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Profile: Scott McClellan
Positions that Scott McClellan has held:
- White House Deputy Press Secretary
- White House Press Secretary
September 16, 2002
“This is not a matter of inspections. It is about disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime’s compliance with all other Security Council resolutions.”
October 9, 2003
“These individuals are terrorists or supporters of terrorism and we are at war on terrorism and the reasons for detaining enemy combatants in the first place is to gather intelligence and make sure that these enemy combatants don’t return to help our enemies plot attacks or carry out attacks on the United States.”
September 1, 2005
“Flood control has been a priority of this administration from Day One.”
[White House, 9/1/2005; Los Angeles Times, 9/4/2005]
Scott McClellan was a participant or observer in the following events:
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Fox News logo. [Source: Fox News]Fox News begins broadcasting on US cable television. Fox News provides 24-hour news programming alongside the nation’s only other such cable news provider, CNN. Fox executive Roger Ailes, a former campaign adviser for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), envisions Fox News as a conservative “antidote” to what he calls the “liberal bias” of the rest of American news broadcasting. Ailes uses many of the methodologies and characteristics of conservative talk radio, and brings several radio hosts on his channel, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to host television shows. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 47; New York Magazine, 5/22/2011] Referring to Ailes’s campaign experience, veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins later says: “Because of his political work, he understood there was an audience. He knew there were a couple million conservatives who were a potential audience, and he built Fox to reach them.” [New York Magazine, 5/22/2011]
Ailes Planned for Fox News as Far Back as 1970 - Ailes began envisioning a conservative news provider to counter what he considers the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” as early as 1970, when he became heavily involved with a Nixon administration plan to plant conservative propaganda in news outlets across the nation (see Summer 1970). In 1971, he headed a short-lived private conservative television news network, Television News Incorporated (TVN—see 1971-1975), which foundered in 1975 in part because of its reporters and staffers balking at reporting Ailes-crafted propaganda instead of “straight” news. Ailes told a New York Times reporter in 1991 that he was leaving politics, saying: “I’ve been in politics for 25 years. It’s always been a detour. Now my business has taken a turn back to my entertainment and corporate clients.” But Ailes misinformed the reporter. He continued to work behind the scenes on the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, providing the campaign with attack points against Democratic contender Bill Clinton (D-AR) and earning the nickname “Deep Throat” from Bush aides. Though Ailes did do work in entertainment, helping develop tabloid television programs such as The Maury Povich Show and heading the cable business news network CNBC for three years, Ailes has continued to stay heavily involved in Republican politics ever since. Ailes became involved in the creation of Fox News in early 1996 after he left NBC, which had canceled his show America’s Talking and launched a new cable news network, MSNBC, without asking for Ailes’s involvement. Fox News is owned by News Corporation (sometimes abbreviated NewsCorp), an international media conglomerate owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. When NBC allowed Ailes to leave, Jack Welch, the chairman of NBC’s parent company General Electric, said, “We’ll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up.” Murdoch has already tried and failed to buy CNN, and has already begun work on crafting news programs with hard-right slants, such as a 60 Minutes-like show that, reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “would feature a weekly attack-and-destroy piece targeting a liberal politician or social program.” Dan Cooper, the managing editor of the pre-launch Fox News, later says, “The idea of a masquerade was already around prior to Roger arriving.” Eric Burns, who will work for ten years as a Fox News media critic before leaving the network, will say in 2011: “There’s your answer right there to whether Fox News is a conventional news network or whether it has an agenda. That’s its original sin.” To get Fox News onto millions of cable boxes at once, Murdoch paid hundreds of millions of dollars to cable providers to air his new network. Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth will later write: “Murdoch’s offer shocked the industry. He was prepared to shell out half a billion dollars just to buy a news voice.” Dickinson will write, “Even before it took to the air, Fox News was guaranteed access to a mass audience, bought and paid for.” Ailes praised Murdoch’s “nerve,” saying, “This is capitalism and one of the things that made this country great.” [New York Magazine, 5/22/2011; Rolling Stone, 5/25/2011]
Using Conservative Talk Radio as Template - In 2003, NBC’s Bob Wright will note that Fox News uses conservative talk radio as a template, saying: “[W]hat Fox did was say, ‘Gee, this is a way for us to distinguish ourselves. We’re going to grab this pent-up anger—shouting—that we’re seeing on talk radio and put it onto television.’” CBS News anchor Dan Rather will be more critical, saying that Fox is a reflection of Murdoch’s own conservative political views. “Mr. Murdoch has a business, a huge worldwide conglomerate business,” Rather says. “He finds it to his benefit to have media outlets, press outlets, that serve his business interests. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a free country. It’s not an indictable offense. But by any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda… primarily because it fits his commercial interests.” [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]
Putting Ideology Over Journalistic Ethics, Practices - Ailes, determined not to let journalists with ethical qualms disrupt Fox News as they had his previous attempt at creating a conservative news network (see 1971-1975), brought a hand-picked selection of reporters and staffers with demonstrable conservative ideologies from NBC, including business anchor Neil Cavuto and Steve Doocy, who hosts the morning talk show “Fox and Friends.” Both Cavuto and Doocy are Ailes loyalists who, Dickinson will say, owe their careers to Ailes. Ailes then tapped Brit Hume, a veteran ABC correspondent and outspoken conservative, to host the main evening news show, and former Bush speechwriter Tony Snow as a commentator and host. John Moody, a forcefully conservative ABC News veteran, heads the newsroom. Ailes then went on a purge of Fox News staffers. Joe Peyronnin, who headed the network before Ailes displaced him, later recalls: “There was a litmus test. He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.” Ailes confronted reporters with suspected “liberal bias” with “gotcha” questions such as “Why are you a liberal?” Staffers with mainstream media experience were forced to defend their employment at such venues as CBS News, which he calls the “Communist Broadcast System.” He fired scores of staffers for perceived liberal leanings and replaced them with fiery young ideologues whose inexperience helps Ailes shape the network to his vision. Before the network aired its first production, Ailes had a seminal meeting with Moody. “One of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,” he told Moody. “And we’ve got to fight that.” Reporters and staffers knew from the outset that Fox, despite its insistence on being “fair and balanced” (see 1995), was going to present news with a conservative slant, and if that did not suit them, they would not be at Fox long. A former Fox News anchor later says: “All outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom. But you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color—and that your color was red.” The anchor refers to “red” as associated with “red state,” commonly used on news broadcasts to define states with Republican majorities. Ailes will always insist that while his network’s talk-show hosts, such as O’Reilly, Hannity, and others, are frankly conservative, Fox’s hard-news shows maintain what he calls a “bright, clear line” that separates conservative cant from reported fact. In practice, this is not the case. Before Fox aired its first broadcast, Ailes tasked Moody to keep the newsroom in line. Early each morning, Ailes has a meeting with Moody, often with Hume on speakerphone from the Washington office, where the day’s agenda is crafted. Moody then sends a memo to the staff telling them how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his vice presidents are known. A former Fox anchor will later say: “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed. Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.” After the 2004 presidential election, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will admit, “We at the White House were getting them talking points.”
Targeting a Niche Demographic - Fox New’s primary viewership defies most demographic wisdom. According to information taken in 2011, it averages 65 years of age (the common “target demographic” for age is the 18-24 bracket), and only 1.38% of its viewers are African-American. Perhaps the most telling statistics are for the Hannity show: 86% describe themselves as pro-business, 84% believe government “does too much,” 78% are “Christian conservatives,” 78% do not support gay rights, 75% are “tea party backers,” 73% support the National Rifle Association, 66% lack college degrees, and 65% are over age 50. A former NewsCorp colleague will say: “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully. He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.” Other polls from the same time period consistently show that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers, and one study shows that Fox News viewers become more misinformed the more they watch the network’s programming.
Ailes's Security Concerns Affect Operations, Broadcasting - Ailes is uncomfortable in his office, a second-floor corner suite in the Fox News building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. His office is too close to the street for his tastes; he believes that gay activists intend to try to harm him, either by attacks from outside the building or through assaults carried out from inside. He also believes that he is a top target for al-Qaeda assassins. Ailes barricades himself behind an enormous mahogany desk, insists on having “bombproof” glass installed in the windows, surrounds himself with heavily-armed bodyguards, and carries a firearm (he has a concealed-carry permit). A monitor on his desk shows him what is transpiring outside his office door; once, when he sees a dark-skinned man wearing what he thought was Muslim garb on the monitor, he will order an immediate lockdown of the entire building, shouting, “This man could be bombing me!” The man will turn out to be a janitor. A source close to Ailes will say, “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim—which is consistent with the ideology of his network.” A large security detail escorts him daily to and from his Garrison, New Jersey home to his Manhattan offices; in Garrison, his house is surrounded by empty homes Ailes has bought to enhance his personal security. According to sources close to Ailes, Fox News’s slant on gay rights and Islamist extremism is colored by Ailes’s fear and hatred of the groups.
'We Work for Fox' - Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and Reagan biographer, will say: “Fox News is totalized: It’s an entire network, devoted 24 hours a day to an entire politics, and it’s broadcast as ‘the news.’ That’s why Ailes is a genius. He’s combined opinion and journalism in a wholly new way—one that blurs the distinction between the two.” Dickinson will write: “Fox News stands as the culmination of everything Ailes tried to do for Nixon back in 1968. He has created a vast stage set, designed to resemble an actual news network, that is literally hard-wired into the homes of millions of America’s most conservative voters. GOP candidates then use that forum to communicate directly to their base, bypassing the professional journalists Ailes once denounced as ‘matadors’ who want to ‘tear down the social order’ with their ‘elitist, horse-dung, socialist thinking.’ Ironically, it is Ailes who has built the most formidable propaganda machine ever seen outside of the Communist bloc, pioneering a business model that effectively monetizes conservative politics through its relentless focus on the bottom line.” Former Bush speechwriter David Frum will observe: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us. Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” [New York Magazine, 5/22/2011; Rolling Stone, 5/25/2011]
Entity Tags: Eric Burns, Tim Dickinson, Neil Cavuto, Dan Cooper, Steve Doocy, Joe Peyronnin, John Moody, David Frum, Sean Wilentz, News Corporation, Scott McClellan, Jack Welch, Tony Snow, MSNBC, Brit Hume, Television News Incorporated, Ronald Reagan, Roger Ailes, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, George Herbert Walker Bush, Sean Hannity, Neil Chenoweth, Ed Rollins, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Bill O’Reilly, Nixon administration, Dan Rather, Bob Wright, Rupert Murdoch
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Texas governor and possible presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “Iron Triangle” of (four, not three) political advisers—Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Donald Evans, and Joe Allbaugh—are preparing for Bush’s entry into the 2000 presidential campaign. His biggest liability is foreign affairs: despite his conversations with Saudi Prince Bandar (see Fall 1997) and former security adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 1998), he is still a blank slate (see Early 1998). “Is he comfortable with foreign policy? I should say not,” observes George H. W. Bush’s former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who is not involved in teaching the younger Bush about geopolitics. Bush’s son’s only real experience, Scowcroft notes, “was being around when his father was in his many different jobs.” Rice is less acerbic in her judgment, saying: “I think his basic instincts about foreign policy and what need[…] to be done [are] there: rebuilding military strength, the importance of free trade, the big countries with uncertain futures. Our job [is] to help him fill in the details.” Bush himself acknowledges his lack of foreign policy expertise, saying: “Nobody needs to tell me what to believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is.” Rice and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney assemble a team of eight experienced foreign policy advisers to give the younger Bush what author Craig Unger calls “a crash course about the rest of the world.” They whimsically call themselves the “Vulcans,” [Carter, 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 117; Unger, 2007, pp. 161-163] which, as future Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “was based on the imposing statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, that is a landmark in Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 85] The eight are:
Richard Armitage, a hardliner and Project for a New American Century (PNAC) member (see January 26, 1998) who served in a number of capacities in the first Bush presidency;
Robert Blackwill, a hardliner and former Bush presidential assistant for European and Soviet Affairs;
Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative and former assistant secretary of defense;
Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and another former assistant secretary of defense;
Condoleezza Rice, a protege of Scowcroft, former oil company executive, and former security adviser to Bush’s father;
Donald Rumsfeld, another former defense secretary;
Paul Wolfowitz, a close associate of Perle and a prominent neoconservative academic, brought in to the circle by Cheney;
Dov Zakheim, a hardline former assistant secretary of defense and a PNAC member;
Robert Zoellick, an aide to former Secretary of State James Baker and a PNAC member.
