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Context of 'April 13, 2004: Bush Refuses to Admit Possible Mistakes in Handling Post-9/11 Events'

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On May 16, 2002, CBS News broke the story that President Bush was given a Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) one month before 9/11 entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see May 15, 2002). Some Democratic politicians immediately criticized Bush for not acting on this before 9/11. The next day, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett tells the Washington Post that such comments by Democrats “are exactly what our opponents, our enemies, want us to do.” The news website Salon comments, “This is the most direct statement by an administration official to date suggesting that dissent aids the enemy.” Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) similarly comments, “For us to be talking like our enemy is George W. Bush and not Osama bin Laden, that’s not right.” [Salon, 5/21/2002]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Trent Lott

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to a later account by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, around this time White House chief of staff Andrew Card takes over the administration’s response to the Iraq-Niger uranium controversy. According to McClellan, Card “direct[s] everyone on the White House staff to provide all relevant recollections and documents tracing the genesis and handling of the uranium claim, and Dan [Bartlett, White House communications director] to organize the information and develop a clear, forthright presentation that showed how such an egregious error occurred.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 176]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Scott McClellan, Dan Bartlett

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House chief of staff Andrew Card (see (July 11, 2003)) holds a late-night meeting of what press secretary Scott McClellan will call “select senior advisers”—Card, McClellan, communications director Dan Bartlett, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Gonzales’s subordinate Harriet Miers. One topic of discussion is the recent report that the White House had scrubbed a claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium buy from a speech by President Bush in October 2002 (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002), months before Bush’s State of the Union address where he did make such a claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). The media reports that Hadley was warned to delete the claim by CIA Director George Tenet. Hadley confirms receiving the warning, and tells the assemblage that, three months later, he had forgotten Tenet’s warning. “Signing off on these facts is my responsibility,” he says. “And in this case, I blew it. I think the only solution is for me to resign.” Hadley is distressed that Tenet had, in McClellan’s words, “been made to look like the scapegoat, since he believed it was nobody’s fault but his own.” McClellan will call Hadley’s offer to resign “selfless .. [his attempt to] clear the name of someone he felt had taken an unfair degree of blame, and to accept his own responsibility for an honest mistake whose consequences were now playing out before a worldwide audience.” The others quickly reject Hadley’s proffered resignation, and decide, as McClellan will recall, “that an approach of openness, forthrightness, and honesty was now essential.” Bartlett and Hadley are delegated to “inform the world as to what had happened and why,” and Hadley will admit to having forgotten his conversation with Tenet” (see October 6, 2002). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 177-178]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, Dan Bartlett, Harriet E. Miers, Scott McClellan, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

As decided the night before (see July 21, 2003), Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett hold a press conference in which Hadley admits to having forgotten about CIA Director George Tenet’s October warning that the Iraq-Niger claim was not solid. Hadley admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger; he takes responsibility for its inclusion in the president’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). His admission and apology follow closely on the heels of Tenet’s acceptance of responsibility for the “error” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Hadley admits that he received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from Tenet in October 2002 that questioned the Iraq-Niger allegations and warned that they should not be made public. The allegations were excised from Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). Hadley says he should have made sure those same allegations were not in Bush’s State of the Union speech: they “should have been taken out of the State of the Union.… There were a number of people who could have raised a hand” to have the passage removed from the draft of Bush’s speech. “And no one raised a hand.… The high standards the president set were not met.” (In reality, author Craig Unger will later write, the White House was reluctant to go back to Tenet because the CIA had already twice rejected the claim. Instead, White House officials had obtained clearance to use the material from a more amenable CIA subordinate—see January 26 or 27, 2003.) Hadley says he has apologized to Bush for the “error.” Bartlett says, “The process failed.” He adds that Bush retains “full confidence in his national security adviser [Condoleezza Rice], his deputy national security adviser [Hadley], and the director of central intelligence [Tenet].” Hadley says he had forgotten about the October CIA memos until they were discovered a few days ago by White House speechwriter Michael Gerson. [Associated Press, 7/22/2003; White House, 7/22/2003; New York Times, 7/23/2003; Raw Story, 11/16/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 273; Truthout (.org), 1/23/2007; McClellan, 2008, pp. 178] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later take some responsibility for the lapse, saying, “The fact is that given the October 5 and 6 memorandum [from Tenet], and my telephone conversation with the DCI Tenet at roughly the same time, I should have recalled at the time of the State of the Union speech that there was controversy associated with the uranium issue.” The press briefing, McClellan will write, “accomplish[es] our goal of putting the 16-word controversy behind us.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 178]

Entity Tags: Craig Unger, George W. Bush, Dan Bartlett, Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43), Michael Gerson, Stephen J. Hadley

