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Context of 'August 27, 2005: Several White House Officials Enjoy Vacation'

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The location of the Presidential Emergency Operations Center.The location of the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. [Source: Space Imaging]Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, runs a training exercise for a number of senior White House staffers in which the staffers are made aware of and shown to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a bunker below the White House where numerous government officials will go on September 11 to respond to the terrorist attacks. Josh Bolten, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, will later recall that at some time before September 11, “the other deputy chief of staff [i.e. Hagin] had run an exercise for a bunch of us on the senior staff of what happens in a crisis.” In the exercise, the senior staffers find out “who was supposed to go to the bunker [i.e. the PEOC]” in a crisis and they also visit the PEOC. Bolten will not say which staffers, other than him, take part in the exercise. [C-SPAN, 10/6/2013]
Exercise Possibly Held Shortly before 9/11 - He will also not say when the exercise is held, but presumably it takes place sometime after George W. Bush is inaugurated as president, near the end of January this year (see January 20, 2001). [BBC, 1/20/2001; CNN, 1/20/2001] It is possible it takes place just two weeks before 9/11: Mary Matalin, a counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney, will write that “a couple [of] weeks [before September 11], I had visited this underground dungeon [i.e. the PEOC] for my top-level security clearance training.” It is unclear, however, if she is referring to the exercise Bolten describes. [Carville and Matalin, 2014, pp. 140-141]
PEOC Is a 'Nerve Center' on September 11 - It is apparently fortunate that Hagin runs the exercise for the senior White House staffers, since numerous government officials, including Bolten and Matalin, will go to the PEOC on September 11 to respond to the terrorist attacks. [CNN, 9/11/2002; Mother Jones, 5/24/2009] That day, the PEOC will be “the nerve center for America’s response to the unprecedented attacks,” according to the London Telegraph. [Daily Telegraph, 9/10/2011] As a result of the “pretty casual training” that Hagin conducts, Bolten will say, “I did know the bunker and knew where to go” on September 11.
White House Staffers Were Often Unaware of the PEOC - It is also apparently quite unusual for White House staffers to know about the existence of the PEOC. Steve Ricchetti, who served as deputy White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, will tell Bolten that during the Clinton administration, “it had been in some cases months and years before people were briefed on the existence of [the PEOC]… because nobody ever thought the US itself would be under attack.” The PEOC, Bolten will comment, “was kind of an artifact of the bygone Cold War era and of no particular use to a current White House.” [C-SPAN, 10/6/2013] Its use by government officials on September 11 will in fact be its “first test in an actual emergency,” according to CNN. [CNN, 9/11/2002] “[N]o one alive remembers using it for its intended purpose,” Matalin will write, “which only drew our attention to the fact… that [9/11] was a unique event in our nation’s history.” [Carville and Matalin, 2014, pp. 141]

Entity Tags: Joshua Bolten, Mary Matalin, Joseph W. Hagin, Steve Ricchetti

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

White House political strategist Karl Rove returns a telephone call from conservative columnist Robert Novak. Rove has prepared for the call, assembling talking points and briefing materials (see July 7-8, 2003), some drawn from classified government personnel files provided by White House political director Matt Schlapp and other staffers. None of the materials directly involve Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent who Novak will “out” in a soon-to-be-published column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove is preparing to discuss Frances Fragos Townsend, the newly appointed deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. It is unclear whether Rove speaks with Novak on the evening of July 8 or during the day of July 9. [National Journal, 12/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Combating 'Rearguard' Effort to Undermine Townsend - President Bush has asked Rove to counter what he believes to be a “rearguard” effort within his own administration—led by senior members of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff—to discredit Townsend and derail her appointment, perhaps because she was once a senior attorney in the Justice Department under then-President Clinton. Novak has been calling other White House officials about Townsend, and Rove intends to give him the White House slant on her: that President Bush, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice all have full confidence in her. Part of the conversation is completely off the record, while other parts are on background, freeing Novak to quote Rove as a “senior administration official.” Novak will write his material on Townsend much as Rove lays it out for him. Reporter Murray Waas will later learn that opposition to Townsend within Cheney’s office is so intense that Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, contemplates leaking damaging material about her to the press in an attempt to disrupt her appointment. Waas will write, “Libby’s tactics against Townsend appear to have paralleled those he took around the same period of time in attempting to blunt [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s criticism of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.” Libby will indeed leak information on Townsend to selected Republicans in Congress, and they in turn will use that information to criticize her appointment. [National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Novak Broaches Subject of Plame Wilson - It is after they finish discussing Townsend that the submect of Valerie Plame Wilson comes up. Novak and Rove will both tell federal prosecutors that it is Novak who broaches the subject of Plame Wilson, saying he had heard that “Wilson’s wife” had been responsible for sending her husband on a CIA mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). According to later published accounts, Rove replies, “I heard that too.” Novak’s version of events will be slightly different, with him claiming Rove says, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003) and from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003). Novak tells Rove that he is still going to write a negative column on Townsend, but implies that he will also write about Wilson and his wife. “I think that you are going to be unhappy with something that I write,” he tells Rove, “and I think you are very much going to like something that I am about to write.” Novak’s July 10 column will attack Townsend as an “enemy within,” a Democratic partisan who will likely not be loyal to the Bush administration. Four days later, he will write his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent as part of his attack on Wilson’s credibility as a war critic. Investigators will be unable to independently verify that Novak, not Rove, first brought up the subject of Plame Wilson during their conversation; for his part, Rove will deny leaking Plame Wilson’s name to any reporter, and will deny even knowing who she is. [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005; National Journal, 12/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Murray Waas, Joseph C. Wilson, Frances Townsend, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Matt Schlapp, Robert Novak, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

As Katrina barrels towards the Gulf Coast, most of the top White House staff members are on vacation, taking advantage of President Bush’s five-week vacation at his Crawford, Texas ranch. Andrew Card, White House Chief of Staff, and a veteran crisis manager who managed the federal response to hurricanes under George H.W. Bush, is vacationing at his lakefront summer home in Maine. Vice President Dick Cheney is vacationing at his Wyoming ranch. Frances Townsend, the White House Homeland Security Advisor who reports to Bush on Homeland Security policy and combating terrorism matters, is vacationing as well. After Katrina sweeps through the Gulf Coast, she will attend several meetings in Washington, before leaving on a previously scheduled trip to Saudi Arabia where she will work on joint counterterrorism projects. Bush will urge Townsend to make the trip despite the unfolding Katrina disaster as a “signal to… the enemy” that the hurricane has not distracted Bush’s attention from terrorists, according to one report. Later, White House representatives will decline to identify the person in charge of preparing for the hurricane in Washington, maintaining that Bush and his aides can run the government just as well from their summer homes. “Andy Card is the chief of staff, and he was in close contact with everyone,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan will say at one point. “And the president is the one who’s in charge at the White House.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/11/2005] On Tuesday, August 30, when asked to identify the person leading the White House’s response to Katrina, McClellan will reply that Joe Hagin, Deputy Chief of staff is the “point person in terms of overseeing efforts from the White House.” [White House, 8/30/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Andrew Card, Hurricane Katrina, Joseph W. Hagin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Frances Townsend

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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

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