April 15, 2004
Paging Dr. Frist
BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Trent Lott was forced down from his position as Senate Majority leader for his ill-considered public longing for a Strom Thurmond America and was replaced by Senator Bill Frist. Itís a well reported fact that Frist, who bankrolled his first campaign with his familyís own considerable wealth, had never even voted in a presidential election until 1989, a few short years before launching his run for the Senate.
While Lott was caught in an ugly shedding-of-light upon topics the GOP would rather keep behind closed doors, Frist himself has committed a much more egregious act and should be held accountable. On March 24, Sen. Frist stood before the chambers and insinuated that Richard Clarke could, and perhaps should, be brought up on perjury charges for giving two different and conflicting testimonies, both under oath.
As is common practice with the Bush administrationís political slander machine, over the weekend that followed, the smear was quickly and quietly retracted. Retractions always come during the weekend news cycle, when significantly fewer Americans are watching or reading. A Frist spokesman admitted that the Senator had no actual evidence, or even knowledge, of any discrepancies between Clarkeís two testimonies. It was all a matter of if, you see. If Clarke perjured himself, he should be charged. Thatís what Frist had meant.
This is outrageous behavior for a United States Senator, even more so for someone in Fristís position of leadership, notwithstanding the fact that he was obviously acting on orders from above, as were Bushís other lieutenants during the same period. In fact, given his lack of qualifications to hold his current position as Majority Leader, an argument can be made that it is this quality, to follow orders, which got him the job in the first place.
Frist clearly had not even the slightest interest or participation in the democratic system before running for office, not enough to cast so much as a single vote before his 36th birthday. The fact that a man such as this could have the gall to level baseless accusations at a 25-year career civil servant who has served loyally and dutifully under four separate presidential administrations simply goes beyond the pale. Clarke has given his entire adult life to serving the American democracy while, in contrast, Frist ignored it altogether until it suited his own personal goals.
As has been proven by a front page story in the Washington Post, and personally verified by many Senators from both sides of the aisle, there simply were no contradictions between Clarkeís respective testimonies before the Senate and the 9/11 Commission. In fact, as the Post reported, the declassified report from the Senate hearings in question actually bolsters the arguments Clarke is making now.
Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana who served on the joint congressional committee before which Clarke had testified, also confirmed there were no "glaring contradictions" between the two testimonies. When asked about Fristís accusations on the floor, Lugar could only offer, "I really wouldnít go there." Indeed, even Fristís own office has admitted that the "contradictions" heíd heard of, secondhand mind you, were matters of "tone" and not content.
Most recently, Sen. Pat Roberts, another Republican, and Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that conducted the hearings in question, has flatly disputed Fristís claims. When asked plainly if Clarke had contradicted himself, Roberts replied as plainly that he did not, completely refuting the good doctor, before chastising the SIC "staffers" who were allegedly Fristís source. Sen. Dick Durbin, another member of the intelligence panel, in describing Fristís over-the-top performance on the floor, put it this way: "Itís like he was handed a script from the White House."
As Iím sure Frist knew, however, statements made on the floor of the Senate are protected from the laws governing slanderous speech such as this. He was lucky, or at least well advised, in this respect. Having his public slandering been so publicly proven wrong, though, it seems the good Senator owes at least as public an apology. Given the uproar over Trent Lottís equally vile, but far less personally damaging comments, shouldnít Frist should be held to at least the same level of accountability?
It is, of course, an internal Republican matter, for the party to decide. Besides, in an administration, and political party, where abject loyalty is valued far above any other quality, even if the right thing was done and Frist forced to resign as majority leader, his replacement would undoubtedly be but more of the same.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Mitch Cohen is a freelance writer and media analyst. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More of his work can be found on his weblog at http://mitchcohen.crimsonzine.com.
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