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“Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” [US President, 9/24/2001]
“This guy, Padilla, is a bad guy. And he is where he needs to be—detained,” along with many other “would-be killers” [CNN, 6/11/2002]
“Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq.” [US President, 10/14/2002]
“I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied—finally denied access [in 1998], a report came out of the Atomic—the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don’t know what more evidence we need.” [Washington Times, 9/27/2002]
“Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.” [Executive Office of the President, 9/12/2002 ; PBS, 9/12/2002; Age (Melbourne), 6/7/2003]
Saddam’s offer is “his latest ploy, his latest attempt not to be held accountable for defying the United Nations…. He’s not going to fool anybody. We’ve seen him before…. We’ll remind the world that, by defying resolutions, he’s become more and more of a threat to world peace. [The world] must rise up and deal with this threat, and that’s what we expect the Security Council to do.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2002]
“… the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al-Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world. Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it’s a comparison that is—I can’t make because I can’t distinguish between the two, because they’re both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.” [US President, 9/30/2002]
“The UN must show some backbone. We’ll work with members of the Security Council to put a little calcium there, put calcium in the backbone.” [London Times, 10/2/2003]
“The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraqi regime’s own actions—its history of aggression, and its drive toward an arsenal of terror. Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, to cease all development of such weapons, and to stop all support for terrorist groups. The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism, and practices terror against its own people. The entire world has witnessed Iraq’s eleven-year history of defiance, deception and bad faith…. We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas… And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” [US President, 10/14/2002]
“The stated policy of the United States is regime change because, for 11 years, Saddam Hussein has ignored the United Nations and the free world. For 11 years, he has—he said, look, you passed all these resolutions; I could care less what you passed. And that’s why the stated policy of our government, the previous administration and this administration, is regime change—because we don’t believe he is going to change.” [US President, 10/28/2002]
“For the sake of having an international body which is effective, the UN… must be resolved to deal with this person, must resolve itself to be something more than a League of Nations, must resolve itself to be more than just a debating society, must resolve itself to help keep international peace. It’s an important time in our history to determine whether or not we’re going to be a nation which is willing to work with other nations to keep the peace. The answer is ‘you bet’ but if they won’t, if the UN can’t make its mind up, if Saddam Hussein won’t disarm, we will lead a coalition to disarm him for the sake of peace.” [CNN, 10/22/2002; Associated Press, 10/21/2002]
“Hopefully, we can do this peacefully ’ don’t get me wrong. And if the world were to collectively come together to do so, and to put pressure on Saddam Hussein and convince him to disarm, there’s a chance he may decide too o that. And war is not my first choice, don’t ’ it’s my last choice.” [US President, 11/11/2002]
Saddam’s “cooperation must be prompt and unconditional or he will face severest consequences” [US President, 11/11/2002]
“The world has now come together to say that the outlaw regime in Iraq will not be permitted to build or possess chemical, biological or nuclear weapons… [a]nd my administration will see to it that the world’s judgment is enforced” [US President, 11/15/2002]
“Saddam Hussein has been given a very short time to declare completely and truthfully his arsenal of terror. Should he again deny that this arsenal exists, he will have entered his final stage with a lie. And deception this time will not be tolerated. Delay and defiance will invite the severest of consequences. America’s goal, the world’s goal, is more than the return of inspectors to Iraq. Our goal is to secure the peace through the comprehensive and verified disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Voluntary or by force, that goal will be achieved.” [New York Times, 11/21/2002; US President, 11/25/2002]
“In the inspections process, the United States will be making one judgment: Has Saddam Hussein changed his behavior of the last 11 years? Has he decided to cooperate willingly and comply completely, or has he not? So far the signs are not encouraging…. That declaration must be credible and complete, or the Iraqi dictator will have demonstrated to the world once again that he has chosen not to change his behavior. Any act of delay, deception, or defiance will prove that Saddam Hussein has not adopted the path of compliance and has rejected the path of peace.” [US President, 12/9/2002; Washington Post, 12/3/2002]
“This is our attempt to work with the world community to create peace. And the best way for peace is for Mr. Saddam Hussein to disarm. It?s up to him to make his decision.” [US President, 12/9/2002]
“I hope this Iraq situation will be resolved peacefully. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to work to deal with these situations in a way so that they’re resolved peacefully.… You said we’re headed to war in Iraq ? I don’t know why you say that. I hope we’re not headed to war in Iraq. I’m the person who gets to decide, not you. I hope this can be done peacefully.” [US President, 1/6/2003]
“First of all, you know, I’m hopeful we won’t have to go war, and let’s leave it at that.” [White House, 1/2/2003]
Iraq has enough material “to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people… more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin—enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure… as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.” [Washington Post, 1/28/2003]
“But Saddam Hussein is—he’s treated the demands of the world as a joke up to now, and it was his choice to make. He’s the person who gets to decide war and peace.” [US President, 2/10/2003]
“I’ve not made up our mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully.… I want to remind you that it’s his choice to make as to whether or not we go to war. It’s Saddam’s choice. He’s the person that can make the choice of war and peace.” [US President, 3/10/2003]
“[I]t is clear that Saddam Hussein is still violating the demands of the United Nations by refusing to disarm.… We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq. But if Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed by force.” [US President, 3/17/2003]
“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” [US President, 3/24/2003]
“We will help the Iraqi people to find the benefits and assume the duties of self-government. The form of those institutions will arise from Iraq’s own culture and its own choices.” [US President, 3/31/2003]
“As freedom takes hold in Iraq, the Iraqi people will choose their own leaders and their own government. America has no intention of imposing our form of government or our culture. Yet, we will ensure that all Iraqis have a voice in the new government…” [US President, 5/5/2003]
“Soon, Iraqis from every ethnic group will choose members of an interim authority. The people of Iraq are building a free society from the ground up, and they are able to do so because the dictator and his regime are no more.” [US President, 5/12/2003]
“There are some who feel that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring ‘em on. We have the force necessary to deal with the situation.” [New York Times, 7/2/2003]
“Yes, I think, first of all, remember I just said we’ve been there for 90 days since the cessation of major military operations. Now, I know in our world where news comes and goes and there’s this kind of instant-instant news and you must have done this, you must do that yesterday, that there’s a level of frustration by some in the media. I’m not suggesting you’re frustrated. You don’t look frustrated to me at all. But it’s going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence, literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered.”
“We don’t torture people in America. And people who make that claim just don’t know anything about our country.” [Amnesty International, 10/20/2003]
“People in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent.…must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know.… The America that I know has sent troops to Iraq to promote freedom.” [CBS News, 5/5/2004]
“I’m probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.… These prisoners, they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we’re so concerned about the treatment of those individuals. I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons, looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying.” [New York Times, 5/11/2004]
“Listen, I’ll say it one more time.… The instructions that were given were to comply with the law. That should reassure you. We are a nation of laws. We follow the law. We have laws on our books. You could go look at those laws and that should reassure you.” [US President, 6/21/2004]
“The United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example.” [Amnesty International, 5/7/2004]
“I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will.” [Reuters, 9/2/2005; Washington Post, 9/1/2005]
The National Security Agency (NSA) is founded. It is the successor to the State Department’s “Black Chamber” and other military code-breaking and eavesdropping operations dating back to the earliest days of telegraph and telephone communications. It will eventually become the largest of all US intelligence agencies, with over 30,000 employees at its Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters. It focuses on electronic surveillance, operating a large network of satellites and listening devices around the globe. More even than the CIA, the NSA is the most secretive of US intelligence organizations, (New York Times 12/16/2005) The agency will remain little known by the general public until the release of the 1998 film Enemy of the State, which will portray the NSA as an evil “Big Brother” agency spying on Americans as a matter of course. (Ensor 3/31/2001) After it is disclosed during the 1970s that the NSA spied on political dissenters and civil rights protesters, the NSA will be restricted to operating strictly overseas, and will be prohibited from monitoring US citizens within US borders without special court orders. (New York Times 12/16/2005)
The US Supreme Court upholds the power of the federal government’s executive branch to withhold documents from a civil suit on the basis of executive privilege and national security (see October 25, 1952). The case, US v Reynolds, overturns an appellate court decision that found against the government (see December 11, 1951). Originally split 5-4 on the decision, the Court goes to 6-3 when Justice William O. Douglas joins the majority. The three dissenters, Justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson, refuse to write a dissenting opinion, instead adopting the decision of the appellate court as their dissent.
'State Secrets' a Valid Reason for Keeping Documents out of Judicial, Public Eye - Chief Justice Fred Vinson writes the majority opinion. Vinson refuses to grant the executive branch the near-unlimited power to withhold documents from judicial review, as the government’s arguments before the court implied (see October 21, 1952), but instead finds what he calls a “narrower ground for defense” in the Tort Claims Act, which compels the production of documents before a court only if they are designated “not privileged.” The government’s claim of privilege in the Reynolds case was valid, Vinson writes. But the ruling goes farther; Vinson upholds the claim of “state secrets” as a reason for withholding documents from judicial review or public scrutiny. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write: “In truth, only now was the Supreme Court formally recognizing the privilege, giving the government the precedent it sought, a precedent binding on all courts throughout the nation. Most important, the Court was also—for the first time—spelling out how the privilege should be applied.” Siegel will call the Reynolds ruling “an effort to weigh competing legitimate interests,” but the ruling does not allow judges to see the documents in order to make a decision about their applicability in a court case: “By instructing judges not to insist upon examining documents if the government can satisfy that ‘a reasonable danger’ to national security exists, Vinson was asking jurists to fly blind.” Siegel will mark the decision as “an act of faith. We must believe the government,” he will write, “when it claims [the accident] would reveal state secrets. We must trust that the government is telling the truth.”
Time of Heightened Tensions Drives Need for Secrecy - Vinson goes on to note, “[W]e cannot escape judicial notice that this is a time of vigorous preparation for the national defense.” Locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and fighting a war in Korea, the US is, Vinson writes, in a time of crisis, and one where military secrets must be kept and even encouraged. (U. S. v. Reynolds 3/9/1953; Siegel 2008, pp. 171-176)
Future Ramifications - Reflecting on the decision in 2008, Siegel will write that while the case will not become as well known as many other Court decisions, it will wield significant influence. The ruling “formally recognized and established the framework for the government’s ‘state secrets’ privilege—a privilege that for decades had enabled federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents, and block civil litigation, all in the name of national secrecy.… By encouraging judicial deference when the government claimed national security secrets, Reynolds had empowered the Executive Branch in myriad ways. Among other things, it had provided a fundamental legal argument for much of the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Enemy combatants such as Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001) and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), for many months confined without access to lawyers, had felt the breath of Reynolds. So had the accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui when federal prosecutors defied a court order allowing him access to other accused terrorists (see March 22, 2005). So had the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002), like dozens of others the subject of a CIA extraordinary rendition to a secret foreign prison (see After September 11, 2001). So had hundreds of detainees at the US Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, held without charges or judicial review (see September 27, 2001). So had millions of American citizens, when President Bush, without judicial knowledge or approval, authorized domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (see Early 2002). US v. Reynolds made all this possible. The bedrock of national security law, it had provided a way for the Executive Branch to formalize an unprecedented power and immunity, to pull a veil of secrecy over its actions.” (Siegel 2008, pp. ix-x)
The US and the Soviet Union sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM) Treaty. It will be ratified by the US Senate in August 1972, and will go into force in October 1972. Originally, the treaty agrees that each nation can have only two ABM deployment areas, located so that those areas cannot provide a nationwide ABM defense or become the basis for developing one. In essence, the ABM Treaty prevents either nation from developing a missile defense system (see March 23, 1983), and allows each country the likelihood of destroying the other with an all-out nuclear barrage. The treaty puts in place the doctrine of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction, which states that because both nations can obliterate the other in a nuclear exchange, neither one will trigger such a strike. In 1976, an addendum to the treaty further limits the number of ABM deployment areas from two to one; the Soviets will deploy a rudimentary ABM system around Moscow, but the US never does, and even deactivates its single ABM site near Grand Forks, North Dakota. In 2001, US President George W. Bush will unilaterally withdraw from the treaty (see December 13, 2001 and June 14, 2002). (Federation of American Scientists 1/15/2008)
President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order 12129, “Exercise of Certain Authority Respecting Electronic Surveillance,” which implements the executive branch details of the recently enacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) (see 1978). (Jimmy Carter 5/23/1979) The order is issued in response to the Iranian hostage crisis (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). (Walden 12/28/2005) While many conservatives will later misconstrue the order as allowing warrantless wiretapping of US citizens in light of the December 2005 revelation of George W. Bush’s secret wiretapping authorization (see Early 2002), (Think Progress 12/20/2005) the order does not do this. Section 1-101 of the order reads, “Pursuant to Section 102(a)(1) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1802(a)), the Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order, but only if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that Section.” The Attorney General must certify under the law that any such warrantless surveillance must not contain “the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party.” The order does not authorize any warrantless wiretapping of a US citizen without a court warrant. (Jimmy Carter 5/23/1979; 50 U.S.C. 1802(a); Think Progress 12/20/2005) The order authorizes the Attorney General to approve warrantless electronic surveillance to obtain foreign intelligence, if the Attorney General certifies that, according to FISA, the communications are exclusively between or among foreign powers, or the objective is to collect technical intelligence from property or premises under what is called the “open and exclusive” control of a foreign power. There must not be a “substantial likelihood” that such surveillance will obtain the contents of any communications involving a US citizen or business entity. (Federal Register 2/4/2006)
President Ronald Reagan issues Executive Order 12333, which directs the US intelligence community to provide foreign intelligence data to the White House. The order reads in part, “[A]gencies are not authorized to use such techniques as electronic surveillance, unconsented physical searches, mail surveillance, physical surveillance, or monitoring devices unless they are in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General.” It establishes rules of conduct for the intelligence agencies, and mandates a certain level of Congressional oversight. (Executive Order 12333 -- United States intelligence activities 4/5/2007) It also establishes the basis for what are later called “National Security Letters.” These NSLs, originally envisioned for use to compile information in hunts for foreign criminals and suspected terrorists, will later be used by the administration of George W. Bush to order US booksellers, librarians, employers, Internet providers, and others to turn over records and information they compile on US citizens, with strict adjuncts against allowing those targeted for surveillance to know about the NSLs and with virtually no government oversight (see October 25, 2005). (Gellman 11/6/2005) It does not, as some have later asserted, directly prohibit the assassination of targeted foreign subjects—i.e. terrorist suspects and even foreign leaders—though it does restrict the use of assassination by US government operatives to certain very restricted circumstances centered around critical aspects of national security. (Parks 11/2/1989 )
The US, through USAID and the University of Nebraska, spends millions of dollars developing and printing textbooks for Afghan schoolchildren. The textbooks are “filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.” For instance, children are “taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles, and land mines.” Lacking any alternative, millions of these textbooks are used long after 1994; the Taliban will still be using them in 2001. In 2002, the US will start producing less violent versions of the same books, which President Bush says will have “respect for human dignity, instead of indoctrinating students with fanaticism and bigotry.” (He will fail to mention who created those earlier books.) (Stephens and Ottaway 3/23/2002; Off 5/6/2002) A University of Nebraska academic named Thomas Gouttierre leads the textbook program. Journalist Robert Dreyfuss will later reveal that although funding for Gouttierre’s work went through USAID, it was actually paid for by the CIA. Unocal will pay Gouttierre to work with the Taliban (see December 1997) and he will host visits of Taliban leaders to the US, including trips in 1997 and 1999 (see December 4, 1997 and July-August 1999). (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 328)
Prior to this year, President George W. Bush is a failed oilman. Three times, friends and investors have bailed him out to keep his business from going bankrupt. However, in 1988, the same year his father becomes president, some Saudis buy a portion of his small company, Harken, which has never performed work outside of Texas. Later in the year, Harken wins a contract in the Persian Gulf and starts doing well financially. These transactions seem so suspicious that the Wall Street Journal in 1991 states it “raises the question of… an effort to cozy up to a presidential son.” Two major investors in Bush’s company during this time are Salem bin Laden and Khalid bin Mahfouz. Salem bin Laden dies in a plane crash in Texas in 1988. (Intelligence Newsletter 3/2/2000; Cave 11/19/2001) Salem bin Laden is Osama’s oldest brother; Khalid bin Mahfouz is a Saudi banker with a 20 percent stake in BCCI. The bank will be shut down a few years later and bin Mahfouz will have to pay a $225 million fine (while admitting no wrongdoing) (see October 10, 2001)). (Vardi 3/18/2002)
As part of its ongoing battle against drug trafficking, the US routinely monitors the phone records of thousands of US citizens and others inside the country who make phone calls to Latin America. The NSA works with the Drug Enforcement Agency in collecting phone records that show patterns of calls between the US, Latin America, and other drug-producing regions. The program is significantly expanded after George W. Bush takes office in 2001. Government officials will say in 2007 that the phone conversations themselves are not monitored, but the NSA and DEA use phone numbers and e-mail addresses to analyze possible links between US citizens and foreign nationals. The program is approved by Justice Department officials in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, and does not require court approval to demand communications records. In 2004, one US telecommunications firm, who is not identified, will refuse to turn over its phone records to the government (see 2004). (Lichtblau, Risen, and Shane 12/16/2007) The Bush administration will repeatedly claim that the government did not begin monitoring US citizens until after the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, this NSA/DEA program proves otherwise.
The US Army presents a white paper to President Bush in which it describes Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq as the optimum contender “to replace the Warsaw Pact” and on that basis argues for the continuation of Cold War-level military spending. (Pilger 1994; Clarke 1994; Zepezauer 2003)
The FBI investigates connections between James Bath and George W. Bush, according to published reports. Bath is Salem bin Laden’s official representative in the US. Bath’s business partner contends that, “Documents indicate that the Saudis were using Bath and their huge financial resources to influence US policy,” since George W. Bush’s father is president. George W. Bush denies any connections to Saudi money. What becomes of this investigation is unclear, but no charges are ever filed. (Urban 6/4/1992)
President Clinton issues Executive Order 12949, which marginally extends the powers of the Justice Department to conduct warrantless surveillance of designated targets, specifically suspected foreign terrorists. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the order comes in the first section, which reads, “Pursuant to section 302(a)(1) of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Act [FISA], the Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order, to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year, if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that section.” (US President 2/9/1995) As with then-president Jimmy Carter’s own May 1979 order extending the Justice Department’s surveillance capabilities (see May 23, 1979), after George W. Bush’s warrantless domestic wiretapping program will be revealed in December 2005 (see December 15, 2005), many of that program’s defenders will point to Clinton’s order as “proof” that Clinton, too, exercised unconstitutionally broad powers in authorizing wiretaps and other surveillance of Americans. These defenders will point to the “physical search” clause in Clinton’s order to support their contention that, if anything, Clinton’s order was even more egregrious than anything Bush will order. This contention is false. (50 U.S.C. 1802(a); Think Progress 12/20/2005) Under FISA, the Attorney General must certify that any such physical search does not involve the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person.” That means US citizens or anyone inside the United States. Clinton’s order does not authorize warrantless surveillance or physical searches of US citizens. (US President 2/9/1995; Think Progress 12/20/2005)
Russian arms merchant Victor Bout, who has been selling weapons to Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance since 1992, switches sides, and begins selling weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda instead. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002; Smith et al. 4/17/2002; Los Angeles Times 5/19/2002) The deal comes immediately after the Taliban captures Kabul in late October 1996 and gains the upper hand in Afghanistan’s civil war. In one trade in 1996, Bout’s company delivers at least 40 tons of Russian weapons to the Taliban, earning about $50 million. (Osborn 2/16/2002) Two intelligence agencies later confirm that Bout trades with the Taliban “on behalf of the Pakistan government.” In late 2000, several Ukrainians sell 150 to 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks to the Taliban in a deal conducted by the ISI, and Bout helps fly the tanks to Afghanistan. (van Niekerk and Verloy 2/5/2002) Bout formerly worked for the Russian KGB, and now operates the world’s largest private weapons transport network. Based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bout operates freely there until well after 9/11. The US becomes aware of Bout’s widespread illegal weapons trading in Africa in 1995, and of his ties to the Taliban in 1996, but they fail to take effective action against him for years. (Los Angeles Times 5/19/2002) US pressure on the UAE in November 2000 to close down Bout’s operations there is ignored. Press reports calling him “the merchant of death” also fail to pressure the UAE. (Financial Times 6/10/2000; Bowcott and Norton-Taylor 12/23/2000) After President Bush is elected, it appears the US gives up trying to get Bout, until after 9/11. (Farah 2/26/2002; Smith et al. 4/17/2002) Bout moves to Russia in 2002. He is seemingly protected from prosecution by the Russian government, which in early 2002 will claim, “There are no grounds for believing that this Russian citizen has committed illegal acts.” (Smith et al. 4/17/2002) The Guardian suggests that Bout may have worked with the CIA when he traded with the Northern Alliance, and this fact may be hampering current international efforts to catch him. (Smith et al. 4/17/2002)
Bill Clinton is re-inaugurated as president. An extensive set of security measures to prevent airplanes as weapons crashing into the inauguration is used. These measures, first used at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and thus referred to as the “Atlanta Rules,” include the closing of nearby airspace, the use of intercept helicopters, the basing of armed fighters nearby, and more. This plan will later be used for the 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 50th anniversary celebration in Washington, the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, the 2000 Democratic convention in New York, and the George W. Bush inauguration in 2001. (Clarke 2004, pp. 110-11; Paltrow 4/1/2004)
Plans for Permanent Air Defense Unit Rejected - At some point near the end of the Clinton administration, the Secret Service and Customs Service will agree to create a permanent air defense unit to protect Washington. However, these agencies are part of the Treasury Department, and the leadership there will refuse to fund the idea. White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recount: “Treasury nixed the air defense unit, and my attempts within the White House to overrule them came to naught. The idea of aircraft attacking in Washington seemed remote to many people and the risks of shooting down aircraft in a city were thought to be far too high.” The permanent unit will not be created until after 9/11. (Clarke 2004, pp. 131; Paltrow 4/1/2004)
Former President George H. W. Bush calls on his longtime friend, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and asks him to meet with his son, Texas Governor George W. Bush. His son has an important decision to make, the elder Bush tells Bandar, and needs the prince’s advice. Bandar flies to Austin, Texas, planning on using a visit to a Dallas Cowboys game as a “cover” for his visit. He lands in Austin, and is surprised when Governor Bush boards the plane before Bandar can disembark. Bush comes straight to the point: he is considering a run for the presidency, and though he already knows what his domestic agenda will be, says, “I don’t have the foggiest idea about what I think about international, foreign policy.” Bandar runs through his experiences with various world leaders, including the USSR’s Mikhail Gorbachev, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, the Pope, and former US President Ronald Reagan. Finally, Bush says, “There are people who are your enemies in this country who also think my dad is your enemy.” Bandar knows Bush is speaking of US supporters of Israel, and wants to know how he should handle the Israeli-Jewish lobby as well as the neoconservatives who loathe both the Saudis and the elder Bush. Bandar replies: “Can I give you one advice?… If you tell me that [you want to be president], I want to tell you one thing. To hell with Saudi Arabia or who likes Saudi Arabia or who doesn’t, who likes Bandar or who doesn’t. Anyone who you think hates your dad or your friend who can be important to make a difference in winning, swallow your pride and make friends of them. And I can help you. I can help you out and complain about you, make sure they understand that, and that will make sure they help you.” Bandar’s message is clear: if Bush needs the neoconservatives to help him win the presidency, then he should do what it takes to get them on his side. “Never mind if you really want to be honest,” Bandar continues. “This is not a confession booth.… In the big boys’ game, it’s cutthroat, it’s bloody and it’s not pleasant.” (Unger 2007, pp. 154-155)
Representatives of the Taliban are invited guests to the Texas headquarters of Unocal to negotiate their support for the pipeline. Future President George W. Bush is Governor of Texas at the time. The Taliban appear to agree to a $2 billion pipeline deal, but will do the deal only if the US officially recognizes the Taliban regime. The Taliban meet with US officials. According to the Daily Telegraph, “the US government, which in the past has branded the Taliban’s policies against women and children ‘despicable,’ appears anxious to please the fundamentalists to clinch the lucrative pipeline contract.” A BBC regional correspondent says that “the proposal to build a pipeline across Afghanistan is part of an international scramble to profit from developing the rich energy resources of the Caspian Sea.” (BBC 12/4/1997; Lees 12/14/1997) It has been claimed that the Taliban meet with Enron officials while in Texas (see 1996-September 11, 2001). Enron, headquartered in Texas, has an large financial interest in the pipeline at the time (see June 24, 1996). The Taliban also visit Thomas Gouttierre, an academic at the University of Nebraska, who is a consultant for Unocal and also has been paid by the CIA for his work in Afghanistan (see 1984-1994 and December 1997). Gouttierre takes them on a visit to Mt. Rushmore. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 328-329)
A son of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, the al-Qaeda leader convicted in 1995 of conspiring to blow up tunnels and other New York City landmarks, is heard to say that the best way to free his father from a US prison might be to hijack an American plane and exchange the hostages. This will be mentioned in President Bush’s August 2001 briefing titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). (Woodward and Eggen 5/18/2002) It may be the warning was discovered by reporters at bin Laden’s press conference this month, since two of Abdul-Rahman’s sons are there and speak in belligerent tones (see May 26, 1998 and May 1998). A similar warning will be discovered in May 2001, but will not be mentioned in Bush’s briefing (see May 23, 2001).
