The “Ongoing Investigation” Thing

  • Share
  • Read Later

Marc Ambinder has beaten me to the punch on this one, but I still think it worthwhile to take a look back at the well-worn Washington practice of declining to comment because of an “ongoing investigation.”

The most famous “ongoing investigation” dodge in recent memory, of course, was the White House’s concerted attempt, from President Bush down to spokesman Scott McClellan, to avoid talking about the whole Valerie Plame mess. Many liberal critics, of course, found this dodge outrageous at the time. Reporters did too.

Then there was a raft of Jack Abramoff-related declinations to comment, owing to “ongoing investigations.” Kevin Ring, for example. Bob Ney, for another.

Then there was the Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens “ongoing investigation” dodge.

Even Gary Condit got on this bandwagon back during the Chandra Levy investigation.

Give me Google, Nexis and a couple more hours and I could come up with dozens more examples. So the question is: Why is Barack Obama declining to comment because of an “ongoing investigation”? (He repeated the dodge here and here.) At his press conference yesterday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said that everyone who knows anything should come forward. He gave no hints of a need for secrecy. “There’s a lot to be said for exposing this to the sunlight,” said Fitzgerald.

What’s more, as far as anyone seems to know, Barack Obama has nothing to hide. He says he never talked to Gov. Blagojevich about any of this. So what’s up? Does he just want to give his Republican foes an excuse to start piling on with demands for transparency? I mean, it’s no secret how this story plays out. Obama may be bringing change to Washington, but the game still remains the same.

UPDATE ONE DAY LATER: Obama has fixed this problem. At his press conference Thursday he announced that he has requested a report of all of his staff’s contacts with Blagojevich and his people, which he suggested would be released publically. He added, “What I’m absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat. That I’m absolutely certain of . . . And the — that is — that would be a violation of everything that this campaign has been about. And that’s not how we do business.” Transparency helps him.