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Profile: General Accounting Office (GAO)

a.k.a. Government Accountability Office

General Accounting Office (GAO) was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Washington Post reports that a $25,000 cashier’s check, apparently earmarked for the campaign to re-elect President Nixon, found its way into the Miami bank account of one of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Origin of Check - The check, drawn on a Boca Raton, Florida bank, was made out to Kenneth H. Dahlberg, the finance manager for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Dahlberg says that in early April, he gave the check to “the treasurer of the Committee [Hugh Sloan, who has since quit the committee and is cooperating with the FBI investigation] or to Maurice Stans himself.” Stans, formerly Nixon’s secretary of commerce, is CREEP’s finance chief. The money is made up of “[c]ontributions I collected in my role as Midwest finance chairman,” Dahlberg explains. “In the process of fund-raising I had accumulated some cash… so I recall making a cash deposit while I was in Florida and getting a cashier’s check made out to myself. I didn’t want to carry all that cash into Washington.”
Watergate Connections - Barker withdrew much of the money from the same Boca Raton bank account, in $100 bills. 53 of those bills were found on the five Watergate burglars after their arrest. Clark MacGregor, who replaced former Attorney General John Mitchell as the head of CREEP (see July 1, 1972), says he knows nothing about the check or the money found on Barker and the other burglars: “[T]hese events took place before I came aboard. Mitchell and Stans would presumably know.” The Post also learns that another $89,000 in four separate checks were deposited in Barker’s Miami bank account in May (see June 23, 1972). The checks were originally made out to Mexican lawyer Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre, on an account at Mexico’s Banco Internacional. While looking over the story before publication, Post editor Barry Sussman says: “We’ve never had a story like this. Just never.” [Washington Post, 8/1/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 43-44]
GAO Will Investigate Nixon Campaign Finances - Stans’s secretary says her boss cannot comment on the story because he is “agoniz[ing] over the confusing circumstances” and does not want to say anything that might compromise his integrity. Philip S. Hughes, the director of the Federal Elections Division of the General Accounting Office (GAO, the investigative arm of Congress), says that the story reveals “for the first time [that] the bugging incident was related to the campaign finance law.… There’s nothing in Maury [Stans]‘s reports showing anything like that Dahlberg check.” Hughes says his office intends to fully audit the Nixon campaign finances. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 45-47]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, Bernard Barker, Barry Sussman, Clark MacGregor, General Accounting Office, Maurice Stans, Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre, Kenneth H. Dahlberg, Committee to Re-elect the President, Philip S. Hughes

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The General Accounting Office (GAO) completes its preliminary report on financial irregularities inside the Nixon re-election campaign (see August 1-2, 1972). According to the report, the campaign has mishandled over $500,000 in campaign contributions, including an apparently illegal “slush fund” of over $100,000—perhaps more than $350,000. The report lists 11 “apparent and possible violations” of the new campaign finance law (see Before April 7, 1972), and refers the matter to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. The GAO agrees to delay its public issuance of its report after the committee’s finance chairman, Maurice Stans, asks GAO chief investigator Philip Hughes to come to Miami, where the Republican National Convention is in full swing, to receive more information. Another GAO investigator tells Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that the Nixon campaign does not want the report to be made public on the same day that Richard Nixon accepts the Republican nomination for president. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 48-56]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Bob Woodward, Committee to Re-elect the President, US Department of Justice, Maurice Stans, Philip S. Hughes, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon responds to the report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) alleging possible illegal campaign finances in his re-election campaign (see August 22, 1972). Nixon tells reporters, “[W]e have a new law here in which technical violations have occurred and are occurring, apparently on both sides.” When asked what illegalities the Democrats have committed, Nixon says: “I think that will come out in the balance of this week. I will let the political people talk about, but I understand that there have been [violations] on both sides.” The financial director of his re-election campaign, Maurice Stans (see Before April 7, 1972), is an honest man, Nixon says, and is currently investigating the matter “very, very thoroughly, because he doesn’t want any evidence at all to be outstanding, indicating that we have not complied with the law.” Between the GAO’s and the FBI’s investigations, Stans’s own internal investigation, and an internal White House investigation by White House counsel John Dean, Nixon says there is no need for a special Watergate prosecutor, as some have requested. Of the Dean investigation: “I can say categorically that his investigation indicates that no one on the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident [the Watergate burglary—see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972]. What really hurts in matters of this sort is not the fact that they occur, because overzealous people in campaigns do things that are wrong. What really hurts is if you try to cover it up.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 57; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] A Washington Post story on the press conference highlights Nixon’s use of the phrase “presently employed,” and notes that several people suspected of campaign wrongdoing—G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Maurice Stans, Hugh Sloan, and John Mitchell—no longer work for the administration. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 57] An assistant attorney general is convinced that the Dean investigation is “a fraud, a pipeline to [White House aide H. R.] Haldeman.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 206] In April 1973, an associate of Dean tells Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that there was never any such investigation, that Dean had not even discussed anything to do with Watergate as of August 29. “There never was a report,” the associate says. “Dean was asked to gather certain facts. The facts got twisted around to help some other people above him.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 297-298] Dean later tells Watergate investigators that he never conducted any such internal White House investigation (see June 3, 1973). [Washington Post, 6/3/1973]

Entity Tags: John Dean, General Accounting Office, E. Howard Hunt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hugh Sloan, Bob Woodward, G. Gordon Liddy, H.R. Haldeman, Maurice Stans, John Mitchell, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage.Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage. [Source: Southern Methodist University]The Washington Post reports that John Mitchell, the former attorney general and former head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), personally controlled a secret Republican “slush fund” used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democratic Party (see Early 1970). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Mitchell had authorized expenditures from the fund beginning in the spring of 1971, while he was attorney general. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 98-103] The fund was originally conceived by White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, who in 1972 came up with what he called “Operation Gemstone,” a $1 million plan to carry out a series of covert and often illegal actions against President Nixon’s political enemies (see January 29, 1972). Mitchell scaled back the budget to $250,000 (at first) to launch a scaled-down version of Gemstone. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Mitchell personally approved a number of withdrawals from the fund, which swelled in size from around $350,000 to $700,000 at any given time. Four others besides Mitchell were later authorized to approve payments from the secret fund. One is Maurice Stans, the former commerce secretary who is now finance chairman of CREEP; the fund was kept in a safe in Stans’s office. A second is Jeb Magruder, the former manager of CREEP who is now deputy director of the organization. A third is a senior White House official involved in the campaign, and the other is a campaign aide based outside of Washington. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972] (Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are all but convinced that the “senior White House official” is H. R. Haldeman, but they cannot get anyone to go on record to confirm their assumption, and therefore do not print Haldeman’s name in the story.) [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 100]
Mitchell's Explosive Reaction - Mitchell is outraged by the allegations. When Bernstein calls to confirm the story, he explodes: “Jesus!… All that crap, you’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied. Katie Graham [Katherine Graham, publisher of the Post] is gonna get caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published. Good Christ! That’s the most sickening thing I’ve ever heard.” (The actual quote, which Post executive editor Ben Bradlee cleans up for public consumption, is, “Katie Graham’s gonna get her t_t caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”) [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105; Woodward, 2005, pp. 72] Mitchell continues: “You fellows got a great ball game going. As soon as you’re through paying Williams [Edward Bennett Williams, whose law firm represents the Democratic Party, as well as the Post], we’re going to do a story on all of you.” When Bradlee hears of Mitchell’s reaction, he asks if Mitchell was drunk. When Bernstein replies that he doesn’t believe so, and Bradlee confirms that Bernstein properly identified himself as a reporter, Bradlee tells Bernstein to print Mitchell’s reaction. CREEP spokesman Powell Moore tries to persuade Bradlee not to run the Mitchell quote, saying that it wasn’t fair to run the quote because Bernstein woke Mitchell up, and therefore Mitchell’s “composure [was] not guarded.” Bradlee refuses to delete the quote. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105-108]
CREEP Denials - Moore later states that neither Mitchell or Stans knows anything about “any disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post and neither of them controlled any committee expenditures while serving as government officials.” One of the planners of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), G. Gordon Liddy, withdrew well over $50,000 from the fund. Although records of the fund’s disbursements have been destroyed, other sources indicate that some of the other recipients of the fund include Magruder; Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, CREEP’s scheduling director; several White House officials; and other unidentified persons not officially part of either CREEP or the Nixon administration. Magruder denies ever receiving any such funds. The General Accounting Office has said that such a fund is a “possible and apparent” violation of a new, stricter campaign finance disclosure law. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972]

