Profile: Dan Bartlett
Positions that Dan Bartlett has held:
- White House communications director
September 16, 2002
“We’ve made it very clear that we are not in the business of negotiating with Saddam Hussein. We are working with the UN Security Council to determine the most effective way to reach our goal…. [Iraq’s offer is a tactic to give] false hope to the international community that [President Saddam] means business this time…. Unfortunately, his more than decade of experience shows you can put very little into his words or deeds.”
Dan Bartlett was a participant or observer in the following events:
Karl Rove, Andrew Card, and Dan Bartlett.
[Source: White House, US Office Pristina, Kosovo, White House]President Bush’s motorcade has arrived at Booker Elementary School and Bush enters the school with his entourage. The beepers of politicians’ aides are going off with news of the first WTC crash as Bush arrives. According to one account, Bush learns of the crash when adviser Karl Rove takes Bush aside in a school corridor and tells him about the calamity. According to this account, Rove says the cause of the crash was unclear. Bush replies, “What a horrible accident!” Bush also suggests the pilot may have had a heart attack. This account is recalled by photographer Eric Draper, who was standing nearby at the time. [Daily Mail, 9/8/2002] Dan Bartlett, White House Communications Director, also says he is there when Bush is told: “[Bush] being a former pilot, had kind of the same reaction, going, was it bad weather? And I said no, apparently not.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] One account states that Rove tells Bush the WTC has been hit by a large commercial airliner. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] However, Bush later remembers Rove saying it appeared to be an accident involving a small, twin-engine plane. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] In a third version of the story, Bush later recalls that he first learns of the crash from chief of Staff Andrew Card, who says, “‘Here’s what you’re going to be doing; you’re going to meet so-and-so, such-and-such.’ And Andy Card says, ‘By the way, an aircraft flew into the World Trade Center.’” [Washington Times, 10/7/2002] “From the demeanor of the president, grinning at the children, it appeared that the enormity of what he had been told was taking a while to sink in,” according to a reporter standing nearby at the time. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Daily Mail, 9/8/2002]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice phones President Bush, who is away in Florida, to pass on to him the news that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center, and she tells the president that the plane involved was a commercial jetliner, not a light aircraft. [White House, 11/1/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35; Bush, 2010, pp. 126] Rice, who is in her office at the White House, has just been informed of the crash by her executive assistant, but she mistakenly believes it was an accident involving a small plane (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [White House, 10/24/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Bush has just arrived at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota for an education event there (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 41-42; BBC Radio 4, 8/1/2002 ]
Bush Calls WTC Crash a 'Strange Accident' - Rice calls Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, who is traveling with the president, and Loewer fetches Bush. [White House, 10/24/2001] Bush goes to a classroom that has been converted into a communications center for the traveling White House staff and talks to Rice using a secure phone there. [Bush, 2010, pp. 126] Rice says, “Mr. President, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.” [White House, 10/24/2001] Bush has already been informed of this by members of his entourage (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 8:55 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 11/26/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 42; Bush, 2010, pp. 126] He says, “That’s a really strange accident,” and Rice replies, “Yeah, it really is.” [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xi-xii]
Bush Told that Crash Involved a Commercial Plane - Bush asks Rice, “What kind of plane?” and Rice says she has been told it was a twin-engine plane. She tells Bush she will let him know if she learns anything more about the crash. Around this time, Rice’s executive assistant, Army Lieutenant Colonel Tony Crawford, comes and tells Rice that it is now believed the plane that hit the WTC was a commercial plane. Rice passes on this information to Bush and then says, “That’s all we know right now, Mr. President.” [White House, 10/24/2001; White House, 11/1/2001; Newsweek, 12/31/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35] Bush will later recall that at this moment, “I was stunned.” He thinks to himself: “That plane must have had the worst pilot in the world. How could he possibly have flown into a skyscraper on a clear day? Maybe he’d had a heart attack.” Bush mutters, “There’s one terrible pilot.” He tells Rice to stay on top of the situation and then asks his communications director, Dan Bartlett, to work on a statement promising the full support of federal emergency management services. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 42-43; Bush, 2010, pp. 126-127]
Bush and Rice Continue with Their Schedules - After the call ends, Bush heads on to watch a children’s reading drill at the school (see (9:03 a.m.-9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Rice goes to her senior staff meeting (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 8/2/2002; White House, 8/6/2002; Washington Times, 10/7/2002] Representative Dan Miller (R-FL), who is waiting in a receiving line to meet the president, has been told to hold on while Bush takes the call from Rice. When Bush comes over to Miller after the call, he appears unbothered. Miller will recall: “[I]t was nothing different from the normal, brief greeting with the president. I don’t think he was aware at the time, maybe, of the seriousness.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Author James Bamford will comment that at this time, “neither Rice nor Bush was aware that the United States had gone to ‘battle stations’ alert and had scrambled fighter jets into the air to intercept and possibly take hostile action against multiple hijacked airliners, something that was then known by hundreds of others within NORAD, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Pentagon.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 17]
Bush in a holding room before giving his speech. Communications director Dan Bartlett points to the TV, and the clock reads 9:25.
[Source: White House]After leaving the Booker Elementary School classroom, President Bush returns to an adjacent holding room where he is briefed by his staff, and gets his first look at the footage of the burning World Trade Center on a television that has been set up there. He instructs his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, to take notes to create an accurate accounting of events. According to some accounts, he speaks on the phone with Vice President Dick Cheney who is at the White House, and they both agree that terrorists are probably behind the attacks. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 92-93; Daily Mail, 9/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] But White House adviser Karl Rove, who is also in the holding room, will later tell NBC News that Bush is unable to reach Cheney because the vice president is being moved from his office to the White House bunker at this time. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] The president speaks with New York Governor George Pataki and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Bush learns from Mueller that the planes that hit the WTC were commercial American aircraft, and at least one of them had apparently been hijacked after leaving Boston. According to some accounts, Bush also speaks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice around this time. However, Rice herself will later suggest otherwise (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 93-94; Daily Mail, 9/8/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 9/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] Fleischer and White House communications director Dan Bartlett quickly draft a statement for the president to deliver in the school’s library, which Bush rewords, scribbling three sheets of notes. Bush will deliver this at 9:30 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). While he works on the statement, Bush briefly glances at the unfolding horror on the television. Turning to his aides in the room, he declares, “We’re at war.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 94; Albuquerque Tribune, 9/10/2002] According to the 9/11 Commission, the focus at the present time is on the president’s statement to the nation, and the only decision made by Bush’s traveling party is to return to Washington. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] Bush will later claim that he makes no major decisions in response to the crisis until after Air Force One takes off at around 9:55 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
Vice President Cheney reportedly calls President Bush and tells him of a threat to Air Force One and that it will take 40-90 minutes to get a protective fighter escort in place. Later, many will express doubt about the existence of this threat. For instance, Representative Martin Meehan (D-MA) says, “I don’t buy the notion Air Force One was a target. That’s just PR, that’s just spin.” [Washington Times, 10/8/2002] A later account will call the threat “completely untrue,” and say Cheney probably made the story up. A well-informed, anonymous Washington official says, “It did two things for [Cheney]. It reinforced his argument that the president should stay out of town, and it gave George W. an excellent reason for doing so.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] In 2004, the Wall Street Journal will investigate the alleged threat and report two differing accounts of this episode, one from White House spokesman Dan Bartlett, and the other from the office of Vice-President Cheney.
No Actual Threat - Bartlett will say there had not been any actual threat, but that word of a threat results from confusion in the White House bunker, as multiple conversations go on simultaneously. Many of these exchanges apparently relate to rumors that turn out to be false, such as reports of attacks on the president’s ranch in Texas and the State Department. Bartlett will say, “Somebody was using the word ‘angel,’ [a code word for Air Force One and] that got interpreted as a threat based on the word ‘angel.’”
