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Context of 'February 6, 2004: White House Press Official Testifies before Grand Jury'

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White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says he cannot confirm the extent of the alleged vandalism carried out by Clinton staffers in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 23, 2001). President Bush intends to change the tone in Washington to a positive one, Fleischer says, and as a result, the White House will not comment on the charges of rampant vandalism and theft. “Whether things were done that were perhaps less gracious than should have been, it is not going to be what President Bush focuses on, nor will it be what his staff focuses on,” he says. “Whatever may have been done, we are going to just put our heads down and look ahead.” [NewsMax, 1/26/2001; Guardian, 1/26/2001]
Hints and Innuendos - However, the White House is “cataloguing” the damage allegedly done by Clinton staffers, Fleischer says. When asked what is being catalogued, Fleischer responds: “I choose not to. I choose not to describe what acts were done that we found upon arrival because I think that’s part of changing the tone in Washington.” Sensing more to the story, reporters hone in, asking why make a catalogue “if you’re going to give them a pass,” what the dollar estimate of damage might be, and other questions. When a reporter says, “You’ve got to blame somebody,” Fleischer cuts him off: “President Bush is not going to come to Washington for the point of blaming somebody in this town. And it’s a different way of governing, it’s a different way of leading.” When asked what he knows of the supposed apology offered to Vice President Cheney’s wife by former Vice President Gore’s wife (see January 24, 2001), Fleischer says, “I know that a phone call was made to the vice president’s office, but I really—I don’t recall who made it.” When asked where the majority of the alleged damage was, Fleischer says, “You know, I really stopped paying attention to all the different places.” Finally, when asked whether some of the damage could actually be the result of renovations and normal repairs, Fleischer says, “I don’t think that the people who were professionals, who make their business to go in and prepare a White House for new arrivals, would cut wires.” Fleischer ends the briefing, having given reporters enough hints and implications of severe, widespread vandalism to whet their appetites. [Salon, 5/23/2001]
Story Fed by Fleischer, White House Officials - The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 14, 2001 and May 18, 2001). Salon will later report that while Fleischer and other White House officials publicly remain above the fray, in private they are feeding the controversy by giving detailed off-the-record interviews to selected reporters, pundits, and talk show hosts. One White House reporter will later admit that the story was pushed by at least two “unnamed Bush aides.” Salon correspondents Kerry Lauerman and Alicia Montgomery add: “Fleischer and the off-the-record Bush staffers, meanwhile, got a lot of help from a press corps eager for early scoops from a new administration. For some reporters and pundits, the White House vandalism story was just too good to pass up.” [Salon, 5/23/2001] A Washington Post report later states: “A high-level Republican who saw some of the damage said the White House was leery about putting information out about this because chief of staff Andrew Card Jr. did not want to appear to be ratting on the Clinton administration. ‘People wanted to talk about this, and Andy said no,’ an official said.” [Washington Post, 1/26/2001]
Stories Debunked - It will not be long before the stories are proven almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration, Alicia Montgomery, Kerry Lauerman, George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The Bush White House alleges that officials and aides from the outgoing Clinton administration vandalized the White House in the last days before Bush officials took over. Conservative news site NewsMax reports that the “slovenly misfits” of the Clinton administration “left the [White House] in a shambles” in the transition between the outgoing Clinton administration and the incoming Bush administration. Clinton aides engaged in “deliberate vandalism,” the report says, and cites a General Services Administration (GSA) official estimating that it may cost up to $250,000 to repair the damage. NewsMax quotes a report by another conservative publication, the American Spectator, which itself quotes “an inspector… called in to assess the vandalism as saying that several executive desks were damaged to the point that they must be replaced, and several more offices must be repainted because of graffiti.” [Guardian, 1/26/2001; NewsMax, 1/26/2001] Conservative Internet gossip writer Matt Drudge reports that “White House offices [were] left ‘trashed’” and so-called “[p]orn bombs [and] lewd messages” were left behind. No explanation of what Drudge meant by the “porn bomb” allegation is ever given. [Chicago Sun-Times, 1/27/2001] The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
Gore's Staffers Charged with Worst of Vandalism - British newspaper The Guardian repeats earlier claims that the worst of the damage was found in offices once occupied by staffers for former Vice President Al Gore, and that Gore’s wife, Tipper, has phoned Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, to apologize for the damage. The story is false (see January 24, 2001). [Guardian, 1/26/2001]
