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The Business Council of Alabama (BCA), an organization made up of state Republicans and business figures, hires political consultant Karl Rove of Texas to help elect a slate of Republican candidates to the Alabama Supreme Court. Alabama’s Supreme Court has been comprised of Democrats for over a century. However, Rove worked to get a slate of Republicans elected to the Texas Supreme Court a few years ago, and the BCA feels he can do the same thing in Alabama. Of the four Republican candidates for the high court, the most important is retired Judge Perry O. Hooper, an icon among Alabama Republicans. He runs against Democratic incumbent Ernest “Sonny” Hornsby. Until now, judicial races in Alabama have been what Atlantic Monthly reporter Joshua Green will later call “low-key affairs,” with almost no campaigning and judicial candidates often just passing the seats from one to the next. Democrats often ran unopposed for the positions.
Statewide Campaign, 'Jackpot Justice' - Rove brings a harsh, confrontational strategy, characterizing Democrats as pawns of trial lawyers and telling voters tales of outrageous verdicts. Rove has Hooper and the other candidates focus on a single case, that of a wealthy Alabama doctor who sued the car manufacturer BMW after discovering that his new car had been damaged by acid rain before delivery and repainted, diminishing its resale value. The trial revealed that BMW had done this many times before, and rewarded the doctor with $4 million in punitive damages. Alabama Republican political consultant Bill Smith, trained by Rove, will later say: “It was the poster-child case of outrageous verdicts. Karl figured out the vocabulary on the BMW case and others like it that point out not just liberal behavior but outrageous decisions that make you mad as hell.” Hooper and the other judicial candidates campaign relentlessly throughout the state, harping on the case as an example of “jackpot justice” perpetuated by “wealthy personal-injury trial lawyers.” (Green will write that Rove coined those phrases and will use them effectively in other races and other areas.) Rove is also successful at convincing conservative Democrats to abandon their traditional support for Democratic candidates and vote for his Republican candidates. Rove also uses targeted, nuanced language to attract conservative voters. His candidates attack “liberal activist judges” and present themselves as “people who will strictly interpret the law and not rewrite it from the bench.” A Rove staffer will later explain that the term “activist judges” motivates all sorts of people for very different reasons. Green writes: “If you’re a religious conservative, he said, it means judges who established abortion rights or who interpret Massachusetts’s equal-protection clause as applying to gays. If you’re a business conservative, it means those who allow exorbitant jury awards. And in Alabama especially, the term conjures up those who forced integration.” The staffer continues, “The attraction of calling yourself a ‘strict constructionist’ [as Rove has his candidates label themselves] is that you can attract business conservatives, social conservatives, and moderates who simply want a reasonable standard of justice.”
'Dialing for Dollars' Television Ad - Rove highlights the fact that the Democratic justices routinely solicit campaign donations from trial lawyers, while downplaying the Republicans’ solicitations from business interests. He airs one particularly damaging “Dialing for Dollars” television ad, depicting a lawyer receiving an unwanted telephone solicitation from an actor portraying Hornsby. The ad implies that Hornsby will intervene on a case the lawyer has pending. The ad draws considerable attention and criticism, and is featured on NBC Nightly News. The campaign has the desired effect, and the race begins to tighten. Rove escalates, filling the airwaves with negative ads in the last two weeks of the campaign.
Recount, False Stories - When the results are tallied from the November 9 election, Hornsby wins the race for chief justice by an unofficial tally of 304 votes. Rove immediately calls for a recount. A former Rove staffer will later say: “Karl called the next morning. He said: ‘We came real close. You guys did a great job. But now we really need to rally around Perry Hooper. We’ve got a real good shot at this, but we need to win over the people of Alabama.‘… Our role was to try to keep people motivated about Perry Hooper’s election and then to undermine the other side’s support by casting them as liars, cheaters, stealers, immoral—all of that.” Rove successfully obtains the recount, and places campaign workers in each of the polling places to observe the counting, harass the election officials, and find evidence of “voter fraud.” Some legitimate errors are uncovered, such as a probate judge in one county erroneously excluding some 100 votes for Hooper, and voting machines in two other counties failing to tally all the votes. Rove spreads false stories throughout the state about poll watchers being threatened with arrest, probate judges locking themselves in their offices and refusing to meet with campaign workers, votes being cast in absentia on behalf of comatose nursing home patients, and Democrats caught in a cemetery writing down the names of dead people in order to cast votes for them by absentee ballot. On November 12, Hooper declares in a press conference, “We have endured lies in this campaign, but I’ll be damned if I will accept outright thievery.” By November 21, the unofficial tally has Hornsby ahead by only nine votes.
Absentee Ballots Challenged in Court - Hornsby’s campaign fights to include some 2,000 late-arriving absentee ballots that had been excluded, and the campaign goes public with the claim of a man who says his son, serving overseas in the military, is in danger of having his absentee ballot not counted. A Rove staffer will later say: “The last marching order we had from Karl was: ‘Make sure you continue to talk this up. The only way we’re going to be successful is if the Alabama public continues to care about it.’” Initially, a judge rules that the absentee ballots should be counted, and Hooper and Rove, knowing the absentee ballots will give Hornsby the votes he needs to win, take the case to federal court while Rove shellacks the state with advertisements accusing Hornsby of trying to steal the election. The Hooper campaign files lawsuits against each and every probate judge, circuit clerk, and sheriff in Alabama, alleging discrimination. The Alabama Supreme Court, stocked with Democrats, orders the absentee ballots to be counted, while the federal court continues to consider the matter.
Republican Declared Winner - In October 1995, a federal appeals court rules that the absentee ballots cannot be counted, and orders Alabama to certify Hooper as chief justice. Hornsby’s campaign appeals to the US Supreme Court, but the high court refuses to overturn the verdict. With the absentee ballots discarded, Hooper wins the vote tally by 262 votes. Hooper will later tell a reporter, “That Karl Rove was a very impressive fellow.” (Green 11/2004)
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)
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)
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).
After the 2000 Presidential Election, Bush’s White House political adviser, Karl Rove, tells neoconservative Michael Ledeen “Anytime you have a good idea, tell me.” From that point on, according to Ledeen, every month or six weeks, Ledeen offers Rove “something you should be thinking about.” On more than one occasion, ideas faxed to Rove by Ledeen, “become official policy or rhetoric,” the Post reports. (Edsall and Milbank 3/10/2003)
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)
Future 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow is not offered a job in the Bush administration, and returns to the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia to teach. Zelikow had worked on the transition team (see January 3, 2001), and thought he would receive an important position in the new administration. He told his friends he thought he was in line for the position of deputy national security adviser to Condoleezza Rice, with whom he had written a book in the mid-1990s (see 1995). Most people in the Bush administration admire his ability, but find him hard to work with. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card will even describe Zelikow as a “bully” historian. Author Philip Shenon will later comment that Zelikow is “perplexed that his talents had not been recognized by the people who handed out the best jobs in the Bush administration.” After returning to university, Zelikow will lobby the White House to make the university where he works the official repository of its oral history. His point of contact at the White House is political adviser Karl Rove. (Shenon 2008, pp. 42-44)
White House staffers are prohibited from using BlackBerry e-mail pagers, but this rule will hinder them on September 11, when phone systems suffer serious problems but BlackBerrys work normally. At some point after George W. Bush takes over as president (see January 20, 2001) but before September 11, the new administration makes “a judgment call… that people in the White House could not use a BlackBerry,” according to Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations. The BlackBerry is a handheld device used mainly for sending and receiving short e-mail messages. (Romero 9/20/2001; Schwartz 12/9/2008) The decision against using BlackBerrys is reportedly made for security reasons. “The security agencies had decided they were too vulnerable,” Hagin will later say. (Bentley 2/12/2009)
White House Staffers Have Trouble Communicating on 9/11 - However, on September 11, while BlackBerrys continue to work normally, many people will have difficulty making phone calls. (Romero 9/20/2001) White House staffers will be badly affected by the communication problems. Hagin will describe: “On September 11, 2001, when we had so much trouble in the executive branch communicating during the emergency, when commercial phones and cell phones went down to a large extent because the system overloaded, there was a lot of difficulty at the White House because the president was in Florida, I was in New York City, and everyone else was in Washington. With everyone spread so thinly, we had trouble figuring out who was okay, the status of things, and so on.” (Brenner 2/3/2009)
Rove Is the Only White House Staff Member with a BlackBerry - Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, will be the only member of the White House staff with a BlackBerry on September 11. Rove will write that, while he is traveling with the president on Air Force One that day, because all the phones are tied up, several other White House staff members “took turns using my BlackBerry to queue up e-mails to their families that would be sent when we passed over a cell network.” (Rove 2010, pp. 257-258; Wlkie 3/17/2010)
BlackBerrys Permitted after 9/11 - The White House will reverse its decision to prohibit BlackBerrys after September 11. According to Hagin, “In the weeks that followed [9/11], when talking to some of our friends on [Capitol Hill], we found that they had stayed in pretty good touch through BlackBerry technology.” Therefore, Hagin will say: “I made the decision that we couldn’t operate without [BlackBerrys]. We bought 200, then 400, and finally about 600.” (Schwartz 12/9/2008; Brenner 2/3/2009)
BlackBerry Works Well on 9/11 due to Simplicity of Its Network - The reason why, unlike phones, BlackBerrys work as usual on September 11, according to the New York Times, is that instead of relying on “cellular telephone systems or the local telephone network, which were damaged and inundated with traffic, the BlackBerry functions on a data system that held up remarkably well. The network not only escaped damage but also avoided bottlenecks because of its relative simplicity.” The BlackBerry network “in a way resembles the on-ramp of a freeway. It transmits data in small packets of information that can simply wait for a small amount of space on the system to be freed up to be sent or received.” (Romero 9/20/2001)
Sami al-Arian attends a meeting in the White House complex with President Bush’s adviser Karl Rove. Al-Arian is one of 160 members of the American Muslim Council who are briefed on political matters by Rove and others. Al-Arian had been under investigation for at least six years by this time, and numerous media accounts reported that US investigators suggested al-Arian had ties to US-designated terrorist groups. Yet al-Arian passes the Secret Service’s stringent security check, enabling him to attend the meeting. (Clemetson and Naughton 7/16/2001; Allen and Leiby 2/22/2003) “A law-enforcement official… [said] the Secret Service had flagged al-Arian as a potential terrorist prior to the event,” Newsweek later reports. “But White House aides, apparently reluctant to create an incident, let him through anyway.” (Isikoff 3/3/2003) In 2005, al-Arian will be found innocent of serious terrorism charges, but sentenced to almost three years in a US prison on lesser charges (see December 6, 2005). Abduraham Alamoudi is also at the meeting. US intelligence have suspected Alamoudi of ties to bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994). Rove and Bush met with Alamoudi in 1999 and 2000 as well (see 1999 and July 2000). Alamoudi will later be sentenced to 23 years in a US prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). (Allen and Leiby 2/22/2003)
The Free Congress Foundation (FCF), an influential organization headed by longtime conservative operator Paul Weyrich and patronized at its weekly lunches by Republican political operatives such as Karl Rove, (Carney and Dickerson 4/22/2001) issues a document entitled “The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement.” It is written by Eric Heubeck. The document is a matter-of-fact overview of the exact tactics that Rove, Weyrich, and the conservative movement will use to keep moderates and liberals out of office and off the media radar. Heubeck writes, in part, “We must, as Mr. Weyrich has suggested, develop a network of parallel cultural institutions existing side-by-side with the dominant leftist cultural institutions. The building and promotion of these institutions will require the development of a movement that will not merely reform the existing post-war conservative movement, but will in fact be forced to supersede it—if it is to succeed at all—because it will pursue a very different strategy and be premised on a very different view of its role in society….” Heubeck writes that the process will take place in three stages: developing a “highly motivated elite able to coordinate future activities,” developing “institutions designed to make an impact on the wider elite and a relatively small minority of the masses,” and transforming “the overall character of American popular culture….” Heubeck says the movement will be “entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity. All of our constructive energies will be dedicated to the creation of our own institutions…. We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left. We will not give them a moment’s rest. We will endeavor to prove that the Left does not deserve to hold sway over the heart and mind of a single American. We will offer constant reminders that there is an alternative, there is a better way. When people have had enough of the sickness and decay of today’s American culture, they will be embraced by and welcomed into the New Traditionalist movement. The rejection of the existing society by the people will thus be accomplished by pushing them and pulling them simultaneously. We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime…. We must create a countervailing force that is just as adept as the Left at intimidating people and institutions that are used as tools of left-wing activism but are not ideologically committed, such as Hollywood celebrities, multinational corporations, and university administrators. We must be feared, so that they will think twice before opening their mouths…. We will be results-oriented rather than good intentions-oriented. Making a good-faith effort and being ideologically sound will be less important than advancing the goals of the movement….” Heubeck says that television and video are the most “conducive to propagandistic purposes” of any media, “and our movement must learn to make use of this medium. A skillfully produced motion picture or television documentary has tremendous persuasive power…. Rational arguments simply do not have this power, and all arguments made in print tend to appeal to the rational, critical faculties of the mind to a greater or lesser degree….” He writes that the movement intends to present “all the examples of cultural decadence, irrationality and disingenuousness in public debate, combined with our commentary, selectively edited and arranged for maximum impact….” (Heubeck 7/13/2001) The FCF manifesto outlines a part of Rove’s overall strategy of retaining the White House, Congress, and the judicial branch for 2004, 2008, and beyond—which began in the same week that Bush took office in January 2001. (Carney and Dickerson 4/22/2001)
Sandy Kress, President Bush’s unpaid education adviser, meets with Bush in his hotel on Longboat Key, Florida, to brief him on their planned 9 a.m. visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in nearby Sarasota. With them are Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Kress goes over some key points for the talk Bush is due to give to the press after reading with the students at the school. However, Kress will later recall that the “president is a very punctual person,” and “I’ve never known him to be late.” Yet, “we finished the briefing on that fateful day, and we continued to talk for another ten minutes about people and politics in Texas. The time to leave came and passed.” Kress adds, “That struck me as unusual.” (Kessler 2004, pp. 136-137; Kress 9/10/2006) According to the official schedule, the president is supposed to leave the resort at 8:30 a.m. for the drive to the school. (Martin 7/4/2004) Yet, according to one account, he will not leave until as late as 8:39 (see (8:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/7/2002)
A number of key White House officials will later claim that, when they learn of the first crash at the World Trade Center, they initially think it is just an accident:
President Bush says that, when he learns of the crash while in Sarasota, Florida: “my first reaction was—as an old pilot—how could the guy have gotten so off course to hit the towers? What a terrible accident that is” (see (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 42)
White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who is with the president, says: “It was first reported to me… that it looked like it was a, a twin-engine pro—prop plane, and so the natural reaction was: ‘What a horrible accident. The pilot must have had a heart attack.’” (Card 9/11/2002)
Adviser Karl Rove, who is also with the president in Florida, is later questioned about his feelings after the first crash. When it is suggested, “I guess at that point, everyone is still thinking it is an accident,” Rove concurs, “Yes, absolutely.” (Rove 9/11/2002)
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, also traveling with the president on this day, says, “[W]hen only the first tower had been hit, it was all of our thoughts that this had been some type of terrible accident.” (CNN 9/11/2006)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is in her White House office, is informed of the crash by her executive assistant (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). She later recalls, “I thought, what a strange accident.” (O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002; Rice 9/11/2002)
White House counselor Karen Hughes receives a phone call informing her of the first crash as she is about to leave her Washington, DC, home. She later recalls, “they thought it was a small plane at the time… so, of course, my immediate thought was what a terrible accident.” (Hughes 9/11/2002; CNN 4/6/2004) She adds, “We all assumed it was some kind of weird accident; at that point terrorism didn’t occur to us.” (Hughes 2004, pp. 234)
The 9/11 Commission will later describe, “In the absence of information that the crash was anything other than an accident, the White House staff monitored the news as they went ahead with their regular schedules.” It will only be when they learn of the second tower being hit at 9:03 that “nearly everyone in the White House… immediately knew it was not an accident.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 35) However, when couterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is called some time after the first crash but before the second by Lisa Gordon-Hagerty—a member of his staff who is at the White House (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—she tells him, “Until we know what this is, Dick, we should assume the worst.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 1) And when CIA Director George Tenet learns of the first crash, reportedly he is told specifically, “The World Trade tower has been attacked,” and his initial reaction is, “This has bin Laden all over it” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 4)
White House officials and reporters who are traveling with President Bush in Florida learn that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center while they are being driven to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, but Bush is not notified about the crash at this time. (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Martin 7/4/2004; Keil 9/2004) A number of senior officials who are together in a van learn about the crash as their vehicle is pulling into the school’s driveway. Those in the van include White House press secretary Ari Fleischer; White House communications director Dan Bartlett; Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove; Bush’s CIA briefer, Mike Morell; and White House photographer Eric Draper. (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Fleischer 2005, pp. 138; Morell 9/2006 )
Press Secretary Is Contacted by an Assistant - Fleischer is alerted to the crash by Brian Bravo, an assistant in the White House press office. Bravo learned what happened when he was called by a friend in New York who had seen Flight 11 hitting the WTC, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and then saw the television coverage of the incident. In response, he sent a pager message to Fleischer, simply stating, “A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” (Fleischer 8/8/2002; Fleischer 2005, pp. 138; Graff 9/9/2016) After seeing the message, Fleischer exclaims: “Oh, my God! I don’t believe it! A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” (Krueger 9/10/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 17) He turns to Morell and asks the CIA officer if he knows anything about the incident. Morell says no and that he will make some calls to try and find out more. He will call the CIA’s operations center to see what people there know (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Morell 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 47-48)
Other Officials Receive Calls from the White House - Around the time Fleischer is alerted to the crash, Rove is called from the White House by his assistant, Susan Ralston, who tells him what happened at the WTC (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Lemann 9/25/2001; Regencia 2/2004) And Bartlett receives a call from his assistant at the White House, who tells him: “There’s just been an incredible accident or something. A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” (Bartlett 8/12/2002)
Military Officers Are Called about the Crash - In another vehicle in the motorcade, Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, receives a call from Rob Hargis, the senior duty officer in the Situation Room, alerting her to the crash. (Lance 8/17/2003; Bohn 8/29/2011; Priess 2016, pp. 239-240) Meanwhile, as his vehicle is arriving at the school, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer assigned to the White House, is contacted by his operations center, and notified that a plane has struck one of the Twin Towers and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice wants to talk on the phone with the president. (Bates 10/2002)
Members of the Press Are Alerted to the Crash - Members of the press traveling in the motorcade also learn about the crash during the journey to the school. Reporter Richard Keil is told what happened when he talks on the phone with a friend who has seen the coverage of the incident on television. Keil then passes on the news to the other reporters and photographers in the press van. And Kia Baskerville, a CBS News White House producer, receives a call on her cell phone from a producer who tells her about the crash. (Cosgrove-Mather 8/19/2002; Keil 9/2004)
President Is Not Told about the Crash - And yet, while these people are alerted to the crash, Bush reportedly is not called about it at this time and he will only be told what has happened after he arrives at the school (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Martin 7/4/2004; Rove 2010, pp. 249-250; Priess 2016, pp. 240) This is despite the fact that his limousine is “bristling with communications gear,” according to the Los Angeles Times. (Jones 1/24/2001) “In the presidential limo, the communications system is almost duplicative of the White House,” author Philip Melanson will note. (Martin 7/4/2004) “Yet despite having a secure STU-III phone next to him… and an entire national security staff at the White House,” author James Bamford will comment, “it appears that the president of the United States knew less than tens of millions of other people in every part of the country who were watching the attack as it unfolded.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 17) “It mystifies me why they didn’t call the president,” Robert Plunket, a reporter who is waiting for the president at the school, will remark. “He’s totally surrounded by state-of-the-art communications equipment and nobody tells him.” (Martin 7/4/2004)
Susan Ralston, an assistant to Karl Rove, President Bush’s senior adviser, calls Rove and alerts him to the plane crash at the World Trade Center, which leads Rove to become one of the first people to tell Bush about the incident. (Rove 2010, pp. 249-250; Bridgeland 2012, pp. 3) Rove is accompanying Bush on his visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 35) Ralston, as Rove’s executive assistant, is responsible for coordinating public events involving the president. Her office, on the second floor of the West Wing of the White House, maintains a secure and direct phone line to Rove and the president. (Regencia 2/2004) John Bridgeland, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, will later write that Ralston learned of the crash after a friend of his called his assistant, Britt Grant, at the White House and told her CNN was reporting that a plane had hit the WTC. Grant then called Ralston and passed on this information. Ralston now calls Rove with the news. (Bridgeland 2012, pp. 3)
Rove Learns of Crash Just after Arriving at School - Rove will recall that Ralston calls him “as the president had literally just gotten out of the car and was shaking hands” with people who are there to greet him outside the school. (Lemann 9/25/2001) Ralston, according to Rove, says that “a plane hit—struck—the World Trade Center and it was unclear whether it was a military, a commercial, whether it was a prop or a jet.” Rove then goes to tell Bush what has happened. (Rove 9/11/2002) He will write in his 2010 memoir that he walks over to Bush, who is “shaking hands with staff and teachers outside the school, and passed on the information.” In response, according to Rove, Bush “nodded, shot me a quizzical look, and said, ‘Get more details.’” “We both thought it an odd, tragic accident,” Rove will comment. (Rove 2010, pp. 249-250) But in an earlier account, Rove will say that after Ralston informs him of the crash, “I told [White House chief of staff] Andy Card, who proceeded to tell the president.” (Lemann 9/25/2001) Rove will state that he is “the first to tell [Bush] the news” (see (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rove 2010, pp. 250) Other accounts, however, will indicate that Bush first learns about the crash from Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 11/26/2001)
President Bush is told that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center for the first time by Karl Rove, his senior adviser, according to some accounts, although other accounts will state that he is first alerted to the crash by another member of his staff. Bush has just arrived at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, where he is going to attend a children’s reading event (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 41-42; Bush 2010, pp. 126; Rove 2010, pp. 249-250; Priess 2016, pp. 240; Graff 9/9/2016)