Cheney's Account Changes - The vice president’s office will say it still could not rule out that a threat to Air Force One actually had been made. Cheney initially says word of the threat had been passed to him by Secret Service agents, but two former senior Secret Service agents on duty that day will deny their agency played any role in receiving or passing on the threat. An official in Cheney’s office will then say that Cheney was mistaken and that he had received word of the threat from “a uniformed military person” manning the underground bunker. Apparently, nobody knows the identity of this person. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 ]
President Bush (center, bending) and others look out the windows of Air Force One as their fighter escort arrives. [Source: White House]President Bush, his entourage, and reporters accompanying them on board Air Force One notice fighter jets escorting their plane for the first time. Air Force One is currently flying westward over Mississippi, toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 109; CBS News, 9/11/2002] The White House requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the Secret Service asked Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, to provide that escort. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255]
Passengers Notice Fighters - Now, air traffic control radios Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, and notifies him, “[Y]ou’ve got two F-16s at about your—say, your 10 o’clock position.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] Reporters on board notice a fighter flying alongside the plane’s right wing, and then spot another one alongside its left wing. [USA Today, 9/11/2001] According to a photographer on the plane, these jets are “so close that we could see the pilot’s head.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] Bush also notices the fighters. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 109] White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett will later recall: “The staff, and the president and us, were filed out along the outside hallway of his presidential cabin there and looking out the windows. And the president gives them a signal of salute, and the pilot kind of tips his wing, and fades off and backs into formation.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002]
Fighters Maybe Arrived Earlier, but Remained out of Sight - According to most accounts, the jets alongside Air Force One belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] But a few accounts will indicate they belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard in Jacksonville (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] Four 147th Fighter Wing jets have been directed toward the president’s plane to accompany it (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40] But according to Sarasota Magazine, Air Force One is “currently being escorted by six jet fighters.” [Sarasota Magazine, 9/19/2001] Fifteen minutes earlier, at 11:14 a.m., an official, whose identity is unstated but who is not a member of the White House staff, told the reporters on Air Force One that the plane already had plenty of military escort, but the fighters were not visible at that time, presumably meaning they were escorting the plane from a distance. [USA Today, 9/11/2001]
Jets Protecting '80-Mile Bubble' around Air Force One - The two jets seen by the passengers on Air Force One are reportedly being flown by pilots Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts of the 147th Fighter Wing. Roberts will later recall, “We were trying to keep an 80-mile bubble… around Air Force One, and we’d investigate anything that was within 80 miles.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] The 147th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One to Barksdale Air Force Base, then on to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and finally to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88; Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005]
President Bush at Barksdale Air Force Base, accompanied by Lieutenant General Thomas Keck.
[Source: White House]President Bush is provided with a high level of security when he gets off Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana, and is promptly driven to a conference center on the base from where he makes a brief phone call. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 164; Rove, 2010, pp. 258-259] Air Force One landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. and was immediately surrounded by Air Force personnel in full combat gear, with their rifles drawn (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Bush remained on board while a retractable set of stairs was lowered for him to leave the plane by.
Reporters Updated on President's Actions - A dark blue Dodge Caravan now pulls up next to these stairs, and a Secret Service agent and two Air Force officers take positions at the bottom of the stairs. The Dodge then pulls away, perhaps 40 feet back from the plane, and is swept inside and outside with dogs. Some members of the president’s staff come down the stairs from the plane. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer approaches the pool of reporters who have been traveling on Air Force One and who are waiting under the plane’s left wing for the president to disembark. Fleischer gives them a brief update on the president’s actions during the flight and adds: “You will see [the president] disembark here shortly. He will head inside and that’s all I’m going to indicate at this moment. You will have additional information shortly.” Fleischer then answers several questions from the reporters.
President Gets off Plane and into Minivan - Bush then descends from Air Force One. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 111] The Shreveport Secret Service office has been mobilized to oversee security arrangements while the president is at Barksdale. However, there is no presidential limousine waiting to drive Bush away from the plane. [Rove, 2010, pp. 258] Normally the president’s armored limousine would be flown in ahead of time on a military transport plane, but there has been no time to get it to Barksdale. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 112] Bush instead gets into the Dodge Caravan, which is being guarded by a Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun on top. [Rove, 2010, pp. 258] White House chief of staff Andrew Card gets in with him. The media and some of Bush’s staff, including his senior adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett, get into an Air Force minibus. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 112]
Bush Taken to Conference Center on Base - The Dodge then drives off at high speed. Bush will later recall that it “blasted off down the runway at what felt like 80 miles an hour. When the man behind the wheel started taking turns at that speed, I yelled, ‘Slow down, son, there are no terrorists on this base!’” [Bush, 2010, pp. 132] The Humvee pulls out behind the Dodge, and the airman manning the machine gun on top cocks his weapon and puts a live round in the chamber. The minibus carrying the reporters follows moments later. [Rove, 2010, pp. 258-259] The small motorcade drives to the Dougherty Conference Center, a two-story building on the base. At the stroke of noon, Bush and his aides enter the building. A car blocks the driveway and several armed soldiers stand guard while the president is inside. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 112]
Bush Speaks to Vice President - Bush and his aides are met by Colonel Curtis Bedke, the commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing, and Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, apparently as they are entering the conference center. [2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 ; American History, 10/2006 ] Inside, Bush picks up a telephone and speaks briefly with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 112] Bush tells Keck he needs to get to a secure phone. Keck says there is one in his office, but this is in a different building on the base. [American History, 10/2006 ] The pool of reporters waits in the parking lot outside the conference center for about 10 minutes while the president is inside. Bush and his staff finally come out at 12:11 p.m., to be taken to the 8th Air Force headquarters building (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 112]
Entity Tags: Barksdale Air Force Base, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Dan Bartlett, Curtis M. Bedke, Ari Fleischer, Thomas Keck, George W. Bush, Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, US Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
President Bush records a speech at Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Win McNamee / Reuters]President Bush delivers a short speech to the nation in a windowless conference room at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, which is recorded and will be broadcast on television about half an hour later. [Time, 9/14/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 113-117] Since arriving at Barksdale (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), Bush has been spending time in the office of Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [American History, 10/2006 ] Bush will later recall that by 12:30 p.m., “it had been almost three hours since I had spoken to the country” (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) and he is “worried people would get the impression that the government was disengaged.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133]
Bush Taken to Conference Room to Record Statement - A short statement to the nation has therefore been prepared for Bush to deliver. Keck escorts the president from his office to the conference room in the 8th Air Force headquarters building to record it. Bush is also accompanied to the room by his chief of staff, Andrew Card, his senior adviser, Karl Rove, his communications director, Dan Bartlett, his press secretary Ari Fleischer, and several Secret Service agents. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 113; American History, 10/2006 ] A hurried attempt has been made to prepare the room for the president’s speech. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] Airmen have arranged three US flags behind the wooden lectern behind which Bush will speak, and have tried to add some lighting to brighten up the dark room. The reporters who have been traveling with the president on Air Force One went to the conference room after entering the 8th Air Force headquarters building, and are assembled there when Bush comes in. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; American History, 10/2006 ]
Tape of Speech Taken to Satellite Truck to Be Broadcast - Bush delivers his 219-word speech in precisely two minutes. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19] After doing so, he leaves the room without acknowledging, or taking any questions from, the reporters in the room. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 165] Keck, who stays to watch Bush deliver the speech, then escorts the president back to his office. [American History, 10/2006 ] Master Sergeant Rich Del Haya, the officer in charge of the 8th Air Force public affairs office, is then called to the 8th Air Force headquarters building to collect the videotape of the speech. He runs out of the building with it, accompanied by a CBS network producer and reporter, and drives toward the base’s far north entrance. Gate officials contact a state trooper outside the base, who escorts the three to a satellite truck of the local CBS affiliate. [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] The recording of the president’s speech will be broadcast from the satellite truck at 1:04 p.m. (see 1:04 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117]
Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Reuters]Air Force One takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to fly President Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. While Bush has been at Barksdale, base personnel have refueled Air Force One and restocked it with provisions for its continuing journey, on the basis that it may have to serve as the president’s flying command center for the foreseeable future. [Associated Press, 10/2/2001; 2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 ; BBC, 9/1/2002]
Reduced Number of Passengers on Board - For security reasons, the number of people traveling on Air Force One has been reduced (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145-146] Those continuing with the president include Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, his communications director Dan Bartlett, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, and assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe. The number of Secret Service agents accompanying the president has been reduced, as has the number of reporters. The five remaining journalists are Ann Compton of ABC Radio, Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, Associated Press photographer Doug Mills, and a CBS cameraman and sound technician. [Salon, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 9/12/2001]
President Given Thumbs-up by Airmen - Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, has been at Bush’s side for most of his time at Barksdale, and accompanies the president as he is being driven across the base to Air Force One. The president passes a row of B-52 bombers and is given a thumbs-up by the planes’ crew members. Keck explains to Bush that this means the troops “are trained, they’re ready, and they’ll do whatever you want them to.” Military police salute and other Air Force crew members cheer the president as he passes them. [American History, 10/2006 ]
Fighter Escort Rejoins Air Force One - Air Force One is being guarded by soldiers with their guns drawn when Bush reaches it, and a pack of military dogs is patrolling the tarmac. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117-118] After the plane takes off, two F-16 fighter jets pull up alongside it to provide an escort. [American History, 10/2006 ] These are presumably the same fighters, belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard, that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ]
Destination Chosen Due to 'Continuity of Government' Plan - Bush’s destination, Offutt Air Force Base, is home to the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls the nation’s nuclear weapons. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19] Bush will later say the decision to head there was based on Offutt’s “secure housing space and reliable communications.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133] The base’s secure teleconferencing equipment will allow the president to conduct a meeting of his National Security Council later in the afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 119; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19, 26] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Offutt has been chosen as the president’s next destination “because of its elaborate command and control facilities, and because it could accommodate overnight lodging for 50 persons. The Secret Service wanted a place where the president could spend several days, if necessary.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] But according to White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the decision to head to Offutt instead of back to Washington, DC, was due to a plan called “Continuity of Government.” This program, which dates back to the Reagan administration, originally planned to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. It was activated for the first time shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004]
Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Barksdale Air Force Base, Thomas Keck, Ann Compton, Ari Fleischer, Doug Mills, George W. Bush, Gordon Johndroe, US Secret Service, 147th Fighter Wing, Sonya Ross, Karl C. Rove, Andrew Card, Richard A. Clarke
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
While President Bush is conducting a video conference with his principal advisers from a bunker beneath Offutt Air Force Base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), most of the people accompanying him are waiting in a conference room across the hallway. Among this group is Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove. Rove later claims that, around this time, there are rumors that more planes remain unaccounted for. He says that, while “they’ve accounted for all four [hijacked] planes,” there are still concerns that “they’ve got another, I think, three or four or five planes still outstanding.” [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] However, according to the FAA, there are no such reports, and the White House and Pentagon had been quickly informed when US skies were completely cleared at 12:16 p.m. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett later says he does not know from where Rove got the information about the additional unaccounted-for planes. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 ] But according to tapes of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector later obtained by Vanity Fair, “False reports of hijackings, and real responses, continue well into the afternoon, though civilian air-traffic controllers had managed to clear the skies of all commercial and private aircraft by just after 12 p.m.” (See 10:15 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Despite the Secret Service’s advice that he should remain at Offutt, the president announces around this time that he is returning to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
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]
Bush giving his speech in front of the Statue of Liberty. [Source: September 11 News (.com)]The Bush administration’s public relations team decides to kick off its push for a war with Iraq, and its drive to the midterm elections, with President Bush’s speech commemorating the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. After much deliberation, Ellis Island in New York Harbor is chosen as the setting for Bush’s speech; the Ellis site won out over nearby Governors Island because the senior public relations officials want the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop. “We had made a decision that this would be a compelling story either place,” White House communications director Dan Bartlett will later recall. “We sent a team out to go and look and they said, ‘This is a better shot,’ and we said okay.” Leading that team is Scott Sforza, the former ABC producer who will later oversee the May 2003 “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2008). [Rich, 2006, pp. 57-58] (Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write of Sforza, “Reagan’s team had perfected this art of stagecraft, and the man in charge for Bush, deputy communications director Scott Sforza, took it to new heights.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 82] Sforza is joined by former Fox News producer Gary Jenkins and former NBC cameraman Bob De Servi. They use three barges laden with stadium lights to illuminate the Statue of Liberty for the shoot. Former Reagan administration public relations chief Michael Deaver will later observe that the Bush team is far better at this kind of marketing presentation than the Reagan, Bush I, or Clinton public relations teams ever were. “[T]hey’ve taken it to an art form,” Deaver will say. The speech is designed to push Congress towards authorizing the war before the midterm elections (see January 19, 2002 and October 10, 2002), when, as author Frank Rich will later write, “the pressure on congressmen facing re-election to prove their war-waging machismo would be at its nastiest. Any weak sisters could expect a thrashing much like that Republicans inflicted on Democrats who had failed to vote for the ‘use of force’ resolution sought by the first President Bush after the Persian Gulf War in 1991” (see January 9-13, 1991). A senior administration official says, “In the end it will be difficult for someone to vote against it.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 57-58] In other preparatory moves for the speech, the government raises the National Threat Level from yellow to orange (see September 10, 2002), and announces the death or capture of some 2,700 al-Qaeda operatives since 9/11 (see September 10, 2002). The administration will also attempt to significantly revise its account of events on 9/11 itself (see September 11, 2002).
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri meets with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Arab League Secretary-General Amir Moussa and gives them a letter expressing Baghdad’s willingness to readmit the UN weapons inspectors without conditions. The offer is made after Saddam Hussein convened an emergency meeting in Baghdad with his cabinet and the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). [Associated Press, 9/16/2002; Associated Press, 9/16/2002; Independent, 9/17/2002; New York Times, 9/17/2002] Iraq’s letter is effectively an agreement to the December 1999 UN Security Council Resolution 1284. [New York Times, 9/18/2002] Kofi Annan tells reporters after the meeting, “I can confirm to you that I have received a letter from the Iraqi authorities conveying its decision to allow the return of the inspectors without conditions to continue their work and has also agreed that they are ready to start immediate discussions on the practical arrangements for the return of the inspectors to resume their work.” Annan credits the Arab League, which he says “played a key role” in influencing Saddam Hussein’s decision to accept the inspectors, and suggests that a recent speech by Bush also played a critical part in influencing Baghdad’s decision. [UN News Center, 9/16/2002] UNMOVIC Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix also meets with Iraqi officials and it is reportedly agreed that weapons inspectors will return to Iraq on October 19. UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan tells the BBC, “We are ready to discuss practical measures, such as helicopters, hotels, the installation of monitoring equipment and so on, which need to be put in place.” [BBC, 9/17/2002] The Bush administration immediately rejects the offer, calling it “a tactical step by Iraq in hopes of avoiding strong UN Security Council action,” in a statement released by the deputy press secretary. [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/2002; White House, 9/16/2002] And Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, tells reporters: “We’ve made it very clear that we are not in the business of negotiating with Saddam Hussein. We are working with the UN Security Council to determine the most effective way to reach our goal.” He then claims Iraq’s offer is a tactic to give “false hope to the international community that [President Saddam] means business this time,” adding, “Unfortunately, his more than decade of experience shows you can put very little into his words or deeds.” Two days later Bush will tell reporters that Saddam’s offer is “his latest ploy, his latest attempt not to be held accountable for defying the United Nations,” adding: “He’s not going to fool anybody. We’ve seen him before…. We’ll remind the world that, by defying resolutions, he’s become more and more of a threat to world peace. [The world] must rise up and deal with this threat, and that’s what we expect the Security Council to do.” [Independent, 9/17/2002; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2002] Later that night, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice reportedly hold a conference call with Kofi Annan and accuse him of taking matters into his own hands. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 285] Britain supports the US position and calls for a UN resolution backed with the threat of force. [BBC, 9/17/2002] Other nations react differently to the offer. For example, Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, says: “It’s important that, through our joint efforts, we have managed to put aside the threat of a war scenario around Iraq and return the process to a political channel… It is essential in the coming days to resolve the issue of the inspectors’ return. For this, no new [Security Council] resolutions are needed.” [Independent, 9/17/2002; BBC, 9/17/2002]
