A Field Position Game

Mark Kleiman argues that the Democrats should see BushCo’s refusal to turn over proof that they buried details about Pat Tillman’s death as a godsend. This is the scandal, he argues, over which the Democrats should choose to confront Bush.

This is a Godsend for the Democrats in Congress. The committeesshouldn’t compromise at all; this is the case we want to go to warover, in the courts and the court of public opinion. The Tillmancover-up is a far smaller scandal than the U.S. Attorney firings, butit’s much easier to understand.

Most of the country is only vaguely aware of the Tillman case, sincethe press has been not very interested in advertising how badly it wasfooled, and how supinely it participated in the "Wag the Dog" foolingof the public. But if the facts got out there, everyone, including mostof the Republican base, would be outraged. Publicity about the fightover documents and testimony is also publicity about Tillman’s"friendly fire" death and the effort to cover it up, so it’s a no-winsituation for the White House.

Moreover, even the wingnuts are going to have a hard time claimingwith a straight face that the President needs to protect theconfidentiality of the process by which he decides to … mislead thepublic.

To a  degree, I agree with Kleiman, as do some of the commenters in this thread. Any time you can manage to put a political issue before the NFL’s fans, the issue will have a lot more resonance than something that remains strictly political. And it’s just a matter of weeks before Keith Olbermann sits before Sunday Night football fans (with Tiki Barber at his side–huzzah!!)–I suspect Olbermann is more than capable of explaining the stakes, if the NFL takes an interest in this issue. In other words, this is an issue that can grab the attention of Joe Sixpack in a way that politicization of our judicial system or the deliberate outing of a CIA spy cannot.

Furthermore, I’ve got a lot more faith that Henry Waxman can pursue a fight with the Administration more effectively than the House Judiciary (the verdict’s still out on the Senate Judiciary).

And finally, I always pay attention when mr. emptywheel gets wrapped up in coverage. And he watched the coverage of Waxman’s first Tillman hearing closely (he’s a football fan, but doesn’t really know of Tillman’s career). The pageantry of the stock footage of Tillman–thanks largely to the Administration’s hagiography of Tillman when he enlisted–makes for powerful TV, even accompanying something so boring as a Congressional hearing.

But as someone who recently fell into the trap of believing that Congress would use gifts it received effectively–you know, a whole trial transcript effectively showing that Vice President ordering the outing of a CIA spy–I’m not entirely convinced Tillman will be enough. This is another area where we’re in a fight with the Administration over evidence (though note, BushCo did not, techncially, invoke privilege–they invoked confidentiality, which they may defend on the grounds that these documents pertain to troop movement). And no matter how much easier the narrative about Tillman’s friendly fire death is to tell, it’s still going to have to compete with Paris Hilton (or, in the football world, the latest DWI arrest).

What seems to be missing a coordinated approach that first says, "what is the overriding narrative"? (One possible answer: a disdain for national security and a habit of obstruction.) And then says, "How do we put the pieces together to make that argument so we can change it?" Tillman, in isolation of a larger goal or strategy, isn’t going to do much for us. No matter how unpopular Bush gets, Congress still gives him the tools he wants to make things worse. Until that changes, all the war and football heroes in the world aren’t going to help us.

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  1. Frank Probst says:

    This particular story doesn’t even require the Democratic Congress at all. At least not anymore. The Tillman family can reasonably ask, â€What are you hiding from us?†The Tillman family–and military families in general–will not sit idly by while the President claims that they have no right to know what he said about their dead son.

  2. BlueStateRedhead says:

    Thanks for the sobering but insightful thoughts. Was there any potential for action in the SJC Taylor sort-of, kind-of testimony? Since contempt seems impossible, given Spectre’s opposition and the close to zero chance of a contempt citation passing the senate, were there statements about Griffin lies of sufficient ’quality’ or evidentiary weight to charge that she lied to Congress?

  3. richard says:

    I think you’re right that Tillman itself gets us no closer to an overall narrative, which is what is desperately needed. And your indictment of House Judiciary — and doubts about Senate Judiciary — is precisely why putting impeachment in their hands is sort of like putting it in the hands of the Apple Dumpling Gang. It seems more and more like using inherent contempt in the House is the only route to force things to a head. There’s a largely empty news cycle (the fabled â€silly season†of English-speaking journalism). What’s everyone waiting for?