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

January 2004: Fitzgerald Seats Grand Jury

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), empanels a grand jury. Among the White House officials testifying before the jury will be President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, chief of staff Andrew Card, deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Bush’s communications assistants Dan Bartlett and Karen Hughes, former Cheney chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former press secretary Ari Fleischer, and current press secretary Scott McClellan (see January 2004). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Former White House press official Adam Levine testifies before the federal grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Levine, who is not suspected of leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to the press, is asked about White House public relations strategies. [Washington Post, 2/10/2004] Sources later say that Levine may have been asked to testify because between July 7 and July 12, 2003, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and White House communications director Dan Bartlett were in Africa with President Bush, and deputy press secretary Scott McClellan was on vacation, leaving Levine in charge of press relations during that period [Fox News, 2/11/2004] , and thus one of the few press officials to field telephone calls from reporters during that time. His testimony is described as “brief” and non-confrontational. Levine has spoken with FBI agents on several occasions as a part of the investigation. [CNN, 2/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellan, Adam Levine, Dan Bartlett, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

President Bush flounders in answering a question about what his “biggest mistake” after 9/11 might have been. During a White House press conference, Time reporter John Dickerson asks Bush: “In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you’d made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You’ve looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?” Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, is horrified by what he later calls Bush’s “tortured response to a straightforward question.” Bush attempts to buy a moment with a quip—“I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it”—but continues to fumble, saying: “John, I’m sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just—I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn’t yet.”
'A Terrible Silence' - After what McClellan will recall as “an agonizingly long pause… a terrible silence [that] hung embarrassingly in the air,” Bush continues: “I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we’ll find out the truth on the weapons. That’s why we’ve sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm. One of the things that [weapons inspector] Charlie Duelfer talked about was that he was surprised at the level of intimidation he found amongst people who should know about weapons, and their fear of talking about them because they don’t want to be killed. There’s a terror still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq; they’re worried about getting killed, and, therefore, they’re not going to talk. But it will all settle out, John. We’ll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today, just like it would have bothered me then. He’s a dangerous man. He’s a man who actually—not only had weapons of mass destruction—the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm on America, because he hated us.” After justifying his military actions, Bush concludes: “I hope I—I don’t want to sound like I’ve made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t—you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.” McClellan will write that he remains “stone-faced and motionless” as Bush manages to flounder through the question without actually admitting any mistakes. [US President, 4/19/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 204-208]
'Why Can't He Pull Up Some of Those Talking Points?' - McClellan’s first response is to blame himself for Bush’s inability to answer the question, then he has what he later calls a “counterreaction,” thinking: “Wait a second! We’re talking about the president of the United States here! He didn’t get to be president without being able to bat down a simple question. We’ve talked about mistakes. We’ve talked about 9/11. We’ve talked about the invasion of Iraq. Why can’t he pull up some of those talking points?” McClellan calls Bush’s answer “rambling, rather incoherent, and ultimately unsatisfying.”
A 'Cocksure' President - After the press conference, McClellan and White House communications director Dan Bartlett carefully approach the president. They agree among themselves that the Dickerson question had gone poorly, but know better than to broach the subject to Bush straight out. They begin, McClellan later recalls, by complimenting Bush on “hitting the right tone and getting his message across” on the government’s fight against terrorism. Then, McClellan will write: “Dan tactfully broached the awkward response of the Dickerson question. We had to bring it up in the little time we knew we could hold the president’s attention.” Bush says: “I kept thinking about what they wanted me to say—that it was a mistake to go into Iraq. And I’m not going to. It was the right decision.” McClellan will recall Bush’s tone as “cocksure and matter-of-fact, not testy.”
McClellan: Bush Unwilling to Admit Mistakes for Fear of Appearing Weak - McClellan will later reflect: “There were many other times, in private and in public, when the president defended the most fateful decision of his administration. But few will be remembered as vividly as the one he made that night. It became symbolic of a leader unable to acknowledge that he got it wrong, and unwilling to grow in office by learning from his mistake—too stubborn to change and grow.” McClellan believes Bush is afraid to admit a mistake for “fear of appearing weak,” and will write: “A more self-confident executive would be willing to acknowledge failure, to trust people’s ability to forgive those who seek redemption for mistakes and show a readiness for change.” McClellan will add that Bush was unwilling to risk “the personal pain he would have suffered if he’d had to acknowledge that the war against [Iraq] may have been unnecessary.” But, McClellan will conclude: “Bush was not one to look back once a decision was made. Rather than suffer any sense of guilt and anguish, Bush chose not to go down the road of self-doubt or take on the difficult task of honest evaluation and reassessment.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 204-208]
Defending Bush - Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, defends Bush’s refusal to admit any mistakes by saying Bush struck the proper tone with his questioners. “He was giving us a leadership statement on Iraq,” Hunter says, and adds, “That is not the right time for reporters to try to throw the president down on the analyst’s couch and have him try to tell them about all of his failings. He has to spend his time giving a vision of the future for the country.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, George W. Bush, Duncan Hunter, Scott McClellan, Saddam Hussein, Charles Duelfer, John Dickerson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Scott McClellan.Scott McClellan. [Source: White House]Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he “passed along false information” at the behest of five top Bush administration officials—George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Andrew Card—about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson during his time in the White House. McClellan is preparing to publish a book about his time in Washington, to be titled What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong With Washington and available in April 2008. [Editor & Publisher, 11/20/2007] According to McClellan’s publisher Peter Osnos, McClellan doesn’t believe that Bush deliberately lied to him about Libby’s and Rove’s involvement in the leak. “He told him something that wasn’t true, but the president didn’t know it wasn’t true,” Osnos says. “The president told him what he thought to be the case.” [Bloomberg, 1/20/2007] Early in 2007, McClellan told reporters that everything he said at the time was based on information he and Bush “believed to be true at the time based on assurances that we were both given.” [Associated Press, 11/21/2007] In his book, McClellan writes: “Andy Card once remarked that he viewed the Washington media as just another ‘special interest’ that the White House had to deal with, much like the lobbyists or the trade associations. I found the remark stunning and telling.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 155]
White House Denials; Outrage from Plame, Democrats - White House press secretary Dana Perino says it isn’t clear what McClellan is alleging, and says, “The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information,” adding that McClellan’s book excerpt is being taken “out of context.” Plame has a different view. “I am outraged to learn that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan confirms that he was sent out to lie to the press corps,” she says. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) adds, “If the Bush administration won’t even tell the truth to its official spokesman, how can the American people expect to be told the truth either?” [Bloomberg, 1/20/2007; Associated Press, 11/21/2007] Senator and presidential candidate Christopher Dodd (D-CT) calls for a Justice Department investigation into Bush’s role in the Plame outing, and for the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, to lead the investigation. [Raw Story, 11/21/2007]
Alleged Criminal Conspiracy - Investigative reporter Robert Parry writes: “George W. Bush joined in what appears to have been a criminal cover-up to conceal the role of his White House in exposing the classified identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. That is the logical conclusion one would draw from [McClellan’s book excerpt] when it is put into a mosaic with previously known evidence.” [Consortium News, 11/21/2007] Author and columnist John Nichols asks if McClellan will become the “John Dean of the Bush administration,” referring to the Nixon White House counsel who revealed the details of the crimes behind the Watergate scandal. Nichols writes: “It was Dean’s willingness to reveal the details of what [was] described as ‘a cancer’ on the Nixon presidency that served as a critical turning point in the struggle by a previous Congress to hold the 37th president to account. Now, McClellan has offered what any honest observer must recognize as the stuff of a similarly significant breakthrough.” Former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree says: “The president promised, way back in 2003, that anyone in his administration who took part in the leak of Plame’s name would be fired. He neglected to mention that, according to McClellan, he was one of those people. And needless to say, he didn’t fire himself. Instead, he fired no one, stonewalled the press and the federal prosecutor in charge of the case, and lied through his teeth.” [Nation, 1/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Peter Osnos, Public Affairs, Michael Mukasey, Scott McClellan, Robert Parry, Richard M. Nixon, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nichols, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Joseph C. Wilson, Christopher Dodd, George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Chellie Pingree

