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Lawmakers have now decided to subpoena the Salahis, the Virginia couple who arrived uninvited to the White House’s first state dinner last month. The couple will appear before the Committee for Homeland Security to answer questions as to what they were doing at the dinner, and why they went there in the first place.
For a country that has become consumed with concerns about national security, over the past eight years, why is it that Congress appears not only to selectively subpoena, but selectively enforce subpoenas? Why, for instance, is it possible for Karl Rove to evade a subpoena, and for a former vice-president, Dick Cheney, to tell George Stephanopoulos, back in 2006, that if he were to be subpoenaed, he would “probably not testify.” Can a former public servant claim executive privilege when he’s a private citizen, too? Does it advance national security to have two public officers operate below the radar of the law, and the U.S. Constitution, and not be answerable to Congress?
What is even more intriguing–how is it that when the new commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, testified before Congress about his planned mission in Afghanistan, not one member of Congress asked him about the secret assassination squad he headed that was kept classified by order of Dick Cheney for eight years? Why didn’t anyone ask McChrystal to confirm or deny under oath his role in that clandestine operation?
The Central Intelligence Agency concealed information about what was euphemistically called a “counterterrorism program” for nearly a decade, and to this day, the exact nature of that program has never been publicly identified. While Leon Panetta, head of the CIA, said that he ended the program, he refused to describe what it entailed, and as the New York Times reported, back in July, “efforts to reach Mr. Cheney through relatives and associates were unsuccessful.” Is it too late to subpoena Mr. Cheney to find out if the program Mr. Panetta disabled was the one first divulged by Seymour Hersh?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of transparency, but priorities seem to be as important as transparency. If the only crime the Salahis committed was making a fraudulent statement to get into a White House function, then it falls way lower on the Richter scale than what Karl Rove did, and Mr. Rove has successfully managed to evade a subpoena about his role in outing Valerie Plame. The former president of the U.S. Senate, Dick Cheney, publicly acknowledged that he would defy a congressional subpoena and most likely refuse to testify before Congress. And, when the former head of Cheney’s assassination squad appears before Congress, not one peep out of any of our esteemed members of Congress about McChrystal’s former job description. Why on earth not?
Yes, it’s alarming that anybody could get within a hundred feet of the president of the United States at a private White House function especially given that the demands on the secret service are 400% greater today than they were under George W. Bush, so why doesn’t Congress subpoena the secret service agents who allowed that to happen in the first place, and who have been placed on administrative leave?
You may recall when former attorney general Alberto Gonzales appeared before a congressional panel to discuss who signed off on enhanced alternative interrogation techniques, and when, Gonzales alluded to other “programs” that had not yet been divulged. The then-attorney general referenced other programs not once, but a few times, and no one asked him to spell out what he means.
By not demanding equal time for all wrongdoers and those who threaten national security to come forward and tell the whole truth, Congress itself becomes a co-conspirator in those misdeeds.
JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.