  4. Anonymous says:

    richard

    But why is inherent contempt any better. I’m not looking for impeachment, then end. I’m looking for impeachment, the process. But that’s precisely what HJC is too undisciplined to carry out. So they go arrest Harriet. Then what? If they can’t take evidence, sitting in the public sphere, and use it to explain why Dick Cheney is a bad man and Bush too, what will be the point of arresting Harriet, because it’ll be even harder to explain why Harriet is a bad woman in this case, since the evidence isn’t sitting right out there and since HJC seems more interested in making grandiose statements than in making a case.

  5. Katie Jensen says:

    I still think it all fits under the general heading of abuse of executive privilege per the constitutional expert on Moyers. But if this is the best case to highlight it, then I agree use this as the vehicle. I don’t think we lay down the tools of democracy for the other scandals however. I think it’s the perfect case to show that they are abusing their power. My fear of course is that it is the bait. That they hope we will all look at the Tillman case and that the real â€dark under†stuff has already pretty much been revealed.

    As soon as they did it my thought was, â€oh they want us to go after that one†so they can show that they really aren’t hiding much of anything just that they really believe they need absolute power to handle the bad terrorists.

    On Moyers the other night the expert suggested that the way it sort of plays out is that people think that the terrorists are so bad that we need to show them that we are willing to be unlawful to fight them. It’s the billy bad boy image and many people subscribe to it so it works for those authoritarian macho types.

    I think they might use this vehicle to say â€look it was friendly fire, we don’t want it publicized in a time of war, see no big deal. Now everyone please assume that there is no big deal in us not allowing Meirs to testify. You all are making much ado about nothing.†What do you bet that we hear this soon from our trolls?

    I say follow it, use it to our advantage but be careful not to get distracted by shiney objects. The timing is also of interest to me.

  6. Neil says:

    The Pat Tillman story has the power to turn the â€them†against whom Bush rails, into the â€us†who he claims to lead. This is a case where Bushco abused the truth about Tillman’s demise in a war propagada gambit and dishonered his memory in a public way.

    Bush has given us many issues with which to take issue as un-american and reprehesible and yet not one of them has changed the essential nature of the national dialogue about his leadership and conduct.

    The issue that breaks Bush will reveal that his scorn for the evil-doers such as Iran and democrats is not reserved for evil-doers but in fact exists for every american who does not agree with his world view. In football like politics, points scored on defense frequently provide the winning margin.

  7. Albert Fall says:

    The Tilman family is doing the blocking, if the Dems will carry the ball….

    I read that his mom is asking–simply, reasonably, and accurately–â€Who authorized the Silver Star? There is a paper trail.â€

    Tilman walked away from the NFL and volunteered for what he genuinely believed was his patriotic duty.

    His sacrifice and genuine patriotism contrasts perfectly with the cynicism and phony me-first-ism of the Bushies.

  8. orionATL says:

    e’wheel (11:47)

    for me, this paragraph is a nice succinct comment on hjc that responds to a frustration i have felt.

    it just seems like the hearings are a tennis match. the ball goes back and forth over the net. the republicans get mad and threaten the ump.

    the game continues.

    the game ends.

    everybody shakes hands, some make a public comment or two,

    and then everybody goes home.

    each event is discrete. nothing seems to be being connected to anything that has gone before.

    it’s driving me nuts.

    maybe tillman would do the job of blowing up the bush logjam.

    i don’t have any better ideas right now.

    what’s really needed right now, desperately needed, is a daily, day-after-day, week-after-week public commentary by democrats on bush admin misconduct

    from treatment of soldiers to obstruction.

    from domestic security to diplomatic bungling.

    from fiscal misconduct to political favoritism running to criminal activity.

    a persistent democratic voice.

    gore – he’s busy

    clinton – he’s busy

    kerry – doesn’t have the passion

    dean – the best man for the job but busy and a lighting rod

    pelosi – busy

    reid – busy

    h. clinton – occupied

    b. obama – occupied.

    there aren’t any democratic heroes (well, maybe waxman);

    just a group of pols who keep their heads down at all times.