Soon after Jeb Bush (R-FL) becomes governor of Florida minority voters are increasingly purged from the Florida voting rolls. In his unsuccessful 1994 run for governor, Bush had won the animus of African-American voters by showing a lack of interest in their concerns; during one debate, when asked what he would do for Florida’s black community, he answered, “Probably nothing.” He avoided such comments in his 1998 campaign, and won the election though he secured only 10 percent of the black vote. In his first year as governor, Bush eliminates many affirmative action programs and replaces them with what he calls the “One Florida Initiative,” which in effect grants state contracts almost exclusively to white male business owners. Black legislators, led by Democratic State Senator Kendrick Meek among others and joined by the NAACP, decide that they will mount a voter registration drive—“We’ll Remember in November”—to defeat Governor Bush and his allies, and to challenge Bush’s brother, Texas Governor George W. Bush, in his drive to the presidency (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). Veteran civil rights leader Elmore Bryant later says, “We didn’t need George W. doing to the whole nation what Jeb was doing to Florida.” Some Florida NAACP officials have a nickname for the governor: “Jeb Crow.” Black voters begin registering in unprecedented numbers.
Removing Black 'Felons' from the Rolls, Keeping Other Blacks Off - Bush and his allies decide to begin focusing on convicted felons (see June 24, 1974), pivoting off of a 1997 discovery that 105 convicted felons had illegally voted in a Miami mayoral election. Under Florida law, convicted felons are ineligible to vote. Seventy-one percent of convicted felons found on county voting rolls are registered Democrats, and the majority of those are black. Bush and the Republican-led Florida legislature pushes through a sweeping voter fraud bill opposed by almost every county elections supervisor in Florida. It mandates the strict enforcement of an obsolete 1868 law that took the vote away from all former prisoners who had not received clemency from the governor’s office no matter what their crimes or their circumstances. Only 14 states do not automatically restore a convicted citizen’s civil rights upon the completion of their prison sentence; Florida is one of those states. Florida’s population is only 15 percent black, but its prison population is 54 percent black—a huge disproportion. Convicted felons who ask for clemency usually are denied such clemency, no matter how much they had managed to clean up their lives—by 2000, less than 0.5 percent of former prisoners have regained their rights to vote. Meek later says that he has helped 175 former felons apply for clemency; only nine, he will say, succeed in regaining their voting rights. 17 percent of Florida’s black voting-age males are disenfranchised as of 2000. Florida leads the nation in its number of disenfranchised voters. Moreover, Florida leads the nation in charging juveniles with felonies, thusly depriving young citizens of their rights to vote even before they are old enough to exercise them. Democratic State Senator Daryl Jones says: “And every year the Florida legislature is trying to make more crimes felonies. Why? So they can eliminate more people from the voter rolls.… It’s been going on in Tallahassee for years.” By April 1998, as Jeb Bush’s campaign for governor is in full swing, the legislature mandated a statewide push to “purge” voter rolls of a wide variety of ineligible voters—those who have moved and registered in a different county or state, those considered mentally unstable, those who are deceased, and most significantly, convicted felons who have not had their rights restored. Voters such as Willie David Whiting, a Tallahassee pastor who has never been convicted of a crime, testified that they were denied their rights to vote because the lists conflated him with felon Willie J. Whiting. The purge list parameters considered him a “derived,” or approximate, match (see November 7, 2000). Whiting had to threaten to bring his lawyer to the precinct before being allowed to vote. “I felt like I was slingshotted back into slavery,” he testified. He tried to understand why he and so many others were denied their right to vote. “Does someone have a formula for stealing this election?” he says he asked himself. Overall, the new purge lists are hugely disproportionate in including black citizens. Hillsborough County’s voting population is 15 percent black, but 54 percent of its purged voters are black. Miami-Dade County’s voting population is 20 percent black, but 66 percent of its purged voters are black. Leon County’s voting population is 29 percent black, but 55 percent of its purged voters are black (see Early Afternoon, November 7, 2000).
Privatizing the Purge - The legislature contracts out the task of providing a “purge list” to a Tallahassee firm, Professional Analytical Services and Systems, using state databases. The results are riddled with errors that would cost huge numbers of Florida voters their right to vote. In August 1998. Ethel Baxter, the Director of the Florida Division of Elections, orders county elections supervisors not to release the list to the press in order to keep the list from generating negative publicity. Instead, the state awards a second contract, this time to Boca Raton’s Database Technologies (DBT). (DBT later merges with ChoicePoint, an Atlanta firm.) DBT produces two separate lists, one in 1999 and another in 2000, that included a total of 174,583 alleged felons. Later, a small number of convicts who had been granted clemency are removed from the list. The majority of the people on the lists were black, and presumably Democrats. DBT employees referred to the people on the list as “dirtbags,” among other epithets. When citizens begin learning that they are on the lists, and begin filing complaints, DBT product manager Marlene Thorogood expresses surprise. In an email, she says, “There are just some people that feel when you mess with their ‘right to vote’ your [sic] messing with their life.” By late 1999, it becomes apparent that the DBT lists are as riddled with errors as the first lists. Thousands of Florida citizens who had never been convicted of felonies, and in many cases no crimes at all, are on the lists. Some people’s conviction dates were given as being in the future. Angry complaints by the thousands inundated county elections supervisors, who in turn complain to Tallahassee.
Handling the Complaints - The person designated to compile the list is Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell IV, an assistant general counsel to the Florida Division of Elections. Mitchell, who is later promoted to a senior position in the Department of Education a week after the November 2000 elections, claims he tries to “err on the side of caution” in listing voters to be purged. But testimony and statements from county supervisors, state officials, DBT employees, and others paint a different picture. When warned in March 1999 of the likelihood of tens of thousands of “false positives”—names that should not be on the list but are because of similarities in names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and the like—Mitchell tells Thorogood that the primary purpose of the lists is to include as many people as possible, false positives or not. It is the job of the county supervisors, he says, to weed out the legitimate voters from the lists. When told by DBT personnel that loose parameters for the names were causing an inordinate number of false positives, Mitchell, as directed by senior government officials, actually loosens the parameters instead of tightening them, ensuring tens of thousands more names on the list, and resultingly more false positives. DBT also includes names of convicted felons from other states in making up its lists, though 36 states automatically restore their prisoners’ rights upon completion of sentences. Thusly, over 2,000 residents of other states who had served their sentences, had their rights restored, and moved to Florida now find their voting rights illegally stripped by the purge list. In May 2000, some 8,000 names, mostly those of former Texas prisoners included on a DBT list, are found to have never committed anything more than a misdemeanor. Their names are eventually removed from the lists. (Subsequent investigations find that at least one of the Texas lists came from a company headed by a heavy Republican and Bush campaign donor.) Mitchell later admits that other such lists, equally erroneous, are incorporated into the purge lists, and those names are not removed. Before the 2000 elections, an appeals process is instituted, but it is tortuously slow and inefficient. Civil Rights Commission attorney Bernard Quarterman says in February 2001 that the people who filed appeals are, in essence, “guilty until proven innocent.” In its contract, DBT promises to check every name on the list before including it by both mail and telephone verifications, but it does not, and later contracts omit that procedure. Asked by Nation reporter John Lantigua about concerns with the lists, Mitchell dismisses them, saying: “Just as some people might have been removed from the list who shouldn’t have been, some voted who shouldn’t have.” Lantigua writes: “In other words, because an ineligible person may have voted somewhere else, it was acceptable to deny a legitimate voter the right to vote.” Mitchell verifies that he himself did not set the loose parameters for the lists, but that they came from Baxter in consultation with Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After).
County Supervisors Battle the Lists - Some county elections supervisors work diligently to comb through their lists and restore legitimate citizens’ voting rights. Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho testifies after the elections, “Our experience with the lists is that they are frequently erroneous.” He tells the Civil Rights Commission that he received one list with 690 names on it; after detailed checking by himself and his staff, 657 of those names were removed. Mitchell actually tells elections supervisors not to bother with such checks. Linda Howell, the elections supervisor for Madison County, later says: “Mr. Mitchell said we shouldn’t call people on the phone, we should send letters. The best and fastest way to check these matters was by phone, personal contact, but he didn’t want that.… We shouldn’t have had to do any of this. Elections supervisors are not investigators, and we don’t have investigators. It wasn’t our responsibility at all.” The process for unfairly purged voters to clear their names is slow and inefficient, and the backlog of voters waiting to have their names cleared by the Office of Executive Clemency was anywhere from six months to a year in duration. (Tapper 3/2001; Lantigua 4/24/2001)
Subsequent Investigation - A later investigation by the progressive news magazine The Nation will document widespread voter disenfranchisement efforts in Florida (see April 24, 2001).
America’s neoconservatives are initially leery of potential presidential candidate George W. Bush, currently the governor of Texas, mostly because they do not want a repeat of his father’s presidency. What they do not yet know is that the younger Bush has no intention of reprising his father. He is determined to establish an image and an identity of his own, separate from his father. Author Craig Unger will write in 2007, “Given his lack of knowledge when it comes to foreign policy (see Fall 1997), his limited experience as a hands-on executive, and the extraordinary bureaucratic skills of the neoconservatives, George W. Bush was an exceedingly easy mark (see December 1998 - Fall 1999).” A State Department official later says: “This guy was tabula rasa. He was an empty vessel. He was so ripe for the plucking.” (Unger 2007, pp. 158)
David Bossie, an investigator for Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), is fired from his position. Bossie recently leaked transcripts of prison conversations featuring former Clinton administration official Webster Hubbell, who will be convicted of defrauding clients and sentenced to prison in 2004. Bossie fraudulently edited the transcripts to have Hubbell imply that First Lady Hillary Clinton broke the law while the two worked together in an Arkansas law firm. Bossie cut out portions of Hubbell’s conversations exonerating her from any wrongdoing, and sometimes rewrote Hubbell’s words entirely. In response to the controversy, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says of Burton and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “I’m embarrassed for you, I’m embarrassed for myself, and I’m embarrassed for the [House Republican] conference at the circus that went on at your committee.” (In late April, Burton had called President Clinton a “scumbag,” further embarrassing Gingrich and the Republican leadership.) Bossie came to Burton’s staff from Citizens United (CU), which he joined in 1994 and soon rose to become director of government relations and communications. In 1988, as a member of Floyd Brown’s Presidential Victory Committee (PVC), Bossie helped produce the infamous Willie Horton ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). In 1992, as executive director of the PVC, Bossie oversaw the release of a fundraising letter accusing then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton of having an affair with an Arkansas woman, for use in an ad that falsely suggested it was the product of President Bush’s re-election campaign. Then-President Bush accused the PVC of engaging in “filthy campaign tactics,” and his son and campaign aide George W. Bush sent a letter asking donors not to give to the organization. Bossie has encouraged Burton to open an investigation into the suicide of Clinton administration aide Vince Foster (alleging that Foster was murdered as part of some unspecified White House plot, or perhaps an Israeli intelligence “black op”). While an aide to Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), Bossie was found to have tried to intimidate a federal judge during a Whitewater-related investigation. Bossie has earned a reputation as a “Whitewater stalker,” combing Arkansas for “evidence” of crimes by the Clintons, and repeatedly making false and lurid allegations against the president and/or his wife. For a year, Bossie has promised that Burton’s committee would soon produce evidence of Chinese espionage and White House collusion, but any evidence of such a scandal has never been produced. A former lawyer for the Oversight Committee, John Rowley, has called Bossie’s actions “unrelenting self-promoti[on]” and challenged Bossie’s competence. Bossie says his transcripts were accurate (though the tapes of Hubbell’s conversations prove he is wrong), and blames committee Democrats for the controversy. (Bresnahan 5/7/1998; Corn 5/7/1998; Media Matters 5/11/2004) WorldNetDaily reporter David Bresnahan writes that according to his sources, Bossie “was either extremely incompetent or was intentionally trying to sabotage” Burton’s investigations into the Clinton administration. Bresnahan also says that Burton allowed Bossie to resign instead of firing him, as other media sources report. (Bresnahan 5/7/1998)
Former President Bush secretly invites two people to his Kennebunkport, Maine, compound: his son George W. Bush, and Condoleezza Rice, a longtime protege of his close friend and colleague Brent Scowcroft. Rice had been the elder Bush’s assistant on Soviet affairs from 1989 to 1991, and later became provost of Stanford University. Rice and the younger Bush spend many hours discussing foreign affairs, with Rice attempting to tutor him about the fundamentals of US relations with a host of other countries and regions. “We talked a lot about America’s role in the world,” Rice will recall. Bush “was doing due diligence on whether or not to run for president.” Rice will become “foreign policy coordinator” to the nascent Bush campaign. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 160)
Former president George H. W. Bush and his close colleague, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, publish a book entitled A World Transformed. Recalling the 1991 Gulf War (see January 16, 1991 and After), Bush and Scowcroft defend their decision not to enter Baghdad and overthrow the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, calling it the proper and pragmatic thing to do. They do admit, however, that they were certain Hussein would shortly be overthrown by an internal revolution sparked by the crushing defeat of his military. (Zakaria 9/27/1998)
US Might Still Occupy Hostile Iraq Eight Years Later - “Trying to eliminate Saddam… would have incurred incalculable human and political costs,” they write. “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq… there was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 314-315)
Younger Bush Disagrees with Assessments - Bush’s son, Texas Governor George W. Bush, preparing for his own presidential run (see April-May 1999), explicitly disagrees with the book’s assessments of US actions during and after the 1991 Gulf War. According to Mickey Herskowitz, the writer working on Bush’s campaign biography, “He thought of himself as a superior, more modern politican than his father and [the elder Bush’s close adviser and friend] Jim Baker. He told me, ‘[My father] could have done anything [during the Gulf War]. He could have invaded Switzerland. If I had that political capital, I would have taken Iraq.” (Unger 2007, pp. 169)
Texas governor and possible presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “Iron Triangle” of (four, not three) political advisers—Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Donald Evans, and Joe Allbaugh—are preparing for Bush’s entry into the 2000 presidential campaign. His biggest liability is foreign affairs: despite his conversations with Saudi Prince Bandar (see Fall 1997) and former security adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 1998), he is still a blank slate (see Early 1998). “Is he comfortable with foreign policy? I should say not,” observes George H. W. Bush’s former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who is not involved in teaching the younger Bush about geopolitics. Bush’s son’s only real experience, Scowcroft notes, “was being around when his father was in his many different jobs.” Rice is less acerbic in her judgment, saying: “I think his basic instincts about foreign policy and what need[…] to be done [are] there: rebuilding military strength, the importance of free trade, the big countries with uncertain futures. Our job [is] to help him fill in the details.” Bush himself acknowledges his lack of foreign policy expertise, saying: “Nobody needs to tell me what to believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is.” Rice and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney assemble a team of eight experienced foreign policy advisers to give the younger Bush what author Craig Unger calls “a crash course about the rest of the world.” They whimsically call themselves the “Vulcans,” (Carter 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 161-163) which, as future Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “was based on the imposing statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, that is a landmark in Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 85) The eight are:
Richard Armitage, a hardliner and Project for a New American Century (PNAC) member (see January 26, 1998) who served in a number of capacities in the first Bush presidency;
Robert Blackwill, a hardliner and former Bush presidential assistant for European and Soviet Affairs;
Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative and former assistant secretary of defense;
Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and another former assistant secretary of defense;
Condoleezza Rice, a protege of Scowcroft, former oil company executive, and former security adviser to Bush’s father;
Donald Rumsfeld, another former defense secretary;
Paul Wolfowitz, a close associate of Perle and a prominent neoconservative academic, brought in to the circle by Cheney;
Dov Zakheim, a hardline former assistant secretary of defense and a PNAC member;
Robert Zoellick, an aide to former Secretary of State James Baker and a PNAC member.
McClellan will later note, “Rice’s and Bush’s views on foreign policy… were one and the same.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 85) Their first tutorial session in Austin, Texas is also attended by Cheney and former Secretary of State George Schulz. Even though three solid neoconservatives are helping Bush learn about foreign policy, many neoconservatives see the preponderance of his father’s circle of realpolitik foreign advisers surrounding the son and are dismayed. Prominent neoconservatives such as William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey will back Bush’s primary Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). (Carter 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 161-163) Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, both former National Security Council members, write in the book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, that under the tutelage of the Vulcans, Bush adopts a “hegemonist” view of the world that believes the US’s primacy in the world is paramount to securing US interests. As former White House counsel John Dean writes in 2003, this viewpoint asserts, “[S]ince we have unrivalled powers, we can have it our way, and kick ass when we don’t get it.” (Dean 11/7/2003; Carter 2004, pp. 269)
Presidential candidate George W. Bush tells prominent Texas author and Bush family friend Mickey Herskowitz, who is helping Bush write an autobiography, that as president he would invade Iraq if given the opportunity. “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief,” Herskowitz remembers Bush saying. “My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of [Kuwait] and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade Iraq, if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” Herskowitz later says he believes Bush’s comments were intended to distinguish himself from his father, rather than express a desire to invade Iraq. (Cobb 10/31/2004)
Presidential candidate George W. Bush and his political adviser Karl Rove meet with Muslim activist Abdurahman Alamoudi. The meeting is said to have been brokered by Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist. Little is known about the meeting, which will not be reported until 2007. At the time, Alamoudi is head of the American Muslim Council (AMC), which is seen as a mainstream activist and lobbying group. But Alamoudi and the AMC had been previously criticized for their ties to Hamas and other militant groups and figures (see March 13, 1996). Bush and/or Rove will meet with Alamoudi on other occasions (see (see July 2000, June 22, 2001, September 14-26, 2001). US intelligence learned of ties between Alamoudi and bin Laden in 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994); he will be sentenced to a long prison term in 2004 (see October 15, 2004). (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/18/2007)
The foreign affairs tutorial sessions for Governor George W. Bush continue in preparation for his presidential run (see December 1998 - Fall 1999). Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney is a frequent participant. When asked about Cheney, Bush says: “It’s not the first time he’s been down here [in Texas]. It won’t be the last time he’ll be down here. He’s a person whose judgment I rely on a lot.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 118)
Advisers and colleagues of George H. W. Bush are working alongside a stable of neoconservatives (see April-May 1999) to give Bush’s son, George W., a basic grounding in foreign policies and principles. Though much of the neoconservatives’ teachings conflict with the ideas and interpretations of the elder Bush’s more ‘realist’ advisers, they are not overly concerned about the neoconservatives’ influence on the younger Bush. “The idea that [Paul] Wolfowitz and the neocons represented a great ideological shift from [Brent] Scowcroft’s group of realists was not yet clear,” a knowledgeable State Department source will later note. “Then Wolfowitz and [Condoleezza] Rice [a colleague of Bush adviser Brent Scowcroft with as-yet unsuspected neoconservative leanings] started going down to Austin to tutor Bush in foreign policy (see August 1998). Bush’s grandiose vision emerged out of those tutorials, with Rice tutoring him in global history and Wolfowitz laying out his scheme to remake the world (see February 18, 1992). The whole view of those people was that the next president was not going to be a passive actor, but was to reshape the world to US interests. That was the message that Rice and Wolfowitz were giving to Bush. Rice was the one giving [Bush] the idea that were entering some sort of 1947-like transitional period in which the United States could shape the world.” (Unger 2007, pp. 165-168)
George W. Bush deliberately keeps his father’s closest foreign advisers, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker, out of his foreign affairs tutorials (see April-May 1999). This is not just because Bush blames Baker for his father’s failure to win re-election in 1992, but because Scowcroft and Baker are considered the “Wise Men” of the elder Bush’s brain trust, who wield enormous influence both in the US and abroad. “George W. did it [snubbed Scowcroft and Baker] to show his defiance,” a friend of the Bush family will recall. “That did not reflect disrespect for his dad. It was more to have his own identity, to have his own record. He almost had to go out of his way to avoid anyone connected to his father. He constantly faced this challenge of carving out an identity of his own.… When he was gearing up to run [for president] and the money was flowing in and people were making these showboat trips down to Austin [Texas, the home of Governor Bush], he told me, ‘You’re not going to see any Jim Bakers around me when I’m in office.’” (Unger 2007, pp. 168)
As the presidential campaign of Texas Governor George W. Bush takes shape, many in the media assume that a Bush presidency would be much like the father’s: moderate and centrist with a pronounced but not extreme rightward tilt. Bush will be “on the 47-yard line in one direction,” says former Clinton counsel Lanny Davis, while Democratic contender Al Gore is “on the 47-yard line in the other.” But while the media continues to pursue that story, the hardliners and neoconservatives surrounding Bush (see December 1998 - Fall 1999) are working quietly to push their favored candidate much farther to the right, especially in foreign affairs, than anyone suspects. Two of the Bush campaign’s most prominent advisers, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, are making regular and secret visits to the governor’s mansion. “They were brought in and out under very tight security,” a source in the governor’s office will later recall. “They snuck in and snuck out. They didn’t hold press conferences. [Bush political adviser Karl] Rove didn’t want people to know what they were doing or what they were saying.” (Unger 2007, pp. 165-168)
Bush is Willing to be Educated - Perle, like many other neoconservatives, is pleased that the younger Bush may well not be a repeat of the moderate policy stances of the father. “The first time I met [George W. Bush]… two things became clear,” Perle will recall in 2004. “One, he didn’t know very much. The other was that he had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn’t know very much.” (Weisberg 5/7/2004) Perle will continue: “Most people are reluctant to say when they don’t know something—a word or a term they haven’t heard before. Not him.” A State Department source will put it more bluntly: “His ignorance of the world cannot be overstated.”