Rove Tells Bush about the Crash - During the drive to the school, several members of his staff were informed about the crash at the WTC (see (Between 8:48 a.m. and 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Lance 8/17/2003) Rove received a call alerting him to what had happened as he was arriving at the school (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will later recall that he then walks over to Bush, who is “with Secretary of Education Rod Paige, shaking hands with staff and teachers outside the school,” and tells him about the crash. (Lemann 9/25/2001; Rove 2010, pp. 249-250; Graff 9/9/2016) White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who arrived at the school around the time the president did, will give a similar account, writing that while Bush is shaking “hands with the teachers and staff who had lined up to greet him,” Rove “stepped beside the president and told him about the plane” hitting the WTC. (Fleischer 2005, pp. 138-139)
Bush Thinks the Crash Was 'a Terrible Accident' - Rove tells Bush the crash appears to have been an accident involving a small, twin-engine plane. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Bush nods his head, gives “a quizzical look,” and says, “Get more details,” Rove will describe. (Rove 2010, pp. 250) The president’s initial thoughts in response to the news are: “How could the [pilot] have gotten so off course to hit the towers? What a terrible accident that is.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 42; Sammon 10/7/2002) He says: “This is pilot error. It’s unbelievable that somebody would do this.” He confers with Andrew Card, his chief of staff, and says the plane’s pilot “must have had a heart attack.” (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
Someone Else First Gives Bush the News, Other Accounts Will State - Rove will claim that he “was the first to tell [Bush] the news” about the crash. (Rove 2010, pp. 250) However, according to other accounts, Bush is first told about the crash by some other member of the White House staff. For example, Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, director of the White House Situation Room, will say she was the first person to inform Bush about it, running up to his limousine and giving him the news as soon as he arrived at the school (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 11/26/2001; Lance 8/17/2003; Priess 2016, pp. 240) And in 2002, Bush will tell journalist and author Bill Sammon that he was first told about the crash by Card. He will say that as he was heading into the school, while Blake Gottesman, his personal aide, was giving him some final instructions in preparation for the reading event, Card said to him, “By the way, an aircraft flew into the World Trade Center.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 41-42; Sammon 10/7/2002) But on other occasions, Bush will state that he was first told about the crash by Rove. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 126) Bush is also told about the crash, after he arrives at the school, by Dan Bartlett, his communications director, according to some accounts. In response to the news, Bartlett will say, Bush asks, “Was it bad weather [that caused the crash]?” (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Draper 2007, pp. 135) After learning about the crash, Bush will go to a classroom from where he will talk on the phone with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is at the White House, and discuss what has happened with her (see (Shortly Before 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/7/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 126-127)
Vice President Dick Cheney is taken by the Secret Service from his White House office toward the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the East Wing of the White House around this time, according to some accounts, although other accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, will state that he is evacuated from his office about half an hour later. (Safire 9/13/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002; Clarke 2004, pp. 1-2; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40)
The Secret Service evacuates Cheney from his office “[j]ust after 9 a.m.,” according to ABC News. At this time, “two or three agents came in and told him, ‘Sir, you have to come with us.’” (ABC News 9/14/2002)
New York Times columnist William Safire will write, two days after 9/11, that Cheney is evacuated at 9:03 a.m., after he sees Flight 175 crashing into the World Trade Center live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “At that moment,” according to Safire, “his Secret Service detail grabbed him and hurried him down to [the] PEOC.” (Safire 9/13/2001)
Britain’s Daily Telegraph will report that at about 9:05 a.m., around the time when President Bush is informed of the second plane crash in New York (see (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001), “a squad of Secret Service agents stormed into the office of Vice President Dick Cheney,” seizes the vice president, and carries him down to the PEOC. (Langley 12/16/2001)
White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will indicate that Cheney is evacuated shortly after the second plane hits the WTC. Clarke will write that after he learns of the second attack, he briefly talks to Cheney in the vice president’s office (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). As he leaves the room, he notices Cheney gathering up his papers and then sees eight Secret Service agents in Cheney’s outer office, “ready to move to the PEOC.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 1-2)
President Bush’s personal secretary, Ashley Estes, will recall seeing Secret Service agents running down the hallway, carrying Cheney along, after she watches the second plane hit the WTC on television at 9:03 a.m. (Estes 8/29/2002)
Cheney will describe the urgency with which his Secret Service agents move him out of his office, recalling that they “came in and said, ‘Sir, we have to leave immediately,’ and grabbed me… and they hoisted me up and moved me very rapidly down the hallway, down some stairs, through some doors, and down some more stairs into an underground facility under the White House.” (Cheney 9/16/2001)
Some Accounts Consistent with Early Evacuation Time - Some accounts, while not specifically describing Cheney being hurried away from his office by the Secret Service, will be consistent with the vice president being evacuated around the time of the second attack in New York. White House adviser Karl Rove, who is with the president in Florida, will tell NBC News that when Bush tries phoning Cheney at around 9:16 a.m., he is unable to contact him because “the vice president was being… grabbed by a Secret Service agent and moved to the bunker” (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rove 9/11/2002) And Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta will say that when he arrives at the PEOC, between around 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m., Cheney is already there (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Mineta 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 5/23/2003; Mineta 6/3/2006) However, other accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, will state that Cheney is evacuated from his office a significant time after the second attack, at around 9:36 a.m. (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (United States Secret Service 11/17/2001 ; Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Gellman 2008, pp. 115)
Members of President Bush’s staff who are with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, are informed of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center but then have to find a television in order to see the coverage of it. (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Rove 2010, pp. 250; KFDI 12/11/2012) While Bush goes into a classroom to participate in a reading demonstration (see 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001), several members of his traveling staff stay in the “staff hold.” (Rove 2010, pp. 250) The staff hold, according to deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan, is “a private room set up as a quiet work space with secure and non-secure phones for us to use during a presidential visit.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 101) If you pick up one of the secure phones, Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, will later write, “someone with a quiet military voice answers, you make a request, and a moment or two later, you’re talking to anybody you want, anywhere in the world.” (Rove 2010, pp. 250) The staff hold, on this occasion, is next to the classroom where Bush is participating in the reading demonstration. (McClellan 2008, pp. 101)
Staffers Think the First Crash Was an Accident - Members of Bush’s staff who stay in the staff hold while Bush joins the reading demonstration include White House chief of staff Andrew Card, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, White House staff secretary Harriet Miers, and Rove. (Rove 2010, pp. 250) Also in the room, according to Rove, are Major Paul Montanus, one of the president’s military aides, and “the military doctor, the surgeon, and the surgical nurse with a full operating kit” who “stand ready to go to the aid of the president if he falls ill or is shot or somehow injured.” (KFDI 12/11/2012) These individuals are aware of the first crash at the WTC. “All of us are still trying to find out information about that, to confirm what our instincts were,” Bartlett will recall, “and our instincts were that this was a tragic accident.”
Staffers Learn about the Second Crash - After the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), the staffers quickly learn about the incident in calls to their cell phones or pager messages. “[Y]ou could see it, the rippling effect of people being informed about what was happening,” Bartlett will recall. However, he will say, “most of the tone was disbelief and not knowing what was going on.” Bartlett learns about the crash in a call from his assistant at the White House, who tells him, “You’re not going to believe this, Dan, but the other tower was hit.” Bartlett asks his assistant what she means and she says, “Another plane, another plane hit the other tower, World Trade Center.” (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Bartlett 8/12/2002) Rove learns about the crash when Susan Ralston, his executive assistant, calls him with the news. (Lemann 9/25/2001) Card, meanwhile, learns about it from Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, who is traveling with the president in Florida and is with Card in the staff hold (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (McGinn 3/16/2013; Priess 2016, pp. 240-241)
No Television Has Been Set Up in the Staff Hold - Unusually, a television has not been set up in the staff hold, so the staffers there are initially unable to see the coverage of the second attack. “Normally there’s a television in the staff hold,” Rove will comment. “But for some strange reason, this morning at Booker Elementary there was no television in there.” Rove therefore has to go out of the room, and run “up and down the hallways of the elementary school trying to find a television.” He eventually finds one in a classroom and then hurriedly rolls it into the staff hold. But he then has trouble connecting it to cable. The first socket he plugs it into doesn’t work. But after he plugs it into another socket, he gets a signal and the TV starts showing footage of the second crash. (KFDI 12/11/2012; Rove 9/3/2013) Around the same time, those in the staff hold make contact with their colleagues at the White House and work with them on coordinating a response to the attacks. (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Bartlett 8/12/2002)
Secret Service agents and other staffers with President Bush in Florida are worried about Bush’s safety while he is at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, and some of them are concerned that terrorists might try to attack the school. (Morell 9/2006 ; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush and his entourage arrived at the school, where the president is now attending a reading demonstration, shortly before 9:00 a.m. (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 41; Sammon 10/7/2002) Members of the president’s staff who are in a holding room at the school while Bush listens to the reading demonstration are promptly informed about the second hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center after the attack occurs (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Bartlett 8/12/2002) Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, who is at the school, will later comment that while details of the terrorist attacks in New York are “hazy,” it is clear that “unknown assailants [are] executing a well-planned attack, of unknown dimensions, against America.” (Rove 2010, pp. 251) Secret Service agents responsible for protecting the president therefore have serious concerns that Bush could be in danger at the school.
Secret Service Worries that Bush Could Be a Target - Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division, will recall that he and other agents at the school are worried that Bush could be targeted by the terrorists. They ask each other, “Is there any direction of interest towards the president… or is this just an attack on New York?” The Secret Service determines that the attacks “might be an effort to decapitate the government,” according to Rove. (Graff 9/9/2016) The belief of Bush’s agents is, “[T]he president’s whereabouts are known; somebody is going to be flying an airplane into the school,” Rove will say. (Herman 5/18/2013)
Lead Agent Wants to Leave the School 'as Fast as Possible' - Edward Marinzel, the head of Bush’s Secret Service detail, has “quite a worried look on his face,” Mike Morell, Bush’s CIA briefer, will recall. (Morell 9/2006 ) Marinzel “wanted to get the hell out of [the school] as fast as possible,” Morell will say. Representative Adam Putnam (R-FL), who is at the school, overhears Secret Service agents telling members of Bush’s staff, “We need to get [Bush] secure.” But before the president and his entourage leave the school, there is “angst from the Secret Service that we don’t know what’s out there,” according to Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff.
CIA Officer Is Worried about a Plane Crashing into the School - Other members of Bush’s entourage are concerned about the president’s vulnerability while he is at the school. There is “the fear of the unknown” among the president’s staff, according to Brian Montgomery, the White House’s director of advance. “We didn’t know if someone had put a biological agent or chemical agent at the school,” he will say. (Graff 9/9/2016) Morell is particularly worried that Bush could be the target of an attack. He will recall that he grows “increasingly concerned about [Bush’s] safety as well as the safety of others at the school” while Bush is in the holding room, where he goes after listening to the reading demonstration (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Morell 9/2006 ) “I was really worried that someone was going to fly a plane into that school,” Morell will say. (Graff 9/9/2016) He thinks about telling Marinzel of his concern, but decides not to, determining that Marinzel has probably already considered this scenario. (Morell 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 49)
Bush's Visit Is Public Knowledge - Bush’s plan to visit Sarasota today was publicly announced four days ago, on September 7 (see September 7, 2001). (White House 9/7/2001) “The fact that the president would be at Booker Elementary at this hour, on this day, had been public knowledge for days,” Morell will point out. (Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 49) The planned visit has been “big news” in Sarasota, according to journalist and author Mark Bowden. (Bowden 2012, pp. 3) Therefore, Morell will say, “anyone could have known about it.” (Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush Would Be Safer in His Limousine - Philip Melanson, an expert on the Secret Service, will note that at the current time, Bush would be “safer in that presidential limo, which is bombproof and blastproof and bulletproof.” (Martin 7/4/2004) And yet, apparently, no attempt is made to evacuate him from the school and move him to somewhere more secure for more than 30 minutes after the second hijacked plane crashed into the WTC, and it became obvious that America was under attack. Instead, Bush will only leave the school at around 9:35 a.m. (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)
The Secret Service allows President Bush to stay at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, after a reading demonstration he was participating in has ended, even though he could be in danger at the school. (Martin 7/4/2004; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush has just left the classroom where the reading demonstration was held and entered a holding room next to it. There, he talks on the phone with officials in Washington, DC, and works on a statement to the nation that he wants to deliver before leaving the school (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Members of his staff in the holding room apparently have little information about the terrorist attacks beyond what has been reported on television. They are in contact with the White House Situation Room but not the Pentagon and, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, “No one in the traveling party had any information during this time that other aircraft were hijacked or missing.” (Sammon 10/7/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39) All the same, Secret Service agents and other personnel with the president are concerned that Bush could be in danger at the school, and some of them are worried that terrorists might attack the place (see (9:04 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Morell 9/2006 ; Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush's Lead Agent Wants to Evacuate the President - Edward Marinzel, the head of Bush’s Secret Service detail, is “eager to get the president out of the school, to Air Force One, and airborne,” according to Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser. (Rove 2010, pp. 251) He therefore approaches Bush and tells him, “We need to get you to Air Force One and get you airborne.” (Graff 9/9/2016) However, his concern does not result in Bush being evacuated from the school right away. The Secret Service will later tell the 9/11 Commission that although its agents “were anxious to move the president to a safer location” while he was in the holding room, they “did not think it imperative for him to run out the door.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)
Chief of Staff Wants Bush to Give His Speech before Leaving - Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, suggests that Bush should be allowed to give his speech to the nation from the school before leaving. He says that “we have a whole auditorium full, waiting for the next event”—meaning Bush’s speech—and there is “no imminent threat there in Sarasota,” according to Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division. The Secret Service therefore accepts a compromise and agrees that Bush can give his speech before leaving. (Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush Should Be Taken to the 'Closest Secure Location' - Author Philip Melanson, an expert on the Secret Service, will criticize Bush’s Secret Service detail for failing to get the president away from the school immediately after the second hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “With an unfolding terrorist attack, the procedure should have been to get the president to the closest secure location as quickly as possible, which clearly is not a school,” he will state. (Martin 7/4/2004) Bush himself will comment on the situation while he is in the holding room, saying, “One thing for certain: I needed to get out of where I was.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 93)
Bush Refuses to Leave - And yet the president refuses to leave the school at this time when he is urged to do so, according to Frank Brogan, lieutenant governor of Florida, who is in the holding room with him. “The Secret Service tried to get the president to return to Air Force One immediately,” Brogan will state, “but he refused, saying he was committed to staying on the ground long enough to write a statement about what was happening, read it to the nation, and lead a moment of silence for the victims.” (Frost 9/18/2003) Bush “was courageously insistent about remaining on the ground to make a statement to the people of America,” Brogan will comment. (Stein 9/11/2011) Bush will give his speech to the nation, which will be broadcast live on television, from the school library at 9:30 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (White House 9/11/2001; Bohn 2015, pp. 215) He will finally leave the school at around 9:35 a.m. (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)
After leaving the Booker Elementary School classroom, President Bush returns to an adjacent holding room where he is briefed by his staff, and gets his first look at the footage of the burning World Trade Center on a television that has been set up there. He instructs his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, to take notes to create an accurate accounting of events. According to some accounts, he speaks on the phone with Vice President Dick Cheney who is at the White House, and they both agree that terrorists are probably behind the attacks. (Sammon 2002, pp. 92-93; Churcher 9/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) But White House adviser Karl Rove, who is also in the holding room, will later tell NBC News that Bush is unable to reach Cheney because the vice president is being moved from his office to the White House bunker at this time. (Rove 9/11/2002) The president speaks with New York Governor George Pataki and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Bush learns from Mueller that the planes that hit the WTC were commercial American aircraft, and at least one of them had apparently been hijacked after leaving Boston. According to some accounts, Bush also speaks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice around this time. However, Rice herself will later suggest otherwise (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 93-94; Churcher 9/8/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Fleischer and White House communications director Dan Bartlett quickly draft a statement for the president to deliver in the school’s library, which Bush rewords, scribbling three sheets of notes. Bush will deliver this at 9:30 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). While he works on the statement, Bush briefly glances at the unfolding horror on the television. Turning to his aides in the room, he declares, “We’re at war.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 94; Krueger 9/10/2002) According to the 9/11 Commission, the focus at the present time is on the president’s statement to the nation, and the only decision made by Bush’s traveling party is to return to Washington. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Bush will later claim that he makes no major decisions in response to the crisis until after Air Force One takes off at around 9:55 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
President Bush learns that the Pentagon has been attacked while he is being driven to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, during a phone call with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39; Bush 2010, pp. 128) Bush and his entourage left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be taken to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004) As the president’s limousine is speeding toward the airport, Bush and Andrew Card, his chief of staff, talk on the phone with colleagues at the White House. (Card 8/16/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002) In a call with Rice, Bush is told that there has been a third plane crash, this one at the Pentagon. (Bush 2010, pp. 128) The attack took place at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10) Rice, who is in the White House Situation Room, learned about it when she saw it being reported on television. (Rice 10/24/2001; O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002)
Bush Appears 'Preternaturally Calm' - After Rice tells him about the attack, Bush “sat back in my seat and absorbed her words,” he will later recall. “My thoughts clarified,” he will write, adding: “The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war.” In response to the news, he will recall, his “blood [is] boiling” and he thinks, “We [are] going to find out who did this and kick their ass.” (Bush 2010, pp. 128) Bush, though, is able to maintain his composure, according to Karl Rove, his senior adviser, who is with him in the limousine. “I was aghast at the news [of the attack on the Pentagon] and probably seemed anxious,” Rove will comment, but “he seemed preternaturally calm.” (Rove 2010, pp. 252)
Accounts Will Conflict over Who Makes the Call - Bush will claim that he makes the call to Rice. (Bush 2010, pp. 128) Rice, though, will say that she makes it (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/1/2002 ; Rice 9/11/2002; Sanger 9/11/2002) Bush will also state that he talks to Rice using the secure phone in his limousine. (Bush 2010, pp. 128) However, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the secure telephone lines are currently down and so he has to contact Washington, DC, using a borrowed cell phone (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006)
President Bush and his entourage arrive at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, where Air Force One is waiting, and Bush hurriedly gets onto his plane. (BBC 9/1/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Bush left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be driven to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004)
Limousine Stops Right by Air Force One - His limousine now speeds past the airport’s main entrance, goes north, and veers down a tiny road leading to the airport, ignoring a sign that states, “No Airport Access.” It then passes through a small, unmarked gate in a chain-link fence and races across the tarmac toward Air Force One. It swings around the plane’s tail and stops behind the left wing. (Sammon 2002, pp. 98-99) The motorcade arrives at the airport between 9:42 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, Bush’s limousine reaches the airport at 9:43 a.m. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Sammon 10/8/2002)
Plane's Engines Are Already Running - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, started two of the plane’s four engines while Bush was on his way to the airport. White House chief of staff Andrew Card will later comment that he is “struck that the engines on Air Force One [are] running” when the motorcade reaches the airport, since this is “normally a protocol no-no.” (Tillman 9/11/2011; Graff 9/9/2016) “Usually you don’t start the engine until the president is already on the plane,” he will say. (BBC 9/9/2011)
President Usually Takes His Time Saying Goodbye - Normally, when his motorcade arrives at Air Force One, the president “emerges from the limo, waves to the crowd behind barricades, thanks hosts who have accompanied him, and shakes hands with the airport personnel and guests who’ve come to see him off,” Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, will write. The president then “walks alone up the steps to Air Force One at a leisurely pace, stopping to wave again to the people on the tarmac.” The other people in the motorcade usually only start to get on board once he is on the plane. (Rove 2010, pp. 252)
Bush Hurries up the Stairs onto Air Force One - Today, though, the Secret Service wants to get the president onto Air Force One as quickly as possible. (Graff 9/9/2016) Bush therefore walks briskly up the long mobile staircase behind the left wing. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Walsh 2003, pp. 207) He is “just trucking up the stairs” without his usual “Texas swagger,” Tillman will describe. (Graff 9/9/2016) He does find time, however, to pause at the doorway to wave to photographers before entering the plane. (Martin 7/4/2004) Once he is on board, he goes to his private cabin near the front of the aircraft. A Secret Service agent tells him, “Mr. President, we need you to get seated as soon as possible.” Bush then straps himself in, ready for takeoff. (Woodward 2002, pp. 16)
Chief of Staff Is Frustrated by the Passengers Delaying Takeoff - Meanwhile, everyone who is traveling on Air Force One apart from Bush and his senior staff boards the plane through its back stairs. But before doing so they are subjected to a strict security check (see (9:45 a.m.-9:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Graff 9/9/2016) Card becomes frustrated that takeoff is being delayed due to the time it takes to get so many passengers onto the plane. (Card 8/16/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002) Air Force One will take off unusually quickly once all the passengers are on board. (Keil 9/2004; Graff 9/9/2016) It usually takes another 15 minutes after everyone has boarded for the passengers to get seated, the doors to be closed, and the engines to power up, according to Rove. (Rove 2010, pp. 252) But today Air Force One will take off about 10 minutes after Bush’s motorcade reaches the airport, at around 9:55 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)
Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is warned about an unidentified man, possibly carrying a gun, who is standing at the end of the runway at the airport in Sarasota, Florida, as he is preparing to take off with President Bush on the plane. (Shawn 9/6/2011; Tillman 2/29/2012 ) Bush arrived at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport after being driven away from the Emma E. Booker Elementary School and is now on Air Force One (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 98-99; Martin 7/4/2004) While the plane’s crew members were waiting for him to arrive, they were told there was “great potential that we are going to be under attack sitting on the ramp” and they received “reports of unidentified people all around the airport,” according to Tillman (see (9:04 a.m.-9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tillman 9/11/2011)
Secret Service Alerts Pilot to Man Carrying a 'Long Gun' - Now, as Air Force One is taxiing out for takeoff, Tillman receives a warning from the Secret Service about an unidentified man who is standing by the fence at the end of the runway and carrying some type of device. The Secret Service “didn’t know what the gentleman had, but he had something in his hand; they thought it might have been a long gun,” Tillman will later recall. (Shawn 9/6/2011) “It is almost impossible to defend against a long gun if he’s going to shoot me on the ground,” Tillman will note. He is told that “shooters have [the unidentified man] in sight” and “will take him down if he moves.” He is instructed, “[P]lease, do not taxi by him and take off,” even though the direction of the prevailing wind would normally lead to the plane going by the man while taking off. (Tillman 2/29/2012 ) Tillman therefore has to launch in the opposite direction, with a tail wind, in order to stay away from the man. (McMillin 11/13/2012)
Plane Takes Off 'Like a Rocket' - Air Force One will take off at about 9:54 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Tillman will climb the plane steeply. This, he will say, is “what we needed to do to make sure that [the man] didn’t have a correct line of sight to fire at the aircraft.” (Peter Schnall 1/25/2009) “I start hauling down the runway,” he will describe. “Pull back, went up at about 8,000 feet per minute, and just put the plane on its tail, rolled it off towards the Gulf of Mexico, because I didn’t want the shooter to get us.” (Tillman 2/29/2012 ) White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who is on Air Force One, will note that the plane takes off “like a rocket.” He will recall that “for a good 10 minutes, the plane was going almost straight up.” (Bartlett 8/12/2002) White House adviser Karl Rove, who is also on Air Force One, will comment that he has not previously “been in a jet at such a steep incline.” He will also say the Secret Service is “concerned about the possibility of terrorists with shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles” and it therefore wants the plane “out of range quickly.” (Rove 2010, pp. 252-253)
Suspicious Man Found to Be Not a Threat - The fear over the unidentified man at the end of the runway will turn out to be unfounded. The man, according to Tillman, is just someone who has come to the airport with his children to see Air Force One leaving Sarasota, and the device he is carrying is just a video camera. (Tillman 2/29/2012 ; McMillin 11/13/2012)
In a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney, President Bush authorizes the military to shoot down hostile aircraft. Minutes earlier, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, a military aide had asked Cheney for the authority to engage what appeared to be an inbound aircraft, and Cheney had promptly given it (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During a subsequent quiet moment, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, who is also in the PEOC, suggested to Cheney that he contact the president to confirm the engage order. Therefore at 10:18 a.m., according to White House logs, Cheney calls Bush, who is on board Air Force One, and speaks with him for two minutes. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer notes that at 10:20 a.m., Bush informs him that he has authorized the shootdown of aircraft, if necessary. According to the 9/11 Commission, “Fleischer’s 10:20 note is the first mention of shootdown authority.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41 and 465) Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, who is also on Air Force One, gives a similar account, later telling NBC News that “at about 10:20,” Bush goes from his office into the private cabin in front of it, “and took a phone call, and came back in and said that he had talked to the vice president and to the secretary of defense and gave the authorization that [the] military could shoot down any planes not under control of their crews that were gearing critical targets.” (Rove 9/11/2002) But other accounts indicate the president gives the shootdown authorization earlier than this. Bush and Cheney will claim that Bush gives the authorization during a call estimated to occur between about 10:00 and 10:15 (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) Similarly, according to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, Bush gives it in a call with Cheney soon after 9:56, when Air Force One takes off (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 102; Woodward 2002, pp. 17-18; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says it is given even earlier. He states that, at some point between about 9:38 and 9:56, he is instructed to tell the Pentagon it has authorization from the president to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Koppel 11/29/2003; Clarke 2004, pp. 8)
President Bush, who is on Air Force One, is informed that his wife, Laura Bush, and his daughters, Jenna and Barbara, have been moved to safe locations. When he got on Air Force One in Sarasota, Florida, Bush was concerned about the safety of his wife and daughters, and requested additional protection for them (see (9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). At that time, the first lady was on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC (see 9:16 a.m.-9:40 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:41 a.m. September 11, 2001). Barbara and Jenna Bush are students at Yale and the University of Texas, respectively. (Lemann 9/25/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 100, 108)
President Told Wife and Daughters Are Safe - Edward Marinzel, the head of Bush’s Secret Service detail, who is with the president on Air Force One, has been contacted by Secret Service Director Brian Stafford, and told that the first lady and the president’s daughters have all been safely relocated. (United States Secret Service 2001) This news is now passed on to the president by Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff. Card tells Bush that the first lady is “in a secure location with the Secret Service and that his daughters had been removed to safer locations,” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will later write. (Woodward 2002, pp. 18) The first lady is taken to the Secret Service headquarters, in Washington (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 200-201) Barbara and Jenna Bush are taken to the Secret Service office in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas, respectively (see 10:51 a.m.-10:57 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 17)
President Given Phone Number for First Lady - Bush then asks Card, jokingly, about Barney, his Scottish terrier. Card replies, “He’s nipping at the heels of Osama bin Laden now.” (Lemann 9/25/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 108) Bush also requests, and is provided with, a direct contact telephone number for the first lady. (United States Secret Service 2001) But according to the president’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, who is on Air Force One at this time, the news that his wife and daughters have been secured “reassured the president and allowed him to put off calling Laura until later in the morning, when events provided a brief window to do so.” (Rove 2010, pp. 258) It will be nearly 11:45 a.m. before Bush is able to talk to the first lady (see (Shortly Before 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 132)
Two congressmen, Dan Miller (R-FL) and Adam Putnam (R-FL), are on Air Force One. They have been receiving periodic updates on the crisis from President Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove. At this time, they are summoned forward to meet with the president. Bush points out the fighter escort, F-16s from a base in Texas, has now arrived. He says that a threat had been received from someone who knew the plane’s code name. However, there are doubts that any such threat ever occurred (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Martin 7/4/2004)
Local media outlets report the arrival of Air Force One, with President Bush on board, at Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), even though the president’s location is meant to be a secret. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Rove 2010, pp. 258) White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has given instructions to the pool of reporters on Air Force One to prevent them revealing the president’s whereabouts. He told the reporters they could only say they were at “an unidentified location in the United States.” He also told them to refrain from using their cell phones, and to not even turn their phones on, because the signals from them might allow someone to identify their location. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Tapper 9/12/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 110) Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, who is traveling on Air Force One, will later recall, “The president’s whereabouts were a closely guarded secret, or at least we thought so.” However, Rove will describe, “Watching local Shreveport television on the final approach to Barksdale, we saw our plane appear, preparing to touch down with fighter escorts covering us.” Why a television crew is at Barksdale Air Force Base, and therefore able to film Air Force One landing there, is unclear. (Rove 2010, pp. 258) Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, who is traveling with the president on Air Force One, will suggest that the media “perhaps intercepted a message—whether it be by land line or whether it be by two-way radio on the ground—that we were on our way.” (White House 8/29/2002) According to Rove, “An enterprising local TV news director had stationed a camera just off the base on the flight path.” Consequently, “Everyone now knew where the president was.” The Secret Service is alarmed, but, Rove will comment, “[I]t didn’t seem likely there was a terrorist cell operating in northwest Louisiana and armed with surface-to-air missiles.” (Rove 2010, pp. 258) Shortly before Bush records a statement at the base, to be broadcast on television (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001), Air Force personnel will inform the reporters traveling with the president that media outlets have reported that Air Force One has landed at Barksdale. The traveling White House staff will then rescind the instruction that the reporters cannot reveal their location. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Tapper 9/12/2001)
President Bush is provided with a high level of security when he gets off Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana, and is promptly driven to a conference center on the base from where he makes a brief phone call. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Newseum et al. 2002, pp. 164; Rove 2010, pp. 258-259) Air Force One landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. and was immediately surrounded by Air Force personnel in full combat gear, with their rifles drawn (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Martin 7/4/2004) Bush remained on board while a retractable set of stairs was lowered for him to leave the plane by.
Reporters Updated on President's Actions - A dark blue Dodge Caravan now pulls up next to these stairs, and a Secret Service agent and two Air Force officers take positions at the bottom of the stairs. The Dodge then pulls away, perhaps 40 feet back from the plane, and is swept inside and outside with dogs. Some members of the president’s staff come down the stairs from the plane. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer approaches the pool of reporters who have been traveling on Air Force One and who are waiting under the plane’s left wing for the president to disembark. Fleischer gives them a brief update on the president’s actions during the flight and adds: “You will see [the president] disembark here shortly. He will head inside and that’s all I’m going to indicate at this moment. You will have additional information shortly.” Fleischer then answers several questions from the reporters.
President Gets off Plane and into Minivan - Bush then descends from Air Force One. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 111) The Shreveport Secret Service office has been mobilized to oversee security arrangements while the president is at Barksdale. However, there is no presidential limousine waiting to drive Bush away from the plane. (Rove 2010, pp. 258) Normally the president’s armored limousine would be flown in ahead of time on a military transport plane, but there has been no time to get it to Barksdale. (Sammon 2002, pp. 112) Bush instead gets into the Dodge Caravan, which is being guarded by a Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun on top. (Rove 2010, pp. 258) White House chief of staff Andrew Card gets in with him. The media and some of Bush’s staff, including his senior adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett, get into an Air Force minibus. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112)
Bush Taken to Conference Center on Base - The Dodge then drives off at high speed. Bush will later recall that it “blasted off down the runway at what felt like 80 miles an hour. When the man behind the wheel started taking turns at that speed, I yelled, ‘Slow down, son, there are no terrorists on this base!’” (Bush 2010, pp. 132) The Humvee pulls out behind the Dodge, and the airman manning the machine gun on top cocks his weapon and puts a live round in the chamber. The minibus carrying the reporters follows moments later. (Rove 2010, pp. 258-259) The small motorcade drives to the Dougherty Conference Center, a two-story building on the base. At the stroke of noon, Bush and his aides enter the building. A car blocks the driveway and several armed soldiers stand guard while the president is inside. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112)
Bush Speaks to Vice President - Bush and his aides are met by Colonel Curtis Bedke, the commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing, and Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, apparently as they are entering the conference center. (2d Bomb Wing 6/30/2002 ; Freeman 10/2006 ) Inside, Bush picks up a telephone and speaks briefly with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. (Sammon 2002, pp. 112) Bush tells Keck he needs to get to a secure phone. Keck says there is one in his office, but this is in a different building on the base. (Freeman 10/2006 ) The pool of reporters waits in the parking lot outside the conference center for about 10 minutes while the president is inside. Bush and his staff finally come out at 12:11 p.m., to be taken to the 8th Air Force headquarters building (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112)
President Bush is taken to the headquarters of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, from where he calls government officials in New York and Washington, DC, prepares and records a speech to the nation, and watches television coverage of the terrorist attacks. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Associated Press 10/2/2001; Freeman 10/2006 ) After landing at Barksdale (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), Bush was initially driven to a conference center on the base, where he made a brief phone call (see (11:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Newseum et al. 2002, pp. 164)
Bush Is Driven to the 8th Air Force Headquarters - Bush emerges from there at 12:11 p.m. accompanied by his senior adviser, Karl Rove, his chief of staff, Andrew Card, his military aide, some other aides, and several Secret Service agents. (Sammon 2002, pp. 112; Freeman 10/2006 ) He is then driven to “Building 245” on the base—the headquarters of the 8th Air Force—in a small motorcade that also includes the pool of reporters who have been traveling with him on Air Force One. Inside the building, they all can see a sheet of paper that has been taped to a door, with words written in large black type, “Defcon Delta”—the highest possible state of military alert. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112) Bush and his staff go to the office of Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, where they get to work responding to the attacks. (Freeman 10/2006 )
Bush Prepares a Speech to the Nation - Bush and Card together draft a speech to the nation that the president is going to record at the base, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) However, according to journalist and author Bill Sammon, the speech is drafted by Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, who is with the president at Barksdale, and edited by White House counselor Karen Hughes, who is back in Washington. (Sammon 2002, pp. 113) Once the speech is ready, Keck escorts Bush to the building’s conference room to be filmed delivering it. (Freeman 10/2006 ) The reporters traveling on Air Force One go to the conference room after entering the 8th Air Force headquarters building and are there when Bush records his speech at 12:36 p.m. (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001)
Bush Watches TV, Makes Phone Calls - Bush watches the latest developments on a television in Keck’s office. After recording his speech, he sees the footage, shown on CNN, of the World Trade Center towers collapsing for the first time, according to Keck. He then tells Keck, “I don’t know who this is, but we’re going to find out and we’re going to go after them, and we’re not just going to slap them on the wrist.” Keck replies, “We’re with you.” There is a secure phone in Keck’s office, and, while he is at the base, Bush uses it to talk with Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House (see (12:11 p.m.-1:25 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon (see 1:02 p.m. September 11, 2001), and Hughes. He also talks over the secure phone with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, New York Governor George Pataki, and New York Senator Charles Schumer.
Bush Is Informed of the Intelligence about the Attacks - Keck remains at Bush’s side for the entire time the president is in the 8th Air Force headquarters building. He works intently, monitoring base security and keeping up to date with the latest information from the 8th Air Force Command. He and his team keep Bush and his aides informed about the intelligence coming in via Air Force channels about the morning’s attacks and ongoing events. After nearly two hours at Barksdale, Bush and his entourage prepare to leave the base. Keck will accompany the president as he is driven back to Air Force One. (Associated Press 10/2/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; Freeman 10/2006 ; Graff 9/9/2016)
President Bush delivers a short speech to the nation in a windowless conference room at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, which is recorded and will be broadcast on television about half an hour later. (Gibbs 9/14/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 113-117) Since arriving at Barksdale (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), Bush has been spending time in the office of Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Freeman 10/2006 ) Bush will later recall that by 12:30 p.m., “it had been almost three hours since I had spoken to the country” (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) and he is “worried people would get the impression that the government was disengaged.” (Bush 2010, pp. 133)
Bush Taken to Conference Room to Record Statement - A short statement to the nation has therefore been prepared for Bush to deliver. Keck escorts the president from his office to the conference room in the 8th Air Force headquarters building to record it. Bush is also accompanied to the room by his chief of staff, Andrew Card, his senior adviser, Karl Rove, his communications director, Dan Bartlett, his press secretary Ari Fleischer, and several Secret Service agents. (Sammon 2002, pp. 113; Freeman 10/2006 ) A hurried attempt has been made to prepare the room for the president’s speech. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) Airmen have arranged three US flags behind the wooden lectern behind which Bush will speak, and have tried to add some lighting to brighten up the dark room. The reporters who have been traveling with the president on Air Force One went to the conference room after entering the 8th Air Force headquarters building, and are assembled there when Bush comes in. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Freeman 10/2006 )
Tape of Speech Taken to Satellite Truck to Be Broadcast - Bush delivers his 219-word speech in precisely two minutes. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 19) After doing so, he leaves the room without acknowledging, or taking any questions from, the reporters in the room. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Newseum et al. 2002, pp. 165) Keck, who stays to watch Bush deliver the speech, then escorts the president back to his office. (Freeman 10/2006 ) Master Sergeant Rich Del Haya, the officer in charge of the 8th Air Force public affairs office, is then called to the 8th Air Force headquarters building to collect the videotape of the speech. He runs out of the building with it, accompanied by a CBS network producer and reporter, and drives toward the base’s far north entrance. Gate officials contact a state trooper outside the base, who escorts the three to a satellite truck of the local CBS affiliate. (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) The recording of the president’s speech will be broadcast from the satellite truck at 1:04 p.m. (see 1:04 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 117)
Air Force One takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to fly President Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. While Bush has been at Barksdale, base personnel have refueled Air Force One and restocked it with provisions for its continuing journey, on the basis that it may have to serve as the president’s flying command center for the foreseeable future. (Associated Press 10/2/2001; 2d Bomb Wing 6/30/2002 ; BBC 9/1/2002)
Reduced Number of Passengers on Board - For security reasons, the number of people traveling on Air Force One has been reduced (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Fleischer 2005, pp. 145-146) Those continuing with the president include Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, his communications director Dan Bartlett, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, and assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe. The number of Secret Service agents accompanying the president has been reduced, as has the number of reporters. The five remaining journalists are Ann Compton of ABC Radio, Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, Associated Press photographer Doug Mills, and a CBS cameraman and sound technician. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Ross 9/12/2001)
President Given Thumbs-up by Airmen - Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, has been at Bush’s side for most of his time at Barksdale, and accompanies the president as he is being driven across the base to Air Force One. The president passes a row of B-52 bombers and is given a thumbs-up by the planes’ crew members. Keck explains to Bush that this means the troops “are trained, they’re ready, and they’ll do whatever you want them to.” Military police salute and other Air Force crew members cheer the president as he passes them. (Freeman 10/2006 )
Fighter Escort Rejoins Air Force One - Air Force One is being guarded by soldiers with their guns drawn when Bush reaches it, and a pack of military dogs is patrolling the tarmac. (Sammon 2002, pp. 117-118) After the plane takes off, two F-16 fighter jets pull up alongside it to provide an escort. (Freeman 10/2006 ) These are presumably the same fighters, belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard, that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 87; Bombardier 9/8/2006 )
Destination Chosen Due to 'Continuity of Government' Plan - Bush’s destination, Offutt Air Force Base, is home to the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls the nation’s nuclear weapons. (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 19) Bush will later say the decision to head there was based on Offutt’s “secure housing space and reliable communications.” (Bush 2010, pp. 133) The base’s secure teleconferencing equipment will allow the president to conduct a meeting of his National Security Council later in the afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 119; Woodward 2002, pp. 19, 26) According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Offutt has been chosen as the president’s next destination “because of its elaborate command and control facilities, and because it could accommodate overnight lodging for 50 persons. The Secret Service wanted a place where the president could spend several days, if necessary.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) But according to White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the decision to head to Offutt instead of back to Washington, DC, was due to a plan called “Continuity of Government.” This program, which dates back to the Reagan administration, originally planned to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. It was activated for the first time shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kurtz 4/7/2004; ABC News 4/25/2004)
President Bush gets off Air Force One and is taken to a command center several stories underground at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Bamford 2004, pp. 89) At 2:50 p.m., the president’s plane landed at Offutt, home of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls America’s nuclear weapons (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326) About 10 minutes later, Bush emerges from the plane. (Tapper 9/12/2001) Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, along with a driver and a Secret Service agent, has come in a car to meet Air Force One on the runway. After getting off the plane, Bush gets into the back of the car with Mies. (Sammon 2002, pp. 121; Kelly 12/27/2011; Graff 9/9/2016) His staffers, meanwhile, get onto buses. (Morell 9/2006 ) The vehicles are driven away from the plane and across the large base. (Sammon 2002, pp. 121)
Bush Goes to the Underground Command Center - Bush and his staffers are then taken to Stratcom’s underground command center. (Kohn 9/2/2003) They are taken by Mies through the center’s fire escape in order to reach it. (Kelly 12/27/2011; Liewer 9/9/2016) They are driven to a small, concrete building, resembling a hut, go through a door in it, and then head down a staircase. (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Fleischer 2005, pp. 147-148) “We went down and down and down, pretty far underground,” Brian Montgomery, the White House’s director of advance, will later recall. (Graff 9/9/2016) “It’s a long way down,” Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, will describe, “and then you emerge and go through a series of hallways and special doors, blast doors… and then you enter into a conference center, which is… several stories underground.” (ABC News 9/11/2002)
Exercise Means Extra People Are in the Command Center - The command center, according to author James Bamford, is “a cavernous two-story war room with banks of dark wooden desks curved away from a giant projection screen on which [is] displayed the status of military forces around the world.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 89) Eight giant video screens are loaded with data and numerous military personnel are seated at computer terminals that are hooked into satellites monitoring activities around the world. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002) Stratcom was in the middle of a major training exercise, called Global Guardian, when the attacks began this morning (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001) and consequently many more people are in the command center than would normally be there.