  9. pol says:

    orionATL, I agree. We need a passionate voice — even if it’s someone like John Dean, who isn’t even a Democrat. Moyers is good and is already doing his part; so is Keith Olberman.

  10. jcricket’s boy toy says:

    Marcie,
    I am so glad you have thought and written about this. Some time back, PT’s mother suggested obliquely that Pat may have been fragged. They BURNED his clothed and ’obstructed’ his journal. A journal that his brother said he collected his thoughts/reflections since he was sixteen. It is a distinct possibility that bushco had some inkling of his sensibilities. He died from all reports a head shot. Was there a sight on the weapon that took him out? I DO think that the administration chose to Jessica Lynch Tilman’s death…There may be a more nefarious aspect to this. I really find it hard to believe that the special force brotherhood makes a habit of burning bloody clothing as opposed to returning that valorous uniform to the survivors of a fallen comrade. This action by the administration is beyond dispicable…what DOES it take.

  11. Mimikatz says:

    There were a bunch of good narratives in the Bill Moyers program. I tried to distill them in the post now up.

    They were scathing about Bush/Cheney, but in some ways even more so about Congress. The Dems in Congress really don’t get it. They don’t get it about how our form of government is at stake and they don’t get it about what they ought to do. They are a symptom as well as a part of the problem, and they need to hear that loud and clear.

    If I were a member of Congress I would be really embarrassed watching the Moyers program, because the most eloquent voice in favor of impeachment was a conservative Republican who helped draft the articles of impeachment against Clinton. But the mere fact that I am capable of embarrassment is one reason I’m not in elective office.

  12. Dismayed says:

    The Tillman story could serve as a wedge to open the eyes of those who simply can’t, won’t or are not paying enough attention to realize that Bushco doesn’t tell the truth, that there are things wrong with them.

    Once these people process that Bush co is flawed they will start to look for and accept other arguments about Bush – Understanding that most people out in americaland simply don’t know who to believe. They keep hearing credible sounding stuff from both sides because they have little detailed knowledged of the issues or of how the system is supposed to work, they know there is a fight on, they know the war is not going well, but beyond that they just don’t know who to believe.

    The Tillman story can tip that balance. Once tillman cracks their heads open we should start to hear comment like, â€Well after what they did to Pat Tillman’s family, I’d believe they could do BLANK.†And that’s the end of the Bush base.

    We have to have that starter thing, the blowjob everyone in head-up-their-ass land can get. Tillman could be it.

  13. sojourner says:

    We are overlooking some powerful allies by focusing only on the Democratic side of the Congress.

    I am appalled at what the Republican party has become because of Bush and his ilk. I have heard some others rumbling in a similar vein. Bush Republicans are a disgrace to those of us believe in our Constitution, our justice system, and being a light to the rest of the world.

    Maybe it is time to voice our displeasure to Republicans as well. Yes, there are those who drink the Kook-Aid and eat, sleep and breathe Bush and Rove. But, there are some who can think for themselves, and I know they do not like it.

    Just remember, too, that every member of the US House is up for reelection again next year.

    I would like to know what is being covered up, not just with Tillman, but in our government. It is time to force some accountability — and maybe we need to voice that to the Republicans, as well.

  14. richard says:

    ew

    I agree that impeachment the process (and not the end) is the goal. It’s how we get answers –even if the clock runs out. But can you see any of the present actors on HJC â€managing†it?

    What the Congress needs is some victories — a bit of a winning streak — to bolster their confidence. That’s why inherent contempt works. It’s a gimme. A slam dunk legally — even if Bush & co. try to block or frustrate it. And forcing the media to explain it will up public awareness of checks and balances beyond the Supreme Court striking this or that down.

  15. Franklin says:

    Thanks for sharing the link. Kleinman is absolutely right on this one. The U.S. Attorneys firings is an issue with much more significant institutional implications; however, the Tilman issue probably is the right battle to pick first.

    1. Because it puts POTUS’s secrecy obsession into sharp relief.
    2. It highlights the blatantly self-serving nature of his invocation of â€privilege†and will raise questions any other time that POTUS or Nixon’s attorney invoke confidentiality protection.

