Ken Lay to George Bush, "Welcome to the Club"
I thought I was the only guy facing a political/ethical firing squad. But you have topped me, my lad. The "I" word is beginning to be brought out of mothballs. Unless something major happens (another terrorist attack would help out a lot), you’re about to join Bubba in the impeachment well.
When Enron went South and the press sharks came out to taste the blood, I just had to eat the bad publicity, declare bankruptcy, hunker down and try to ride it out. (So far, it’s working; nobody’s even asked me lately about Enron’s connection to the oil pipeline now planned to go through Afghanistan to our dormant plant in India.)
You, my friend, are in a somewhat different position. I know you’re trying to find a hunker place, but I’m afraid, given your rather lonely position at the top, there’s really no place for you to hunk. And there are too many folks wanting your head — on a plate — and they’re not all Democrats.
Sorry to say it, Georgie, but you have blown this 9/11 thing badly. Welcome to the club! The bullyboy tactics we’ve both used took us a long way and made us a lot of money, but we also had to run over a lot of people, friends and foes, on the climb to the top, and a good many of them aren’t a bit sorry about the daggers being aimed our way by our enemies.
If I could publicly speak on your behalf — if that would help and not hurt — you know that I would. I’ll forget your pretending that you aren’t quite sure who I am: I know how the game has to be played. I know that if anything happens to me legally, you’ll be there in the end with a presidential pardon. That’s how the game is played, too. I give you scratch, you scratch my back. (Needless to say, after the private courier presents you this letter, read it and burn it — DON’T SHRED IT!)
But, despite our similar circumstances, I can wiggle out of my tight spot, given enough time. But you — you have real problems. I’m talking about the 9/11 coverup; you blew that one big time.
It seems the lawyers and press (you really need to take care of that Rather guy, teach him and the other journalists a good lesson) are starting to piece together the dots. You believed that you’d never get caught, that you could browbeat or frighten your would-be critics into averting their eyes — a stance with which I’m certainly familiar — but these beliefs meant that you weren’t as careful in covering your tracks as you should have been. (Besides, how long did you think it would take before Daschle and Gephardt revealed that you and Dick had asked them to stay away from investigating pre-9/11 matters? The implication is not pretty.)
Having key members of the Cabinet abandon flying by commercial airliners in July of 2001 makes it appear, in retrospect, that you and they knew something about the upcoming use of hijacked commerical jets as possible terrorist weapons long before you chose to share that information with others. Now you say that you learned what was about to go down only in August of 2001, which certainly suggests that since the others, including key senators, knew in July, either you’re lying or you weren’t in charge and that whoever was in charge wasn’t providing you key information. Not good, Georgie. Whether the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it ain’t good for the pitcher.
Intelligence officials in France and Israel and the Philippines and Malaysia and here in this country had been talking for years about thwarted attempts by terrorists to use jetliners as weapons against icon structures (Eiffel Tower, et al.), our own intelligence commissions and CIA had warned of such impending attacks — so your blaming the debacle on the lack of CIA/FBI sharing of information again means either you and your staff are incompetent or lying. Pitcher/stone again. Not good.
No, it’s clear to me that you did what we all did: you had insider information and you used it to your advantage. (The same for those who bought all those put options on United and American airlines stocks in the days prior to 9/11. That’s a hard one to explain away.) I commend you for it, but worry about the public-relations flap of not covering your backside more intelligently.
Your biggest problem is not the inevitable Democrat brouhaha about all this. Americans expect such partisanship. It’s the fact that 4000 people died, and a lot of their relatives and other concerned citizens are middle-of-the-road ordinary Americans, conservatives and liberals, and they are angry and looking for someone to blame. Guess what? You’re it. (And I’m it in the energy area.)
You can try to ride it out with bravado, blaming "partisan politics" and so on — Dick’s really good at that; you aren’t so good, even coming across as so out-of-control the other day in your rambling discourse that journalists thought maybe you were coming mentally unglued or maybe had tipped the old bottle. But I don’t think you’ll be able to stem the rising demand for a full investigation. (Is that why Karen Hughes left so suddenly? She smelled what was about to make contact with the fan and got out while the getting was good?)
My advice would be to get in front of the story. 1) Get all the facts out — everything, even the July Phoenix FBI memo warning about terrorists enrolling in U.S. flight schools, and the August Minneapolis FBI memo about the arrest of Massoui for suspicious behavior at a flight school — and blame "the system" for failing to connect all the dots. Don’t make it look like you’re trying to hide anything.
2) There will be another terrorist attack as Al Qaeda regroups, or something like it can be "anticipated," if you get my drift. Be ready to move, a la 9/11; have plans ready to clamp down harder on dissent (those who question your tactics are supporting the terrorists, etc.), the press, Congress’ asking embarrassing questions. Re-ratchet up the "war on terrorism" rhetoric, "homeland defense," "national security," and so on; put the Dems on the patriotic-silence routine. It’s worked before and it’s worth a try now, even though the American public is not as gullible as it once was.
The move for impeachment will proceed in the country and the Congress, but you might be able to slow its growth prior to the upcoming elections, as citizens rally around our "wartime President," and possibly even slow down the Democrat election victory in Congress that seems just around the corner.
If you resign or are forced out, Dick becomes President (unless he’s impeached, too) and things can proceed as normal. If that happens, Dick has to make sure IMMEDIATELY to appoint a Vice President of our business-friendly frame of mind. We don’t want to risk Daschle or Gephardt or, God forbid, Colin Powell becoming President if anything should befall Dick of the damaged heart.
As I’m sure you and your father realize, we’re playing for Big Stakes here. Not just money, although that’s always a big one, but staying in control of the agenda and the goodie- and power-dispensary. You lose the momentum, and those controlling, taxing Democrats get back in, and we’re all in deep doodoo.
So, Georgie Boy, I seriously recommend that you come up with something to get these impeachment-fodder stories off the front pages and leading the evening news — dump all the documents into Congress’ lap while you spin the "it’s-the-system-that’s-responsible" line, heat up Kashmir, stoke up the Palestinian war, invite another good old terrorist event in the U.S., and stop pussyfooting around with your/our domestic enemies. Sic ‘em, boy. Bite them before they get anywhere near your jugular. #
Bernard Weiner, a poet and playwright, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic for nearly 20 years. A <Ph.D>. in government & international relations, he has taught at Western Washington University, San Diego State University, and has published in The Nation, Village Voice, The Progressive and widely on the internet.