Bush Is Briefed on the Attacks - When Bush enters, Rear Admiral Jay Donnelly, the operations officer in the center, announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president.” Everyone comes to attention. Bush then tells them to sit down. Mies gives Bush a briefing in the command center. “The president sat down and I briefed him on what each of [the] screens was displaying,” he will recall, adding, “Gave him, as best I could, an update from [Stratcom’s] perspective of what was happening based on what we knew.” (Dejka 9/8/2002; Kelly 12/27/2011) After being briefed, Bush and Andrew Card, his chief of staff, will be taken to a teleconference center. (Kohn 9/2/2003; Rove 2010, pp. 261) There, Bush will conduct a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Kelly 12/27/2011)
While President Bush is conducting a video conference with his principal advisers from a bunker beneath Offutt Air Force Base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), most of the people accompanying him are waiting in a conference room across the hallway. Among this group is Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove. Rove later claims that, around this time, there are rumors that more planes remain unaccounted for. He says that, while “they’ve accounted for all four [hijacked] planes,” there are still concerns that “they’ve got another, I think, three or four or five planes still outstanding.” (Lemann 9/25/2001) However, according to the FAA, there are no such reports, and the White House and Pentagon had been quickly informed when US skies were completely cleared at 12:16 p.m. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett later says he does not know from where Rove got the information about the additional unaccounted-for planes. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 ) But according to tapes of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector later obtained by Vanity Fair, “False reports of hijackings, and real responses, continue well into the afternoon, though civilian air-traffic controllers had managed to clear the skies of all commercial and private aircraft by just after 12 p.m.” (See 10:15 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). (Bronner 8/1/2006) Despite the Secret Service’s advice that he should remain at Offutt, the president announces around this time that he is returning to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
Regarding President Bush’s decision not to return to Washington immediately after the 9/11 attacks, historian Robert Dallek tells a USA Today reporter: “Frankly, President Bush made an initial mistake. The president’s place is back in Washington” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 10:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley adds, “If I were Bush, I’d be in the White House right now, saying, ‘We took a hit at the Pentagon and had a disaster in New York, but the government of the United States is unscathed by this and we’re going to march forward.’” When Dallek’s words appear in print, White House political adviser Karl Rove calls Dallek to inform him that Bush did not return to Washington right away because of security threats to the White House (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Air Force One (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Rove provides no substantiation for his claims, and media critic Eric Alterman later asks, “If you think Air Force One is to be attacked (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), why go up in Air Force One?” Looking back on Dallek’s assessment, New York Times columnist Frank Rich later writes, “September 11 was the first time since the British set fire to the White House in 1814 that a president abandoned the capital for security reasons.” (Page 9/12/2001; Rich 2006, pp. 24-25)
Bush administration officials give differing accounts about whether a threat was made against Air Force One, the president’s plane, on September 11. (Allen 9/27/2001; Noah 9/28/2001; Paltrow 3/22/2004 ) The White House reportedly received an anonymous phone call at around 10:30 a.m. on September 11 in which the caller said Air Force One would be the next terrorist target and used code words indicating they had inside information about government procedures (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Vice President Dick Cheney promptly phoned President Bush on Air Force One and told him about the threat (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554)
Press Secretary Reveals Threat during News Briefing - White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reveals the existence of the threat on September 12, after conferring with Cheney and White House counselor Karen Hughes about whether the administration should respond to criticisms of Bush’s failure to return to Washington, DC, immediately after the previous day’s attacks. Hughes advises Fleischer to mention the threat during his press briefing on this day. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Fleischer 2005, pp. 157) Fleischer therefore says in the briefing, “[W]e have specific and credible information that the White House and Air Force One were also intended targets of these attacks.” He says the threat against the president’s plane led to the decision to take Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and was one of the reasons why Bush did not head back to Washington right away in response to the attacks. (White House 9/12/2001)
Cheney Recalls 'Credible Threat' - On September 16, Cheney similarly tells NBC’s Meet the Press, “We received a threat to Air Force One,” and adds, “I think it was a credible threat, enough for the Secret Service to bring it to me.” (Cheney 9/16/2001) And later in the month, White House adviser Karl Rove, who was with Bush on Air Force One on September 11, recalls that those on the president’s plane were informed of “a specific threat made to Air Force One,” which was a “declaration that Air Force One was a target.” (Lemann 9/25/2001)
Unnamed Officials Doubt whether Threat Was Made - Other officials, however, contradict these accounts. Near the end of September, CBS News reports that the phone call in which the threat was reportedly made “simply never happened.” It says that, according to unnamed sources, “White House staffers apparently misunderstood comments made by their security detail.” (Noah 9/28/2001) And some unnamed Bush administration officials tell the Associated Press that “they now doubt whether there was actually a call made threatening Air Force One.” The officials say they “have been unsuccessful in trying to track down whether there was such a call, though officials still maintain they were told of a telephone threat [on] September 11 and kept Bush away from Washington for hours because of it.” (Fournier 9/26/2001) Fleischer will later recall that he learns, weeks after publicly revealing the existence of the supposed threat against Air Force One, “that the threat was unfounded.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554) “I learned it was a mistake from the press,” he will say, “who had been tipped by someone who knew.” (Fleischer 2005, pp. 158)
Threat Was 'Almost Surely Bogus' - At the start of November, when asked about the alleged call in which Air Force One was threatened, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says: “I don’t know if it was a crank call or a real threat. I don’t think we’re going to ever know.” (Rice 11/1/2001) And at the end of 2001, Newsweek reports that the reported threat to Air Force One has been determined to be “almost surely bogus,” although it adds, “White House officials say they do not know where it came from.” (Thomas 12/30/2001) White House spokesman Dan Bartlett says in 2004 that “there hadn’t been any actual threat” against Air Force One on September 11. Word of a threat, he says, “resulted from confusion in the White House bunker, as multiple conversations went on simultaneously.” Around the same time, however, Cheney’s office says it still cannot rule out that a threat to Air Force One was made. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 )
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, a group of senior media executives meet repeatedly with White House officials, including top political strategist Karl Rove, to discuss ways that the entertainment industry can help improve America’s image in foreign markets. The gathered officials discuss the use of “soft power”—using the influence of American movies and television shows to sway public opinion, especially among Muslim and Arab populations. Television producer Bryce Zabel, the chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, says in a memo that the US must regard itself like a consumer brand: “Products like Coca-Cola are far more effectively branded around the globe than the United States itself. The American entertainment and communications industry has the technological and creative expertise to improve relations between our country and the rest of the world.” Hilary Rosen, the chairwoman of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and a participant in the meetings, recalls in 2008 that Rove and other White House officials wanted support similar to that provided by Hollywood to the US government during World War II. “They wanted the music industry, the movie industry, the TV industry to produce propaganda,” she will recall. “Rove was putting a lot of pressure on us.” A 2008 New York Times report will conclude, “There were few tangible results from the meetings.” Harvard professor Joseph Nye, who coined the term “soft power” in 1989, will observe in 2008: “[W]hat’s interesting about the last eight years is that polls show a decline in American attractiveness.… But then you ask the follow-up questions and you see that American culture remains attractive, that American values remain attractive. Which is the opposite of what the president has said—that they hate us for who we are and what we believe in.” (Arango 11/30/2008)
Patrick J. Fitzgerald is confirmed as US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, centering in Chicago. Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL—no relation to Patrick Fitzgerald) nominated Fitzgerald for the position because he felt Fitzgerald, a native New Yorker and veteran prosecutor with no ties to Chicago, would be less likely to become corrupted by what he thought to be the “Chicago Democrat machine.” Fitzgerald had come highly recommended by, among others, Louis Freeh, then the director of the FBI. White House political chief Karl Rove later says that he did not oppose Fitzgerald’s nomination, though he was somewhat disturbed by Senator Fitzgerald’s insistence on the nomination. Rove will recall: “Senator Fitzgerald’s attitude was: ‘I’m not going to submit multiple names. I will take only one name, and this is all that is going to be acceptable.’ And we asked him to submit multiple names, and we also asked him to think about people from within the districts. Our predilection was to have people from within the district selected. We thought it, you know, encouraged a civic-minded attitude among lawyers. It made certain that you had some fresh blood that would flow in. If you pick people from outside the district, they tend to be career prosecutors. And Senator Fitzgerald was particularly unimpressed by this. He said that, in Chicago, the politics in Chicago were such that no US Attorney from Chicago could exist without being subverted by the political influence peddlers in Chicago, that they would be bought off by the big law firms and the Chicago Democrat machine. And so he was going to only provide us one name for each, the Northern District and the Southern District. Following my very effective telephone conversation with him, he responded by going out and announcing to the press that the president was nominating his two names from the Northern and Southern Districts.” Rove will say that he did not oppose Fitzgerald’s nomination, and it would not have been proper for him to do so: “That wasn’t mine—once that conversation was over, it wasn’t mine to have an opinion. I believe the president has a right to appoint. And that means that senators have, by tradition, the right to recommend. But they are usurping a presidential right when they go out and name the nominee before the president has even had a chance to evaluate multiple names and settle on who he wants and do the necessary staff work to arrive at it. Fortunately, Senator Fitzgerald recommended two good names, and both of them worked out. But it was an unusual process that involved, in my opinion, a congressional usurpation of a presidential power.” Senator Fitzgerald will later say that Rove told him the selection of Patrick Fitzgerald “ticked off the [Illinois Republican] base,” a statement Rove will call “inaccurate.… I chalk it up to an overactive imagination.” Rove will go on to imply, without directly saying, that US Attorney Fitzgerald prosecutes Governor George Ryan (R-IL) as something of a political favor to Senator Fitzgerald, as the governor and the senator are political rivals within the Illinois Republican Party. Experienced in prosecuting high-profile terrorism cases (see January 1996), Fitzgerald will go on to chair the terrorism subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC) and later become special counsel for the Lewis Libby leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). (Frankel 12/11/2008; Rove 7/7/2009 )
Chris Christie, a New Jersey Republican lawyer with no experience as a prosecutor or in criminal law, is confirmed as US Attorney for New Jersey. Christie was a controversial choice. A source for the New York Times told a reporter in August that “[e]verybody in the game wants Christie,” referring to the New Jersey Republican Party, “and everybody not in the game is looking for a rational alternative.” Christie was also favored by the Bush administration. Republican operative and fundraiser William Palatucci will later boast that he was able to use his influence with White House political chief Karl Rove to push Christie ahead of others in the nomination process, a claim Rove will later deny. Christie was once a lobbyist for Palatucci’s law firm Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci. State Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos (R-NJ) said of Christie: “There’s a lot of good feeling for Chris at the White House. He’s worked very hard for the president and has been recommended by virtually all the key leaders from state government and political circles.” Former US Attorney for New Jersey Robert J. Del Tufo, a Democrat, said of the nomination: “The best of all possible worlds would be if the decision were made on nonpolitical grounds. Maybe I’m living on Mars, but I think it’s so important to the public to have the perception that people are being chosen on the basis of merit.” (Mansnerus 8/26/2001; Kirkpatrick and Rutenberg 3/29/2007; Rove 7/7/2009 ; Margolin, Heinin, and Heininger 8/26/2009; Zoller-Ciatto 5/23/2010)
White House political guru Karl Rove tells the Republican National Committee: “We can go to the American people on this issue of winning the war [against terrorism]. We can go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.” In 2008, current deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “Rove was the first administration official to publicly make the case for winning the war as a partisan issue, a marked shift in tone from [President] Bush’s repeated emphasis on unity and bipartisanship in confronting and defeating radical Islam.… Rove’s candor about this strategy infuriated suspicious Democrats, who condemned Rove for trying to politicize the war.” Bush will soon begin campaigning for Republicans in the midterm elections using Rove’s strategy. McClellan will note: “As governor [of Texas], he’d maintained good relations with friendly legislators by refusing to campaign against them, even if they were members of the opposing party. Bush’s actions prompted concern and anxiety among Democrats.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 112-113)
Speaking at the Republican National Committee’s annual winter conference, President Bush’s chief political strategist Karl Rove says, “We can go to the country on this issue [of terrorism], because [Americans] trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.” Political commentator Joe Conason says that with this comment, Rove “revealed his plans to regain control of the Senate and retain control of the House by turning the war [on terrorism] into a partisan weapon. His wording was blander, of course, but his meaning was perfectly clear.” (Conason 1/27/2002) Author Ron Suskind will similarly comment in 2006 that Rove’s comment suggested that “the historic public affirmation, thus far, of the ‘war on terror,’ would surely translate into equally historic gains in the 2002 mid-term elections.” (Suskind 2006)
White House political adviser Karl Rove says that the Republican Party should campaign primarily on the war on terror in the 2002 midterm elections. “Americans trust the Republicans to do a better job of keeping our communities and our families safe,” Rove tells the Republican National Committee. “We can also go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.” President Bush has said repeatedly that the war on terror should not be considered fodder for partisan political gain. Just days before Rove’s speech, Bush told a gathering in California, “It’s time to take the spirit of unity that has been prevalent when it comes to fighting the war and bring it to Washington, DC.” And Rove recently told reporters that Bush had told his aides: “Politics has no role in this. Don’t talk to me about politics for a while.” Now Rove is publicly advising Republicans to politicize the war. Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “If the White House is politicizing the war, that’s nothing short of despicable. For Karl Rove to politicize the issue is an affront to the integrity of the entire United States military.” McAuliffe’s Republican counterpart, Marc Racicot, calls on McAuliffe “to help stop the politics of obstruction.” (Berke 1/19/2002)
Counterterrorism expert John Loftus files a lawsuit against Sami al-Arian, a Florida professor with suspected ties to US-designated terrorist groups. Hours later, the SAAR network, a group of charities based in Herndon, Virginia, is raided (see March 20, 2002). Loftus claims that a January 2002 raid on the network was cancelled for political reasons, so he filed his lawsuit to force the raid. The SAAR network investigation grew out of an investigation of al-Arian and other people in Florida in the mid-1990s. In 2004, Loftus will claim that for years, people like al-Arian and Abdurahman Alamoudi, one of the targets of the SAAR raid, were able to operate with impunity “because [US agents had] been ordered not to investigate the cases, not to prosecute them, because they were being funded by the Saudis and a political decision was being made at the highest levels, don’t do anything that would embarrass the Saudi government.… But, who was it that fixed the cases? How could these guys operate for more than a decade immune from prosecution? And, the answer is coming out in a very strange place. What Alamoudi and al-Arian have in common is a guy named Grover Norquist. He’s the super lobbyist. Newt Gingrich’s guy, the one the NRA calls on, head of American taxpayers. He is the guy that was hired by Alamoudi to head up the Islamic Institute and he’s the registered agent for Alamoudi, personally, and for the Islamic Institute. Grover Norquist’s best friend is Karl Rove, the White House chief of staff, and apparently Norquist was able to fix things. He got extreme right wing Muslim people to be the gatekeepers in the White House. That’s why moderate Americans couldn’t speak out after 9/11. Moderate Muslims couldn’t get into the White House because Norquist’s friends were blocking their access.” (Jacoby 3/21/2002; MSNBC 10/23/2005)
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says he is “gravely concerned” to learn that President Bush “received a warning in August about the threat of hijackers,” referring to a CBS News report revealing that Bush had been warned about a possible hijacking over a month before the 9/11 attacks (see August 6, 2001). Daschle calls on the White House to provide the classified briefing to Congressional investigators. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says, using the language of Watergate investigators, “I think what we have to do now is find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, when they knew it, and, most importantly, what was done about it at the time.” White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that, as objectionable as the White House finds these statements, “the Democrat who most aroused the ire of the White House and Republicans was New York’s Democratic senator, Hillary Clinton.” Clinton takes the floor of the Senate and says, “We learn today something we might have learned at least eight months ago: that President Bush had been informed last year, before September 11, of a possible al-Qaeda plot to hijack a US airliner.” She displays a New York Post headline that reads, “BUSH KNEW” (see May 15, 2002) and “9/11 BOMBSHELL.” “The president knew what?” Clinton asks. McClellan will write that he and his White House colleagues are “incensed” at Clinton’s rhetoric: “To us, such grandstanding appeared to be a return to the ugly partisan warfare that had come to define Washington and its culture during the 1990s. Politics as war, the innuendo of scandal, and the egregious implication that the president had deliberately neglected the country’s safety—it was all in service of the November election results. All the familiar elements were there. The story and the partisan accusations that followed provided great controversy for the media to cover.” (In this passage, McClellan fails to note that White House political guru Karl Rove had, months before, advised Bush and Republican candidates to use the war to attack Democrats in the November 2002 elections—see January 2002). McClellan will complain that Clinton “had not even bothered to call [the White House] to find out more about the facts behind the headlines before delivering her speech,” and will note: “To us, the disingenuous way the leaders rushed to create a damning story line about the president and his administration crossed a line. Republicans objected vehemently and aggressively in a counteroffensive led by the White House,” with Vice President Dick Cheney calling the Democrats’ questions “incendiary” (see May 16, 2002) and Bush declaring, “Had we any inkling, whatsoever, that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America.” Bush adds: “And I’m confident that President Clinton would have done the same thing (see September 7, 2003). Any president would have.” McClellan will call Bush’s statement “a gesture toward the rapidly vanishing spirit of bipartisanship.” He will write that Democrats did not, by themselves, break the bipartisanship that had supposedly reigned before CBS broke the news of the August 6 briefing: “Democrats were responding in part to perceived efforts by Republicans seeking political advantage from the president’s aggressive efforts to wage war against Islamist terrorists,” and will note that in 1998, Republicans accused President Clinton of “wagging the dog”—launching military strikes against Iraq to distract the nation from the Monica Lewinsky scandal (see December 16-19, 1998). (McClellan 2008, pp. 117-118)
White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 142) Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 241)
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). (Unger 2007, pp. 250-251) Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” (Leupp 11/9/2005)
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” (Meek and Bazinet 10/19/2005) In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” (Savage 2007, pp. 357) In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 137)
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 325)
The White House delivers a draft of a strongly worded resolution to Congress authorizing the president to use “all appropriate means” against Iraq. The 20-paragraph draft includes provisions that would allow Bush to ignore the UN and “use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce” the UN’s Security Council resolutions, “defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region.” According to the Associated Press, “Three senior White House aides familiar with the draft said it would give Bush maximum flexibility to confront the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, including an explicit OK to use military force.” Although numerous congresspersons complain that the proposed wording of the resolution would provide Bush with a blank check to use military force anywhere in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, several senators—Democrats and Republicans alike—say that an amended version of the resolution would likely pass. (Fournier 9/19/2002; Reid 9/19/2002; Usborne 9/19/2002; Associated Press 9/20/2002)
The draft lists several allegations against Iraq, depicting the country as an imminent threat against the US and its citizens. It states that Iraq continues to “possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations, thereby continuing to threaten the national security interests of the United States and international peace and security.” It also claims that Iraq “continues to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations,” including members of al-Qaeda. (Associated Press 9/20/2002)
The proposed resolution asserts that the use of military force against Iraq would constitute self-defense. It reads, “Whereas the United States has the inherent right, as acknowledged in the United Nations Charter, to use force in order to defend itself.” (Associated Press 9/20/2002)
The draft calls on Congress to authorize the president to use military force against Iraq. “The President is authorized to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolutions referenced above, defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region.” (Associated Press 9/20/2002)
At a photo opportunity with Secretary of State Colin Powell the same day, Bush tells a gathering of reporters, “At the United Nations Security Council it is very important that the members understand that the credibility of the United Nations is at stake, that the Security Council must be firm in its resolve to deal with a truth threat to world peace, and that is Saddam Hussein. That the United Nations Security Council must work with the United States and Britain and other concerned parties to send a clear message that we expect Saddam to disarm. And if the United Nations Security Council won’t deal with the problem, the United States and some of our friends will.” Allies of the US that Bush expects to join in moving against Iraq “heard me loud and clear when I said, either you can be the United Nations, a capable body, a body able to keep the peace, or you can be the League of Nations.” Of the resolution, Bush says, “I am sending suggested language for a resolution. I want—I’ve asked for Congress’ support to enable the administration to keep the peace. And we look forward to a good, constructive debate in Congress.” Bush emphasizes that the resolution must pass before the upcoming November midterm elections: “I appreciate the fact that the leadership recognizes we’ve got to move before the elections” (see September 24, 2002). (White House 9/19/2005) White House political adviser Karl Rove will later claim that the White House does not want to push the resolution through Congress before the elections in order to avoid politicizing the issue, a claim that is demonstrably untrue (see November 20, 2007).