Entity Tags: Edward Bennett Williams, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Committee to Re-elect the President, Powell Moore, General Accounting Office, Katharine Graham, H.R. Haldeman, Herbert L. Porter, Maurice Stans, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is steered to a George Washington University student named Craig Hillegass. The student tells Woodward that his fraternity brother, Theodore Brill, was paid $150 a week by the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) to infiltrate the group of Quakers who maintain a 24-hour a day “peace vigil” in front of the White House. Brill reported information on the protesters’ demonstration plans and personal lives, and then helped plan and execute raids for drug possession. The Washington police eventually did raid the vigil, but found nothing. Brill, the chairman of GWU’s Young Republicans chapter, was terminated by CREEP two days after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “The idea,” Hillegass tells Woodward, “was to create an embarrassment to the Democrats, because any embarrassment to radical groups would be considered an embarrassment to liberal politics and Senator [George] McGovern,” the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 (see November 7, 1972). Hillegass recalls that the method of paying Brill was almost cartoonish in its covert nature: “Ted said he once was told to meet a woman in a red dress with a white carnation, carrying a newspaper. He exchanged his written report for an envelope containing his pay.” Woodward is most interested in Hillegass’s recollection that Brill’s campaign “dirty tricks” were connected to higher-level officials in CREEP—and the number of other “agents provacateurs” being employed by the campaign. Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) was only one of 50 or so provacateurs employed by the campaign, and the Post has always wanted to know who the other 49 were. Brill was definitely small fry, but, Woodward believes, part of a larger pattern. When Woodward speaks with Brill himself, the student confirms his former job with CREEP, and says that he was hired by George Gorton, CREEP’s national youth director. He was paid five times—four times in cash and once with Gorton’s personal check, never in a way that could be traced back to the campaign. Brill says he was supposed to go to Miami and join other campaign operatives in similar operations to the Quaker infiltration, but the Watergate burglary brought that to an abrupt close. Gorton confirms that Brill worked for him in the campaign, but denies he or Brill ever did anything illegal. Interestingly, Gorton initially boasts that he had people gathering information on “radicals” in 38 states, then backs off and says Brill was his only operative. Gorton says he reported to Kenneth Rietz, the director of CREEP’s Youth Vote Division. Rietz had been recommended by H. R. Haldeman to take over as the head of the Republican National Committee. The Posts prints a story based on Woodward’s information, and notes that Brill’s salary was not reported in CREEP’s financial disclosures. The General Accounting Office (GAO) will audit CREEP’s finances and discover that the campaign had maintained a clandestine “Kiddie Corps” of young spies working around the country. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 262-265]

Entity Tags: George S. McGovern, Committee to Re-elect the President, Bob Woodward, Craig Hillegass, Donald Segretti, H.R. Haldeman, Kenneth Rietz, George Gorton, Republican National Committee, Theodore Brill, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Richard Allen.Richard Allen. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images]After Ronald Reagan takes office, he appoints 33 members of the powerful, far-right Committee on the Present Danger (see 1976) to his administration, 20 of them in national security positions. Reagan himself is a member, as is:
bullet Kenneth Adelman, the US’s deputy representative to the UN;
bullet Richard Allen, Reagan’s assistant for National Security Affairs;
bullet William Casey, director of the CIA;
bullet John Connally, a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board;
bullet Jeane Kirkpatrick, US ambassador to the UN;
bullet John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy;
bullet Michael Novak, the US representative on the UN’s Human Rights Commission;
bullet Richard Perle, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy;
bullet Eugene Rostow, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency;
bullet George Shultz, Secretary of State.
The CPD members in the Reagan administration are able to convince large portions of the American public that the US faces a grave and imminent threat from the Soviet Union, even though the Soviet Union is on the verge of dissolution. CIA official Melvin Goodman, who will resign in 1990 over the increasingly blatant politicization of intelligence on the Soviet Union, will say that the tremendously exaggerated estimates of the Soviet Union’s military strength “meant that the policy community was completely surprised by the Soviet collapse, and missed numerous negotiating opportunities with Moscow.” An extensive study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) will show that military officials consistently exaggerate the Soviet threat in order to get Congress to fund the largest defense buildup in the nation’s history. [Unger, 2007, pp. 58-59]

Entity Tags: Eugene V. Rostow, General Accounting Office, Melvin A. Goodman, George Shultz, Kenneth Adelman, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Committee on the Present Danger, John Lehman, William Casey, Michael Novak, John Connally, Richard Perle, Ronald Reagan, Richard V. Allen

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) asks the Army for assistance in raiding the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see November 1992 - January 1993 and 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). The request is not acknowledged by federal or military officials for over six years. Army officials will note that such involvement is illegal unless the president personally makes the request; they say that no such request was ever considered. In 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO) will find that military personnel were called to the scene after the BATF “cited possible drug-related activity” at the Davidian compound. The BATF makes the request through Operation Alliance, an agency that coordinates law enforcement requests for military help in fighting drugs. The BATF requests training by special forces troops, instruction in driving Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs), and the loan of seven BFVs. Operation Alliance will forward the request to Fort Bliss, the home of Joint Task Force 6 (JTF-6), the military’s headquarters for domestic anti-drug efforts. JTF-6 officials are told that the requested assistance is “in direct support of interdiction activities along the Southwest border.” However, Major Mark Petree, the commander of the Army’s special forces, questions the legality of the request. His legal adviser, Major Phillip Lindley, writes a memo stating that the BATF request would make the military an active, illegal partner in a domestic police action. JTF-6 officers accuse Lindley of trying to undermine the mission, and Lindley refers the matter to Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Andrews, the deputy staff judge advocate. Andrews says that the military could probably evaluate the BATF plan of attack (see February 24-27, 1993), but cannot intervene to cancel or revise it. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; Associated Press, 10/31/1999] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that the BATF deliberately misrepresented the Davidians as a drug cartel in order to receive military assistance and avoid reimbursing the military for that assistance (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Operation Alliance, Douglas Andrews, Branch Davidians, General Accounting Office, Mark Petree, US Department of the Army, Joint Task Force-6, Phillip Lindley, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommends that the number of aircraft dedicated to defending US airspace be reduced, a recommendation echoed by the General Accounting Office (GAO) over a year later. The continental air defense mission, carried out by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), was developed during the Cold War to protect against any Soviet bombers that might try to attack the US via the North Pole. In 1960, NORAD had about 1,200 fighter jets dedicated to this task, but now its US portion comprises 180 Air National Guard fighters, located in 10 units and 14 alert sites around the US. In February 1993, Powell issues a report in which he suggests that, due to the former Soviet Union no longer posing a significant threat, the air defense mission could be transferred to existing general-purpose combat and training forces. In May 1994, the GAO issues a report agreeing with Powell, saying that a “dedicated continental air defense force is no longer needed.” The report also says: “NORAD plans to reduce the number of alert sites in the continental United States to 14 and provide 28 aircraft for the day-to-day peacetime air sovereignty mission. Each alert site will have two fighters, and their crews will be on 24-hour duty and ready to scramble within five minutes.” [US Department of Defense, 2/12/1993; General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994] NORAD will play a key role in responding to the hijackings on 9/11. By then, it will have just 14 fighters available around the US on “alert”—on the runway, fueled, and ready to take off within minutes of being ordered into the air. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Colin Powell, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

