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When Did Lying To Congress Become Okay?

Lurking in this Steve Clemons post on the Bolton nomination is a key observation: "TWN is also alarmed at the seeming indifference that Senators Lugar and others have attached to the fact that John Bolton seems to have lied to the Committee on a broad number of questions -- and seems to have lied in a robust, emphatic manner." Right. When did lying to Congress become okay? It seems to have happened when George W. Bush decided to appoint all manner of Iran-Contra veterans to key posts notwithstanding the fact that some of them had previously been actually found guilty of lying to Congress while new evidence made it clear that others (John Negroponte in particular) had, in fact, been lying back in the 1980s. Now it's considered to be of little concern that Bolton pretty clearly lied.

Bracketing John Bolton and all partisan considerations, this is an odd and distressing development and I think it's genuinely weird that conservatives in general and Senate Republicans in particular are brushing it aside so casually. It's not as if Democrats are such paragons of virtue that the executive branch appointees of the next Democratic administration will be above engaging in such things when it suits them if it's been made clear that dissembling in congressional testimony is now going to be treated on the level of dissembling during a Meet The Press appearance. Our system of government relies, informally but crucially, on the proposition that people will be motivated not only by partisanship, but also by a sort of institutional jealously. Senators are supposed to stand on their privileges. Every member of the body loses a lot of authority when the "don't lie to the committee" norm collapses.

On a somewhat similar note, when did it start being the case that powerful committee chairs (i.e., Dick Lugar and, in his way, Chuck Grassley) feel compelled to defer to the White House rather than the reverse?

April 24, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Don't worry, the rules will miraculously change back when a dem administration returns.

Posted by: Atrios | Apr 24, 2005 12:07:49 PM

"Genuinely weird"

Huh?

This pack behavior has been completely predictable for some time. Ritualized lying is what a Senate confirmation hearing is about. After hearing the ritualized lying, Senators go on TV and lie about what they heard according to their gang membership, and the press works the lies for maximum smirk effect.

Consider, for example, the ritualized lying about having positions on Roe v. Wade, when judges are picked for these very positions, such that, the "conservative" Republican gang member is infuriated that Souter, for example, has breached the implied warranty.

"Genuinely weird" suggests someone still asleep.

Posted by: razor | Apr 24, 2005 12:16:03 PM

someone remind me what Clinton was impeached over....

wait, i'll look it up myself:

"On August 17, 1998, William Jefferson Clinton swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth before a Federal grand jury of the United States. Contrary to that oath, William Jefferson Clinton willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury ...

Rule Of Law! Nation of Laws, not of Men ! Wahh !

Posted by: cleek | Apr 24, 2005 12:20:39 PM

It is quite puzzling since it makes them look extremely wimpy capitulating so easily to an unpopular lame duck president. That's certainly not an impression one would like voters to have going into an election cycle during our War on Terra' (as some Democrats I hope have learned).

If I were strategizing on campaigning against incumbent Republicans I would certainly hang this general effete genuflecting behavior on my opponent often. Create a simple theme of "If he won't stand up to a simple liar, how can he stand up to the terrorists?".

Posted by: Gryn | Apr 24, 2005 12:23:23 PM

You don't understand, Matt. These guys don't lie to Congress. They tell the gospel truth--it's reality that lies.

Posted by: rea | Apr 24, 2005 12:30:47 PM

rea: awesome!

matthew: you know full well why the committee chairs have decided what this white house wants it gets, because you've written about it yourself. The mindset here is parliamentary government, not separate and coequal branches.

atrios: of course you're right....

Posted by: howard | Apr 24, 2005 12:36:08 PM

Even tough guys like Dick Lugar and Chuck Grassley don't enjoy finding horse's head in their beds.

Posted by: abb1 | Apr 24, 2005 12:40:11 PM

The real problem is that the lies are disseminated in such a way that most of the American public believes anc acts on them. This is a powerful tool in the hands of a group that has a particular end in mind, and the Republicans do.

What is not obvious to me is if the public can be informed of the truth in a way that leads them to rational behavior. This form of lying by a group in power has worked through history, and the US today is no exception. Look around in a fact-based way and it is not mistakable.

The most disturbing facet is the observation that by a preponderance of the evidence, the voting system has been usurped. Could it be that the coup is nearly complete?

Posted by: wishful | Apr 24, 2005 12:44:08 PM

IOKIYAR!

Posted by: bobo brooks | Apr 24, 2005 12:48:02 PM

"when did it start being the case that powerful committee chairs (i.e., Dick Lugar and, in his way, Chuck Grassley) feel compelled to defer to the White House"

when a significant portion of Republicans started to believe a) that this President was chosen by God, and favored by God. b) that this President is the embodiment of the WOT, and to oppose, obstruct and undermine the President is to oppose, obstruct and undermine the WOT. "We support the troops and their Commander-In-Chief"

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Apr 24, 2005 1:00:20 PM

Matt, don't you get it? The fanatics running the GOP don't think there will ever be another Democratic administration or Congressional majority, so they don't have to worry about changing the rules to benefit the majority. As for the general weakening of Congress relative to the executive branch, you need to go back and reread your own post about government centralization worldwide. It's all part of the same "winner take all" trend. And yes, it's very unhealthy for democracy, which may not survive this era.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Apr 24, 2005 2:32:13 PM

"When did lying to Congress become okay?"