Rice a 'Fellow Traveler' with Neoconservatives - One of Bush’s most diligent tutors is Condoleezza Rice, a former Bush administration official. Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who had mentored Rice, wrongly expects her to tutor Bush in his own “realist” world view, but Rice is far more aligned with the neoconservatives than Scowcroft realizes (see April-May 1999). “She was certainly a fellow traveler,” the State Department source will say. “She came at it more with a high-level academic approach while the other guys were operational. [Her role] was a surprise to Scowcroft. She had been a protege and the idea that she was going along with them was very frustrating to him.” The absence of retired General Colin Powell, one of the elder Bush’s most trusted and influential moderates, is no accident (see April-May 1999). “That’s a critical fact,” the State Department source will observe. “The very peculiar personal relationship between Rice and Bush solidified during those tutorials, and Wolfowitz established himself as the intellectual face of the neocons and the whole PNAC crew” (see June 3, 1997).
Wolfowitz: Redrawing the Map of the Middle East - Wolfowitz teaches Bush that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only incidental to the larger issues engulfing the Middle East (see March 8, 1992). The State Department source will recall: “Wolfowitz had gotten to Bush, and this is where Bush thought he would be seen as a great genius. Wolfowitz convinced him that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was to leap over this constant conflict and to remake the context in which the conflict was taking place; that democracies don’t fight each other. [He convinced Bush] that the fundamental problem was the absence of democracy in the Middle East, and therefore we needed to promote democracy in the Middle East, and out of that there would be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The US must, Wolfowitz says, exert its moral and military might to eliminate the brutal dictators in the region and replace them with Western-style democratic leaders. Wolfowitz believes “[t]he road to peace in Jerusalem,” as author Craig Unger will write, “run[s] through Baghdad, Damascus, even Tehran.” It is unclear if Bush grasps the full implications of the theories of Wolfowitz and Rice. Certainly the idea of this “reverse domino theory,” as Unger will call it, is far different from anything previously espoused in US foreign affairs—a permanent “neo-war,” Unger will write, “colossal wars that would sweep through the entire Middle East and affect the world.” (Unger 2007, pp. 165-168)
James B. Francis Jr., the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety and a fundraiser for the presidential campaign of Governor George W. Bush, convinces federal judge Walter Smith to order that government vaults containing 12 tons of evidence from the Branch Davidian compound near Waco be opened, and the contents reexamined. The Davidian compound was destroyed six years ago as the culmination of a 51-day standoff between the residents and the FBI (see April 19, 1993). Smith orders the reopening of the vaults after inquiries from an independent filmmaker, Michael McNulty (see July 29, 1999), and a lawyer, David Hardy, who has long challenged the government’s account of events. There are three kinds of evidence to be examined, Francis has said: “One is shells, shell casings, physical things. The second type of evidence is video and still photographs. The third type are interviews done there on the spot at the time.” Smith’s order reads in part: “First and foremost, the parties to civil litigation pending in this court have the right to seek access (see April 1995). Second, the events that took place between Feb. 28 and April 19, 1993, and thereafter, have resulted in sometimes intense interest from the national media and the members of the public. There may come a time when persons other than the current civil litigants would be allowed access to the materials.” (Hull 8/10/1999; Mittelstadt 9/10/1999; Mittelstadt 9/17/1999) One document that will prove to be extremely significant is the 49th and final page of a December 1993 lab report that has long ago been made available to lawmakers and attorneys. The 49th page had been removed. It states that FBI investigators who examined the scene at Waco found a “fired US military 40mm shell casing which originally contained a CS gas round,” and two “expended 40mm tear gas projectiles.” (The Justice Department will later claim that the prosecution and defense lawyers in the civil trial received the 49th page as well.) (Kellman 9/11/1999) The Texas Rangers review the contents, and find a spent military tear-gas canister, which forces the FBI and the Justice Department to admit that their agents fired incendiary gas canisters into the compound during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). The government has previously denied firing any weapons into the compound that might have caused the conflagration that consumed the building and killed almost all of the residents. As a result of the investigation, the federal government names a special prosecutor to investigate whether there was a government cover-up (see September 7-8, 1999 and July 21, 2000), and Attorney General Janet Reno (see July 29, 1999) has to weather calls from Republican lawmakers to resign. Later, Francis denies reopening the case for political reasons. His decision “unleashed a series of forces that were apparently a lot bigger than what I recognized,” he will say. “I never dreamed that it would turn into something like this.” He will claim that he is “doing everything in my power to not politicize this” controversy. Governor Bush himself refrains from commenting on the issue, though his chief of staff helped bring McNulty and Hardy to Francis’s attention. Hardy will say of Francis, “I don’t think there’s any question that he is the shining light of this entire inquiry.” Hardy used his friends in the Texas gun lobby to contact former Texas Senator Jerry Patterson; Patterson contacted Bush’s chief of staff Clay Johnson, who in turn referred him to Francis. “I think what happened to Jim Francis is he initially wanted to be very low-key and then as more and more revelations began to surface, he became angry and disgusted, as all of us are,” Patterson will say. “This was not a role that he sought.” As for his own role, Francis will say: “It’s important that the facts come out, whatever those are. I’m not a hero, but I have done the right thing.” (Kabel 7/28/1999; Excite 7/29/1999; Hull 8/10/1999; Mittelstadt 9/10/1999; Mittelstadt 9/17/1999) In July, the Justice Department called Francis’s allegations of mismanagement and possible cover-ups “nonsense.” (Kabel 7/28/1999; Excite 7/29/1999)
In a landmark campaign speech delivered to the cadets of The Citadel, a South Carolina military college, presidential candidate George W. Bush warns of new threats, including terrorism and missile proliferation, and calls for sweeping military reforms. (Petty 9/23/1999; Bruni 9/24/1999) Says Bush: “We see the contagious spread of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction.… Add to this [missile threat] the threat of biological, chemical, and nuclear terrorism—barbarism emboldened by technology. These weapons can be delivered, not just by ballistic missiles, but by everything from airplanes to cruise missiles, from shipping containers to suitcases.… Our first line of defense is a simple message: Every group or nation must know, if they sponsor such attacks, our response will be devastating.… And there is more to be done preparing here at home. I will put a high priority on detecting and responding to terrorism on our soil.” Bush also calls for military change in terms reminiscent of the “revolution in military affairs” (RMA) movement. RMA advocates say that future wars will require a more mobile, agile, and technologically advanced military (see October 29, 2001). “This opportunity [to project America’s influence] is created by a revolution in the technology of war. Power is increasingly defined, not by mass or size, but by mobility and swiftness. Influence is measured in information, safety is gained in stealth, and force is projected on the long arc of precision-guided weapons. This revolution perfectly matches the strengths of our country—the skill of our people and the superiority of our technology. The best way to keep the peace is to redefine war on our terms.” (Bush 9/23/1999) Bush’s speech is praised by the neoconservative think tank, the Project for the New American Century, which says: “[T]he passages on innovation, or the revolution in military affairs, provided the most thoroughly developed ideas in the speech.… Bush lends impetus to the stalled effort to transform the US military to meet future challenges.” (Project for the New American Centry 9/24/2004) General Richard Myers, the current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later recall, “Reading a newspaper account of The Citadel speech, I saw that Bush had done his homework and was passionate about making our military more relevant in the 21st century.” (Myers 2009, pp. 119) On December 11, 2001, Bush will return to The Citadel as the president of a nation at war and say: “In September 1999, I said here at The Citadel that America was entering a period of consequences that would be defined by the threat of terror and that we faced a challenge of military transformation. That threat has now revealed itself, and that challenge is now the military and moral necessity of our time.” (Bush 12/11/2001)
In his first Republican presidential candidate debate in New Hampshire, George W. Bush tells the audience that, if elected, he will overthrow Saddam Hussein. “No one envisioned him still standing” this long after the 1991 Gulf War, Bush says. “It’s time to finish the task. And if I found that in any way, shape, or form that he was developing weapons of mass destruction, I’d take them out. I’m surprised he’s still there. I think a lot of other people are as well.” In addition, he would not lift the US sanctions on Iraq or attempt to negotiate with Hussein. A few newspapers and Sunday talk shows pick up on Bush’s belligerence, and the ones who do are often quite critical. The Boston Globe’s David Nyhan writes in response, “It remains to be seen if that offhand declaration of war was just Texas talk, a sort of locker room braggadocio, or whether it was Bush’s first big clinker.” Bush backs off his statement the next day, blaming his Texas drawl for causing the so-called misunderstanding. “My intent was the weapons,” he says, not Hussein. Republican insiders know better (see Spring 2000). (Federal Document Clearing House 12/2/1999; George Washington University 12/2/1999; Boston Globe 12/3/1999; Unger 2007, pp. 174-175)
Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush says, “We ought to have a commander in chief who understands how to earn the respect of the military, by setting a clear mission, which is to win and fight war, and therefore deter war.” (Carter 2004, pp. 47)
Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative foreign affairs analyst who will become the future President Bush’s national security adviser (see November 2, 2004), briefs a group of prominent Republicans on the national security and foreign policy agenda of Bush. Hadley tells the assembled policymakers that Bush’s “number-one foreign policy agenda” will be removing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from power. Hadley also says Bush will spend little or no time trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. According to Virginia Military Institute professor Clifford Kiracofe, who speaks to many of the policymakers after the meeting, many of them are shocked at the briefing. (Lang 6/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 175)
A group called “Republicans for Clean Air” begins running ads attacking Republican presidential candidate John McCain in New York. The ads accuse McCain of voting against alternative energy sources. At the same time, ads paid for by the campaign of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush accuse McCain of labeling breast cancer programs as wasteful. Governor George Pataki (R-NY) accuses McCain of voting “anti-New York” in the Senate, while Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) says McCain was wrong to vote for raising heating oil taxes, a major issue in cold-weather states such as New York. (Garrone 3/2/2000) The group also runs ads in primary states claiming that Bush, as Texas governor, passed laws intended to reduce air pollution in Texas by over a quarter-million tons a year. The evidence does not support the claim; what few anti-pollution laws have taken effect in Texas were written mostly by Democratic state legislators and signed into law, often reluctantly, by Bush.
RFCA Consists of Two Texas Billionaires - An investigation by the New York Times soon proves that “Republicans for Clean Air” (RFCA) is funded by Dallas billionaire Sam Wyly, a Bush supporter, who has contributed $2.5 million to the group. Wyly and his brother Charles Wyly, also a RFCA contributor, are the co-founders of Sterling Software in Dallas. They are also owners, founders, or executives in firms that own Bonanza Steakhouse, the “Michael’s” chain of arts and craft stores, the hedge fund Maverick Capital, and more. Both are heavy Bush campaign donors, having donated over $210,000 to the Bush gubernatorial campaigns. They are apparently the only two members of the RFCA. Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice says of Sam Wyly: “He’s one of the elite. He’s one of the movers and shakers. He’s very big money in the state.” McCain’s campaign accuses the Bush campaign of being responsible for the advertising, and says the Bush campaign is trying to evade campaign finance laws (see February 7, 1972 and May 11, 1992). The McCain campaign complains that the Bush campaign is using unethical and possibly illegal campaign tactics to “steal” the primary election by saturating New York, California, and Ohio with anti-McCain ads just days before the primary elections in those critical states. “There is no question in our campaign’s mind that the ads are being sponsored, coordinated, and managed by the George Bush for President campaign,” says McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis. “I think it’s incumbent on the Bush campaign to prove somehow that they are not involved in this incredible act.” Davis has no direct evidence for his claim, but cites what the Times calls “a tangle of personal, business, and political relationships between Mr. Wyly and his family and the Bush campaign to suggest that their interests were so close as to be indistinguishable.” One of those relationships cited by Davis is the fact that RFCA uses the same public relations firm, Multi Media Services Corporation, as Pataki, who chairs the Bush campaign in New York and who appears in Bush campaign ads. Bush himself denies any connection with RFCA, and says: “There is no coordination.… I had no idea the ad was going to run.” Wyly also disclaims any coordination with the Bush campaign. He says he laughed during the production of the commercials, and mused over how “surprised” the Bush campaign would be to see them on the airwaves. McCain uses the ads to draw attention to one of his favorite campaign themes, campaign finance reform. On a recent morning talk show, McCain said: “I think maybe the Bush campaign is out of money and somebody’s putting in $2 million to try to hijack the campaign here in New York. Nobody knows where it came from. [When McCain filmed the interview, Wyly’s identity had not been revealed.] We’ll probably find out, but probably too late. This is why campaign finance reform is so important.” (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000; Stevenson and Perez-Pena 3/4/2000; Oppel and Perez-Pena 3/5/2000; Ivins 3/6/2000; Scott E. Thomas and Danny Lee McDonald 4/2002; New York Times 8/23/2010) The press soon learns that Charles Wyly is an official member of the Bush presidential campaign, as a “Pioneer” donor, and has contributed the maximum amount under the law. (Stevenson and Perez-Pena 3/4/2000) It also learns that RFCA’s stated address is a post office box in Virginia belonging to Lydia Meuret, a consultant who runs a political action committee headed by Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX), a Bush ally. Meuret denies any connection between RFCA and Bonilla or Bonilla’s PAC, but admits she is a consultant to both. (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000)
'527' Group Operates in Campaign Finance Law 'Gray Areas' - RFCA is a “527” group (see 2000 - 2005); such groups operate in a “gray area” of campaign law, as the monies they use are not contributed directly to a candidate or a political party. However, they are banned from coordinating their efforts with candidate campaigns. Their ads must not make direct appeals to voters in support of, or opposition to, a particular candidate. If they comply with this portion of the law, the donors behind the ads, and the amounts they contribute, do not have to be identified. The law does not even require the groups to declare their existence, as was the case for a time with RFCA. The Times reports, “While some of the groups behind issue advertising are vague about their membership, Mr. Wyly’s effort was a rare instance in which commercials were aired without any hint of their origin.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a group advocating campaign finance reform, says of so-called “issue” ads such as these: “The secrecy aspects of this are taking campaign finance problems to yet another new and dangerous level. What we’re seeing here is the use of unlimited, undisclosed money to influence a federal election, and that’s totally at odds with the whole notion of campaign finance disclosure.” (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000; Ivins 3/6/2000; Broder and Bonner 3/29/2000; New York Times 8/23/2010) Progressive columnist Molly Ivins calls the RFCA ads examples of “sham issue” advertisements. (Ivins 3/6/2000)
Bush Claims RFCA Ads Not Helpful - After Bush secures the nomination over McCain, he tells a reporter, “I don’t think these [Republicans for Clean Air] ads are particularly helpful to me.” But Slate reporter Chris Suellentrop writes: “Of course they were helpful. Otherwise Bush would have called the group and told them to call off the dogs.” (Suellentrop 8/25/2000)
Wyly Brothers Will Fund 2004 'Swift Boat' Campaign, Later Charged with Securities Fraud, Insider Trading - A month after the ads air, Sam Wyly says he will no longer involve himself in politics. Wyly, who says he is a staunch environmentalist, says he admires Bush’s Democratic challenger, Vice President Al Gore (whom Wyly has called a regulation-happy environmentalist, and whom Wyly has considered attacking with television ads). Of his foray into the presidential campaign, Wyly says: “I learned from it. Many of you are aware of my recent foray into presidential politics. It is to be my last.” In 2004, the Wyly brothers will be two of the primary donors behind the “Swift Boat” campaign that will slander and impugn the character and military service of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). In 2010, the Wyly brothers will be charged with securities fraud and insider trading that netted them at least $581 million in illegal gains, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Ayres 4/5/2000; New York Times 8/23/2010)
The New York Times publishes an unsigned editorial criticizing the recent use of campaign ads by the George W. Bush presidential campaign against Bush’s Republican rival, John McCain. “[T]he tactics being employed by supporters of George W. Bush against Senator John McCain should be of serious concern to every New Yorker in regard to the integrity of politics in this state and in regard to the nation’s inadequate campaign-finance laws,” the editorial states. It refers to a recent spate of “purportedly independent television ads” aired in New York and elsewhere by a group called “Republicans for Clean Air” (see March 2000 and After). Those ads were paid for by Texas billionaire Sam Wyly, a close political friend and donor of the Bush family. The Times does not believe the Bush campaign’s contention that the airing, and the timing, of the Wyly ads was nothing more than “a happy accident,” and calls for an investigation by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Moreover, the ad campaign “points up a fundamental flaw in the nation’s election laws,” the Times says. The 1996 presidential campaign was marred by questionable expenditures by groups on behalf of both the Democratic and Republican campaigns. While the Clinton and Dole campaigns both disavowed any knowledge of or coordination with those groups, and the ads left out what the Times calls “the magic words ‘vote for‘… any reasonable viewer” would discern that the ads were promoting the sponsoring group’s candidate. The Times calls the practice a “subterfuge” that threatens “the integrity of future elections.” It concludes, quoting McCain: “[A]llowing wealthy individuals to flood the airwaves with ads promoting their chosen candidates in the final days of a campaign ‘distorts the process’ and gives a small class of wealthy Americans a financial license to sway close elections without being accountable to the public.… [I]n the long run, the country needs full public financing. (New York Times 3/6/2000)
The presidential campaign of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) files a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging improper campaign contributions by two of the biggest financial backers of McCain’s rival presidential primary contender, Governor George W. Bush (R-TX). The backers, Texas billionaires Charles and Sam Wyly, spent $2.5 million on television ads airing in New York, Ohio, and California created by a group called “Republicans for Clean Air” (RFCA—see March 2000 and After). McCain’s campaign alleges that the Bush campaign illegally coordinated its efforts with RFCA to air the ads in the days before critical primary elections. Bush has denied any knowledge of the ads, and has said his campaign had no contact with the group. McCain’s complaint notes that Charles Wyly has already contributed the maximum amount allowed by law and holds an official position in the Bush campaign. McCain says at a campaign rally in California, “We ask Governor Bush to do what he refused to do, tell his sleazy Texas buddies to stop these negative ads and take their money back to Texas where it belongs, and don’t try to corrupt American politics with your money.” The McCain campaign also files an emergency complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which McCain oversees as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, asserting that the advertisements violate the Communications Act by failing to properly identify the true sponsor. The FCC declines to intervene. Bush campaign spokesperson Karen Hughes says McCain’s complaints are “irresponsible” and “shameful. He should be ashamed. He has not one shred of evidence. The governor has personally said our campaign did not coordinate, our campaign knew nothing about the ad until a member of the media asked us about the ad, and Senator McCain should be ashamed of tossing around scurrilous accusations like that.” (Purdum and Mitchell 3/7/2000) The FEC will vote not to investigate the complaint. (Scott E. Thomas and Danny Lee McDonald 4/2002)
Sami al-Arian poses for a picture with George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, while Bush is campaigning for president in Florida. Bush chit-chats with al-Arian’s family and gives his son Abdullah the nickname “Big Dude.” Al-Arian is a former Florida professor and Muslim political activist who has been under investigation for suspected ties to US-designated terrorist groups. (Allen and Leiby 2/22/2003) Al-Arian will later tell friends that he used the occasion to press Bush about overturning the Justice Department’s use of “secret evidence” to deport accused terrorists, which is an issue for many Muslim Americans during the presidential campaign. Newsweek will later comment, “In those pre-9-11 days, Bush was eagerly courting the growing Muslim vote—and more than willing to listen to seemingly sincere activists like al-Arian.” (Isikoff 3/3/2003) At the time, al-Arian is vigorously campaigning for Bush at mosques and Islamic cultural centers in the pivotal state of Florida. In a reference to Bush’s tight margin for victory in Florida which wins Bush the presidential election, al-Arian will later say, “We certainly delivered him many more than 537 votes.” (Clemetson and Naughton 7/16/2001) Author Craig Unger will later comment, “Astonishingly enough, the fact that dangerous militant Islamists like al-Arian were campaigning for Bush went almost entirely unnoticed.” Bush’s speechwriter David Frum will later write, “Not only were the al-Arians not avoided by the Bush White House—they were actively courted.… The al-Arian case was not a solitary lapse… That outreach campaign opened relationships between the Bush campaign and some very disturbing persons in the Muslim-American community.… [We] Republicans are very lucky—we face political opponents too crippled by political correctness to make an issue of these kinds of security lapses.” (Unger 3/15/2004)
In an interview, Texas governor and presidential candidate George W. Bush says: “I’m not going to play like I’ve been a person who’s spent hours involved with foreign policy. I am who I am.” (Lehrer 4/27/2000)
Presidential candidate George W. Bush allegedly tells Osama Siblani, publisher of an Arab American newspaper, that if he becomes president he will remove Saddam Hussein from power. “He told me that he was going to take him out,” Siblani says in a radio interview on Democracy Now! almost five years later. Siblani will also recall that Bush “wanted to go to Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction, and he considered the regime an imminent and gathering threat against the United States.” As Siblani will later note, as a presidential candidate Bush has no access to classified intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs. (Democracy Now! 3/11/2005)
President Clinton considers building a radar facility as part of a proposed national missile defense system. Clinton’s legal advisers have told him that he could “interpret” the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972) to allow such a facility, even though the treaty clearly prohibits any moves towards a missile defense system. Clinton later authorizes the construction of a radar facility in Alaska, but leaves the bulk of the decision-making to the next administration. (Agence France-Presse 6/21/2000; Savage 2007, pp. 67) Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, will withdraw from the treaty entirely (see December 13, 2001).