Entity Tags: Hans Blix, Naji Sabri Hadithi, Kofi Annan, Dan Bartlett, Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan, Amir Moussa, Colin Powell, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Robert G. Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council. [Source: CBC]Embarrassed and angered by CIA Director George Tenet’s refusal to support the use of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in President Bush’s upcoming State of the Union speech (see October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, January 27, 2003, and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), the White House decides to go behind Tenet’s back to get CIA approval for publicly citing the claim in the speech. Robert Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council (NSC), telephones Alan Foley, director of the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), and mentions plans to include the Africa-uranium claim in Bush’s upcoming State of the Union address. When Foley warns that the allegation has little evidence to support it, Joseph instead suggests including a statement about the British learning that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa, leaving out the bit about Niger and the exact quantity of uranium that was allegedly sought. [Washington Post, 7/17/2003; New York Times, 7/17/2003; Time, 7/21/2003; Washington Post, 7/27/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 273-274] Foley apparently has no qualms about putting his bureau’s stamp of approval on the claim, having already told his staff, “If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so.” Foley rationalizes that if Bush attributes the claim to British intelligence, he can make it without having to worry whether it is actually true. The fact that the CIA has repeatedly labeled the British reports as untrustworthy does not stop Foley from vetting the claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 273-274] Joseph will claim he does not recall the discussion, and White House communications director Dan Bartlett will call Foley’s version of events a “conspiracy theory.” [Washington Post, 7/27/2003]
Several journalists question a recent White House press conference that was entirely scripted and orchestrated by the White House with the knowing complicity of the reporters present (see March 6, 2003). Journalist Russell Mokhiber, who attends the conference, later says it “might have been the most controlled presidential news conference in recent memory.… The president had a list of 17 reporters who he was going to call on. He didn’t take any questions from reporters raising their hands.” White House communications director Dan Bartlett later retorts, “If you have a message you’re trying to deliver, a news conference can go in a different direction.” However, “In this case, we know what the questions are going to be, and those are the ones we want to answer.” [PRWatch, 4/2003]
'Deferential Reporters' - ABC political reporter and commentator Sam Donaldson, a fixture of the White House press corps during the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations, later recalls “wincing” as he watched “deferential reporters” questioning President Bush during the “scripted” conference. Donaldson will say: “People ask me, ‘Do you wish you were back at the White House?’ And I say, ‘No, not really.’ [But] there are moments like Thursday night when—yeah—I want to be there!” Veteran White House reporter Larry McQuillan of USA Today says Bush’s “call sheet” of preselected reporters “demeaned the reporters who were called on as much as those who weren’t.” Another correspondent at the conference later says: “They completely played us. What’s the point of having a press conference if you’re not going to answer questions? It was calculated on so many different levels.” New York Observer commentator Michael Crowley notes that the press corps itself must share some of the blame: “Although some asked reasonably pointed questions, most did with a tone of extreme deference… that suggested a skittishness, to which they will admit, about being seen as unpatriotic or disrespectful of a commander in chief on the eve of war. Few made any effort to follow up their questions after Mr. Bush’s recitation of arguments that were more speech-like than extemporaneous: Saddam Hussein is a threat to America, Iraq has not disarmed, Sept. 11 must never happen again.… The press corps seemed mainly to serve as a prop, providing Mr. Bush with an opportunity to deliver another pro-war speech while appearing to bravely face the music.” ABC’s Terry Moran reflects that he and the rest of the press corps shirked their duty: “The point is to get [the president] to answer questions, not just to stand up there and use all the majesty of the presidency to amplify his image.” [New York Observer, 3/16/2003]
'Kabuki' Conference - Salon’s Eric Boehlert will later write: “The entire press conference performance was a farce—the staging, the seating, the questions, the order, and the answers. Nothing about it was real or truly informative. It was, nonetheless, unintentionally revealing. Not revealing about the war, Bush’s rationale, or about the bloody, sustained conflict that was about to be unleashed inside Iraq. Reporters helped shed virtually no light on those key issues. Instead, the calculated kabuki press conference, stage-managed by the White House employing the nation’s most elite reporters as high-profile extras, did reveal what viewers needed to know about the mind-set of the [mainstream media] on the eve of war.” [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, provides classified information to author and reporter Bob Woodward for use in his upcoming book Plan of Attack, which will document the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq. According to his own later testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby is authorized to disclose this information to Woodward by President Bush. The information is from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which documented the purported WMD belonging to Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In 2006, other former senior officials in the Bush administration will add that Bush told others to cooperate with Woodward as well. One official will say: “There were people on the seventh floor [of the CIA] who were told by [CIA Director George] Tenet to cooperate because the president wanted it done. There were calls to people to by [White House communications director] Dan Bartlett that the president wanted it done, if you were not cooperating. And sometimes the president himself told people that they should cooperate.” It is unclear whether any other White House official provides Woodward with classified information. [National Journal, 4/6/2006] It is unclear whether Libby discloses this information to Woodward during two June 2003 meetings he has with the reporter (see June 23, 2003 and June 27, 2003), or at another, unreported meeting.
After the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection (see July 6, 2003), White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby discuss methods of discrediting Wilson. The four work with CIA Director George Tenet to declassify records that might help them prove their contention that they accurately portrayed intelligence about the Iraq-Niger claim, and put Wilson in a poor light. During Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007), a senior White House official involved in the process will testify: “We were trying to figure out what happened and get the story out. There was nothing nefarious as to what occurred.” In a 2007 interview, that same official will confirm what will be said in federal grand jury testimony and public court filings: that Cheney and Libby often acted without the knowledge or approval of other senior White House staff when it came to their efforts to discredit Wilson, including leaking classified information to the press. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
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]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer learns from White House communications director Dan Bartlett that Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, is a CIA agent. Bartlett is unhappy with press reports that say Vice President Cheney is responsible for sending Wilson to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from that country (see (February 13, 2002)). According to later testimony by Fleischer, Bartlett says: “I can’t believe he [Wilson] is saying the vice president sent him to Niger. His wife sent him, she works at CIA.” It is unclear whether Bartlett is speaking directly to Fleischer or merely speaking aloud in Fleischer’s hearing. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] After this pronouncement, Fleischer begins reading the CIA report of Wilson’s trip (see March 8, 2002), which he has gotten from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]
While aboard Air Force One (see July 11, 2003), White House communications director Dan Bartlett and press secretary Ari Fleischer urge reporters, including Time correspondent John Dickerson, to write about the origins of Joseph Wilson’s CIA-backed mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Dickerson will later write that when he subsequently learns Wilson’s wife is a CIA official (see July 14, 2003), he then understands what he calls “the wink-wink nudge-nudge I was getting about who sent Wilson.” [Office of Special Counsel, 10/3/2005 ; Slate, 2/7/2006]
Vice President Dick Cheney authorizes his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak to the press selected portions of a highly classified CIA report: the debriefing of former ambassador Joseph Wilson upon his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002). This will become public in 2006, when material from Libby’s grand jury testimony in the Plame Wilson leak investigation is made known (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004 and October 28, 2005). Cheney intends to undermine the credibility of Wilson (see June 2003), a prominent war critic, by using the report to contradict his statements that the Bush administration was manipulating intelligence to bolster its claims that Iraq was in possession of WMD (see July 6, 2003), especially his claims that Iraq had not, as the administration has repeatedly claimed (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), tried to buy uranium from Niger. The CIA debriefing report does not mention Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent, nor does it say that Plame Wilson arranged for her husband to go to Niger, as Cheney, Libby, and others will claim. [National Journal, 6/14/2006; National Journal, 1/12/2007] After Libby is indicted for perjury (see October 28, 2005), criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt will write on the progressive blog TalkLeft, “It sure sounds to me like the mechanics of the plan to leak the information about Wilson was cemented, if not formed, on Air Force Two, as a follow up to Ari Fleischer’s press gaggle attack on Wilson from Africa (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003), and that the plan was to call reporters and leak the information about Wilson and his wife as gossip coming from other reporters, while shielding themselves by claiming to the reporters that they couldn’t be certain the information was true.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Leaking Plame Wilson's Identity - Hours after Cheney instructs Libby to disclose information from the CIA report, Libby informs reporters Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) that Plame Wilson is a CIA agent and she was responsible for selecting her husband for the Niger mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003).
