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by Kenneth O'Reilly


“Watch what we do, not what we say.”

President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, gave that advice to the press a few months after the 1968 election. If something of a cliché in more recent times, his words still contain a fat kernel of truth.

Taking Mitchell’s advice, one thing becomes perfectly clear about another election: Texas governor George W. Bush and former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney believed certain events (or GOP “causes”) dating to the early 1990s carried them to the White House in 2000. We can identify these causes by looking at who Bush and Cheney selected to staff their administration.

They chose veterans of one or more of the following episodes:

  • Kenneth Starr’s Office of Independent Counsel investigation of the Whitewater scandal;
  • The impeachment of President Bill Clinton;
  • Other independent counsel investigations of other Clinton administration officials;
  • A congressional investigation of Democratic party fund-raising (accompanied by an FBI CAMPCON investigation of Vice President Al Gore and others that not only reduced Gore’s chance in 2000 but, as we shall see, any chance the bureau may have had to prevent the al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11);
  • Minority voter suppression in Florida, the 2000 election’s pivotal state; and
  • The Florida recount that the U.S. Supreme Court ended with Bush v. Gore.

This is not to say that all Bush-Cheney appointees worked on one or more of these causes. Colin Powell, for example, steered clear of all six and yet received arguably the most exalted post in the new administration—secretary of state. But Powell’s case may be the exception that makes the rule. His relationship with President Bush was strained because he was not the I’ll-do-anything type. Those who worked the six causes were that type. Bush informed a Saudi royal, Prince Bandar, of his decision to invade Iraq before informing Powell. The secretary had been odd man out for a while. “Coming to Florida [in 2000 to work the recount] might have strengthened Colin’s relationship with George W. Bush,” James Baker explained. Baker had served the first President Bush as secretary of state. He served George W. as the so-called GOP recount “czar” in Florida.

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