The Senate approves bipartisan legislation, the so-called “Stealth PAC” bill, that requires secretive tax-exempt organizations that raise and spend money on political activities to reveal their donors and expenditures. The so-called “527” organizations have flourished because until now, Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code has protected both their nonprofit status and their right to keep their donors and funding information secret (see 2000 - 2005). President Clinton will sign the bill into law. It is the first major legislative change in American campaign finance law in two decades (see January 8, 1980). Under the new law, Section 527 organizations raising over $25,000 a year must comply with federal campaign law, file tax returns, disclose the identities of anyone contributing over $200, and report expenditures in excess of $500. That information will be reported to the IRS every three months during an election year, and the information will be posted on the Internet. The bill takes effect as soon as Clinton signs it into law.
Passed Despite Republican Opposition - The House passed the bill on a 385-39 vote; only six Senate Republicans vote against the bill. Senate and House Republican leaders have blocked the bill for months. Clinton says, “Passage of this bill proves that public interest can triumph over special interests,” and urges Congress to pass a more comprehensive overhaul of campaign finance law. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says, “I’m not pretending we don’t have other loopholes to close, but those groups that have found this an easy, painless way to go on the attack are now going to have to scramble to figure out different ways.” Some ways that groups will avoid the requirements of the new law are to reorganize themselves as for-profit organizations—thus losing their tax exemptions—or trying to reorganize as other types of nonprofits. Many expect donors to rush big contributions to these 527 groups before the new law takes effect. Mike Castle (R-DE), a House Republican who supports the bill, says, “I am sure that the phones are ringing over on K Street right now about how to get money into the 527s before they are eliminated.” Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who helped Senate Republicans block the bill and who voted no on its passage, now calls it a “relatively benign bill,” downplaying his stiff opposition to the bill and to campaign finance regulation in general. McConnell advised Republicans up for re-election in November 2000 to vote yes for the bill “to insulate them against absurd charges that they are in favor of secret campaign contributions or Chinese money or Mafia money.” McConnell explains that he voted against the bill because it infringes on freedom of speech (see December 15, 1986). Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), the GOP’s presidential candidate, issues a statement supporting the bill: “As I have previously stated, I believe these third-party groups should have to disclose who is funding their ads. As the only candidate to fully disclose contributors on a daily basis, I have always been a strong believer in sunshine and full disclosure.” Bush defeated Republican challenger John McCain (R-AZ) in part because of the efforts of Republicans for Clean Air, a 527 group headed by Bush financier Sam Wyly and which spent $2.5 million attacking McCain’s environmental record (see March 2000 and After). McCain helped push the current bill through the Senate, and says: “This bill will not solve what is wrong with our campaign finance system. But it will give the public information regarding one especially pernicious weapon used in modern campaigns.”
527s Used by Both Parties - Both Democrats and Republicans have created and used 527 groups, which are free from federal oversight as long as they do not advocate for or against a specific candidate. The organizations use donations for polling, advertising, telephone banks, and direct-mail appeals, but are not subject to federal filing or reporting rules as long as they do not advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate. Some groups, such as the Republican Majority Issues Committee, a 527 organization aligned with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), intend to continue functioning as usual even after the bill is signed into law, while they examine their legal options. The committee head, Karl Gallant, says his organization will “continue on our core mission to give conservative voters a voice in the upcoming elections.” The Republican Majority Issues Committee is considered DeLay’s personal PAC, or political action committee; it is expected to funnel as much as $25 million into closely contested races between now and Election Day. Gallant says the organization will comply with the new law, but complains, “We are deeply concerned that Congress has placed the regulation of free speech in the hands of the tax collectors.” He then says: “We’re not going anywhere. You will have RMIC to amuse and delight you throughout the election cycle.” The Sierra Club’s own 527 organization, the Environmental Voter Education Campaign, says it will also comply “eagerly” with the new law, and will spend some $8 million supporting candidates who match the Sierra Club’s pro-environmental stance. “We will eagerly comply with the new law as soon as it takes effect,” says the Sierra Club’s Dan Weiss. “But it’s important to note that while we strongly support the passage of this reform, 527 money is just the tip of the soft-money iceberg. Real reform would mean banning all soft-money contributions to political parties.” Another 527 group affected by the new law is Citizens for Better Medicare, which has already spent $30 million supporting Republican candidates who oppose a government-run prescription drug benefit. Spokesman Dan Zielinski says the group may change or abandon its 527 status in light of the new law. “The coalition is not going away,” he says. “We will comply with whatever legal requirements are necessary. We’ll do whatever the lawyers say we have to do.” A much smaller 527, the Peace Voter Fund, a remnant of the peace movement of the 1970s and 80s, says it intends to engage in voter education and issue advocacy in about a dozen Congressional races. Executive director Van Gosse says the group will follow the new law and continue as before: “Disclosure of donors is not a major issue for us. So we’ll just say to donors in the future that they will be subject to federal disclosure requirements. It’s no biggie.” (Schmitt and Broder 6/30/2000; OMB Watch 4/1/2002; Wertheimer 9/28/2010)
Presidential candidate George W. Bush meets with Abdurahman Alamoudi and other suspected Islamic militant sympathizers. US intelligence has suspected Alamoudi of ties to bin Laden and other militant figures since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994), but he has nonetheless grown in importance as a Muslim political activist. It will later be reported that Alamoudi “sought to secure the support first of the Clinton administration in seeking to repeal certain antiterrorist laws, but when Bill Clinton failed to deliver, Alamoudi defected to Bush, then governor of Texas.” (Waller 10/23/2003) Alamoudi and other Muslim leaders meet with Bush in Austin, Texas, in July 2000, just one month before the Republican presidential convention. They offer their support to his presidential campaign in exchange for his commitment to repeal certain antiterrorist laws. A photo of the meeting shows Bush with Alamoudi, several open supporters of the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups, the former head of the Pakistani Communist Party, and other unknown individuals. One photo likely taken at this meeting shows Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove there as well (see June 22, 2001). Bush and Rove also met with Alamoudi in 1999 (see 1999). (Waller 10/23/2003) Some of Alamoudi’s radical connections are publicly known at the time, and in October 2000 the Bush campaign will return a $1,000 contribution from Alamoudi shortly after Hillary Clinton returned an Alamoudi contribution to her senate race. (Hickey 10/29/2001) Muslim activists like Alamoudi are hinging their political support on the repeal of the use of secret evidence in terrorism cases. The Bush campaign had already been strongly pushing for support from Muslim American voters (see 1998-September 2001 and March 12, 2000) and such ties continue to grow. During the second presidential debate on October 11, 2000, Bush will come out strongly for repealing the use of secret evidence, saying, “Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what’s called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we got to do something about that.” (Unger 3/15/2004) Later in 2000, Alamoudi will meet with two suspected associates of the 9/11 hijackers (see October-November 2000), and in early 2001 he will attend a public conference attempting to unite militant groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, to wage holy war against the US and Israel (see Late January 2001). Nonetheless, Bush will appear with Alamoudi several times even after 9/11(see September 14-26, 2001). Alamoudi will be sentenced to a long prison term in 2004 (see October 15, 2004).
Texas Governor George W. Bush, the Republican candidate for president, accepts his party’s nomination for president during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. During his speech, he declares his intent to move the United States away from observing “outdated” treaties such as the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia (see May 26, 1972). “Now is the time,” he says, “not to defend outdated treaties, but to defend the American people.” Less than a year after taking office, Bush will unilaterally withdraw the US from the treaty (see December 13, 2001). (Savage 2007, pp. 140)
George W. Bush, campaigning for president, writes in an article, “There is more to be done preparing here at home. I will put a high priority on detecting and responding to terrorism on our soil.” (Bush 9/2000) This repeats verbatim comments made in a speech a year before at the start of the presidential campaign (Bush 9/23/1999) , and in both cases the context is about weapons of mass destruction. However, after 9/11, now President Bush will say of bin Laden: “I knew he was a menace and I knew he was a problem. I was prepared to look at a plan that would be a thoughtful plan that would bring him to justice, and would have given the order to do that. I have no hesitancy about going after him. But I didn’t feel that sense of urgency.” (Gellman 5/17/2002)
Theresa LePore, the supervisor of elections for Palm Beach County, decides to use an unusual design for the upcoming election ballots. Because of a recent amendment to the Florida Constitution that makes it far easier for third-party and independent candidates to appear on the ballot for president, LePore has 10 presidential and vice-presidential candidates to fit on the ballot. She consulted with elections board employee Tony Enos; the two decided that a one-page ballot would have to use a typeface so small that many voters with vision problems would be unable to read the names. Instead, LePore chooses a two-page, or “facing page,” ballot design. She wants all 10 presidential candidates on the same page, so she goes with a design that has groups of candidates on either page and punchable holes in the center, in a vertical row: the voter will punch out the hole designated for his or her candidate. The design lists Republican candidates George W. Bush and Dick Cheney first on the left-hand page, with the punch hole designated for them also first; Reform Party candidates Pat Buchanan and Ezola Foster are first on the right-hand page, with their designated punch hole second; Democratic candidates Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman are second on the left-hand page, with their designated punch hole third. To many voters, the second punch hole designated for Buchanan and Foster will appear to be the hole designated for Gore and Lieberman (see November 9, 2000). (Tapper 3/2001)
CIA officer Ben Bonk briefs Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush on the threat posed by Islamic extremist groups, telling him that Americans will die in a terrorist attack during the next four years, and to highlight the danger, he shows Bush a mock briefcase bomb he sneaked into the meeting. Bush was recently selected as the Republican Party’s candidate for the 2000 presidential election, and it is traditional for the CIA to provide a wide-ranging intelligence briefing to the Republican and Democratic nominees during a presidential campaign, to prepare them for the responsibilities of the White House. John McLaughlin, acting deputy director of the CIA, has come to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, to conduct the briefing, along with three other agency officials, including Bonk, deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Three of Bush’s senior advisers—Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and Josh Bolten—also attend the briefing.
CIA Officer Says Americans Will Die in a Terrorist Attack - During the final hour of the four-hour session, Bonk briefs Bush on terrorism. He tells Bush: “I can say one thing for sure without any qualification: Sometime in the next four years, Americans will die as a result of a terrorist incident.” (CBS News 9/1/2000; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 198; Eichenwald 2012, pp. 1-3) According to a book by CIA officer John Helgerson, Bonk specifically says that America’s next president will face “a terrorist attack on US soil.” There is then a “discussion of what certain scenarios could look like.” (Helgerson 2013)
CIA Officer Says Islamic Extremists Are the Biggest Danger - Bonk tells Bush that numerous terrorist organizations are on the move, but the most dangerous are the Islamic extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. He says nothing these groups have so far achieved compares to “what lay in store for America and its allies if the terrorists succeeded in their quest for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear weapons, collectively known as CBRN,” according to journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald. Furthermore, Bonk says, “Al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, [is] the group most likely to succeed.” It has “the deepest pockets and the most far-flung operational networks.” If al-Qaeda or another terrorist group got its hands on CBRN weapons, Bonk says, that group “would show no hesitation in using the weapons immediately to murder as many Americans as possible.”
Bush Is Shown a Mock Briefcase Bomb - Furthermore, Bonk says that terrorists “could easily slip compact bombs into a crowd without raising suspicion.” To highlight the danger, he has sneaked a mock briefcase bomb into the meeting. Although the device contains no poison gas, it is otherwise a real weapon, built by the CIA based on a design seized from the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which killed 12 commuters in a poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995. Bonk let Bush’s Secret Service agents in on what he was doing, so they would allow him to take the mock bomb into the meeting, but Bush knows nothing about it. Bonk had the briefcase on the floor by his chair during the first three hours of the briefing and activated the mock bomb when his time to speak came. He now picks up the briefcase and carries it toward Bush. He pops it open and tilts it forward, so Bush can see the red digits of its electronic timer counting down. “Don’t worry,” Bonk says. “This is harmless. But it is exactly the kind of chemical device that people can bring into a room and kill everybody. And this one would be going off in two minutes.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 198; Eichenwald 2012, pp. 2-3) Bush is apparently unimpressed with the mock bomb. According to Helgerson, “Such show-and-tell devices usually intrigued individuals and groups being briefed, but [Bush] gestured to the effect of ‘Get that out of here’ and wanted to settle down to serious discussion.” (Helgerson 2013, pp. 152)
An unmanned spy plane called the Predator begins flying over Afghanistan, showing incomparably detailed real-time video and photographs of the movements of what appears to be bin Laden and his aides. It flies successfully over Afghanistan 16 times. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) President Clinton is impressed by a two-minute video of bin Laden crossing a street heading toward a mosque inside his Tarnak Farms complex. Bin Laden is surrounded by a team of a dozen armed men creating a professional forward security perimeter as he moves. The Predator has been used since 1996, in the Balkans and Iraq. One Predator crashes on takeoff and another is chased by a fighter, but it apparently identifies bin Laden on three occasions. Its use is stopped in Afghanistan after a few trials, mostly because seasonal winds are picking up. It is agreed to resume the flights in the spring, but the Predator fails to fly over Afghanistan again until after 9/11. (Gellman 12/19/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 220-21) On September 15, 2001, CIA Director Tenet apparently inaccurately tells President Bush, “The unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft that was now armed with Hellfire missiles had been operating for more than a year out of Uzbekistan to provide real-time video of Afghanistan.” (Balz, Woodward, and Himmelman 1/29/2002)
Presidential candidate George W. Bush unveils an environmental plan that would require power plants to reduce emissions of four main pollutants. If elected, Bush says he will propose legislation requiring “electric utilities to reduce emissions and significantly improve air quality.” Specifically, he promises to “work with Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, consumer and environmental groups, and industry to develop legislation that will establish mandatory reduction targets for emissions of four main pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide.” (Bush 9/29/2000) Bush will break that promise within two months of taking office (see March 1, 2001, March 8, 2001, and March 13, 2001).
Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), chooses an unlikely reporter to anchor Fox’s election night coverage: John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political adviser and the first cousin of George W. Bush (R-TX), the Republican presidential candidate. (Ellis is the son of George Herbert Walker Bush’s sister, Nancy Ellis.) Ellis was originally hired to cover the party primaries. A later study of voting patterns by the University of California will determine that in areas where voters have access to Fox News, the network’s relentless pro-Bush coverage shifts some 200,000 votes from Democrat Al Gore (D-TN) to Bush, but Ailes wants to make sure his network’s coverage is favorable to Bush, and has always had Ellis in mind for the election night anchor position, for which he specifically gives Ellis a 30-day contract. Ellis is very close to Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida (“Jeb” is an acronym for his full name, John Ellis Bush). Ellis recused himself from campaign coverage in a June 1999 Boston Globe column, defending George W. Bush from allegations of cocaine use, calling the Clinton-Gore administration “morally berserk,” and telling his readers, “There is no way for you to know if I am telling you the truth about George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, because in his case, my loyalty goes to him and not to you.” Instead of this posing an ethical dilemma or being seen as a conflict of interest at Fox, Ellis is Ailes’s first and only choice to anchor the network’s election coverage. (Ailes will later tell a February 2001 House committee hearing, “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections”—see February 14, 2001.) (Kurtz 11/14/2000; Boehlert 11/15/2000; Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Moore 11/6/2006; Sherman 5/22/2011) Ellis will pre-emptively call the election for Bush, sparking the Florida recount controversy and helping propel his cousin into the White House (see November 7-8, 2000). In a response to testimony in the same February 2001 House committee hearing, Joan Konner, a journalism professor who will lead a CNN-commissioned independent study of the problems in that network’s election night coverage, will call Ellis’s hiring a substantial breach of journalistic ethics and standards. “If John Ellis had, indeed, made comments stating that his loyalties to the Bush family superceded any commitment he has to his profession or his employer, then I would judge that to be not only a perceived conflict-of-interest but a real conflict-of-interest for a journalist,” she will write in a letter to Representative John Dingell (D-MI). “While that does not disqualify an individual from any position as a journalist, it would, in my judgement, disqualify that person for any decision-making role involving reporting on his relatives during an election. Often friends and relatives are hired by journalism organizations because of their connections to the newsmakers. Their access to sources makes them valuable to the organization. However, the news organization should take every precaution against placing such an individual in an assignment that could result in bias in reporting.” (House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce 2/14/2001)
During the first presidential debate between George W. Bush (R-TX) and Al Gore (D-TN), Bush accuses Gore of advocating a policy of aggressive foreign interventionism, a policy Gore does not support, but which Bush does (see December 2, 1999 and Spring 2000). “The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops,” Bush says. “He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders” (see March 19, 2003). (Apparently, Bush is conflating the idea of foreign interventionism with the concept of nation building, two somewhat different concepts.) (Unger 2007, pp. 175-176) Bush will reiterate the claim in the next presidential debate (see October 11, 2000).