Denials - Both Libby and Cheney (see May 8, 2004) will testify that Cheney did not encourage or authorize Libby to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Reporter Murray Waas will write, “But the disclosure that Cheney instructed Libby to leak portions of a classified CIA report on Joseph Wilson adds to a growing body of information showing that at the time Plame [Wilson] was outed as a covert CIA officer the vice president was deeply involved in the White House effort to undermine her husband” (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003 and After). The same day, Cheney, Libby, and Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin discuss ways to rebut and discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). President Bush has already authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified intelligence estimate on Iraq in part to discredit Wilson (see March 24, 2004). [National Journal, 6/14/2006; National Journal, 1/12/2007] Senior White House officials, including Deputy National Security Director Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who have both worked with Cheney and Libby to formally declassify information in the effort to discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003), will testify that they knew nothing of Cheney’s attempts to declassify the Wilson briefing. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Dan Bartlett, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Matthew Cooper, Jeralyn Merritt, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House communications director Dan Bartlett holds a staff meeting to coordinate officials’ responses to controversial news items, particularly to the recent White House admission that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim had been “erroneous” (see July 8, 2003). Among the participants is new White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Although the next presidential election is not until November 2004, McClellan will later write that the White House exists in a permanent “campaign mode,” and Bartlett’s prime focus is to ensure the White House “win[s] every news cycle” and contributes to the “broader [re-election] strategic plan.”
Turning Debate Away from Iraq-Niger, onto War on Terror - As McClellan later observes, “We needed to refocus the debate [away from the Iraq-Niger uranium claim and onto] the larger strategic framework—the big picture of national security that the president would relentlessly push during the re-election campaign against his eventual opponent, [Senator] John Kerry.” The message Bartlett outlines is simple: the president’s obligation is to protect America from terrorists and outlaw regimes. This is done by staying “on the offensive,” as McClellan will later write, “ending threats by confronting them. And a peaceful, freer, and more stable Middle East is key to our own safety and security. Our job was all about keeping the focus on national security and specifically the war on terrorism, which would become the central theme of the president’s re-election campaign. In this context, the war in Iraq was not only justifiable but essential… we were fighting a broad war on terror in both Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Coordinating 'Message Push' with Congressional Republicans, Media Conservatives - The “message push” is coordinated with “Republicans in Congress and allies in the media, such as conservative columnists and talk radio personalities [who are] enlisted in the effort and given communications packets with comprehensive talking points aimed at helping them pivot to the message whenever they could. Daily talking points and regular briefings for members and staff would be provided, and rapid, same-news cycle response to any attacks or negative press would be a top priority—an effort Bartlett had spearheaded during the 2000 campaign. It was a determined campaign to seize the media offensive and shape or manipulate the narrative to our advantage.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174-175]
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]
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]
A Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that President Bush never claimed the Iraqis posed an “imminent threat” with their putative WMD programs, and that former ambassador Joseph Wilson is unfairly “moving the goalposts” by saying that the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD never passed what they call the “imminent threat test.” As far back as September 2001, after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration began claiming that Iraq posed a serious threat to the US (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, August 2002, and September 6, 2002). Bush had apparently characterized Iraq as an “imminent threat” even before becoming president (see May 17, 2000). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has used the term “imminent threat” (see September 18, 2002), as have other members of the administration, such as press secretary Ari Fleischer, communications chief Dan Bartlett, and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle. Vice President Dick Cheney had publicly threatened Iraq with military action as far back as December 2001 (see December 11, 2001). Bush had included Iraq as one of the now-infamous “Axis of Evil” in early 2002 (see January 29, 2002). And Bush, Cheney, and top White House officials had characterized Iraq and Saddam Hussein as a threat since March 2002 (see March 24, 2002, August 15, 2002, August 20, 2002, August 26, 2002, Fall and Winter 2002, September 7, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 13, 2002, September 18, 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 26, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 3, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, January 10, 2003, and March 6, 2003). Wilson will later observe, “While the Journal may have been technically correct that the president had not uttered those exact words, he [and his top officials] walked right up to the phrase.” He will note that Bush’s “staff and administration allies, of course, had been less concerned about splitting hairs as they promoted the invasion.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 367-368]
Omar al-Faruq. [Source: Public domain]In a meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, President Bush falsely promises to let Hambali stand trial in Indonesia. Hambali, an Indonesian citizen wanted for a string of attacks in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002), was recently arrested in Thailand and taken in US custody (see August 12, 2003). White House communications director Dan Bartlett tells reporters that Bush has “committed to work with [the Indonesian authorities] at an appropriate time, that he would work to make sure that Hambali was handed over.” An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman adds: “Absolutely, Bush promised to hand over Hambali to Indonesia for trial. The only condition is that the process of interrogation (by US agents) has to be completed. Bush said that still needed more time.” The US has been sharing some information from Hambali’s interrogation with Indonesian authorities, but does not allow them to question him directly, allegedly for fear of information leaks. [Associated Press, 10/24/2003] In 2002, the US did allow Indonesian investigators to directly interrogate another Indonesian in US custody, Omar al-Faruq. Ironically, it appears that extensive details of al-Faruq’s interrogation were leaked to the media, but by US officials, not Indonesian ones (see June 5, 2002). The US will not allow Indonesian officials to directly interrogate Hambali during a 2005 trial of his alleged close associate Abu Bakar Bashir, allowing Bashir to go free (see March 3, 2005). In late 2005, Hank Crumpton, a senior State Department official visiting Indonesia, again makes the promise that the US will eventually turn Hambali over to the Indonesian government. [New York Times, 10/19/2005] But in 2006, the US transfers Hambali to the Guantanamo prison with the intention of eventually trying him before a military tribunal (see September 2-3, 2006).