McClellan will later note, “Rice’s and Bush’s views on foreign policy… were one and the same.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 85] Their first tutorial session in Austin, Texas is also attended by Cheney and former Secretary of State George Schulz. Even though three solid neoconservatives are helping Bush learn about foreign policy, many neoconservatives see the preponderance of his father’s circle of realpolitik foreign advisers surrounding the son and are dismayed. Prominent neoconservatives such as William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey will back Bush’s primary Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). [Carter, 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 117; Unger, 2007, pp. 161-163] Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, both former National Security Council members, write in the book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, that under the tutelage of the Vulcans, Bush adopts a “hegemonist” view of the world that believes the US’s primacy in the world is paramount to securing US interests. As former White House counsel John Dean writes in 2003, this viewpoint asserts, “[S]ince we have unrivalled powers, we can have it our way, and kick ass when we don’t get it.” [FindLaw, 11/7/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 269]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert B. Zoellick, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Robert Blackwill, John McCain, Scott McClellan, Richard Perle, John Dean, James Lindsay, James Woolsey, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Brent Scowcroft, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Dov S. Zakheim, George W. Bush, George Schulz, Stephen J. Hadley, Ivo Daalder, William Kristol
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence
The Gore presidential campaign asks Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Saunders Sauls to authorize an immediate recount of about 14,000 disputed “undervote” ballots. Instead of ordering an immediate recount, Sauls orders the disputed ballots, sample voting booths, and voting machines from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties brought to his courtroom in Tallahassee by Friday, December 1—a total of 1.1 million ballots, posing a tremendous logistical challenge to election boards in the two counties. On November 30, a truck carrying more than 460,000 presidential ballots from Palm Beach County leaves on its way to Tallahassee as ordered by Sauls. On December 1, two more trucks carrying over 654,000 ballots begin the long drive to Tallahassee from Miami. On December 1, the Bush campaign asks Sauls to have another 1.2 million ballots trucked in from Volusia, Broward, and Pinellas Counties; Bush campaign spokesman Scott McClellan says, “We believe there were a number of illegal votes for Gore in those counties.” Sauls does not grant this request. The trial begins on December 2, with Gore’s lawyers arguing, “There is no reason to delay counting ballots even one day.” Bush’s lawyers advance a number of arguments against expediting or even conducting the recounts, including the position that the dispute is not between Bush and Gore, but between two disparate groups of Florida electors. Bush lawyers also say that Gore’s lawyers missed a 10-day deadline to file such challenges; manually recounting only some ballots is illegal; and the recounts the Gore campaign wants are “illegal, inappropriate, and manifestly unfair.” On December 4, Sauls rules against the Gore campaign (see 4:43 p.m. December 4, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008; Guardian, 11/30/2008; Guardian, 12/1/2008]
Entity Tags: County of Pinellas (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Leon (Florida), County of Palm Beach (Florida), George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, N. Saunders Sauls, Scott McClellan, George W. Bush, County of Volusia (Florida), County of Miami-Dade (Florida)
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
President Bush informs a small group of reporters that he is forming an “energy task force” to draw up a new national energy policy. It will be the first major policy initiative of his presidency. The administration is driven by its concern for “the people who work for a living… who struggle every day to get ahead.” The task force will find ways to meet the rising demand for energy and to avoid the shortfalls causing major power blackouts in California and other areas (see January 23, 2001). He has chosen Vice President Cheney to chair the task force. “Can’t think of a better man to run it than the vice president,” he says. He refuses to take questions, turning aside queries with jokes about the recent Super Bowl. The short press briefing will be virtually the only time the White House tells reporters anything about Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group. [Savage, 2007, pp. 85-86] Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that the task force “held a series of meetings with outside interests whose identities were withheld from the public. This created an early impression of an administration prone to secrecy and reinforced the image of the Bush White House as in thrall to corporate interests.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 96]
President Bush hosts British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David. Iraq is on the agenda. Bush and Blair tell reporters that they want to restructure the sanctions on Iraq through the United Nations, using what the White House calls “smart sanctions”—sanctions that are designed to constrain the Iraqi government without harming the Iraqi citizenry. The new sanctions are primarily aimed at tightening controls on “dual-use” goods, items that can be used for both civilian and military purposes, and to keep the regime from getting illicit funds from oil smuggling. Bush says: “A change in sanctions should not in any way, shape, or form, embolden Saddam Hussein. He has got to understand that we are going to watch him carefully and, if we catch him developing weapons of mass destruction, we’ll take the appropriate action. And if we catch him threatening his neighbors we will take the appropriate action.” In 2008, former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “Saddam was viewed more as a ‘problem’ to deal with than a ‘grave and gathering danger’ in the early days. Talk centered on if he was developing WMD, not that he was developing them.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 93-94]
Anthony Weiner. [Source: Anthony Weiner]A Democratic House member and four former Clinton administration staff members demand an apology from President Bush over the disproven Clinton “vandal scandal” stories from January 2001 (see January 25, 2001 and January 26, 2001). Two weeks ago, the General Services Administration (GSA) released a report debunking the stories (see May 18, 2001). In response, the White House leaks a hastily compiled “list” of damages that Bush staffers allege was done during the transition period (see June 2-3, 2001).
Demand for Apology - Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is joined by former White House officials Rob Housman, Jeff Gulko, Bridger McGaw, and Matthew Donoghue in demanding that Bush apologize for besmirching Clinton officials’ reputations with the false allegations. Weiner calls White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was at the center of much of the rumors, “shameless,” and adds, “A GAO [General Accounting Office] study has confirmed there was no destruction of keyboards, no graffiti, there was no vandalism.” (The GAO found that because the White House had no records of the damages, it could not begin an investigation of the charges.)
Semi-Denial - Fleischer’s deputy, Scott McClellan, notes that “there is no actual GAO ‘report,’ which the congressman refers to in his letter. There’s just a letter from GAO.” McClellan’s odd denial is, according to some Bush officials, an attempt to imply that there was actual damage done by Clinton staffers, but the Bush White House chose not to participate in the GAO’s proposed investigation because it wanted to “move forward” and keep a “positive tone.” One White House aide says: “We never kept a list of all the incidents, and therefore did not have anything to turn over. That doesn’t mean the incidents didn’t happen. We just were pleased to let the matter fade so that people could return to the focus on policy.”
Response to Semi-Denial - Weiner says that the Bush White House claims are disingenuous. “I believe that the responsibility for this largely lies with the White House,” he says. “They fed this story, they nurtured this story, they spread this story.” The “vandal scandal” story was, Weiner says, part of a “strategy by the nascent Bush administration to toss up as much dust and smoke about the Clinton administration to give themselves a soft landing. It makes good copy to say ‘Well, there’s a new sheriff in town, and we don’t vandalize offices.’ Well, neither did the preceding administration.” Clinton staffers were made into “cannon fodder” for Bush administration propaganda, Weiner says. Donoghue calls the tales “a uniquely Capitol punishment, and that is the besmirching of our reputations. Standing here, all I can think of is what Ray Donovan said years ago, which is ‘Where do I go to get my reputation back?’ And that’s why we’re here today.” (Donovan is a former Reagan administration Cabinet official acquitted of bribery charges in 1987.) Donoghue says that he, McGaw, and Gulko have had problems finding jobs after their White House stints in part because of the vandalism allegations. [Salon, 6/2/2001]
Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Ari Fleischer, Anthony D. Weiner, Bush administration (43), Scott McClellan, Jeff Gulko, Matthew Donoghue, General Services Administration, General Accounting Office, Bridger McGaw, George W. Bush, Rob Housman
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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. [White House, 8/12/2002; Rove, 2010, pp. 250; KFDI, 12/11/2012] While Bush goes into a classroom to participate in a reading demonstration (see (9:03 a.m.-9:06 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 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 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.” [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002] Rove learns about the crash when Susan Ralston, his executive assistant, calls him with the news. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] And Card learns about it from Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, who is traveling with the president in Florida. After she informed Bush of the first crash (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Loewer went to a room next to the school and followed events on a television there. When she sees the second crash, she immediately assumes it is an act of terrorism and goes to inform Card. [Dayton Daily News, 8/17/2003] She tells him: “A second plane has impacted the towers. The nation is under attack.” [Dayton Daily News, 3/16/2003]
Chief of Staff Suspects Al-Qaeda Responsibility for Crash - Card immediately thinks al-Qaeda is responsible for the attack. “My mind focused on the al-Qaeda network, because I knew that they had attacked the World Trade Center before,” he will recall. “I don’t know why I thought that, but I did, and I just presumed that it was an Osama bin Laden or an al-Qaeda attack.” [NBC News, 9/10/2009; BBC, 9/9/2011] Loewer also tells Card to interrupt the reading demonstration and pass on the news to the president. [Springfield News-Sun, 9/9/2011] He therefore enters the classroom and tells Bush what has happened (see (9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC News, 9/10/2009; BBC, 9/9/2011]
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; LBJ Presidential Library, 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. [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002]
US President George Bush speaks privately with White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke in the White House Situation Room. According to Clarke, Bush tells him to investigate the possibility that Iraq was involved in the attacks. “I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything,” Bush says. “See if Saddam did this.” When Clarke responds, “But Mr. President, al-Qaeda did this,” Bush replies, “I know, I know, but… see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred.” Clarke insists that the CIA, FBI, and White House already concluded that there were no such links. As he exits the room, Bush “testily” says again, “Look into Iraq, Saddam.” [Washington Post, 3/22/2004 Sources: Richard A. Clarke] During a “60 Minutes” interview, Clarke will say that Bush’s instructions were made in a way that was “very intimidating,” and which hinted that Clarke “should come back with that answer.”
“Now he never said, ‘Make it up.’ But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.” [CBS News, 3/21/2004; New York Times, 3/23/2004] Clarke’s account is later confirmed by several eyewitnesses. [CBS News, 3/21/2004; BBC, 3/23/2004; Guardian, 3/26/2004] After his meeting with Bush, Clarke works with CIA and FBI experts to produce the report requested by Bush (see September 18, 2001).
Less than two weeks after 9/11, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets up an interagency group to design a strategy for prosecuting terrorists, and specifically asks it to suggest military commissions as one viable option for prosecution of suspected terrorists.
Membership - The initial participants include Gonzales; White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan; Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; the vice president’s chief counsel, David Addington; National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger; and State Department lawyer Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former career prosecutor who now serves as State’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues and who will head the group.
Various Options - The group spends a month in a windowless conference room at State, bringing in experts from around the government, including military lawyers and Justice Department lawyers. The Justice Department advocates regular trials in civilian courts, such as the trials of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers (see February 26, 1993). However, many in the group object, noting that terrorist trials in regular courthouses on US soil pose security risks. The military lawyers propose courts-martial, which can take place anywhere in the world and would have military protection. A third option, military commissions, would offer the security of courts-martial without the established rules of evidence and procedure courts-martial have; setting up such a system might offer more flexibility in trying suspected terrorists, but many in the group wonder if President Bush would require Congressional authorization. Prosper will later recall, “We were going to go after the people responsible for the attacks, and the operating assumption was that we would capture a significant number of al-Qaeda operatives.” In addition to the use of military commissions, the group begins to work out three other options: ordinary criminal trials, military courts-martial, and tribunals with a mixed membership of civilians and military personnel. The option of a criminal trial by an ordinary federal court is quickly brushed aside for logistical reasons, according to Prosper. “The towers were still smoking, literally. I remember asking: Can the federal courts in New York handle this? It wasn’t a legal question so much as it was logistical. You had 300 al-Qaeda members, potentially. And did we want to put the judges and juries in harm’s way?” Despite the interagency group’s willingness to study the option of military commissions, lawyers at the White House, according to reporter Tim Golden, grow impatient with the group. Some of its members are seen to have “cold feet.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 135]
Parallel Process at White House - Unbeknownst to Prosper’s group, the White House is crafting its own version of military commissions or tribunals (see Late October 2001). When President Bush issues his executive order creating military tribunals
(see November 13, 2001), Prosper and his group will first learn about it by watching the nightly news. [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of State, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan, Pierre-Richard Prosper, John Bellinger, Beth Nolan, Alberto R. Gonzales, Scott McClellan, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, David S. Addington
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Four prominent Republican officials make alarming comments about terrorism and especially the use of WMDs against the US:
Attorney General John Ashcroft says on CNN: “We believe there are substantial risks of terrorism still in the United States of America. As we as a nation respond to what has happened to us, those risks may in fact go up.”
