Secrets and lies

King George II: It’s during times of crisis, when the lips of the citizens repeat “united we stand” with automaton precision, that are the periods of greatest danger for liberty and truth. Such secrecy and unchecked power is a greater threat to this country than even the most determined terrorist.

The latest example is President George Bush’s executive order gutting the Presidential Records Act of 1978, a blatant coverup of whatever high crimes and misdemeanors that were perpetrated by his father and President Ronald Reagan in the name of putting the final nails in the coffin of communism.

It’s been bad enough that the Bush administration has used the September 11 tragedy to ignore public accountability and disclosure even on issues as basic as our evidence against Osama bin Laden and details of our resulting attack on Afghanistan.

But now, he has ensured that presidents enjoy almost-royal immunity from scrutiny, even 12 years after they leave office. Reagan’s papers were to be released this year, giving the public insights into his support for the Contras and other Cold War tools.

Bush’s action is a brazen move that will hopefully be overturned by the courts, offering us all insights as to exactly what he’s covering up.

Political posturing: Such attempts at secrecy are reminiscent of how Governor Gray Davis used California’s big crisis of the year—the energy crisis—to try to prevent the release of information showing what Californians were getting for the $43 billion in long-term energy contracts.

Although Davis tried to argue the secrecy was about trade secrets and bargaining positions, the eventual release of the information showed that he was trying to hide something more basic: the state got screwed at the negotiation table.

The contracts were expensive and locked in for 10 years in most cases. That’s an old story well covered in this column space, but new chapters are still being added, and it’s a story relevant to the still developing storyline of who the next governor of California will be.

After revelations earlier this year that many of those doing the negotiating for energy contracts on the state’s behalf had conflicts-of-interest comes last week’s revelation in the Orange County Register that Navigant Consulting represented both energy companies and the state during the negotiation process.

Turns out the company was paid almost $10 million by the state for consulting services that funneled about $35 billion in energy contracts to its clients, including Dynegy, Calpine Corp., Mirant Corp., Sempra Energy and Williams Energy.

Davis’ blundering of the energy crisis will make him look worse and worse as the election campaign wears on, so some connected insiders are now speculating that he will sometime soon begin hanging S. David Freeman out to dry as the fall guy for all of this.

Freeman was Davis’ handpicked savior on the issue, leading the now tarnished energy negotiations and then the California Power Commission. He was the golden boy who made his name saving the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, later going on to turn around the municipal power agency in Los Angeles, where he worked for then-Mayor Richard Riordan, who hopes to be the Republican nominee for governor.

So now you see what a mess this could be. Davis invested considerable political capital in Freeman’s stellar reputation. But as Freeman’s leadership on the issue begins to look more and more misguided, some say it’s only a matter of time before Davis turns on him.

That might be difficult and risky, considering Freeman probably has some anti-Davis ammo locked away and could be incredibly damaging as a defector. He has so far played the good foot soldier, even taking a few public shots at his old boss Riordan for claiming credit for LA’s success on the power issue, and certainly Davis doesn’t want Freeman as an enemy.

But if the energy contracts issue gets hotter, Davis could get panicky. And heating up the issue is. The Register’s Navigant story is bound to have follow-ups, a lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Foundation seeks to invalidate the contracts, there are ongoing investigations of the contracts within the Capitol, and Republicans are clamoring to take Davis out with the issue.

Stay tuned.