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The Ghost of Ed Meese

07/25/2005 09:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

So on the night of Sept. 29, 2003, the Justice Department, then run by president Bush's hyper-political AG John Ashcroft, called the White House counsel's office, manned by one of Bush's most devoted Texas allies, Alberto Gonzales, to give the word that a criminal investigation was underway regarding the outing of a CIA operative. Gonzales then immediately informed the president's number two man, Chief of Staff Andrew Card but we're supposed to assume that that sensitive information—news of the first high-profile probe targeting Bush's WH aides--just went to bed with Card and Gonzales, and that nobody talked to, say, Karl Rove or Scooter Libby, giving them a chance to play beat the clock? (The official clock started ticking 12 hours later when Gonzales got around to informing the White House staff about the DOJ probe and noting that all relevant materials should be preserved.)

If the notion of a timely, legal heads-up from inside a Republican administration during the early days of a burgeoning scandal sounds familiar, it should. We've seen this act before, specifically during Iran-Contra, which ultimately crippled president Reagan's second term. Back then, the tip-off came from Reagan's AG and devoted troubleshooter, Ed Meese. Working from the inside and determined to protect the president, Meese's sloppy, out-of-the-gate legal work conveniently gave key Iran-Contra players, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and former national security advisor John Poindexter, ample time to destroy relevant documents regarding the White House's illegal arms-for-hostage initiative.

From "Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up," former Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh wrote, "Just before noon on Friday, November 21, [1986]...Reagn agreed that someone should develop a coherent position for the administration. The assignment went to Meese. When North and Poindexter learned about the attorney general's mission, they stepped up their efforts to purge their files. North and his secretary, Fawn Hall, shredded a pile of documents."

Walsh noted, "Over the weekend, the attorney general questioned cabinet officers. He exchanged many telephone calls…but, departing from his usual practice, took no notes. Meese later claimed that he could not remember what was said."

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