Reports: Cut Phone Lines, Extensive Damage, Pornographic Photos - Both the Washington Post and The Guardian report allegations that computer and telephone lines were “sliced,” voice-mail messages were changed to “obscene remarks and lewd greetings,” desks were overturned, and trash strewn throughout the premises. The reports add that filing cabinets were glued shut with Superglue, pornographic photographs displayed in printers, and “filthy graffiti scrawled on at least one hallway wall.” The Spectator’s inspector adds that “[e]ntire computer keyboards will have to be replaced because the damage to them is more extensive than simply missing keys,” referring to allegations that some White House keyboards had the “W” keys pried off. The Spectator also reports tales of former Clinton staffers reportedly “laughing and giggling about the mess their former colleagues left behind.” A Bush White House official calls the White House “a pigsty” in the aftermath of the transition. “The Gore and Clinton people didn’t ‘clean out’ the place because there was nothing clean about what they did before they left.” The GSA will pursue the former Clinton officials for reimbursement and expenses. The Spectator reports that “investigators” conclude the damage was “the result of a carefully organized campaign of vandalism unlike anything ever seen in the aftermath of a presidential transition.” [NewsMax, 1/26/2001; Guardian, 1/26/2001; Washington Post, 1/26/2001] The New York Daily News reports, “The destruction was so vast that a telecommunications staffer with more than a quarter-century of service was seen sobbing near his office one night last week.” [New York Daily News, 1/27/2001] CNN’s Paula Zahn observes: “All right, but this is the White House, for God’s sakes. We’re not talking about people living in a fraternity.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/21/2001] Fox News is particularly vehement in its coverage. “They trash[ed] the place,” says Fox commentator Sean Hannity. ”$200,000 in furniture [was] taken out.” Fellow Fox commentator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989) adds: “We should expect from white trash what they did at the White House.… I recommend that what the Bush White House do is peel the wallpaper off that they defaced with their graffiti and ship it off to the Clinton Library so people can see it.” Fox host Bill O’Reilly says, “I mean, the price tag right now is about $200,000, so that’s a felony right there.” And O’Reilly guest Tom Schatz says, referring to the famous film about fraternity life, “They turned it into Animal House.” [Knight Ridder, 2/8/2001; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/21/2001]
Air Force One 'Stripped Bare,' Reports Claim - The Guardian also reports that during former President Clinton’s last trip in Air Force One, the presidential jet was subjected to what it calls “an orgy of pilfering” (see January 25-27, 2001). It was “stripped bare” by aides, who reportedly took china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, and other items, most bearing the presidential seal. [Guardian, 1/26/2001] On Fox, Hannity charges, “They strip[ped] Air Force One of the china and everything else that wasn’t bolted down.” [Knight Ridder, 2/8/2001]
Clinton Officials Admit to 'Pranks,' Bush Officials Allege Attempts at Theft - Clinton and Gore officials deny the reports of vandalism, but admit to carrying out pranks such as removing the “W” keys and affixing satirical signs to office doors that read, “Office of Strategery,” “Office of Subliminable Messages,” and “Division of Uniting.” A former Clinton official says, “It’s childish, but it’s also funny.” However, a senior Bush official accuses Clinton staffers of attempting to steal White House paintings and official seals from doors, and attempting to have those items shipped to themselves; Bush officials have ordered that all packages leaving the White House be X-rayed. [Washington Post, 1/26/2001]
Bush Aide Documenting Damages - A Bush White House aide has been delegated to document the vandalism, videos are being taken of the damages, and White House officials are being interviewed. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has confirmed that the administration is reviewing reports of the alleged vandalism. [NewsMax, 1/26/2001] Bush himself downplays the reports, saying: “There might have been a prank or two, maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that’s okay. It’s time now to move forward.” [New York Daily News, 1/27/2001]

Entity Tags: Mary Elizabeth (“Tipper”) Gore, Sean Hannity, Matt Drudge, New York Daily News, Paula Zahn, Oliver North, Lynne Cheney, NewsMax, The Guardian, Fox News, General Services Administration, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., American Spectator, George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Bill O’Reilly, Tom Schatz, Clinton administration, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The White House fails to produce the documentation it says it has compiled on the so-called Clinton “vandal scandal,” the allegations that Clinton staffers looted and vandalized the White House, Air Force One, and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 26, 2001). As a result, the General Accounting Office (GAO) is unable to pursue an investigation of the allegations as requested by Bush officials. In January, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters that the White House was compiling a “catalogue” of damages and missing items; in recent days, Fleischer has said that no actual list was being documented, but instead White House staffers (or a single staffer, Fleischer is unclear) were keeping track of the damages “in their heads.” In a letter responding to the GAO’s March request for details about “damage that may have been deliberately caused” by the Clinton administration, Phillip Larsen, a special assistant to the president, tells GAO official Bernard Ungar: “After investigation, we have located no such record. And our repair records do not contain information that would allow someone to determine the cause of the damage that is being repaired.” [Knight Ridder, 6/4/2001]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Bernard Ungar, Phillip Larsen, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The General Services Administration (GSA) reports that there was no truth to assertions that Clinton White House officials had vandalized the White House before departing in January 2001. Bush White House officials made those assertions in January (see January 25, 2001), claims which were picked up on and embellished by conservative talk radio hosts and other media reporters (see January 25-27, 2001 and January 26, 2001). The GSA investigated the claims at the request of House Representative Bob Barr (R-GA).
