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“What makes our country unique is its commitment to being open, to making its leaders accountable.”

This is an actual quote from an actual high-ranking official of the actual federal government. I want you to guess who said it. But before you start, let me tell you a little more — give you a few clues.

I was minding my own business recently breezing through the loose-leaf pages of a 1997 calendar. Don’t ask me what I was looking for. I don’t remember. But the important thing to know is that this calendar is produced by the Freedom Forum, a foundation supported by the Gannett Corp., and one which supposedly fights to protect the First Amendment and free expression.

The above quotation caught my eye. It made me think about the state of our nation — the level of disrepute to which the current administration has lowered our notions about government and politics, the way lying has become a way of life in Washington, the way the slickest of the slick and the most powerful officials seem invulnerable to prosecution or accountability of any kind.

Since the calendar includes many sayings that date back to the Founding Fathers, I figured this one must have been spoken by one of those idealists in the early days of the republic.

OK, OK. I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. When I gazed down to the small type below the quote, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the following attribution — Janet Reno, U.S. attorney general, 1996.

That’s right — Ms. Openness and Accountability herself. And consider the source, again — Gannett’s Freedom Forum. Kind of gives you perspective on that organization’s commitment to the selective enforcement of the First Amendment, doesn’t it?

Well, anyway, I ripped that page out of the calendar and put it aside. “Some day soon,” I thought, “there’ll be a column in this quote.” It didn’t take long.

Once again, Janet Reno and what New York Times columnist William Safire facetiously calls her “crack team of investigators,” did not disappoint. Once again, she followed orders like a good soldier. She did the predictable. She whitewashed, and she stonewalled — this time, in dealing with the serious questions raised about the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

Last week, in the usual sober tones and deadpan face, she explained to reporters that the Justice Department, in cooperation with the Pentagon, had completed a “thorough review” of the evidence suggesting that Brown’s head contained a gunshot wound.

Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch had a great line: This proves “Buddy is not the only lapdog in the Clinton administration.”

In conducting its “thorough review,” the Justice Department did not bother even questioning the key members of original investigative team who have gone public with their serious concerns about a cover-up. Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell, an Air Force forensic pathologist charged with determining what caused the nearly perfectly circular hole in the top of Brown’s head wasn’t involved. Lt. Col. David Hause, an Army forensic pathologist who examined the head wound, was never questioned by Justice. And Kathleen Janoski, the military photographer who took the pictures of the body and missing x-rays at Dover Air Force Base, was never consulted.

Apparently, consensus was the objective rather than truth — so possible dissenters were shut out of the process.

No report has been publicly issued, either. We’re just supposed to accept on blind faith that things are as Janet Reno would have us believe. That may be good enough for the Washington Post. It’s not good enough for me.

Ironically, on the very day Justice made this announcement, Reno also boldly proclaimed that she is proposing new legislation to broaden federal powers to investigate and prosecute so-called “hate crimes” — for which racial minorities are said to be the chief victims.

Now, keep in mind, the Brown dog-and-pony show was clearly designed with one purpose — to quiet the growing chorus of voices calling for an investigation of what really happened in and around Brown’s military plane crash last year. That chorus was largely comprised of America’s black political leaders. Some of them charge that the Brown cover-up smacks of the days in this country when a black man could be killed without explanation or accountability. Ranging the political spectrum, from Alan Keyes on the right to Jesse Jackson on the left, these voices were understandably concerned that Brown, of all people, could have been the target of a possible assassination and cover-up.

Hate crimes, Ms. Reno? Why don’t you start by investigating the untimely, unsolved, mysterious death of America’s most prominent black man? Now that would be accountability.

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