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Rogue's Gallery: CNN's Ideologically Rigid, Scandal-Tainted, Ethics-Investigation-Haunted GOP Debate 'Panel'

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The story just won't die. People keep commenting on the near-Stalinist level of ideological purity displayed by CNN"s selection of "expert" questioners for last week's Republican national security debate. As soon as it was duly convened, the network's Neocon Politburo dutifully proceeded to interrogate the GOP candidates about their devotion to the Cause.

It was an emotional moment, a kind of Big Chill for the Project for a New American Century gang. After all, these characters hadn't been seen in public together since the Bush Days. It wouldn't have been surprising to see Ahmed Chalabi carrying a tray of hors d'ouevres.

Time and time again the neocons were proven spectacularly and tragically wrong. Remember "We'll be welcomed as liberators"? Or the claim that Iraq will be a "cakewalk"? Nobody has believed a word they've said since 2005. Nowhere on Earth are their words given an ounce of credence.

Nowhere, that is, except CNN. We haven't seen national security commentary with so little credibility since Judith Miller interviewed "Curveball."

People are understandably outraged by CNN's ideological extremism, and by its willingness to discard even the thinnest veneer of journalistic objectivity. But there's another cloud over this panel: a cloud of scandals, criminal investigations, and ethical lapses.

David Addington. Paul Wolfowitz. Ed Meese. It's a Rogue's Gallery of government officials gone wild, a motley crew of the short-sighted, the benighted, and the nearly-indicted.

Or, as CNN calls them, "experts."

CNN and the Right: Partners Again

CNN cosponsored one debate with the Tea Party, but maybe that group wasn't extreme enough. This time around CNN's cosponsors were the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, radical-right organizations that played an active role in misleading the American people into a bloody and costly war. They accomplished that mission. Now these groups are pushing new disinformation campaigns like the one that asserts that climate change is a hoax.

Steve Clemons says that CNN's choice of partners means that the old GOP foreign policy wing represented by Republicans like Lugar, Hagel, and even Kissinger is "an endangered species." Personally, I'd say it's deader than the dodo bird. CNN has all but officially declared its members "non-persons." If a Republican wants to get on CNN today, their résumé better include corruption or scandal.

The words "corruption" and "scandal" can only mean one thing: ladies and gentlemen, it's time to meet our panelists.

Meese the Honorable

The first question was asked by Ronald Reagan's former attorney general, a gentleman Wolf Blitzer described as "the honorable Ed Meese."

Honorable? As one report put it:

No other member of the Reagan administration, with the exception of Oliver North, was as tainted by scandal as Edwin Meese III ... At one point in his tenure as attorney general Meese was under investigation by three special prosecutors, each inquiring into separate allegations of influence peddling, bribery, and cover-up in the Iran-Contra affair. Though Meese was never charged with any crime, the last of the special investigators said that Meese "had probably broken conflict of interest and income-tax laws, though none of the indictments were worthy of prosecution."

Meese was also investigated for possible bribery and influence peddling regarding an oil pipeline... in Iraq. He was deeply involved in the Iran/Contra scandal. Documents were destroyed during Meese's own purported 'investigation' of those crimes, and Meese refused a request for help from the FBI. Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh later called his actions "an effort to obstruct a congressional inquiry."

Several other investigations noted probable crimes committed by Reagan Administration officials but inexplicably deemed them, like Meese's, "unworthy of prosecution." Others found evidence of criminality that was outside the scope of their investigations. Still, even the most indifferent investigation from those years is an improvement over today's Justice Department, which prefers to simply ignore evidence of criminal wrongdoing by government officials.

The "honorable" Mr. Meese asked the candidates, "Shouldn't we have a long-range extension of the investigative powers contained in the PATRIOT act so that our law enforcement officers can have the tools that they need?"

Objection! Leading the witness! That's always unacceptable, especially from someone who should've been in the dock. Needless to say, Meese's mini-brief for continued suspension of our civil liberties was received with appropriate warmth and enthusiasm by candidates and broadcasters alike.