White House chief of staff Andrew Card says on Fox News, “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we know that these terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “There’s always been terrorism, but there’s never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.” He suggests several countries supporting terrorists either have WMDs or are trying to get them. “It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities.” He does not name these countries, but the New York Times notes the next day that the US military had recently identified the WMD programs in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan as cause for concern.
Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also says on Meet the Press that biological weapons “scare” him more than nuclear weapons because they can be brought into the country “rather easily.”
The New York Times reports that there is no new intelligence behind these alarming comments. By contrast, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says it is unlikely terrorists are capable of making extremely deadly biological weapons. He says that terrorists might have access to weapons that use anthrax or smallpox, but while “There are those serious things… we can deal with them.” [New York Times, 10/1/2001] Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe: “Even the Cheney-driven White House effort to provide all Americans with the smallpox vaccine that was being pushed publicly in the latter weeks of 2002 played into the environment of fear about the Iraq WMD threat. It seems to me a little cynical to suggest that its timing was calculated, but it did not hurt the broader campaign to sell the war.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 138]
White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will, in 2008, write: “As soon as [President] Bush decided to confront Iraq, the groundwork for a public campaign began to be laid. The new doctrine on preemption (see Fall 2002) was part of the elaborate effort. So was the gradual ratcheting up of the rhetoric from late 2001 into 2002. Before 9/11, our rhetoric about Iraq had focused on warning Saddam Hussein not to develop weapons of mass destruction, while the policy centered on containing him with enhanced sanctions (see February 2001).… But by late November, the president was not ruling out military action against Iraq and he was saying that Iraq would be held accountable if it was found to be developing WMD.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 135-136]
In the lead-up to the war, top Bush administration officials make strong statements asserting that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. The administration claims that it has incontrovertible evidence, though no such evidence is disclosed to the public—neither before nor after the invasion. [Chicago Tribune, 2/7/2002; Daily Telegraph, 8/21/2002; Guardian, 8/22/2002; White House, 8/26/2002; US Department of Defense, 9/3/2002; Associated Press, 9/3/2002; United Press International, 9/3/2002; Associated Press, 9/8/2002; NewsMax, 9/8/2002; PBS, 9/12/2002; US President, 9/16/2002; US President, 10/14/2002; CBC News, 12/5/2002; Associated Press, 1/7/2003; White House, 1/9/2003; US President, 2/3/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; White House, 3/21/2003; US President, 3/24/2003; Age (Melbourne), 6/7/2003; Village Voice, 6/18/2003; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/13/2003; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 7/17/2003; Fox News, 8/20/2003; Associated Press, 12/5/2003] Then-deputy press secretary Scott McClellan later observes: “[A]s the campaign [to sell the Iraq war to the American public] accelerated, caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded. Evidence based on high confidence from the intelligence community was lumped together with intelligence of lesser confidence. A nuclear threat was added to the biological and chemical threats to create a greater sense of urgency. Support for terrorism was given greater weight by playing up dubious al-Qaeda connections to Iraq. When it was all packaged together, the case constituted a ‘grave and gathering danger’ (see September 16, 2002) that needed to be dealt with urgently.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 144-145]
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]
Vice President Dick Cheney makes an unusually personal plea to President Bush to redirect the US war on terror to focus on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Several of Bush’s senior aides have argued the point before, but until now the US strategy has been to root out al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. Cheney argues that in 1991 he was part of the team that created what he now believes to be a flawed policy—leaving Hussein in power after the Gulf War—and now Bush can correct that error (see February 1991-1992). Cheney’s argument is very successful. “The reason that Cheney was able to sell Bush the policy is that he was able to say, ‘I’ve changed,’” a senior administration official will say. “‘I used to have the same position as [James] Baker, [Brent] Scowcroft, and your father—and here’s why it’s wrong.’” By late February or early March of 2002, Bush has swung to the position Cheney advocates, so much so that he interrupts a meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and three senators to boast: “F_ck Saddam. We’re taking him out” (see (March 2002)). [New Republic, 11/20/2003] According to his 2008 book What Happened, deputy press secretary Scott McClellan isn’t sure why Cheney is so determined to invade Iraq. McClellan will state flatly that “some, like Cheney, [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, and [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz were evidently pursuing their own agendas,” and will note that “[t]he most significant of their personal agendas was probably Cheney’s, given his closeness to the president and his influence over him.” Because of “Cheney’s personality and his penchant for secrecy,” McClellan believes his agenda “is the most likely to remain unknown.” Whether Cheney was driven to “finish the job he started as defense secretary in 1991,” when the US invaded Iraq but did not topple the Hussein regime (see January 16, 1991 and After), or whether he sought to “give America more influence over Iraq’s oil reserves,” McClellan is unsure. McClellan will write that Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s top foreign policy adviser, should have stood up to the “forceful personalities” of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, “rather than deferring to them.” But, he will write, “my later experiences with Condi led me to believe that she was more interested in figuring out where the president stood and just carrying out his wishes while expending only cursory effort on helping him understand all the considerations and potential consequences” of an invasion. Bush, McClellan will observe, is “intellectually incurious” and prone to make decisions based on instinct rather than “deep intellectual debate.” McClellan believes that Bush’s mistakes “could have been prevented had his beliefs been properly vetted and challenged by his top advisers. Bush’s top advisers, especially those on his national security team, allowed the president to be put in the position he is in today. His credibility has been shattered and his public standing seemingly irreparably damaged.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 145-146]
The New York Post has a banner headline on May 16, 2002. [Source: New York Post]The Bush administration is embarrassed when the CBS Evening News reveals that President Bush had been warned about al-Qaeda domestic attacks in August 2001 (see August 6, 2001). [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Washington Post, 5/16/2002] CBS’s David Martin reports: “The president’s daily intelligence brief is delivered to the president each morning, often by the director of central intelligence himself. In the weeks before 9/11 it warned that an attack by Osama bin Laden could involve the hijacking of a US aircraft.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 113] Bush had repeatedly said that he had “no warning” of any kind. Press secretary Ari Fleischer states unequivocally that while Bush had been warned of possible hijackings, “[t]he president did not—not—receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers.” [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Washington Post, 5/16/2002] “Until the attack took place, I think it’s fair to say that no one envisioned that as a possibility.” [MSNBC, 9/18/2002] Fleischer claims the August memo was titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike the US,” but the real title is soon found to end with “Strike in US” [Washington Post, 5/18/2002] The Guardian will state a few days later, “[T]he memo left little doubt that the hijacked airliners were intended for use as missiles and that intended targets were to be inside the US.” It further states that, “now, as the columnist Joe Conason points out in the current edition of the New York Observer, ‘conspiracy’ begins to take over from ‘incompetence’ as a likely explanation for the failure to heed—and then inform the public about—warnings that might have averted the worst disaster in the nation’s history.” [Guardian, 5/19/2002] Current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will point out in 2008: “The [CBS] report left much open to question. Was it suggesting that the president had received info that should have led him to act? Was it just a possible warning sign, like many others that may have gone unheeded? Or was it something else, possibly a nonspecific bit of intelligence from years earlier?” McClellan will write that the uncertainty “mattered little to Democratic leaders in Congress. They saw an opportunity to attack the president’s strong suit—his leadership in the war on terrorism—and cut into his enormous popularity ahead of the midterm elections that coming November.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 113]
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]
President Bush says he is opposed to establishing a special, independent commission to probe how the government dealt with terrorism warnings before 9/11. [CBS News, 5/23/2002] He will later change his stance in the face of overwhelming support for the idea (see September 20, 2002), and will then sabotage an agreement reached with Congress to establish a commission. Several years after leaving the White House, current Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will write that the president’s reluctance to open an independent investigation into the 9/11 attacks (see November 15, 2002) was part of a larger penchant for secrecy in the administration. McClellan will write: “Unfortunately, the initial response of the Bush White House to demands by partisan critics in Congress and elsewhere for an independent investigation fueled the firestorm of anger. It was an early indication that the Bush administration did not sufficiently accept the necessity for transparency in its management of the public business. The president and his senior advisers had little appetite for outside investigations. They resisted openness, and believed that investigations simply meant close scrutiny of things they would prefer to keep confidential. Not that anything they’d done had necessarily crossed a legal line; rather, some things done privately might not look so good if disclosed publicly, and might cause political embarrassment for the president.… The Bush administration lacked real accountability in large part because Bush himself did not embrace openness or government in the sunshine. His belief in secrecy and compartmentalization was activated when controversy began to stir.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 117-118]
According to deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the White House is in the midst of a large and widespread effort to manipulate public opinion in favor of the impending invasion of Iraq. Writing in 2008, McClellan will note: “[President] Bush and the White House were engaging in a carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval to our advantage. We’d done much the same on other issues—tax cuts and education—to great success. But war with Iraq was different. Beyond the irreversible human costs and the substantial financial price, the decision to go to war and the way we went about selling it would ultimately lead to increased polarization and intensified partisan warfare. Our lack of candor and honesty in making the case for war would later provoke a partisan response from our opponents that, in its own way, further distorted and obscured a more nuanced reality.… And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be in covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale behind the war in pursuing the truth behind it. The White House knew the national media would cover its arguments for war even if the underlying evidence was a little shaky. Questions ought to be raised, but the administration had the biggest platform, especially when something as dramatic and controversial as war was at stake. And the public is generally inclined to believe what the White House says, or at least give it the benefit of the doubt until the watchdog media proves it is unreliable. But in this case, the media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 125-126] Writing in hindsight, McClellan will continue: “In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president’s advantage. Of course, I didn’t see it that way at the time. Like most if not all of those involved, I viewed it as the way things were done to advance the broader agenda—simply part of the way Washington governed. I didn’t pause to think about the potential consequences of our campaign to manipulate the public debate. When you are caught up in the intense day-to-day experience of the White House and Washington, your focus is on winning the daily battles, which makes it extremely difficult to step back and have a clear-eyed perspective on the broader meaning of it all.… Today, the fatal flaws of the administration’s strategy are apparent. Bush’s team confused the political propaganda campaign with the realities of the war-making campaign. We were more focused on creating a sense of gravity and urgency about the threat from Saddam Hussein than governing on the basis of the truths of the situation.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 134-135]
The Reverend Jerry Vines. [Source: Thomas White]Reverend Jerry Vines, pastor of a large Baptist church in Florida, denounces Islam as being responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and criticizes America’s propensity for “religious pluralism” as making the nation vulnerable to further attacks as well as causing other social ills. In his statement, made to an audience at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Vines insults Islam and its founder, the Prophet Muhammed: “They would have us believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity,” Vines says. “Christianity was founded by the virgin-born son of God, Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, the last one of which was a 9-year-old girl.” Muslims do not worship the same god as Christians do, he adds: “And I will tell you Allah is not Jehovah, either. Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says after Vines’s remarks that President Bush “believes Islam is a religion that teaches peace. The president believes in religious tolerance and respects people of all faiths.” The day after Vines’s incendiary remarks, Bush addresses the SBC meeting via satellite to extol Baptists’ tolerance, praising their “extraordinary influence” on American history and saying, “Baptists were among the earliest champions of religious tolerance and freedom.” Vines’s remarks echo earlier attacks on Islam by other prominent evangelicals, including Franklin Graham (see October 2001). Other evangelical Christians, including the Reverend Jerry Falwell, rush to support Vines’s remarks, but Jewish leaders and mainstream Protestant groups join American Muslims in denouncing the remarks. Abraham Foxman, the director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, calls Vines’s remarks “deplorable,” and says such inflammatory language is “not surprising coming from the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has a track record of denigrating and delegitimizing other religions.” [Washington Post, 6/20/2002]
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.” [Washington Post, 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. [Washington Post, 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.” [CounterPunch, 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.’” [New York Daily News, 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]
Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Scott McClellan, Saddam Hussein, Nicholas E. Calio, White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Condoleezza Rice, Mary Matalin, Andrew Card, Craig Unger, James Bamford, Charlie Savage, Karen Hughes, James R. Wilkinson, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Jay Bybee. [Source: Public domain]The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002 ] This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). [ABC News, 4/9/2008]
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. [US News and World Report, 6/21/2004] Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 155-156]
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. [New York Times, 6/8/2004; Bloomberg, 6/8/2004; Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Paul Kelbaugh, Timothy E. Flanigan, Scott McClellan, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, Beth Nolan, Al-Qaeda, Charlie Savage, Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Goldsmith
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Cheney speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. [Source: White House]In a speech to the Nashville convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vice President Dick Cheney says Saddam Hussein will “seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.” He also states unequivocally that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.… What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.… Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined,” he says. “The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.… The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents, and they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.” Therefore he argues, the answer is not weapons inspections. “Against that background, a person would be right to question any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then our worries will be over. Saddam has perfected the game of shoot and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions.” He also says: “Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace.” [White House, 8/26/2002]