House Oversight Committee holds public hearings on the Waco debacle.House Oversight Committee holds public hearings on the Waco debacle. [Source: C-SPAN]The House Oversight Committee releases its report on the FBI’s siege and final assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 19, 1993). The report was prepared in conjunction with the House Judiciary Committee. The report spans investigative activities undertaken on behalf of the committees by Congressional investigators from April 1995 through May 1996; the committees took almost three months to write the final report. As part of that investigation, the Oversight Committee held 10 days of public hearings (see August 4, 1995). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Findings - The report makes the following conclusions:
Branch Davidians Responsible for Situation, Deaths - “But for the criminal conduct and aberrational behavior of David Koresh and other Branch Davidians, the tragedies that occurred in Waco would not have occurred,” the report finds. “The ultimate responsibility for the deaths of the Davidians and the four federal law enforcement agents [referring to the federal agents slain in the February 1993 raid] lies with Koresh.” The Davidians set the fires themselves, the report finds. Moreover, the Davidians had time to leave the premises after their cohorts set the fires, and most either chose to stay or were prevented from leaving by their fellows. The 19 Davidians killed by gunfire either shot themselves, the report finds, were shot by their fellows, or were killed by “the remote possibility of accidental discharge from rounds exploding in the fire.”
Treasury Department 'Derelict' in Duties - Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Deputy Secretary Roger Altman were “irresponsible” and “derelict in their duties” refusing to meet with the director of the BATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, sometimes abbreviated ATF] in the month before the February raid, and failing to ask for briefings. Senior Treasury officials “routinely failed” to monitor BATF officials, knew little to nothing of the plans for the raid, and therefore failed to uncover the significant flaws in the plan. When the raid failed, Assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald Noble tried to blame the BATF for the failure, even though Noble and his fellow Treasury officials failed to supervise the BATF’s plans and activities.
BATF 'Grossly Incompetent' - Some of the worst criticism of the report are leveled at the BATF. The report calls the agency’s investigation of the Davidians (see June-July 1992, November 1992 - January 1993, and January 11, 1993 and After) “grossly incompetent” and lacking in “the minimum professionalism expected of a major federal law enforcement agency.” The agents in charge of planning decided to use a “military-style raid” two months before beginning surveillance, undercover, and infiltration efforts. The agency did have probable cause for a search warrant against Koresh and the Davidians (see February 25, 1993), but the affidavit applying for the warrant “contained an incredible number of false statements.” The BATF agents responsible for the affidavit either knew, or should have known, the affidavit was so inaccurate and false. Koresh could easily have been arrested outside the compound, the report finds; the BATF planners “were determined to use a dynamic entry approach,” and thusly “exercised extremely poor judgment, made erroneous assumptions, and ignored the foreseeable perils of their course of action.” BATF agents lied to Defense Department officials about the Davidians’ supposed involvement in drug manufacturing, and by those lies secured Defense Department training without having to reimburse the department, as they should have. The raid plan itself “was poorly conceived, utilized a high risk tactical approach when other tactics could have been successfully used, was drafted and commanded by ATF agents who were less qualified than other available agents, and used agents who were not sufficiently trained for the operation.” Plan security was lax, making it easy for the Davidians to learn about the plan and take precautions. The report singles out BATF raid commanders Philip Chojnacki and Chuck Sarabyn for criticism, noting that they endangered BATF agents’ lives by choosing to go ahead with the raid even though they knew, or should have known, the Davidians had found out about it and were taking defensive action. “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28.” The report is highly critical of Chojnacki’s and Sarabyn’s rehiring after they were fired (see December 23, 1994). The report also cites former BATF Director Stephen Higgins (see July 2, 1995) and former Deputy Director Daniel Hartnett for failing to become involved in the planning.
Justice Department Decision to Approve Final Assault 'Highly Irresponsible' - The report charactizes Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval of the FBI’s plan to end the standoff “premature, wrong… highly irresponsible… [and] seriously negligent” (see April 17-18, 1993). Reno should have known that the plan would put the Davidians’s lives at extreme risk, especially the children inside, and should have been doubly reluctant because of the lack of a serious threat posed by the Davidians to the FBI or to the surrounding community. Reno should have been skeptical of the FBI’s reasons for ending the standoff: negotiations were continuing, the Davidians were not threatening to break out in force, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) could have gone longer without mandatory rest and retraining, the Davidians’ living conditions had not significantly deteriorated, and there was no reason to believe that children were being abused or mistreated any more than they may have been before the February raid. “The final assault put the children at the greatest risk.” The report calls the plan to use CS riot control gas “fatally flawed.” CS gas is a dangerous substance, and particularly threatening to children, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with respiratory conditions, all of which were represented in the compound. Some of those who died in the fires may have died from exposure to CS gas before the fires consumed them, the report speculates. The Davidians were likely to react violently and not submissively, as the FBI insisted, and the likelihood of armed resistance and mass suicide in response to the CS gas insertion was high. Moreover, the plan had no contingency provisions in case the initial insertion did not provide the desired result. Reno offered her resignation after the April 19 assault; the report says that President Clinton “should have accepted it.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
FBI Pushed for Violent Confrontation Instead of Allowing Negotiations to Continue - The FBI was riven by the conflict between two teams with “incompatible methodologies,” the report finds: the HRT, which ultimately controlled the situation, and the negotiators. Senior FBI agent Jeffrey Jamar almost always sided with the HRT’s aggressive approach, but often “allowed the proposals of each team to be implemented simultaneously, working against each other.” The FBI’s chief negotiator on-site, Gary Noesner, told the committee that the dichotomy between the “action-oriented” HRT and the “nonviolent” negotiators is a problem that the FBI routinely experiences; it was not unique to the Davidian standoff. The two teams battled with increasing hostility and anger towards one another as the siege progressed, with the negotiators becoming less and less influential. The negotiators later testified that the pressure tactics used by the HRT against the Davidians undermined their efforts at winning the Davidians’ trust and rendered their efforts ineffective. FBI profiler Peter Smerick (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, August 1993, and 1995) was particularly harsh in his assessment of the tactics of the HRT during the siege; during his interviews with investigators, Smerick said “the FBI commanders were moving too rapidly toward a tactical solution and were not allowing adequate time for negotiations to work.” Smerick told investigators that while the “negotiators were building bonds… the tactical group was undermining everything.… Every time the negotiators were making progress the tactical people would undo it.” The report concludes, “FBI leadership engaged these two strategies in a way that bonded the Davidians together and perpetuated the standoff.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After March 2, when Koresh and the Davidians broke what some considered to be a promise to come out (see March 2, 1993), Jamar believed nothing Koresh or the others said, and essentially gave up on the idea of a negotiated surrender. Chief negotiator Byron Sage did not share that view, but Jamar and the HRT officials began thinking, and planning, exclusively on a forced end to the standoff, even ignoring evidence that Koresh intended to lead his people out after completing his work on an interpretation of the Biblical Seven Seals (see April 14-15, 1993). Many FBI officials, particularly Jamar, Noesner, and the HRT leadership, became frustrated and impatient with what the report calls “endless dissertations of Branch Davidian beliefs” (see March 15, 1993), to the point where they ignored the assertions from religious experts that the Davidians could be productively negotiated with on a religiously theoretical level (see March 16, 1993). The FBI, the report says, “should have sought and accepted more expert advice on the Branch Davidians and their religious views and been more open-minded to the advice of the FBI’s own experts.” Jamar and the senior FBI officials advising Reno should have known that the reasons they gave to end negotiations and force an ending were groundless; their advice to Reno was, the report says, “wrong and highly irresponsible.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] However, some charges against the FBI are baseless, the report finds. CS gas would not have built up in any areas of the residence to anything approaching lethal levels. No FBI agents shot at the Davidians or the compound. No agent set any fires, either deliberately or inadvertently. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Defense Department Bears No Responsibility - The report finds no reason to fault the Defense Department or National Guard, as no DoD nor Guard personnel took an active part in the assault; the Posse Comitatus Act was therefore not violated. No foreign military personnel or foreign nationals took any part in the assault, though “[s]ome foreign military personnel were present near the Davidian residence as observers at the invitation of the FBI.”
Recommendations - The report recommends that:
bullet the Justice Department consider assuming control of the BATF from the Treasury Department;
bullet Waco residents who made the false statements to law enforcement officials included in the original search warrants should be charged with crimes;
bullet federal agents should use caution in using such statements to obtain warrants; the BATF should review and revise its planning to ensure that “its best qualified agents are placed in command and control positions in all operations”;
bullet senior BATF officials “should assert greater command and control over significant operations”;
bullet the BATF should no longer have sole jurisdiction over any drug-related crimes;
bullet Congress should consider enhancing the Posse Comitatus Act to restrain the National Guard from being involved with federal law enforcement actions;
bullet the Defense Department should clarify the grounds upon which law enforcement agencies can apply for its assistance;
bullet the General Accounting Office (GAO) should ensure that the BATF reimburses the Defense Department for the training and assistance it improperly received;
bullet the GAO should investigate Operation Alliance, the organization that acts as a liaison between the military and other federal agencies;
bullet the FBI should revamp its negotiation policies and training to minimize the effects of physical and emotional fatigue on negotiators;
bullet the FBI should take steps to ensure greater understanding of the targets under investigation (the report notes that had the FBI and BATF agents understood more about the Davidians’ religious philosophies, they “could have made better choices in planning to deal with the Branch Davidians” (see March 15, 1993);
bullet the FBI should ensure better training for its lead negotiators;
bullet FBI agents should rely more on outside experts (the reports notes that several religious experts offered their services in helping the agents understand the Davidians, but were either rebuffed or ignored—see March 3, 1993, March 7, 1993, and March 16, 1993);
bullet federal law enforcement agencies should welcome the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, particularly state and local agencies;
bullet the FBI should expand the size of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) “so that there are sufficient numbers of team members to participate in an operation and to relieve those involved when necessary”;
bullet the FBI should conduct further examinations on the use of CS gas against children, those with respiratory problems, pregnant women, and the elderly. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Perhaps the Greatest Law Enforcement Tragedy in American History' - In a statement appended to the final report, Representative Steven Schiff (R-NM) calls the Davidian raid, standoff, and final assault “perhaps the greatest law enforcement tragedy in American history.” He writes: “It would not be a significant overstatement to describe the Waco operation from the government’s standpoint, as one in which if something could go wrong, it did. The true tragedy is, virtually all of those mistakes could have been avoided.” His statement decries what he calls the increasing “militarization of law enforcement,” recommends that the HRT be scaled back instead of expanded, expresses little confidence in the FLIR (forward-looking infrared radar) videotapes used to determine when and how the fires were started, calls for stringent limitations on the use of CS gas, and blames the FBI for not allowing many of the residents to escape. He accuses the Justice Department of a “breach of ethics” in what he says were its attempts to conceal and withhold evidence from the committee, and to shape its findings. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Dissenting Views - The investigating committees’ 17 Democrats issue a “dissenting views” addendum that is highly critical of what it calls the Republican majority’s use of “false assumptions and unfounded allegations” to besmirch the reputations of Reno and Bentsen, and the use of those “assumptions and allegations” to press for Reno’s resignation. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Gary Noesner, US Department of the Treasury, US Department of Defense, Branch Davidians, Clinton administration, Dan Hartnett, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steven Schiff, Charles Sarabyn, Ronald Noble, Janet Reno, Stephen Higgins, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, General Accounting Office, Lloyd Bentsen, Jeffrey Jamar, Operation Alliance, Peter Smerick, Roger Altman, Philip Chojnacki

