Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Not the Whole Truth

Tim Geithner will likely be confirmed. But we are now setting a dangerous precedent: it is okay to be disingenuous in your confirmation hearing.  It is hard to reach any other conclusion other than that Geithner is now fibbing to get through the Senate:

Perhaps the most embarrassing moment for Mr. Geithner was his attempt to evade the questions by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl on why he had only remedied the error on back taxes for two of the four years. Because the statute of limitations had run out on the 2001-2002 tax payments, Mr. Geithner was not legally required to pay them — and didn’t until a Treasury confirmation hearing seemed possible.

But instead of fessing up that he had obeyed only the letter of the law, he insisted yesterday that, gee whiz, the earlier tax dodge didn’t even occur to him — an excuse that came off as legalistic and implausible. His replies finally brought Mr. Kyl to insist, “Would you answer my question rather than dancing around it — please?”

Mr. Geithner replied that “I did not believe I was avoiding my liability,” and that he had worked in government his entire life and “would never put myself in the position where I was deliberately not meeting my obligation as a taxpayer.”

Hence, one is left to conclude that he lied in response to Senator Kyl. The underlying offense may have been “minor,” and his judgment in chiseling the Treasury in 2006 flawed, but they might not be considered disqualifiers for this or future nominees. But what about lying? Is this the new standard for the Senate?

That’s the same predicament that Eric Holder is now in. It’s evident his underlying judgment in the Marc Rich pardon matter was deeply flawed — he, in fact, admits it. But it has become increasingly hard to believe his “I had no idea Rich was such a bad guy” defense. The facts scream otherwise. Yet he’s about to be whisked through, regardless of his lack of candor before the Senate.

This all comes as a new era of responsibility and transparency is declared. If that is the case, perhaps we should go back to the bad old days when nominees gracefully withdrew when their past transgressions proved embarrassing and Senators of both parties demanded a basic level of honesty. At some point Senators and the public will wish we hadn’t systematically lowered the bar for high office to the point where lying was tolerated and, in some sense, encouraged as a maneuver to obtain confirmation.