May 01, 2008

A fantasy cross-examination of President Bush

I was watching some of President Bush's Rose Garden press conference a couple of days ago (thought: why don't they call these confabs "Rose Bush" conferences?) and was struck again by the docility and compliance of the press corps and the ease with which they are manipulated and controlled by W. I suppose part of this effect has been achieved over the years by a process of winnowing, denying access, ignoring, browbeating, teasing and intimidating the ink-stained wretches of the Fourth Estate. Bush is an effective bully, that's hard to deny, and these reporters are certainly worthy of his contempt.

Still, however much the liberal blogosphere and other critics like to approach the vexatious problem of Bush by labeling him an "idiot" or "moron" or whatever (and I have succumbed to the temptation myself, out of frustration), in fact he's not. His mastery of the press conference is one indication of his above-average intelligence. One trick he's learned is the rambling, disjointed response to a question which eats up 5 or 6 minutes of a half-hour conference, followed by another extended soliloquy soon after so that any thread in the questioning is lost. There is no rapid fire give-and-take in a Bush "press availability." He controls the languorous pace, and the digressions are an important part of this manipulation. Lawyers skilled in cross-examination know that forcing a witness into an admission or contradiction depends on the ability to move the Q&A so rapidly that the witness can't see where the questions are leading. Before the witness can regain control, he has admitted a series of premises which, syllogistically speaking, permit only one logical conclusion. Bush doesn't really allow follow-ups and he doesn't admit anything he doesn't feel like admitting, which is usually nothing. This has allowed him to escape some very gnarly situations while appearing to answer questions in an open manner, most notably during the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame matter. To a virtual moral certainty, one can say that Bush was fully informed in June/July 2003 about Cheney's program of retaliation against Joe Wilson; yet, despite all the evidence adduced at Libby's trial about what a hot topic of conversation Plame's blown cover was in the summer of 2003, Bush escaped with the lame cover that he was outside the loop, uninformed by his own Vice President and his own Special Assistant (one of Libby's titles) and his own political handler (Karl Rove) about all this critical information.

Suppose, just once, that he'd taken the stand, sworn to tell the truth and was unable to control the pace because of the presence of a presiding judge. Could the transcript read something like this?

Q: Mr. President, you've testified that you had no knowledge, in the summer of 2003, that members of your inner circle disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame to the press; is that correct?
A: Yes.
Q: And that this ignorance must have continued until at least September 30, 2003, because you were making public statements to that effect?
A. Yes.
Q: And you would not deliberately lie to the public, would you?
A: No.
Q: In fact, you promised that you would get to the bottom of the leak, because you disapproved of behavior contrary to the national security of the United States; correct?
A: Yes.
Q: And you did disapprove strongly, did you not?
A: Yes.
Q: In fact, you initially said that anyone "involved" in the leaks would no longer be part of your administration, right?
A: Yes.
Q: We've read transcript excerpts from the Libby trial in open court; would you agree with me that those excerpts prove conclusively that Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, and Karl Rove were all aware that they were the sources of leaks to the press about Valerie Plame?
A: Well, I don't know what you mean about "proving..."
Q: Establish the fact. There's no doubt, is there? They were involved?
A: I suppose that's true.
Q: And since they were sources, they must have known June through September, 2003 who the sources were, because they were the sources?
A: That follows, yes.
Q: And they knew this at the same time you were speaking publicly about wanting to get to the bottom of the leak?
A: I guess they did, right.
Q: Why do you guess? You know, right?
A: Yes.
Q: And they allowed you to state publicly that you didn't know who leaked the Valerie Plame information, didn't they?
A: What do you mean "allowed"?
Q: They didn't correct you, they didn't say, "Mr. President, stop saying those things in public, we're the ones, we know who did it"?
A: No, they didn't.
Q: Other than when you weren't in the White House, away on business, did you meet daily with Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby during the period between July 1, 2003 and September 30, 2003?
A: Probably, when I was in the office, yes.
Q: That's your practice, isn't it, an early morning meeting every day?
A: Yes.
Q: You pride yourself on discipline and regularity?
A: I don't want to talk about my bowel habits..
Q: Regular business habits.
A: Yes.
Q: So that all of these meetings in that period would have completely overlapped the period when you were making public statements about your ignorance of the Valerie Plame leak source?
A: It would have been the same period, I guess.
Q: So that when you found out, in the course of Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation and the trial of Scooter Libby, that Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and Karl Rove were all involved, you realized that your own staff had engaged in acts of rank insubordination and disloyalty to their superior?
A: They should have told me, right.
Q: And what were the consequences to them of not telling you?

Well, a lawyer can dream. Such a forum, such an interrogation, will never happen. It will all go down the memory hole, a casualty of our sloppy, complicated, indifferent times. No one really cares enough to get at the truth anymore. That's another thing our smarter-than-you-think President has taken into consideration.

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