President Bush holding the fake turkey. [Source: AP / Anja Niedringhaus]President Bush makes a surprise visit to Iraq to have a carefully staged “Thanksgiving dinner with the troops” at the Baghdad International Airport. [White House, 11/27/2003] Most of the 600 or so troops present for the meal are from the Army’s 1st Armored Division and 82nd Airborne units. For security reasons, Bush never leaves the airport, and leaves shortly after the meal. Bush’s entrance is carefully choreographed, with Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer telling the gathered troops that the most senior official present should read Bush’s Thanksgiving proclamation. Then, turning to a curtained-off area and asking, “Is there anybody back there who’s more senior than us?” Bush enters the area wearing military fatigues. [USA Today, 11/27/2003]
Fake Turkey - Bush poses with a lovely, huge, golden-brown turkey. The turkey is not real, but merely a prop prepared by the food service arm of Kellogg, Brown and Root. The troops actually eat turkey and vegetables from a cafeteria-style steam tray. White House officials later claim not to have known about the enormous decorative bird, and say that Bush’s memorable photo-op of him holding the fake turkey was an impromptu moment that was not planned in advance. Military sources later say that such decorative turkeys are standard features of holiday “chow lines.” [CBS News, 11/27/2003]
Some Soldiers Denied Dinner - Not all the soldiers at the airport are able to eat with the president, or in fact are able to eat at all. In December, Sergeant Loren Russell writes in a letter to Stars & Stripes that soldiers from his unit were denied entrance to the Bob Hope Dining Facility, where Thanksgiving dinner was being served, “because they were in the wrong unit.” Russell writes that his soldiers “understand that President Bush ate there and that upgraded security was required. But why were only certain units turned away? Why wasn’t there a special meal for President Bush and that unit in the new dance hall adjoining the 1st Armored Division’s band building? And all of this happened on Thanksgiving, the best meal of the year when soldiers get a taste of home cooking.” [Stars and Stripes, 1/27/2007]
Secret Flight - The trip to Iraq is conducted under conditions of extreme secrecy; only Laura Bush and a very few top officials are told of the planned visit. Had word leaked of the trip, it would have been canceled. Most White House officials and reporters are told that Bush would spend the holiday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Instead, Bush, accompanied by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, is driven away in an unmarked vehicle. At a nearby airport, he boards Air Force One from the back stairs instead of the usual front entrance. After stopping at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, where the entourage picks up a few aides, and four reporters and one camera crew sworn to secrecy, the aircraft departs for Iraq. In all, the press corps traveling with the president totals five reporters, five photographers, a TV producer, and a two-person camera crew. All the media members in the group had agreed to surrender their cell phones and wireless e-mail devices beforehand in order to keep them from surreptitiously reporting on the impending trip. [USA Today, 11/27/2003; PressThink, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 6/14/2006]
Public Relations Effort - According to New York Times columnist and media reporter Frank Rich, the trip was set in motion by the White House’s public relations team and its desire to chase the Chinook tragedy (see November 2, 2003 and November 2, 2003) off the front pages. [Rich, 2006, pp. 110] White House officials say that Bush had been talking about such a visit for weeks, and the final decision to go was reached the day before in a conference call between Bush and Vice President Cheney. [USA Today, 11/27/2003] Journalism professor Jay Rosen later observes that the willing participation of reporters in this kind of event destroys the boundaries between reporters and the subjects they cover. Rosen will write: “The whole notion of the trip as an independently existing thing that could be ‘covered’ is transparently false, as the White House warning to journalists demonstrates. If word leaked out, the trip was to be canceled—it would no longer exist—and the airplane would turn around and head back to Washington. That does not mean the trip was illegitimate to undertake or to treat as news; but it does mean that its potential legitimacy as news event lies outside the logic of ‘things happen and we cover them’ or ‘the president took decisive action and the press reported it.’ Here, the press took action and it was equally decisive. It agreed, first, to go along and record the scene and then to keep the flight a secret; and these decisions by journalists were not incidental to Bush’s decision to go but integral to it. Would the trip have made sense, would the danger have been justified, if reporters and camera crews were not taken along? The answer is clearly no. But this means the press is part of the presidency, an observation that, while true enough, makes it harder to cover the presidency as an independently existing thing.” [PressThink, 12/3/2003]
Negative Reactions - An Army nurse at the American hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, which receives and treats wounded US troops coming from Iraq and Afghanistan, has a different take on Bush’s visit. In an e-mail to the Boston Globe, the nurse, who does not wish her name made public, will write: “My ‘Bush Thanksgiving’ was a little different.… I spent it at the hospital taking care of a young West Point lieutenant wounded in Iraq. He had stabilization of his injuries in Iraq and then two long surgeries here for multiple injuries; he’s just now stable enough to send back to the USA. After a few bites of dinner I let him sleep, and then cried with him as he woke up from a nightmare. When he pressed his fists into his eyes and rocked his head back and forth he looked like a little boy. They all do, all 19 on the ward that day, some missing limbs, eyes, or worse.… It’s too bad Mr. Bush didn’t add us to his holiday agenda. The men said the same, but you’ll never read that in the paper. Mr. President would rather lift fake turkeys for photo ops, it seems. Maybe because my patients wouldn’t make very pleasant photos… most don’t look all that great, and the ones with facial wounds and external fixation devices look downright scary. And a heck of a lot of them can’t talk, anyway, and some never will talk again.… Well, this is probably more than you want to know, but there’s no spin on this one. It’s pure carnage.… Like all wars, the ‘shock and awe’ eventually trickles down to blood and death. But you won’t see that. I do, every single day.” Globe columnist Joan Vennochi will add: “How much of this is enough for the president of the United States? It depends whether the goal is public relations for a presidential campaign or public acknowledgment of the consequences of war—the human consequences. They are convalescing in places like Landstuhl.” [Boston Globe, 12/11/2003] In 2007, author Annia Ciezadlo will recall her Thanksgiving in Baghdad during the same time. Ciezadlo, who spent the holiday with an Iraqi family, will write: “We saw pictures of him later, serving Thanksgiving dinner to American soldiers, posing like a waiter with a great big [turkey] on a tray. He never left the base. ‘You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq,’ he told the troops, ‘so we don’t have to face them in our own country.’ An Iraqi friend once told me it was that line about fighting in Iraq to make America safer that turned his adoration of Mr. Bush into hatred.” [New York Times, 11/27/2007]
Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Annia Ciezadlo, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of the Army, Loren Russell, Laura Bush, Jay Rosen, L. Paul Bremer
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
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]
A media firestorm follows the previous day’s appearance by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke on CBS’s 60 Minutes (see March 21, 2004). In that interview and in his upcoming book, Against All Enemies, Clarke is frank about the administration’s stubborn insistence on tying Iraq to the 9/11 attacks and using those attacks to justify a war it had already begun planning (see Between March 2001 and May 2001). Clarke also gives incendiary information about the repeated warnings Bush and other officials had received about the imminent attacks, warnings which were roundly ignored (see Between August 6 and September 11, 2001 and September 4, 2001). White House communications director Dan Bartlett calls Clarke’s charges “baseless,” and “politically motivated,” without giving any evidence of any such political loyalties or motivations Clarke may have. Clarke refuses to retreat, and reiterates his claims on today’s morning talk shows (see March 22, 2004); the White House sends National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice onto the same shows to refute Clarke. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
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]
White House lawyers send an angry letter to the 9/11 Commission, which causes the Commission to water down its staff report account of Vice President Dick Cheney’s actions on September 11. [Newsweek, 6/20/2004] Members of the team of investigators on the 9/11 Commission examining the events of the morning of 9/11 believe that a key part of Cheney’s account, regarding the shootdown order, is false (see (Mid 2004)). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 265] The Commission has found that Cheney issued the shootdown order, but he and President Bush have stated that this was only after the president had authorized the shooting down of threatening aircraft during a phone call between the two men. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41] However, the Commission has found “no documentary evidence for this call.” Newsweek learns that “some on the Commission staff [are], in fact, highly skeptical of the vice president’s account and made their views clearer in an earlier draft of their staff report.” Some staffers “flat out didn’t believe the call ever took place.” But when the early draft was circulated among the Bush administration, it provoked an angry reaction. White House spokesman Dan Bartlett will say, “We didn’t think it was written in a way that clearly reflected the accounting the president and vice president had given to the Commission.” In a series of phone calls and a letter from its lawyers, the White House forcefully lobbies the Commission to change the language in its report. According to Newsweek, “Ultimately the chairman and vice chair of the Commission, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean and former representative Lee Hamilton… agreed to remove some of the offending language. The report ‘was watered down,’ groused one staffer.” [Newsweek, 6/20/2004] The amended staff report will be presented days later, on June 17, at the final round of the Commission’s public hearings. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; New York Times, 6/17/2004] Cheney will again be angry at how the Commission has dealt with the shootdown issue in its final report, and tries to get this report changed on the eve of its release (see Shortly Before July 22, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 267]