During the vice presidential debates, both Joseph Lieberman and Dick Cheney advocate a tough stance toward Saddam Hussein. Lieberman says he and Gore would continue to support Iraqi opposition groups “until the Iraqi people rise up and do what the people of Serbia have done in the last few days: get rid of a despot.” Cheney says it might be necessary “to take military action to forcibly remove Saddam from power.” (CATO Daily Dispatch 10/6/2000)
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush describes a Middle East foreign policy he would implement that is very different from the policy described in the papers that his advisers have drawn up. On this day, Bush takes part in the second presidential debate with Democratic candidate Al Gore. The topic is foreign policy. Questioned when it would be appropriate to use American military force, especially with regard to the Middle East, Bush responds, “Our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power. And that’s why we’ve got to be humble and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom… If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll view us that way, but if we’re a humble nation, they’ll respect us.” Bush dismisses toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq because it smacks of what he calls “nation-building.” He criticizes the Clinton administration for not maintaining the multilateral anti-Iraq coalition Bush Sr. had built in the Gulf War. Author Craig Unger will later comment, “To the tens of millions of voters who had their eyes trained on their televisions, Bush had put forth a moderate foreign policy with regard to the Middle East that was not substantively different from the policy proposed by Al Gore, or, for that matter, from Bill Clinton’s. Only a few people who had read the papers put forth by the Project for a New American Century might have guessed a far more radical policy had been developed.” (Unger 3/15/2004) Just one month before, the Project for a New American Century released a position paper that went completely unnoticed by the media at the time (see September 2000). Many future Bush administration officials, including Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are involved with the paper. It articulates a bold new policy to establish a more forceful US military presence in the Middle East. Regarding Iraq, it states, “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” (Unger 3/15/2004) From Bush’s first cabinet meeting in January 2001, the focus will be on getting rid of Hussein. Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill will later recall, “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed” (see January 30, 2001). Cheney similarly misstates his true foreign policy intentions. In an NBC interview during the 2000 presidential campaign, Cheney defends Bush’s position of maintaining Clinton’s policy not to attack Iraq, asserting that the US should not act as though “we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world, taking down governments.” (Masters 1/12/2002)
In the second presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Bush once again accuses Gore of advocating nation-building, as he did in the first debate (see October 3, 2000—as in the first debate, Bush is conflating the idea of foreign interventionism with the concept of nation building, two somewhat different concepts.) Bush, not Gore, has repeatedly advocated using the US military to overthrow Saddam Hussein and forcibly install Western-style democracy in Iraq (see December 2, 1999 and Spring 2000). “Yes, we do have an obligation in the world,” Bush says, “but we can’t be all things to all people.… [Somalia] started off as a humanitarian mission then changed into a nation-building mission, and that’s where the mission went wrong.… And so I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building.” Author Craig Unger will observe that Bush’s debate performance solidifies his campaign’s efforts to portray him as a moderate on foreign policy. (Fukuyama 1/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 176)
Hours after the USS Cole is bombed (see October 12, 2000), presidential candidate Governor George W. Bush is asked about the bombing. He replies, “Today, we lost sailors because of what looks like to be a terrorist attack. Terror is the enemy. Uncertainty is what the world is going to be about, and the next president must be able to address uncertainty. And that’s why I want our nation to develop an antiballistic missile system that will have the capacity to bring certainty into this uncertain world.” Author Craig Unger comments, “Bush’s proposal of an antiballistic missile system suggests that he failed to understand that al-Qaeda’s terrorism was fundamentally different from conventional warfare.” (Unger 2004, pp. 107, 479) Bush will make similar comments on other occasions, causing the 9/11 Commission to later note, “Public references by candidate and then President Bush about terrorism before 9/11 tended to reflect [his] priorities, focusing on state-sponsored terrorism and [weapons of mass destruction] as a reason to mount a missile defense.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 509)
The presidential campaign of George W. Bush (R-TX), fearing that Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) might win the election in the US Electoral College while Bush ekes out a lead in the collective popular vote, devises a strategy to challenge Gore’s legitimacy as the elected president. Bush campaign advisors believe that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader might take millions of votes from Gore nationwide, but not enough in key states to cost Gore a state’s electoral votes. Gore could, theoretically, win 270 or more electoral votes without amassing a majority in the popular vote. In such a case, both the Constitution and historical precedent is clear: Gore wins without argument. “You play by the rules in force at the time,” a Gore aide tells a reporter. “If the nation were really outraged by the possibility, then the system would have been changed long ago. The history is clear.” In 1876, New York Governor Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but lost the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes, who won a majority of Electoral College votes. In 1888, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote, but lost the presidency to Benjamin Harrison in the Electoral College tally. In 1976, slight differences in the vote tallies in Ohio and Mississippi would have given President Gerald Ford enough electoral votes to beat challenger Jimmy Carter. A Bush aide tells his fellows, “The one thing we don’t do is roll over—we fight.” The New York Daily News will later report: “[T]the core of the emerging Bush strategy assumes a popular uprising, stoked by the Bushies themselves, of course. In league with the campaign—which is preparing talking points about the Electoral College’s essential unfairness—a massive talk radio operation would be encouraged.” The Bush strategy is to launch a massive, orchestrated assault via conservative talk radio, Fox News, and other conservative media outlets to portray the Electoral College as unfair and non-binding. A Bush aide tells a reporter: “We’d have ads, too, and I think you can count on the media to fuel the thing big-time. Even papers that supported Gore might turn against him because the will of the people will have been thwarted.” The Daily News writes that the strategy goes further than a media blitz: “Local business leaders will be urged to lobby their customers, the clergy will be asked to speak up for the popular will, and Team Bush will enlist as many Democrats as possible to scream as loud as they can.” A Bush advisor speculates on the creation of a “grassroots” organization, perhaps to be called “Democrats for Democracy,” that would advocate for the ignoring of the Electoral College in favor of calling for installation of Bush via the popular vote—a process that is entirely outside the Constitution. The Bush strategy would also pressure some of the 538 individual electors. Although it is customary for each elector to vote for the candidate that his or her state selected, legally they are not bound to do so, and can change their votes, although this has happened only rarely in US history and never impacted an election. According to a Boston Globe report, the Bush strategy would “challenge the legitimacy of a Gore win, casting it as an affront to the people’s will and branding the Electoral College as an antiquated relic.… One informal Bush advisor, who declined to be named, predicted Republicans would likely benefit from a storm of public outrage if Bush won the popular vote but was denied the presidency.” The advisor tells the Globe reporter: “That’s what America is all about, isn’t it. I’m sure we would make a strong case.” The Daily News calls the Bush strategy a preparation for electoral “insurrection.” (Kramer 11/1/2000; Consortium News 11/10/2000)
Ninety-three percent of Florida’s African-American voters cast their votes for Al Gore, the Democratic nominee for president. This is in spite of a number of Gore campaign decisions to keep Gore from appearing with black leaders, and with blacks in campaign photographs, in order to keep him from appearing “too liberal.” (Gore also heeded the advice of his campaign managers and refused to attend the National Baptist Convention for fear of alienating white suburban voters.) Regardless, black voters turn out in record numbers throughout Florida’s primarily African-American counties, such as Leon, Miami-Dade, Duval, and Gadsden. Author Jake Tapper will later write that the votes are as much against George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, and Bush’s brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, as they are for Gore. (Many state NAACP officials call Jeb Bush “Jeb Crow.”) However, many of these African-American votes will not be counted (see November 7, 2000), and many eligible black voters are not allowed to cast their votes (see November 7, 2000 and April 24, 2001). (Tapper 3/2001)
Thousands of African-American voters in Florida are illegally denied their right to vote, as is proven in many instances by subsequent investigations. Adora Obi Nweze, the president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, is told by election officials she cannot vote because she has already cast an absentee ballot, even though she has cast no such ballot. Cathy Jackson, a Broward County voter since 1996, was told falsely that she was not on the rolls and could not vote; she sees a white woman cast an “affidavit ballot” and asks if she can do the same, but is denied. Donnise DeSouza of Miami is told, falsely, that she is not on the voting rolls and is moved to the “problem line”; when the polls close, she is sent home without voting. Another voter, Lavonna Lewis, is in line to vote when the polls close. Though the law says that voters already in line can vote even after the polls close, she is sent home. She will later say she saw election officials allow a white male voter to get in line after the polls had closed.
US Representative Fights to Cast Vote - US Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL) is followed into her poll by a television crew. Officials there tell her that her ballot has been sent to Washington and therefore she cannot vote in Florida. Brown spends two and a half hours in the polling place before finally being allowed to vote. Brown later notes that she helped register thousands of African-American college students in the months prior to the election. “We put them on buses,” she will recall, “took them down to the supervisor’s office. Had them register. When it came time to vote, they were not on the rolls!” Many African-American voters like Wallace McDonald of Hillsborough County are denied their vote because they are told, falsely, that they are convicted felons whose right to vote has been stripped. The NAACP offices are inundated with telephone calls all day from voters complaining that their right to vote is being denied.
'Painful, Dehumanizing, Demoralizing' - Donna Brazile, campaign manager for the Gore campaign whose sister was illegally asked for three forms of identification in Seminole County before being allowed to vote, later says: “What happened that day—I can’t even put it in words anymore. It was the most painful, dehumanizing, demoralizing thing I’ve ever experienced in my years of organizing.” Hearings in early 2001 held by the US Commission on Civil Rights will record more than 30 hours of testimony from over 100 witnesses as to a wide array of racially based disenfranchisement. The commission will find that the election probably violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but Attorney General John Ashcroft will ignore the report.
Gadsden County - One exemplar of systematic disenfranchisement is seen in Gadsden County, one of Florida’s poorest counties, with 57 percent of its voters African-American. Its elections are supervised by white conservative Denny Hutchinson. Hutchinson refuses to take action to increase registration, put in more polling places, and other actions designed to increase voter turnout. Gadsden County Commissioner Ed Dixon later recalls: “He never advocated for any increased precincts, even though some of our people had to drive 30 miles to get to a poll. In the only county that’s a majority African-American, you want a decreased turnout.” After the votes have been tallied, Hutchinson’s deputy, African-American Shirley Green Knight, notices that over 2,000 ballots (out of 14,727 cast) are not included in the registered count. The reason? Gadsden uses a so-called “optiscan” balloting device, which allows voters to “bubble in” ovals with a pencil; these “bubbles” are scanned and the votes they indicate are tallied. Optiscan ballots are prone to register “overvotes,” essentially when the ballot indicates votes for two separate candidates in the same race. Overvotes are not machine-tallied. The machines have a sorting switch that when set to “on” causes the machine to record overvotes or “undervotes” (no vote recorded) in a separate category for later review and possible inclusion. Knight will learn that Hutchinson had insisted the machines’ switches be set to “off,” which rejects the overvotes without counting them at all. “I have no idea why he would do that,” Knight later says. When she learns of the problem, she asks Hutchinson to run the ballots through again with the sorting switch on, but he refuses. He is later overruled by the Gadsden canvassing board. When the ballots are run through a second time, the results are startlingly different. Gadsden uses a variant of the so-called “caterpillar ballot,” which lists candidates’ names in two columns. George W. Bush, Al Gore, and six other presidential candidates are listed in one column. The second column lists two more candidates, Monica Moorehead and Howard Phillips, and a blank for a “Write-In Candidate.” Hundreds of voters apparently believe that the second column is for an entirely different race, and vote not only for Bush or Gore, but for Moorehead or Phillips. And some voters vote for Gore and, to ensure clarity, write “Gore” in the write-in box. (Some, thoroughly confused by directions telling them to “Vote for ONE” and “Vote for Group,” bubble in all 10 presidential candidates and write “Gore” in the box.) None of these votes are originally counted. More sophisticated optiscan machines would refuse to accept the ballot, prompting the voter to correct the error. But Gadsden uses a cheaper machine that allows the error to go through unbeknownst to the voter. When Gadsden performs its machine recount, Gore will receive 153 additional votes from the erroneous optiscan. These will be included in the state’s final tally. However, over 2,000 of the “overvote” ballots will not be counted. Two-thirds of those ballots have Gore as their selection.
Duval County - Similar problems plague voters in Duval County. Duval, a large Democratic stronghold because of its inclusion of Jacksonville, is 29 percent African-American. Twenty-one thousand votes are thrown out as “overvotes.” Part of the problem is a sample-ballot insert placed in the newspaper by elections supervisor John Stafford, giving erroneous instructions as to how to complete the Duval ballot; any voter who follows these instructions does not have their votes tallied, though corrected instructions are posted in some Duval precincts. In the critical 72-hour period after the votes are complete, Gore campaign staffer Mike Langton will spend hours with Stafford, a white Republican, attempting to address the situation. Stafford lies to Langton and tells him Duval has “only a few” overvotes. It is not until after the deadline to ask for a machine recount has passed that Langton learns of the 21,000 uncounted votes. Nearly half of these are from four heavily African-American precincts that usually vote 90 percent Democratic. In theory, nearly 10,000 votes for Gore from Duval County will go untallied.
'Felons' and 'Purge Lists' - Florida law disenfranchises citizens convicted of many felonies (see June 24, 1974). In this election, thousands of Florida voters, mostly African-American males, lose their vote when they appear at their precinct and are told they cannot vote because they are felons, even though they are not. One is Willie Steen, a military veteran who loses his vote in Hillsborough County. “The poll worker looked at the computer and said that there was something about me being a felon,” Steen later recalls. “I’ve never been arrested before in my life,” he recalls telling the poll worker. The worker refuses to listen, and orders Steen to leave the line. Steen later learns that the felony he supposedly committed was done between 1991 and 1993, when he was stationed in the Persian Gulf. Tampa youth leader Willie Dixon and Tallahasse pastor Willie Whiting are also denied their votes through improper classification as felons, as do thousands of other voters. Investigative journalist Greg Palast later learns that the felon-disenfranchisement is widespread and systematic. He will publish a story exposing the scheme during the Florida recounts—in a London newspaper. No US newspaper will consider it. Palast later says: “Stories of black people losing rights is passe, it’s not discussed, no one cares. A black person accused of being a felon is always guilty.” Palast and other investigators learn that Republican legislators have in recent years upgraded a number of selected crimes from misdemeanors to felonies, apparently in order to “purge” the voting rolls of African-Americans. State Senator Frederica Wilson is one of many who believe the new classifications are “aimed at African-American people.” Black lawmakers have been unsuccessful in attempting to repeal the felon-disenfranchisement laws. After a 1997 election, where some 105 felons were found to have voted and analysis showed that 71 percent of Florida felons were registered Democrats, the Florida state government allocated $4 million to “purge” felons off the voting rolls. The government turned the task over to a private firm, Database Technologies (DBT) of Boca Raton (which later merged with the firm ChoicePoint). When the first purge lists from DBT began appearing in 1998, county elections officials were worried. Ion Sancho, the elections supervisor for Leon County, will recall: “We were sent this purge list in August of 1998. We started sending letters and contacting voters, [saying] that we had evidence that they were potential felons and that they contact us or they were going to be removed from the rolls. Boy, did that cause a firestorm.” One of the “felons” was Sancho’s close friend Rick Johnson, a civil rights attorney. “Very few felons are members of the Florida bar,” Sancho will note. In early 2000, Sancho asked Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell, a lawyer for the Florida Division of Elections, why so many “false positives”—innocent people—were on DBT’s list. Mitchell told Sancho that the problem was DBT’s, not Florida’s, and the firm had been told to handle the problem. Instead, according to ChoicePoint marketing official James Lee, Florida relaxed the criteria for its purge list, and tens of thousands of voters who had names roughly similar to those of actual felons were added to the list. Why? Lee will say, “Because after the first year they weren’t getting enough names.” Willie D. Whiting, a law-abiding pastor, is denied the vote because Willie J. Whiting is a felon. Willie Steen is denied his vote because Willie O’Steen is a convicted felon. Mitchell told a DBT project manager that it was up to elections officials like Sancho to find and correct the misidentifications. The lists even include actual felons whose right to vote had been restored by previous Florida administrations during amnesty programs. The initial database for the purge lists is comprised of people arrested for felonies, not convicted—thusly many citizens never convicted of a crime are now on the purge list. Others are incorrectly listed as felons when they were convicted of misdemeanors. A May 2000 “corrected” list stunned county elections officials. Linda Howell, election supervisor of Madison County, found her own name on the list. Monroe County supervisor Harry Sawyer found his father on the list, along with one of his employees and the husband of another. None of those people were felons. Some counties, such as Broward, Duval, Madison, and Palm Beach chose not to use the lists at all; Sancho meticulously checked his list of 697 names and ended up retaining only 33. Most supervisors use the lists without question. A thousand Bay County voters are denied their vote; 7,000 Miami-Dade voters lose theirs. It is unknown how many of these are actual felons and how many are law-abiding, legitimate voters. A 2001 class-action lawsuit brought by the NAACP and African-American voters will charge DBT and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris with deliberately attempting to disenfranchise black voters. It will be settled out of court, with Florida agreeing to provisions that nominally settle the problem (see Late August 2002), but a 2004 article by Vanity Fair will note that by 2004, Florida’s government has implemented none of the corrective procedures mandated by the settlement. Subsequent investigations will show that the “felons” on the various purge lists are disproportionately Democratic voters and disproportionately African-American. (Tapper 3/2001; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
2001 Investigation Proves Widespread Disenfranchisement - A 2001 investigation by the progressive newsmagazine The Nation will show a widespread and systematic program of voter disenfranchisement in effect in Florida during the 2000 elections (see April 24, 2001).
Fox News chief Roger Ailes has hired John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political advisor and an intensely loyal cousin of presidential candidate George W. Bush (R-TX), to head the network’s election-night coverage for the 2000 presidential election (see October-November 2000). During the election, Ellis is in constant contact with Bush and his senior campaign aides, speaking with Bush himself five separate times during the evening.
Calling Florida for Gore - At 7:52 p.m., Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida, calls Ellis to protest when Fox “mistakenly” projects Florida as going to Al Gore (D-TN). Ellis tells Jeb Bush that he is looking at a computer “screenful of Gore.” Bush reminds Ellis, “But the polls haven’t closed in the panhandle.” Ellis replies, “It’s not going to help.” Voter News Service (VNS), the voting consortium the networks all use, rates the race a 99.5 percent certainty that Gore has won Florida, a conclusion that VNS and network officials alike later say was a mistake (see February 14, 2001). The prediction is indeed inaccurate; within minutes, Gore’s lead begins to shrink again. At 9:38 p.m., VNS issues a correction of an inaccurate vote count for Duval County, stripping Gore of a number of phantom votes, and the race is again far too close to call.
Calling Florida for Bush - At 2:10 a.m., Ellis sees data from VNS that shows Bush with a 51,433-vote lead, and 179,713 votes left to be counted. (The latter figure is grossly inaccurate, later data proves; over 350,000 votes actually remain to be counted.) Gore would need 63 percent of those votes to win, a scenario that is statistically unlikely. Ellis calls Jeb Bush to say that it is “statistically impossible” for Bush to lose. Around 2:15 a.m., Ellis puts the telephone down and excitedly announces to his team: “Jebbie says we got it! Jebbie says we got it!” Even though Florida is still rated “too close to call” by VNS, Fox News vice president John Moody gives the go-ahead to project Bush the winner in Florida. Fox News anchor Brit Hume makes the call for Bush at 2:16 a.m. The other networks hurriedly, and inaccurately, follow suit. (Kurtz 11/14/2000; Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006; Sherman 5/22/2011) Hume himself is a bit apprehensive of the call. “I must tell you, everybody, after all this, all night long, we put Bush at 271, Gore at 243,” he tells Fox viewers. “I feel a little bit apprehensive about the whole thing. I have no reason to doubt our decision desk, but there it is.” (Reaves 11/15/2000)
Other Networks Follow Suit - As Hume is announcing Bush’s “victory” in Florida, NBC News election coverage chief Sheldon Gawiser is on the telephone with Murray Edelman, the editorial director for VNS. Gawiser is considering calling Florida for Bush, and wants to discuss calling the race for Bush while citing Edelman and VNS as the sources responsible for such a call. Edelman is shocked that Gawiser wants to make any call with Bush’s lead not only very small, but dwindling. But as the two are talking, Fox’s announcement comes over NBC’s monitors, and Gawiser breaks off the call, saying: “Sorry, gotta go. Fox just called it.” At 2:17 a.m., NBC projects Bush the winner in Florida and the next president of the United States. The joint decision team for CBS and CNN, Warren Mitofsky and Joe Lenski, make the same decision a minute later. After CBS declares Bush’s victory, anchor Dan Rather tells viewers: “Let’s give a tip of the Stetson to the loser, Vice President Al Gore, and at the same time, a big tip and a hip, hip, hurrah and a great big Texas howdy to the new president of the United States. Sip it, savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall—George W. Bush is the next president of the United States.” The ABC decision team resists making the call, not trusting the data (it had similar reservations about the earlier call for Gore), but according to ABC election consultant John Blydenburgh, a network executive overrides the decision team and has ABC declare Bush the projected winner at 2:20 a.m. Blydenburgh says the executive does not want ABC to look “foolish” by being the only network not to recognize Bush as the next president. The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling (by 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call). But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) Shortly after 3 a.m., CBS’s Ed Bradley begins informing viewers that the AP numbers show Bush with a lead of only 6,000 votes. Rather tells the viewers that if the AP is correct, the previous call for Bush may be premature. “Let’s not joke about it folks,” he says. “You have known all night long and we’ve said to you all night long that these estimates of who wins and who loses are based on the best available information we have. CBS News has the best track record in the business, over a half century plus, for accuracy on election night. But nobody’s perfect.” However, few listen to either CBS’s caveats or the AP’s refusal to call the election. (Shepard 1/2001) By 4:52 a.m., Bush’s lead has dwindled to 1,888 votes.
Fox Leads the Narrative for Bush - Gore initially concedes the race, but when the networks begin retracting their declaration and return Florida to the “too close to call” status, he retracts his concession. In their last conversation of the evening, Bush tells Ellis that Gore has taken back his concession, and says: “I hope you’re taking all this down, Ellis. This is good stuff for a book.” The morning headlines in most daily papers declare Bush the winner; much of the news coverage slams Gore as indulging in “sour grapes” for not conceding the election. Rather later says: “We’ll never know whether Bush won the election in Florida or not. But when you reach these kinds of situations, the ability to control the narrative becomes critical. Led by Fox, the narrative began to be that Bush had won the election.” In 2011, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “A ‘news’ network controlled by a GOP operative who had spent decades shaping just such political narratives—including those that helped elect the candidate’s father—declared George W. Bush the victor based on the analysis of a man who had proclaimed himself loyal to Bush over the facts.” After the election, House Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says: “Of everything that happened on election night, this was the most important in impact. It immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds that he was the man who won the election.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Sherman 5/22/2011) Ellis later writes that Bush did not try to influence his coverage. “Governor Bush was, as always, considerate of my position,” Ellis will write. “He knew that I would be fried if I gave him anything that VNS deemed confidential, so he never asked for it. He made a point of getting the early exit poll data from other sources before talking to me.” (Associated Press 12/11/2000)
Criticism of Fox, Ellis - Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, later says of Ellis and Fox while the election is still in dispute: “The notion you’d have the cousin of one presidential candidate in a position to call a state, and the election, is unthinkable. Fox’s call—wrong, unnecessary, misguided, foolish—helped create a sense that the election went to Bush, was pulled back, and it’s just a matter of time before his president-elect title is restored. But that said, John Ellis is a good man, a good journalist whose judgment was overcome by excitement. He put himself in an impossible situation, but the mistake was not so much his as Rupert Murdoch’s for putting him in that position.… Everybody knows it’s a partisan channel, but its marketing slogan, ‘We report; you decide,’ is now totally obliterated by the fact that one candidate’s first cousin is actually deciding, and then they report.” (Rosenstiel is apparently unaware that Murdoch, who owns Fox News’s parent company News Corporation, did not make the call to hire Ellis.) Rosenstiel’s colleague Carl Gottlieb is less restrained, saying: “It’s beyond belief. The network should not have allowed Ellis to report on this election. As a viewer, after reading this story and reading about Ellis’s involvement in calling the race, you can’t help but get the idea that this guy’s complicit in what’s going on now down in Florida.” Murdoch will later claim that Fox News displayed “no partisanship” in its election-night coverage. Ellis will later tell a reporter: “It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth—me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other president-elect. Now that was cool. And everybody followed us.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ellis will also later deny telling his team that “Jebbie” gave him the go-ahead to call the election for Bush, instead saying he made the call based on his own calculations. Statistician Cynthia Talkov, the only member of Fox’s election team who actually understands the VNS statistical models, later says she never saw Ellis making any such calculations, and will say Ellis did not ask her for her opinion for his call, though every other projection that evening was made with her explicit approval. Talkov is one of the people who will confirm that Ellis received the go-ahead to call the election from Jeb Bush. A post-election analysis prepared by outside reviewers for CNN later issues sharp criticisms of the networks, noting, “On Election Day 2000, television news organizations staged a collective drag race on the crowded highway of democracy, recklessly endangering the electoral process, the political life of the country, and their own credibility.” Mitofsky, who invested election polls and developed the election night projection system the networks use, later calls Ellis’s actions “the most unprofessional election night work I could ever imagine. He had no business talking to the Bush brothers or to any other politician about what he was doing.” On the other hand, Ailes will characterize Ellis’s actions as those of “a good journalist talking to his very high-level sources on election night.” (Moore 11/6/2006)
Fox 'Investigation' Comes Up Empty - Fox News will announce an “investigation” of any conflicts of interest or unprofessional behavior concerning Ellis’s role in declaring Bush the winner, but nothing will come of any such investigation. The “investigation” will find that Ellis gave no VNS information to either George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, or any Bush campaign official, though Ellis himself will freely admit to a New Yorker reporter that he shared VNS data with both Bushes repeatedly during the evening. Such sharing of data would constitute a violation of journalistic ethics as well as possible criminal behavior. (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ailes had specifically warned his team not to share VNS information with anyone from the campaigns. (Boehlert 11/15/2000) Before the investigation is even launched, Moody will say: “Appearance of impropriety? I don’t think there’s anything improper about it as long as he doesn’t behave improperly, and I have no evidence he did.… John has always conducted himself in an extremely professional manner.” (Kurtz 11/14/2000)
In Palm Beach County, Florida, voters begin complaining of problems with the “butterfly ballot” almost as soon as the polls open. Many believe that the ballot’s confusing design is redirecting voters who want to vote for Democrat Al Gore to vote instead for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan (see September 2000).