First White House Assertion of Iraq's Nuclear Program - Cheney’s speech marks the first major statement from the White House regarding the Bush administration’s Iraq policy following a flood of criticisms from former officials. Significantly, the speech was not cleared by the CIA or the State Department. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002] Furthermore, Cheney’s comments dismissing the need for the return of inspectors, were not cleared by President Bush, according to White House chief of staff Andrew Card. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002] The speech creates a media stir because it is the first time a senior US official has asserted Iraq has nuclear capabilities with such certainty. The CIA is astonished by the claim. CIA official Jami Miscik will later recall: “He said that Saddam was building his nuclear program. Our reaction was, ‘Where is he getting that stuff from? Does he have a source of information that we don’t know about?’” CIA analysts redouble their efforts to collect and review evidence on Iraq and nuclear weapons, but analysts know very little. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 167-169] Cheney’s assertions are contradicted by a broad base of military experts. [Dean, 2004, pp. 138]
Powell 'Blindsided' by Cheney - Three days after the speech, a State Department source tells CNN that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s view clashes with that which was presented in Cheney’s speech, explaining that the secretary of state is opposed to any military action in which the US would “go it alone… as if it doesn’t give a damn” what other nations think. The source also says that Powell and “others in the State Department were ‘blindsided’ by Cheney’s ‘time is running out’ speech… and were just as surprised as everyone else.” [CNN, 8/30/2002] Author and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will later describe Powell as “dumbfounded.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 145] Cheney did, however, inform President Bush he would be speaking to the VFW. He did not provide Bush a copy of his speech. Bush merely told Cheney, “Don’t get me into trouble.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 175]
'Off Script' - Current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe that it was always a tactic of the Iraq campaign strategy for Cheney to “lean a little more forward in his rhetoric than the president.” However, McClellan will go on to say that Cheney did not always “stay on message,” and will blame Cheney’s “deep-seated certitude, even arrogance” that sometimes operates “to the detriment of the president.” Cheney’s assertion to the VFW that it would be pointless to send UN inspectors back to Iraq is, McClellan will reflect, “off script.” Bush wants to continue to “show that he [is] exhausting all diplomatic options” before invading Iraq. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 138]
In 2008, Scott McClellan, currently the deputy press secretary in the Bush administration, will describe the current belief in the White House that overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein will lead to the overall democratization of the Middle East. According to McClellan, once Hussein has been overthrown and democracy established, the White House believes “it would serve as an example to other freedom-seeking reformers in the Middle East.” McClellan will call this ideal a “positive domino effect” that would bring about transformative, democratic change in Iran and Afghanistan. Both Iran and Iraq, McClellan will write, have “a significant number of well-educated, forward-looking citizens,” and as for Afghanistan, that nation is “already on the verge of democracy.” An Iraqi democracy will, the argument goes, inspire the Iranian people “to rise up and change their country’s governance, and a free Iraq and Iran would remove two major threats to peace and stability in the Middle East—two parts of the ‘axis of evil’ Bush had highlighted in his January 2002 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). And this, in turn, would dramatically reduce global tensions and enhance a key national security interest of the United States by ensuring the long-term stability of the massive oil reserves of the Middle East.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 129]
In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House deputy press secretary, will write of President Bush’s lowering of accepted standards to allow for a pre-emptive war. McClellan will write: “Bush was now lowering the bar for engaging in pre-emptive war, a step that might have been more widely viewed as radical had it occurred prior to 9/11. The [Bush] doctrine (see 8:30 p.m. September 11, 2001) unambiguously stated that while the United States would always proceed deliberately and carefully weigh the consequences of actions, it would not hesitate to use force if necessary to preempt not just an ‘imminent’ threat but a ‘grave and gathering’ one if need be (see September 16, 2002). It was based on the assumption that waiting for a threat to become imminent before acting would likely mean that we would respond too late. And this new principle encoded in our new national security strategy was clearly aimed in part in paving the way to removing Saddam Hussein from power by force.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 134]
In an interview with the BBC, Secretary of State Colin Powell states that he favors the return of UN inspectors as a necessary “first step” in dealing with Iraq. He says: “Iraq has been in violation of these many UN resolutions for most of the last 11 or so years. So as a first step, let’s see what the inspectors find, send them back in, why are they being kept out.” Regarding the decision of whether or not the use of military action would be required, he says: “The world has to be presented with the information, with the intelligence that is available. A debate is needed within the international community so that everybody can make a judgment about this.” [Independent, 9/2/2002] His comments directly contradict statements made by Vice President Dick Cheney in a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco on August 7 (see August 7, 2002), and another speech to the Nashville convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 26 (see August 26, 2002).
White House Insists No Conflict - Interestingly, it also comes one day after Scott McClellan, the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters: “The view of the administration is united and one in the same. We are singing from the same songbook.” [CNN, 8/30/2002] But commentators are concluding otherwise, which spurs another statement from Washington, this one from White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who the next day tells reporters as they accompany him on Air Force One: “There is no difference in position between Cheney, Powell, and President Bush. It’s much ado about no difference.” [CNN, 9/3/2002]
Powell 'Shocked' at Cheney's Remarks - Privately, Powell is “shocked” by Cheney’s statements, according to his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson. Wilkerson will later recall: “Here we were saying one thing out of one side of our mouth, and here was the vice president speaking to what you might call a semi-official military audience and he was saying the exact opposite. Undercutting every bit of diplomacy before that diplomacy actually got off the ground. And I remember Powell coming back from a principals’ meeting where he had made some remonstrance to the president about what’s going on. And the president had said something which he was wont to say about most things like this. He said, ‘Oh, that’s just Dick.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 176-177]
During a joint press conference with US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the two leaders make two factually incorrect statements, which are quickly contested by experts.
Tony Blair states, “We only need to look at the report from the International Atomic Agency [IAEA] this morning showing what has been going on at the former nuclear weapons sites to realize that” Saddam is a real threat. [US President, 9/16/2002] But no such report exists. [Washington Times, 9/27/2002] What Blair is actually referring to is a set of commercial satellite photographs showing signs of new construction at a site the US had bombed in 1998. [MSNBC, 9/7/2002; Guardian, 9/9/2002; Associated Press, 9/10/2002] That same day, Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the UN agency, says the agency had drawn no conclusion from those photographs. [MSNBC, 9/7/2002] On September 9, the Guardian of London will report that according to “a well-placed source” the photographs do not support Blair’s statement. “You cannot draw any conclusions,” the source explains. “The satellites were only looking at the top of a roof. You cannot tell without inspectors on the ground.” [Guardian, 9/9/2002] The following day, Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, will similarly tell reporters: “… [S]atellites don’t see through roofs. So we are not drawing conclusions from them. But it would be an important element in where, maybe, we want to go to inspect and monitor.” [Associated Press, 9/10/2002; Globe and Mail, 9/11/2002]
Bush asserts, “I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied—finally denied access [in 1998], a report came out of the Atomic—the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon,” adding, “I don’t know what more evidence we need.” [US President, 9/16/2002; Washington Times, 9/27/2002] But Bush’s statement is quickly refuted by an MSNBC news report published later that day, which includes an excerpt from the summary of the 1998 IAEA report Bush cited. The summary reads, “[B]ased on all credible information available to date… the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its program goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon-useable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material.” [MSNBC, 9/7/2002; Dean, 2004, pp. 138] The text of the actual report, authored by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, reads: “There are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance.” [Washington Times, 9/27/2002] When confronted by MSNBC reporters on this point, an unnamed senior White House official states, “What happened was, we formed our own conclusions based on the report.” [MSNBC, 9/7/2002] Later, when The Washington Times presses Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan for an explanation, he says, “[Bush is] referring to 1991 there. In ‘91, there was a report saying that after the war they found out they were about six months away.” But this too is challenged by Gwozdecky, spokesman for the UN agency, who says that no such report was ever published by the IAEA in 1991. Apparently the President’s accusations are based on two news articles that were published more than a decade ago—“a July 16  story in the London Times by Michael Evans and a July 18  story in the New York Times by Paul Lewis.” But as The Washington Times notes, “Neither article cites an IAEA report on Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program or states that Saddam was only six months away from ‘developing a weapon’—as claimed by Mr. Bush.” Instead the two news articles reported that at that time, UN inspectors had concluded that Iraq was only six months away from the large-scale production of enriched uranium. But as the 1998 report shows, both 1991 news stories are outdated. [Washington Times, 9/27/2002]
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Bush says: “Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.… Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.” [PBS, 9/12/2002; US President, 9/16/2002; Age (Melbourne), 6/7/2003] Bush also says that the US “will work with the UN Security Council.” [US President, 9/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 285] Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later describe the speech somewhat differently: “The UN speech… had been an ultimatum—either the UN acts to disarm Saddam Hussein or the United States will. The zero tolerance message was a further sign of how determined the president was to topple the regime by force. Saddam was never going to come completely clean. His power was grounded in brutality and in his ability to portray the regime as stronger than it was to intimidate the populace and potential enemies like Iran. The zero tolerance policy and the new ‘last chance’ resolution gave Bush plenty of room to maneuver and plausible justifications for his policy of regime change.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142]
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Lawrence Lindsey, head of the White House’s National Economic Council, says he believes the Bush administration’s planned invasion of Iraq could cost between $100 and $200 billion. The cost, he says, will have only a modest impact on the US economy, since it will only amount to between one and two percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). “One year [of additional spending]? That’s nothing.” Mitch Daniels, director of the Office of Management and Budget, subsequently disputes the figure, saying it is “very, very high.” He suggests the total costs would run between $50 and $60 billion. [Wall Street Journal, 9/16/2002; Reuters, 9/18/2002; Washington Times, 5/13/2005] The White House press office also denies Lindsey’s prediction. As the current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later recall: “Lindsey’s biggest mistake wasn’t the size of the figures he chose to cite. It was citing any figures at all. Talking about the projected cost of a potential war wasn’t part of the script, especially not when the White House was in the crucial early stages of building broad public support. In fact, none of the possible, unpleasant consequences of war—casualties, economic effects, geopolitical risks, diplomatic repercussions—were part of the message. We were in campaign mode now, just as we had been when [President] Bush traveled the country leading the effort to pass tax cuts and education reforms. This first stage was all about convincing the public that the threat was serious and needed addressing without delay. Citing or discussing potential costs, financial or human, only played into the arguments our critics and opponents of war were raising. Lindsey had violated the first rule of the disciplined, on-message Bush White House: don’t make news unless you’re authorized to do so. Lindsey’s transgression could only make the war harder to sell.” As McClellan recalls, Bush is “steamed” at Lindsey’s comments. Lindsey will resign four months later. McClellan will write: “Larry, a highly regarded economist, had violated a basic principle of the Bush White House: the president doesn’t like anyone getting out in front of him. It’s his job to make the news, not anyone else’s—unless authorized as part of the script.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 121-124]
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri meets with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Arab League Secretary-General Amir Moussa and gives them a letter expressing Baghdad’s willingness to readmit the UN weapons inspectors without conditions. The offer is made after Saddam Hussein convened an emergency meeting in Baghdad with his cabinet and the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). [Associated Press, 9/16/2002; Associated Press, 9/16/2002; Independent, 9/17/2002; New York Times, 9/17/2002] Iraq’s letter is effectively an agreement to the December 1999 UN Security Council Resolution 1284. [New York Times, 9/18/2002] Kofi Annan tells reporters after the meeting, “I can confirm to you that I have received a letter from the Iraqi authorities conveying its decision to allow the return of the inspectors without conditions to continue their work and has also agreed that they are ready to start immediate discussions on the practical arrangements for the return of the inspectors to resume their work.” Annan credits the Arab League, which he says “played a key role” in influencing Saddam Hussein’s decision to accept the inspectors, and suggests that a recent speech by Bush also played a critical part in influencing Baghdad’s decision. [UN News Center, 9/16/2002] UNMOVIC Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix also meets with Iraqi officials and it is reportedly agreed that weapons inspectors will return to Iraq on October 19. UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan tells the BBC, “We are ready to discuss practical measures, such as helicopters, hotels, the installation of monitoring equipment and so on, which need to be put in place.” [BBC, 9/17/2002] The Bush administration immediately rejects the offer, calling it “a tactical step by Iraq in hopes of avoiding strong UN Security Council action,” in a statement released by the deputy press secretary. [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/2002; White House, 9/16/2002] And Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, tells reporters: “We’ve made it very clear that we are not in the business of negotiating with Saddam Hussein. We are working with the UN Security Council to determine the most effective way to reach our goal.” He then claims Iraq’s offer is a tactic to give “false hope to the international community that [President Saddam] means business this time,” adding, “Unfortunately, his more than decade of experience shows you can put very little into his words or deeds.” Two days later Bush will tell reporters that Saddam’s offer is “his latest ploy, his latest attempt not to be held accountable for defying the United Nations,” adding: “He’s not going to fool anybody. We’ve seen him before…. We’ll remind the world that, by defying resolutions, he’s become more and more of a threat to world peace. [The world] must rise up and deal with this threat, and that’s what we expect the Security Council to do.” [Independent, 9/17/2002; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2002] Later that night, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice reportedly hold a conference call with Kofi Annan and accuse him of taking matters into his own hands. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 285] Britain supports the US position and calls for a UN resolution backed with the threat of force. [BBC, 9/17/2002] Other nations react differently to the offer. For example, Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, says: “It’s important that, through our joint efforts, we have managed to put aside the threat of a war scenario around Iraq and return the process to a political channel… It is essential in the coming days to resolve the issue of the inspectors’ return. For this, no new [Security Council] resolutions are needed.” [Independent, 9/17/2002; BBC, 9/17/2002]