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Knight Ridder is the first newspaper publisher to express public skepticism over White House and media reports of the Clinton “vandal scandal,” which allege that Clinton staffers vandalized and looted the White House and Air Force One in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 25, 2001 and January 26, 2001). “It was a news story that had a lot going for it,” Knight Ridder correspondent David Goldstein writes, “except on-the-record sources and many hard facts.” Goldstein calls the “vandal scandal” reporting “an example of post-election political warfare waged on a slapstick level” and “clearly a sample of how journalism in Washington is practiced in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and its unceasing demand for information, sometimes regardless of the provenance.” Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism says, “The dirty little secret of the information revolution is often there’s not a lot of verification.” Earlier in the week, US News and World Report printed a story alleging that the White House is spending $10,000 a day repairing the White House telephone system after it was damaged by Clinton staffers, but a White House spokesman responded, “I can’t find any supporting evidence” of that charge. “No one can confirm it.” As for allegations that Clinton staffers looted Air Force One (see January 25-27, 2001), Lieutenant Colonel Dana Carroll of Andrews Air Force Base, which houses the presidential jet, says: “The public was misinformed. There was no china or anything like that missing.” Carroll says the only items missing from Air Force One after the Clintons’ final trip was a tray of 15 glasses, which Clinton staffers say broke during a moment of turbulence; reporters on the aircraft saw the glasses fall and break. Former Clinton strategist James Carville says the reports are little more than efforts to smear Clinton. “It just seems to be like everything else that happens to this president,” he says. Referring to the Whitewater investigations, Carville adds, “Next they’ll be calling for an independent counsel, bring back Ken Starr to investigate this.” House Republican Bob Barr (R-GA) is asking that the General Accounting Office investigate the story (see May 18, 2001). [Knight Ridder, 2/8/2001] In July, Goldstein will call the “vandal scandal” stories “questionable from the beginning.” [American Journalism Review, 7/2001]