    In terms of bipartisan support Davis, who lives in a district where Bush’s popularity is at 5% in some areas, and who is vying for a Senatorial seat in 2008 is likely to take a much less friendly line with the Bush administration than we’ll ever find in the HJC.

    Additionally, on the one side you have a military family that wants to know the circumstances surrounding the Bush PR propaganda campaign; on the other you have Bush invoking the â€embarrassment privilegeâ€.

    From a strictly political perspective this is a major misstep by Team Bush. I’d side with the soldier’s family’s interests in closure 10 times out of 10 over ANY president. I suspect an overwhelming majority of Americans would too.

    As far as the courts go, on what reasonable basis could they deny the family’s request? No national security or diplomatic security interests are at stake. The only issue that is at stake here is the manner in which a White House uses PR machinery to manipulate public opinion — which to the best of my understanding is not a Constitutionally protected Executive â€right†(implied or otherwise).

    On the other hand this line of attack would serve a public interest in opening the door more fully into the ways that PR is used to advance political ends. It could very well help to open the door on a number of other issues which are of even greater consequence for national interests (see U.S. Attorney Firings and impeachment proceedings).

    You have to pick your battles–and in this case–the White House appears to have made a major misstep.

  16. Anonymous says:

    EW – As you clearly read the comments on Tillman in the Harriet thread below, you know my feelings about Pat. I could have written much more, but it is difficult to put into words what a unique and compelling person Pat was; and similarly difficult to describe the anger and frustration the circumstances of his death provoke. All that having been said, I disagree rather strongly with the thought that this should be the â€Eureka†centerpiece of the effort to cleave open the Bush/Cheney cabal. Pretty much all that is going to be known on the affair is known. The only thing really left is why all the military brass and Bush knew about the coverup and kept perpetuating it. Well, it was all about the journal that, without any question whatsoever, contained extremely pointed, real and intelligent criticism of Bushco and their war conduct; beyond that it was mistakes and embarrassment, and as we all know, Bushco don’t admit mistakes or embarrassment. This is all good stuff, but is a distraction to the Constitutional level stuff. If I had to bet, I would say that they are intentionally setting this issue out there as a shiny penny for the rube Democrats to reach for. The Tillman issue should indeed be played out and followed through on; but as the icing on the main issue cake. It should be â€The Administration is lying and obstructing about X,Y, and Z; hell, they won’t even tell the truth about Pat Tillman. We need an impeachment investigation on what they have done to our governmentâ€. If, however, we make Pat the centerpiece, we diffuse and weaken the real effort.

  17. Boston1775 says:

    I’m sad EW that you’ve worked so hard, so incredibly hard to give Congress the many paper trails that lead to Cheney, and they haven’t used it – yet.

    I am also so sad that what the Tillmans have gone through, the crushing loss, the lies, the fight for a hearing, do not seem enough to you to reach the hearts and minds of Americans.

    I listened to Kevin Tillman read that opening statement and found a hero who is breaking my heart. I watched his mother, proud, deeply angry and ready to take on the executive branch for the sake of her beloved child and for her country.

    If respectable newspeople and everyday Americans do not respond to this family, manipulated in grief to be a public recruitment advertisement and deflection of attention from Abu Ghraib, I don’t think this fight can be won.

    The Tillmans are my heroes. If the press can’t be bothered to explain this story, if Americans don’t respond, they don’t deserve the sacrifice of this family. As Pat’s mom said, â€Pat died for this country.â€

  18. Anonymous says:

    I agree with everything that Boston1775 says, and in spades. Nevertheless, making this the cleaving issue is to play right into their hands. It never fails to amaze me how the Democrats flail about looking for the golden goose instead of getting down to the hard work of using the Constitutional process to do their duty and right the ship of state. Bush and Cheney are praying that you make the Tillman story the single focused quest for the holy grail. Undoubtedly, the Democrats will grant their wish once again.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Boston1775 – Exactly. And I can guarantee you that Pat Tillman would simply not stand for being used in the manner that has been suggested; i.e. with his story being the focus of the effort. It is wrong for the country and wrong for everything that he stood for and believed in.