Entity Tags: Hans Blix, Naji Sabri Hadithi, Kofi Annan, Dan Bartlett, Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan, Amir Moussa, Colin Powell, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
In a speech in Davenport, Iowa, President Bush reiterates his talking points against Iraq: Saddam Hussein’s harsh treatment of his citizens, its disregard and duplicity regarding United Nations resolutions, and its support for Islamist terrorism. Together, these make Iraq into “a grave and gathering danger” that must be dealt with. Bush says: “My nation will work with the UN Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced—the just demands of peace and security will be met—or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose his power.” Scott McClellan, currently the deputy White House press secretary, will later write, “In a White House that prided itself on message discipline, Bush’s speech provided the new talking points for ‘educating the public about the threat’ (as we described our campaign to sell the war).” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 119-120] In the morning press gaggle, McClellan softpedals the president’s message somewhat: “The president will continue to consult with the international community and Congress as we move forward, and he will continue to talk to the American people as we move forward on any particular course of action. That is something he is doing now, and that is something he will continue to do. But what needs to happen right now is that the UN needs to act, and they need to back up their actions with enforcement. And that’s where our focus is, and we’re pleased with the emerging consensus from the international community around the president’s call for the UN to act.” [White House, 9/16/2002]
President Bush hosts a dinner meeting with a group of Republican governors at the White House. As deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later recall, because the meeting is private—no press is allowed—Bush is “conspicuously candid with his former colleagues, now trusted friends and political allies.… Bush’s forthrightness about his thinking and approach on Iraq [is] revealing.” Bush boasts of the recent capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see September 11, 2002) and says of Osama bin Laden, “[W]e don’t know where he is, but he has been diminished.” He then turns to Iraq: “It is important to know that Iraq is an extension of the war on terror,” he says. “In the international debate, we are starting to shift the burden of guilt to the guilty. The international community is risk averse. But I assure you I am going to stay plenty tough.” He repeats his belief that if the international community brings enough pressure to bear, the Iraqi people will take matters into their own hands: “I believe regime change can occur if we have strong, robust inspections. Saddam Hussein is a guy who is likely to have his head show up on a platter” if enough outside pressure is brought to bear. Of Hussein, Bush says: “He is a hateful, ugly, repugnant man who needs to go. He is also paranoid. This is a guy who killed his own security guards recently. I would like to see him gone peacefully. But if I unleash the military, I promise you it will be swift and decisive.” He then tells the governors how to handle questions from possible critics: “Don’t fall into the argument that there is no one to replace Saddam Hussein.… And our planning will make sure there is no oil disruption; we are looking at options to enhance oil flow.” To sum up, Bush says: “Military force is my last option, but it may be the only choice.… I’m gonna make a prediction. Write this down. Afghanistan and Iraq will lead that part of the world to democracy. They are going to be the catalyst to change the Middle East and the world.” In the questioning period, Bush tells the governors that while he intends to invade Iraq sooner rather than later, he is aware that the political timing of the decision is important, with the midterm elections approaching. He reiterates: “[I]f we have to go [into Iraq], we will be tough and swift and it will be violent so troops can move very quickly.… If we go, we will use the full force and the might of the US military (see February 25, 2003).… I believe in the power of freedom.” After the meeting, Governor John Rowland (R-CT), the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, calls the meeting a “heart to heart” on Iraq. But, McClellan will later reflect, “it was also a frank strategy powwow between the leader of a campaign and some important members of his team—a collection of local politicians who could play a crucial role in helping to generate popular support for the decision to invade.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 139-141]
A reporter asks President Bush if he thinks a war against Iraq might be a bad idea given widespread concerns that it could “generate a tremendous amount of anger and hatred at the United States… [thus] creating many new terrorists who would want to kill Americans.” Bush responds that the US should not avoid taking action out of fear that it might “irritate somebody [who] would create a danger to Americans.” He adds that no decision has been made with regard to using force against Iraq. “Hopefully, we can do this peacefully,” he says. “And if the world were to collectively come together to do so, and to put pressure on Saddam Hussein and convince him to disarm, there’s a chance he may decide to do that. And war is not my first choice… it’s my last choice. But nevertheless, it is… an option in order to make the world a more peaceful place.” [US President, 11/11/2002]
McClellan: War 'Inevitable' - However, current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will dispute Bush’s claim. In 2008, he will write: “Bush made sure this initiative was closely held, known only by a few people who could be trusted not to leak it. But it meant that, in effect, Bush had already made the decision to go to war—even if he convinced himself it might still be avoided. In the back of his mind, he would be convinced in Iraq, as on other issues, that until he gave the final order to commence war the decision was never final. But as I would learn upon reflection, war was inevitable given the course of action the president set from the beginning.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 127-128]
Enabled by Foreign Advisers - McClellan will continue: “Did Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condi Rice, fully calibrate for Bush’s headstrong style of leadership or appreciate the need to keep his beliefs in proper check? That will be for historians to judge. But overall, Bush’s foreign policy advisers played right into his thinking, doing little to question it or to cause him to pause long enough to fully consider the consequences before moving forward. And once Bush set a course of action, it was rarely questioned. That is what Bush expected and made known to his top advisers. The strategy for carrying out a policy was open for debate, but there would be no hand-wringing, no second-guessing of the policy once it was decided and set in motion.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 127-128]
President Bush reiterates the White House’s interpretation of UN Resolution 1441, saying: “I have told the United Nations we’ll be glad to consult with them, but the resolution does not prevent us from doing what needs to be done, which is to hold Saddam Hussein into account. We hope that he disarms, we hope that he will listen to the world.” [US President, 11/18/2002] Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe: “Pursuing a new UN resolution that included an immediate call for Saddam to come clean and let inspectors back in was vital to building public support. Even more important for the American public was to have strong, bipartisan Congressional support. Americans would be much more likely to support war if they felt Bush had pursued and exhausted diplomatic options and if Congress provided strong bipartisan approval.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 138]
US and British warplanes attack sites northeast of Mosul after Iraqi
defense forces fire anti-aircraft artillery at coalition aircraft patrolling the so-called “no-fly” zones. In a separate incident, warplanes attack two Iraqi air defense communications facilities and one air defense radar site in southern Iraq in Wassit and Dhi Oar after “Iraqi air defenses fired multiple surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery at coalition aircraft.” [New York Times, 11/19/2002; Scotsman, 11/19/2002; Reuters, 11/19/2002; Associated Press, 11/20/2002] According to Iraqi authorities, four Iraqi civilians were wounded as a result of the attacks in southern Iraq. [Associated Press, 11/20/2002] White House spokesperson Scott McClellan says in a press briefing, “The United States believes that firing upon our aircraft in the no-fly zone, or British aircraft, is a violation—it is a material breach.” [White House, 11/18/2002; New York Times, 11/19/2002] And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is in Chile, says: “I do find it unacceptable that Iraq fires. It is for the president of the United States and the UN Security Council to make judgments about their view of Iraq’s behavior over a period of time.” [Daily Telegraph, 11/19/2002; New York Times, 11/19/2002; CNN, 11/23/2002] This is the second time the US has bombed Iraq since the passing of UN resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). The US will conduct at least 22 more aerial attacks on Iraq before the March 19, 2003 invasion. [Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, 1/11/2006] UN officials disagree with Washington’s assessment. Secretary-General Kofi Annan states, “Let me say that I don’t think that the council will say this is in contravention of the resolution of the Security Council.” [Reuters, 11/19/2002] Responding to Annan’s remarks, Rumsfeld argues, “I don’t know that he (Annan) necessarily reflects the UN, the center of gravity of the Security Council, on any particular issue at any particular time…. Whenever resolutions are passed, they tend to be compromises, and there tend to be calculated ambiguities written into them to gain votes. So it does not come as a surprise to me…. The United Nations sat there for years with 16 resolutions being violated. So, just as we’ve seen a pattern of behavior on the part of Saddam Hussein, we’ve seen a pattern of behavior on the part of the United Nations.” [US Department of Defense, 11/19/2002; CNN, 11/19/2002] No comments supporting the US position are made by the British. [Daily Telegraph, 11/19/2002]
Human Rights Watch writes to President Bush about the allegations of torture reported in the Washington Post (see December 26, 2002), asking that the allegations be investigated immediately. [Human Rights Watch, 12/26/2002; BBC, 12/26/2002; CBC News, 12/27/2002; Washington Post, 12/28/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] White House spokesman Scott McClellan denies that US interrogation practices violate international law and indicates no interest on the part of the administration to investigate the allegations. “We are not aware we have received the letter.… [W]e believe we are in full compliance with domestic and international law, including domestic and international law dealing with torture.” He adds that combatants detained by the US are always treated “humanely, in a manner consistent with the third Geneva Convention.” [Washington Post, 12/28/2002]
US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, appointed to the bench by former President Bill Clinton, rules that the Bush administration is within the law in refusing to release documents pertaining to pardons issued by Clinton to Congress (see August 21, 2001 and December 13, 2001). Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton accuses Kessler of endorsing the Bush administration’s claim of executive privilege in order to protect Clinton’s reputation. The White House hails the ruling, and spokesman Scott McClellan notes that the courts have now recognized that the privilege “applies to former, current, and future presidents.” In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that the ruling hands “the Bush-Cheney legal team another victory in its bid to expand the White House’s power to keep its inner workings secret.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 99]
Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest in former ambassador and current Iraq whistleblower Joseph Wilson is renewed when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). When Kristof publishes the information (see May 6, 2003), according to a CIA official, “a request came in from Cheney that was passed to me that said ‘the vice president wants to know whether Joe Wilson went to Niger.’ I’m paraphrasing. But that’s more or less what I was asked to find out.” Cheney, of course, knew Wilson had gone to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). The campaign to discredit and besmirch Wilson begins again (see March 9, 2003 and After), this time in a much more intensified manner. “Cheney and Libby made it clear that Wilson had to be shut down,” the CIA official will later say. “This wasn’t just about protecting the credibility of the White House. For the vice president, going after Wilson was purely personal, in my opinion.” Cheney is heavily involved in this second phase of the anti-Wilson campaign as well, pushing CIA officials to find out everything they can about Wilson. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley also pressures State Department officials to send information they have on Wilson to his attention at the NSC. It is also at this time that Cheney and at least some members of his staff learn that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a covert CIA officer. At least one meeting is held in the Office of the Vice President to discuss possible strategies to use against Wilson. According to a State Department official, Cheney is not at this particular meeting: “Libby [Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby] led the meeting. But he was just as upset about Wilson as Cheney was.” [USA Today, 4/29/2004; Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] In a 2005 interview, Wilson will tell a reporter that he believes others in the White House’s communications and public relation staffs, including Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson, all become aware of Plame Wilson’s secret CIA status, as does Hadley, his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card. “That would be the natural group because they were constituted to spin the war, so they would be naturally the ones to try to deflect criticism,” Wilson will say. [Raw Story, 7/13/2005] In 2008, current White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will acknowledge that “Cheney and his staff were leading a White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson himself.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171]
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Karen Hughes, Joseph C. Wilson, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrew Card, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Nicholas Kristof, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, Mary Matalin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Stephen J. Hadley
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits that the Bush administration chose the issue of Iraqi WMD as its primary justification for war, not because it was necessarily a legitimate concern, but because it was, in the words of reporter David Usbourne, “politically convenient.” Wolfowitz also acknowledges that another justification played a strong part in the decision to invade: the prospect of the US being able to withdraw all of its forces from Saudi Arabia (see August 7, 1990) once Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown. “Just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to the door” towards making progress elsewhere in achieving Middle East peace, says Wolfowitz. The presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia has been one of the main grievances of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. The most controversial statement by Wolfowitz is his acknowledgement that, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Usbourne writes, “The comments suggest that, even for the US administration, the logic that was presented for going to war may have been an empty shell.” He notes that finding a rationale for attacking Iraq that was “acceptable to everyone” may refer to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the most prominent Cabinet member to vocally, if privately, oppose the invasion. Powell relied on the WMD issue in his February presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), which many consider to be a key element in the administration’s effort to convince the American citizenry that the invasion was necessary and justified. [Independent, 5/30/2003]
Democrats: WMD Scare 'Hyped' by Administration - Many Congressional Democrats echo the sentiments of Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who says of the administration’s push for war: “I do think that we hyped nuclear, we hyped al-Qaeda, we hyped the ability to disperse and use these weapons. I think that tends to be done by all presidents when they are trying to accomplish a goal that they want to get broad national support for.… I think a lot of the hype here is a serious, serious, serious mistake and it hurts our credibility.” [Washington Times, 5/30/2003]
British Official: Clear That Rationale for War Was False - Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit as leader of the House of Commons to protest the war, says he never believed Iraq had the WMD claimed by US and British government officials. “The war was sold on the basis of what was described as a pre-emptive strike, ‘Hit Saddam before he hits us,’” he says. “It is now quite clear that Saddam did not have anything with which to hit us in the first place.” Former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen says he is shocked by Wolfowitz’s claim. “It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?” he says. [Associated Press, 5/30/2003]
Wolfowitz Claims Misquoting - After the initial reports of the interview and the resulting storm of controversy and recriminations, Wolfowitz and his defenders will claim that Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus misquoted his words and took his statements out of context (see June 1-9, 2003).