Normal Wear and Tear, Pranks Found - The GSA report finds that nothing unusual had occurred during the transition from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration. “The condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy,” the GSA report finds. Although some pranks were found to have taken place—“W” keys removed from computer keyboards and signs reading “Office of Strategery” placed on office doors, for example—none of the other alleged actions took place.
No Evidence for Allegations of Vandalism - No computers, copiers, or telephones were destroyed; no lewd graffiti or pornographic images were pasted to walls or displayed on computer monitors. Nothing was stolen either from the White House or from Air Force One, as many reports had insisted (see February 8, 2001 and February 14, 2001).
Attempt to Smear Clinton Administration? - Harvard University’s Alex Jones says: “I think it was this calculated effort to plant a damaging story. There was a sort of fertile ground for believing anything bad.” The General Accounting Office’s Bernard Unger, director for physical infrastructure, says of the GSA investigation, “They told me that there were papers that were not organized lying on the floor and on desks; there were some scratches here and there, but the bottom line was they didn’t see anything really in their view that was significant and that would appear to some as real extensive damage.” Clinton aide Mark Lindsay, who oversaw the transition between the Clinton and Bush administration, says he is pleased that the GSA has set the record straight. “Because of President Clinton, this was one of the smoothest transitions in the history of the presidency,” he says. “This was nothing more than just lies.” Conservative pundit Tony Snow, one of the harshest critics of the Clinton administration over the so-called “vandal scandal” (see January 26, 2001), says, “I’m perfectly willing to admit my error on the aircraft,” but insists that the information he disseminated about vandalism and wholesale theft at the White House was true. “What often happens in Washington is gossip becomes news,” he notes. “That’s not a good thing.” [Kansas City Star, 5/18/2001; New York Times, 5/19/2001] Former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta says: “Certainly people inside the [Bush] administration fed this story. At least they got what they wanted out of it.” [Salon, 5/23/2001]

Entity Tags: General Services Administration, Alex Jones, Bernard Ungar, Clinton administration, Tony Snow, Mark Lindsay, John Podesta, Bush administration (43), Robert “Bob” Barr

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Anthony Weiner.Anthony Weiner. [Source: Anthony Weiner]A Democratic House member and four former Clinton administration staff members demand an apology from President Bush over the disproven Clinton “vandal scandal” stories from January 2001 (see January 25, 2001 and January 26, 2001). Two weeks ago, the General Services Administration (GSA) released a report debunking the stories (see May 18, 2001). In response, the White House leaks a hastily compiled “list” of damages that Bush staffers allege was done during the transition period (see June 2-3, 2001).
Demand for Apology - Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is joined by former White House officials Rob Housman, Jeff Gulko, Bridger McGaw, and Matthew Donoghue in demanding that Bush apologize for besmirching Clinton officials’ reputations with the false allegations. Weiner calls White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was at the center of much of the rumors, “shameless,” and adds, “A GAO [General Accounting Office] study has confirmed there was no destruction of keyboards, no graffiti, there was no vandalism.” (The GAO found that because the White House had no records of the damages, it could not begin an investigation of the charges.)
Semi-Denial - Fleischer’s deputy, Scott McClellan, notes that “there is no actual GAO ‘report,’ which the congressman refers to in his letter. There’s just a letter from GAO.” McClellan’s odd denial is, according to some Bush officials, an attempt to imply that there was actual damage done by Clinton staffers, but the Bush White House chose not to participate in the GAO’s proposed investigation because it wanted to “move forward” and keep a “positive tone.” One White House aide says: “We never kept a list of all the incidents, and therefore did not have anything to turn over. That doesn’t mean the incidents didn’t happen. We just were pleased to let the matter fade so that people could return to the focus on policy.”
