"You remember Iraqgate," the always trenchant William Safire wrote in 1993 ....
Er, well, not exactly ....
Iraqgate, the former-Nixon-Agnew-speechwriter-turned-NYT-columnist continued, was
the White House corruption of Agriculture's loan guarantee program to slip foreign aid billions through an Italian bank to Saddam Hussein, which he used to finance his secret nuclear buildup. The Bush Justice Department sought to contain the scandal by pretending the Italian bank knew nothing of its Atlanta office's huge Iraqi dealings -- despite suppressed C.I.A. evidence to the contrary."
That would be the Bush 41 White House & Justice Department under the extremely murky Attorney General William Barr and criminal division chief, later US attorney, later acting deputy attorney general, later FBI director, current Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
As Safire pieced things together in a series of columns a quarter century ago, it all started when Prince Bandar (a.k.a. "Bandar Bush") convinced Bush 41 to make Saddam Hussein into the sheriff of the Middle East. This disastrous strategy would include a backdoor (i.e., illegal) military (nuclear) build-up via the Ag Department via an Italian bank, which, far from bringing Saddam's Iraq into "the family of nations," as Bush 41 seemed to hope, created the aggressive state actor whom Bush 41 would go to war against, briefly, in 1992. Stories about the banking/Justice/Ag/CIA/White House/State scandal that had erupted into war broke while the nation was still celebrating that same war's "100 hour" victory. Somehow, the establishment bigfeet WaPo and NYT just never mustered much enthusiasm for this Bush 41 "-gate" ...
Safire's recap continued:
During the '92 campaign, Al Gore accurately charged that "the C.I.A. reported to Secretary of State James Baker . . . that Iraq was clandestinely procuring nuclear weapons" while State was urging more loan guarantees to appease the dictator.
Candidate Clinton, asked if he would favor a special Iraqgate prosecutor under a new Independent Counsel Act, replied unequivocally: "Yes."
Hah. In a recurring instance of the Bush-Clinton/you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours relationship, the Clinton administration "moved to quash any revelations about Bush's Iraqgate scandal." Clinton, of course, would soon be busy with his own. One (two, three ...) bad turns deserving another, the Bushes, George, Barbara and George W., would later re-introduce Clinton and his bride back into Swamp society following the couple's White House disgrace.
It is worth noting just how early Mueller caught Safire's eye. In 1992, Safire wrote that DOJ criminal division chief Mueller was likely to be a target of an Iraqgate grand jury (which would never be convened). Even earlier, in 1991, Safire highlighted Mueller's rubber stamp on a White House investigation of itself over the hiring (for $600,000) of a top aide to White House chief of staff John Sununu by the Saudi ex-spymaster at the radioactive center of the raging BCCI investigation.
What was that all about -- influence peddling? Obstruction of justice? Nuthin', said the White House.
Mueller, Safire wrote, accepted the White House's "self-inquiry" in an "avid embrace."
Because nobody has held out a bundle of cash and bluntly said "obstruct justice," the complaisant Mr. Mueller will not ask anybody embarrassing questions under oath.
Decades laters, we know "the complaisant Mr. Mueller" as the politically compliant Mr. Mueller. If an abundance of evidence was not enough in 1991 to cause Mueller to ask anyone embarassing questions under oath (or keep a Hamas operative out of sensitive FBI installations in 2010), a dearth of evidence in 2017 was plenty to cause Special Counsel Mueller to authorize a no-knock, guns-drawn raid on a cooperating witness and his wife in her nightgown. Whether Mueller always gets his man, he always serves his political masters. It's just never about national security.
In 2001, as Bush 43 was about to tap Mueller to be FBI director, William Safire lamented his looming selection, describing Mueller this way:
A marine with Vietnam service, he headed the Justice Department's Criminal Division in the final years of Bush the elder's administration. I remember him as an intelligent apparatchik who showed a marked lack of interest in pursuing the Iraqgate investigation. He helped staff the Public Integrity Division with time-servers who would not rock the boat.
Credit Mueller with political agility, however.
In the Clinton years, he applied for a job with Eric Holder, then U.S. attorney here (later famed for his role in the Marc Rich pardon). As Democrat Holder moved up the ladder at Reno Justice, so did his friend Mueller, and -- with the strong support of Senator Barbara Boxer of California -- Mueller was rewarded with a Clinton appointment as U.S. attorney in San Francisco.