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, jointly respond to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s revelation that he had unknowingly misled the public as part of a White House campaign of deception surrounding the “outing” of Plame Wilson, then an undercover CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). The Wilsons quote the words of former President George H. W. Bush in labeling the Bush administration officials they believe betrayed Plame’s identity—Lewis Libby, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, and Ari Fleischer—as “the most insidious of traitors” (see April 26, 1999). McClellan’s naming of George W. Bush as being “involved” in orchestrating the campaign of deception makes Bush, they write, a “party to a conspiracy by senior administration officials to defraud the public.” The two continue: “If that isn’t a high crime and misdemeanor then we don’t know what is. And if the president was merely an unwitting accomplice, then who lied to him? What is he doing to punish the person who misled the president to abuse his office? And why is that person still working in the executive branch?”
Criticism of Mainstream Media - The Wilsons are particularly irate at the general failure of the mainstream media, with the exception of several MSNBC pundits and reporters, to pay much attention to McClellan, instead dismissing it as “old news.” The Wilsons write: “The Washington press corps, whose pretension is to report and interpret events objectively, has been compromised in this matter as evidence presented in the courtroom demonstrated. Prominent journalists acted as witting agents of Rove, Libby and Armitage and covered up this serious breach of US national security rather than doing their duty as journalists to report it to the public.” They quote one reporter asking if McClellan’s statement was not anything more than “another Wilson publicity stunt.” The Wilsons respond: “Try following this tortuous logic: Dick Cheney runs an operation involving senior White House officials designed to betray the identity of a covert CIA officer and the press responds by trying to prove that the Wilsons are publicity seekers. What ever happened to reporting the news? Welcome to Through the Looking Glass.” They conclude with the question, again using the elder Bush’s words: “Where is the outrage? Where is the ‘contempt and anger?’” [Huffington Post, 11/22/2007]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, MSNBC, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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