Anatomy of a Cover-Up

A man puts his arm around a female co-worker and gives her a quick hug. He's done it many times before--but now he stops himself. Is it OK?, he wonders. Did I offend her? Do something illegal? Have you heard what happened to the investigation into the Senate leak that caused such an uproar in Clarence Thomas hearings? No? Well, let me tell you. But I'll do it by taking you through step by step. See if you can figure out for yourself what happened. We'll call this The Case of the Great Senate Cover-Up. Just to refresh your memory, it started when some Senator or Senate staffer leaked an FBI affidavit to the press charging Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment. A bomb was lit that exploded on television sets all across America. But in the end, the country as a whole decided Anita Hill had not told the truth. And immediately, there was a call for justice. Justice Thomas had seen his reputation tarnished; the nation had been dragged through a long and often offensive hearing. And all because someone had leaked an FBI document--an act that is not only against Senate rules but against the laws of the land. President Bush appeared on national television, demanding an investigation. Editorialists editorialized, columnists wrote columns. The Senate, then, dutifully appointed a special counsel to investigate. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is where you come in. Imagine you've just been appointed to find the culprit who did the workings of the Senate--to expose our public officials to public embarrassment? Let me remind you that, as special counsel, these Senators are paying your salary. So let's be frank: What you really want to do is figure out how to deflect attention away from the Senate--away from the person who leaked the document to the press. Did someone say the press? There's your solution! Go after the press. Make a big fuss. Force the people who published the leak--Nina Totenberg and Timothy Phelps--to reveal their sources. There's a strategy certain to pull attention away from the Senate, certain to get a lot of publicity--and certain to fail. Why? Because the press will never reveal its sources. And court rulings have upheld their right not to. So what we'll see is a lot of indignant hand-wringing about the First Amendment. And then the Senate will gracefully back away and say, Well, that's it. We did our best. And that will be the end of it. Well, ladies and gentlemen, was that the strategy you figured out? Because it's precisely what the special counsel did. And the Senate committee has piously announced that it can not continue the investigation because of First Amendment conflicts. As strategies go, it was brilliant. It created the appearance of going after the leaker, all the while guaranteeing a dead end to the investigation. Had the Senate really wanted to find out who leaked the affidavit, it could have done what was done in the Watergate scandal. It could have convened a grand jury, brought up every person who had access to the affidavit and make them testify under oath. That would have smoked the person out. But it wasn't what the Senate chose to do. And now the guilty party will go scot free. No, the Senators banked on Americans having very short memories. So maybe you ought to write your Senator, and tell him you don't like to see them playing games with public policy. And that you won't forget The Case of the Great Senate Cover-Up.


Chuck Colson


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