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The Saga of Jeff Gannon By: Byron York
The Hill | Monday, May 16, 2005

Remember when Democrats used to sneer at Rep. Dan Burton, R-IN, back when he chaired the House Government Reform Committee, calling him a right-wing nut for his various investigations of the Clinton administration?

“Someone told me our committee has become the congressional equivalent of the crazy aunt in the attic,” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, once said of Burton’s leadership.

Well, what would Waxman say today about his colleagues Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, and Rep. John Conyers, D-MI? The two lawmakers are holding high the flame of fearless congressional investigation by doggedly pursuing the case of ... Jeff Gannon.

You remember Gannon. White House correspondent for a tiny conservative website, Talon News, he made news when he asked President Bush a wildly softball question at a Jan. 26 press conference.

“Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy,” Gannon said to the president. “Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. You’ve said you’re going to reach out to these people. How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?”

Now it is Slaughter and Conyers who seem divorced from reality. Since the Gannon flap — which revealed, among other things, that Gannon’s real name was James Guckert — began, the two lawmakers have been all-Gannon, all-the-time.

Just look at the press releases rolling out of Slaughter’s office:

• “New Gannon Documents Create More Questions: Reps. Slaughter & Conyers Renew Call on White House for Answers.”

• “Questions Remain as Secret Service Response to Congressional Gannon Inquiry Comes Back Incomplete.”

• “Rep. Slaughter Calls on Special Prosecutor & General Accounting Office to Expand Investigation to Include Gannon.”

• “Rep. Slaughter Demands Answer: Why was Jeff Gannon in the White House Before Talon News Even Existed?”

• “Rep. Slaughter Seeks Details from Homeland Security in Gannon/Plame Scandal Under Freedom of Information Act.”

• “Rep. Slaughter Calls on Special Prosecutor to Investigate Gannon’s Role in Plame CIA Document Leak Scandal.”

“The American people deserve to know what is happening in the White House briefing room,” Conyers and Slaughter bravely announced in their latest public statement. Well, yes, they do. It happens live on television most afternoons.

Perhaps Slaughter and Conyers will take a look at the new issue of Vanity Fair, which dispatched two reporters to investigate the Gannon matter. And after looking and looking, and probing and probing, writers David Margolick and Richard Gooding came up with pretty much nothing.

Although many in the mainstream press had already decided there wasn’t much to the Gannon story, the two write, “the fired-up left-wing blogosphere kept it alive, and people scoured every imaginable corner of Gannon’s life looking for his link to a larger Republican conspiracy.”

They certainly found a lot of gritty stuff, especially Gannon’s apparent gay-male-escort past. But the big prize — the secret Karl Rove connection that would explain everything and unravel the Bush administration — eluded them.

Even the most zealous of Gannon’s investigators had to begin moving on, unable to find new incriminating information.

“As time passed, Gannon came to seem, to at least some of the [left-wing] bloggers, as more like a freelance zealot than the linchpin of some much larger conspiracy,” Margolick and Gooding write. “They now admit that for them Gannon emerged as less a target in and of himself and more of the instrument for venting rage.”

Vanity Fair also dispenses with the allegation — popular in some zones on the left, as well as with Slaughter and Conyers — that Gannon was somehow involved with the Valerie Plame CIA-outing controversy.

“Gannon did not obtain a secret memo in the case of Valerie Plame, the CIA agent illegally identified in the press, as he insinuated in one of his articles,” the authors say. “He’d read about it in The Wall Street Journal.”

Of course, Margolick and Gooding did find a few interesting things. Like the details of Gannon’s rather odd journey from public-school teacher to landscaper’s assistant to right fielder for a gay softball team to liquor distributor to bookkeeper in an auto-body shop to sort-of White House correspondent.

“My history isn’t exactly linear,” Gannon told Vanity Fair, for once displaying a genius for understatement.

And there’s no denying that Gannon’s story was news at one time. It’s just not news any more.

But don’t tell Conyers and Slaughter. They’re still looking for the Rosetta stone that will reveal all about the corruption at the heart of the Bush administration.

It’s tempting to call them the congressional equivalent of the crazy aunt and uncle in the attic.

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