Republican Party officials in Wisconsin prepare a report, “Fraud in Wisconsin 2004: A Timeline/Summary,” that purports to document 65 “voter fraud” instances that they claim had a negative impact on the 2004 elections. US Attorney Steven Biskupic will investigate the claims in the report and find no evidence that crimes were committed. The document is later released by the House Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into the 2006 US Attorney firings (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006); Biskupic is listed for firing just after the report is disseminated (see March 2, 2005). The document is written by Chris Lato, the communications director for the Wisconsin Republican Party, under the auspices of the state GOP’s executive director Rick Wiley. Wiley commissioned the report for White House political chief Karl Rove; in 2007, a source described in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel as having “knowledge of the situation” will tell a reporter: “The report was prepared for Karl Rove. Rick wanted it so he could give it to Karl Rove.” The 30-page report spans the time period from August 31, 2004 through April 1, 2005, and contains reports and summatives with titles such as “RPW [Republican Party of Wisconsin] News Release: Evidence of Election Fraud Piles Up.” In March 2005, White House counselor Dan Bartlett, whose primary role is handling communications issues, identifies Wisconsin as one of the states from which the White House had “received complaints about US Attorneys.” In April 2005, Rove sends a copy of the report to White House counsel Harriet Miers, with a handwritten note calling it “a good summary” of the various voter fraud allegations in Wisconsin, and a notation about an allegation of more votes being cast in certain precincts than those precincts have registered voters, with “proof” of that allegation being that a “local newspaper” assigned “an investigative reporter” to look into the charges. “I was assured Saturday while I was in Milwaukee that the issue of more voters than people on the registration list is real,” Rove writes to Miers. The information in the RPW report will later be incorporated into a larger report disseminated in July 2005 by the American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund (ACVR), entitled “Vote Fraud, Intimidation & Suppression in the 2004 Presidential Election.” ACVR officials Brian Lunde and Mark “Thor” Hearne will write that their report “documents hundreds of incidents and allegations from around the country.… [T]housands of Americans were disenfranchised by illegal votes cast on Election Day 2004.… [P]aid Democrat operatives were far more involved in voter intimidation and suppression activities than were their Republican counterparts.” The report concludes that “government-issued photo ID” requirements will “help assure” that “no American is disenfranchised by illegal votes.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007 ; In These Times, 4/18/2007; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 ] US Attorney David Iglesias will later say of ACVR and similar organizations: “I hope the media keeps shining the spotlight on groups like the American Center for Voting Rights, the ACVR, who has been engaging in this type of voter suppression actions, especially targeting elderly people and minorities. And I mean, if you’re an American citizen who is not a felon, you have the right to vote.” [Democracy Now!, 6/4/2008] Miers will later testify that she has a vague recollection that she believed there was another explanation besides voter fraud for Rove’s “more voters than people on the registration list” characterization. She will recall hearing from the Justice Department “[t]hat the voting precinct in the county lines didn’t match. So in fact, there were instances where it really could be people voting in larger numbers than actually was the county population.” She will say that she believes she learned this from Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, but will not state this with certainty. “[I]t may be that it came from Bill Kelley,” she will say, referring to her deputy William Kelley. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ]
Entity Tags: Chris Lato, Steven M. Biskupic, William Kelley, Brian Lunde, American Center for Voting Rights, Rick Wiley, American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund, Wisconsin Republican Party, Mark (“Thor”) Hearne, Dan Bartlett, David C. Iglesias, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Paul J. McNulty, Harriet E. Miers, Karl C. Rove, House Judiciary Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
During a press conference, President Bush is asked if he still intends to fire anyone involved in the Plame Wilson leak, and if he is “displeased that Karl Rove told a reporter that Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife worked for the [CIA] on WMD issues.” Bush, described as looking “mildly annoyed,” responds, “We have a serious ongoing investigation here,” and adds: “[I]t’s being played out in the press. And I think it’s best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. And I will do so, as well. I don’t know all the facts. I would like to know all the facts. The best place for the facts to be done is by somebody who’s spending time investigating it. I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know all the facts, and if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.” The last line regarding a “crime” was carefully selected before the conference by White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who, press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, wanted to “redefine the terms of firing someone who might have been involved in the leak, specifically Karl.” The New York Times observes, “The remarks appeared to shift the standard for dismissal that has been expressed repeatedly over many months by Mr. Bush’s spokesmen—from promises to fire anyone who played a role in the disclosure, to Mr. Bush’s statement today that criminal conduct would have to be involved.” McClellan dutifully echoes the new phrase in his own press conference, “barely objecting that it did not square with what the president had previously committed to do” (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). “I think that the president was stating what is obvious when it comes to people who work in the administration: that if someone commits a crime, they’re not going to be working any longer in this administration,” McClellan tells reporters. “I think that you should not read anything into it more than what the president said at this point.” McClellan will later describe himself as “psychologically battered” by this point (see July 11, 2005). [New York Times, 7/18/2005; White House, 7/18/2005; New York Times, 7/19/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 262-263]
Accusations of Shifting Standards, 'Lowering the Ethics Bar' - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says he is disappointed in what he believes to be Bush’s shifting stance. “The standard for holding a high position in the White House should not simply be that you didn’t break the law,” he says. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) writes a letter to Bush charging that he has “significantly changed” his position, and that a president has “an affirmative obligation” to take quick action to protect national security secrets without waiting for a prosecution to run its course. [New York Times, 7/18/2005] Other Democrats charge that Bush has “lowered the ethics bar” for his administration. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) says: “It appears that an administration that came to office promising ‘honesty and integrity’ and to avoid ‘legalisms’ is now defining ethical standards downward. In this White House, apparently no aide will be fired or forced to resign unless and until the jail cell door is locked behind him.” [Associated Press, 7/18/2005]
Rove Held to Different Standard of Accountability, Say Experts - Some experts say that by insisting on waiting for a final legal verdict, Bush is setting a different standard of accountability for Rove than for other government employees. Elaine Kaplan, who headed the Office of Special Counsel from 1998 through 2003, says: “Government employees and officials who are negligent with classified information can lose their jobs for carelessness. They don’t have to be convicted of intentionally disseminating the information. Crime has never been the threshold. That’s not the standard that applies to rank-and-file federal employees. They can be fired for misconduct well short of a crime.” Beth Slavet, the former chair of the Merit Systems Protection Board, adds: “The government can fire a Civil Service employee if it can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it would ‘promote the efficiency of the service’ to do so. The person does not have to be guilty of a crime. You can be dismissed because you didn’t submit paperwork on time, you didn’t follow instructions, you repeatedly showed up late for work, or you yelled at supervisors and fellow workers.” [New York Times, 7/19/2005]
In a meeting with aides this afternoon, President Bush discusses the coming storm. Aides inform Bush that the evacuations are proceedings as planned, and that 11,000 National Guard troops will be in a position to respond to the emergency, according to a senior White House official. (The actual number in position will be less than half of this number, however.) Bush tells senior advisor Dan Bartlett that he may need to rearrange his schedule to add a trip to the Gulf Coast next week. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005]
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, indicted on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see October 28, 2005), testified two years ago that President Bush authorized him to selectively disclose information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate in order to defend the administration’s decision to go to war with Iraq, according to papers filed with the court by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Libby’s testimony, to Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), has remained secret until now. According to the testimony, Libby received “approval from the president through the vice president” to divulge portions of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) regarding Saddam Hussein’s purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons to certain reporters. Libby testified that Vice President Dick Cheney authorized him to divulge the key judgments from the NIE to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) because, in Cheney’s opinion, it was “very important” to do so. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 4/5/2006 ; National Journal, 4/6/2006; Washington Post, 4/13/2006] (A week later, Fitzgerald will modify his filing to read, “some of the key judgments.” The New York Times will report, “The distinction between the two versions is that the second accurately stated that the finding about Iraq’s efforts to obtain uranium was in the report, but was not among its ‘key judgments,’ a term used in intelligence reporting to indicate that a stated conclusion represents the consensus of intelligence agencies.”) [Washington Post, 4/12/2006; New York Times, 4/13/2006] According to the filing: “Defendant testified that the vice president later advised him [Libby] that the president had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE. Defendant testified that he also spoke to David Addington, then counsel to the vice president, whom defendant considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document” (see July 8, 2003). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 4/5/2006 ; Think Progress, 4/6/2006]
