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Bush Administration, In Flip-Flop, Not Helping Katrina Investigation

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MSNBC’s David Shuster is reporting that the White House — in a “flip-flop” from statements made last year — is not releasing Hurricane Katrina-related documents or making senior officials available for a Congressional investigation.

We’ve been down this road before.

Substitute “9/11 Commission” or “Discussions On Warrantless Surveillance” or “Pre-War Intelligence” for “Katrina Investigation,” and you get some insight into how the Bush Administration regards sharing information.

It doesn’t.

Why? Perhaps the administration doesn’t want to create the opportunity for dissenting opinion. Perhaps because the less people really know, the larger the vacuum for administration spin. How else can one explain a history of fighting against the truth?

FIGHTING THE 9/11 COMMISSION

Initially, the administration was against forming the 9/11 Commission. Later, it took the unusual step of having President Bush and Vice President Cheney meet informally — not under oath — with the commission.

Shuster reports that the administration wants similar informal meetings with White House advisors now, rather than formal — under oath — testimony before Congress.

LIMITED DISCUSSION ON WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE

The administration claimed that it met with senior members of Congress before proceeding with its warrantless surveillance program. But various senators have said that they were either misinformed at the time about what the administration wanted to do, or not given a chance to express disapproval with the plan.

Although Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) suggested that Congress would consider legislation to allow for warrantless surveillance, Bush has said he isn’t interested in releasing details of the program, to allow for Congressional consideration. (Note: The Justice Department considered including a provision to cover warrantless surveillance in 2003 legislation, but later nixed those plans.)

YOUR INTELLIGENCE IS NOT MY INTELLIGENCE

The administration has repeatedly said it had access to the same pre-war intelligence as Congress. But the non-partisan Congressional Research Service disputed that, saying in a Dec. 15 report that the White House has access to a much broader ranger of intelligence reports than Congress.

The CRS report identified nine key U.S. intelligence “products” that aren’t generally shared with Congress. These include the President’s Daily Brief, a compilation of analyses that’s given only to the president and a handful of top aides, and a daily digest on terrorism-related matters.

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And now we have White House resistance on investigating Hurricane Katrina. It’s a far cry from what Bush said in September:

BUSH: “I want to know what went right and what went wrong. I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm? It’s in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on … so that we can better respond.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), overseeing the Congressional investigation, alleged last week that the Bush administration‘s refusal to cooperate has killed the Katrina investigation. “There has been a near-total lack of cooperation that has made it impossible, in my opinion, for us to do the thorough investigation we have a responsibility to do.”

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Certainly there are limits on what information the White House should share. And there is room for debate as to what should remain classified.

But Katrina was made worse by government failures in action and communication, as President Bush admitted. That’s why people compare Katrina with the failures by the Clinton and Bush administrations that led to 9/11.

We as a nation can only learn from our mistakes — and thus be better prepared to deal with disasters — if we know what those mistakes are, and how to correct them. It’s a lesson any school child would understand. Why not the Bush White House?

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This item first appeared at JABBS.

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