The Bush Privacy Board 2: Davis Resigns Over WH Revisions

This will undoubtedly be buried by the sudden resignation of Paul McNulty, Gonzo’s No 2 in Justice and the man who seems increasingly to be at the center of the USA firing scandal, due to what he calls “‘financial realities’ brought on by ‘college-age children and two decades of public service'” (of course that’s the reason), but there was another resignation today, and it’s potentially more significant than McNulty’s expected bail-out.

Lanny Davis, the only Democrat on the five-member White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Board (you can find brief profiles of the other Board members here), released his letter of resignation to the press, citing what amounts to a charge that the WH watchdog group with Congressionally-mandated responsibility for protecting civil rights has instead been subverting them for months, abandoning its oversight role to see itself instead as “wholly part of the White House staff and political structure.”

In recent months, Davis has had numerous clashes with fellow board members and White House officials over what he saw as administration attempts to control the panel’s agenda and edit its public statements, according to board members who asked not to be identified talking about internal matters. He also cited in his letters criticisms by the former co-chairs of the September 11 commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, that the board had interpreted its mandate too narrowly and was refusing to investigate issues such as the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere around the world.

Davis’s frustration reached a peak last month when White House lawyers engaged in what he described in his letter as “substantial” edits of the board’s annual report to Congress. Davis charged that a majority of the board sought to remove an extensive discussion of recent findings by the Justice Department’s inspector general of FBI abuses in the uses of so-called “national security letters” to obtain personal data on U.S. citizens without a court order. He also charged that the White House counsel’s office wanted to strike language stating that the panel planned to investigate complaints from civil liberties groups that the Justice Department had improperly used a “material witness statute” to lock up terror suspects for lengthy periods of time without charging them with any crimes.

That White House Counsel is, of course, Fred Fielding, who cut his teeth on president-protecting in the Nixon WH during Watergate, refined his skills in the Reagan WH during Iran/Contra, and is currently behind the claim that every conceivable piece of paper or electronic transmission that ever passed through a WH office is protected from Congressional scrutiny by “executive privilege”, even the Secret Service-kept logs recording who went in and out. Mr Fielding’s definition of the ground covered by executive privilege is so broad, so all-encompassing, that if Bush’s tame SCOTUS were to uphold it, no president would ever again have to divulge anything or comply with Congressional subpoenas in any way, shape, or form. Ever.

In Fielding’s view, the royal prerogatives of a King and the executive privileges of a president are synonymous.

And let’s be clear about the extent of Fielding’s revisions: they’re not few and far between, carefully chosen perhaps for their relation to unsettled law or controversial pending cases. No, no, no. There are 200 of them and even Board Chair Carol Dinkins admits that at least one of them was chosen just to protect Gonzo.

Carol Dinkins, the chairman of the board, confirmed to NEWSWEEK that the White House counsel’s office had in fact objected to the language in the report about the material witness statute and that she had sent an internal email to other board members suggesting that a board probe of the Justice Department’s handling of the issue “might be construed” by others as complicating Gonzales’s problems at the Justice Department.

The WaPo – which obtained the report in question – claims that not all of the disputed revisions were directly related to the firing of the Gonzo 9.

The changes came after the congressionally created Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board had unanimously approved the final draft of its first report to lawmakers, renewing an internal debate over the board’s independence and investigative power.


[O]ne section deleted by the administration would have divulged that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s civil liberties protection officer had “conducted reviews of the potentially problematic programs and has established procedures” for intelligence officials to file complaints about possible civil liberties and privacy abuses.

The passage would have been the first public disclosure of an internal review identifying such potentially intrusive intelligence programs. In its place, White House officials suggested more modest language, which ended up as a substitution in the final report.

“I think that kind of involvement does a disservice to any notion of independence by the board and therefore subtracts greatly from the necessary independence that would give the board credibility,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, which recommended the creation of the privacy board.

(emphasis added)

Then there was the concern over Homeland Security’s “risk targeting system”.

Another significant revision was the deletion of a reference to the panel’s plan to investigate how the Department of Homeland Security assigns “risk” ratings to people entering the United States under the Automated Targeting System. The controversial program’s scope has expanded over the past decade from screening cargo to targeting allegedly dangerous travelers, foreign and American. Customs officials have said they store the risk assessments for up to 40 years.

“The privacy board is right to want to investigate the program,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It sounds like the White House is trying to bury the issue.”

No shit, Sherlock. Like that’s never happened before.

Fielding wants a meeting with the Board to discuss the changes but even if it happens, it’ll be a waste of time. As noted in my previous post (linked above), with Davis gone what’s left on the Privacy Board are four compliant BushBabies who don’t know what “standing up against the president” means and wouldn’t believe in it if they did. Despite the serious nature and solely political reasons for the changes, Vice Chair Alan Raul, an anti-regulatory corporate lawyer, has already dismissed the whole dust-up, saying he’s “not concerned about the revisions or the White House’s dealings with the board.”

“I never considered it as though the board was yielding control over the document, but rather obtaining useful review and input,” Raul said.

That’s a good one. Yes, by all means let’s pretend that an independent oversight board created by Congress but which has been turned into yet another WH puppet dutifully following Rovian orders still maintains a distance that allows, unlike any other department in the WH, its own evaluations unsullied by political considerations except as a “useful review”.

Tell me another one.

What we really have here is Karl Rove (his fine, heavy hand is all over this) subverting and politicizing yet another oversight committee, this one more critical than most. The Congress has its teeth into the Gonzales DoJ and isn’t going to let go, but who’s going protect our privacy rights from a regal WH that has shown it has no respect for them now that the PCLB has become another Bush rubber stamp?


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