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Profile: Joe Lockhart

Joe Lockhart was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, testifies for a third time before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). (The date of Rove’s second testimony to the grand jury is not publicly known, though Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff later says Rove testified twice in February 2004.) Rove tells the jury that he spoke with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), a conversation he has failed to disclose in previous testimony both before the jury and when interviewed by FBI agents (see October 8, 2003 and February 2004). Rove now says he recalls speaking with Cooper, but cannot remember details of their conversation. His lawyer, Robert Luskin, says Rove “answered fully and truthfully every one of their questions,” and did not try to avoid answering questions on legal grounds. White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that Rove’s testimony shows he is “doing his part to cooperate” in the probe. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, charges that Rove and other Bush aides are refusing to tell the public everything they know about the outing of Plame Wilson as a CIA official. “Karl Rove needs to come clean and tell us what he told the grand jury today,” McAuliffe says. Luskin claims that Rove has been informed he is not a target of the inquiry. [Time, 10/15/2004; New York Times, 10/16/2004; National Journal, 4/28/2006; Newsweek, 5/8/2006]
Names Libby - Rove informs the jury that he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from former White House official Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Almost a year later, the Washington Post will learn of Rove’s naming of Libby from “a source familiar with Rove’s account.” Days before Plame Wilson’s identity was publicly revealed (see July 14, 2003), Libby and Rove discussed conversations they had had with Cooper and other, unnamed reporters. Both Plame Wilson’s CIA identity and her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, were discussed, Rove tells the jury. He says that his conversations with Libby were confined to information the two men heard from reporters. He also says he heard about Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from “someone outside the White House,” but cannot recall that person’s identity. [Washington Post, 10/20/2005]
Claim of Memory Failure - Rove has claimed not to remember the conversation between himself and Cooper, but has recently found an e-mail he sent to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley confirming the conversation (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove and Luskin claim that Rove only recently found the e-mail and immediately turned it over to Fitzgerald’s investigators. They claim that Rove never intended to withhold evidence from the investigation. [New York Times, 11/4/2005]
Kerry Campaign Calls for Full Disclosure from White House - Joe Lockhart, the campaign spokesman for the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA), says: “With two weeks to go before the election, the American people are still in the dark about how it is that their White House leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative to the press, jeopardizing the life of this agent and possibly violating federal law. Instead of hiding behind the lawyers he so often likes to criticize, George Bush should direct Karl Rove and anyone else involved to go to the White House briefing room and come clean about their role in this insidious act.” [Salon, 10/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Terry McAuliffe, Stephen J. Hadley, Matthew Cooper, Robert Luskin, Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joe Lockhart, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

New York Times columnist William Safire accuses the Kerry-Edwards campaign of trying to use homophobia in its attempts to defeat the Bush-Cheney ticket. Safire notes that in a recent debate, vice-presidential candidate John Edwards “smarmily compliment[ed]” Vice President Dick Cheney and his family for their acceptance of their openly gay daughter, Mary Cheney. Though Safire acknowledges that Cheney has referred to his daughter as gay several times before, until Edwards’s comment, “only political junkies knew that a member of the Cheney family serving on the campaign staff was homosexual… the press—respecting family privacy—had properly not made it a big deal.” Safire says Edwards’s remark was planned and orchestrated by the Kerry campaign debate preparation team, and says that Kerry’s recent reference to the Cheneys’ “lesbian” daughter was a deliberate and “sleazy” attempt to foment anti-gay sentiment against the Republican ticket, particularly among Bush supporters. Safire notes that because of the Bush administration’s support for anti-gay legislation, the Kerry campaign has declared Mary Cheney “fair game” for bringing up the administration’s opposition to gay rights. Safire also says that the term “lesbian” is itself an anti-gay slur. [New York Times, 10/18/2004] Safire does not note the repeated denials by the Kerry campaign that any such orchestration took place, or that the campaign intends to do anything besides highlight the Bush presidency’s opposition to gay rights; some of those denials were reported by the Times itself. On October 16, Kerry said of Edwards’s comment: “It was meant as a very constructive comment, in a positive way. I respect their love for their daughter and I respect who she is, as they do.… I think it was a way of saying, ‘Look, she’s who she is.’ I have great respect for her, great respect for them. It was meant constructively in terms of their love and affection for a person who is who she is.” Kerry and his aides have repeatedly denied any such orchestration as Safire alleges. “There were dozens and dozens of hours about how to discuss Social Security, Iraq, and other issues,” says campaign strategist Joe Lockhart. “There was no discussion of this.” [New York Times, 10/16/2004] Knight Ridder has reported that a “senior Kerry adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity because the campaign didn’t want to fan publicity on this topic,” said that Kerry’s mention of Mary Cheney “was not a prepared riff.” Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog organization, notes that contrary to Safire’s assertions, many voters already knew that Mary Cheney was gay long before the debates. A search of a commercial news database shows 432 results for “Cheney” and “gay daughter.” Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz has written that the fact of Mary Cheney’s homosexuality is “hardly a state secret.” [Media Matters, 10/18/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Edwards, Joe Lockhart, Howard Kurtz, John Kerry, Media Matters, William Safire, Mary Cheney