Entity Tags: Robert “Bob” Barr, Knight Ridder Newspapers, James Carville, Clinton administration, Dana Carroll, Kenneth Starr, David Goldstein, General Accounting Office, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The General Accounting Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, sends David Addington, the chief counsel to Vice President Cheney, a letter declaring that it intends to review the composition and activities of Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001). Addington is the one who issued the flat refusal to allow members of Congress to see any of the minutes or documents generated by the task force (see April 19 - May 4, 2001); in response, the members of Congress who requested the information asked GAO chief and comptroller general David Walker for help in investigating the task force. Walker is quite bipartisan, having worked for the Reagan and Bush-Quayle administrations before being appointed to the chairmanship of the GAO by President Clinton. [Savage, 2007, pp. 88] Addington will reply to Walker, denying that the GAO has any authority to investigate the task force (see May 16 - 17, 2001). In 2007, author Charlie Savage will call the Cheney-Addington battle with the GAO an early instance of the Bush administration’s fight to claim ever-widening presidential powers at the expense of Congress (see January 21, 2001).

Entity Tags: David Walker, Bush administration (43), David S. Addington, General Accounting Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Charlie Savage, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

The General Accounting Office (GAO) tries five times to arrange a meeting with David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, regarding the GAO’s request for information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001). Addington rebuffs all attempts to meet with GAO officials, and instead sends a letter refusing to comply with the GAO’s request (see May 16 - 17, 2001). On May 17, Addington leaves a voicemail on a GAO telephone saying that he is not authorized to meet with officials to discuss the task force, but that his letter is complete and “self-explanatory.” [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office, David S. Addington, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

In response to a General Accounting Office (GAO) demand for information about the energy task force chaired by Vice President Cheney (see May 8, 2001), Cheney’s chief legal adviser, David Addington, rebuffs the GAO, claiming that the agency has no authority under the Constitution to investigate the task force. The task force is a creature of the executive branch, Addington argues, and as an arm of the legislative branch, the GAO cannot “inquire into the exercise of authorities committed to the executive by the Constitution.” The president can keep any such government deliberations entirely secret from Congress and the public, Addington asserts, in order to guarantee the “candor” of the advice he receives. GAO chief David Walker replies to Addington, rejecting his interpretation of the Constitution. Addington will, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “follow… injury with insult,” responding to Walker’s request for information by conceding that Congress might have the right to know about the direct costs incurred by the task force, and sending 77 pages of mundane expense reports (see June 21, 2001). The highlight of those reports: task force chair Andrew Lundquist’s ordering of a pizza on his own credit card. Walker will not be cowed by Addington’s flip rejoinder. [Savage, 2007, pp. 88-89]

Entity Tags: David Walker, Andrew Lundquist, David S. Addington, General Accounting Office, Charlie Savage, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Vice President Cheney’s top aide, David Addington, begins attending meetings of the Cheney energy task force, further emphasizing the White House’s refusal to cooperate with the General Accounting Office (GAO—see April 19 - May 4, 2001, May 8, 2001, and May 16 - 17, 2001). White House lawyer Bradford Berenson, the legal liaison on the case, is puzzled by the White House’s refusal to cooperate. Most of the information about the task force has already come out in the media, particularly the fact that almost all of the task force’s meetings have been with fossil fuel and nuclear energy corporate executives. But the White House seems willing to weather the controversy in order to keep withholding information from the GAO. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write, “The long-term payoff was an opportunity to establish a high principle of presidential power: Communications involving the office of the presidency should be secret, whatever a law passed by Congress and signed by some previous president might say.” Addington further enforces the doctrine during the regular morning meetings at the White House counsel’s office, even though he does not work for senior White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. [Savage, 2007, pp. 90-91]

Entity Tags: Charlie Savage, Bradford Berenson, Bush administration (43), General Accounting Office, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The general counsel for the General Accounting Office (GAO) sends a letter to Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, explaining that the GAO believes its attempt to investigate Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001, May 16, 2001, and May 16 - 17, 2001) is right and proper under US law. [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office, David S. Addington, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Some former Clinton administration officials are furious at the White House’s release of a “list” of alleged vandalism (see January 25, 2001 and January 26, 2001) to a Washington Post reporter (see June 2-3, 2001), and demand that the White House document its charges. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer admitted that the list was only put together a few days before and was entirely based on the recollections of Bush officials. He says the White House will document the charges on the list if asked by the General Accounting Office (see June 4, 2001). Former Clinton press secretary Jake Siewert calls Fleischer’s tactics “incredibly infuriating,” and says documentation of the vandalism allegations should be simple because the government keeps careful records of repairs to phones and computers. “If I needed my keyboard fixed, I had to submit a form,” says Siewert, who worked in the White House for more than six years. “There should have been records of all this stuff.” Bush officials say the existing repair records do not indicate the causes of damage, and therefore cannot validate the vandalism claims. The General Services Administration (GSA) concluded in an investigation that the charges of vandalism and looting were almost completely false (see May 18, 2001); the GAO said it was unable to open its own investigation because of “the lack of records… reported by the White House.” House Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY—see June 1, 2001) says through a spokesman, “The White House’s continuing campaign of disinformation and possible violation of federal law for noncompliance with a GAO investigation calls its credibility—and its list of damaged property—into serious question.” Weiner’s House colleague Bob Barr (R-GA), who has demanded a GAO investigation, has called the failure of the White House to document its vandalism charges “a disservice to the American taxpayers” and asked the GAO “to ensure proper records of federal government property are kept during future presidential transitions.” [Washington Post, 6/4/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Anthony D. Weiner, Ari Fleischer, Clinton administration, General Accounting Office, Robert “Bob” Barr, General Services Administration, Jake Siewert

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

David Addington, the chief counsel to Vice President Cheney, writes another letter rebuffing the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s attempt to secure information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). This time, Addington writes that the GAO lacks the authority to obtain the requested information. He reasons that in statute 31 USC 717, which requires the GAO’s chief, the comptroller general, to “evaluate the results of a program or activity the government carries out under existing law,” the words “existing law” do not include the US Constitution. Under statute 31 USC 712, which requires the comptroller general to investigate “all matters related to the receipt, disbursement, and use of public money,” the task force is only required to inform the GAO of financial cost information—hence Addington’s previous letter informing the GAO about the task force’s mundane expenses (see May 16 - 17, 2001 and June 21, 2001). [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office, David S. Addington, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Pursuant to his letter to the General Accounting Office (GAO—see June 7, 2001), David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, sends the GAO 77 pages of financial information relating to Cheney’s secret energy task force. The documents cover little more than mundane expenses by the task force, including a pizza bought by task force chief Andrew Lundquist. The GAO will characterize the documents as “virtually impossible to analyze, as they consisted, for example, of pages with dollar amounts but no indication of the nature or the purpose of the expenditure. Nor did the materials reflect any apparent expenses in connection with the work of the six assigned [task force] staff.” [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 88-89]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Andrew Lundquist, General Accounting Office, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Judicial Watch logo.Judicial Watch logo. [Source: Judicial Watch]The conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch sends a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney demanding to see the records of his secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Chris Farrell, the organization’s director of investigations and research, saw a May 2001 Newsweek article about the task force. Farrell later says he was struck by the similarities between Cheney’s energy task force and the 1994 health care task force chaired by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. “The government can’t operate in secret,” Farrell will later say. “They are answerable to the people. There are appropriate times for secrecy on military and intelligence matters, but the notion that national policy on a matter like energy or health care can be developed in secret is offensive and counter to the Constitution.” Farrell, along with Judicial Watch chairman Larry Klayman and president Thomas Fitton, agreed that the task force violates core conservative principles, and made the decision to challenge Cheney’s office. Their letter notes that the rules governing the task force are clear: if the executive branch chooses to solicit outside advice while writing policy, then the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) is triggered, requiring the government to make the details of those meetings public (the same argument made by the General Accounting Office—see May 8, 2001). “Judicial Watch respectfully requests that, in light of the questionable legal and ethical practices, negative publicity, and public outrage surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 1994 national health-care policy development group, you direct the [energy task force] to abide by the FACA. [Such openness] will instill public trust and confidence in the operations of the [task force] and insure that the national policy is formulated, discussed, and acted upon in a manner consistent with the best traditions of our Constitutional Republic.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 91-92] Cheney’s office will refuse the request (see July 5, 2001). In return, Judicial Watch will sue for the documents’ release (see July 14, 2001).