Alerting the Gore Campaign of Problems - Lawyer Liz Hyman, volunteering to work the election in Palm Beach for the Gore campaign, later recalls that starting at 7:00 a.m., voters approach her complaining about the ballot, some theorizing that someone or some group of people conspired to redirect Gore’s votes to Buchanan. Around 8:00 a.m., Hyman calls her father, Washington, DC, attorney Lester Hyman. “You’re not going to believe what’s going on down here,” she tells him, and advises him to alert someone at the national Gore campaign headquarters. Soon, Joe Sandler, the general counsel of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), contacts Liz Hyman in Palm Beach. During the same time period, a number of elderly, angry voters drive to election supervisor Theresa LePore’s office and demand an explanation for the ballot confusion, but LePore refuses to take their complaints seriously.
Complaints, Attempts to Clarify Voting Procedures - Poll clerk Ethel Brownstein, after seeing voters having difficulty casting their votes for Gore, begins telling voters at her precinct: “Please be careful. The first hole is [Republican George W.] Bush, the second is Buchanan, and the third is Gore.” The complaints keep coming in, with many voters worried that they have voted for Buchanan instead of their intended vote for Gore. Many voters punch the second hole, then reconsidering, punch the third hole also, inadvertently causing an “overvote” that will be discarded. Some voters even write “Gore” or draw arrows to indicate their selection. By 11:24 a.m., LePore receives a faxed letter from Bobby Brochin, the DNC’s counsel in Florida. Brochin, who is still unsure of the exact nature of the problem with the ballots, writes: “Apparently certain presidential ballots being utilized in several precincts in Palm Beach County are quite confusing. They contain two pages listing all of the presidential candidates, which may cause electors to vote twice in the presidential race. You should immediately instruct all deputy supervisors and other officials at these precincts that they should advise all electors (and post a written advisory) that the ballot for the presidential race is two pages long, and that electors should vote for only one presidential candidate.” LePore does not respond to Brochin’s fax. By noon, WPEC-TV is reporting on the “butterfly ballot” confusion, and, in author Jake Tapper’s words, “doing a hell of a lot better than the Democrats are” in explaining the issue. Gore campaign workers begin visiting precincts to explain to Gore voters how to properly cast their votes on the ballot. By the afternoon, early results show some dismaying returns.
'I Think I Voted for a Nazi' - Precinct 162-G, almost entirely composed of the Jewish retirement community Lakes of Delray, is showing a surprisingly large number of votes for Buchanan, a Holocaust denier who is roundly despised among most Jewish voters. Brochin resends his fax to LePore at 2:57 p.m., noting that he failed to get a response the first time. Gore campaign workers in the county re-record their TeleQuest phone-bank message with instructions on how to cast votes for Gore, and instructing voters who believe they may have miscast their votes to return to their polling places and make a complaint. Talk show host Randi Rhodes, an outspoken liberal who lives in the county, tells listeners on her afternoon radio show: “I got scared I voted for Pat Buchanan. I almost said, ‘I think I voted for a Nazi.’ When you vote for something as important as leader of the free world, I think there should be spaces between the names. We have a lot of people with my problem, who are going to vote today and didn’t bring their little magnifiers from the Walgreens. They’re not going to be able to decide that there’s Al Gore on this side and Pat Buchanan on the other side.… I had to check three times to make sure I didn’t vote for a fascist.”
Late Afternoon Advisory - This afternoon, Harold Blue, a World War II veteran who like his wife is legally blind, realizes after he cast his vote that a poll worker improperly instructed he and his wife to vote for Buchanan and not Gore. When Democratic officials like State Representative Lois Frankel, State Senator Ron Klein, and US Representative Robert Wexler visit the Palm Beach elections offices to find out what is going on, LePore begins to believe that there may be a serious problem with the “butterfly ballots.” She reluctantly agrees to write an advisory for the various precincts, but says she lacks the staff to distribute it; if the Democrats want it posted, they will have to deliver the advisory themselves. LePore’s advisory reads, “ATTENTION ALL POLL WORKERS PLEASE REMIND ALL VOTERS COMING IN THAT THEY ARE TO VOTE FOR ONLY ONE (1) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AND THEY ARE TO PUNCH THE HOLE NEXT TO THE ARROW NEXT TO THE NUMBER NEXT TO THE CANDIDATE THAT THEY WISH TO VOTE FOR.” Judge Charles Burton, a Republican member of the canvassing board, says he cannot understand the confusion, that the ballot clearly indicates by an arrow which hole is designated for Gore. Democratic board member Carol Roberts counters by warning Burton and LePore that some people are beginning to say the ballot may be illegal, and advises LePore to contact her own attorney. Burton says the ballot is clearly legal according to his interpretation of Florida election statutes, and that the law Democrats are citing—101.153(3)(a)—applies only to paper ballots, not punch-card ballots.
'File an Affidavit' - At 5:30 p.m., Democratic vice presidential contender Joseph Lieberman calls Rhodes in a prearranged “get out the vote” interview. The discussion quickly turns to the Palm Beach ballot confusion, and Rhodes urges Lieberman to consider “filing an affidavit,” presumably to contest the Palm Beach results. Florida lawyer Mitchell Berger is preparing to do just that, telling Brochin and other Democratic lawyers to prepare for court battles. (Tapper 3/2001)
Based on Voter News Service (VNS) projections from exit polling, the Associated Press projects Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, as the winner of the Florida elections over Governor George W. Bush (R-TX). Gore’s victory, if confirmed, would give him the electoral votes he needs to win the US presidency. The major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—call Florida for Gore between 7:50 and 8:00 p.m. (Leip 2008) In light of the predictions of a Gore victory, Bush decides to abandon his plans to watch the rest of the returns from a suite in the Austin, Texas, Four Seasons Hotel, and instead returns to the relative privacy of the governor’s mansion in Austin. (Tapper 3/2001) Florida polling places in the Central Time Zone do not close until 8:00 p.m., so the networks’ projection that Florida is going to Gore comes out 10 minutes before those polling places—all in Florida’s “Panhandle” region, a Republican stronghold—close. Bush campaign officials will later allege that the networks called Florida for Gore an hour before the polls closed, potentially discouraging some Bush voters from casting their votes. The liberal news Web site Consortium News will later observe: “Though the networks certainly could have and obviously should have waited, it is unclear that any Bush voter decided not to go to the polls because of a projection that occurred only minutes before the polls closed. It’s unlikely that more than a few late-arriving voters were even aware of Gore’s projected victory.” (Consortium News 11/22/2000) Many Florida lawmakers and officials are shocked by the pronouncement. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) will later recall feeling that the networks are “stretching it” to make such a prediction. Broward County elections supervisor Jane Carroll will say acidly, “That’s very kind of [the networks] to just give this away.” Broward has yet to tally a single vote. Broward canvassing board chairman Judge Robert Lee is incredulous at the announcement, and like Graham and others, is disturbed that the networks would call the election before the polls are closed. As the evening goes on and the returns begin to come in, Lee wonders, “Why are they calling Florida for Gore when it’s so close?” Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove goes on the air to argue that Florida is still in play, and to complain about the networks’ choice to project Florida for Gore before the Panhandle counties have concluded their polling. The VNS voting predictions are later shown to be badly flawed, with a number of erroneous estimates, a drastic overestimation of African-American (Democratic) votes in Miami-Dade and a corresponding underestimation of Cuban-American (Republican) votes in that county, and poorly managed exit polling. (Tapper 3/2001)
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, attending a Washington, DC, party and watching the news networks predict Florida, and thusly the presidency, for Democrat Al Gore, says aloud, “This is terrible.” Her husband explains that she is considering retiring from the Court, but will only do so if George W. Bush, a fellow Republican, is in office to appoint her successor. (Tapper 3/2001)
The Associated Press’s projection that Vice President Al Gore won Florida’s presidential election (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000) collapses in the wake of new poll results. Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), Gore’s opponent, tells reporters: “The networks called this thing awfully early, but the people actually counting the votes are coming up with a different perspective. So we’re pretty darn upbeat about things.” By 10:00 p.m., the major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin retracting their earlier projection of Gore’s victory and revert Florida to the “too close to call” category. (Leip 2008)
Many Democrats blame third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader for the election confusion in Florida (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000), noting that had he not run, most of those who voted for him would have voted for Democratic presidential contender Al Gore instead and thus given Gore an unquestionable win. Nader ran on the left-wing Green Party ticket, winning 2,883,105 votes nationwide (2.73 percent of the popular vote), and, more importantly, 97,488 votes, or 1.63 percent, of Florida’s electorate. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper writes, “Ralph Nader is a jerk” who seeks media attention like Pat Buchanan and Jesse Jackson, and “he can match them in the ego department as well.” And “isn’t it great for Ralph that instead of walking around as a nostalgic trivia question from the 1970s—the activist equivalent of [television actor] John Ritter—that he was getting so much attention again. Congratulations. Jerk.” A Boston Globe editorial states, “If Ralph Nader had not been in the race, Al Gore would today be preparing to become president.” The vote for Nader in Florida “was the key to George W. Bush’s” small lead there, and without Nader, “Gore would probably have gained enough of these to defeat Bush unless the latter does extraordinarily well in the recount.” Nationally, Gore “could have earned enough of Nader’s 2,655,233” to win Oregon and New Hampshire “and give him a convincing national plurality.” Though Nader’s supporters “raise serious questions” on several issues, “they chose the wrong campaign to make their point.” The Globe concludes that before this election, Nader “had earned an honored place in US history as a pioneer in consumer safety. If Bush prevails in Florida, Nader will become a footnote as the willful eccentric who denied Gore the political prize he deserved.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) says: “Ralph Nader is not going to be welcome anywhere near the corridors. Nader cost us the election.” Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) says: “He cost Al Gore the race. Not only by what happened in Florida, but by making these other states a threat to Al Gore. Not to recognize what was at stake—or to dismiss it if he did—was dangerous and represented a type of arrogance. As a result, he lost a lot of credibility.” AFL-CIO president John Sweeney calls Nader’s campaign “reprehensible,” and says: “As a rule, we really reject the role that Nader played in the political process this time around. I don’t know if there’s any room in a national election for president for somebody who is a message candidate.” Enviro Working Group president Ken Cook says: “The public interest community is going to spend tens of millions of dollars a year for the next four years playing defense. I don’t think [Nader is] going to build a Green Party any more than O.J.‘s out there looking for a murderer,” referring to notorious murder suspect O.J. Simpson, who famously claims to be aggressively searching for the person who supposedly killed his wife and her boyfriend. Miramax Studio chairman and Gore supporter Harvey Weinstein says Nader is a “name that will go down in infamy.” According to writer Harold Evans, President Clinton was “very emphatic about the damage Nader had done to Gore” at a post-election gathering. Former Nader supporter Larry Marx says: “Ralph got tunnel vision and lost sight of progressive goals. People remember those kind of things, and there’s a price to be paid.” Polls show that 80 percent of Florida citizens who voted for Nader would have voted for Gore had Nader not been on the ballot, giving Gore a presumed 77,990 extra votes—far more than the number Gore would have needed to take Florida. Fellow third-party candidate Pat Buchanan notes, “Mr. Nader, I believe, can take credit for having sunk… the Gore candidacy.” Nader himself is defiant, noting that Gore failed to win his own home state of Tennessee or Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, and saying: “The Democrats must find their progressive roots or watch the party wither away, or become a crypto-Republican Party, seeking the same money and voters.… I’ve always said that it was Al Gore’s election to lose, that only Al Gore could beat Al Gore. If Democrats are disappointed with the returns, they need to take a long, close look at their party and the empty campaign waged by Al Gore.” (Leip 2000; National Journal 11/9/2000)
Republican presidential contender George W. Bush (R-TX) appears to enjoy a late surge in Florida votes, securing what appears to be a slim but decisive lead of some 50,000 votes. Led by Fox News (see October-November 2000 and November 7-8, 2000), the four major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin declaring Bush the projected winner of Florida and therefore the winner of the US presidential elections. By 2:20 a.m., the last of the networks has projected Bush as the winner. (Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000; Leip 2008) The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling. By 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call. But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) After the Fox announcement, Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile sends Gore a text message reading: “Never surrender. It’s not over yet.” But others in the campaign feel the campaign is indeed over. Gore’s brother-in-law Frank Hunger later recalls, “They were just so damn positive,” referring to the networks. “And they were talking about 50,000 votes, and we never dreamed they would be inaccurate.” The Gore campaign’s deputy campaign manager for communications, Mark D. Fabiani, will later recall: “I felt so deflated. It had been an evening where you won and then lost and winning felt a lot better than losing. You had been up and down and swung around and then dumped out on your head.” (Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000)
Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, calls Republican contender George W. Bush to concede the US presidential election, based on the news networks’ projection of Bush’s slim “victory” in Florida (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). According to Bush campaign advisor Karen Hughes, Gore tells Bush, “We gave them a cliffhanger.” Bush responds: “You’re a formidable opponent and a good man. I know it’s hard. I know it’s hard for your family. Give my best to Tipper [Gore’s wife] and your children.” Gore’s motorcade drives to the War Memorial Plaza in Nashville, where Gore plans to address his supporters. But by 3:15 a.m., Gore’s advisors tell him that Bush’s lead in Florida has dropped dramatically, leaving Bush with a lead of only 6,000 votes or less, well within the 0.5 percent margin that will trigger an automatic machine recount. Votes in three Democratic strongholds—Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties—are still outstanding. And a computer error in Volusia County tallies shows Gore with a total of negative 16,000 votes. The numbers continue to drop; by the time Gore’s motorcade is approaching the Plaza, the tallies show a Bush lead of less than 1,000 votes. Gore returns to his Nashville hotel without addressing his supporters. Speechwriter Eli Attie later recalls, “I stopped him from going out onstage, and said, ‘With 99 percent of the vote counted, you’re only 600 votes behind.’” (National Journal 11/9/2000; Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000; Tapper 3/2001; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) Minutes later, Gore calls Bush to retract his concession (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000).
Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, calls Republican contender George W. Bush to retract his concession of the presidential election (see 2:30 a.m. - 3:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). “Circumstances have changed dramatically since I first called you,” Gore says. “The state of Florida is too close to call.” Bush says: “Are you saying what I think you’re saying? Let me make sure I understand. You’re calling me back to retract your concession.” Gore responds, “You don’t have to be snippy about it.” Bush informs Gore that his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, has assured him he has already won Florida (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and November 7-8, 2000). Gore replies, “Your younger brother is not the ultimate authority on this.” Instead of giving a concession speech as planned, Gore sends his campaign chairman, former Commerce Secretary William Daley, to speak to the gathering at Nashville’s War Memorial Plaza. “Our campaign continues,” Daley says. New polling data shows that Florida, still projected to go to Bush as the last needed electoral victory, is once again too close to be accurately predicted. Bush calls his cousin John Ellis, who is anchoring Fox News’s election night coverage (see October-November 2000), and says, “Gore unconceded.” Ellis responds, “You’re kidding.” Within the hour, the networks will, for the second time (see 9:30 p.m. November 7, 2000), retract their projection and classify Florida as “too close to call” (see 3:57 a.m. - 4:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans orders aides to be on a 6 a.m. flight to Florida to begin contesting the recounts. Gore aides give similar orders to their personnel. (CNN 12/13/2000; Tapper 3/2001; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008)
After Democrat Al Gore retracts his concession in the Florida presidential elections (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000), the presidential campaign of Republican George W. Bush makes a decision to focus on one single message: their candidate has won the election, won the presidency, and anything else is wrong. In 2001, author Jake Tapper will write that in his brief conversation with Gore, “Bush doesn’t let on that he knows Florida is still in play. From this moment on, Bush and his team will propagage a myth, repeating it over and over to the American people: he won, definitively, at the moment his cousin called the election for him on Fox News Channel (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000).… [E]verything that happens from this point on is crazy, illegitimate Gore-propelled nonsense.” (Tapper 3/2001)
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, one of eight co-chairs of the Florida Bush election campaign and the state official ultimately in charge of election procedures, is introduced to the politics of the Florida presidential recount by a ringing telephone. She is awakened at 3:30 a.m. by a call from the Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans, who puts Governor Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, on the line. Governor Bush asks coldly, “Who is Ed Kast, and why is he giving an interview on national television?” Harris is unsure who Kast is for a moment. Kast is the assistant director of elections, whose division reports to her office. He is on television talking about the fine points of Florida election law (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000), when and how manual recounts can be requested, and, most importantly, the driving concept of “voter intent”—if a ballot shows the intent of the voter to cast a vote for a candidate, then that vote will be counted. The governor does not want the media narrative to focus on recounts and voter intent, and has already tasked his general counsel with the job of getting Kast off the air as quickly as possible. (CNN “loses” Kast’s transmission in mid-sentence minutes later.) Democrats have questioned the propriety of having the Florida official with ultimate authority over elections being a state chairman for a presidential campaign before now, and in the coming days, the question will devolve into outright accusations of partisanship and impropriety. Harris has called herself “thrilled and honored” to be part of the Bush campaign, and served as a Bush delegate during the Republican National Convention. During the campaign, she often traveled around Florida representing the ticket. Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) says of Harris: “She is clearly a partisan Republican—and there’s nothing illegal about that. And I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, expecting them to perform their public functions appropriately. But her actions will speak volumes about whether she is qualified. If she does this fairly, fine. But if she acts as an emissary for Bush to steal this election in Florida, she will delegitimize Florida’s vote count.” Harris gives some initial media interviews on November 8, and according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “appear[s] overwhelmed and uninformed.” She does not know what county elections supervisors have been doing, and seems unaware of the chaos surrounding the Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” (see November 9, 2000) and other ballot disputes. The Bush campaign senses trouble and assigns Harris a “minder,” Florida Republican lobbyist Mac Stipanovich, a former campaign advisor for Jeb Bush and a close Bush ally. Stipanovich, the Vanity Fair article will observe, “appealed to Harris’s grandiosity. (Her emails replying to Bush supporters later revealed that she had begun identifying with Queen Esther, who, in the Old Testament, saved the Jews from genocide. ‘My sister and I prayed for full armour this morning,’ she wrote. ‘Queen Esther has been a wonderful role model.’) He told her that nothing less than the course of history rested on her shoulders. ‘You have to bring this election in for a landing,’ he repeated again and again.” Under Stipanovich’s tutelage, Harris quickly learns to stay on message and repeat the given talking points. Stipanovich, who remains out of sight of the media, will later describe his daily routine with Harris to documentary filmmaker Fred Silverman, saying: “I would arrive in the morning through the garage and come up on the elevators, and come in through the cabinet-office door, which is downstairs, and then in the evening when I left, you know, sometimes it’d be late, depending on what was going on, I would go the same way. I would go down the elevators and out through the garage and be driven—driven to my car from the garage, just because there were a lot of people out front on the main floor, and, at least in this small pond, knowledge of my presence would have been provocative, because I have a political background.” (Salon 11/13/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Most importantly to the Bush campaign, Harris is a part of the campaign’s message propagation plan to insist that Bush has indisputably won the Florida election (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000).