Holder and Mueller -- friends? Moving up with strong support of Barbara Boxer? Clinton appointee? This is something I missed in my on-again/off-again Mueller studies.
Then, with Bush the younger's election, he spun about and made his bureaucratic expertise known to the knocked-about John Ashcroft. Named acting deputy attorney general, Mueller made certain his Public Integrity associates remained secure, taught the new deputy the ropes and now has Ashcroft's backing for the F.B.I. job.
Which, of course, he got. On September 4, 2001, Mueller became the director of the FBI. On September 11, 2001, the US came under attack from Al Qaeda as enabled by essential Saudi government support (including from "Bandar Bush").
Fast forward to May 21, 2002, the day FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley wrote her "bombshell memo" to Director Mueller, revealing that in the summer of 2001, FBI HQ blocked a key FBI investigation underway into "the 20th hijacker," Zacarias Moussaoui -- specifically, by preventing agents in Minneapolis from examining Moussaoui's computer.
Safire's next column, "Rowely's Memo," explained what happened next.
Why did F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller desperately stamp ''classified'' on last week's memo to him from the Minneapolis agent and counsel Coleen Rowley?
Answer: Because he is protecting the bureau's crats who ignored warnings from the field before Sept. 11, and because he is trying to cover his own posterior for misleading the public and failing to inform the president in the eight months since. ...
The Mueller modus operandi: It's never about national security.
Safire continued, harkening back to the summer of 2001.
Intimidated by the brouhaha about supposed ethnic profiling of Wen Ho Lee, lawyers at John Ashcroft's Justice Department wanted no part of going after this Arab [Moussawi]. F.B.I. Washington bureaucrats were, in agent Rowley's words, ''consistently, almost deliberately thwarting the Minneapolis F.B.I. agents' efforts.''
To this day, Mueller -- Eric Holder's gift to Justice, held over by an entranced Ashcroft and determined to protect his benefactor from embarrassment -- insists that even an unencumbered investigation would not have stopped 9/11. Not so, says Rowley; her memo told Mueller last week that his protestation was ''an apparent effort to protect the F.B.I. from embarrassment and the relevant F.B.I. officials from scrutiny.''
As Safire pointed out the following week, ("J. Edgar Mueller"), this same Ashcroft-Mueller alibi -- namely, that not even an efficient, intelligent FBI investigation could have thwarted the 9/11 attacks -- was becoming the Big Lie driving the unprecedented expansion of massive government surveillance and "meta-data" collection programs that have eroded our rights as American citizens ever since.
To fabricate an alibi for his nonfeasance, and to cover up his department's embarrassing cut of the counterterrorism budget last year, Attorney General John Ashcroft -- working with his hand-picked aide, F.B.I. Director ''J. Edgar'' Mueller III -- has gutted guidelines put in place a generation ago to prevent the abuse of police power by the federal government.
They have done this deed by executive fiat: no public discussion, no Congressional action, no judicial guidance. If we had only had these new powers last year, goes their posterior-covering pretense, we could have stopped terrorism cold.
Not so. They had the power to collect the intelligence, but lacked the intellect to analyze the data the agencies collected. The F.B.I.'s failure to absorb the Phoenix and Minneapolis memos was compounded by the C.I.A.'s failure to share information it had about two of the Arab terrorists in the U.S. who would become hijackers (as revealed by Newsweek today).
Thus we see the seizure of new powers of surveillance is a smokescreen to hide failure to use the old power.
I suspect there is even more to it than that. What was already clear, however, was that Robert Mueller, "Eric Holder's gift to Justice," was in at the creation of the Surveillance State, the non-constitutional political regime born of denial of the facts behind a catastrophic national security failure and cover-up at the highest levels of the government. Throughout his tenure at the FBI, Mueller would only deepen the denial and obfuscation, as seen, for example, in unconscionable FBI efforts to keep Saudi cells in San Diego and Sarasota off limits to investigators, including the Congress of the United States.
Now, a committee in the Congress of the United States, the Senate Judiciary Committee, has voted to make the powers of this sinister and deeply political figure uncheckable by any government body.