Entity Tags: Larry Klayman, Chris Farrell, Federal Advisory Committee Act, Judicial Watch, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Fitton, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

David Addington, the chief counsel to Vice President Cheney, refuses to accept any more communications from the General Accounting Office (GAO) regarding the GAO’s attempt to learn about the doings of Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Addington directs GAO officials to contact a lawyer at the Department of Justice with any further inquiries. [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, writes a three-sentence letter to the government oversight organization Judicial Watch, rejecting its request for the records of Cheney’s secret energy task force (see June 25, 2001). Addington uses the same argument he used to reject the General Accounting Office’s request for records of the task force (see June 7, 2001): since open-government laws do not apply to the task force, in his opinion, there will be “no disclosure of the materials you requested.” Judicial Watch will file a lawsuit demanding the task force’s records be made available to the public (see July 14, 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 92]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, General Accounting Office, National Energy Policy Development Group, Judicial Watch

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

The General Accounting Office, repeatedly rebuffed by Vice President Cheney’s office in its attempt to secure information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see May 8, 2001, May 10-17, 2001, May 16 - 17, 2001, June 7, 2001, June 21, 2001, and July 3, 2001), sends a letter written by its head, Comptroller General David Walker, to Cheney. Walker notes the repeated rebuffs from Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, and others in his office, and once again lays out his request for information regarding the task force’s participants, minutes of meetings, and other relevant information. When Walker follows up his letter with a phone call to Cheney on July 30, Cheney will fail to take the call. [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, David Walker, National Energy Policy Development Group, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

The General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, David Walker, backs down from his initial request for all pertinent documents and records of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see May 8, 2001). Instead, Walker modifies his request to ask for just the names of the lobbyists at the task force meetings, the dates of the meetings, the general topic(s) of discussion, and the cost of the meetings. Cheney will also refuse this request, and will escalate his rhetorical war against Walker and the GAO in defense of “executive privilege” (see July 26, 2001 and August 2, 2001). [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 92-93]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, David Walker, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, responds to the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s offer to scale back its request for information regarding Cheney’s energy task force (see July 31, 2001) with another blanket refusal. Addington again asserts that the GAO has no authority to make such a request (see June 7, 2001). [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Vice President Cheney sends a letter to Congressional leaders demanding that they order the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, David Walker, to immediately withdraw his request for records pertaining to Cheney’s secret energy task force (see July 18, 2001). Walker has already scaled back his initial request (see July 31, 2001), but Cheney asserts that even the limited information Walker is requesting would violate “the confidentiality of communications among a president, a vice president, the president’s other senior advisers, and others.” Cheney also rails against “actions undertaken by an agent of the Congress, the comptroller general [Walker], which exceeded his lawful authority and which if given effect, would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 93] The GAO notes that Cheney’s letter does not cite the specific information requested by the GAO, as required by law. [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, David Walker, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

The General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, Comptroller General David Walker, issues a report detailing the history of the GAO’s request for information regarding Vice President Cheney’s secret energy task force, and reiterating its request (see July 31, 2001). The report is sent to President Bush, Cheney, Congress, the attorney general, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It reads in part: “In communications with the vice president’s counsel… we offered to eliminate our earlier request for minutes and notes and for the information presented by members of the public. Even though we are legally entitled to this information, as a matter of comity, we are scaling back the records we are requesting to exclude these two items of information.… The GAO as an institution, and the comptroller general as an officer of the legislative branch, assist the Congress in exercising its responsibilities under the Constitution to oversee, investigate, and legislate. In order to help members of Congress carry out their role and evaluate the process used to develop the National Energy Policy, GAO needs selected factual and non-deliberative records that the vice president, as chair of the NEPDG [National Energy Policy Development Group, the formal name for Cheney’s task force], or others representing the Group, are in a position to provide GAO. The records we are requesting will assist the review of how the NEPDG spent public funds, how it carried out its activities, and whether applicable law was followed.” [David Walker, 8/17/2001 pdf file; National Review, 2/20/2002]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, David Walker, General Accounting Office, John Ashcroft, Office of Management and Budget, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Vice President Cheney’s office responds to repeated requests by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see August 17, 2001) by sending it a list of the task force’s office support staff, and nothing more. The GAO now considers itself empowered by law to file a lawsuit seeking the requested information, and the next day will issue a statement to that effect. [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Vice President Dick Cheney continues to battle the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s request for the records of his energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and April 17, 2001 and After) in the broadcast media (see July 26, 2001). On Fox News, he reiterates his insistence that he will not turn over any records from the task force unless compelled to do so by the courts, and says indignantly, “They’ve demanded of me that I give Henry Waxman [the California Democratic representative who originated the demand for task force records] a list of everybody I met with, of everything that was discussed, any advice that was revealed, notes and memos of these meetings.” Cheney is lying. The GAO only asked for the minutes from the meetings and the names of the participants (see July 31, 2001 and February 22, 2002), and soon the GAO will scale back its request to nothing more than the names and schedules of the participants and the meetings, not the contents of the meetings themselves. Four years later, when the court case has long been settled in Cheney’s favor (see February 7, 2003), Cheney will still mischaracterize the issue as an improper demand from Congress for an executive branch official to disclose the contents of private conversations and meetings, and therefore destroy “the ability of the president and the vice president to receive unvarnished advice.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein will call the argument “bogus, specious, [and] absurd.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 12-13] GAO officials call Cheney’s statement a “critical and highly material misrepresentation” of the facts. [National Review, 2/20/2002]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bruce Fein, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the investigations subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and fellow senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) ask the General Accounting Office (GAO) to evaluate the process by which the Bush administration’s energy policy has been developed (see May 16, 2001). The senators’ request is apparently in support of the GAO’s long-blocked investigation of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001). [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Carl Levin, Bush administration (43), Byron L. Dorgan, General Accounting Office, Joseph Lieberman, National Energy Policy Development Group, Ernest F. Hollings