Press Official: Selection of WMD as Primary Focus a 'Marketing Choice' - In 2008, current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write, “So the decision to downplay the democratic vision as a motive for war was basically a marketing choice.” Reflecting on this choice, he will add: “Every president wants to achieve greatness but few do. As I have heard [President] Bush say, only a wartime president is likely to achieve greatness, in part because the epochal upheavals of war provide the opportunity for transformative change of the kind Bush hoped to achieve. In Iraq, Bush saw his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness. Intoxicated by the influence and power of America, Bush believed that a successful transformation of Iraq could be the linchpin for realizing his dream of a free Middle East. But there was a problem here, which has become obvious to me only in retrospect—a disconnect between the president’s most heartfelt objective in going to war and the publicly stated rationale for that war. Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 131-133]
Ann Compton. [Source: ABC Media Net]ABC News Radio journalist Ann Compton has a brief, informal discussion with White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan. When Compton asks about the as-yet-undiscovered Iraqi WMD, McClellan, as he later recalls, “repeat[ed] the White House’s standard position of the time which I shared: ‘We believe that weapons of mass destruction will eventually be found. The inspectors are still in the early stages of their work.’” McClellan is “a bit shaken” by Compton’s blunt retort. As he will recall, Compton says: “They’re not going to find any weapons. If there were any, they would have found them by now.” Compton, McClellan will recall, “spoke with an air of confidence, as someone who had worked in Washington long enough to anticipate a story’s likely end.” McClellan will recall that after being initially rattled, “as Ann left my office, the sense of hard-nosed reality she brought with her departed as well.” The White House arguments over the WMD issue once again assert themselves in McClellan’s mind. But, he will write, “deep inside, Ann Compton’s words haunted me.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 159-160]
In his 2008 book What Happened, then-deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write that at this time, the covert “campaign to undermine [former ambassador] Joe Wilson’s credibility as a critic of the White House’s use of intelligence to bolster the case for war was beginning.” McClellan will write that the decision to keep President Bush “out of the loop” on the Wilson propaganda offensive was a deliberate decision made by top Bush officials—and Bush himself. McClellan will write: “The president and those around him agreed that, in Washington’s permanent campaign environment, the president was always to be shielded from the unsavory side of politics and any potential fallout. He would stay above the fray, uninvolved in the aggressive, under-the-radar counterpunching of his advisers. He purposely chose to know little of anything about the tactics they employed.” Presidential deniability, McClellan will note, is of paramount importance. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 166-167]
Shortly after Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times op-ed appears, citing an anonymous source as accusing the Bush administration of ignoring evidence debunking the White House’s claim of Iraqi WMD (see May 6, 2003), Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus contacts Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, for comment on the controversy. Martin alerts Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Pincus is “sniffing around” for information. As White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “The vice president and Libby were quietly stepping up their efforts to counter the allegations of the anonymous envoy to Niger (see June 2003), and Pincus’s story was one opportunity for them to do just that. [Cheney] dictated talking points to Libby, who used them in responding to Pincus.” Pincus subsequently writes a June 12, 2003 story that hinges on Cheney’s assertion that the CIA had never shared its doubts about the existence of Iraqi WMD with the White House. The article helps spin the controversy, fueling speculation that the CIA, not the White House, is responsible for the “erroneous intelligence” on Iraq’s WMD. Pincus does quote a “senior CIA analyst” who says that in the run-up to war, “information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized.” The White House does not like either of these versions of events—either it used faulty intelligence to craft its argument for war, or it deliberately lied to the American people to send troops into Iraq. [Time, 7/31/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 166-167]
According to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s deputy and imminent successor Scott McClellan, “Armed with updated talking points from the vice president’s office… Fleischer dispute[s] the notion that Cheney and others in the administration must have known about [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s findings” (see March 5, 2002). Fleischer denies that Vice President Dick Cheney asked for someone to go to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from there (see (February 13, 2002)), and denies Cheney’s awareness of the mission until it was reported. However, Fleischer “inadvertently drop[s] a small bombshell,” according to McClellan. He tells reporters, “Now we’ve long acknowledged—and this is old news, we’ve said it repeatedly—that the information on [Nigeran uranium] did, indeed, turn out to be incorrect.” McClellan will later acknowledge that the admission is anything but “old news,” and will write: “But Fleischer now appeared to suggest for the first time that the president’s 16 words in the State of the Union address had been based primarily on the Niger documents (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Up until that point, the White House had maintained that the president’s language had been deliberately broad so as to include African countries other than Niger” (see January 28-29, 2003). Reporters “jump[ed] all over the story,” McClellan will recall. “Admitting that something the president had said was wrong was big news, and it would need to be discussed among senior advisers and approved by the president.” McClellan will note, “Throughout the day, there was much discussion among the president’s advisers on whether or not to acknowledge the obvious.” According to McClellan, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is one of the strongest advocates for making the admission, and “her point of view prevail[s].” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-169]
Joseph Wilson, whose op-ed in the New York Times debunking the administration’s claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection has just appeared (see July 6, 2003), is warned to expect harsh retaliation by former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Berger points out that since the Bush White House never backs down, the fact that they had admitted their error so quickly (see March 8, 2003) means that they have something even more important to protect. A Republican acquaintance of Wilson’s says that he and his fellows in the party are pleased with Wilson’s op-ed, as now they might have the ammunition necessary to confront the Bush neoconservatives. Wilson will write that his favorite reaction comes from his former National Security Council colleague John Pendergast, who tells Wilson, “Congratulations, you’re like the baboon who’s thrown the turd that finally hit the target and stuck.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 4] Within minutes of the story being published on the Times Web site, Wilson begins fielding questions from reporters, and accepts an offer to appear on the next morning’s broadcast of “Meet the Press” (see July 6, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 333-334] In response to Wilson’s editorial, then-White House press official Scott McClellan later writes: “Wilson’s performance turned the spotlight squarely on the charge being labeled by [Times columnist Nicholas] Kristof and other critics that the Bush administration had knowingly misled the public” about Iraqi WMD (see May 6, 2003). It further riled the vice president. It also provided the national media with a full-fledged controversy to cover, involving a colorful, outspoken character [Wilson] ready to level explosive charges against high-ranking officials.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168]
According to a later account by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, around this time White House chief of staff Andrew Card takes over the administration’s response to the Iraq-Niger uranium controversy. According to McClellan, Card “direct[s] everyone on the White House staff to provide all relevant recollections and documents tracing the genesis and handling of the uranium claim, and Dan [Bartlett, White House communications director] to organize the information and develop a clear, forthright presentation that showed how such an egregious error occurred.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 176]
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a close ally of Vice President Dick Cheney, answers calls to investigate the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). In March, Roberts refused to sign off on a request from his committee to investigate the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see March 14, 2003). In June, his committee released a report defending the White House’s use of the uranium claims (see June 11, 2003); on that same day, Roberts and fellow Republicans denounced calls to investigate pre-war intelligence (see June 11, 2003). In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Roberts’s call for an investigation plays into the administration’s attempts to pin the blame for the uranium claims directly onto the CIA, and in a larger sense to blame the CIA for all the intelligence failures preceding the invasion of Iraq. According to McLellan: “On a broader front, the White House sought to dispel the nation that the intelligence had been ‘cooked’ by showing that it had been provided and cleared by the CIA. Most observers—war critics and supporters, Democrats and Republicans—had shared the assumption that Saddam had WMD programs and likely possessed at least some chemical and biological weapons. Only now, after the fact, were some prominent critics disavowing or downplaying their earlier belief, and the partisan tone of their attacks provided us with the gist of our counterattack.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171]
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; New York Times, 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. [National Journal, 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; Washington Post, 7/12/2003; New York Times, 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. [Boston Globe, 3/16/2003; New York Times, 3/23/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; ABC News, 6/16/2003; Newsday, 7/12/2003; Washington Post, 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.” [CBS News, 7/10/2003; CNN, 7/10/2003; Washington Post, 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; CBS News, 7/10/2003; New York Times, 7/14/2003; New York Times, 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). [Information Clearing House, 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]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, ABC News, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, CBS News, Office of Special Plans
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Robert Novak. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]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. [Town Hall (.com), 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. [American Prospect, 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). [Washington Post, 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). [New York Times, 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.” [Raw Story, 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]
Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Craig Unger
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Matt Drudge. [Source: Brian K. Diggs / Associated Press]ABC News correspondent Jeffrey Kofman, embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division in Fallujah, interviews US soldiers angry that their tours of duty have been extended just a week after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promised they would be going home. One soldier says he would like to ask Rumsfeld “why we’re still here, ‘cause I don’t, I don’t have any clue as to why we’re still in Iraq.” Another soldier says, “I’d ask for his resignation.” Within hours after Kofman’s report is broadcast, conservative news and gossip monger Matt Drudge attempts to damage Kofman’s credibility by printing a story under the headline, “ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story—Openly Gay Canadian.” (Eight minutes later, he changes the headline to read, “ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story is Canadian.”) Drudge credits the information about Kofman, who is both openly gay and Canadian, to “someone from the White House communications shop.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 101] Drudge later identifies White House press secretary Scott McClellan as his source; the White House denies having anything to do with the story. McClellan himself says that for him to have made such a leak to Drudge would have been “totally inappropriate, [and if] anyone on my staff did it, they would no longer be working for me.” Four days later, Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias writes that the White House, via Drudge, tried to besmirch Kofman because the reporter “gave voice to American troops stationed in Iraq who spoke out against the war—or rather the ‘peace’—while calling for… Rumsfeld’s resignation.” Drudge himself blames the controversy over his story on what he calls “the cultural wars-slash-liberal bias in the media.” [Toronto Star, 7/19/2003; New York Times, 7/20/2003] New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd will observe: “Bush loyalists regularly plant information they want known in the Drudge Report. Whoever [did so] was appealing to the baser nature of President Bush’s base, seeking to discredit the ABC report by smearing the reporter for what he or she considers sins of private life (not straight) and passport (not American).” [New York Times, 7/20/2003] Pamela Strother of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association later says: “While the facts behind this reported smear are unclear, the news coverage itself and the implications are very serious for all journalists and equally troubling for the American public.… Whenever the coverage of a lesbian or gay journalist or the nationality of a reporter is criticized and discredited simply because of the individual’s birthright or sexual orientation, that is a form of dangerous intimidation and a potential professional libel.” [Washington Blade, 7/25/2003]
White House communications director Dan Bartlett holds a staff meeting to coordinate officials’ responses to controversial news items, particularly to the recent White House admission that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim had been “erroneous” (see July 8, 2003). Among the participants is new White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Although the next presidential election is not until November 2004, McClellan will later write that the White House exists in a permanent “campaign mode,” and Bartlett’s prime focus is to ensure the White House “win[s] every news cycle” and contributes to the “broader [re-election] strategic plan.”
