Democrats' Payback Time

WASHINGTON — Mid-term elections 13 days earlier had been disastrous for Republicans, but Sara Taylor on Nov. 20, 2006, gushed in her thank you message to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The 32-year-old White House political director praised drug czar John Walters and his deputies for attending 20 campaign events for vulnerable Republican members of Congress. On Friday this week, Taylor as a private citizen will testify under oath about the propriety of this political activity.

Since she resigned her White House post in May, Taylor has been the target of Democratic committee chairmen. On July 11, she stumbled through interrogation by Chairman Patrick Leahy’s Senate Judiciary Committee about political motives in dismissing U.S. attorneys. She had hardly recovered from that ordeal when she received a July 17 letter from House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman requesting "voluntary" testimony on "politicization" of the Drug Control Office. Under an agreement negotiated by her attorney, Taylor will be deposed Friday in preparation for open testimony, perhaps next Monday.

Taylor has been the most obvious target of a grand inquisition, but she is small game. The Democrats are after her former boss, senior presidential adviser Karl Rove, and beyond him, George W. Bush, whom they consider an illegitimate president. At a staff level, it is simply payback time for Democrats who remember Rep. Dan Burton, who in chairing the committee Waxman now heads sought e-mails revealing illegal foreign political contributions.

Waxman intends to question Taylor about a post-election meeting presided over by Rove described in a Nov. 21 e-mail to Walters and his deputies from Douglas Simon, the drug office’s liaison with the White House. Simon wrote that Rove "specifically thanked, for going beyond the call of duty, the Dept. of Commerce, Transportation, Agriculture AND the WH Drug Policy Office. This recognition is not something we hear every day, and we should feel confident that our hard work is noticed. . . . Director Walters and the Deputies covered thousands of miles . . . and had to give up time with their families for the godawful places we sent them."

Noting that these "godawful places" were constituencies of vulnerable Republicans in Congress, Waxman asked for Taylor’s testimony on "the use of taxpayer-funded travel" by the drug czar "to help Republican candidates for office."

Waxman’s complaint of a politicized drug office is enhanced by Simon’s description of Rove after the election: "Karl also launched into a feisty discussion about plans for the final two years of this administration. In no uncertain terms, he said he is not going to let the last quarter of this presidency be dictated by Capitol Hill."

Waxman concedes he sounds like the French police inspector in the movie "Casablanca" who was "shocked" to discover gambling. "I recognize that federal political appointees have traveled to events with members of Congress in prior administrations," he wrote Taylor. "What is striking about your memo to [the drug control office] is the degree of White House control, the number of trips and the agency involved." He claimed a "tradition of non-partisanship" in an office where the first drug czar was William J. Bennett.

Waxman’s multiple inquiries wage all-out war against Bush. He has accused Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services of Administration, of soliciting political activity by her employees. He heard testimony from former Surgeon General Richard Carmona that the White House politicized his work. Waxman also has said he plans to revisit what Taylor knows about the sacking of U.S. attorneys.

Henry Waxman planned payback through 12 years in the minority. In response, the Oversight Committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Tom Davis, in a April 25 committee meeting tried to extend Waxman’s subpoena of Republican e-mails to include Democratic e-mails during the Clinton administration. Davis was rejected on a party-line vote.

The White House is feckless. Once off the government payroll, Sara Taylor was on her own to explain a world she never built. While the president ordered his former counsel Harriet Miers not to testify about firing U.S. attorneys, Taylor was given ambiguous instructions on what she could and could not discuss. Now, she faces the need to defend under oath the politics of the Drug Control office.