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Anthony Gamboa, the general counsel for the General Accounting Office (GAO), reiterates the GAO’s modification of its original request for documents and records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Gamboa writes: “The GAO long ago dropped its request for the minutes and notes of the vice president’s meetings with people outside the government, as well as requests for any materials those individuals have given to Mr. Cheney (see July 31, 2001). The GAO simply seeks the names of those he met in his capacity as head of the energy policy task force, when and where he met them, the subject matter of the meetings, and an explanation of the costs incurred.” Cheney responds during an appearance on the late-night talk show The Tonight Show. He explains his continued refusal to cooperate with the GAO: “What’s at stake here is whether a member of Congress [Henry Waxman (D-CA), whom Cheney has accused the GAO of working for] can demand that I give him notes of all my meetings and a list of everybody I met with. We don’t think that he has that authority.” [National Review, 2/20/2002] The GAO’s chief, Comptroller General David Walker, will later call Cheney’s statements “disinformation.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 100]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, Anthony Gamboa, David Walker, Henry A. Waxman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

A State Department program designed to “market” America as a “brand” to Arabs is greeted with skepticism and, sometimes, derision. The advertising campaign, called “Shared Values,” was conceived by Charlotte Beers, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and a former advertising executive (see October 2, 2001). The concept is to “sell” America in the Arab world by emphasizing the “shared values” held by both Americans and Arabs. [Rich, 2006, pp. 31-32] The program is based on four videos, centering on the lives of four “average” American Muslims—a schoolteacher, a doctor, a baker, and the director of the National Institutes of Health. [New York Times, 10/30/2002] Beers said in a June Senate hearing that the US must pay closer attention to expanding communication with “the mainstream of young adults” so as “to give them, ultimately, a new world view.… The young will lead us.” The “Shared Values” program is the central thrust of that effort. [Office of International Information Programs, US Department of State, 6/11/2002] The videos show American Muslims in their homes, at softball games, and at their jobs. They tell Arab viewers that they have experienced no prejudice against them after the 9/11 attacks, and describe how they live and work well with Christians, Jews, and Hindus. “I don’t think there is any other country in the world where different people from different countries are as accepted and welcomed as members of a society,” says one. But many Arabs do not believe the rosy depiction of life as an American Muslims, and call the videos patronizing and simplistic. (Some State Department officials privately agree with that characterization, but were powerless to influence their creation and dissemination.) Other Arabs call the videos nothing but American propaganda. [New York Times, 10/30/2002] In 2006, author Frank Rich will call the videos akin to “testimonial commercials for new household products.” Many Arab countries, particularly in the Middle East, refuse to run the videos, saying that they do not adequately address the US’s policies in that region. [Rich, 2006, pp. 31-32] In September 2003, the “Shared Values” program and other such public relations initiatives will be judged to be failures by the General Accounting Office (see September 15, 2003).

Entity Tags: Charlotte Beers, Frank Rich, General Accounting Office, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Army-issue chemical and biological protective gear.Army-issue chemical and biological protective gear. [Source: Approved Gas Masks (.com)]Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responds to a request from House member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to certify to Congress that US troops going to Iraq “have the minimum required levels of chem/bio protective equipment” as established by the Pentagon, even as Army units are selling the same equipment on eBay (see Early March 2003). Rumsfeld says that he cannot make such a certification. [Carter, 2004, pp. 58-61] The General Accounting Office has reported that up to 250,000 chem/bio suits are defective. Furthermore, the GAO reported that the Army has been aware of the problem since 1996. When asked by House member Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) about the deficiency in late 2002, Defense Department Inspector General Joseph Schmitz replied, “There is no such thing as perfect safety in warfare.” [United Press International, 10/1/2002]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Jan Schakowsky, Joseph Schmitz, US Department of the Army, Dennis Kucinich, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says during a House Subcommittee on National Security meeting that, according to the General Accounting Office, many US military units are selling their protective chem/bio suits (see Late 2002) on the Internet for three dollars “while other units [are] desperately clamoring for those critical items.” Congressional investigators will find that the Army has sold 429 of the $200 protective suits on eBay for three dollars apiece. The problem goes beyond a few hundred suits. One entire military wing has “only 25 percent of the protective masks required.” The Pentagon’s Inspector General has found that 420,000 protective suits listed on inventory and intended for distribution to troops bound for Iraq cannot be found. In February, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld refused to certify that US soldiers had the proper chem/bio equipment necessary for the invasion (see February 27, 2003). [Set-Aside Alert: Federal Contract News and Information, 9/6/2002; Carter, 2004, pp. 57-58]

Entity Tags: Dennis Kucinich, General Accounting Office, House Subcommittee on National Security, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Print ad for the ‘Shared Values’ videotapes. The videos are distributed by the Council of American Muslims for Understanding (CAMU), an organization created by the US State Department.Print ad for the ‘Shared Values’ videotapes. The videos are distributed by the Council of American Muslims for Understanding (CAMU), an organization created by the US State Department. [Source: Council of American Muslims for Understanding / Sheldon Rampton] (click image to enlarge)The General Accounting Office (GAO) releases a report showing that the $1 billion spent annually by the Bush administration to polish America’s image among Arab populations has largely gone to waste. Polls in predominantly Arab and Muslim nations show anti-American sentiments are steadily rising despite the US’s advertising efforts. (In many of these nations, Osama bin Laden has higher favorability ratings than President Bush.) The GAO report finds numerous reasons for this widespread failure. Among them are:
bullet The State Department’s scattershot, uncoordinated efforts;
bullet Foreign service officers charged with promoting America’s image spend too much time on paperwork, and 20 percent of those officers do not fluently speak the language of the country in which they are stationed;
bullet The US government’s failure to not scientifically measure the effects of its public relations programs, instead relying on anecdotal evidence. [USA Today, 9/15/2003]
Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is at a loss to explain the problem. “Americans are brilliant at communication,” he says. “Why in the world we are all thumbs in this particular area just strikes me as one of the anomalies of history. But it’s an important one to solve pretty fast.” The State Department’s first Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Charlotte Beers (see October 2, 2001), resigned in March for what the administration called “health reasons,” and has not yet been replaced. Beers is responsible for the failed “Shared Values” program, which relied on commercially slick video reports to sway Muslim and Arab public opinion (see Late October, 2002). [New York Times, 3/3/2003; USA Today, 9/15/2003; Center for Media and Democracy, 10/17/2007] Beers’s biggest success may have been Radio Sawa, an American radio station broadcasting throughout much of the Middle East that broadcasts US-based pop music, with 10-minute news broadcasts every hour from American government sources. [USA Today, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Radio Sawa, Charlotte Beers, Bush administration (43), General Accounting Office, Richard Lugar

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The General Accounting Office (GAO) reports on an array of problems with the military’s missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). Its report includes an unclassified list of 50 recommendations for improving the system that originated in a public report produced by the Pentagon in 2000. Instead of acting on the recommendations, the Pentagon declares the list of recommendations “retroactively classified,” thereby forbidding Congressional members from discussing the recommendations in public. House members Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA), who requested the GAO report, send an angry letter to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calling the decision to classify the recommendations “highly dubious” and “an attempt to stymie public debate through the use of the classification system.” Rumsfeld ignores the protest. [Savage, 2007, pp. 103-104]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Henry A. Waxman, John Tierney, Donald Rumsfeld, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Military, US International Relations, Civil Liberties

Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations.Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations. [Source: New York Times]New York Times reporter Robert Pear discovers that the Bush administration has employed two fake “reporters,” Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, who have appeared in administration-produced television “news” segments—“video news releases,” or VNRs—designed to promote the administration’s new Medicare prescription-drug policies. (Garcia primarily appeared in Spanish-language Medicare VNRs.) HHS had budgeted $124 million for the fake news segments, more than most real news organizations can provide. The segments are under investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for possible violation of government statutes prohibiting the use of federal money to produce propaganda or partisan presentations. The Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, appears in one of the segments, saying, “This is going to be the same Medicare system only with new benefits, more choices, more opportunities for enhanced benefits.” Several others show a crowd giving President Bush a standing ovation as he signs the new Medicare bill into law. Another segment shows a pharmacist talking to an elderly customer. The pharmacist says the new law “helps you better afford your medications,” and the customer says, “It sounds like a good idea.” The pharmacist agrees, “A very good idea.” The segments, professionally produced and ending with tag lines such as “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” were regularly aired by at least 50 local television news broadcasts in 40 cities around the country. The government also provides scripts that can be used by local news anchors to introduce, or “walk up,” the VNRs. One script suggested that anchors read the following: “In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities. Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details.” A VNR is then broadcast explaining how the new law benefits Medicare recipients.
'Infoganda' - Ryan is a freelance journalist, the administration claims, and using her for such fake news segments is perfectly acceptable. But cursory investigation reveals that she was once a freelance reporter, but has for years worked as a public relations consultant. Her most recent assignments include appearing in marketing videos and “infomercials” promoting a variety of pharmaceutical products, including the popular drugs FloMist and Excedrin. Perhaps the most telling reaction is from Comedy Central’s comedy-news program The Daily Show, where host Jon Stewart can’t seem to decide whether to be outraged or flattered by what Rich calls “government propaganda imitating his satiric art.” (Daily Show member Rob Corddry calls the HHS videos “infoganda.”) Administration officials also insist that the VNRs are real, objective news releases, but the company that produced the segments, Home Front Communications, confirms that it had hired Ryan to read a script prepared by government officials. The VNRs give a toll-free phone number for beneficiaries to call. To obtain recorded information about prescription drug benefits, the caller must speak the words, “Medicare improvement.” The Columbia Journalism Review writes, “The ‘reports’ were nothing more than a free advertisement for the legislation, posing as news.”
Legal? - GAO lawyers say that their initial investigations found that other fliers and advertisements disseminated by HHS to promote the new Medicare policies are legal, though they display “notable omissions and other weaknesses.” Administration officials claim the VNRs are also a legal, effective way to educate Medicare beneficiaries. The GAO is still investigating the VNRs. GAO investigators believe that they might violate the law in at least one aspect: misleading viewers by concealing their government origins. Federal law expressly forbids the use of federal money for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. Earlier investigations have found government-disseminated editorials and newspaper articles illegal if they did not identify themselves as coming from government officials. The GAO will find that the VNRs break two federal laws forbidding the use of federal money to produce propaganda (see May 19, 2004).
'Common Practice' - HHS spokesman Kevin Keane says the VNRs are well within legal guidelines; their only purpose, he says, is to inform citizens about changes in Medicare. “The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector,” he says. “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” Congressional Democrats disagree with Keane. “These materials are even more disturbing than the Medicare flier and advertisements,” says Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press.” Lautenberg, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and seven other members of Congress requested the GAO investigation. Keane is correct in one aspect: businesses have distributed VNRs to news stations as well as internally for years, and the pharmaceutical industry has been particularly successful in getting marketing videos that appear as “medical news” or “medical features” aired on local and even national news broadcasts. And government agencies have for years released informational films and videos on subjects such as teenage smoking and the dangers of using steroids. Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, says HHS’s VNRs have gone far beyond what the government has previously provided. “Those to me are just the next thing to fraud,” he says. “It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program.” [New York Times, 3/15/2004; Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 164]
Media Responsibility - The Columbia Journalism Review’s Bill McDermott writes: “[F]or our money, the villains here aren’t the clever flacks at HHS—they’re supposed to be masters of deception. Nope, the dunce hats go to the local TV station editors willing to slap onto the air any video that drops in over the transom.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004] Ryan is relatively insouciant about the controversy. “Stations are lazy,” she says. “If these things didn’t work, then the companies would stop putting them out.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Department of Health and Human Services, Committee of Concerned Journalists, Bush administration (43), Bill McDermott, Bill Kovach, Alberto Garcia, Tommy G. Thompson, Columbia Journalism Review, Robert Pear, New York Times, Jon Stewart, Home Front Communications, George W. Bush, Karen Ryan, General Accounting Office, Kevin Keane, Frank R. Lautenberg, Rob Corddry

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the Bush administration broke two federal laws as part of its publicity campaign to promote its new Medicare prescription drug policies. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) illegally spent federal monies on what amounts to covert propaganda in producing and distributing “video news releases,” or VNRs, to local television news broadcasters around the country that were designed to look like objective news reports (see March 15, 2004). The GAO findings do not carry legal weight, because the GAO acts as an adviser to Congress. The viewers in the more than 40 cities who saw the reports did not know they were watching government-produced videos anchored by public relations “flacks” paid by HHS who were not real reporters. The VNRs have only fueled criticism of the Medicare prescription drug coverage program, which gives private health care firms and prescription drug companies a much larger role in providing and setting prices for Medicare recipients’ prescriptions. Democrats have long insisted that the law cripples Medicare beneficiaries’ ability to receive low-cost prescriptions in favor of funneling Medicare dollars into the pharmaceutical companies’ coffers; with the GAO findings, Democrats now say that the government used illegal propaganda tactics to “sell” the citizenry on the new program. The administration has already admitted that the program will cost hundreds of billions of dollars more than originally claimed. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) calls the videos “another example of how this White House has misrepresented its Medicare plan.” Kerry’s Senate colleague, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), says: “The new GAO opinion is yet another indictment of the deception and dishonesty that has become business as usual for the Bush administration. It was bad enough to conceal the cost of the Medicare drug bill from the Congress and the American people. It is worse to use Medicare funds for illegal propaganda to try to turn this lemon of a bill into lemonade for the Bush campaign.” The Bush administration continues to insist that the VNR program is legal. “GAO opinions are not binding on the executive branch. That’s an opinion of the GAO. We don’t agree,” says HHS spokesman Bill Pierce, who justifies the VNR usage by pointing to their ubiquitous usage in corporate settings. Asked if he understands that a viewer might be angry at being led to believe that the VNRs were real news stories, Pierce replies, “If I’m a viewer, I’d be angry at my television station.” [Washington Post, 5/20/2004; Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2004]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Bill Pierce, Bush administration (43), Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, General Accounting Office, US Department of Health and Human Services

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a finding that the government’s use of “video news releases” (VNRs—see March 15, 2004 and May 19, 2004) is not propaganda and therefore not illegal. The VNRs might be “covert,” he writes, since the government actively misled viewers as to their source, but they are not “propaganda,” since they merely explain government programs and facts, and do not espouse a political point of view. Because OLC opinions are legally binding, Bradbury’s “advisory opinion” effectively precludes White House and other agency officials from being prosecuted for authorizing the VNRs, and the practice continues. The General Accounting Office (GAO) rejects Bradbury’s finding and continues to insist that the VNRs are unethical and illegal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 172-173] Two months later, Congress will prohibit the government’s use of VNRs (see May 2005).

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Steven Bradbury, General Accounting Office, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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