In a press conference, President Bush urges Congress to pass its resolution authorizing military force against Iraq (see September 19, 2002) before the midterm elections. “Congress must act now to pass a resolution which will hold Saddam Hussein to account for a decade of defiance,” he says. “I’m confident a lot of Democrats here in Washington, DC, will understand that Saddam [Hussein] is a true threat to America. And I look forward to working with them to get a strong resolution passed.” (White House 9/24/2002) White House political adviser Karl Rove will later claim that the White House did not want the resolution to go up for debate until after the elections, a claim that is demonstrably untrue (see November 20, 2007).
Presidential adviser Karl Rove is concerned about the 9/11 Commission, which is soon to be established (see November 15, 2002). Author Philip Shenon will say this is because he thinks that “in the wrong hands… [it] could cost President Bush a second term.” According to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Republican Senator Trent Lott says that behind-the-scenes opposition to the commission’s creation is orchestrated by Rove and the White House’s political office. “It’s all Rove,” Lott tells Daschle. Rove is also involved in the selection of the Commission’s initial chairman, Henry Kissinger (see November 27, 2002), and his successor Tom Kean (see December 14, 2002). (Shenon 2008, pp. 15, 29)
President Bush terminates an investigation into controversial Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff by firing the US Attorney supervising the investigation. A US grand jury in Guam has been investigating a secret arrangement between Abramoff and Superior Court officials to lobby against a court reform bill pending in Congress since February 2001 that would give the newly formed Guam Supreme Court authority over the Superior Court. The bill passed. Abramoff—a $750-an-hour lobbyist and former member of the Bush-Cheney transition team—was paid by a series of $9,000 checks, totaling $324,000, funneled through Laguna Beach, California, lawyer Howard Hills. The arrangement was designed to hide Abramoff’s role in working for the Guam court. On November 18, Acting US Attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands Frederick A. Black issued a subpoena demanding that a Superior Court official turn over all records involving the lobbying contract, including bills and payments. (Black had already launched an investigation into the former governor of Guam, Carl Gutierrez, for diverting government funds for personal gain; Black apparently intended to tie the two investigations together.) However, today Black is abruptly demoted, with the White House issuing a statement announcing that it will name a replacement for him. Although Black is considered an “acting” US Attorney, he has held the post for over 10 years. Now he is demoted to an Assistant US Attorney and barred from continuing his investigations. Those investigations are now in limbo. In May 2003, Black will be replaced by Leonardo Rapadas without any Senate debate. Rapadas will be chosen for the job by Guam Republicans; lobbyist Fred Radewagen, who worked for the Gutierrez administration, will carry the recommendation to White House political chief Karl Rove in early 2003. (Radewagen has access to the top levels of the White House, including Rove.) Rapadas will quickly recuse himself from the Gutierrez investigation and the Abramoff grand jury will be dismissed. (Roche 8/8/2005; Berman 2/2/2006) Later investigation will show that Gutierrez hired Abramoff in the spring of 2002 to help him force Black out of office. “I don’t care if they appoint [B]ozo the [C]lown, we need to get rid of Fred Black,” Abramoff wrote to colleagues in March 2002. Black began investigating Abramoff for the $324,000 contract Abramoff had received, and in return Abramoff asked for help from the Justice Department (DOJ). In turn, the DOJ forwarded the information to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. And, White House political director Ken Mehlman told White House official Leonard Rodriguez, a protege of Rove, to “reach out to make Jack [Abramoff] aware” of all Guam-related information, including people being considered to replace Black. “Abramoff claimed he had a top political guy at DOJ he could go to, to get rid of Black,” a source will tell reporter Ari Berman. In May 2002, Abramoff had a risk-assessment report of Guam and the neighboring Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) killed; the report, requested by Black, called for the federalizing of immigration laws on the islands, a rule change that would have slowed the influx of cheap labor to CNMI, as well as jeopardizing Abramoff’s $1.6 million contract with the local government. (In CNMI, workers are paid $3.05 an hour to make clothing branded “Made in the USA.”) Abramoff learned of the report from David Ayres, then the chief of staff for Attorney General John Ashcroft, whom Abramoff hosted at a Washington Redskins football game. Not only was the report quashed, its author, regional security specialist Robert Meissner, was demoted. Meissner later told people that he thought his boss at the time, Paul McNulty, the US Attorney for Eastern Virginia, “had everything to do with” suppressing the report. McNulty later became deputy attorney general. A colleague of Meissner’s will later say: “McNulty was kind of the fireman at Justice. He was the guy trying to run around and put a lid on things that could become political, especially with Abramoff.” Another element of the effort to rid Guam of Black was to paint him as a supporter of President Clinton, although he was appointed by the first President Bush, and Gutierrez himself was a Democrat. In November 2002, Black asked the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section (PIN) for help in investigating Abramoff’s lobbying activities. McNulty was forwarded the request, as was Gonzales. The DOJ offers no help to Black. Days later, after Black convenes a grand jury to look into Abramoff’s activities, Black is removed as US Attorney. “Fred was removed because he asked to indict Abramoff,” one of Black’s colleagues at Justice will later tell Berman. “I don’t believe it was a coincidence.” In June 2006, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will determine that nothing untoward occurred in the Black firing. However, the report will be based largely on information provided by the administration, including apparently misleading testimony from Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Gonzales, who had by that time become attorney general. Rapadas was only chosen to replace Black after Black had launched his probe into Abramoff’s doings. David Sablan, who headed the Guam Republican Party at the time, will say in 2007, “I just wonder whether they wanted to prevent Fred Black from staying on.” The OIG report will indicate that Sampson discussed the US Attorney candidate for Guam and other posts with President Bush, a statement Bush will later disavow. (Berman 2/2/2006; Berman 4/16/2007)
Following Henry Kissinger’s resignation as 9/11 Commission chairman the day before (see November 27, 2002), presidential aide Karl Rove calls Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, to ask if he is willing to be considered as chairman of the Commission. Kean, who does not know Rove well and has been out of politics for some time, is surprised that he is being considered for the job. He is even more surprised that it is Rove making the call, especially given Rove’s reputation as the brain behind the rise of President George W. Bush. However, he says that he may do the job, if chosen. Kean will later speak to the president’s chief of staff Andy Card about the job, and formally accept it in a call from President Bush. Rove will later say that he thinks it was he who first suggested Kean as chairman, but will add that he regrets this, due to later battles with the White House. Card will also say he thinks he was the first to suggest Kean. (Shenon 2008, pp. 16-7, 25)
Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, presents the latest draft of a paper that is meant to serve as a rebuttal to Iraq’s December 7 declaration (see February 5, 2003) to Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, Michael Gerson, and Karen Hughes. The paper, written with the help of John Hannah, is supposed to serve as the basis for the speech Secretary of State Colin Powell will deliver to the UN Security Council on February 5 (see February 5, 2003). In his presentation, Libby says that intercepts and human intelligence reports indicate that Saddam Hussein has been attempting to conceal items. He doesn’t know what items are being hidden by the Iraqis, but he says it must be weapons of mass destruction. He also claims that Iraq has extensive ties to al-Qaeda, and cites the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi Intelligence agent (see April 8, 2001) as one example. While Armitage is disappointed with Libby’s presentation, Wolfowitz and Rove seem impressed. Karen Hughes warns Libby not to stretch the facts. (Bamford 2004, pp. 368; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 175)
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales denies a request made by the 9/11 Commission for access to a number of White House documents pertaining to 9/11, citing executive privilege. The documents date from both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The request is made by Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, who believes the Commission must see the documents if it is to do its job properly, and that the White House has already indicated the Commission will get what it wants. The documents include highly classified presidential daily briefings (PDBs), the “crown jewels” of US intelligence reporting. Only a very few such PDBs have ever been made available, from the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Zelikow says the Commission needs to see the PDBs so it can determine what warnings Clinton and Bush received about al-Qaeda. However, the PDBs had not been provided to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, and Gonzales says they will not be given to the 9/11 Commission either. Zelikow tells Gonzales that this would be bad for the Commission and the US, recalling the uproar that ensued when it was discovered the CIA had withheld documents from the Warren Commission that investigated the murder of President Kennedy. Zelikow also pressures Gonzales by threatening to resign from the Commission if it is not given the documents, knowing this will generate extremely bad publicity for the White House.
Refusal to Meet with Zelikow - However, Gonzales refuses to cave in and, a few days later, makes what author Philip Shenon calls a “blunt and undiplomatic” phone call to Tom Kean, the Commission’s chairman. He tells Kean that he does not want to see Zelikow ever again, which means that in the future he will only discuss access to the documents with Kean and Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton.
Alleged Involvement of Rove - The battle over access to documents and witnesses will go on for some time (see June 2003), and commissioner John Lehman will say that White House political adviser Karl Rove is “very much involved” in it. According to Lehman, “Gonzales cleared everything with Rove,” and friends tell him that “Rove was the quarterback for dealing with the Commission,” although the White House will deny this. (Shenon 2008, pp. 73-76, 176)
Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff sends an email to White House aide Susan Ralston, a former Abramoff associate who now works in the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA) under Karl Rove. Abramoff wants Ralston to tell Rove to covertly use his position in the White House to prevent a Louisiana Indian tribe from acquiring land for a casino. (The land acquisition would threaten the interests of an Abramoff client, a different Indian tribe that already has gaming establishments in the area.) Abramoff asks if Rove can give “some quiet message from the WH [White House] that this is absurd.” Ralston agrees, and Abramoff sends her a thank-you reply. But instead of sending the reply to Ralston’s private email account administered by the Republican National Committee (RNC) at email@example.com, he sends it to her official White House email account. The next day, Abramoff’s colleague Kevin Ring alerts Abramoff to the error. Ring writes, “She said it is better to not put this stuff in writing in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.” Abramoff responds: “Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc [Republican National Committee] pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system.” The email will be publicly revealed as part of a Congressional investigation into Abramoff’s criminal enterprises. In 2007, documents will connect this email exchange to thousands of other private emails sent to and from White House officials using the georgewbush.com, gwb43.com, rnchq.com, and other private email domains. Ralston is one of many White House officials to use these outside accounts to communicate with Abramoff and others. Federal law requires that all emails and other communications be preserved as part of the National Archives data storage, for future review. Using private email accounts such as those provided by the RNC, especially for official (and quasi-official) government business, is also a violation of the Presidential Records Law. In March 2007, the House Oversight Committee’s chairman, Henry Waxman (D-CA), will demand that the RNC preserve all White House emails “because of their potential relevance to Congressional investigations.… The email exchanges reviewed by the committee provide evidence that in some instances, White House officials were using the nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.” Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists will say that the use of the RNC email accounts also “shows how closely intertwined the White House is with its partisan allies. The fact that the White House and the RNC are working hand in hand and White House officials are using RNC emails is itself remarkable.” Aftergood recalls the Iran-Contra investigation, where incriminating White House emails were recovered even after officials believed they had been deleted. “People may have learned that lesson,” Aftergood will muse. Since the Iran-Contra investigation, both the first Bush administration and Clinton administration have had issues with suppressing and hiding emails. Steven Hensen, a past president of the Society of American Archivists, will say that the current Bush email practice “clearly looks like an attempt to conceal official business.” Mother Jones reporter Daniel Schulman will agree, writing that “it’s clear that others are taking pains to use alternate email accounts simply to keep their communications from becoming public record.” (Schulman 3/30/2007; Hamburger 4/9/2007)
A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). (Leopold 2/9/2006) In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 326-327)
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. (Leopold 2/9/2006) Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 441-442)
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).
The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” (Unger 2007, pp. 304)
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” (DeYoung 5/2/2003; Media Matters 4/27/2006)
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” (Mitchell 5/3/2008)
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” (DeYoung 5/2/2003; Media Matters 4/27/2006; Mitchell 5/3/2008)
Gay prostitute James Guckert, who moonlights as conservative “journalist” Jeff Gannon (see January 26, 2005), writes a series of articles for the conservative Internet news site Talon News in an attempt to discredit the South Dakota Argus Leader and its veteran political writer, David Kranz. Gannon/Guckert writes a series of articles falsely alleging that Kranz, who had gone to college with Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), was not only sympathetic to Daschle’s re-election campaign, but was actually working for Daschle. (The National Journal later writes that the blog assault “opened a new and potentially powerful front in the war over public opinion.”) The stories get a tremendous amount of play on right-wing blogs and conservative news Web sites, and the resulting barrage of complaints to the Argus Leader results in that newspaper altering its coverage to more strongly favor Daschle’s opponent, Republican John Thune. Thune’s campaign manager Dick Wadham is an old political crony of White House political guru Karl Rove. Several of the so-called “independent” bloggers decrying the Argus Leader’s coverage are actually working for Wadham. The bloggers and Gannon/Guckert continue their string of allegations, with Gannon/Guckert alleging that Daschle had claimed an improper tax exemption on his Washington home, a story instantly picked up on by Wadham’s cadre of “independent” bloggers. Thune uses the story as the basis of a political ad claiming Daschle is a resident of Washington, not South Dakota. Daschle aides call Gannon/Guckert “the dumping ground for opposition research.” Gannon/Guckert, who also hosts an Internet radio show called “Jeff Gannon’s Washington,” has Thune on as a guest; already having some experience as a member of the White House press corps (see February 18, 2005), he is touted as South Dakota’s “resident DC expert” by Wadham’s paid bloggers. Thune, who narrowly defeats Daschle, later gives interviews touting the impact of independent Internet bloggers and correspondents—without revealing the fact that neither Gannon/Guckert nor the bloggers were actually independent agents. (Lynch 2/18/2005; Conason 2/18/2005)
White House adviser Karl Rove makes two telephone calls to Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director. The first call comes at 4:40 p.m. and is taken by Karen Heitkotter, an executive secretary at the Commission. Rove says: “This is Karl Rove. I’m looking for Philip.” Heitkotter wonders why Rove is calling Zelikow, but it is not her place to ask for a reason. Therefore, as Zelikow is out of the office, she gives Rove Zelikow’s cell phone number. Heitkotter has been keeping an unofficial record of Zelikow’s calls in a notebook she purchased herself, and logs the calls as “Karl Rove—gave PZ cell #.” Rove calls again the next day, looking for Zelikow. As he is again absent, Heitkotter takes a message. (Shenon 2008, pp. 106-107) Zelikow will later describe two interactions with Rove during the Commission’s lifetime. It appears that, according to Zelikow, this exchange of calls was “related to past correspondence with me in my Miller Center role [Zelikow previously worked there as a historian], related to presidential library preparation (I had no horse in that race). It was a brief conversation and we did not discuss the Commission.” (Zelikow and Shenon 2007 ) However, a “senior White House official familiar with Rove’s memory of the contacts with Zelikow” will dispute this, saying that there had been “ancillary conversations” about the workings of the Commission. Rove will talk to Zelikow again in September (see September 4-15, 2003). Interviewed around mid-September 2003, 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will say that they were not aware of the calls and seem surprised by them, but accept Zelikow’s innocent explanation. (Shenon 2008, pp. 173-174)
During the morning meeting for senior White House officials, political strategist Karl Rove tells the assemblage that the White House needs to “get the message out” about war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Rove emphasizes the need to push the point that Wilson was not sent to Niger by Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, and July 7-8, 2003). At the meeting are Cheney, President Bush, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and chief of staff Andrew Card, who will soon take over the administration’s response to the Iraq-Niger controversy (see (July 11, 2003)). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/5/2004 ) Libby brings an underlined copy of Wilson’s July 6 New York Times op-ed to the meeting. (Office of the Vice President 7/7/2003)
Just after a morning meeting where White House political strategist Karl Rove emphasized that White House officials need to tell reporters that Vice President Dick Cheney did not send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, e-mails talking points to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer that state:
“The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger.”
“The vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission.”
“The vice president’s office did not receive briefing about Mr. Wilson’s misson after he returned” (see March 5, 2002).
“The vice president’s office was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press reports accounted for it” (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). (Office of the Vice President 7/7/2003; US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 )
Minutes later, Fleischer presents these talking points in the morning press briefing. He says of the Wilson op-ed: “Well, there is zero, nada, nothing new here. Ambassador Wilson, other than the fact that now people know his name, has said all this before. But the fact of the matter is in his statements about the vice president—the vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts—press reports accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook as part of their regular review of events, where they sent him.” (White House 7/7/2003; Marcy Wheeler 10/30/2009) In 2007, Martin will testify that Cheney dictated the talking points to her (see January 25-29, 2007).
