The objective in Find the Brownie is to find an obscure but important government job held by someone whose only apparent qualifications for that job are political loyalty and personal connections. It's inspired by President Bush's praise, four days after Katrina hit, for the hapless Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: ''Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.'' I guess it depends on the meaning of the word heck.
There are a lot of Brownies. As Time magazine puts it in its latest issue, ''Bush has gone further than most presidents to put political stalwarts in some of the most important government jobs you've never heard of.'' Time offers a couple of fresh examples, such as the former editor of a Wall Street medical-industry newsletter who now holds a crucial position at the Food and Drug Administration.Further than most presidents? Anyone remember Catherine Cornelius?
.... new facts are emerging about the Travelgate, affair, fueling the perception of cronyism, and fueling the skepticism of the American people.
Exhibit A: A 25-year-old cousin of the President writes a memo last February to Mr. David Watkins, White House Director of Management, urging that the employees of the White House travel office be replaced. The cousin suggests that she should be put in charge of the travel operation. She subsequently gets the job.
Exhibit B: A major campaign contributor to the President, Worldwide Travel of Little Rock, is a former advertising client of Mr. Watkins. Worldwide is given the job of handling White House travel arrangements on a temporary basis, until public outcry forces the White House to nix this business relationship.
Exhibit C: Mr. Harry Thomason, owner of a plane charter company and good friend of the President, complains to White House officials that he and his pals in the charter business were not getting a big enough piece of the travel office action. He urges that travel office employees be given their walking papers.
Exhibit D: The White House claims that an independent audit of the travel office by the Peat Marwick accounting firm exposed gross mismanagement. It turns out that the Peat Marwick employee who conducted the audit was at the same time serving as an unpaid staff member of the Vice President's Government Review Task Force. To my knowledge, the audit has not been publicly released.
And now, Mr. President, we have exhibit E: News reports suggesting that when the media spotlight started focussing too brightly on this apparent patronage scam, the White House looked to the FBI for political cover.
Although the facts are murky at best, it appears that someone within the White House approached the FBI seeking a statement that would verify White House claims of criminal wrongdoing in the travel office.
And within a few short hours of receiving the White House call, the FBI replied dutifully, issuing a press release, on Justice Department stationery, claiming there was `sufficient information for the FBI to determine that additional criminal investigation is warranted.'
Now, Mr. President, I have enormous respect for the FBI, but this latest `guilt by press release' caper would make members of the old Soviet KGB swell with pride.
There was no opportunity for a hearing. No opportunity to review the charges and respond to them. No due process. Just haul the White House travel office suspects before 250 million Americans and smear their good reputations with an attitude of guilty until proven innocent.
If the so-called independent audit had, in fact, uncovered criminal wrongdoing, it should have been referred to the FBI for review and the travel office employees should have been informed of the charges against them and, yes, given an opportunity to respond.
But apparently, when the White House calls these days, the FBI does not ask questions, does not check the facts, does not investigate. It simply jumps, and asks `How high?'
Mr. President, there are more questions than answers raised by this whole tawdry affair. Who originally contacted the FBI? Was it Webster Hubbell, the roving White House ambassador at Justice? Was it the Director of the FBI himself?
Any why did the FBI respond so promptly? To what extent was politics at work? Is it the policy of the FBI to issue press releases announcing guilt, or probable guilt?The result of all this was a politically motivate prosecution of the former head of that travel office, Billy Dale. Said prosecution being humiliatingly defeated by a jury that only needed two hours to acquite Mr. Dale.