  20. Boston1775 says:

    bmaz, In my heart of hearts, I believe I saw two people who will go after this government for all the wrongs that have been done to them and Pat in the name of Pat’s service to this country. I may be wrong, but I think Kevin Tillman called out the executive liars and he wants this fight. His brother was killed, his friends were used to force the administration’s lies down our throats, his mother was â€comforted!!!!†by those who lied to her and the country.

    I saw Kevin speak to Issa and I felt someone very intelligent, determined to see this through, committed. Not only is he NOT afraid, I feel like he told his brother, to his dying day he will avenge what was done to him and their mom.

    I want to help them. Did Karl Rove write the story for the Silver Star; written in response to one of my posts about the Tillmans at FDL? I WANT TO KNOW.

    Could we take some of our accumulated knowledge and drive and help them? Because it’s the right thing to do?

  21. Boo Radley says:

    FWIW, I see the Tillman narrative as very important (but certainly not exclusive wrt impeachment), because it concerns Bush’s base, NFL/NASCAR fans, and the MSM that they absorb/watch. Without trying to be cynical, this is another aspect that I think buttresses Kleinman/emptywheel’s point. Also, pushing back for details on the coverup of Tillman’s death would be an example of what Pelosi said the Democrats were ready to do, Govern. That means the whole country not just who contributes the most to your party.

    If the Democrats fail to move on Tillman, it is more evidence of what I already fear, large parts of the Democratic party are basically migrating to the neocon’s position on the Middle East. Trading US blood for Middle Eastern oil (and while we’re at it preserving the value of dollar denominated assets), under the guise of â€building democracy,†is the new cornerstone of â€bipartisan†US foreign policy.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Boston1775 – Oh, absolutely. I am not for a second saying this should be dropped or ignored; not in the least. Kevin, and all the Tillmans, deserve exactly what you have said, and much more. I just have a sense that the Administration is once again using Pat for it’s own devices. If they get the anger, outrage and effort focused on this for a while, then engage in one of their patented capitulations that is really nothing of the sort, i.e. a sham, it takes a lot of the wind out of the sails of the core Constitutional issues. Then we are in the fall election cycle and they are well on their way to running out the clock. I can’t put my finger on why, but I really feel this is an intentional play by Bush/Cheney and we are playing right into their hand. We should absolutely follow through, just not in the center of focus manner some here seem to suggest.

  23. Boston1775 says:

    bmaz – I think I hear you: the administration feels that if the Tillmans push this, they have something, god only knows what – that will allow them to put the Tillmans in their place.

    Are you a betting man? or woman? bmaz?

  24. Anonymous says:

    Boston1775 – Man and usually only bet when I know I can win. That said, i don’t know what the upshot is here. Could be like you opine and they either have something, or more likely have manufactured something, that quiets the hubbub and puts the Tillmans in their place; or it is something that is embarrassing to the Administration, but that they can live with taking the fall for in order to put a dent or major slowdown into the real issues. Something just doesn’t sit right from what I have seen so far.

  25. orionATL says:

    bmaz

    what about the â€tillman’s death was not an accident†theory?

    i’ve read this several times over the years, but have no sense of it.

    is there any substance to the claim that tillman was too straight for drug dealing, or for weapons sales, etc.?

    not a friend of the ypremian’s of the world?

  26. orionATL says:

    jeez garo,

    my deepest apologies.

    but look at it this way, you’re still somewhere in my memory years after playing.

    and my apologies to yossarian.

    it’s minderbender i meant to finger.

  27. Kentucky Jelly says:

    Cunningham report portrays entangled panel

    The still-unreleased findings say intelligence committee aides were used by the California congressman, now in prison for bribery.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/po…..ome-center

    An internal investigation that the House Intelligence Committee has refused to make public portrays the panel as embarrassingly entangled in the Randy â€Duke†Cunningham bribery scandal.

    The report, a declassified version of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, describes the committee as a dysfunctional entity that served as a crossroads for almost every major figure in the ongoing criminal probe by the Justice Department.