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s journey to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003). Novak asks Armitage, “Why in the world did [the CIA] send Joe Wilson on this?” and Armitage answers by revealing what he has learned from a State Department intelligence memo (see June 10, 2003) that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent who works with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. “I don’t know,” Armitage says, “but his wife works out there.” Armitage also tells Novak that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the Niger trip. (Fox News 9/8/2006; Wilson 2007, pp. 256; Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007) Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003). Either later this day, or sometime during the next day, Novak also learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Novak will publicly reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status in his next column, apparently as part of an effort to discredit her husband (see July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003). (Johnston and Stevenson 7/15/2005; Stevenson 7/16/2005)
White House political strategist Karl Rove returns a telephone call from conservative columnist Robert Novak. Rove has prepared for the call, assembling talking points and briefing materials (see July 7-8, 2003), some drawn from classified government personnel files provided by White House political director Matt Schlapp and other staffers. None of the materials directly involve Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent who Novak will “out” in a soon-to-be-published column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove is preparing to discuss Frances Fragos Townsend, the newly appointed deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. It is unclear whether Rove speaks with Novak on the evening of July 8 or during the day of July 9. (Waas 12/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007)
Combating 'Rearguard' Effort to Undermine Townsend - President Bush has asked Rove to counter what he believes to be a “rearguard” effort within his own administration—led by senior members of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff—to discredit Townsend and derail her appointment, perhaps because she was once a senior attorney in the Justice Department under then-President Clinton. Novak has been calling other White House officials about Townsend, and Rove intends to give him the White House slant on her: that President Bush, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice all have full confidence in her. Part of the conversation is completely off the record, while other parts are on background, freeing Novak to quote Rove as a “senior administration official.” Novak will write his material on Townsend much as Rove lays it out for him. Reporter Murray Waas will later learn that opposition to Townsend within Cheney’s office is so intense that Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, contemplates leaking damaging material about her to the press in an attempt to disrupt her appointment. Waas will write, “Libby’s tactics against Townsend appear to have paralleled those he took around the same period of time in attempting to blunt [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s criticism of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.” Libby will indeed leak information on Townsend to selected Republicans in Congress, and they in turn will use that information to criticize her appointment. (Waas 12/16/2005)
Novak Broaches Subject of Plame Wilson - It is after they finish discussing Townsend that the submect of Valerie Plame Wilson comes up. Novak and Rove will both tell federal prosecutors that it is Novak who broaches the subject of Plame Wilson, saying he had heard that “Wilson’s wife” had been responsible for sending her husband on a CIA mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). According to later published accounts, Rove replies, “I heard that too.” Novak’s version of events will be slightly different, with him claiming Rove says, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003) and from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003). Novak tells Rove that he is still going to write a negative column on Townsend, but implies that he will also write about Wilson and his wife. “I think that you are going to be unhappy with something that I write,” he tells Rove, “and I think you are very much going to like something that I am about to write.” Novak’s July 10 column will attack Townsend as an “enemy within,” a Democratic partisan who will likely not be loyal to the Bush administration. Four days later, he will write his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent as part of his attack on Wilson’s credibility as a war critic. Investigators will be unable to independently verify that Novak, not Rove, first brought up the subject of Plame Wilson during their conversation; for his part, Rove will deny leaking Plame Wilson’s name to any reporter, and will deny even knowing who she is. (Johnston and Stevenson 7/15/2005; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Waas 12/16/2005)
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and NBC News reporter and anchor Tim Russert speak on the telephone. Libby wants to complain to Russert about an MSNBC talk show host, Chris Matthews, and Matthews’s coverage of the Iraq-Niger controversy (see July 10, 2003). Libby will later claim that, during the conversation, Russert informs him that Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of war critic Joseph Wilson, is a CIA officer. “All the reporters know” that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer, Libby will testify that Russert says. Russert will testify that he and Libby never discuss Plame Wilson (see November 24, 2003 and February 7-8, 2007), and at the time he has no knowledge of her CIA status. (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 ; Leonnig 1/10/2006; MSNBC 2/21/2007) It is unclear whether Libby speaks to Russert before or after his conversation with White House political strategist Karl Rove, who tells him that he has “outed” Plame Wilson to columnist Robert Novak (see July 10 or 11, 2003).
Shortly after he reveals to columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA agent (see July 8, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove advises Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, of the conversation. According to the 2005 indictment filed against Libby (see October 28, 2005), “Libby spoke to a senior official in the White House (Official A) who advised Libby of a conversation Official A had earlier that week with… Novak, in which [Joseph] Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. Libby was advised by Official A that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife.” Attorneys involved in the case will later confirm that “Official A” is Rove. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ; Waas 11/12/2005)
Bill Harlow, a CIA spokesman, has a conversation with conservative columnist Robert Novak regarding Novak’s plans to reveal the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson in a forthcoming column (see July 14, 2003). Novak has learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003), and has already spoken to White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Harlow will testify about his conversation with Rove to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in 2004. In speaking with Novak, Harlow warns as strongly as he can without revealing classified information (i.e. Plame Wilson’s covert status) that Plame Wilson did not authorize her husband’s mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and Novak should not reveal her name or CIA identity. After their conversation ends, Harlow checks with other CIA officials, and confirms that Plame Wilson is an undercover operative. He then calls Novak back and reiterates that her name should not be used (see Before July 14, 2003). Harlow does not tell Novak that Plame Wilson is an undercover operative, because that information is classified. Novak will ignore Harlow’s warnings and reveal Plame Wilson’s name in his July 14 column. In an October 2003 column, he will minimize Harlow’s warnings, writing that an unidentified CIA official (Harlow) “asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that [she] or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name” (see October 1, 2003). (Pincus and VandeHei 7/27/2005)
White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). (Cooper 7/11/2003 ; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Cooper 7/17/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 311-312) Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” (Cooper 7/17/2005) Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. (Waas 10/7/2005)
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. (Leopold 12/9/2005)
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” (Cooper 7/11/2003 ; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Cooper 7/17/2005; Waas 10/7/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 311-312) Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. (Waas 10/7/2005)
Time reporter Matthew Cooper, after learning from White House political strategist Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails his editor, Michael Duffy, about the conversation. In the e-mail to Duffy entitled “Subject: Rove/P&C” (for personal and confidential), Cooper begins, “Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation.” After noting some of the details above and making some recommendations as to how to handle the story, Cooper concludes, “please don’t source this to rove or even WH [White House].” He suggests that Duffy have another reporter check with CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. (Cooper 7/11/2003 ; Isikoff 7/10/2005) Cooper will later explain the “double super secret background” reference as a joke, referring to the movie Animal House, in which the fraternity is placed on “double secret probation.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 223-224)
White House political strategist Karl Rove, upon concluding a phone conversation with Time reporter Matthew Cooper in which Rove divulged the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about the conversation. “Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he’s got a welfare reform story coming,” Rove writes. “When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn’t this damaging? Hasn’t the president been hurt? I didn’t take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn’t get Time far out in front on this.” According to the Associated Press, this is the first indication that an intelligence official knew Rove talked to Cooper before Cooper’s Time article about Plame Wilson and the White House effort to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 17, 2003). Rove will testify about the e-mail to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in 2004 (see October 15, 2004 and October 14, 2005), telling the jury that he never intended to leak Plame Wilson’s identity, but rather wanted to warn Cooper about some of the allegations Wilson was making about the White House’s use of intelligence to bolster its case for war with Iraq. Rove is aware that conservative columnist Robert Novak, whom he has already spoken to about Plame Wilson (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003), is planning an article on the Wilsons (see July 14, 2003). He also knows that CIA Director George Tenet is planning to take responsibility for the false Iraq-Niger uranium claims made by President Bush and other White House officials (see July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (Solomon 7/15/2005; VandeHei and Leonnig 12/3/2005) In 2005, investigative reporter Jason Leopold will note that Rove’s version of the conversation as he recounts it to Hadley is substantially different from the material Cooper records in his notes. Most notably, Rove fails to tell Hadley about his outing of a CIA official. Leopold will write, “It is unclear whether Rove was misleading Hadley about his conversation with Cooper, perhaps, because White House officials told its staff not to engage reporters in any questions posed about Wilson’s Niger claims.” (Leopold 12/9/2005)
Time reporter Matthew Cooper, after learning from White House political strategist Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official, and discussing the conversation with his editors at Time (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin. Cooper sends Martin a list of questions pertaining to their conversation. He focuses on the White House’s attempt to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, and does not ask about Plame Wilson. Martin prints the e-mail and annotates it with brief answers to some of Cooper’s questions. Cooper wants to know:
“Who in the vice president’s office communicated to the CIA their interest in the Niger allegations (see (February 13, 2002) and July 6, 2003)? How and when was that communication performed?”
“Did the VP or a member of his staff discuss the Niger allegation in any of his personal visits to Langley [CIA headquarters]” (see 2002-Early 2003)? Martin writes “No” beside the question.
“Did the VP or a member of his staff play any role in the inclusion of the allegation in the president’s SOTU [State of the Union address]?” Martin writes “No” beside the question (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003).
“In addition to the VP sitting in on the president’s regular intel briefings, what other intel briefings does the VP get? Part of the answer to this, if I recall correctly from newspaper accounts, is that he often or regularly gets his own CIA briefing in the morning as he’s being driven to work.”
“How many persons are employed by the veep’s national security staff?”
“In previous VP stories Time has done (before my time), we’ve been told that the VP has a voracious appetite for ‘raw’ intelligence. Still true?” (White House 7/11/2003)
Time reporter John Dickerson speaks with his colleague Matthew Cooper about Cooper’s recent conversation with White House political strategist Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove told Cooper that war critic Joseph Wilson’s wife is the CIA official who sent Wilson on his mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cooper sent an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson has just recently learned that Wilson’s wife is a CIA official from another White House source (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). The two reporters agree that Cooper should pursue the story. As Dickerson will later write: “Matt and I agreed to point out in our files to the cover story that White House officials were going so directly after Wilson. We also agreed that I wouldn’t go back to my sources about the wife business. The universe of people who knew this information was undoubtedly small. Mentioning it to other officials would potentially out Rove as Time’s source to his colleagues. Plus, it was Matt’s scoop and his arrangement with Rove. He had a better sense of how to get the information confirmed without violating their agreement.” (Dickerson 2/7/2006) Six days later, Time will print a story co-authored by Cooper and Dickerson that uses Rove’s disclosure as a central element (see July 17, 2003).
Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). (CNN 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003; Sanger and Risen 7/12/2003)
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. (Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003)
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. (Waas 3/30/2006) Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. (CNN 7/11/2003; White House 7/11/2003; Pincus and Milbank 7/12/2003; Sanger and Risen 7/12/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 99; McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172) Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” (White House 7/11/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 99) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. (McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172)
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. (Donnelly and Neuffer 3/16/2003; Risen 3/23/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/12/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; ABC News 6/16/2003; Newsday 7/12/2003; Priest 7/20/2003) For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” (Martin 7/10/2003; CNN 7/10/2003; Pincus 7/11/2003)
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” (ABC News 6/12/2003; Martin 7/10/2003; Kristof 7/14/2003; Stevenson 7/19/2003)
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). (Leopold 7/16/2003)
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). (McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172) Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 172)
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 140)
Conservative columnist Robert Novak gives a draft of his upcoming column, which outs CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson in the process of criticizing her husband, war opponent Joseph Wilson (see July 14, 2003), to lobbyist Richard Hohlt. Hohlt, whom Novak describes as “a very good source of mine” whom he talks to “every day,” faxes a copy of the Novak column to White House political strategist Karl Rove, one of Novak’s sources for Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff will later learn that Hohlt facilitated the conversation between Rove and Novak. Hohlt will confirm his action to Isikoff, who will write that by faxing the copy of the column to Rove, Hohlt is “giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to come.” Hohlt lobbies on behalf of clients such as Bristol Myers, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, and the Nuclear Energy Association. He is also a powerful fundraiser for the Republican Party, and will bring in over $500,000 to the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. Hohlt is also the head of an influential group of Republicans called the “Off the Record Club,” whose membership includes other influential Republican lobbyists as well as White House officials such as Rove and Joshua Bolten. While Hohlt will minimize the group’s influence to Isikoff, Isikoff will describe it as “help[ing] the White House with damage control.” He will describe Hohlt as “[a]n accomplished information trader [who] serves as a background source for a select group of Washington journalists—Novak above all.” One club member will say that if you want information to appear in Novak’s column, the best way to make it happen is to work with Hohlt. Isikoff will write that Hohlt did not know that Rove told Novak of Plame Wilson’s identity. “I was just trying to be helpful,” Hohlt will say of the Rove fax. (Isikoff 2/26/2007) Novak will later testify that he “assumed” that Hohlt would not share the column with anyone, though he will admit to a “vague recollection” that “he had told the WH [White House] that there was an interesting piece coming out.” (Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007)
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, confirms to Time reporter Matthew Cooper that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer. Libby has been in regular communication with senior White House officials, including political strategist Karl Rove, to discuss how to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. On July 11, the two spoke privately after a staff meeting. According to later testimony from both Rove and Libby, Rove told Libby that he had spoken to columnist Robert Novak on July 9 (see July 8 or 9, 2003), and that Novak would soon write a column about Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Today, Libby joins Cheney and others flying to and from Norfolk, Virginia, aboard Air Force Two; on the return trip, Libby discusses with the others what he should say in response to media inquiries about Wilson’s recent column (see July 6, 2003 and July 12, 2003). After returning to Washington, Libby calls Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, who has already learned from Rove that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). According to Libby’s 2005 indictment (see October 28, 2005), “Libby confirmed to Cooper, without elaboration or qualification, that he had heard this information, too,” that Plame Wilson was CIA. (Waas 3/30/2006) Libby speaks “on the record” to deny that Cheney had anything to do with the CIA’s decision to send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). On background, Cooper asks Libby if he knows anything about Wilson’s wife being responsible for sending him to Niger. Libby replies, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too.” (Cooper 7/12/2003 ; Cooper 7/12/2003 ; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/8/2004 ; Cooper 7/17/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ) Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin and Libby’s aide Jenny Mayfield are present for Libby’s call to Cooper. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/30/2006 ) Later this afternoon, Libby phones New York Times reporter Judith Miller and discusses Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003).
Two White House officials call at least six Washington journalists to tell them that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent. Wilson wrote an op-ed criticizing the administration’s Iraq policies and claiming that the allegations of Iraq’s attempts to buy uranium from Niger are unsubstantiated (see July 6, 2003). In return, administration officials are attempting to discredit Wilson by alleging that his wife, undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, sent him on the journey (see July 17, 2003). Plame Wilson will be outed as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), who received the tip from two administration officials, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003) and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). (Allen and Priest 9/28/2003) One of those journalists is the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus (see June 12, 2003), who later testifies that he learns of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see (July 11, 2003)) on July 12. Pincus will testify that, during a conversation about the Iraq-Niger WMD claim, Fleischer “swerved off and said, in effect, don’t you know his wife works at CIA, is an analyst on WMD, and she arranged the trip, that’s why people weren’t paying attention to it.” (Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007)
Outing 'Clearly ... For Revenge' - On September 27, a senior administration official will confirm that two officials, whom he/she does not name, called Novak and other journalists. “Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge,” the senior official says. A reporter will tell Joseph Wilson that, according to either Armitage or Rove, “The real issue is Wilson and his wife.” Other sources will say that one of the leakers describe Plame Wilson as “fair game” (see July 21, 2003). When the administration official is asked why he/she is discussing the leakers, the response is that the leaks are “wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson’s credibility” (see September 28, 2003). Wilson will state publicly that he believes Rove broke his wife’s cover (see August 21, 2003). (Allen and Priest 9/28/2003)
Wilson: Journalists Fear Reprisals - Wilson later writes: “A reporter told me that one of the six newspeople who had received the leak stated flatly that the pressure he had come under from the administration in the past several months to remain silent made him fear that if he did his job and reported on the leak story, he would ‘end up in Guantanamo’—a dark metaphor for the career isolation he would suffer at the hands of the administration. Another confided that she had heard from reporters that ‘with kids in private school and a mortgage on the house,’ they were unwilling to cross the administration.… What does it say for the health of our democracy—or our media—when fear of the administration’s reaction preempts the search for truth?” (Wilson 2004, pp. 440)
Conservative columnist Robert Novak, after being told by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House political guru Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003), writes a syndicated op-ed column that publicly names her as a CIA officer. The column is an attempt to defend the administration from charges that it deliberately cited forged documents as “evidence” that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). It is also an attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband, who had gone to Niger at the behest of the CIA to find out whether the Iraq-Niger story was true (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak characterizes Wilson’s findings—that an Iraqi deal for Nigerien uranium was highly unlikely—as “less than definitive,” and writes that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush were aware of Wilson’s report before the president’s 2003 State of the Union address where he stated that Iraq had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Novak writes: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials [Armitage and Rove, though Novak does not name them] told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. ‘I will not answer any question about my wife,’ Wilson told me.” Wilson’s July 6 op-ed challenging the administration’s claims (see July 6, 2003) “ignite[d] the firestorm,” Novak writes. (Novak 7/14/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 312-313) Novak also uses the intelligence term “agency operative,” identifying her as a covert agent and indicating that he is aware of her covert status. Later, though, Novak will claim that he came up with the identifying phrase independently, and did not know of her covert status. (Waas 7/19/2005)
Asked Not to Print Plame Wilson's Name - Novak will later acknowledge being asked by a CIA official not to print Plame Wilson’s name “for security reasons.” Intelligence officials will say they thought Novak understood there were larger reasons than Plame Wilson’s personal security not to publish her name. Novak will say that he did not consider the request strong enough to follow (see September 27, 2003 and October 1, 2003). (Allen and Priest 9/28/2003) He will later reveal the CIA official as being agency spokesman Bill Harlow, who asked him not to reveal Plame’s identity because while “she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment… exposure of her agency identity might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “This struck Novak as an inadequate reason to withhold relevant information from the public. Novak defended his actions by asserting that Harlow had not suggested that Plame or anybody else would be endangered, and that he learned Plame’s name (though not her undercover identity) from her husband’s entry in the well-known reference book Who’s Who in America.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 173-174) McClellan will note, “Whether war, smear job, or PR offensive gone haywire, the CIA took the leak of Plame’s name very seriously.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 174)
Plame Wilson Stricken - According to Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth, his wife’s first reaction is disbelief at Novak’s casual destruction of her CIA career. “Twenty years of loyal service down the drain, and for what?” she asks. She then makes a checklist to begin assessing and controlling the damage done to her work. She is even more appalled after totalling up the damage. Not only are the lives of herself and her family now endangered, but so are those of the people with whom she has worked for 20 years (see July 14, 2003). (Dean 5/12/2004) In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter: “[Y]ou can assume that even if 150 people read the Novak article when it appeared, 148 of them would have been the heads of intelligence sections at embassies here in Washington and by noon that day they would have faxing her name or telexing her name back to their home offices and running checks on her: whether she had ever been in the country, who she may have been in contact with, etc.” (Alexandrovna 7/13/2005)
Intimidation of Other Whistle-Blowers? - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “The implication from the administration was that the CIA’s selection of Wilson was somehow twisted because his wife was at the CIA. But, more importantly, the administration had put out a message to any and all potential whistle-blowers: if you dare speak out, we will strike back. To that end, the cover of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative specializing in WMD, had been blown by a White House that was supposedly orchestrating a worldwide war against terror.” (Unger 2007, pp. 312-313)
Outing about Iraq, Not Niger, Author Says - In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write: “The leak case was about Iraq, not Niger. The political stakes were high only because the scandal was about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair. The real victims were the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprits—the big enchilada, in John Ehrlichman’s Nixon White House lingo—were not the leakers but those who provoked a war in Iraq for their own motives and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from the fight against those who did attack America on 9/11, and had since regrouped to deadly effect.… Without Iraq, there never would have been a smear campaign against an obscure diplomat or the bungled cover-up [that followed]. While the Bush White House’s dirty tricks, like [former President] Nixon’s, were prompted in part by a ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost, this administration had upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.” (Rich 2006, pp. 184)
Elevating Profile of Controversy - In 2008, McClellan will write, “By revealing Plame’s status, Novak inadvertently elevated the Niger controversy into a full-blown scandal.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 173)
Time magazine, in an article by Matthew Cooper and two other reporters, asks the question, “Has the Bush administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium?” Its answer: “Perhaps.” The ambassador is Joseph Wilson, who flew to Africa in February 2002 to find the truth behind the charges that Iraq had secretly attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson found no evidence to back up those claims (see March 4-5, 2002), and recently wrote a New York Times op-ed blasting the administration’s use of those claims to justify invading Iraq (see July 6, 2003).
White House Says Wilson's Report Bolstered Claims - Cooper reports that since Wilson’s op-ed was published, “administration officials have taken public and private whacks at Wilson, charging that his 2002 report, made at the behest of US intelligence, was faulty and that his mission was a scheme cooked up by mid-level operatives.” CIA Director George Tenet and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer have both criticized Wilson and disputed his conclusion, even stating that his findings in Niger actually strengthened the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger connection, saying that he reported a meeting with a former Nigerien government official who discussed being approached by an Iraqi official in June 1999 who wanted to expand commercial relations between the two countries. According to government officials, Wilson interpreted that overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. Fleischer said: “This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it… reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales” (see February 1999). Wilson disputes the characterization, saying that he never interpreted the discussion in the way the White House claims he did: “That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the president alleged? These guys really need to get serious.”
Wilson and the Forged Documents - Tenet has blasted Wilson for never discussing the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001); for his part, Wilson said that he did not discuss the documents because he never saw them. And Fleischer says that Wilson erred in taking Nigerien officials at their word: “He spent eight days in Niger and he concluded that Niger denied the allegation. Well, typically nations don’t admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation.”