Torture Man

Chris Hayes was understandably outraged at the inclusion of David Addington, the lawyer employed by Dick Cheney to build specious arguments for deceptive war and illegal torture. Addington's even guiltier of promoting torture than the much-criticized John Yoo, who wrote his now-infamous memo under Addington's supervision.

Addington also pushed for illegal and unconstitutional actions such as "black bag" detentions, warrantless surveillance, and impeding Congressional oversight of intelligence. Colin Powell reportedly remarked that Addington "doesn't care about the Constitution" -- and it shows.

Mr. Addington would undoubtedly have been investigated for criminal violations of law and abuse of power at any other point in our history. Addington repeatedly advised other government officials to ignore both the law and their Constitutional obligations in order to pursue the agenda of his immediate boss, Dick Cheney.

This week he emerged from a long public silence to ask the candidates about "U.S. interests" in the Middle East.

Puppetry of the Panelist

Compared to the unethical and potentially illegal actions of panelists Meese and Addington, a questioner like the American Enterprise Institute's Fred Kagan comes across like a beacon of moral rectitude. Kagan's merely been wrong about Iraq war policy, consistently and repeatedly, while displaying no signs of remorse for his errors.

Kagan helped lead a pseudo-Iraq Study Group for the American Enterprise Institute, after the one created by Washington's leaders displayed insufficient ideological purity. He also seems to have a propensity for letting himself be used as a media puppet for generals who are trying to undermine their civilian leadership by pushing their own preferred strategies in the press.

Kagan stands head and shoulders above some of his co-questioners, if only because he's never been investigated by a special prosecutor or special panel. He's never been charged with wrongdoing, but he's sure been wrong.

A lot.

Call Them Irresponsible

Although the panel was well-stocked with the mendacious, the error-prone, and the scandal-ridden, it still seemed strangely incomplete. Where was Curveball?

CNN violated journalistic ethics by allowing these biased and tainted questioners to participate in the debate. But, on the plus side, it was thoughtful of them to pick people whose records would put current Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich at ease.

As the Washington Post reported in 1997, Gingrich's own ethics scandal led to his unprecedented punishment, a $300,000 fine to settle charges of Federal tax law violations and lying to Congressional investigators.

The Wolf Pack

Our last panelist is none other than Paul Wolfowitz, that key architect of Bush's disastrous Iraq war who was immortalized on camera licking his comb and then using it to flatten a cowlick. Apparently the shampoo that washes away conscience and moral legitimacy also leaves you with split ends and flyaway hair.

Wolfowitz capped his mismanagement of the Iraq war by leaving the Bush administration to serve as President of the World Bank. There he became embroiled in scandal after giving preferential treatment to his then-girlfriend, an employee of the Bank. An Ad Hoc Group found that Wolfowitz had violated a number of internal Bank rules, as well as its ethical Code of Conduct, with his favoritism toward his lady friend and his public attacks on the investigation into his behavior.

The panel found that Wolfowitz "placed his own personal interests in opposition to that of the institution," and in so doing "undermined ... legal safeguards." It concluded that he "did not agree" with the advice of competent lawyers, so he "instead sought an inadequate review ... after the fact." (Where's Addington when you need him?)

Most of all, the panel concluded that Wolfowitz "saw himself as the outsider to whom the established rules and standards do not apply." They concluded that Wolfowitz had "questionable judgment and a preoccupation with self-interest."

Sound familiar?

The investigators also expressed concern about "one central theme" that ran through Wolfowitz's self-justifications: his repeated and unfounded assertions that "blame for the current situation lies with others."

Neocons never take responsibility for their own behavior. But then, why should they? They never get indicted. These days they're not even investigated. They know the only "time" they're ever going to serve is onscreen, in the warm glow of CNN's lights. And when the lights go down and the cameras are off, they're ushered back to the green room to munch on snacks and sip coffee while their makeup's being removed.

May I offer you an hors d'ouevre, Mr. Wolfowitz?