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The Bush Administration: What, Me Ethical?
April 3, 2004
By Scott C. Smith

It was a great day for America. On Jan. 20, 2001, George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States. Bush promised a new era in Washington, with an administration dedicated to meeting high ethical standards. On Jan. 22, 2001, Bush urged his new staff to avoid "even the appearance of impropriety" and to conduct themselves with humility and civility "at all times." According to United Press International, Bush assembled his staff to tell them he expected his White House staff to meet the highest ethical standards. "We must remember the high standards that come with high office…this begins careful adherence with the rules. I expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries [that] define legal and ethical conduct," Bush said, in remarks reported by United Press International on Jan. 23, 2001.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right, George?

Apparently some staffers either missed the pep talk or decided to ignore it entirely, when two "senior" Bush administration officials revealed to columnist Robert Novak the name and assignment of a CIA operative in 2003. In his July 14, 2003 column, Novak named the operative, wife to Ambassador Joe Wilson. The outing was apparently in retaliation for a column Wilson wrote for the New York Times about his mission to Niger in 2002 to investigate whether or not Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium. Wilson's column appeared in the July 6, 2003 New York Times. Wilson wrote, of his trip to Niger, "Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons program to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapon program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

Novak's column came a week later.

Revealing the name of a CIA operative is a felony, by the way. Not exactly behavior to stay "well within the boundaries [that] define legal and ethical conduct," as Bush demanded. Did heads roll following this leak? Nope. The White House, in fact, ignored the leak entirely for two months - that's how committed the Bush administration was to adhering to such high ethical standards.

Richard Clarke is now feeling the wrath of the ethical Bush administration. Clarke dared to speak out against intelligence failures that, had they been addressed, may have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Clarke's comments, and his book Against All Enemies, has raised the ire of most of Bush's cabinet. A civil servant with three decades of service, as well as service to Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, is now the target of right-wing character assassins. Does anyone actually address the issues Clarke raises about intelligence failures? Of course not.

Some would argue Clarke to be disloyal to his employer, the United States government. But as Clarke told Tim Russert on NBC News' Meet The Press March 28, there came a point for Clarke that working on terrorism was too frustrating. "I asked in June of 2001 to be transferred from the terrorism job, I did and my chief of staff, Roger Cressey, did, because in June 2001, we were so frustrated with the administration's lackadaisical attitude toward terrorism that we no longer wanted to work on the issue. As obsessed as I was with going after al-Qaeda, I felt I had to get out of the terrorism business because I couldn't work for an administration that was treating it in such an unimportant way."

There is a pattern here, one that is not rooted in ethics, to slam or intimidate anyone on the Bush staff or cabinet that doesn't parrot the "official" party line. Richard S. Foster is the Administration's chief Medicare actuary. When the Congress passed the Medicare prescription drug bill, the tab, they were told, would be approx. $400 billion over ten years. Foster had the real numbers: $500-$600 billion over ten years. According to the March 24 edition of Time Magazine online, Foster had been threatened by Medicare's administrator, Thomas Scully, with firing if he revealed the real cost of the prescription drug benefit. The inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services is investigating the charge.

One could say everything is politics as usual. Perhaps. Is this an administration founded on the ideals of ethics and morals? The answer is yes, if the definition of ethical behavior is committing felonies, engaging in character assassinations and acts of intimidation. Under that definition, the Bush administration is the most ethical administration in history.

Scott C. Smith is a freelance writer based out of Beaverton, Oregon. Scott writes for his web magazine, What's In Scott's Head.

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