The four news networks, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News, retract their earlier projection that Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has won Florida and thereby won the US presidency (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). The state is again rated as “too close to call.” (Leip 2008)
America wakes to a presidential election too close to call, though many morning newspapers, basing their headlines on the latest information received before going to press in the early morning hours, have headlines declaring George W. Bush (R-TX) the president-elect (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). The margin in Florida stands officially at Bush with 2,909,135 votes (48.8 percent) to Democratic contender Al Gore’s 2,907,351 votes (48.8 percent)—a margin of 1,784 votes in Bush’s favor. 136,616 votes, or 2.4 percent, are registered to other candidates. Stories of voting irregularities are surfacing, particularly in Palm Beach County, where thousands of voters complain that their punch card ballots led them to vote for candidates they did not intend to select (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After). Later in the day, the Florida state government orders a full machine recount in compliance with Florida Election Code 102.141 that requires a recount of ballots if the margin of victory is 0.5 percent or less. Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, recuses himself from the process. (Circuit Court of the 15th Judicial Circuit In and For Palm Beach County, Florida 11/8/2000 ; Sutin 2003; Leip 2008) The press reports that if the recounts do not clearly determine a winner, the US might have to wait “up to eight days longer as absentee ballots mailed from overseas are counted” (see 12:00 a.m., November 17, 2000). Governor Bush joins with Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth, the Florida chairman for the Gore campaign, in a promise “to deal swiftly with any election irregularities.” Governor Bush says, “Voter fraud in our state is a felony, and guilty parties will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” (National Journal 11/9/2000) Bush is credited with having won 29 states with 246 electoral votes. Gore has 18 states and the District of Columbia, with a total of 255 electoral votes. Oregon and New Mexico are also rated as “too close to call,” but because of the electoral vote totals, their total of 12 electoral votes are irrelevant. Florida’s 25 votes, however, are necessary for either candidate to win the election. To be declared president, one or the other needs to reach 270 votes. Wisconsin and Iowa are also briefly considered close, though Gore wins both of those states, and eventually Oregon and New Mexico (see November 13 - December 1, 2000), all with razor-thin margins. (Leip 2000; CNN 11/13/2000)
George W. Bush (R-TX), reiterating the message of his campaign that he has indisputably won the Florida elections (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000), meets with reporters on the patio of the governor’s mansion in Texas, accompanied by his vice-presidential running mate, Dick Cheney. Bush tells reporters: “This morning brings news from Florida that the final vote count there shows that Cheney and I have carried the state of Florida. And if that result is confirmed in an automatic recount, as we expect it will be, we have won the election.” Bush is referring to the machine recounts triggered by the closeness of the election results (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000). Bush tells reporters that the race will “be resolved in a quick way,” a statement contradicted by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who says the questions surrounding the race “will not be resolved for 10 days.” Harris will soon be brought to heel and make statements as authorized by the Bush campaign (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After). Bush takes a single question, then he and Cheney leave the lectern without speaking further. For his part, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore urges that the process be carried out “expeditiously but deliberately—without a rush to judgment.” Gore says: “We now need to resolve this election in a way that is fair, forthright, and fully consistent with our Constitution and our laws. What is at issue here is the fundamental fairness of the process as a whole.” Bush campaign aides tell reporters that they are preparing to transition into the White House, with Bush naming Cheney to head the White House transition team and former Ford Motors executive Andrew Card named as White House chief of staff. (ABC News 11/9/2000; Tapper 3/2001)
The Gore campaign sends a quick-response team led by Al Gore’s former chief of staff, lawyer Ron Klain, to Florida to deal with the uncertainty of the Florida presidential race (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000). Almost immediately, Klain and his group are inundated with rumors of voting irregularities—understaffed polling places in Democratic strongholds, Democratic voters sent on “wild goose chases” to find their proper polling places, African-Americans illegally prevented from voting (see November 7, 2000), police roadblocks set up to keep voters from reaching their polls (see 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000). Klain and his group are unable to ascertain the truth or fiction behind some of the rumors, though they learn about one that is verifiable—the problems surrounding Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot” that seem to have cost Gore some 2,600 votes (see November 9, 2000). Klain and the Gore campaign’s Florida head, Nick Baldick, learn that 10,000 votes for both candidates in Palm Beach have been set aside, uncounted, because of their classification as “undervotes”—votes that record no choice for president. Some 4 percent of Palm Beach voters cast their votes for senator but not for president, according to the machine scoring, a conclusion Klain and Baldick find hard to believe. They soon learn that many more “undervotes” were set aside in Miami-Dade County, like Palm Beach a Democratic stronghold. Broward County, which includes the heavily Democratic Fort Lauderdale region, is the source of a number of rumors concerning missing ballot boxes and unbelievable precinct totals. And Volusia County, another expected mine of Gore voters, initially reported a total of negative 16,000 votes for Gore. The automatic recount triggered by Florida law would not address any of these issues; manual recounts and human examination of ballots would be required to sort through the inconsistencies. Klain asks a number of Florida lawyers for legal advice and finds little help: the lawyers he contacts tell him that they are reluctant to give too much aid to the Gore campaign. “All the establishment firms knew they couldn’t cross Governor [Jeb] Bush [brother of presidential candidate George W. Bush] and do business in Florida,” Klain will later recall. Klain instead pulls together an ad hoc team to be led by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, now a lawyer in Los Angeles. Gore chooses Christopher because he believes Christopher will lend the team an image of decorous, law-abiding respectability. But, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair report, “Christopher set a different tone, one that would characterize the Democrats’ efforts over the next 35 days: hesitancy and trepidation.” One of Christopher’s first statements on the situation is given to Gore’s running mate Joseph Lieberman, with Christopher saying: “I think we should be aggressive in asserting our position. But we’ve got to temper what we do with the realization that the nation is focused on us and is expecting to act responsibly.” The Bush campaign’s approach is very different from that taken by the sometimes-timorous Christopher. Their quick-response campaign team is headed by Texas lawyer James Baker, a close Bush family friend and another former secretary of state. As Vanity Fair will write, the Bush team “dug in like a pit bull,” issuing frequent press statements that hew to the same line: Bush won the vote on the morning of November 8 (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and therefore is the legitimate president. Any attempts to alter that “fact” amount to “mischief.” Privately, Baker worries that the narrative is untenable, telling his team: “We’re getting killed on ‘count all the votes.’ Who the hell could be against that?” The Gore campaign will ask for manual recounts in four counties, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Volusia (see November 9, 2000), and the choice of selective recounts, as opposed to asking for statewide recounts, gives Baker the opening he is looking for. (National Journal 11/9/2000; Tapper 3/2001; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
Representatives Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Mark Foley (R-FL), both representing districts in the Palm Beach County area of Florida, argue about the confusing “butterfly ballot” that plagued many Palm Beach voters (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After and November 9, 2000) with interviewer Larry King on CNN. Much of the debate centers on the ballot design and its approval by Palm Beach elections supervisor Theresa LePore, a Democrat. (In his 2001 book Down and Dirty, author Jake Tapper will note that LePore was originally registered as a Republican, then an independent, before registering as a Democrat, and is not particularly partisan with any party.) Foley, a Bush campaign supporter, defends LePore and the ballot, saying that the entire ballot situation is caused by recalcitrant Democrats unwilling to accept defeat, while Wexler, arguing on behalf of the Gore campaign, says the ballot is illegal and cost Al Gore the votes he needed to win Florida and the presidency. Wexler accurately describes many Palm Beach voters as “hysterical” because they feared they had accidentally voted for third-party candidate Pat Buchanan and not for Gore, and says the ballot design does not comply with Florida law. “Illegal is illegal, confusion is confusion, and the presidency shouldn’t hinge on it,” Wexler says. Foley is inaccurate in saying that Buchanan has a large base of support in Palm Beach, though he jokes that some of those putative pro-Buchanan voters “may be deranged.” Foley denies Wexler’s description of “mass confusion” at the Palm Beach polling places, and notes, accurately enough, that “a Democratic supervisor of elections [LePore] approved the layout and approved the ballot.” King says that as a Democrat, Wexler “signed off” on the ballot design, drawing a retort from Wexler: “That’s not exactly so, Larry. Many people did complain to the supervisor of elections when they saw the sample ballot.” LePore, watching the discussion on television, is angered by Wexler’s charge; she later says she mailed out 655,000 sample ballots to voters, gave copies to all 150-odd candidates on the ballot, mailed copies to local Democratic and Republican representatives, and provided copies for publication in the Palm Beach Post and the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, and received no complaints whatsoever. Wexler goes on to note that LePore sent out an unprecedented voter advisory reminding voters how to cast their votes for their desired presidential candidate, “which I’ve never seen done.” LePore is further angered by Wexler’s failure to acknowledge that he was one of the people who requested the advisory. “What a liar!” LePore thinks as she watches Wexler’s comments. Wexler argues that “the presidency of the United States hangs in the balance.… The entire election system of America is on trial right now. We need to make certain it is done in a fair way.” (Adair 11/10/2000; Tapper 3/2001)
The presidential campaign team of Vice President Al Gore asks for a hand count of presidential ballots in four Florida counties, as allowed under Florida Election Code 102.166. Gore’s recount request covers four Florida Democratic strongholds: Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Volusia. Between them, the four counties recorded about 1.8 million votes cast. All four counties seem to have serious issues surrounding their vote totals (see November 7, 2000 and Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000).
Florida Has No Legal Provision for Statewide Recounts This Early - The Gore decision to ask for the specific recounts in four counties is necessary, as Florida state law has no provision for a statewide recount request at this stage: a candidate has 72 hours after an election to request manual recounts on a county-by-county basis, and such requests must be based on perceived errors. Otherwise the candidate must wait until the election is formally certified and then make a request for a statewide recount—a request the Gore team felt certain would be refused by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who is also the co-chair for the Florida Bush campaign (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After).
Accusations of 'Cherry-Picking' - However, the Bush team uses the Gore request of “selective recounts” to launch a press narrative that Gore wants to “cherry-pick” counties for recounts that he thinks will give him an advantage, regardless of Gore’s claims that he wants “all votes counted.” As Vanity Fair will observe in 2004: “Proper as this was by Florida election law, the Democrats’ strategy gave [Bush lawyer James] Baker the sound bite he’d been seeking: Gore was just cherry-picking Democratic strongholds. It was a charge the Bush team wielded to devastating effect in the media, stunning the Gore team, which thought its strategy would be viewed as modest and fair.” The Gore campaign, shocked by what it perceives as the patent unfairness of the Bush response and by the media’s apparent acceptance of it, responds poorly, giving the Bush campaign the opportunity to set the narrative. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008)
Bush Threatens More Recounts - The Bush campaign threatens to demand recounts in Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico if Gore does not withdraw his challenges in Florida. (Authentic History 7/31/2011)
Swapping Accusations - Former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour accuses the Democrats of “trying to to take the election of the president out of the election process, which is controlled by voters, and put it in the court process, which is controlled by lawyers.” Former Representative Bill Paxon (R-FL) accuses the Gore campaign of using “legal action to undermine this vote. They know that their chances to win are slim to none.” Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans says, “Vice President Gore’s campaign didn’t like the outcome of Election Day, and it seems they’re worried that they won’t like the official recount result either.” Gore’s campaign chairman William Daley says of the Bush campaign, “I believe that their actions to try to presumptively crown themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition (see November 9, 2000), run the risk of dividing the American people and creating a sense of confusion.” Gore spokesman Chris Kehane tells a CNN audience: “This is a nation of laws, we ought to respect our laws. But we think that our victory is going to be sweet. We think we have won the popular vote. That’s pretty clear. And we believe we are going to win the popular vote within the state of Florida and thereby win the electoral vote as well.” Gore himself “pledge[s]” to honor the results of the election should the recounts show that Bush is the legitimate winner, saying that the recount “must be resolved in a way that satisfied the public and honors the office of the presidency.” (National Journal 11/9/2000; Berke 11/9/2000)
A surprisingly high number of voters in Palm Beach County, Florida, cast their presidential votes for third-party presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, and the Gore campaign believes many of these voters intended to vote for Al Gore (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After). The problem lay in Palm Beach’s “butterfly ballot,” designed by Democratic county elections supervisor Theresa LePore, which many voters found confusing (see September 2000). The ballot gave a list of names for offices with corresponding holes to punch, but in the presidential race, Gore’s name lined up more closely with the hole designated for Buchanan, who won 3,407 votes in Palm Beach, over 2,600 more than he won in any other county in Florida. Palm Beach is heavily populated with elderly Jewish voters who were, media reports will say, thrilled to cast their votes for Gore’s Jewish running mate Joe Lieberman; it is doubtful they would have become enthused about Buchanan and his history of anti-Semitism and Holocaust trivialization. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer attempts to characterize Palm Beach as a “Buchanan stronghold.” But Buchanan readily admits that the Gore campaign is probably correct in saying that many Palm Beach voters intended to vote for Gore and not for him. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) “It does seem to me that those are probably not my votes in those precincts in Palm Beach County,” Buchanan says. “My guess is that I probably got some votes down there that really did not belong to me. I feel—I do not feel well about that. I do not want to take any votes that don’t belong to me.… If the two candidates they pushed were Buchanan and Gore, almost certainly those are Al Gore’s votes, not mine.” Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) says that the Palm Beach voters “may be deranged” in voting for Buchanan, “but they have every right to vote for him” and their votes should not be questioned. Three Palm Beach voters file a lawsuit “seeking a new election claiming the punchcard ballot was so confusing that they accidentally voted” for Buchanan. It is not clear if the Gore campaign or local Democratic Party officials will ask for an actual recount, though some Democratic lawyers call the ballot design “illegal.” (National Journal 11/9/2000)
Analyses: Ballot Confusion Cost Gore between 6,600 and 13,000 Votes - A subsequent analysis reported by the liberal news site Consortium News later alleges that Gore may have lost as many as 13,000 votes due to the “butterfly ballot.” Some voters say they attempted to vote for Gore, punched the hole for Buchanan by mistake, and attempted to correct the error by punching a second hole for Gore. The voting machines recorded those votes as “overvotes” and discarded them without counting them for either Gore or Buchanan. There may be over 10,000 of these particular overvotes remaining to be counted. 19,120 ballots in Palm Beach were disqualified because of double-voting, or “overvoting.” A sample of 144 ballots will be analyzed by Palm Beach election officials, and the results will show that 80 of those 144 ballots—56 percent—show punches for both Buchanan and Gore. If this sample accurately reflects the state of the remaining overvote ballots, then mathematically, Gore lost some 10,622 votes because of the confusion. Adding the approximately 2,700 votes that were given to Buchanan means that Gore lost some 13,000 votes in Palm Beach. (Consortium News 11/22/2000) A 2001 investigation by The Nation will find that the “lost” Gore votes in Palm Beach number somewhat less than the Consortium News estimate: some 6,600 votes that likely would have gone to Gore were either not counted or inadvertently given to Buchanan. (Lantigua 4/24/2001)
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times reassures the American populace that the Florida recounts (see November 10, 2000) are being handled according to law and custom, and do not constitute a “crisis” as other news outlets and pundits have claimed (see Evening, November 8, 2000 and 11:35 p.m. November 9, 2000). “If there are legal challenges, the suspense could stretch for weeks,” the editorial warns. “But in the end, Americans can be assured that this election will be settled in due time, fairly and legally—a democratic confidence still sadly too rare in the world.” Calls to abandon the Electoral College in favor of raw popular vote talles are wrong, the editorial says: “On its face it makes sense, but the electoral college is a foundation of our federal system, in which much power rests with the states. Yes, by basing the number of electors on Senate as well as House representation, smaller states have proportionately more power. But if the popular vote were all that mattered, what candidate would ever waste time on small or thinly populated states like Wyoming or Maine?” The Times agrees with many Democrats that third-party candidate Ralph Nader cost Democrat Al Gore a clear victory in Florida (see November 8-9, 2000) and other states as well. “If [Republican George W.] Bush wins, he will bear the stigma of a minority-vote president, putting his promise to end the bitter infighting in Washington to the severest possible test,” the Times writes, and warns that if Bush does take the presidency, he and his fellow Republicans must work with Democrats to avoid “four years of deadlock.” It concludes: “Through all the turmoil and frustration of Wednesday, two people in particular handled the situation with public calm and grace—George W. Bush and Al Gore. Both provided a welcome example of leadership in the midst of confusion and turmoil. That in itself bodes well for the nation.” (Los Angeles Times 11/9/2000)
The US presidential election remains undecided as “final” tallies are reported. Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) has a slim popular vote lead, with 48,976,148 votes to contender George W. Bush (R-TX)‘s 48,783,510 votes, for a popular-vote margin of 192,638. Gore has won 18 states plus the District of Columbia for 260 electoral votes; Bush has 29 states with 246 electoral votes. Florida’s 25 undecided electoral votes will give either candidate enough to surpass the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the presidency. (Leip 2008)
The presidential campaigns of Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) and George W. Bush (R-TX) make very different decisions as to how to handle affairs as the Florida recount continues to delay the naming of a victor in the 2000 presidential race (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000 and November 9, 2000). Gore returns to Washington, where he will remain for most of November, in an attempt to be seen as “remaining above the fray.” Bush, on the other hand, meets with advisors and begins alerting the media as to the members of his prospective presidential administration; aides tell reporters that the Bush team will begin announcing Cabinet appointments within a week. Bush himself will soon return to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The Bush strategy is simple: to insist that Bush has already won the election and to act as if he is president-elect (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney says, “We look forward to getting this matter resolved as quickly as possible so that we can get on with the important business of transition.” ABC reports that the Bush campaign wants “to create a sense of unstoppable momentum. They believe that the voters have spoken and that they have to get about the business of creating a new government.” The Washington Post reports that Bush starts the day by “feeding his dog and two cats and making coffee for his wife, displaying a nonchalance amid crisis that could portend an amiable style if he were to wind up as president.” The Post reports that Bush “acted” the part of president when meeting with reporters in the courtyard of the governor’s mansion in Texas. (National Journal 11/9/2000) The Gore campaign has said it would not engage in transition actitivies until the election dispute is resolved; of Bush’s transition activities, Gore aide Roy Neel, the campaign’s transition director, says, “It is mind-boggling to me that they would be so presumptuous.” (Berke 11/9/2000)
By the end of the business day, 64 of Florida’s 67 counties have retallied their machine votes. Presidential candidate George W. Bush (R-TX) leads Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) by 362 votes in an unofficial tally released by the Associated Press. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) announces that official results from the recount may not be completed until November 14. (Leip 2008) The Bush campaign’s quick-response team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000) finds the recount tallies sobering and fears a true manual recount. Led by lawyer James Baker, they decide that the only way to ensure victory for their candidate is to stop all recounts. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
In an editorial, the Washington Post castigates the Gore campaign for continuing to press for recounts in Florida. After acknowledging that George W. Bush’s lead in that state “appear[s] to have melted to fewer than 300 votes” as the recounts continue (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000), and noting that for Gore to “call for as careful a count as possible in an election as close as this, with so much a stake, seems unobjectionable to us; it can only help to ensure legitimacy,” it then slams Gore campaign manager William Daley for his suggestion that Gore may file lawsuits to ask for manual recounts. Daley said, referring to the widely held belief in the Gore camp that if the votes are tallied completely, Gore would have significantly more votes than Bush, “If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president.” The Post calls Daley’s remark “poisonous,” saying that Daley is attempting to imply that the Bush camp is trying to steal the election, and demands that Gore “disown” it immediately. The Post also chides Gore officials for implying, somehow, that “Gore’s narrow lead in the popular vote somehow gives him superior status—if not quite a partial claim to the office, then a greater right to contest the electoral outcome in Florida. But that’s false, and they know it. The electoral vote is what matters.” The editorial chides the Bush campaign for leaking its “transition plans” and trying to give “the impression of measuring for new curtains in the Oval Office,” as Bush has not been certified the winner of the race. “Florida hasn’t certified its results, and Mr. Bush has no more claim to the title of president-elect than the vice president. Both sides need to back off at this stage. They are risking a political war that could spread far beyond Florida, one that would be far harder to stop than to begin.” The Post concludes by advising the Gore campaign that calling for recounts is far different from filing lawsuits to force recounts; the first is acceptable, but the second “should be approached with enormous caution and restraint.” (Washington Post 11/10/2000) In 2010, the Center for American Progress will note that Daley’s claim that Gore “should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president” was a claim Bush campaign lawyer James Baker “was saying pretty much every day on Bush’s behalf.” The Post does not have a similar reaction to Baker’s claims. (Alterman 12/9/2010) The same day the Post editorial is published, the New York Times publishes a piece by historian Richard Reeves that flatly falsifies presidential history in its call for Gore to abandon his post-election challenge (see November 10, 2000). The Post also publishes an editorial by former Republican Senator Bob Dole asking Gore to concede for the good of the nation (see November 11, 2000).