    The document describes breakdowns in leadership and controls that it says allowed Cunningham — the former congressman (R-Rancho Santa Fe) who began an eight-year prison term last year for taking bribes and evading taxes — to use his House position to steer millions of dollars to corrupt contractors.

    When the committee’s investigation was completed last year, the Republican-controlled panel would not release the results; now that the committee is controlled by Democrats, it still will not release the findings.

    The report provides the most detailed account to date of how former CIA Executive Director Kyle Dustin â€Dusty†Foggo, whose indictment on charges of defrauding the government was recently expanded, allegedly used committee connections to advance his career at the agency.

    And the report sheds new light on the roles of senior committee aides, including retired CIA case officer Brant Bassett, who had ties to Cunningham and Foggo as well as to contractors accused of paying the congressman millions of dollars.

    Overall, the document provides a penetrating look into how the committee itself became central to the scandal, describing an atmosphere in which senior aides were deeply troubled by Cunningham’s actions but nevertheless complied with his requests out of fear.

    But the report and committee members’ ongoing disagreement over whether it should be released also reflect the political currents still swirling around the scandal.

    For all its finger-pointing at staffers, the document fails to address whether other committee members were aware of Cunningham’s abuses or were culpable. For instance, the report avoids any scrutiny of former Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), who was chairman of the panel when Cunningham’s most egregious abuses occurred. Goss went on to serve as CIA director, from September 2004 to May 2006.

    Democrats complained bitterly a year ago when Republicans blocked release of a declassified version of the final report. But two weeks ago, several Democrats joined Republicans to block the report’s release only to other members of Congress. Five Democrats objected to keeping the report secret.

    Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), who assumed leadership of the committee after Democrats won control of Congress last fall, said some Democratic members were reluctant to release a document that singled out staff members for criticism.

    â€My view was that the report was an internal review, principally of staff activity, and that the full report — with all of the names of staff — was not intended for dissemination beyond the committee,†Reyes said. â€The important thing is that the committee took the review seriously and incorporated changes†designed to prevent future abuses.

    Congressional sources said Reyes and other Democrats had initially voted to let other members of Congress see the document, but reversed course after a fierce protest by the panel’s ranking GOP member, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan.

    â€They are so nervous about this report being out,†said one congressional official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. â€Members oppose putting this thing out because you read this and the natural question is: ’Did you know this, and what did you do about it?’ I don’t think any members wanted that scrutiny.â€

    The latest vote was prompted by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a critic of the so-called earmarks practice that allows members to slip special funding provisions into broader bills. Earmarks were one way Cunningham steered contracts to associates.

    Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Hoekstra, stressed that the investigation found no wrongdoing by staffers or other members, and said the findings were never intended to be released.

    â€The classified, internal documents of this committee should have remained just that,†Ware said. â€The decision by a member or staff, against a bipartisan vote of the committee, to disclose this information is beyond the pale and raises concerns about trust on the committee.â€

    The report’s principal author said in an interview that the terms under which he was hired to conduct the investigation prevented him from examining lawmakers’ roles.

    â€There was an agreement as to what they wanted to look at, and that was not anything that could be looked at under the sun,†said Michael Stern, a former attorney in the House counsel’s office who was hired by the committee to lead the internal probe. â€The language did not include the culpability or potential involvement of other members.â€

    Stern said that the full, 59-page report he prepared a year ago was classified, but that he also provided the committee a 23-page version that had been scrubbed of classified material. The Times obtained the declassified version.

    The document says that Cunningham began pressing to fund special projects from the moment he joined the House Intelligence Committee in 2001, and that his demands intensified.

  28. Boston1775 says:

    EW, If you know of any documents that would help the Tillmans at the August 1 hearing, I will write a check from my tutoring money to pay for them. I heard you on the radio about how much they cost. You have the ability to follow documents. If you have the time to check the documents out, I will send you the money to pay for them (I don’t quite have the two hundred you were talking about but I will find a way.)

  29. Powerpuff says:

    I have absolutely no evidence except for the record opium crops, but my feeling has always been Tillman was executed because he was going to expose the Special Ops involvement with running heroin. That is a good reason to keep all the records locked up.

  30. Boston1775 says:

    Again, EW, my offer stands. You have the brains and I have almost two hundred dollars and a willingness to help.