Cheney & Scalia Fail the “Smell Test”

[ Although Scalia will soon be judging the case in which Cheney is accused of wrong-doing in calling a secret meeting (with energy companies?) to write an energy bill, he denied going duck hunting together would compromise his objectivity. — doclalor ]

Lionel Van Deerlin

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January 28, 2004

Should Justice Antonin Scalia have shared a duck blind with Vice President Dick Cheney? …. The familiar dodge, “There is no wrongdoing, we have broken no law,” rings hollow in too many instances. The test, “Is it legal?” pales in confronting what should be the more pressing question, “Is it ethical?”

In short, what about the smell test?

The Supreme Court has taken the appeal of a lower court case to determine whether Richard Cheney was justified in convening secret meetings of persons involved in writing an energy bill. He thereafter refused to make public a record of their deliberations, or even to tell who were in on the cabal.

Despite the certain knowledge that by early spring he'll be judging Cheney's handling of this matter, Justice Scalia accompanied the suit's defendant — yes, the Veep himself — aboard a corporate jet, headed for a privately owned hunting preserve in southern Louisiana.

Under circumstances that might have embarrassed lesser men, the two Nimrods seem to have shared their blind with peace of mind. At last report, Scalia had no intention of removing himself from the coming case.

“I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned,” says the court's most unflappable conservative.

[ In other instances of corruption … ]

The dark saga of multibillion-dollar government contracts in postwar Iraq still fails to raise eyebrows on the right foreheads. The most conspicuous beneficiary, the Halliburton Company, overcharged by roughly a dollar a gallon on gasoline trucked in from neighboring Kuwait. Its total skim: $61 million. And now Halliburton officials acknowledge that two of its managers have pocketed a total $6 million in kickbacks for subcontracts.

But business is booming. The Wall Street Journal lists Halliburton's billings at twice the total of 40 other contractors in Iraq. Clearly, war is not hell for everyone.

A potential scandal brewing several months within the Senate Judiciary Committee has broken open only now. Senate Sergeant-at-arms William Pickle, a onetime Secret Service official, ordered formal inquiry into charges that committee staffers of the Republican leadership regularly intercepted computer messages of the Democratic minority concerning the confirmation of federal judges.

The alleged eavesdroppers tapped into discussions concerning which White House nominees the minority intended to oppose, and with what tactics. According to The Boston Globe, Pickle wants to know how at least 15 of the memos — presumably protected by computer privacy — were leaked to certain newspapers.

The Senate brouhaha recalls a memorable assertion by the late Henry L. Stimson, FDR's longtime secretary of state: “Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen's mail.”

And now, to the House of Representatives. Nearing age 70, dairy farmer Nick Smith is serving his fifth and final term as congressman from the 7th district of southern Michigan. He hopes to be replaced by one of his sons.

A usually reliable conservative whose record of party support tops 90 percent, Smith thought the administration's prescription drug bill too costly. He was one of eight Republicans voting against it. Lacking the number needed for passage, House leaders held open the final tally for three hours while rounding up additional votes needed for passage. Congressman Smith has since accused party leaders of impropriety in seeking his vote.

As a rare follow-up, the Justice Department is examining a purported sequence of events during the early-morning hours in question. Smith — whose personal standards may be judged by his refusal through the years to accept campaign help from lobbyists — says House leaders first offered to arrange $100,000 in contributions for his son's election campaign if he'd change his vote on the drug bill. He says they next threatened to engineer the younger Smith's defeat. “Your boy is dead meat,” he insists one leader warned.

Reporters recall seeing Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Rep. Bill Thomas of Bakersfield all conferring with Smith during the long vote hang-up. In fairness, it should be noted that none of the three agrees with the Michigander's version of their conversations.

Other than the torturer's rack, let's hope there are ways to find out who's telling the truth.

Van Deerlin represented a San Diego County district in Congress for 18 years.

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