Response to Semi-Denial - Weiner says that the Bush White House claims are disingenuous. “I believe that the responsibility for this largely lies with the White House,” he says. “They fed this story, they nurtured this story, they spread this story.” The “vandal scandal” story was, Weiner says, part of a “strategy by the nascent Bush administration to toss up as much dust and smoke about the Clinton administration to give themselves a soft landing. It makes good copy to say ‘Well, there’s a new sheriff in town, and we don’t vandalize offices.’ Well, neither did the preceding administration.” Clinton staffers were made into “cannon fodder” for Bush administration propaganda, Weiner says. Donoghue calls the tales “a uniquely Capitol punishment, and that is the besmirching of our reputations. Standing here, all I can think of is what Ray Donovan said years ago, which is ‘Where do I go to get my reputation back?’ And that’s why we’re here today.” (Donovan is a former Reagan administration Cabinet official acquitted of bribery charges in 1987.) Donoghue says that he, McGaw, and Gulko have had problems finding jobs after their White House stints in part because of the vandalism allegations. [Salon, 6/2/2001]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Ari Fleischer, Anthony D. Weiner, Bush administration (43), Scott McClellan, Jeff Gulko, Matthew Donoghue, General Services Administration, General Accounting Office, Bridger McGaw, George W. Bush, Rob Housman

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Bush officials release this photo as evidence of the ‘systematic vandalism’ performed by outgoing Clinton staffers in January 2001.Bush officials release this photo as evidence of the ‘systematic vandalism’ performed by outgoing Clinton staffers in January 2001. [Source: White House / Salon]The White House releases a list of damages it says were done by Clinton staffers as part of the Clinton “vandal scandal,” allegations that the White House and Air Force One were vandalized and looted in the final days of the Clinton administration (see January 26, 2001). White House press secretary Ari Fleischer gives the list to Washington Post reporter Mike Allen, but no one else.
Catalogue Based on Bush Staffers' Recollections - For months, White House officials have claimed they were keeping a “catalogue” detailing the damages done, but until now have failed to produce that catalogue; such a listing was not provided to the General Services Administration (GSA) when it reported that the stories of vandalism and looting were almost entirely false (see May 18, 2001). The General Accounting Office (GAO) reported in April that, partly because of the White House’s refusal to release its list of damages, it could confirm none of the often-sensational claims. According to Allen, the damages include “obscene graffiti in six offices, a 20-inch-wide presidential seal ripped off a wall, 10 sliced telephone lines, and 100 inoperable computer keyboards.” Also, pornographic or obscene phone messages were recorded on 15 telephone lines in various offices, requiring the answering machines to be reprogrammed; some printers had pornographic images inserted in stacks of blank copy paper. Doorknobs and nameplates are also listed as “missing.” Most of the alleged vandalism occurred, not in the White House, but in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House. Fleischer says the catalogue was not prepared until Friday, and is based on what Allen calls “the recollections of officials and career government employees, in response to Democrats’ ‘suggestion that the Bush White House made things up’” (see June 1, 2001).
Blaming Clinton Officials, Democrats, Press - Fleischer tells Allen: “The White House will defend itself and the career employees. We tried to be gracious, but the last administration would not take graciousness. By getting the information out, we hope to put an end to this, so everyone can go on with the policy and business of the government.” Former Clinton officials note that Fleischer’s catalogue bears little resemblance to the lurid claims of widespread destruction and looting made in January. Former presidential press secretary Joe Lockhart says the vandalism allegations were part of a failed Bush strategy to “make the new administration look good by comparison to the last one.” He adds: “If anyone did anything that harmed government property, that’s wrong. But to have suggested there was an organized effort that ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage is grossly wrong and misleading.” House Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) says that Fleischer and other Bush officials “deliberately misled the American people and smeared the names of public servants who were guilty of nothing.” Fleischer blames the press for keeping the story alive, saying: “Sometimes, stories just are like water running downhill and you can try to slow down the press, but you can’t stop them. All the White House comments were aimed at moving forward. It was all in the context of drawing reporters back from the story, because that’s what the president wanted.” [Washington Post, 6/3/2001]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Anthony D. Weiner, Ari Fleischer, Clinton administration, General Services Administration, Joe Lockhart, Bush administration (43), Mike Allen

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The General Accounting Office (GAO) intends to reopen its investigation into the so-called Clinton “vandal scandal,” which alleged that Clinton aides had vandalized and looted both the White House and Air Force One in the final days of the Clinton administration (see January 26, 2001). The General Services Administration has recently found that reports of vandalism and theft are almost wholly false (see May 18, 2001). The GAO wants the list of damages that White House press secretary Ari Fleischer recently gave the Washington Post (see June 2-3, 2001), a list that for months White House officials insisted never existed. “We are going to proceed and do the review,” says Bernard Ungar, the GAO’s director of physical infrastructure. “Now they say there is a list.” In April, the GAO asked for the list, which Fleischer had said in January was being compiled (see January 25, 2001); at that time, White House officials admitted that such a list did not exist except in some officials’ “heads” (see April 18, 2001). White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan says that President Bush and others have been downplaying the “vandal scandal” issue because Bush wanted to “move forward”; however, she says, “when it became clear on Friday that others wanted to pursue this issue, the White House staff reconstructed orally what happened.” Buchan is referring to demands from Anthony Weiner (D-NY) that Bush apologize for smearing Clinton staffers’ reputations with the false allegations (see June 1, 2001). “Nothing has fundamentally changed about this story from the very beginning,” says former Clinton press secretary Jake Siewert. “The White House has been smearing a whole class of people without providing any evidence. Most of us are perfectly willing to accept the fact if it turns out to be that something happened. It’s just been these vague allegations without any proof. If there’s damage, there will be a record. If I wanted to get a phone fixed, there’s a paper trail.” Buchan blames White House service staff, who work at the site regardless of what administration is in office, for the original rumors. [Knight Ridder, 6/4/2001] A year later, the GAO will release a report finding “minor damages” occurred during the Clinton-Bush transition (see June 12, 2002).