Turning Debate Away from Iraq-Niger, onto War on Terror - As McClellan later observes, “We needed to refocus the debate [away from the Iraq-Niger uranium claim and onto] the larger strategic framework—the big picture of national security that the president would relentlessly push during the re-election campaign against his eventual opponent, [Senator] John Kerry.” The message Bartlett outlines is simple: the president’s obligation is to protect America from terrorists and outlaw regimes. This is done by staying “on the offensive,” as McClellan will later write, “ending threats by confronting them. And a peaceful, freer, and more stable Middle East is key to our own safety and security. Our job was all about keeping the focus on national security and specifically the war on terrorism, which would become the central theme of the president’s re-election campaign. In this context, the war in Iraq was not only justifiable but essential… we were fighting a broad war on terror in both Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Coordinating 'Message Push' with Congressional Republicans, Media Conservatives - The “message push” is coordinated with “Republicans in Congress and allies in the media, such as conservative columnists and talk radio personalities [who are] enlisted in the effort and given communications packets with comprehensive talking points aimed at helping them pivot to the message whenever they could. Daily talking points and regular briefings for members and staff would be provided, and rapid, same-news cycle response to any attacks or negative press would be a top priority—an effort Bartlett had spearheaded during the 2000 campaign. It was a determined campaign to seize the media offensive and shape or manipulate the narrative to our advantage.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174-175]
White House chief of staff Andrew Card (see (July 11, 2003)) holds a late-night meeting of what press secretary Scott McClellan will call “select senior advisers”—Card, McClellan, communications director Dan Bartlett, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Gonzales’s subordinate Harriet Miers. One topic of discussion is the recent report that the White House had scrubbed a claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium buy from a speech by President Bush in October 2002 (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002), months before Bush’s State of the Union address where he did make such a claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). The media reports that Hadley was warned to delete the claim by CIA Director George Tenet. Hadley confirms receiving the warning, and tells the assemblage that, three months later, he had forgotten Tenet’s warning. “Signing off on these facts is my responsibility,” he says. “And in this case, I blew it. I think the only solution is for me to resign.” Hadley is distressed that Tenet had, in McClellan’s words, “been made to look like the scapegoat, since he believed it was nobody’s fault but his own.” McClellan will call Hadley’s offer to resign “selfless .. [his attempt to] clear the name of someone he felt had taken an unfair degree of blame, and to accept his own responsibility for an honest mistake whose consequences were now playing out before a worldwide audience.” The others quickly reject Hadley’s proffered resignation, and decide, as McClellan will recall, “that an approach of openness, forthrightness, and honesty was now essential.” Bartlett and Hadley are delegated to “inform the world as to what had happened and why,” and Hadley will admit to having forgotten his conversation with Tenet” (see October 6, 2002). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 177-178]
As decided the night before (see July 21, 2003), Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett hold a press conference in which Hadley admits to having forgotten about CIA Director George Tenet’s October warning that the Iraq-Niger claim was not solid. Hadley admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger; he takes responsibility for its inclusion in the president’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). His admission and apology follow closely on the heels of Tenet’s acceptance of responsibility for the “error” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Hadley admits that he received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from Tenet in October 2002 that questioned the Iraq-Niger allegations and warned that they should not be made public. The allegations were excised from Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). Hadley says he should have made sure those same allegations were not in Bush’s State of the Union speech: they “should have been taken out of the State of the Union.… There were a number of people who could have raised a hand” to have the passage removed from the draft of Bush’s speech. “And no one raised a hand.… The high standards the president set were not met.” (In reality, author Craig Unger will later write, the White House was reluctant to go back to Tenet because the CIA had already twice rejected the claim. Instead, White House officials had obtained clearance to use the material from a more amenable CIA subordinate—see January 26 or 27, 2003.) Hadley says he has apologized to Bush for the “error.” Bartlett says, “The process failed.” He adds that Bush retains “full confidence in his national security adviser [Condoleezza Rice], his deputy national security adviser [Hadley], and the director of central intelligence [Tenet].” Hadley says he had forgotten about the October CIA memos until they were discovered a few days ago by White House speechwriter Michael Gerson. [Associated Press, 7/22/2003; White House, 7/22/2003; New York Times, 7/23/2003; Raw Story, 11/16/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 273; Truthout (.org), 1/23/2007; McClellan, 2008, pp. 178] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later take some responsibility for the lapse, saying, “The fact is that given the October 5 and 6 memorandum [from Tenet], and my telephone conversation with the DCI Tenet at roughly the same time, I should have recalled at the time of the State of the Union speech that there was controversy associated with the uranium issue.” The press briefing, McClellan will write, “accomplish[es] our goal of putting the 16-word controversy behind us.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 178]
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]
Russell Mokhiber. [Source: Democracy Now!]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. [Vanity Fair, 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; Los Angeles Times, 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.” [Washington Post, 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. [Washington Post, 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]
Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, John Dion, Robert McCallum, George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Eleven days after White House political strategist Karl Rove told press secretary Scott McClellan that he had not been one of the sources responsible for outing CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 16, 2003), the Washington Post prepares to print a story that alleges “a senior administration official” is claiming two senior White House officials spoke with at least six reporters about Plame Wilson (see September 28, 2003). The Post reporters do not yet know who those two officials are. In 2008, McClellan will write: “The implication of the Post story was clear: the White House had disclosed Plame’s identity to discredit or even punish Joseph Wilson. The story would put the leak of her identity right at the White House’s doorstep… implying the possibility of concerted effort by the White House to reveal Plame’s role and her involvement in her husband’s trip to Niger.” McClellan learns from his deputy, Claire Buchan, that Rove had indeed spoken to columnist Robert Novak. According to Buchan, Rove admits that Novak called him about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, but says he could not confirm it because he did not know; McClellan checks with Novak, who says the same thing to him as he told Buchan. McClellan will describe himself as “bewilder[ed]” by Rove’s contradictory statements to him and Buchan. He will write, “I felt that Rove should have disclosed this conversation to me previously, so I decided to call him.” He asks Rove, “Were you involved in this in any way?” and later writes: “I was clearly referring to the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity—information that was believed to be classified—to any reporter.” Rove replies: “No. Look, I didn’t even know about his wife.” McClellan will later note that Rove does not mention his phone discussion of Plame’s CIA identity with Time reporter Matt Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). He will write: “Rove’s categorical ‘no’ gave me the assurance I needed to defend a fellow member of the Bush team and fellow Texan I had known for more than a decade, who was invariably a prime target of our most partisan critics.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 180-181]
The Justice Department informs the CIA that its counterespionage section agrees with the agency’s recommendation for an investigation into the Plame Wilson leak (see September 16, 2003). The FBI is already investigating the leak (see September 26, 2003). In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write, “The clear implication was that there was good reason to believe a crime had been committed in the leak of Plame [Wilson]‘s name.” The Justice Department officially informs the White House later this evening. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 179]
Scott McClellan and Karl Rove. [Source: Doug Mills / New York Times]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).
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales waits 12 hours after receiving formal notification of the FBI’s investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003) to formally notify the White House staff of the investigation, including notifying the staff of the Justice Department’s orders not to destroy documents related to the investigation (see September 30, 2003). Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and other Democrats are angered by the delay. “Every good prosecutor knows that any delay could give a culprit time to destroy the evidence,” Schumer says. [New York Times, 9/30/2003]
DOJ Says Permissible to Wait - According to a later narrative by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, Gonzales asks the Justice Department if he should inform the White House about the investigation with a formal letter that same evening, or if it would be acceptable to wait until the next morning. The next morning would be fine, the Justice Department says. Gonzales informs the senior staff of the investigation at 7:30 a.m., during the morning meeting. He tells the officials to tell their respective staffs to preserve “all materials that may be related” to the leak, and adds, “The president has directed that we fully cooperate with this investigation.” Gonzales says he will e-mail all White House staff at 8:30 a.m. with specific instructions. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 213-214]
Text of E-Mail - Gonzales sends the following e-mail above his signature: “PLEASE READ: Important Message From Counsel’s Office. We were informed last evening by the Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee. The department advised us that it will be sending a letter today instructing us to preserve all materials that might be relevant to its investigation. Its letter will provide more specific instructions on the materials in which it is interested, and we will communicate those instructions directly to you. In the meantime, you must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the department’s investigation. Any questions concerning this request should be directed to Associate Counsels Ted Ullyot or Raul Yanes in the Counsel to the President’s office. The president has directed full cooperation with this investigation.” [Alberto R. Gonzales, 9/30/2003]
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.” [New York Times, 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. [New York Times, 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]
Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Department of Justice, Timothy Phelps, Scott McClellan, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The media begins probing as to whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was involved in the Plame Wilson leak. CBS correspondent John Roberts asks White House press secretary Scott McClellan: “You said the other day, emphatically, that you have received assurances from Karl Rove that he had nothing to do with this (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, and September 29, 2003). Have you since received similar assurances from the vice president’s chief of staff?” McClellan attempts to finesse the question, replying, “I’m not going to go down a list of every single member of the staff of the White House.” Roberts retorts, “That’s just one name.” After the gaggle, McClellan runs into Libby, and warns him that his name is beginning to surface in connection with the leak. McClellan reiterates his answer to Roberts, and says: “Now that there’s an investigation under way, I can’t put myself in that position. I want you to know I’m not trying to leave you hanging out there to dry.” Libby says little in response. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216-217]
In the days after the Justice Department begins probing the Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 29, 2003), Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, finds a reference in his notes that indicates he learned from Cheney that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA agent. According to his later testimony, Libby immediately goes to Cheney with the notes, in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to discuss the matter with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). “It turns out that I have a note that I had heard about” Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “from you,” Libby tells Cheney. Libby will later testify that Cheney “didn’t say much” in response. “You know, he said something about, ‘From me?’ something like that, and tilted his head, something he does commonly, and that was that.” [National Journal, 2/19/2007; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Libby tells Cheney that his public story is that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Cheney knows that the Russert story is untrue, but does nothing to discourage Libby from telling that story to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and a grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Cheney also encourages White House press secretary Scott McClellan to publicly exonerate and defend Libby (see October 1, 2003, October 4, 2003, October 4, 2003, and October 5, 2003), who complains that the White House is not doing enough to protect him. In 2007, law professor and former federal prosecutor Dan Richman will say that any criminal interpretation of Cheney’s reaction to Libby’s story depends on the exact words the two men exchanged, and exactly what Cheney knew at the time. “Only Cheney and Libby know the import of their conversation, and as is often the case, each could have even come away with a different impression of what was meant” by what the other said, Richman will observe. “If Cheney was merely showing surprise and interest at what Libby [was] indicating to him he was going to tell investigators, then the vice president is innocent in the exchange. But if he had reason to believe, or personal knowledge, that what Libby was planning to say was untrue then there is good reason to view Cheney’s conduct in an entirely different light—an obstruction interpretation.” Libby knew that Plame Wilson was a CIA official a month before his discussion with Russert (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), and Cheney confirmed Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Libby around the same time (see (June 12, 2003)). [National Journal, 2/19/2007]
The Bush administration, prodded by polls showing that over 70 percent of Americans believe that someone in the White House leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the press and almost that number is in favor of a special prosecutor to head an investigation, modifies its approach to its denials of involvement. According to the Washington Post, White House officials no longer proclaim the innocence of everyone employed by the executive branch, but now say that it is possible someone disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity without realizing that they were exposing a covert operative, and therefore no crime was committed. The first Congressional Republican to speak out against the administration’s handling of the issue is Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who says that President Bush “needs to get this behind him” by taking a more active role. “He has that main responsibility to see this through and see it through quickly, and that would include, if I was president, sitting down with my vice president and asking what he knows about it,” Hagel says. Meanwhile, administration supporters outside the White House are stepping up their counteroffensive, telling reporters that the White House is fully cooperating with the Justice Department investigation and that the real story is Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, who is making “rash statements” denigrating the administration. Press secretary Scott McClellan is no longer denying a White House effort to discredit Wilson, a critic of the administration, but now tells reporters that the only issue “is whether or not someone leaked classified information.… I’m drawing a line here. I’m not going to play the game of going down other rabbit trails.” The White House has repeatedly insisted that it has no intention of appointing a special counsel to handle the investigation; critics say that Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department cannot lead an impartial probe. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003]
A retyped version of Libby’s handwritten note suggesting what McClellan should say to reporters. [Source: US District Court for the District of Columbia / Think Progress]Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney who is suspected of leaking CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), implores Cheney to have press secretary Scott McClellan publicly exonerate him. In a note whose contents will later be made public during the runup to Libby’s perjury trial (see October 28, 2005 and January 16-23, 2007), Libby suggests what McClellan should say to the press:
“People have made too much of the difference in
“How I described Karl and Libby
“I’ve talked to Libby.
