Henry Waxman's War

By Robert D. Novak
Thursday, July 26, 2007

The midterm elections 13 days earlier had been disastrous for Republicans, but on Nov. 20 Sara Taylor gushed in a thank-you message to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The 32-year-old White House political director praised drug czar John Walters and his deputies for attending20 campaign events for vulnerable Republicans in Congress. Tomorrow, Taylor will testify as a private citizen under oath about the propriety of this political activity.

Since she resigned her White House post in May, Taylor has been the target of Democratic committee chairmen. On July 11, she stumbled through interrogation by the Senate Judiciary Committee and Chairman Patrick Leahy about political motives in the dismissal of U.S. attorneys. She had hardly recovered from that ordeal when she received a July 17 letter from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman requesting "voluntary" testimony on "politicization" of the drug control office. Under an agreement negotiated by her attorney, Taylor will give a deposition tomorrow in preparation for open testimony, perhaps on Monday.

Taylor has been the most obvious target of a grand inquisition, but she is small game. The Democrats are after her former boss, senior presidential adviser Karl Rove, and beyond him, George W. Bush, whom they consider an illegitimate president. At a staff level, it is simply payback time for Democrats who remember when Rep. Dan Burton chaired the committee that Waxman now heads and sought e-mails revealing illegal foreign political contributions.

Waxman intends to question Taylor about a post-election meeting that Rove presided over, as described in a Nov. 21 e-mail to Walters and his deputies from Douglas Simon, the drug control office's liaison with the White House. Simon wrote that Rove "specifically thanked, for going beyond the call of duty, the Dept. of Commerce, Transportation, Agriculture AND the WH Drug Policy Office. This recognition is not something we hear every day, and we should feel confident that our hard work is noticed. . . . Director Walters and the Deputies covered thousands of miles . . . [and] had to give up time with their families for the god awful places we sent them."

Noting that these "god awful places" were constituencies of vulnerable Republicans in Congress, Waxman asked for Taylor's testimony on "the use of taxpayer-funded travel" by the drug czar "to help Republican candidates for office."

Waxman's complaint of a politicized drug office is enhanced by Simon's description of Rove after the election: "Karl also launched into a feisty discussion about the plans for the final two years of this administration. In no uncertain terms, he said he is not going to let the last quarter of this presidency be dictated" by "Capitol Hill."

Waxman concedes that he sounds like the French police inspector in the movie "Casablanca" who was "shocked" to discover gambling. "I recognize that federal political appointees have traveled to events with members of Congress in prior administrations," he wrote. "What is striking about your memo to [the drug control office] is the degree of White House control, the number of trips, and the agency involved." He claimed a "tradition of non-partisanship" in an office whose first drug czar was the conservative writer and pundit William J. Bennett.

Waxman's multiple inquiries are an all-out war against Bush. He has accused Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration, of soliciting political activity from her employees. He heard testimony from former surgeon general Richard Carmona that the White House politicized his work. Waxman also has said that he plans to revisit what Taylor knows about the sacking of U.S. attorneys.

Waxman planned payback through 12 years in the minority. In response, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Tom Davis, at an April 25 committee meeting tried to extend Waxman's subpoena of Republican e-mails to include Democratic e-mails during the Clinton administration. Davis was defeated on a party-line vote.

The White House is feckless. Once off the government payroll, Sara Taylor was on her own to explain a world she never built. While the president ordered former counsel Harriet Miers not to testify about the firing of U.S. attorneys, Taylor was given ambiguous instructions on what she could and could not discuss. Now she faces the need to defend under oath the politics of the drug control office.

© 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company