Entity Tags: Claire Buchan, Anthony D. Weiner, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), General Accounting Office, George W. Bush, Clinton administration, Bernard Ungar, General Services Administration, Jake Siewert

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The General Accounting Office (GAO) concludes its own investigation of the so-called Clinton “vandal scandal” (see January 26, 2001), and finds that some minor destruction of property did take place within the White House during the final days of the Clinton administration. [New York Times, 6/12/2002]
Keyboards Damaged, Glue on Desks, Graffiti in Restroom, Stolen Plaque - The GAO finds that about $13,000 to $14,000 of damage actually took place; initial reports from Bush administration sources placed the damages at closer to $250,000. Much of that money was spent on replacing computer keyboards, some of which had the “W” key either pried off or defaced. Other damage included glue smeared on desk drawers, derogatory graffiti written on a stall in a White House men’s bathroom, disparaging messages left on telephone answering machines, and signs with satirical or disparaging messages affixed to White House office doors. A file cabinet had a sticker reading “Jail to the Thief” stuck inside one drawer, obviously referring to allegations that President Bush had stolen the 2000 presidential election. And a foot-wide presidential seal went missing from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The GAO report notes that similar pranks and property damage were reported during earlier transitions, including the 1993 transition between the first Bush administration and the incoming Clinton administration. “We were unable to conclude whether the 2001 transition was worse than previous ones,” the report says. “Any intentional damage at the White House complex, which is a national treasure, is both inappropriate and a serious matter. The theft of or willful damage to government property would constitute a criminal act.” Representative Bob Barr (R-GA), a Clinton critic who requested the GAO investigation as well as an earlier investigation conducted by the General Services Administration (see May 18, 2001), says of the GAO report, “The Clinton administration treated the White House worse than college freshmen checking out of their dorm rooms.” [New York Times, 6/12/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/12/2002]
Most Allegations Never Confirmed - Salon correspondent Kerry Lauerman notes that the GAO report is “a far cry from what was promised by Republicans like… Barr.” He asks: “Whatever happened to the looting and trashing Barr said would be documented? The expensive paintings that were supposedly stolen from the White House? The ‘cut wires’ that White House press secretary Ari Fleischer had publicly referred to (see January 25, 2001)? The never-explained ‘porn bombs’ that anonymous GOP sources had complained about? The presidential seals that were stolen, or the historical doorknobs that had been yanked off for souvenirs?” Some of the allegations of missing items, such as the missing seal and antique doorknobs, cannot be demonstrated as the result of theft, but are merely listed as “missing.” And many of the items, such as the antique doorknobs, were not on original inventory lists, but, as Lauerman writes, “suddenly showed up on a White House list compiled in June 2001—based on the months-old ‘recollections’ of staffers—which does not exactly scream reliability” (see June 2-3, 2001). [Salon, 6/13/2002]
Bush White House Demands Further Investigations - Bush officials are reported to be “deeply disappointed” with the report, with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales demanding more details, including the full text of the graffiti and other messages that Gonzales describes as “especially offensive or vulgar.” Gonzales is disappointed that the report did not include, for example, “portions of a sign of a mock Time magazine cover” that was among the prank signs left in the White House, and that apparently contained a profanity. “It is vital to include the substance of specific graffiti, messages and signs observed” in order to fully document the acts of vandalism, Gonzales argues. “The content of a message can—and often does—indicate who wrote the message, and when” and “often provides an insight into the mindset or intention of the person who wrote it.” The GAO responds that such details are “unnecessary and inappropriate.” A Bush administration official accuses the GAO of “undertak[ing] a concerted effort to downplay the damage found in the White House complex.” Lauerman writes: “[I]t’s safe to say that a close reading of the GAO report doesn’t validate the charges of wanton, widespread destruction by the Clinton team. What it does show is the lengths to which the Bush administration went to try to make the scandal charges stick.” [New York Times, 6/12/2002; Salon, 6/13/2002]
Degrees of Cooperation - Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri says: “The real scandal here is how much time and money the Republicans have wasted in a vendetta against the Clinton administration. It’s troubling that the White House cooperated so enthusiastically with this investigation, but refused to provide the GAO with records of the energy task force headed by Vice President Cheney” (see May 16, 2001). Bush spokeswoman Anne Womack responds: “The GAO confirmed that damage was done at the White House. We have considered this matter closed for more than a year. Our focus is on moving forward.” [New York Times, 6/12/2002]
Tremendous Cost of Investigation - Lauerman concludes: “The White House made 78 staffers available for interviews with the GAO, and clearly spent an enormous amount of energy just to try to stick another scandal to the Clintons. (Gonzales’ time alone, billed by the hour, might cost more than the $9,000-plus the GAO blamed on the Clintons.) After 11 months, and an investigation that Democrats told the Washington Post cost $200,000, one somehow expected more. Now that all the facts are in, it seems pretty clear which administration should get the blame for the White House vandal scandal.” [Salon, 6/13/2002]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Anne Womack, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Robert “Bob” Barr, Clinton administration, General Services Administration, Kerry Lauerman, George W. Bush, Jennifer Palmieri, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). [Cooper, 7/11/2003 pdf file; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” [Time, 7/17/2005] Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. [CounterPunch, 12/9/2005]
