As Richard Nixon began sustaining the first injurious fallout from the Watergate Scandal, the repercussions of which would ultimately topple him from power, his strategy was to present White House Counsel John Dean as designated administration sacrificial lamb. In his address to the nation announcing resignations in the wake of developing disclosures, Nixon praised close subordinates H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman as dedicated public servants. In his counsel’s case, he stated tersely, “John Dean also resigned.” The statement was as subtle as the proverbial sledgehammer, and was meant to be as harsh as its delivery denoted.
Nixon’s strategy was to make his young White house counsel, just 31 at the time, to serve as designated instrument of all that had gone wrong with Watergate. While Haldeman and Ehrlichman were much larger fish in the political pond, Dean was the party at whom others could point fingers of shame. As they say in the South, “That dog won’t hunt.” Well, it didn’t, as we know from history. What Nixon feared was what became reality, that Dean possessed sufficient knowledge to sink Nixon’s shabby, dirty tricks-oriented ship of state. Despite the sturdiest efforts of Nixon stalwart, Senator Edward Gurney of Florida, to trip him up during the Watergate Committee Hearings chaired by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, Dean’s incredibly detailed memory served him well and provided the country a great service as he revealed the closed door operation of Nixon’s White House.
John Dean is still very much in evidence, and his latest work comparing the Nixon and George W. Bush regimes entitled, befittingly, Worse Than Watergate, is performing another public service. When Dean heard the story about George Tenet’s resignation as CIA Director, he had to be thinking in an historical vein, about how this incident resembles the case of Nixon hoping to bury his ongoing troubles by singling out one person, hoping that the finger in the dike would stop the onrush of water into a perilously at risk boat he was commandeering.
In the case of Tenet, in the public’s best interest, he needs to come forward and reveal what he knows about the rush to war in Iraq. Much mention is being made of the Bob Woodward quote in Plan of Attack about Tenet, by all accounts an effusive personality, calling weapons of mass destruction a “slam dunk.” Let us hear about that, but, above all, let us hear about something else that has been mentioned on CNN and elsewhere today in the wake of the Tenet resignation announcement.
Tenet and his operatives, we have read and heard repeatedly, had plenty to say about Al Qaeda and its ongoing operations. Despite Condie Rice’s repeated insistence that the Bush administration had no credible forewarnings of terrorist attacks by air, there are numerous reports relating to the CIA and FBI providing such information, and on numerous occasions.
What we really need, and what the public must demand, is a full-scale independent investigation into 9-11 and all its aspects, with George Tenet as one of the star witnesses. The commission headed by former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean was woefully under funded and placed under severe time restrictions. It also failed to receive proper cooperation from the Bush administration. When Clinton was in the midst of his presidential woes he testified directly and openly before the Starr Committee. We know what happened when Kean sought testimony from Bush. It ultimately provided, after a period of long and uncomfortable wiggling, an executive session with Dick Cheney at Bush’s side.
George Tenet knows volumes. Let us hope that he will now reveal important areas of information that are vital to the public interest.