Scandal, Scooter and Sunshine Week

Scandal, Scooter and Sunshine Week
The timing couldn't have been more appropriate.

The conviction of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby has coincided with a string of investigations into the mistreatment of injured soldiers and the purge of federal prosecutors, putting the operations of the Bush administration into harsh relief.

The case shed a bit of transparency on a White House that's used to being shrouded in an opaque cloud, keeping information away from the very citizens it serves.

Transparency in government is one of the key themes of Sunshine Week, which will be noted nationwide March 11-17.

Americans increasingly suspect the federal government has become cloaked in secrecy, a concern they don't have with their local and state governments.

But in a guest commentary elsewhere on this page, a columnist has provided plenty of reasons for South Dakotans to also worry about a lack of transparency in Pierre.

Nationwide, people overwhelmingly believe that their federal leaders have become sneaky, listening to telephone conversations or opening private mail without getting court permission, according to a survey of 1,008 adults commissioned by the American Society of Newspaper Editors for Sunshine Week.

The poll, conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University, found that concerns about federal secrecy are rising.

Twenty-five percent believe the federal government is either "very open" or "somewhat open," while 69 percent said it's either "somewhat secretive" or "very secretive."

The Libby conviction this week on charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice seems to fortify our fears.

Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney told the FBI and a grand jury that he had not leaked the identity of CIA employee Valerie Plame to journalists but rather had learned it from them. But abundant testimony at his trial showed that he had found out about Ms. Plame from official sources and was dedicated to discrediting her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

Particularly for a senior government official, lying under oath is a serious offense. Mr. Libby's conviction should send a message to this and future administrations about the dangers of attempting to block official investigations.

Libby's wrongdoing likely won't go down in history as one of the most serious scandals to rock Washington. Watergate, Iran-Contra and the Monica Lewinsky/Clinton impeachment all overshadow it. The jury's decision this week, however, seems to add an asterisk on a list of growing, serious shortcomings in the Bush presidency.

If Libby lied about his role in the CIA leak case, could Bush have led the nation to war on false pretenses, critics are asking as they, in effect, attack the centerpiece of his presidency.

Meanwhile, an investigation by The Washington Post has shed light on the deplorable conditions our injured war veterans are facing at the Walter Reed Medical Center.

Another new set of problems with the Bush administration are just coming to light – an appropriate phrase as long as we're talking about casting a bit of sunshine on government operations.

Six fired U.S. attorneys testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday that they had separately been the target of complaints, improper telephone calls and thinly veiled threats from a high-ranking Justice Department official or members of Congress, both before and after they were abruptly removed from their jobs.

What everybody needs to remember is we need to be informed of these happenings. The public is poorly served by foot-dragging politicians who prefer the closed-door approach to managing our business.

Andy Alexander, American Society of Newspaper Editors Freedom of Information chair who is chief of the Cox Newspapers' Washington Bureau notes, "An alarming amount of public information is being kept secret from citizens, and the problem is increasing ? Not only do citizens have a right to know, they have a need to know."

It would do us well to always remember Alexander's important sentiments.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at

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