Claims that Wilson Sent at Behest of Wife - Other unnamed White House officials have insinuated that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see February 13, 2002, February 13, 2002, Shortly after February 13, 2002, February 20, 2002, and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), whom Cooper identifies as “a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” (see (June 12, 2003)). Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), though he does not cite Rove as his source in his article. Cooper writes, “These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched [to] Niger” (see February 19, 2002). Wilson, according to Cooper, angrily disputes the contention that his wife sent him to Niger, saying: “That is bullsh_t. That is absolutely not the case. I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the February 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job.”
Wilson Sent Due to Cheney's Pressure? - A source whom Cooper identifies as “close to the matter” confirms that Wilson was sent to Niger after Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to find out about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see Shortly after February 12, 2002), though both Tenet and Cheney’s office deny doing so (see (February 13, 2002)). Cooper quotes Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as saying: “The vice president heard about the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger in February 2002. As part of his regular intelligence briefing, the vice president asked a question about the implication of the report. During the course of a year, the vice president asked many such questions and the agency responded within a day or two saying that they had reporting suggesting the possibility of such a transaction. But the agency noted that the reporting lacked detail. The agency pointed out that Iraq already had 500 tons of uranium, portions of which came from Niger, according to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA—see 1979-1982). The vice president was unaware of the trip by Ambassador Wilson and didn’t know about it until this year when it became public in the last month or so.” Other administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, claim they, too, heard nothing of Wilson’s report until recently. (Cooper, Calabresi, and Dickerson 7/17/2003)
Cooper to Testify about Sources - Cooper will eventually testify about his contacts with Rove and Libby during the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005).
According to a later interview with former ambassador Joseph Wilson, after the Robert Novak column outing his wife Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official appeared (see July 14, 2003), Wilson begins receiving telephone calls from Washington journalists and news agencies about the leak of his wife’s identity. Wilson will characterize the calls as saying, “The White House is saying things about you and your wife that are so off the wall we can’t even put them up.” Shortly afterwards, “a respected journalist” calls Wilson to say, “White House sources are telling us that this story is not about the 16 words,” referring to the specious Iraq-Niger claim made in President Bush’s State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Instead, the journalist tells him, the White House is saying, “this story is about Wilson and his wife.” The calls culminate with a warning from MSNBC host Chris Matthews that White House political strategist Karl Rove has declared Plame Wilson “fair game” for reporters (see July 21, 2003). (MSNBC 10/5/2003)
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson has recently been “outed” as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), learns from NBC political reporter Andrea Mitchell that “senior White House sources” have told her that “the real story here is not the 16 words in the State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) but Wilson and his wife.” Mitchell does not reveal her sources. The next day, Wilson learns that White House political chief Karl Rove has declared his wife “fair game” (see July 21, 2003). (Wilson 2004, pp. 5)
White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove declares that covert CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, recently outed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), is now “fair game,” presumably for media attacks. Plame Wilson learns of Rove’s declaration when she walks into her den to find her husband Joseph Wilson just getting off the phone. She will later write: “[H]e had a look on his face that I’d never seen before. He said he had just been talking with journalist and Hardball host Chris Matthews [the host of a political discussion show on MSNBC], who had told [Wilson] that he had just spoken with the powerful presidential adviser Karl Rove.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 147) Wilson himself will later write that Matthews tells him: “I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, ‘Wilson’s wife is fair game.‘… I will confirm that if asked.” Wilson will write: “Those are fighting words for any man, and I’d just had them quoted to me.… Rove was legendary for his right-wing zeal and take-no-prisoners operating style. But what he was doing now was tantamount to declaring war on two US citizens, both of them with years of government service.… For a president who promised to restore dignity and honor to the White House, this behavior from a trusted adviser was neither dignified nor honorable. In fact, it was downright dirty and highly unethical even in a town where the politics of personal destruction are the local pastime.” He cannot be sure why he and his wife are being targeted. Surely, he muses, no one believes that his wife sent him on his mission to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 19, 2002), or that his trip to one of the poorest countries in Africa had been some sort of pleasure jaunt. He realizes that the ultimate target might not be either his wife or himself, but others who may feel impelled to speak out against the administration, a point he makes later in the day to two reporters from Newsday (see July 21, 2003). (Wilson 2004, pp. 1-5) Wilson will later write: “To make a political point, to defend a political agenda, to blur the truth that one of the president’s own staffers had scripted a lie into the president’s mouth, one of the administration’s most senior officials found it perfectly acceptable to push a story that exposed a national security asset. It was appalling.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 351)
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson’s cover as a CIA agent was blown by two administration officials (see July 14, 2003), says that he believes deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove is responsible for outing his wife. At a public forum in Seattle, Wilson names Rove as the person most likely to have leaked his wife’s covert identity and says he is keenly interested “to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.” (Allen and Priest 9/28/2003) As Wilson will later recall, the comment is greeted by a storm of boos and catcalls, “followed by applause at the thought of everyone’s favorite ogre being frog-marched.” Wilson’s wife is not pleased by Wilson’s turn of phrase, and later warns him to temper his words. (Wilson 2004, pp. 372)
President Bush is aware of, and angered by, White House political strategist Karl Rove’s role in the Plame Wilson identity leak, according to an October 2005 report by the New York Daily News. An unidentified “presidential counselor” will tell reporter Thomas DeFrank: “He made his displeasure known to Karl. He made his life miserable about this.” Another “well-placed source” will tell DeFrank that the story of Rove intentionally deceiving Bush about his role in the leak is false, a story spread by White House insiders trying to put distance between Bush and the leak. (Grieve 10/19/2005; Froomkin 6/13/2006)
White House adviser Karl Rove makes two telephone calls to 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow, one on September 4, the other on September 15. The subject of the calls, which are unofficially logged by Karen Heitkotter, an executive secretary with the Commission, is unclear. Zelikow and Rove had a previous exchange of calls in June (see June 23-24, 2003). (Shenon 2008, pp. 107, 171-174) According to Zelikow, it concerns “this matter of his elderly friend who had these papers. It had no relation to contemporary problems; he [Rove] was being gracious to someone.” (Zelikow and Shenon 2007 ) This will be confirmed by a White House official, who will say that Rove calls Zelikow on behalf of an elderly neighbor who had been a senior lawyer at the State Department at the end of World War II. The neighbor wonders whether the Miller Center, a historical research institute Zelikow used to work for, would like to see his papers and talk to him. However, a “senior White House official familiar with Rove’s memory of the contacts with Zelikow” will say this is not the only topic discussed and that there are also “ancillary conversations” about the workings of the Commission. Interviewed around mid-September 2003, 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton say that they are not aware of the calls and seem surprised by them, but accept Zelikow’s innocent explanation. (Shenon 2008, pp. 173-174)
Showtime broadcasts a “docudrama” about the 9/11 attacks and the White House’s response, entitled DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. According to New York Times author and media critic Frank Rich, the film drastically rewrites history to portray President Bush as “an unironic action-movie superhero.” In the movie, Bush—portrayed by actor Timothy Bottoms, who played Bush in Comedy Central’s satiric That’s My Bush!—is shown overruling his Secret Service detail and ordering Air Force One to return to Washington immediately, an event which never happened (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me!” the movie Bush shouts. “I’ll be at home, waiting for the b_stard!” The movie Bush has other lines that establish his desire to get back to Washington, including, “The American people want to know where their damn president is!” and “People can’t have an AWOL president!” In one scene, a Secret Service agent questions Bush’s demand to return to Washington by saying, “But Mr. President—” only to be cut off by Bush, who snaps, “Try ‘Commander in Chief.’ Whose present command is: Take the president home!” In reality, most of the orders on 9/11 were given by Vice President Dick Cheney and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, but in the movie, Bush is the man in charge. “Hike military alert status to Delta,” he orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “That’s the military, the CIA, foreign, domestic, everything,” he explains. “And if you haven’t gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” To Cheney, he barks: “Vice? We are at war.” The White House team are, in Rich’s words, “portrayed as the very model of efficiency and derring-do.” (Farhi 6/19/2003; Stanley 9/5/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 25-26) New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley notes that Bush is the unquestioned hero of the film, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair portrayed as “not very eloquent” and Cheney depicted as “a kowtowing yes-man.” (Stanley 9/5/2003)
Conservative Pundits Influenced Script - The movie is produced by Lionel Chetwynd, whom Rich calls “the go-to conservative in B-list Hollywood.” For the movie script, Chetwynd was given unprecedently broad access to top White House officials, including Bush. He also received the assistance of conservative Washington pundits Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, and Fred Barnes, who cover the Bush White House for such media outlets as Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post. Rich later writes that much of the film seems based on Bob Woodward’s “hagiographic [book] Bush at War (see November 25, 2002).” (Farhi 6/19/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 25-26)
Propaganda Effort? - Before the movie airs, Toronto Sun columnist Linda McQuaig called the film an attempt to mythologize Bush in a fashion similar to Hollywood’s re-creation of the Wild West’s Wyatt Earp, and wrote that the film “is sure to help the White House further its two-pronged reelection strategy: Keep Americans terrified of terrorism and make Bush look like the guy best able to defend them.” Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower added that the movie would present Bush as “a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.… Instead of the doe-eyed, uncertain, worried figure that he was that day, Bush-on-film is transformed into an infallible, John Wayne-ish, Patton-type leader, barking orders to the Secret Service and demanding that the pilots return him immediately to the White House.” Chetwynd himself has acknowledged that he is a “great admirer” of Bush, and has close ties to the White House. In late 2001, Bush appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “This isn’t propaganda,” Chetwynd insisted during the shooting of the movie, adding: “Everything in the movie is [based on] two or three sources. I’m not reinventing the wheel here.… I don’t think it’s possible to do a revision of this particular bit of history. Every scholar who has looked at this has come to the same place that this film does. There’s nothing here that Bob Woodward would disagree with.… It’s a straightforward docudrama. I would hope what’s presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation.” (Farhi 6/19/2003) Rich will later write that the film is “unmistakably a propaganda effort on behalf of a sitting administration.” (Rich 2006, pp. 25-26)
Blaming the Clinton Administration - Perhaps most questionably, Stanley writes, the film “rarely misses a chance to suggest that the Clinton administration’s weakness was to blame for the disaster.” Bush, she notes, is portrayed as a more decisive leader than his predecessor: in the film, he tells Blair over the telephone: “I want to inflict pain [on the attackers]. Bring enough damage so they understand there is a new team here, a fundamental change in our policy.” (Stanley 9/5/2003)
9/11 Widow Unhappy with Film - Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center, calls the film “a mind-numbingly boring, revisionist, two-hour-long wish list of how 9/11 might have gone if we had real leaders in the current administration.” She adds: “It is understandable that so little time is actually devoted to the president’s true actions on the morning of 9/11. Because to show the entire 23 minutes from 9:03 to 9:25 a.m., when President Bush, in reality, remained seated and listening to ‘second grade story-hour’ while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers, would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.” Breitweiser questions numerous aspects of the film: “Miscellaneous things that surprised me included the fact that the film perpetuates the big fat lie that Air Force One was a target. Forgive me, but I thought the White House admitted at the end of September 2001 that Air Force One was never a target, that no code words were spoken and that it was all a lie (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-March 2004). So what gives?… Not surprisingly, there is no mention of accountability. Not once does anyone say, ‘How the hell did this happen? Heads will roll!’ I was hoping that, at least behind closed doors, there were words like, ‘Look, we really screwed up! Let’s make sure we find out what went wrong and that it never happens again!’ Nope, no such luck.” (Breitweiser 9/8/2003)
Time reporter Matthew Cooper publishes a brief article on the Bush administration’s attempts to reform the US welfare program. The article is in part sourced to information obtained by Cooper from White House political strategist Karl Rove, in the same conversation where Rove outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). (Cooper 9/15/2003)
After being asked about the Plame Wilson leak in a press conference (see September 16, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan asks White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove about his involvement in the leak. McClellan has called questions about Rove’s involvement “ridiculous,” and wants to have Rove confirm McClellan’s public denial. McClellan will later write: “I wanted to make sure I hadn’t climbed out on a limb. Rove had known [conservative columnist Robert] Novak (see July 8, 2003 and July 14, 2003) for years and spoke with him from time to time, and of course he was known for playing hardball politics. But surely even he knew that leaking classified national security information would cross a line.” As McClellan recalls, he asks Rove: “A reporter asked me today if you were one of Novak’s sources and ‘burned the cover’ of [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s wife. I said it was totally ridiculous. You weren’t one of Novak’s sources, right?” Rove responds, “Right.” McClellan says, “Just wanted to make sure.” Rove affirms, “You’re right.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 179-180)
White House Press secretary Scott McClellan is asked by journalist Russell Mokhiber about the likelihood of White House political chief Karl Rove’s possible involvement in the Plame Wilson leak. McClellan will call Mokhiber “a Ralph Nader associate and liberal White House critic… interested in gotcha reporting, plain and simple, to damage an administration he held in low regard.” Mokhiber notes that Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson believes Rove leaked her name to Robert Novak (see August 21, 2003), and adds, “[T]his is apparently a federal offense, to burn the cover of a CIA operative.” McClellan will write that he has not discussed the matter with Rove as yet, and is somewhat taken aback by Mokhiber’s “emotionally offputting” phrasing. He “confidently” tells Mokhiber, “That’s just ridiculous.” He will continue denying any involvement by Rove, and will later write, “It was the stance I would maintain as the scandal blossomed.” (White House 9/16/2003; McClellan 2008, pp. 179)
The Justice Department authorizes the FBI to open a criminal investigation into leaks of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity by sources within the Bush administration (see July 14, 2003, July 30, 2003, and September 16, 2003). (MSNBC 2/21/2007; Washington Post 7/3/2007) The investigation is headed by the Justice Department’s counterespionage chief, John Dion. (Ward 1/2004)
Questions of Impartiality - Dion is a veteran career prosecutor who has headed the counterespionage section since 2002. He will rely on a team of a half-dozen investigators, many of whom have extensive experience in investigating leaks. However, some administration critics are skeptical of Dion’s ability to run an impartial investigation: he will report to the Justice Department’s Robert McCallum, who is an old friend and Yale classmate of President Bush. Both Bush and McCallum were members of the secret Skull & Bones Society at Yale. Others believe the investigation will be non-partisan. “I believe that the career lawyers in Justice—the people who preceded [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and who will be there after he leaves—will do a nonpolitical investigation, an honest investigation,” says legal ethics specialist Stephen Gillers. “Ashcroft’s sole job is to stay out of it.” (Associated Press 10/2/2003; Schmitt and Chen 10/2/2003)
CIA Director Filed Request - The request for an investigation (see September 16, 2003) was filed by CIA Director George Tenet; a CIA official says Tenet “doesn’t like leaks.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he knows of no leaks about Wilson’s wife: “That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing. I don’t have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice.” McClellan calls Joseph Wilson’s charges that deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove leaked his wife’s name (see August 21, 2003) “a ridiculous suggestion” that is “simply not true.” A White House official says that two administration sources (later revealed to be Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) leaked Plame Wilson’s name to six separate journalists (see Before July 14, 2003). The White House is notoriously intolerant of leaks, and pursues real and supposed leakers with vigor. Wilson says that if the White House did indeed leak his wife’s name, then the leak was part of what he calls “a deliberate attempt on the part of the White House to intimidate others and make them think twice about coming forward.” (Allen and Priest 9/28/2003)
White House, Democrats Respond - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that the White House is willing to have the Justice Department investigate the charges. “I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate,” she tells Fox News. “My understanding is that in matters like this, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action and that’s what is going to be done.” However, some Democrats want more. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the charges, since the department has an inherent conflict of interest: “I don’t see how it would be possible for the Justice Department to investigate whether a top administration official broke the law and endangered the life of this agent (see July 21, 2003). Even if the department were to do a thorough and comprehensive investigation, the appearance of a conflict could well mar its conclusions.… Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network of intelligence assets. On top of that, it poses a serious threat to the national security of this nation.” Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says the White House should find out who is responsible for the leak, and Congress should investigate the matter as well. (Allen and Priest 9/28/2003; Fox News 9/29/2003)
FBI Will Acknowledge Investigation - The FBI officially acknowledges the investigation on September 30 (see September 30, 2003), and informs the White House of the investigation. (New York Times 2006)
Shortly after the FBI launches its investigation into the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove assures President Bush that he had no involvement in leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to the press (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove also assures Bush that he had nothing to do with leaking information to the press concerning Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. He does not tell Bush about his July 2003 conversation with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, in which he identified Plame Wilson as a CIA agent, nor does he tell him that he told Cooper that Plame Wilson had arranged for her husband to go to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). According to a 2005 story in the National Journal, Rove will also fail to disclose this information in his upcoming interviews with FBI investigators. Because of Rove’s assurances, Bush will tell White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he vouches for Rove’s non-involvement in the Plame Wilson affair (see September 29, 2003), and will give special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald the same assurances (see June 24, 2004). (Waas 10/7/2005)
ABC News producer Andrea Owen asks White House political guru Karl Rove about leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity: “Did you have any knowledge or did you leak the name of the CIA agent to the press?” Rove answers, “No.” When Owen asks, “What is your response to the fact that Justice is looking into the matter (see September 29, 2003)?” Rove shuts his car door without answering, and drives away. (Halperin et al. 9/29/2003)
Newly promoted White House press secretary Scott McClellan takes part in his first truly contentious White House press briefing. He will later recall feeling “well prepared,” both from the morning’s less formal “press gaggle” and from a prebriefing preparation session with his staff. He has confirmed from President Bush and White House chief of staff Andrew Card that the White House had no involvement in the Plame Wilson leak (see September 29, 2003). McClellan is authorized to say that anyone involved in the leak “would no longer be in this administration”; Bush has said, “I would fire anybody involved.” McClellan will later write, “I had his full, unequivocal approval.” Bush has also reminded McClellan to ask reporters to come forward if they know who the leakers are. (McClellan 2008, pp. 187-189)
Leakers 'Would No Longer Be Part of This Administration' - During the briefing, McClellan says that it is “simply not true” that White House political adviser Karl Rove is involved in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity (see September 26, 2003 and September 27, 2003). He says, after frequent questioning about Bush being “passive” about the possibility of criminal activities in the White House, “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.” (White House 9/29/2003; New York Times 2006)
Denying Rove's Involvement - McClellan denies again and again that Rove or any other White House official leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. “[T]hat is not the way this White House operates,” he says. “The president expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing. Secondly, there—I’ve seen the anonymous media reports, and if I could find out who ‘anonymous’ was, it would make my life a whole lot easier.… [A]nyone—anyone—who has information relating to this should report that information to the Department of Justice.” The only information suggesting White House involvement has come from the media, McClellan says. A reporter asks McClellan about his statement earlier in the day that “the president knows” Rove did not leak Plame Wilson’s name. McClellan says: “I’ve said that it’s not true. And I have spoken with Karl Rove.… [Bush is] aware of what I’ve said, that there is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have spoken with Karl about it.” When pressed about discussing the matter with Rove, McClellan adds, somewhat contradictorily: “I’ve known Karl for a long time, and I didn’t even need to go ask Karl, because I know the kind of person that he is, and he is someone that is committed to the highest standards of conduct.… I have spoken with Karl about this matter and I’ve already addressed it.” McClellan refuses to answer repeated questions about any possible White House investigations or attempts to find the leakers, repeating his answer that any such investigation is a task best left to the Justice Department and repeatedly asking reporters if they have any information about the leaks. He dodges repeated questions about the possibility of Attorney General John Ashcroft appointing a special counsel to investigate the leaks (see December 30, 2003). (White House 9/29/2003)
'Aggressive' Push Back against Reporters' 'Assumptions' and 'Challenges' - McClellan will later describe his performance at the briefing as “push[ing] back aggressively on assumptions embedded in the questions, and challeng[ing] reporters to produce information suggesting that White House aides were responsible for the leak.” He will write: “Those last words [the statement that anyone caught leaking information ‘would no longer be part of this administration’] would get plenty of media play over the next few years, particularly as important information came to light. With the president’s approval and his oft-stated commitment to honor and integrity embedded in my mind, I could not have been more confident in what I said.” The post-briefing critique with his staff, he will recall, is “very positive.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 187-189)
White House press secretary Scott McClellan obtains a third confirmation from White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove (see September 27, 2003) that he had “neither leaked nor condoned leaking [CIA agent Valerie] Plame [Wilson]‘s identity,” as McClellan will write in 2008. McClellan will add, “That day would be the last time I would talk to or hear from Karl about anything specifically related to the leak.” When McClellan asks President Bush about it, as he will later write: “‘Karl didn’t do it,’ the president reflexively said.… The ‘it’ clearly meant disclosing Plame’s identity to reporters.… ‘He told me he didn’t do it,’ the president continued.… Rove had already denied to me that he’d leaked Plame’s name, and now I was learning that he had also told the president that he was not involved.” Both Bush and McClellan catch sight of White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who, in McClellan’s recollection, “had raised his hands above his waist and was now gesturing down with both to indicate to the president that he should keep quiet and stop talking about what was fast becoming a sensitive subject.” Bush says, “with a slight hint of irritation in his voice: ‘What? That’s what Karl told me.’” Card responds: “I know. But you shouldn’t be talking about it with anyone, not even me.” McClellan believes Card is referring to the strictures imposed on the White House staff by the Justice Department investigation (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). In McClellan’s recollection, Bush has little interest in observing Card’s warning. McClellan tells Bush that though he has already told the press that Rove was not involved in the leak, he will undoubtedly be asked again. Then he asks Card, “Do we know anything more about the investigation?” Card says he knows of nothing new. McClellan will later write, “The discussion in the Oval [Office] that morning—the day we would learn that an investigation was indeed under way—was a moment Andy would later recollect for prosecutors, and that I would be asked to confirm under oath to a federal grand jury.” McClellan confirms the line to take during the morning “press gaggle” (see September 29, 2003): the leak “of classified information is a serious matter,” it should be “pursued to the fullest possible extent,” and “the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to look into it.” Bush agrees, and adds, “And I hope they find who did it.” McClellan then asks Card, “I am still good to say that nothing has been brought to our attention to suggest White House involvement, beyond what we have read in the papers, right?” Card agrees, and adds, “[L]ast I heard from Al [White House counsel Alberto Gonzales], he did not either.” As McClellan will later write, “We were all on the same page.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 182-185) Shortly after the FBI launched its investigation (see September 26, 2003), Rove had personally assured Bush that he had not disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to anyone in the press (see After September 26, 2003).
