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smoking gun

Three cheers for the Founders

They knew what they were doing, those founding fathers did, when they wrote freedom of the press into the very first amendment to the Constitution. Thanks to the persistence and skill of intrepid reporters, the truth usually comes out. In the Nixon era, it was Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (the real ones, not Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) who exposed, with the help of other people of course, the Watergate mess.

In the George W Bush era, Dana Priest and Dana Milbank, also of the Washington Post, seem to be playing a very similar role. It was Priest who broke the story recently of the CIA's archipelago of secret "black" prisons, some in former Soviet bloc countries. And it is Milbank who today broke the story of a smoking-gun White House document linking the major oil companies to the Cheney energy task force. (See sidebar for Milbank's article.) This is the task force for which Vice President Dick Cheney went all the way to the Supreme Court, run by his duck-hunting buddy Chief Justice William Rehnquist, to prevent us from finding out if Big Oil took part in the task force.

Everybody knew they had, of course. Cheney and Bush are former oil men, and if they do nothing else, it's look after their friends, especially friends who make generous campaign contributions. The problem was that it couldn't be proven. Milbank has sniffed out the proof. As reported in the Post, "officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides."

Here's where the story gets interesting. Just last week big oil executives were summoned to Capitol Hill to explain their huge profits while consumers suffer from record-high gasoline prices. When asked at the hearing if their companies had participated in the task force, the heads of ExxonMobil, ConocoPhilips, and Chevron denied categorically that their firms had participated. The heads of Shell and BP America said they didn't know (BP) or it was without their knowledge (Shell).

oil executives testify before the Senate
Oil executives testify before the Senate (L-R) Lee R. Raymond of Exxon Mobil, David J. O'Reilly of Chevron, James J. Mulva of ConocoPhillips, Ross Pillari of BP America and John Hofmeister of Shell Oil

Oops!

Although the executives were not testifying under oath — and isn't that a strange thing in itself? — anyone making "any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation" can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years.

It's fascinating that things are starting to leak out now that W is down to a job approval rating below 40% and polls show that more than half no longer consider him trustworthy and a man of integrity. To mix metaphors, the "wheels are coming off" the Bush machine, and the "rats are deserting a sinking ship."

How sad that "government of the people, by the people, for the people" has come to this.