By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by Jack GouldBack in 1988, attorney Chris Cox pitched himself as the most conservative of several Republicans running to replace Newport Beach's Robert Badham in Congress. Following a campaign that combined USC boosterism with USC-style dirty tricks and a résumé that included his gigs as a corporate lawyer and Reagan White House staffer, Cox won easily—and then impaled himself on a Reaganesque ideological contradiction. Ronald Reagan liked anorexic social programs and a bloated Pentagon budget; it took Democrat Bill Clinton to undo the resulting record federal deficits. Cox advocates limited government regulation, except where those regulations protect business from litigation brought by consumers and shareholders.
Now presented with another chance to prove his commitment to limited government, Cox has ducked again.
As chairman of the newly created congressional committee overseeing Homeland Security—the largest federal agency—Cox could reasonably demand the White House release a congressional report that details evidence the Bush administration ignored warnings of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Instead, Cox has said nothing, leaving the impression that government control over information related to the war on terrorism—even information already made public—is absolute.
The White House received Congress's 800-page Joint Inquiry Report in December and was supposed to make it public this month. A Dec. 10 summary says the bipartisan panel concluded the White House had "intelligence information on the immediacy of the threat level in the spring and summer of 2001" but dismissed the information because Bush officials believed "attacks of the magnitude of Sept. 11 could not happen here."
That sort of news could derail a Bush 2004 campaign built around issues of terrorism and security. So it was hardly a surprise when Newsweekreported two weeks ago that "a 'working group' of Bush administration intelligence officials assigned to review the document has taken a hard line against further public disclosure."
There's ample reason for Cox to use his new power to seek the release of the document. The bipartisan congressional investigation concluded that fighting terrorism will require not just spooks in the pay of federal spy agencies, but also "an alert, mobilized and committed American public."
But Cox would seemingly prefer us merely obedient. He has been dead quiet on the report—no public statements, no debates. His website features bland press releases about his position on tax cuts for the wealthy (he supports them) and on supporting our troops (he's for it); there's no mention of the Joint Intelligence Report. Four phone calls and several e-mails from the Weekly failed to elicit a response from Cox's office about the report.
Others in Congress show more courage. A spokesperson for Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who co-chaired the Joint Intelligence subcommittee, says the administration is even trying to reclassify as secret some testimony that was delivered in public hearings. Graham has called the White House strategy a "cover-up."
"Senator Graham believes there's a good amount of material in the report that should be given to the public about what our government knew before Sept. 11," Graham's spokesperson told the Weekly. "Some of those things go directly to issues of Homeland Security. It's my understanding that Mr. Cox has responsibility in that area."
Graham isn't alone. House Republican Porter Goss, co-chairman with Graham on the Joint Intelligence subcommittee, told the Washington Post that Graham is "sounding the alarm, loud and clear, and no one seems to be listening."
Graham and Goss have asked the White House not just once, but twice, to release the report. Even the president's handpicked National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States has been denied access to the report, a move commissioner (and former congressman) Tim Roemer called "outrageous."
"I am a true believer when it comes to not speaking ill of a fellow Republican," said a Republican Capitol Hill staffer who requested anonymity. "But I'm getting ready to lose my religion when it comes to Cox. If he wants to be a leader, he'd better get out front on this issue."
It's hard to see Cox's silence as anything but partisan politics—an in-kind contribution to the 2004 Bush for President campaign. And we don't have to wonder how Cox might have behaved if Al Gore had been president on Sept. 11, 2001. Flash back to the summer of 1999. Cox had been picked by arch-conservative Newt Gingrich to lead a Congressional investigation into allegations that the Bill Clinton White House allowed weapons technology to slip into the hands of Chinese spies. Two months before Cox published his committee's 700-page "secret" report, someone leaked details of the committee's proceedings to The New York Times—someone who would benefit from the suggestion that the Clinton administration had aided and abetted Chinese spying at the nation's Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Lab in New Mexico. That points to the committee's Republican members.
There's monumental irony in the fact that the House committee appointed to investigate holes in U.S. weapons labs was itself porous; that information spilling out of what were ostensibly secret meetings of a committee with Cox's name on it ended up on the front pages of The New York Times; and that, as American Journalism Review noted, "cutthroat competition" led to the rapid reproduction of the spy charges in other newspapers, doing maximum damage to Clinton and a Los Alamos Lab employee named Wen Ho Lee.
But most significantly, Cox never investigated the leaks. Indeed, he used the claim of secrecy to fan the flames of suspicion, arguing in public that confidentiality prohibited him from revealing even more damaging, "stark" and "grave" facts in classified portions of the Cox Report.
The Cox Report was eventually revealed as fiction; the Chinese spy scandal a McCarthyite witch-hunt—my Weekly colleague R. Scott Moxley wrote that it "was little more than lowbrow theater with the editorial integrity of a tits-heavy Hard Copy episode." Months later, American Journalism Review reached a similar verdict. Writing in the magazine's November 2000 issue, reporter Lucinda Fleeson concluded that none of the major points of the story pipelined to The New York Times by unnamed Republican sources was true. By then, Wen Ho Lee was free. The accused Taiwan-born American scientist who once faced life imprisonment on 59 federal spy charges procured his freedom by giving federal prosecutors a face-saving guilty plea on a single count of mishandling lab information.
If Gore were president, Chris Cox would be on the Joint Intelligence Report like it was made of ham.Research assistance by R. Scott Moxley.