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

Jonathan Martin and John F. Harris, writing for the online news outlet Politico, say that President Obama’s decision to present his “long form” birth certificate as proof of his US citizenship (see April 27, 2011) is a “decisive new turn in the centuries-long American history of political accusation and innuendo. By directly and coolly engaging a debate with his most fevered critics, Obama offered the most unmistakable validation ever to the idea that we are living in an era of public life with no referee—and no common understandings between fair and unfair, between relevant and trivial, or even between facts and fantasy.” The authors note that presidents have been pursued by “[l]urid conspiracy theories” for centuries. However, until now, those presidents have “benefited from a widespread consensus that some types of personal allegations had no place in public debate unless or until they received some imprimatur of legitimacy—from an official investigation, for instance, or from a detailed report by a major news organization.” That is no longer the case, they say (see April 27, 2011). Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “There are no more arbiters of truth. So whatever you can prove factually, somebody else can find something else and point to it with enough ferocity to get people to believe it. We’ve crossed some Rubicon into the unknown.” The writers note their difficulty in envisioning former President Clinton “coming out to the White House briefing room to present evidence showing why people who thought he helped plot the murder of aide Vincent Foster—never mind official rulings of suicide—were wrong” (see April 27, 2011), or former President George W. Bush giving a press conference denying allegations that “he knew about the Sept. 11 attacks ahead of time and chose to let them happen.” Obama’s choice to release the documentation and even to make a personal appearance to announce it are a powerful indication that the political dynamic has changed. Obama advisers explain that he made the decision to do so “because of the radical reordering of the political-media universe over the past 15 years, or so. The decline of traditional media and the rise of viral emails and partisan Web and cable TV platforms has meant the near-collapse of common facts, believed across the political spectrum.” Debunking the myth of Obama’s “foreign birth” means nothing to a large percentage of Americans who still remain unconvinced, or firmly believe the myth, the authors write. After trying to ignore it and mock it into irrelevance, they write, Obama “finally gave in and affirmed a new truth of politics in the Internet era: Nothing can be dismissed and anything that poses a political threat must be confronted directly.” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer says: “We’re dealing with a lot of the same things Clinton and frankly Bush dealt with, but we’re dealing with them at 1,000 times the speed and with fewer referees. That is the downside of the disaggregation of the media. If you don’t want to believe what someone is telling you, you can go somewhere else. If you believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the president is not American, you can go somewhere to find somebody to validate that.” Another Obama adviser, who remains anonymous, adds: “Clinton never had to deal with a fully formed Internet. [Conservative Web gossip Matt] Drudge’s power was born out of the revelations of 1998. A fully automated cable TV universe with the Internet is something that [Clinton] never had to deal with.” Clinton’s press secretary Joe Lockhart says: “You’ve lost the ability to starve a story to death. So what you have to do is raise the price of those who are making the charges. If Donald Trump is out there saying this, you’ve got to make him pay a price for throwing a bomb before too much collateral damage is done.… You literally can’t laugh anything off. There’s nothing neutral in politics. It’s either helping you or hurting you. You’ve got to make sure it’s helping you or you’re going to lose.” The authors note that politicians are learning to use this phenomenon to their own advantage. While Washington Republicans often bemoan the ascendancy of “fringe” pundits like Fox News’s Glenn Beck, the authors write, “they relish the way Beck and ideological confederates excite the GOP base, a contributing factor in the party’s strong performance in 2010.” The authors also point to Democrats’ willingness to allow “liberal commentators” to push for the truth behind George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the National Guard. The authors claim that the Obama team “enjoys giving the stage to the GOP’s most divisive voices,” noting that Gibbs and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel often called conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh “the de facto leader of the Republican Party.” Obama, and his successors, will have to do things previous presidents have never considered, from appearing on less “serious” talk shows such as those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman, or making appearances on networks such as the sports broadcaster ESPN. “It’s hard to see a president doing those things 10 or 20 years ago, but it’s become almost a requirement now,” Gibbs says. It is hard to know where to draw the line, Gibbs continues. “Does it become incumbent to prove everything wrong? You have to be very careful to not fall into that trap because you’ll spend all of your time and energy chasing your own tail.” Pfeiffer says most open-minded Americans will take the “long form” certificate as the evidence required to settle the issue: “There will be some segment of the population who will believe what they’re going to believe, regardless of anything else. But for the majority of the country, we have the capacity to correct the record and convince people of the truth. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but it’s possible.” Pfeiffer notes the “huge amount of time and energy” spent on dealing with the “birther” issue, time better spent, he says, on issues confronting the country. Former Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove says the Obama administration has attempted to use the “birther” controversy against Republicans: “The president himself has hoped Republicans would continue to talk about it, thereby damaging their own credibility. It was a useful diversion (see April 27, 2011). But take a look at recent polls. The problem was the view was taking hold among independents. He got worried it was about to spin out of control” (see April 27, 2011). Rove says Obama was attempting to “play rope-a-dope with Republicans,” a charge Pfeiffer denies (see April 28, 2011). “Up until a month ago, nobody really asked for the long form. It was fringe. It was a settled issue for 99 percent of the country.” Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer says: “It’s a terrible problem for the body politic. People like me who have been or are in the arena have an obligation to speak out against people in both parties who push untruths” (see January 25, 2001, January 25-27, 2001, and April 18, 2001). “The political discourse is much worse now, but that’s not always to the detriment of the so-called victim. In this case, President Obama came out looking better.” Lockhart agrees, saying: “Look at the rogue’s gallery of Clinton accusers. Most of them blew themselves up.” Lockhart acknowledges that for some, the issue will never be settled (see April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, and April 29, 2011). “They’ll probably ask for the first diaper. They’ll want to see the DNA.” [Politico, 4/28/2011]

Entity Tags: Joe Lockhart, Donald Trump, Dan Pfeiffer, Barack Obama, Ari Fleischer, Glenn Beck, Vince Foster, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Robert Gibbs, John F. Harris, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Matt Drudge, Rahm Emanuel, Rush Limbaugh, Jonathan Martin

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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