Columnist Robert Novak, who revealed the secret CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson to the public (see July 14, 2003) after learning of her identity from White House officials Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003) and Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003), calls Rove three days after the Justice Department announced that the CIA had asked it to investigate the source of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003). Novak assures Rove that he will protect him from being harmed by the investigation. The conversation between Novak and Rove will later be revealed during statements given to the FBI (see October 8, 2003). Attorney General John Ashcroft will later be told by the FBI that it suspected Rove and Novak of colluding to concoct a cover story to protect Rove (see October and November 2003). Rove will later testify that during the conversation, Novak tells him, “You are not going to get burned,” and, “I don’t give up my sources.” According to Rove, Novak also refers to a 1992 incident in which Rove was fired from the Texas gubernatorial campaign of George W. Bush after the campaign learned that he had been the source for a Novak column criticizing the campaign’s inner workings. Novak assures Rove that nothing like that will happen now. “I’m not going to let that happen to you again,” Novak tells Rove. Rove will testify that he believes Novak means that he will say Rove was not a source for the Plame Wilson information—in essence, that Novak would lie about Rove’s involvement. Rove will call their conversation “curious,” and say he was unsure what to make of it. In 2006, Washington lawyer Stanley Brand says that for potential witnesses to discuss a case with one another “raises the inference that they are comparing each other’s recollections and altering or shaping each other’s testimony.… [There is a] thin line between refreshing each other’s recollections… and suborning someone to lie under oath.” Journalism professor Mark Feldstein will later say that Novak may have stretched the boundaries of journalistic ethics, or broken them entirely, by contacting Rove after the criminal investigation had been announced. “A journalist’s natural instinct is to protect his source,” Feldstein will say. “Were there no criminal investigation, it would have been more than appropriate for a reporter to say to a source, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to out you.’ But if there is a criminal investigation under way, you can’t escape the inference that you are calling to coordinate your stories. You go very quickly from being a stand-up reporter to impairing a criminal investigation.” A close friend of Rove’s will say in 2006 that he doubts either Rove or Novak will ever change their stories and testify against the other, regardless of the evidence or the truth of the matter. “These are two people who go way back, and they are going to look out for each other,” the friend says. (Waas 5/25/2006)
The FBI publicly acknowledges that it has opened an investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003). The White House directs its staff to fully cooperate with the investigation (see September 29-30, 2003). President Bush tells the press: “If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated the law, he will be taken care of.” (Stevenson and Lichtblau 9/30/2003; New York Times 2006) (In White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s later recollection, “he’d made clear that if anyone in his administration had been responsible for the leak, he or she would have to leave.”) (McClellan 2008, pp. 216) Bush says there are “just too many leaks” from both the White House and Congress. The Justice Department instructs the White House, through White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to preserve all records relating to the case, including any involving contacts with columnist Robert Novak (who first publicly outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003), and two Newsday reporters, Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce (see September 30, 2003). Phelps and Royce wrote a July 2003 article claiming that “intelligence officials” had confirmed and expanded on Novak’s identification of Plame Wilson, and stated that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA in “an undercover capacity” (see July 21, 2003). Bush tells reporters that he is “absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job” of investigating the case, indicating that he will not support calls for an outside special counsel to take over the probe. The Justice Department has not ruled out asking for a special counsel, though Attorney General John Ashcroft says his department is more than capable of handling the investigation itself. Democrats say that Ashcroft’s Justice Department should not conduct any such investigation because of Ashcroft’s close connections to White House personnel who may be involved in the leak, such as White House political adviser Karl Rove. At a fundraising luncheon, Bush indirectly dismisses the controversy over the Plame Wilson outing as part of the “needless partisan bickering that dominates the Washington, DC, landscape.” A Republican source close to the White House tells the New York Times that the investigation will blow over within a matter of days. “The general view inside the White House among senior staff is that this is going to create a few rocky political days, that it’s mainly the Democrats pushing it and that if all the Republicans stay on board, the story goes away,” the source says. (Stevenson and Lichtblau 9/30/2003; New York Times 2006) Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassdor Joseph Wilson, will later call this an “absurdly broad net, as there were only a very small number of people in the administration whose responsibilities overlap the national security and the political arenas, the best pool of possible suspects in which to start looking.” Wilson will note, “If the president really wanted to ‘come to the bottom of this,’ as he claimed to reporters on October 7 (see October 7, 2003), he could have acted like the strong chief executive he claims to be and brought his senior people into a room and demanded that they produce the leaker.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 399)
Senate Democrats attempt to pass a non-binding resolution asking Attorney General John Ashcroft to name a special counsel to investigate the Plame Wilson leak, but Republicans squelch the resolution on procedural grounds. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the sponsor of the resolution, says, “This is not just a leak; this is a crime, plain and simple” and deserves an independent inquiry. Democrats say the Justice Department has an inherent conflict of interest in investigating the White House; they note that top Bush strategist Karl Rove, who has been accused of having a role in the leak, once was a consultant to Ashcroft. (Milbank and Schmidt 10/1/2003) US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will be named as special counsel for the investigation (see December 30, 2003).
At an afternoon press briefing at the University of Chicago, President Bush is questioned about the Plame Wilson leak investigation (see September 26, 2003). Bush says that there are “too many leaks of classified information in Washington. There’s leaks at the executive branch; there’s leaks in the legislative branch. There’s just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.” He is “absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job” in the investigation. “I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.” Asked whether White House political strategist Karl Rove might be the source of the leak (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Busn replies: “Listen, I know of nobody—I don’t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I’d like to know it, and we’ll take the appropriate action.” He remarks that “Washington is a town where there’s all kinds of allegations,” and again asks that if anyone has any “solid information, please come forward with it. And that would be people inside the information who are the so-called anonymous sources, or people outside the information—outside the administration. And we can clarify this thing very quickly if people who have got solid evidence would come forward and speak out. And I would hope they would. And then we’ll get to the bottom of this and move on.… I want to know who the leakers are.” (White House 9/30/2003; Arak 9/30/2003)
FBI agents investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak inform Attorney General John Ashcroft that they believe White House political strategist Karl Rove and conservative columnist Robert Novak may be conspiring to hide the truth behind Rove’s involvement in the leak. They also inform Ashcroft that they believe Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, has lied to FBI investigators about his role in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Although it is unclear who provides this briefing to Ashcroft, he is usually briefed on the status of the investigation by John Dion, the head of the FBI investigation, and Christopher Wray, the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division. (Waas 5/25/2006; Waas 6/8/2006)
Novak's Attempt to Protect Rove - They inform Ashcroft of a telephone conversation between Rove and Novak, in which Novak promised to protect Rove from the FBI investigation, presumably by either refusing to disclose him as a source of his knowledge of Plame Wilson’s identity (see September 29, 2003) or lying to investigators. Although Ashcroft receives routine briefings on the status of the FBI investigation, the bureau considers this important enough to warrant a special briefing for him on the matter. The FBI believes that after the conversation with Rove, Novak did indeed change his story about the leak, characterizing White House officials’ role in it as entirely passive. A week after Novak publicly outed Plame Wilson, he told reporters that he didn’t “dig out” the Plame Wilson information, but rather “it was given to me.… They thought it was significant. They gave me the name, and I used it” (see July 21, 2003). This account suggests that Rove was actively trying to expose Plame Wilson as a CIA officer, as reporter Murray Waas will later write. But the same day he spoke with Rove, Novak provided a different story, saying no one at the White House gave him the information (see September 29, 2003). Novak’s first story fits more closely with accounts later given by reporters such as Time’s Matthew Cooper (see July 13, 2005) and the New York Times’s Judith Miller (see September 30, 2005). (Waas 5/25/2006)
Libby's Lies to FBI - The FBI also informs Ashcroft that it has acquired evidence—personal notes from Libby—that contradicts Libby’s assertions that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from journalists (see October 14, 2003). Libby also told investigators that he had merely considered the information about Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status “unsubstantiated rumors” when he leaked that information to reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), another lie. (Waas 6/8/2006)
Ashcroft Declines to Recuse Himself - Ashcroft will recuse himself from participation in the investigation in December, in part because of the potential of a conflict of interest stemming from his previous relationship with Rove (see December 30, 2003) as well as other White House officials. Some FBI investigators believe that he should have recused himself as soon as he learned that Rove and Libby were possibly involved in the leak; some have also noted privately that many of Ashcroft’s top aides came from the Republican National Committee (RNC), which they suspect has been working closely with the White House to pressure Ashcroft not to name a special prosecutor. In 2006, law professor Stephen Gillers will say: “There is always going to be an interim period during which you decide you will recuse or not recuse. But [Ashcroft] should have had an ‘aha!’ moment when he learned that someone, figuratively, or in this case literally, next door to the president of the United States—who was Ashcroft’s boss—was under suspicion.” Ashcroft’s spokesman Mark Corallo has explained that Ashcroft declined to recuse himself because of his intense interest in the probe. Corallo will later become the spokesman for Rove. Fellow law professor Charles Wolfram, like Gillers a specialist in legal ethics, agrees with Gillers. In 2006, Wolfram says the “most distressing” ethical aspect of the case is that Ashcroft continued overseeing the probe even after Cheney’s name arose. “This should have been a matter of common sense,” Wolfram will note. Ashcroft “should have left it to career prosecutors whether or not to go after politically sensitive targets. You can’t have Ashcroft investigate the people who appointed him or of his own political party.” (Waas 6/8/2006)
Salon columnist and media observer Eric Boehlert notes that while the White House has specifically, and emphatically, denied Karl Rove leaked the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 29, 2003), it has not yet given such coverage to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Circumstantial evidence that the White House may be leaving Libby to, in Boehlert’s words, “twist in the wind” is mounting. The New York Daily News has reported that “Democratic Congressional sources said they would like to hear from… Lewis Libby.” On MSNBC, an administration critic, former counterterrorism official Larry Johnson, who says he knows who the leaker is, would not deny it was Libby. And Senator Chuck Hagel has implied that the leak originated from the vice president’s office when he said that President Bush needs to sit down with Cheney and “ask… what he knows about it.” A former senior CIA officer says, “Libby is certainly suspect No. 1.” Even Cheney’s own spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, refuses to deny Libby’s involvement, saying only, “This is a serious matter and we shouldn’t be speculating in light of an ongoing investigation.” Boehlert notes that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson in one of his columns (see July 14, 2003), has dropped several hints about his primary source that point (inconclusively) to Libby. Novak’s assertion that his source is “no partisan gunslinger” (see October 1, 2003) is a better characterization of Libby than of Rove. Since Novak has referred to his source as “he,” the source cannot be National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or any other White House female. Most interestingly, Boehlert notes, Novak was never looking for Plame Wilson’s identity when he spoke with his sources in July 2003. Rather, he wanted to know why former ambassador Joseph Wilson was chosen to go to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The logical place for Novak to begin such an inquiry, Boehlert writes, was Cheney’s office. Wilson believed Cheney was primarily, if indirectly, responsible for sending him to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). Time magazine ran a story that revealed Libby was talking to reporters about Wilson (see July 17, 2003). And Boehlert notes other, less significant clues that add incrementally to the evidence showing that Libby might well have been Novak’s source. Finally, Boehlert comes back to Larry Johnson. Johnson confirmed for PBS that Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent and not merely an “analyst,” as Novak has asserted. He recently said flatly on MSNBC, “I know the name of the person that spoke with Bob Novak,” and that person works “at the White House,” and more specifically, “in the Old Executive Office Buildings.” Cheney’s office is located inside the Old Executive Office Building. Johnson was asked by co-host Pat Buchanan: “Scooter Libby. Now, is Scooter Libby the name you heard?” Johnson replied, “I’m not going to comment on that.” (Boehlert 10/3/2003) The day after Boehlert’s column appears, White House press secretary Scott McClellan gives reporters the same assurance about Libby that he gave to Rove (see October 4, 2003).
Vice President Dick Cheney writes a note, later dubbed the “meat grinder” note, saying that the Bush administration should tell reporters that his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, should be issued a denial of involvement in the Plame Wilson leak, just as White House political strategist Karl Rove has received (see September 29, 2003). The note reads: “Has to happen today. Call out to key press saying same thing about Scooter as Karl. Not going to protect one staffer & sacrifice the guy the Pres [the words “the Pres” are scratched out] that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others—” The rest of the note contains talking points for the denial. It is unclear if the note is for Cheney’s own reference or intended for someone else (Office of the Vice President 10/4/2003; Marcy Wheeler 6/9/2008) , though Cheney has received a request from Libby that he be publicly exonerated (see Before October 4, 2003). The same day, White House chief of staff Andrew Card asks press secretary Scott McClellan to issue a denial on behalf of Libby (see October 4, 2003). McClellan complies (see October 4, 2003).
Through White House spokesmen, two senior Bush officials deny being involved in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 14, 2003 and July 17, 2003). Neither Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, nor Elliott Abrams, the director of Middle East affairs for the National Security Council, were involved in the leak, according to spokesmen; the same claim has been made for White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. According to press secretary Scott McClellan, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” The disclaimers are in response to reporters’ questions. (New York Times 10/5/2003) In 2007, the prosecution in the Libby perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) will enter into evidence a page of undated notes taken by Libby around this time. The notes are talking points for McClellan, and indicate that McClellan should use lines such as “I’ve talked to Libby. I’ve said it was ridiculous about Karl and it is ridiculous about Libby. Libby was not the source of the Novak story. And he did not leak classified information.” Libby’s notes also advise McClellan to say something like, “Not going to protect one staffer & sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.” Cheney has crossed out the words “the Pres,” obviously not wanting McClellan to reference President Bush (see October 4, 2003). (Office of the Vice President 9/2003 ; National Public Radio 3/7/2007)
President Bush says offhandedly of the Plame Wilson leak (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003) that Washington “is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don’t know if we’re going to find out the senior administration official.… You tell me: How many sources have you had that’s leaked information, that you’ve exposed or had been exposed? Probably none.” Many find Bush’s insouciance astonishing, considering the lengths his administration has gone to in the past to punish leakers. In response, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls for a special counsel to investigate the leak. Schumer also asks for an investigation of the three-day delay between the original announcement of the investigation and the instructions to the White House staff to preserve all relevant records (see September 29-30, 2003), and the possible conflict of interest concerning Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had once employed White House political strategist Karl Rove, named as a likely source of the leak (see September 30, 2003). (Ward 1/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 102) Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, will later write that he was “particularly offended” when Bush told reporters he wanted to know the truth, but then placed the responsibility upon journalists themselves to find the source of the leak. Wilson will reflect, “His lack of genuine concern stunned and disappointed me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 397)
White House press secretary Scott McClellan reiterates the White House’s stance that three senior aides—deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and National Security Council official Elliott Abrams—bear no responsibility for leaking the identity of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. McClellan has already made the same assurances before (see September 29, 2003 and October 4, 2003). During a press briefing, he is asked: “Scott, you have said that you personally went to Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Elliott Abrams to ask them if they were the leakers. Is that what happened? Why did you do that? And can you describe the conversations you had with them? What was the question you asked them?” McClellan replies: “Yes, unfortunately, in Washington, DC, at a time like this, there are a lot of rumors and innuendo. There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made. And that’s exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals. They’re good individuals. They’re important members of our White House team. And that’s why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt with that, in the beginning (see October 4, 2003), but I like to check my information to make sure it’s accurate before I report back to you. And that’s exactly what I did.” A reporter asks: “You’re saying, categorically, those three individuals were not the leakers or did not authorize the leaks. Is that what you’re saying?” McClellan responds: “That’s correct. I have spoken with them.” A reporter then asks, “Did the president direct you to check with those individuals and get—to find out if they were the leaker?” McClellan refuses to answer directly, but says that President Bush “wants… to get to the bottom of this matter, the sooner the better,” and touts the White House’s “full cooperation” with the Justice Department investigation. Asked the same question again, McClellan again emphasizes the White House’s cooperation with the investigation, and adds, “I think part of cooperating fully is looking into these unsubstantiated accusations that were made to make it clear to everybody that those individuals are not involved.” He gives a similar answer when asked if Bush wants someone “to individually poll senior staff members to find out who the leaker is,” and adds that no one in the White House has any more information on the matter than has been made available in the media—a blanket, if indirect, denial of any White House involvement. McClellan also notes that it would be “premature” to speculate if the White House will claim executive privilege to keep any information out of the investigation (see October 7, 2003). (Washington Transcript Service 10/7/2003)
White House political strategist Karl Rove testifies under oath to FBI investigators probing the Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003). Rove says he did not speak to any journalists about Valerie Plame Wilson until after columnist Robert Novak outed her in his column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove says, he circulated and discussed potentially damaging information about Plame Wilson with his colleagues within the White House as well as with outside political consultants and journalists. But he insists he was not the official who leaked Plame Wilson’s name to Novak. He only circulated that information about her after Novak’s column appeared, he says. He also claims that such dissemination was a legitimate means to counter criticism from Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson.
Lying under Oath - Rove is lying about his role in the exposure of Plame Wilson to Novak and other journalists (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove and his lawyer, Robert Luskin, will later claim that Rove “forgot” about his discussions with at least one of the above journalists, Time’s Matthew Cooper, until he found an e-mail confirming their conversation (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003 and March 1, 2004). For reasons that are unclear, the e-mail in question does not turn up in an initial search for all documents and materials pertaining to the FBI investigation (see September 29-30, 2003). Additionally, Rove’s assistant, Susan Ralston, will later testify that Rove asked her not to log the call from Cooper (see July 29, 2005). (Waas 3/8/2004; Leopold 10/31/2005; Leopold 12/9/2005; Waas 5/25/2006)
Fails to Disclose 'Protection' Conversation with Reporter - Rove also fails to disclose a conversation with Novak, in which Novak promised to “protect” him during the investigation (see September 29, 2003). Rove was a source for Novak, who revealed Plame Wilson’s identity in his column (see July 14, 2003). (Waas 5/25/2006)
Claims to Have Learned Plame Wilson Identity from Reporter - During his testimony, Rove claims that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from a reporter, though he cannot remember who that reporter was. (Waas 7/19/2005)
Discloses Names of Six White House Participants in Wilson Smear Campaign - Rove tells the FBI the names of at least six other White House officials involved in the smear campaign against Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). He says he and his fellow White House officials believed the campaign was justified by Wilson’s “partisan” attacks on the White House’s Iraq policies. (Waas 3/8/2004)
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