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In Sunday’s Washington Post, former Clinton administration senior official Jamie Gorelick wrote about her tenure as Deputy Attorney General and her now-infamous “building a wall” memo that has become a centerpiece of the debate over why the 9-11 terrorists could move through the United States without detection.

The issue is not whether “the wall” was a necessity compelled by law, or whether the early decisions of the Bush administration to keep “the wall” in place were themselves correct, as Gorelick asserted.

The only issues are who is going to judge the issue of “the wall,” and whether Gorelick ought to be among them?

When 9-11 Chair Thomas Kean growled last week that voices objecting to Gorelick’s membership as a judge of the panel deciding the wisdom of her own record should “stay out of our business,” the folks who heard him recoiled first in shock and then in anger. Of course the Commission is not pursuing its own business, but the country’s business. Kean’s outburst tells us all we need to know about the clubby, chummy partnership at work to protect Gorelick at the expense of Commission credibility.

Kean might have more usefully argued that the 9-11 Commission is already so thoroughly discredited by the antics of Commission hack Richard ben Veniste, with assists to Robert Kerrey and Tim Roemer, that not even Gorelick’s glaring conflict of interest could do any additional damage. The disease has metastasized, he might have argued, so why bother with surgery on a patient that cannot be saved?

But that’s not what Kean blurted out. Rather, he angrily claimed ownership of the process and declared Gorelick non-partisan and bi-partisan in the same breath. Some other Republicans joined the “Defend Jamie” club, a tribute to Washington, D.C.’s legendary stick-together imperative.

By all accounts Gorelick is well and widely liked in D.C. But so what? Could the chief of Dallas Police have served on the Warren Commission? No central figure in the decisions leading up to the intelligence collapse that failed to see 9-11 coming can sit on the commission – period. She can recuse herself from A, B and C all day long, but that doesn’t make her qualified to judge the alphabet. She’s a witness – not a judge – and she’s got to go.

Even a year from now, this will be completely obvious – as obvious as it is today. There isn’t a serious student of government ethics that can offer any plausible case for keeping Gorelick on the job. Just expediency and friendship mixed together – her self-interest, and the loyalty of her friends.

Her real friends should buy her dinner, and perhaps a weekend at a nice resort where she can bind up her wounds before returning to appear before her ex-colleagues under oath and on television. Unless this transpires, the Commission, already a comedy full of clowns, will turn into a bitter tragedy for Americans expecting an inquiry and answers – not another piece of Clinton-era political performance art.

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