 1,740,000 teachers, cops or firefighters at $50,000 per annum--Bush himself clearly
 has no clue. Except that submitting the bill wasn't as cool as swaggering across an aircraft
 carrier flight deck to pronounce "mission accomplished" in a  tailored aviator costume.

 Polls show that with budget deficits approaching a record $500 billion, Americans are
 reeling from sticker shock. Indeed, Bush did such a bad job that Vice-president Dick
 Cheney emerged from his lair to make what a Los Angeles Times editorial called "sweeping,
 unproven claims about Saddam Hussein's connections to terrorism" on "Meet the Press."
 In another sign opinion is turning, the Washington Post gave front page space to an article
 demonstrating that much of what Cheney said was either factually false or sheer speculation.

 But what really appeared to irk Cheney were suggestions that multibillion dollar, no-bid
 contracts in Iraq awarded by the Pentagon to his old company, Halliburton, may have had
 something to do with political influence. After cashing in $30 million worth of  Halliburton
 stock options upon assuming the vice-presidency, Cheney says he has taken no further
 interest in the corporation's fortunes.  He described as "political cheap shots," any suggestions
 to the contrary. "Nobody has produced one single shred of evidence that there's anything
 wrong or inappropriate here," he said.

 What's more, and this is where the story diverges into sheer slapstick, there's not much
 chance that Pentagon investigators ever will. Newsweek reports that none other than
 L. Jean Lewis, the preposterous GOP heroine of congressional Whitewater hearings, has
 been named chief-of-staff of the Defense Department's inspector general--an agency with
 1240 employees and $160 million budget whose task is auditing Pentagon contracts for
 waste and fraud. It's a $118,000 a year job for a woman who once peddled "Presidential
 BITCH" t-shirts and coffee mugs mocking Hillary Clinton out of her government office at
 the now-defunct Resolution Trust Corporation.

 Apparently Lucy Ricardo was unavailable for the job. When last seen publicly, Lewis was
 being half-carried out of a 1995 Senate hearing after fainting when Democrats began to
 question her about a letter by Little Rock's Republican U.S. Attorney Charles Banks
 refusing to initiate a September 1992 investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton's Whitewater
 dealings for which she'd presented no credible evidence. "[T]he insistence for urgency in
 this case," Banks had written "appears to suggest an intentional or unintentional attempt to
 intervene into the political process of the upcoming presidential election."

 Having prosecuted Jim McDougal's handling of Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, Banks
 knew perfectly well what Kenneth Starr eventually spent six years and $70 million dollars
 proving: the Clintons were, if anything, the pigeons in McDougal's flim-flams. He added
 prophetically that media coverage of the kind investigation L. Jean Lewis was frantically pushing
 tended to "'legitimize what can't be proven,'" adding that "I cannot be a party to such actions."

 Both Banks' letter and Lewis's nationally-televised comic opera swoon, it will be recalled,
 went unreported in the New York Times and Washington Post, the two newspapers most
 deeply committed to the bogus scandal she helped them conjure out of thin air. It says a lot
 about today's Republicans that Banks' principled action in the face of the first Bush White
 House's covert efforts to convene an "October Surprise" probe of the Democratic nominee
 probably doomed his chances for a federal judgeship.

 Documents showed that Lewis and like-minded RTC colleagues spent thousands of man-hours
 probing Madison Guaranty, ignoring Arkansas S & L collapses ten and twenty times larger in
 their futile quest. But if getting Whitewater upside-down disqualified a person from employment,
 half of official Washington and most of the city's name-brand journalists would be out of work.

 Of much greater concern was Lewis's bizarre testimony. Under oath, she swore the "Presidential
 BITCH" T-shirts signified no political bias, and that she personally didn't mind being called a bitch.
 Before both House and Senate comittees she denied pressuring Justice Department officials to act
 before the 1992 election. But FBI agents and prosecutors testified that she'd hounded them
 repeatedly and made melodramatic statements about "altering  history."  Contemporaneous
 documents proved it.

 Lewis also secretly recorded conversations with colleagues, misrepresented their contents, then
 swore that a defective tape-recorder had magically turned itself on. Senate investigators proved
 she'd actually used a brand new machine, and turned the matter over to Kenneth Starr for
 investigation. But you know what happened to that.

 So rest easy, taxpayers, L. Jean Lewis is on the job.

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