In an editorial, the New York Times sounds a cautionary note about the Florida presidential election, warning both sides to avoid what it calls “scorched earth” solutions. It begins by accusing the Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Al Gore, of “escalat[ing] the atmosphere of combat surrounding the presidential election results with his decision to go to court in Florida” (see November 10, 2000). The Times acknowledges that “Gore has a right as a private citizen to take his grievances to court. But he and Governor George W. Bush [the Republican candidate and apparent frontrunner] are also political figures seeking the world’s most important leadership position. Part of the test of presidential leadership, it seems to us, is finding a way to resolve electoral matters in the political arena.” The Times calls the Gore campaign’s discussion of potential lawsuits “worrying,” accuses it of a “rush to litigation,” and says the Gore campaign should not be using phrases like “constitutional crisis.” Nor should it talk about “efforts to block or cloud the vote of the Electoral College on December 18” (though Bush campaign advisors have threatened just such efforts—see November 1, 2000 and After). The Times says it agrees with CNN’s Bill Schneider that to challenge the machine tallies in Florida would be to choose a “treacherous path.” The Times acknowledges that reports of voting irregularities (see November 7, 2000, Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000, and November 9, 2000) “need to be taken seriously,” but not so much so as to question the results as already reported. To call for manual recounts or file legal challenges, the Times writes, would “paralyze… the succession process, undermine… the finality of presidential elections, and make… nervous a world that looks to the United States as a model of political stability. Neither the prospect of legal warfare nor Mr. Bush’s rush to put together a transition team is helpful at this point.” (New York Times 11/10/2000)
Historian and presidential biographer Richard Reeves fundamentally misrepresents history in a New York Times editorial asking Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) to end the Florida election standoff by conceding to George W. Bush (R-TX). Reeves notes correctly that the 1960 presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy was extraordinarily close. Reeves asserts that Nixon and Kennedy discussed the situation after the votes were initially tallied and Nixon decided not to challenge the results. “If Nixon had decided to pursue a challenge, he might have had a good case,” Reeves writes. “Republicans were producing claims of fraud, waving sworn depositions from election officials in Illinois and Texas. It was great stuff: there were 6,138 votes cast by the 4,895 voters registered in Fannin County, Texas; in the 38th precinct of Chicago’s sixth ward, 43 voters seemed to have cast 121 votes in the hour after the polls opened. But whatever else he was, Nixon was a patriot. He understood what recounts and lawsuits and depositions carried out over months—even years—would do to the nation. He was also a realist, and he knew that investigations might well turn up examples of his own party’s tradition of recording votes for folks dead or alive in southern Illinois and a few other venues.” Reeves goes on to note that Kennedy’s slight popular vote lead translated into a strong Electoral College lead, and that Nixon’s patron, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “was angry about the alleged fraud but finally told Nixon that he could not back him in a challenge to the results.” As Nixon reportedly explained to a reporter afterwards, “The country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis, and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.” Reeves uses the example of Nixon’s patriotism and restraint in arguing that Gore should emulate Nixon and gracefully concede the election. (Reeves 11/10/2000) However, Reeves fundamentally misrepresents Nixon’s actions and historical events. Nixon was, as Reeves writes, convinced that Kennedy fraudulently won the election. And rumors of election fraud had circulated even before Election Day, such as in Chicago, where Democratic majorities were considered suspect. When the votes were tallied and Kennedy declared the winner, angry Republicans demanded an investigation. Nixon later said in both interviews and his own memoirs that he refused to dispute the election. Publicly, Nixon conceded the election to Kennedy, but privately, he encouraged his aides and fellow Republicans to overturn the results. In the weeks after the election, many newspapers pursued the story, fueled by Republicans who made a bevy of allegations and charges of election fraud and rampant cheating. Slate’s David Greenberg later writes: “[T]he Republican Party made a veritable crusade of undoing the results. Even if they ultimately failed, party leaders figured, they could taint Kennedy’s victory, claim he had no mandate for his agenda, galvanize the rank and file, and have a winning issue for upcoming elections.” Three days after the election, Senator Thruston Morton (R-KY), the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), launched bids for recounts and investigations in 11 states, including Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey. Days later, close Nixon aides sent agents to conduct what they called “field checks” in eight of those states. Another aide tried to create a “Nixon Recount Committee” in Chicago. Recounts were indeed obtained. Grand juries were empaneled and a special prosecutor was appointed. The FBI launched investigations into voter fraud and election theft. The recounts and investigations proved nothing of significance, and one by one, they lapsed. The last recount, in Illinois, lasted for over a month after the election; on December 9, 1960, when recount tallies gave Nixon a mere 943 extra votes, Republicans filed a lawsuit in federal court to summarily grant Illinois’s 27 electoral votes to Nixon, which was dismissed. Republicans then took their case to the Illinois Board of Elections, which, even though it had a majority of Republicans comprising it, rejected the petition. Even after December 19, when the Electoral College formally certified Kennedy as the winner, recounts and legal challenges were still in the works. (Greenberg 10/16/2000; Posner 11/10/2000) Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan, considered a liberal like Reeves, echoes Reeves’s portrayal of Nixon in a column that is published the same day as Reeves’s. Nyhan calls Nixon’s supposed concession that president’s “most magnaminous act” and recommends that Gore step aside. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
The mandated machine recount in Florida’s 67 counties (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000) is completed by all but one county. George W. Bush (R-TX) holds a 327-vote lead. The Gore presidential campaign has requested manual recounts for Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Volusia Counties, where ballot totals are in dispute (see November 9, 2000). Miami-Dade (see November 7, 2000), Broward, and Palm Beach, all of which use obsolete punch-card voting machines, are weighing whether to conduct manual recounts of, firstly, 1 percent of their ballots (sample recounts), and if the results warrant, moving to full recounts. One of the biggest questions is that of so-called “undervotes,” ballots that have no choice registered for a candidate. When a voter attempts to punch through a hole to register a choice but fails to do so completely, that vote is not counted, and instead is classified as an “undervote.” (“Overvotes” are an issue as well with “optiscan” machines, where voters use pencils to fill in ovals corresponding to their choices and feed the ballots into a machine scanner. Sometimes voters fill in votes for both candidates—say, both Bush and Gore—and in such cases voter intent cannot be determined. The machine records no choice. But sometimes voters accidentally “bubble in” both choices, then write “Gore” and an arrow or some other indication of their selection on the ballot. These votes are also not counted, though a manual recount can quickly determine voter intent in these cases. Even stray pencil marks can cause an optiscan ballot to be rejected. Forty-one of Florida’s 67 counties use optiscan machines.) Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), sends young lawyer Kerey Carpenter to Palm Beach to lend her “assistance” in resolving its recount question. Elections board chairman Judge Charles Burton will later recall that while Carpenter identifies herself as a lawyer, she does not inform them that she works for Harris. Instead of assisting in the sample recount process, Carpenter interferes. At one point, after the sample recount has produced some 50 additional votes for Gore, Carpenter objects to the standard of decision; the punch cards have small rectangular holes filled with detachable “chads,” small portions of paper that are pushed through and discarded. The board is using the criteria that a “chad” that is detached at one corner can indicate a vote. Carpenter convinces Burton to change the standard to two detached corners. This decision reduces Gore’s 50 new votes to six. Carpenter, still not revealing her status as a Harris employee, convinces Burton to ask Harris for a “formal opinion” as to what grounds justify a full recount. Burton does so. Harris will set an impossibly high standard for recounts, but will almost immediately be overruled by a judge (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000). (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
Former US Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) writes an op-ed for the Washington Post urging Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore to abandon his attempts to win the presidential election and concede the election to Republican George W. Bush. “It was a close election, but it’s over,” Dole writes. Dole begins by recalling his own experience from 1976, where Republican President Gerald Ford, with Dole as his running mate, chose not to challenge a narrow election loss to Democrat Jimmy Carter. “It took a while, but I was proud of Gerald Ford when he did the right thing by not contesting the election,” Dole writes. Dole asserts that two separate recounts have taken place [in reality, only one, a machine recount, has occurred—see November 10, 2000] and both verify Bush as the winner of the Florida vote. Instead of gracefully conceding, Dole writes, the Gore campaign is “making every effort to keep the nation divided for weeks with recounts, lawsuits, and endless politicization of the election.” Dole urges Gore “to put his country’s agenda ahead of his agenda; to put the people’s interests before his personal interests.” The American people need closure after a long presidential campaign, Dole argues, and to drag out the process “is bad for the people.” Gore “risks alienating even more Americans” by continuing to press for manual recounts. “Participation in our democracy continues to decline. More and more people are turned off by politics and are tuning out of elections. It is precisely this type of politicization that continues to disenchant people. They want leadership, not lawsuits. They need someone committed to what is good for the country, not what is good for a post election campaign.” Asking for recounts “is bad for the country.” Bush needs time to plan and execute a smooth transition into the presidency, Dole writes, time that Gore is not giving him. Bush “must begin planning his administration. He must prepare a budget and begin selecting a cabinet. He must begin meeting with world leaders and a Congress already bitterly divided. A smooth transition will help to ensure a successful presidency and a more secure and prosperous nation for the next four years.” And finally, history will look askance at Gore for being “the first presidential candidate to challenge his election defeat in the courts. The presidency should be won through inspiration, not litigation.” (Dole 11/11/2000)
The “quick response” legal team of the Bush presidential campaign, led by former Secretary of State James Baker (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000), asks for a federal injunction to stop hand recounts of ballots in several Florida counties because of what it alleges are equal protection and other constitutional violations (see November 9, 2000). Two days later, US District Judge Donald Middlebrooks rejects the request. Throughout the upcoming weeks, Baker and his team will continue to demand that recounts be blocked, while accusing the Gore campaign of asking for “recount after recount” and saying that the voting machine totals are more accurate than manual (hand) vote tallies. (US District Court, Southern District of Florida 11/13/2000 ; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; CNN 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008) The Bush campaign decided after the manual recounts that it must stop all subsequent recounts, but at the same time must pin the blame for “taking the election to court” on the Gore campaign. So even though Baker and his team are the first to file motions in court, and though it is Baker’s team that will contest all recounts from this point onward, Baker and his team will persist in accusing the Gore campaign of trying to have the election decided in court and not by the votes. A 2004 article in Vanity Fair will characterize this attempt as very successful in the mainstream media. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
Lawyers for the Gore presidential campaign and local Democrats say they intend to sue the Seminole County elections supervisor. In this county, Republican Party workers were permitted to correct errors on thousands of applications for absentee ballots for Republicans, in what Democrats call illegal ballot tampering. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000) Subsequent investigations show that Seminole elections officials and Republican Party workers corrected data on absentee ballots that showed votes for Republican George W. Bush, while throwing away flawed absentee ballots that showed votes for Democrat Al Gore. Republican Party operatives worked unsupervised in Seminole County offices for 10 days preceding the November 7 vote; those offices house the county’s computer database of voters. It is not known if the operatives attempted to access that database. County elections supervisor Sandra Goard later says in a sworn statement that she does not know the identity of one of the two Republican operatives given access to the absentee ballots and the computer rooms. After the absentee ballots were counted into the county’s tallies, Seminole County showed a 5,000-vote lead for Bush over Gore. (Consortium News 11/27/2000)
Conservative columnist George Will lambasts the Gore presidential campaign for trying to “steal” the presidential election through unwarranted legal manipulation (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and November 9, 2000). Will begins his Washington Post column by comparing the Gore request for recounts to “the blue dress,” a reference to President Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and accuses Democrats of “complaining that the Constitution should not be the controlling legal authority” over elections. Will continues: “The mendacity of Al Gore’s pre-election campaign is pertinent to the post-election chaos. He ran with gale-force economic winds at his back, and with a powerful media bias pulling him along.… Even on election night: by calling Florida for Gore before all Floridians had voted, the networks almost certainly hurt Republican turnout in Florida, and out West” (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000). Will does not mention Fox News’s inaccurate call of Florida for Bush (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and November 7-8, 2000). Gore is attempting to steal the election because of his “corrupt… hunger for power” and his “serial mendacity,” Will states, accusing Gore of “desperately seeking lawyering strategies and a friendly court to hand him the presidential election.” He is, Will states, the quintessential liberal, attempting to impose his will “through litigation rather than legislation. Liberalism’s fondness for judicial fiat rather than democratic decision-making explains the entwinement of the Democratic Party and trial lawyers.” Will ridicules reports that the Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” may have denied Gore votes (see November 9, 2000), and calls Democrats’ questioning of that ballot “sinister.” The claims that Palm Beach voters were confused by the ballot are, Will writes, “baseless.” Will says that the November 17 addition of absentee ballots (see November 18, 2000), with their “large military, hence Republican, component,” will almost certainly lock down the Florida vote for Bush. However, Will writes, “Gore operatives probably will still toil to delegitimize the election. Their actions demolish the presidential pretensions of the dangerous man for whom they do their reckless work.” Will concludes: “All that remains to complete the squalor of Gore’s attempted coup d’etat is some improvisation by Janet Reno, whose last Florida intervention involved a lawless SWAT team seizing a 6-year-old [referring to Cuban-American youngster Elian Gonzales, whom Reno ordered to be sent back to Cuba with his father instead of being allowed to remain in the US with a group of more distant relatives]. She says there is no federal role, but watch for a ‘civil rights’ claim on behalf of some protected minority, or some other conjured pretext. Remember, Reno is, strictly speaking, unbelievable, and these things will continue until these people are gone.” (Will 11/12/2000) The progressive media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) will note, “The comment about a ‘protected minority’ seems to be a reference to the complaints of voter fraud and intimidation coming from African-American communities in Florida” (see November 7, 2000). (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
According to media analyses performed by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and by the team of Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman, the Sunday talk show coverage of the Bush-Gore conflict in Florida between November 12 and December 10 is heavily skewed towards painting George W. Bush as the legitimate president (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and Al Gore the losing contender who continues to carry on after having legitimately lost the election. On December 3 and December 10, panelists on ABC’s This Week refer to Bush’s future presidency 27 times. Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, does so 19 times and calls Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney the “vice president.” In a December 3 interview, Russert asks Cheney if he feels Gore is being a “sore loser” (see November 24, 2000 and After). On December 3, ABC’s Sam Donaldson attempts to get Gore’s running mate, Joseph Lieberman, to concede the election on-air. ABC’s Cokie Roberts attempts to get a concession from Gore campaign representative George Mitchell. Jamieson and Waldman later determine that in the five Sunday shows aired by the three networks during this time period, the word “concede” appears in 23 questions. In 20 of these questions, the hypothetical conceder is Gore. In the other three questions, the hypothetical conceder is no one. Similarly, the hosts and guests on these talk shows, and on other network news broadcasts, frequently warn of “dire consequences” to America’s constitutional democracy if the Florida question is not settled immediately. The hosts also issue frequent warnings that the citizenry’s patience is at “the breaking point,” though polls consistently show that most Americans are content to let the recall process work itself out. CAP later notes, “The Baker-Bush team [referring to James Baker, the head of the Bush campaign’s ‘quick response’ recount team—see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000] worked hard to create this crisis atmosphere in the hopes of increasing the pressure on Gore to relent for the good of the country, the markets, and the maintenance of world peace.” During this time period, Russert tells viewers, “We could have chaos and a constitutional crisis.” NBC’s Tom Brokaw tells viewers: “If the Florida recount drags on, the national markets are at risk here. National security is involved.” Pundits on ABC’s This Week warn of “turmoil” if Gore does not concede; pundits on CBS’s Face the Nation remark on “spinning out of control.” Columnist David Broder says this period of US history is worse than the turmoil the country weathered after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (Alterman 12/9/2010)
The Bush presidential campaign demands, and receives, a manual recount in New Mexico. Democrat Al Gore had an early, if narrow, lead in the state during the November 7 returns, but a programming error was found that gave Bush a slim lead. New Mexico’s five electoral votes were withdrawn from the Gore column and the state was classified as “too close to call” (see November 10, 2000). Bush picks up 125 votes on the recount of Roosevelt County. Although the Bush campaign and its Republican allies staunchly oppose manual recounts in Florida (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000, November 8, 2000, November 9, 2000, November 9, 2000, 11:35 p.m. November 9, 2000, November 11, 2000, November 11-13, 2000, and November 12, 2000), GOP lawyer and national committeeman Mickey Barnett says in a New Mexico court filing that there is, “of course, no other way to determine the accuracy of this apparent discrepancy, or machine malfunction, other than the board reviewing the votes by hand.” Barnett secures a recount of Roosevelt County’s “undervotes” (ballots that supposedly recorded no preference for president), noting that the county recorded 10 percent of its voters as registering no preference. Barnett and the Bush campaign do not ask for manual recounts of much larger undervotes in three largely Democratic counties. In 2010, columnist Eric Alterman will write: “The only conceivable reason why the GOP cared enough about New Mexico’s five electoral votes as late as December 1 was the fear that if it carried Florida by legislative fiat—in defiance of the courts (see 11:45 a.m. November 30, 2000)—it might lose individual electors in other states. New Mexico would have been a cushion against such defections.” Towards the end of the recounts, another error is found that gives Gore a 500-vote advantage. Gore receives New Mexico’s electoral votes. The final tally: 286,783 votes for Gore and 286,417 for Bush, with a difference in favor of Gore of 366 votes. (Leip 2000; CNN 11/13/2000; US Constitution (.net) 2010; Alterman 12/9/2010)
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), announces she is refusing requests to extend the 5:00 p.m. November 14 deadline for certifying election results (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000) in the interest of what she calls “the public’s right to clarity and finality.” This is her prerogative as secretary of state under Florida Election Code 102.112, though she has the option to extend the deadline. Absentee ballots, by law, can be counted through November 17. Neither Palm Beach nor Miami-Dade Counties have even decided to start recounts yet (see November 7, 2000 and November 10, 2000), and Broward County has not finished the recount it began. Volusia County, also attempting to finish manually recounting all of its ballots (see November 11-12, 2000), sues to extend the November 14 deadline. Lawyers for the Gore campaign join Volusia in the suit, while Bush lawyers file briefs opposing the suit. (Salon 11/13/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) In light of Harris’s decision, Broward will choose to abandon its recount (see Evening, November 13, 2000); Palm Beach will decide to delay the recount until it can receive clarification (see 8:20 a.m. November 14, 2000), and resume the recounting shortly thereafter (see 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000). Miami-Dade, in contrast, will begin recounting (see November 14, 2000). Later in the day, Harris issues what she considers a legal opinion concerning the recounts, but her opinion conflicts with a decision issued by Florida’s attorney general. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000) Harris says that no manual recounts should take place unless the voting machines are broken. Judge Terry Lewis finds that opinion not backed by any state law and overrules her opinion. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Harris has drawn criticism for her apparent partisanship before now. Warren Christopher, a lead advisor for the Gore campaign, calls Harris’s decision “arbitrary and unreasonable.” Representative Peter Deutsch (D-FL) calls her decision “bizarre,” adding, “I honestly think what’s going on is a strategic decision by the Bush campaign to hurt the litigation efforts.” Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) says: “The only reason to certify the elections at 5 p.m. tomorrow is a partisan one. If she does what she says she’s going to do—certify the elections at 5 p.m. tomorrow—she will have proven her critics correct; she will have proven that she is an emissary of the Bush campaign who is willing to steal an election.” (Salon 11/13/2000)
After her self-imposed deadline of 5:00 p.m. for election results certification passes (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000), Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), announces that George W. Bush (R-TX) leads Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) by some 300 votes, based on returns submitted by all 67 Florida counties. The 300-vote lead Bush currently has is substantially smaller than the 1,784-vote lead he had immediately after the election. Harris says she will comply with a judicial order to consider late returns (see Afternoon, November 14, 2000). She gives three heavily Democratic counties still counting votes until 2:00 p.m. November 15 to submit written explanations as to why they want to add their manual-recount tallies after the deadline; all three counties will comply with her request. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Contradicting her previous statement that she would comply with a judicial order to consider the post-election recount tallies from several counties (see Evening, November 14, 2000), Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), asks the Florida Supreme Court to force Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties to end their manual recounts (see November 14, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000) “pending resolution as to whether any basis exists to modify the certified results” after the November 14, 2000 deadline. Harris argues that manual recounts threaten “the integrity of the ballots.” Harris previously imposed a November 14 deadline for all ballots to be counted and results certified (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000). Palm Beach County officials ask the Florida Supreme Court to decide if they can manually recount their ballots. At 5:00 p.m., the Court rejects Harris’s request to stop the recounts. (Dickenson 11/19/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Leip 2008) A judge has already ruled that Harris can refuse to consider recount results submitted after her deadline (see Afternoon, November 14, 2000). A Gore campaign spokesman later says that considering the obstacles Harris has placed in the way of the hand recounts, the situation is analogous to a policeman forcing a motorist to pull over, then blaming him for the traffic piling up behind him. Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes counters with the accusation that the counties still engaged in recounts are “no longer counting ballots; they are ‘reinventing’ them.” And James Baker, the head of the Bush “quick response” recount team, accuses the manual recounters of “subjective” attempts to “divine the intent of the voter.” Such recounts, Baker says, present “tremendous opportunities for human error and… mischief.” Both Hughes’s and Baker’s remarks are apparently intended to imply deliberate falsification of vote tallies, and echo similar charges made by Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media figures. Gore officials note that George W. Bush has picked up 418 votes in manual recounts in six counties: Franklin, Hamilton, Seminole, Washington, Taylor, and Lafayette. The Bush campaign, the Gore officials say, was eager to have those votes added in with the totals. Baker’s counterpart on the Gore team, Warren Christopher, says the fact that “Republicans have hand counted in many of the counties themselves” (see November 19, 2000) belies Republican charges that “we have picked out a certain few counties.” The Bush campaign has also picked up 143 votes from recounting in Volusia County. (Dickenson 11/19/2000; Consortium News 11/27/2000)
The presidential campaign of George W. Bush (R-TX—see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) joins in a motion filed by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), to stop all manual ballot recounts in Florida (see 8:00 a.m. November 15, 2000). Harris imposed a deadline of 5:00 p.m. November 14 for all recounts to be completed and all results certified (see 9:00 a.m. November 13, 2000 and Evening, November 14, 2000). The request is rejected by a federal judge later in the day. (Leip 2008)
The presidential campaign of Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) suggests that all 67 Florida counties conduct manual recounts of their ballots if Republicans object to recounts in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties (see November 9, 2000). Gore himself says he will eschew any further legal challenges if Republicans will accept the three counties’ recounts. He also proposes a face-to-face meeting with his opponent, George W. Bush (R-TX). (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Leip 2008)
The Bush presidential campaign rejects the Gore presidential campaign’s proposal for a statewide manual recount of Florida’s presidential votes (see 6:36 p.m. November 15, 2000), stating that such a recount would be neither fair nor accurate. George W. Bush also informs the Gore campaign that he has no interest in meeting with Al Gore face-to-face, though he says he is open to such a meeting after the election. (Leip 2008) “The outcome of this election,” Bush says in a statement, “will not be the result of deals or efforts to mold public opinion” (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
Shortly after the presidential vote that resulted in an as-yet-unresolved flurry of recounts and criticisms (see 6:36 p.m. November 15, 2000 and 9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000), two law clerks at the US Supreme Court laugh about the unlikely possibility that the election will end up being resolved in the Court. Could it happen that way? they wonder. And if so, would the Court split 5-4 along ideological lines, with the conservative majority giving Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) the presidency? The idea is preposterous, they decide, no matter what some of their friends and relatives are predicting. Even the most conservative of Court justices, they say, are pragmatic and mindful of the law. Moreover, they tell one another, the Court has always steered clear of sticky political conflicts. And the conservative justices are the most mindful of states’ rights and most devoted to the concept of the Constitution’s “original intent,” including the Founders’ insistance that Congress, not the judiciary, should be the body to resolve close elections. One clerk later tells reporters: “It was just inconceivable to us that the Court would want to lose its credibility in such a patently political way. That would be the end of the Court.” As November moves closer to December and the election fracas continues unresolved, a law professor predicts that Bush’s chances before the Court are “between slim and none, and a lot closer to none.” Over Thanksgiving, the justices and clerks leave Washington for vacation, with only a skeletal staff of a few clerks remaining in town in case of emergencies. Justice Stephen Breyer says over the holiday that there is no way the Court would ever get involved in the election. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
The Bush presidential campaign announces that it will not seek a recount of votes in Iowa. (Leip 2008) Iowa was called in favor of Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) at 2:04 a.m. on November 8, giving Gore seven electoral votes. (Leip 2008)
Lawyers for the Bush presidential campaign (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) submit written arguments to the US Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta demanding that Florida immediately halt all recounts (see 8:00 a.m. November 15, 2000 and 12:00 p.m., November 15, 2000), calling manual recounts “unconstitutional.” Three Florida counties are still engaged in manual recounts (see November 14, 2000, 3:40 p.m. November 15, 2000, and 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000). Democrats file papers with the same court opposing the Republican motion. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Leip 2008)
Apparently emboldened by a judge’s halt to Florida declaring a winner in its presidential race (see 5:00 p.m. November 17, 2000), Miami-Dade County election officials vote to conduct a full manual recount of their county’s presidential ballots. (Leip 2008) Initial figures in the recount show a significant number of “undervotes” going to Democrat Al Gore (see November 7, 2000). In response, Republican lawyers attempt to challenge vote after vote that is tallied to Gore, with corresponding counter-challenges from Democratic lawyers. Kendall Coffey, a Gore campaign lawyer, later recalls that as the Gore totals begin to accumulate, “panic buttons were being pushed” among the Republicans. Days later, a mob of Republican activists will descend on the Miami-Dade election board and force the shutdown of the recounts (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
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