THE WHITE House report on John Sununu's frequent use of military planes for his travels over the past three years was delivered yesterday. It is hilarious. It assures in the same breath that (a) the president's chief of staff did nothing wrong and (b) nothing like it is going to happen again.
Nor is it quite that he did nothing wrong; rather, the report says, what Mr. Sununu did was "essentially" okay. "Several minor adjustments" need to be made -- and these turn out to have to do precisely with the skiing trips and trip to the dentist that gave the story most of its edge in the first place.
The report from President Bush's counsel, C. Boyden Gray, takes comfort from the fact that, under the old rules, it was up to Mr. Sununu himself to decide whether trips were official. With that as its rubbery standard, it agrees that a couple of the skiing trips were indeed official. ("You have informed my staff that your attendance that weekend was in furtherance of the administration's efforts to explain and promote its policies concerning conservation and natural resources.") The counsel observed at another point that "any personal enjoyment you gained from participating in the ski-related activities was incidental to the reason for your travel." Ah, yes.
But a bit of it went too far for Mr. Gray. Thus a couple of weekends involved a fund in which Mr. Sununu has been active set up in honor of the late teacher/astronaut Christa McAuliffe; the chief of staff said his participation was official in that it furthered the president's interest in the voluntary charitable activities he has called Points of Light. "While the president's Points of Light objectives are clearly furthered by your activities," the counsel wrote amid much more, "on balance these two trips should be considered unofficial."
So, too, "there does not appear to be any official purpose for the first leg of the trip, to Boston, where you visited your dentist." Mr. Sununu took the report to be a vindication; it "reflected the requirement of the existing policy that made it clear I had to fly on government aircraft." But that's kind of what it didn't do.
The new White House travel policy for the chief of staff and national security adviser -- released yesterday in conjunction with the report on the bending of the old -- is much clearer. "To ensure that military aircraft are used only when necessary, the new policy will require the White House Counsel's Office to review on a case-by-case basis all requests for travel" on such aircraft. There may be times when the people in these two positions will need to use military aircraft for personal trips, the statement says, but "an immediate and compelling need" will have to be shown to justify it.
That sounds about right.