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Congress, the sapless branch. Greenwald’s column today begins:

FBI Director Robert Mueller is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee today, currently live-streamed on C-SPAN. An article this morning in The Washington Post dramatically touted the hearing as one in which, as the headline put it, “Lawmakers Are Seeking Answers in Anthrax Case — FBI’s Mueller to Be Queried by House Panel About Evidence Against Researcher.” The article itself claimed that “the strength of the government’s evidence against Bruce E. Ivins . . . will be tested anew today when FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III appears before the House Judiciary Committee” and:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) and two other Democrats on the panel have signaled they will scrutinize the FBI’s work today. This month, they wrote Mueller asking about missteps in identifying the anthrax strain used in the attacks and tracing it back to Ivins.

But after just an hour of the hearing, it is painfully clear that — as is true in virtually all of these hearings now before a pitifully powerless Congress — Mueller won’t provide the Committee with even a single answer of import, won’t even pretend to, and the Committee has no intent to compel him to do so. Indeed, the hearing began with an angry statement from Chairman Conyers about the fact that the FBI, in general, simply ignores all inquiries for information and answers from the Committee for months and months and months and then shows up at these hearings unprepared to answer even the questions they are advised will be asked, knowing that each member only has five minutes and can’t actually accomplish anything.In response, Mueller, with palpable boredom at Conyer’s angry outburst, dutifully recited a series of standard bureaucratic buzz-phrases about how the FBI endeavors to respond to the Committee’s inquiries as promptly and fully as possible, how he is happy to meet with Committee members to address their concerns, how the need to carefully scrutinize the Bureau’s responses makes delays inevitable, etc. etc. In response, Conyers literally pleaded with Mueller to be more forthcoming in the future, observed that the hearing was likely to be worthless — it’s certainly hard to argue with that — and then assured Mueller that Conyers “wasn’t trying to force you to give this information.” Your impotent Congress in a nutshell.

Vividly illustrating this impotence in the anthrax context, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York used his five minutes to ask Mueller about several of the most glaring holes in the FBI’s case against Bruce Ivins. Nadler specifically focused on the fact that scientists (including in the FBI) had long claimed that the anthrax sent to Sen. Daschele was dried anthrax that had been coated with silica and was thus far too sophisticated for Ivins to have prepared, only for the FBI suddenly to reverse itself recently and claim that the anthrax was not coated with silica but had, instead, simply naturally absorbed silicon from the air.

Nadler had various good questions about that — including wanting to know the level of concentration of silica found in the anthrax (since, if it were higher than 1/2 of 1%, it would mean it was impossible for it to have been naturally absorbed). Mueller’s response: I don’t know the answers to those questions. I’ll have to get back to you at some point.

Nadler than asked one of the most central questions in the anthrax case: he pointed out that the facilities that (unlike Ft. Detrick) actually have the equipment and personnel to prepare dry, silica-coated anthrax are the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground and the Battelle Corporation, the private CIA contractor that conducts substantial research into highly complex strains of anthrax. Nadler asked how the FBI had eliminated those institutions as the culprits behind the attack. After invoking generalities to assure Nadler that the FBI had traced the anthrax back to Ivins’ vial (which doesn’t answer the question), Mueller’s response was this: I don’t know the answers to those questions as to how we eliminated Dugway and Battelle. I’ll have to get back to you at some point.

After those two fruitless lines of inquiry, Nadler’s time was almost up, and he then pleaded: please try to get back to us with these answers quickly. Mueller said: “Oh, absolutely Congressman.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 September 2008 at 4:30 pm

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