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” [Cooper, 7/11/2003 pdf file; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; National Journal, 10/7/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Bush administration (43), Michael Duffy, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

After being asked about the Plame Wilson leak in a press conference (see September 16, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan asks White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove about his involvement in the leak. McClellan has called questions about Rove’s involvement “ridiculous,” and wants to have Rove confirm McClellan’s public denial. McClellan will later write: “I wanted to make sure I hadn’t climbed out on a limb. Rove had known [conservative columnist Robert] Novak (see July 8, 2003 and July 14, 2003) for years and spoke with him from time to time, and of course he was known for playing hardball politics. But surely even he knew that leaking classified national security information would cross a line.” As McClellan recalls, he asks Rove: “A reporter asked me today if you were one of Novak’s sources and ‘burned the cover’ of [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s wife. I said it was totally ridiculous. You weren’t one of Novak’s sources, right?” Rove responds, “Right.” McClellan says, “Just wanted to make sure.” Rove affirms, “You’re right.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 179-180]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Karl C. Rove, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Eleven days after White House political strategist Karl Rove told press secretary Scott McClellan that he had not been one of the sources responsible for outing CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 16, 2003), the Washington Post prepares to print a story that alleges “a senior administration official” is claiming two senior White House officials spoke with at least six reporters about Plame Wilson (see September 28, 2003). The Post reporters do not yet know who those two officials are. In 2008, McClellan will write: “The implication of the Post story was clear: the White House had disclosed Plame’s identity to discredit or even punish Joseph Wilson. The story would put the leak of her identity right at the White House’s doorstep… implying the possibility of concerted effort by the White House to reveal Plame’s role and her involvement in her husband’s trip to Niger.” McClellan learns from his deputy, Claire Buchan, that Rove had indeed spoken to columnist Robert Novak. According to Buchan, Rove admits that Novak called him about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, but says he could not confirm it because he did not know; McClellan checks with Novak, who says the same thing to him as he told Buchan. McClellan will describe himself as “bewilder[ed]” by Rove’s contradictory statements to him and Buchan. He will write, “I felt that Rove should have disclosed this conversation to me previously, so I decided to call him.” He asks Rove, “Were you involved in this in any way?” and later writes: “I was clearly referring to the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity—information that was believed to be classified—to any reporter.” Rove replies: “No. Look, I didn’t even know about his wife.” McClellan will later note that Rove does not mention his phone discussion of Plame’s CIA identity with Time reporter Matt Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). He will write: “Rove’s categorical ‘no’ gave me the assurance I needed to defend a fellow member of the Bush team and fellow Texan I had known for more than a decade, who was invariably a prime target of our most partisan critics.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 180-181]

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Washington Post publishes an article stating that in July, two White House officials had leaked the name and CIA employment status of Valerie Plame Wilson to at least six reporters, and told the reporters that Plame Wilson had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). The article is based on a leak of information by a “senior administration official.” Such an explosive leak is relatively rare from the Bush administration. Reporters Mike Allen and Dana Priest report, “It is rare for one Bush administration official to turn on another.” Asked about the motive for describing the leaks, the senior official says the leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity were “[c]learly… meant purely and simply for revenge.” The leaks were “wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish [Joseph] Wilson’s credibility.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Truthout (.org), 4/14/2006] The “senior administration official” will later be revealed to be State Department official Marc Grossman (see May 29, 2003, June 10, 2003, 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and October 17, 2003). [Truthout (.org), 4/14/2006]
'1x2x6' Theory - Author and blogger Marcy Wheeler, covering the Plame Wilson leak and the subsequent perjury trial of Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005) for the blogs The Next Hurrah and later Firedoglake, later writes that the Allen/Priest report states the “1x2x6 theory” of the leak, in which one anonymous source tells Allen and Priest that two senior White House officials called at least six Washington reporters to discuss Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Wheeler will note that one of those Washington reporters, Robert Novak, has denied being the White House’s “willing pawn” who leaked Plame Wilson’s identity when the other reporters refused (see July 14, 2003, September 29, 2003, and October 1, 2003). Wheeler will write, “Novak’s October 1 column was designed to refute the incredibly damaging quotes from the 1x2x6 source that clearly indicated the leak was planned.” She will speculate that the single anonymous source for Allen and Priest may be Secretary of State Colin Powell, but she will state that she is by no means sure, and has no proof of her speculation. [Marcy Wheeler, 8/29/2006]
Poor Reasoning - Wilson will later write that he is pleased to learn that “there was at least one Bush official who believed the conduct of his colleagues was ‘wrong.’ I was disappointed to read that he or she evidently judged it so not because it was a betrayal of national security but because it was beside the point and had done nothing to damage my credibility. Would the leak have been okay if it had really impeached my character and sent me skittering into some dungeon reserved for critics of the Bush administration?”
