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I awoke on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at about 7 Mountain Time in Arvada, CO. I needed to get to the campus of the Colorado School of Mines for class that morning — a multidisciplinary engineering lab having to do with measuring water flow — and I was running slightly late. Getting into my Blazer and turning on the radio, the local morning hosts on 103.5 The Fox weren’t telling the funny jokes I was so accustomed to hearing. I specifically recall them using the term “Day of American Tragedy” which seemed pretty serious for a Tuesday.
As we all know now, the nation was under attack by the icy, nettled hand of Islamofascism. I recall thinking to myself (as memories from that day tend to be painted in sharp relief) “How could our intelligence agencies and counterterrorism people miss something this big?”
Another September — this time in 2008 — and I’m in Castle Dale, UT for work. There are a couple of coal-fired power plants in the area with exhaust systems we’re upgrading. Days begin early in the field, with us getting to the plant at 6 AM to inspect the facilities we’re modifying, and we’re off the site by noon to document what we’ve seen.
In my hotel room, I turn on the TV to the news channel and see that the stock market has dropped by more than 700 points. Two weeks earlier, Lehman Brothers collapsed. Panic is in the air. It’s Monday, Sept. 29, and it seems that the practice of lending money to too many people who couldn’t afford to repay those funds is finally coming home to roost. The DJIA chart crashes in real time; the graph resembling the descent off a giant red cliff before the bell signals the stoppage of bloodshed and tolls the true beginning of the Obama presidency.
Two separate memories of catastrophe. They were viewed by others no doubt through other circumstances, but nonetheless are etched indelibly into the minds of millions of Americans. How are they connected, you ask?
Generally speaking, one could cite “government incompetence” as the root cause of each. Multiple warnings regarding these realized disasters were issued and ignored by elected officials, political appointees, and career government workers alike up and down the chain of command for years before the events themselves took place. It isn’t merely a general attitude or posture that allowed these things to happen — at the center of that particular web there is a peculiar resonance that centers not merely around ideas but around sets of individuals — and one of those individuals’ names keeps turning up like a bad penny. The name I want to pick out here is Jamie Gorelick.
Gorelick has, at first blush, an impressive résumé. With a magna cum laude from Harvard’s Radcliffe College in ’73 and a J.D. cum laude at Harvard Law two years later, Gorelick was primed for a career in public service from the earliest days of her adult life.
Climbing through the ranks of litigators in the late ’70s, she became an assistant to the Secretary of Energy under Jimmy Carter’s administration before becoming President of the DC Bar Association in ’92, ultimately landing a position in the Clinton Administration as Deputy Attorney General (the #2 position in the Justice Department.) This is where things get interesting.
In her position as DAG, Gorelick authored the now infamous memo recommending the creation of a legal “wall” between investigations conducted by the CIA and FBI which many observers point to as the proximal cause of the government’s failure to detect and prevent the 9/11 hijackings. Of course, the seeds of that destructive act were laid years before, and no doubt Ms. Gorelick’s intentions weren’t to allow nefarious foreigners to sucker-punch the nation. However, a mere seven years after that memorandum planted a hedgerow nearly impervious to critical information, it bore bitter fruit, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Americans — not to mention the additional deaths and cost involved in the subsequent wars of retribution it also begat.
At the same time she was erecting walls in the Justice Department, Gorelick was busy tearing down others. One of the Clinton administration’s goals during that period was the reinvigoration of the Community Reinvestment Act, a Carter-era law designed to “encourage” lenders to make loans to borrowers who were previously considered too risky. The device by which the government could encourage or justify this behavior was to underwrite the loans thus made through the quasi-government owned lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In 1997, Gorelick left her position at Justice and joined… Fannie Mae, where she served alongside fellow Clinton administration member Franklin Raines. In the time between ’97 and ’03, Gorelick earned $26.5 million working at the lending giant, including a three-quarter-million-dollar bonus at one point achieved through fraudulent accounting practices. Fannie Mae itself became embroiled in a $10 billion accounting scandal during that period as well, resulting in many top executives receiving millions of dollars in unearned bonuses.
The number of bad loans which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac made during this period skyrocketed under the guidance of Clinton-era policy, which Gorelick, Raines, and company profited from handsomely. This in turn laid the time bomb that ultimately ticked its last in the days before the 2008 election and went off in the form of the financial crisis, scuttling Republican control of the White House, and setting in motion the train which delivered Obamacare and Justices Sotomayor and Kagan to the nation.
Despite what many people think, it seems to me that it’s incredibly rare in history to be able to point to a single person and say that they were an axle around which the rest of humanity briefly turned. Human history is much bigger than that, and people that rise to its forefront tend to be standing on the crest of a wave made up of millions of like-minded individuals. Even the obvious historical examples (like Hitler or Napoleon) were, in my opinion, a result of forces that shaped them long before they became the cause of events that shaped other people.
It’s also no mistake that we regard as villainous the people who’ve gone out of their way to have large individual effects on the world. Acting alone, Lee Harvey Oswald almost brought the world to its knees. Gavrilo Princip set off a conflagration that engulfed the planet and set the stage for two massive wars when he shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.
Some people are also incredibly unlucky to have been near or associated with high-profile tragedies. Robert Todd Lincoln (son of the President) was present or near not one, but three presidential assassinations (his father, James Garfield, and William McKinley.)
Gorelick in my opinion falls squarely into the first category. It’s arguable that in certain situations she may have been acting with the best of intentions — her personal enrichment at Fannie Mae belies this idea, methinks — but it’s hard to argue that her influence and that of her associates upon the path of American history has been a good one. While not the eye of the needle through which history passed, she has at least had a hand in sewing the quilt that covers its passage. The general attitude that she possesses and the people that surround her created the circumstances that led to these historical inflection points.
Ivy-League educated, highly intelligent, and career-minded though she may be, Jamie Gorelick is nonetheless a sort of Typhoid Mary of recent American political history. She’s also the consummate insider — a slimy, loathsome denizen of the much denigrated DC Swamp, if you will — and a prime example of the sort of person who got ahead not merely by knowing a great deal, but by knowing the right people. Given the fact that she is at least partially culpable for two of the nation’s most recent and serious crises, you would think that nobody would want to associate with a character who, at the minimum, has been present at or presided over the birth of children that grew into genuine calamities.
Nonetheless, Gorelick continues to get work. At the law firm of WilmerHale, she provides legal counsel to clients and sits on the boards of Amazon and defense contractor UTC, in spite of the seemingly obvious ethical issues that follow in her wake.
Did I fail to mention that until three days ago she had been the legal counsel for some guy named … Jared Kushner? She’s since stepped back and allowed another Washington creature, Abbe Lowell (who has defended a “who’s who” of high-profile malefactors) to take over. One begins to wonder how the project of swamp drainage can be accomplished when the engineers who flooded it in the first place still have their incompetent hands in a death grip on the controls.
Memory will fade as we grow older, but the shadow cast by certain days and certain events grow longer when viewed in the light of the cooling embers of recollection. I will not forget those days in long-ago and disconnected Septembers. I hope that other people won’t forget the promises that were made last September when the time comes to settle accounts.