Bush Declassified Information for Purposes of Leaking - According to the court papers, Libby “further testified that he at first advised the vice president that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE. [Libby] testified that the vice president had advised [Libby] that the president had authorized [Libby] to disclose relevant portions of the NIE.” Libby testified that such presidential authorization to reveal classified information was “unique in his recollection.” He testified that Cheney specifically had him “speak to the press in place of Cathie Martin [the then-communications director for Cheney] regarding the NIE and Wilson.” Libby added that “at the time of his conversations with Miller and Cooper, he understood that only three people—the president, the vice president, and [Libby]—knew that the key judgments of the NIE had been declassified.” Libby said that Cheney’s senior lawyer, Addington, told him that Bush had, by authorizing the disclosure, effectively declassified the information, a point that legal experts continue to dispute. Since then, Libby has told reporters that Cheney also authorized him to leak classified information to several reporters in the weeks and months before the Iraqi invasion. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 4/5/2006 ; National Journal, 4/6/2006]
Providing Classified Information to Woodward - Libby also testified that Bush authorized him to provide classified information to author and reporter Bob Woodward. Woodward was working on his book about the administration’s run-up to war with Iraq, Plan of Attack. According to other former senior government officials, Bush directed several White House officials to assist Woodward in preparing the book. One government official says, “There were people on the seventh floor [of the CIA] who were told by [then-CIA Director George] Tenet to cooperate because the president wanted it done. There were calls to people to by [White House communication director] Dan Bartlett that the president wanted it done, if you were not co-operating. And sometimes the president himself told people that they should co-operate.” According to some former officials, the White House provided Woodward with selected information in order to shape the course of his writing. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 4/5/2006 ; National Journal, 4/6/2006]
Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Matthew Cooper, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Dan Bartlett, Judith Miller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Central Intelligence Agency, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bob Woodward, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Ari Fleischer, outside the courthouse where the Libby trial is underway. [Source: Life]Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testifies in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), and tells the court that he learned of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby three days before Libby has said he first learned of it. If Fleischer is telling the truth, then Libby cannot have been truthful in his claims. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has told the court that in 2004 he offered Fleischer blanket immunity in return for his testimony (see February 13, 2004), without being sure what Fleischer would say in court. The defense team calls the arrangement highly unusual, and days before attempted to bar Fleischer’s testimony (see January 25-27, 2007). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009] The prosecution quickly elicits Fleischer’s admission that if he lies under oath, his immunity agreement becomes void and he, too, can be prosecuted. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009]
Libby Told Fleischer of Plame Wilson's Identity - Testifying under oath, Fleischer tells prosecuting attorney Peter Zeidenberg (handling the examination for Fitzgerald) that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby during a lunch with him on July 7, the day after Plame Wilson’s husband’s controversial op-ed appeared in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003). Libby has told reporters he first learned about Plame Wilson’s identity on either July 10 or July 11 from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). According to Fleischer, Libby told him: “Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer testifies that Libby referred to Wilson’s wife by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Fleischer says, “He added it was hush-hush, on the Q.T., and that most people didn’t know it.” Fleischer also notes that Libby told him Plame Wilson worked in the Counterproliferation Division, where almost everyone is covert, though he testifies that he knows little about the CIA’s internal structure. Four days later, Fleischer heard of Plame Wilson’s CIA status again, that time from White House communications director Dan Bartlett (see July 6-10, 2003). Fleischer informed conservative columnist Robert Novak of Plame Wilson’s CIA status the same day he learned of it from Libby (see July 7, 2003), and told reporters David Gregory and John Dickerson the same information a week later in what he calls a casual conversation (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Fleischer insists he believed the information about Plame Wilson was not classified, saying, “[N]ever in my wildest dreams [did I think] this information would be classified.” [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Washington Post, 1/30/2007; National Journal, 2/19/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009]
Defense Cross - The defense notes that Fleischer originally mispronounced Plame Wilson’s maiden name as “plah-MAY,” indicating that he may have read about her instead of being told of her identity. Fleischer says under cross-examination that he did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to reporters until he heard about the CIA official from a second White House aide, Bartlett (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 15, 2005). It was after Bartlett’s “vent” about Wilson that Fleischer says he decided to inform two reporters, NBC’s David Gregory and Time’s John Dickerson, of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. (Dickerson has said Fleischer did not tell him Plame Wilson was a CIA official—see February 7, 2006.) Fleischer testifies that neither Libby nor Bartlett invoked a White House protocol under which colleagues warned him when they were providing classified information that could not be discussed with reporters. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Washington Post, 1/30/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
Post: Fleischer Impugns Libby 'Memory Defense' - The Washington Post calls Fleischer “the most important prosecution witness to date,” and continues: “Though a series of government officials have told the jury that Libby eagerly sought information about [Wilson], Fleischer was the first witness to say Libby then passed on what he learned: that Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer who had sent him on a trip to Africa.… Fleischer also reinforced the prosecution’s central argument: that Libby had been so determined to learn and spread information about Wilson and Plame that he could not have forgotten his efforts” (see January 31, 2006). [Washington Post, 1/30/2007] In 2004, Libby testified that he could not remember if he discussed Plame Wilson with Fleischer, though he admitted that he may have. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Dickerson, David Gregory, Joseph C. Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Dan Bartlett, Peter Zeidenberg, Bush administration (43), Counterproliferation Division, Valerie Plame Wilson, Ari Fleischer, Robert Novak, Tim Russert
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The White House refuses to allow special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to turn over key documents from his investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak to Congress, as requested by House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) since June 2007 and revealed by Waxman today. Waxman has repeatedly requested reports of interviews by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and five top White House aides—White House political strategist Karl Rove, former press secretary Scott McClellan, former chief of staff Andrew Card, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and former communications director Dan Bartlett. Waxman has also requested transcripts and other documents relevant to these officials’ testimony. According to Waxman, Fitzgerald is willing to turn over the documents to the committee, but cannot gain White House permission to do so. Waxman appeals to newly appointed Attorney General Michael Mukasey to overrule the White House and release the documents. “I hope you will not accede to the White House objections,” Waxman writes to Mukasey. “During the Clinton administration, your predecessor, Janet Reno, made an independent judgment and provided numerous FBI interview reports to the committee, including reports of interviews with President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and three White House chiefs of staff. I have been informed that Attorney General Reno neither sought nor obtained White House consent before providing these interview records to the committee. I believe the Justice Department should exercise the same independence in this case.… There is no legitimate basis for the withholding of these documents. Mr. Fitzgerald has apparently determined that these documents can be produced to the committee without infringing on his prosecutorial independence or violating the rules of grand jury secrecy. As records of statements made by White House officials to federal investigators, outside the framework of presidential decision-making, the documents could not be subject to a valid claim of executive privilege.” Mukasey will not accede to Waxman’s request. Many believe that even though Fitzgerald only managed to convict one White House official as a result of his investigation (see March 6, 2007), he compiled evidence that indicates others, including Cheney, were involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Fitzgerald has indicated that his investigation into other White House officials was drastically hindered by Libby’s repeated lies under oath (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007 and May 25, 2007). Fitzgerald has declined to testify before Waxman’s committee, citing rules that prohibit him from revealing grand jury proceedings, and noting that prosecutors “traditionally refrain from commenting outside of the judicial process on the actions of persons not charged with criminal offenses.” [Washington Post, 12/3/2007] Waxman will continue, without success, to request the information (see June 3, 2008), though the White House will release heavily redacted transcripts of Libby’s grand jury testimony in the summer of 2008. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley, Valerie Plame Wilson, Andrew Card, Dan Bartlett, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, Michael Mukasey, Henry A. Waxman, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Janet Reno, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Reflecting on the failure of the Bush administration to make its case on Iraq and the detrimental effect it had on the Bush presidency’s popularity with the American people, former Bush communications director Dan Bartlett says: “At the end of the day I think the divisiveness of this presidency will fundamentally come down to one issue: Iraq. And Iraq only because, in my opinion, there weren’t weapons of mass destruction. I think the public’s tolerance for the difficulties we face would’ve been far different had it felt like the original threat had been proved true. That’s the fulcrum. Fundamentally, when the president gets to an approval rating of 27 percent, it’s this issue.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
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