'Smear Campaign' Readied Well before Wilson Published Op-Ed - Wilson muses over the implications of the article. He concludes that if two White House officials had conducted such a large media campaign, “there must have been a meeting to decide on the action to take” (see June 2003). And because of the timing, the officials involved must have had the information on Plame Wilson “well before the appearance of my article on Sunday, July 6” (see July 6, 2003). How did the two officials learn of his wife’s status? he wonders. Was there a breach of security? Was the revelation of his wife’s identity inadvertent or deliberate? “Whatever the answers to these questions,” he will write, “I knew for certain that the initial disclosure of her status, whether deliberate or inadvertent, was the first damaging act, before the calls to all the journalists were placed.… [A] plan to attack me had been formed well before [the publication of his editorial]. It was cocked and ready to fire as soon as I crossed the trip wire and wrote about what I hadn’t found in Niger. My [editorial] triggered the attack, but I was not the only target of it. Now my wife was in their sights, as well. What then happened was not a case of the loose lips of an overly ardent junior defender of the administration flapping to one reporter, but an organized smear campaign directed from the highest reaches of the White House. A group of supposed public servants, collecting salaries paid by American taxpayers and charged with defending the national security of the country, had taken it upon itself to attack me by exposing the identity of a member of the CIA’s clandestine service, who happened to be my wife. Revenge and intimidation had been deemed more important than America’s national security for these co-conspirators.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 385-387]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Washington Post, Marcy Wheeler, Joseph C. Wilson, Dana Priest, Colin Powell, Mike Allen, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Marc Grossman

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Scott McClellan and Karl Rove.Scott McClellan and Karl Rove. [Source: Doug Mills / New York Times]Newly promoted White House press secretary Scott McClellan takes part in his first truly contentious White House press briefing. He will later recall feeling “well prepared,” both from the morning’s less formal “press gaggle” and from a prebriefing preparation session with his staff. He has confirmed from President Bush and White House chief of staff Andrew Card that the White House had no involvement in the Plame Wilson leak (see September 29, 2003). McClellan is authorized to say that anyone involved in the leak “would no longer be in this administration”; Bush has said, “I would fire anybody involved.” McClellan will later write, “I had his full, unequivocal approval.” Bush has also reminded McClellan to ask reporters to come forward if they know who the leakers are. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 187-189]
Leakers 'Would No Longer Be Part of This Administration' - During the briefing, McClellan says that it is “simply not true” that White House political adviser Karl Rove is involved in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity (see September 26, 2003 and September 27, 2003). He says, after frequent questioning about Bush being “passive” about the possibility of criminal activities in the White House, “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.” [White House, 9/29/2003; New York Times, 2006]
Denying Rove's Involvement - McClellan denies again and again that Rove or any other White House official leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. “[T]hat is not the way this White House operates,” he says. “The president expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing. Secondly, there—I’ve seen the anonymous media reports, and if I could find out who ‘anonymous’ was, it would make my life a whole lot easier.… [A]nyone—anyone—who has information relating to this should report that information to the Department of Justice.” The only information suggesting White House involvement has come from the media, McClellan says. A reporter asks McClellan about his statement earlier in the day that “the president knows” Rove did not leak Plame Wilson’s name. McClellan says: “I’ve said that it’s not true. And I have spoken with Karl Rove.… [Bush is] aware of what I’ve said, that there is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have spoken with Karl about it.” When pressed about discussing the matter with Rove, McClellan adds, somewhat contradictorily: “I’ve known Karl for a long time, and I didn’t even need to go ask Karl, because I know the kind of person that he is, and he is someone that is committed to the highest standards of conduct.… I have spoken with Karl about this matter and I’ve already addressed it.” McClellan refuses to answer repeated questions about any possible White House investigations or attempts to find the leakers, repeating his answer that any such investigation is a task best left to the Justice Department and repeatedly asking reporters if they have any information about the leaks. He dodges repeated questions about the possibility of Attorney General John Ashcroft appointing a special counsel to investigate the leaks (see December 30, 2003). [White House, 9/29/2003]