I guess when Clinton did it.

Posted by: Half Sigma | Apr 24, 2005 3:12:54 PM

Matt, don't you get it? The fanatics running the GOP don't think there will ever be another Democratic administration or Congressional majority, so they don't have to worry about changing the rules to benefit the majority.


Considering what has taken place in the last two Presidential elections, this is completely possible. Bush will have served two terms thanks to Diebold, voter fraud, and corruption on a scale that would make the Iraq elections appear the most Democratic on the face of the earth.

Posted by: Dawna | Apr 24, 2005 3:17:48 PM

half sigma, if you want to claim that clinton lied in his deposition in the paula jones case, fine, who cares.

but when you want to claim that clinton lied to congress and that's why it's ok for nominees to lie to congress, you're no longer in the reality-based realm and it has nothing to do with why people with good reputations like lugar are willing to carry water for thugs.

Posted by: howard | Apr 24, 2005 3:27:30 PM

I'm pretty sure that Bolton wasn't sworn in - and therefore not sworn to tell the truth - until after the committee took a break and came back for a second round of questioning. I distictly remember Lugar saying something to the effect that it had been brought to his attention that he had forgotten to do it in the first place. So it's completely possible that Bolton didn't lie under oath because he wasn't under oath for a while.

Posted by: Jon | Apr 24, 2005 4:01:45 PM

I'm pretty sure that Bolton wasn't sworn in - and therefore not sworn to tell the truth - until after the committee took a break and came back for a second round of questioning.

Which would help if the charge were perjury, rather than lying to Congress. Lying to Congress is always illegal, whether one has sworn an oath or not.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Apr 24, 2005 4:12:37 PM

I'm pretty sure that Bolton wasn't sworn in - and therefore not sworn to tell the truth


Why does the hearing begin with the witness swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Just as Bolton did before he answered the Senators questions. Doesn't matter how you twist it, Bolton lied!

Posted by: Dawna | Apr 24, 2005 4:38:18 PM

Any good books out there about blackmail and power down through the centuries? Those dossiers must pile up in an age of electronic wizardry.

Posted by: Ferd | Apr 24, 2005 5:20:36 PM

Anyone else remember Clarence Thomas telling Congress he had "no opinion" about Roe v. Wade?

Posted by: Brittain33 | Apr 24, 2005 6:09:49 PM

"when did it start being the case that powerful committee chairs (i.e., Dick Lugar and, in his way, Chuck Grassley) feel compelled to defer to the White House"

When the Whitehouse dumped Trent Lott and anointed Frist, they assumed control of the Senate. Any chairman who stands in the way of the President will be removed. Rove had some control over Lott, but he has total control of Frist and anyone else who wants to succeed Bush. The inmates now control the asylum.

Posted by: marvyt | Apr 24, 2005 6:11:04 PM

I believe that it began when the lying was done to protect Ronald Reagan. See North, Oliver...

Posted by: exgop | Apr 24, 2005 6:59:43 PM

I guess when Clinton did it.

It really is so funny to see Democrats - of all people! - caring about lying. It's almost as if they forgot that Clinton even existed.

Ah, hypocrisy, the Democrats' best friend.

Meanwhile, there is an evidence-free charge that Bolton lied. ("Evidence? who needs evidence? We're Democrats, fercrissakes - evidence is for losers.") But, really, for those of us who don't follow the fevered imaginations of DailyKos's diarists, what, exactly, is Bolton supposed to have lied about? You know, is it really too much to ask for a Bolton quote and then something that proves it a lie?

Posted by: Al | Apr 24, 2005 7:11:50 PM

Al: When did Bill Clinton testify before congress?

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Apr 24, 2005 7:49:03 PM

Hey Al,
Bolton said that Hubbard approved of the South Korean speech he gave and complimented him afterwards. Hubbard says that he objected to the harsh tone of the speech and it made his (Hubbards) job tougher.

From Fox news:
"The criticism leveled at the nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations by retired career diplomat Thomas Hubbard (search), who held the Seoul post during Bush's first term, adds to allegations by several former and current State Department officials that Bolton mistreated them and threatened their careers."

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,154319,00.html

How's that for a starting place.

Posted by: marvyt | Apr 24, 2005 7:49:12 PM

Al: When did Bill Clinton testify before congress?

As if there is a relevant difference between lying to Congress and lying while under oath to a Grand Jury.

Posted by: Al | Apr 24, 2005 8:53:55 PM

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