'Aggressive' Push Back against Reporters' 'Assumptions' and 'Challenges' - McClellan will later describe his performance at the briefing as “push[ing] back aggressively on assumptions embedded in the questions, and challeng[ing] reporters to produce information suggesting that White House aides were responsible for the leak.” He will write: “Those last words [the statement that anyone caught leaking information ‘would no longer be part of this administration’] would get plenty of media play over the next few years, particularly as important information came to light. With the president’s approval and his oft-stated commitment to honor and integrity embedded in my mind, I could not have been more confident in what I said.” The post-briefing critique with his staff, he will recall, is “very positive.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 187-189]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Scott McClellan, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice, Valerie Plame Wilson, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The media begins probing as to whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was involved in the Plame Wilson leak. CBS correspondent John Roberts asks White House press secretary Scott McClellan: “You said the other day, emphatically, that you have received assurances from Karl Rove that he had nothing to do with this (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, and September 29, 2003). Have you since received similar assurances from the vice president’s chief of staff?” McClellan attempts to finesse the question, replying, “I’m not going to go down a list of every single member of the staff of the White House.” Roberts retorts, “That’s just one name.” After the gaggle, McClellan runs into Libby, and warns him that his name is beginning to surface in connection with the leak. McClellan reiterates his answer to Roberts, and says: “Now that there’s an investigation under way, I can’t put myself in that position. I want you to know I’m not trying to leave you hanging out there to dry.” Libby says little in response. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216-217]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, John D. Roberts, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Claire Buchan, a White House deputy press secretary, testifies before the federal grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Buchan is not suspected of leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. “I was pleased to cooperate,” she will say. [Fox News, 2/11/2004; National Journal, 10/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Claire Buchan, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House press secretary Scott McClellan knows that Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff is planning another article detailing what White House official Karl Rove told reporter Matt Cooper (see July 10, 2005). McClellan believes the Isikoff article will reveal that Cooper asked about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, but McClellan has been personally assured by Rove that he told Cooper nothing (see September 16, 2003 and September 27, 2003). President Bush has also assured McClellan that Rove is not the source of the leak (see September 29, 2003). McClellan will later write, “Maybe I did not want to believe that Karl had not been completely forthcoming, or that what he had told me—and the president—was not true.” White House counsel Harriet Miers tells McClellan, “There’s some news that’s likely to come out tomorrow about Karl in the leak investigation that may appear to contradict what you said nearly two years ago” (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003 and July 13, 2005). She warns him not to comment on the investigation. As he will later write, “In effect, she was forbidding me from talking and setting the record straight about my previous comments.” Miers then apologizes and leaves McClellan to mull over the impact of the Rove revelation. He will later disclose the “painful, chilling effect” the revelation has on his “relationships with reporters,” and will reflect: “[I]f some of the highest-ranking officials of the Bush White House hadn’t been forthright with the president’s chief spokesman, how could anyone assume they were honest with the public? The White House had a serious credibility problem, and I was now going to take the heat for it.” He will compare the impact of the Isikoff article to “getting whacked upside the head with a two-by-four. I never saw it coming, given Karl’s personal assurances to me and the president, at least not until the final few days before it became public. And even then I convinced myself not to believe the growing buzz in Washington because of the personal assurances I had received.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 257-260]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Matthew Cooper, Harriet E. Miers, Scott McClellan, Michael Isikoff, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Terry Moran, ABC News’s chief White House correspondent, tells ABC host George Stephanopoulos that he believes White House press secretary Scott McClellan unwittingly lied to reporters when he asserted that White House staffers Karl Rove (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, September 29, 2003, and September 29, 2003) and Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see October 4, 2003 and October 4, 2003) knew nothing of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. “He was telling falsehoods right at us over and over unwittingly,” Moran says. Asked if McClellan knew he was lying, Moran replies: “No. And he signaled he wants to tell us the story,” referring to McClellan’s comments that he would like to be able to discuss his public support of Rove and Libby. Stephanopoulos asks, “[Y]ou say he didn’t know it, so that means Karl Rove lied to him?” “Yes,” Moran answers, “yes.” Moran notes that the White House will most likely do nothing except continue to “stonewall” and deny involvement: “My sense it right now they’ll kick this down the road. They’ll say it’s a continuing case and we’re going to kick it down the road.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 265-266]

Entity Tags: Terry Moran, ABC News, Bush administration (43), George Stephanopoulos, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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