“I 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.” [Think Progress, 4/6/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 4/5/2009 ]
Cheney will write a note recommending Libby’s public exoneration (see October 4, 2003). McClellan will use much of Libby’s wording in his statement to the press (see October 4, 2003 and October 4, 2003).
After being ordered to assure the press that Lewis “Scooter” Libby knew nothing of the Plame Wilson leak (see October 4, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan agrees to follow that order if Libby himself will give him that same assurance. McClellan calls Libby and asks, “Were you involved in the leak in any way?” Libby replies, “No, absolutely not.” Together, they decide what reporters McClellan should call, and McClellan begins spreading the word among a wide array of national media correspondents. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 218-220] (Later research by author and blogger Marcy Wheeler indicates the reporters McClellan contacts are most likely the Associated Press’s Scott Lindlaw, Michael Isikoff or Evan Thomas of Newsweek, an unnamed reporter for the New York Times, and the Washington Post’s Mike Allen.) [Marcy Wheeler, 6/10/2008] The line is, as agreed upon, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” Shortly afterwards, McClellan decides on his own to make the same assurances about National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams, who has angrily denied rumors of his own involvement (see October 5, 2003). “I was becoming increasingly frustrated,” McClellan will write, “as this was exactly what I didn’t want to happen. I was putting myself in the middle of the investigation by publicly vouching for people, against my own wishes and against the sound advice of White House counsel.… In hindsight, the president should have overruled his advisers and demanded that an internal investigation be conducted to determine whether there might have been any White House involvement. He also should have ordered the public release of as much information as possible as soon as it was known, so that the scandal would not take on a life of its own.” McClellan will theorize that Bush “chose not to do so, perhaps feeling that keeping clear of the story would insulate him and protect him from potential political damage. Instead, it gave the story broader and longer life, only helping to reinforce the permanent state of suspicion and partisan warfare he had pledged to move beyond.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 218-220]
At his home, White House press secretary Scott McClellan receives a call from White House chief of staff Andrew Card. Card makes a request that shocks McClellan: “The president and vice president spoke this morning. They want you to give the press the same assurance for Scooter [Lewis Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff] that you gave for [White House deputy chief of staff] Karl [Rove]” (see September 29, 2003). According to McClellan’s 2008 book What Happened, he acquiesces, “not really indicating my instinctive disinclination to do what he was directing me to do.” McClellan doesn’t want to begin absolving one official after another to the press. He has already refused to absolve Libby for the press once (see October 1, 2003), and knows “if other names started to surface… the press would be curious why I’d asked Scooter about his involvement, and why the White House wasn’t asking every staff member the same question.” However, he will write: “this was an order coming from on high. As a result, I was about to cross the line I’d drawn publicly once the investigation had gotten underway earlier in the week.” McClellan will write that he is sure President Bush had no knowledge of Libby, Rove, or anyone else being involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity. “I wish I could say the same about the vice president,” he will add. “I simply don’t know for sure.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 217-218] Card makes his request shortly after Vice President Cheney writes a memo demanding Libby’s public exoneration (see October 4, 2003).
Cheney’s original ‘meat grinder’ note. [Source: Office of the Vice President / FireDogLake]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]
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]
The senior International Red Cross official in Washington, Christophe Girod, tells the New York Times: “The open-endedness of the situation [at Guantanamo] and its impact on the mental health of the population has become a major problem.” He makes this unusual public statement because previous private communications with the US government has not yielded results. “One cannot keep these detainees in this pattern, this situation, indefinitely,” Girod says. White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, says: “These individuals are terrorists or supporters of terrorism and we are at war on terrorism and the reasons for detaining enemy combatants in the first place is to gather intelligence and make sure that these enemy combatants don’t return to help our enemies plot attacks or carry out attacks on the United States.” In the past 18 months, 21 detainees have made 32 suicide attempts. More detainees are treated for depression. [BBC, 10/10/2003]
White House press secretary Scott McClellan prepares for his upcoming questioning by FBI agents by talking to White House chief counsel Alberto Gonzales and the vice president’s chief legal adviser, David Addington. “This is not like being the White House spokesman,” Addington reminds McClellan, and advises him to “answer questions completely and openly, as opposed to only the limited information you might share as a spokesman.” McClellan will call Addington’s advice “no surprise,” but still “helpful.” He readily agrees to both Gonzales’s and Addington’s suggestions to have “someone from their office to sit in on any conversations I might have with the FBI,” even though he realizes “this would also be a convenient way for them to keep tabs on the investigation and any possible fallout for the president.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 221-222]
Many legal experts are highly critical of President Bush’s recent declaration that the identity of the leaker of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity may never be known (see October 7, 2003), and the White House’s declaration that three senior aides—Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Elliott Abrams—are not responsible for the leak (see October 4, 2003 and October 5, 2003). They echo criticisms leveled by Senate Democrats, who say that such declarations undermine the investigation into the leak (see October 10, 2003). Not only do such statements call into question the independence of the Justice Department investigation (see September 26, 2003), the experts say, but the propriety of attempting to clear top officials before the investigation has concluded is equally questionable. Law professor Mary Cheh calls such statements “quite irregular” and says that they could have a chilling effect on the investigation. “It will take someone of considerable fortitude [in the Justice Department] to look past such statements” and investigate any of the officials, she notes. Abner Mikva, former White House counsel to President Clinton, says that despite the White House’s assurances that the three officials are innocent: “I would hope that the Justice Department will do whatever it is supposed to do anyway. But does it have a chilling effect? Sure it does.” Defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt says if Bush claims not to know the identity of the leaker, neither he nor any White House officials can rule out the involvement of any of their personnel. “I think a special counsel would be an excellent idea,” she says. Law professor Stephen Gillers says White House press secretary Scott McClellan has no way to know if any of the three officials are innocent or guilty. If any of them are guilty, Gillers notes, they can be expected to go to great lengths to keep their participation secret. Gillers also says that Bush appears to be soft-pedaling the investigation by publicly doubting its effectiveness, even if most leak investigations do not yield the name of the leaker. Cheh says the only way the Justice Department can conduct a fair and independent investigation is if the White House ensures that the investigators are “walled off” from political considerations. [Chicago Tribune, 10/10/2003]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Elliott Abrams, Abner Mikva, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Scott McClellan, Jeralyn Merritt, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Mary Cheh
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Frank Lautenberg, one of the Senate Democrats critical of the White House’s response to the leak investigation. [Source: Washington Post]Congressional Democrats question whether President Bush and White House officials are trying to influence the Plame Wilson leak investigation through their comments. Recently, Bush told reporters that he doubted the person or persons who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press would ever be identified (see October 7, 2003). While administration officials say Bush was just acknowledging the difficulties such an investigation presents, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says his comments threaten to undermine the investigation by lowering expectations. “If the president says, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to find this person,’ what kind of a statement is that for the president of the United States to make?” Lautenberg asks. “Would he say that about a bank-robbery investigation? He should be as indignant as everybody else is over this breach.” Bush, says Lautenberg, “certainly seems far less certain about finding the leaker than he is about finding Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.” Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson agrees. “This goes far beyond someone identifying my wife,” he says. “This was a breach of public trust, and I would think it would behoove the president to ensure that the appropriate assets are devoted to identifying the leaker.” In contrast, White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that criticism of the investigation “appear[s] to be more about politics than about getting to the bottom of the investigation.” Democrats are also critical of the White House’s vocal opposition to the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the investigation. And they question McClellan’s recent attempts to exonerate three administration officials—Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Elliott Abrams—from any responsibility for the leak (see October 4, 2003 and October 5, 2003). In a letter to Bush, four Democratic senators—Tom Daschle (D-SD), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Charles Schumer (D-NY)—write that McClellan’s assurances are part of an overall pattern of missteps and errors surrounding the White House’s response to the leak investigation. McClellan lacks the legal expertise to question possible suspects, they note. “The White House has now put the Justice Department in the position of having to determine not only what happened, but also whether to contradict the publicly stated position of the White House,” the senators write. Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says that anything White House officials say has “nothing to do with this investigation. The investigation will follow the facts.” [New York Times Magazine, 10/10/2003]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Carl Levin, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Frank R. Lautenberg, US Department of Justice, Scott McClellan, Joseph Biden, Joseph C. Wilson, Elliott Abrams, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mark Corallo, Tom Daschle, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
In a press conference, White House press secretary Scott McClellan once again denies that White House officials Karl Rove, Elliott Abrams, and Lewis Libby had any involvement in the Plame Wilson identity leak. A reporter asks “whether any of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame [Wilson] worked for the CIA,” and McClellan responds: “Those individuals—I talked—I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out, and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this. And that’s where it stands.… They assured me that they were not involved in this.” [White House, 10/10/2003]
John Dickerson. [Source: Writers Voice (.net)]Time magazine carries an article suggesting that White House official Karl Rove is no longer under suspicion for leaking the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. However, at least three reporters involved in the writing and editing of the article know that Rove leaked the name, according to an analysis by the Media Matters website. The article prominently features White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s denial that Rove had any involvement in the leak (see September 29, 2003). Reporter Matthew Cooper, who himself had Plame Wilson’s identity leaked to him by Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), and editors Michael Duffy and John Dickerson all know of Rove’s involvement in the leak. Duffy learned of the Rove leak from an e-mail Cooper sent him. Dickerson will later acknowledge that he, too, is aware of Rove’s leak to Cooper at the same time (see February 7, 2006). Although both Cooper and Dickerson are credited with writing the article, and Duffy edits it, none reveal their knowledge that McClellan’s denial is false and that Rove had, indeed, leaked Plame Wilson’s identity. Indeed, Media Matters will note, the article gives implicit credence to the notion that Rove is no longer under suspicion for the leak. Media Matters will also note that Dickerson will go on to co-write a January 2004 Time article with another reporter, Viveca Novak, which will say in part, “If there are culprits in the White House who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, they may now be dependent on reporters to protect their identities.” Media Matters will note that Dickerson was well aware that there were indeed “culprits” in the White House who outed Plame Wilson: “He knew there was at least one, and he knew who it was. Yet he told readers it was an open question and that no charges were likely.” Media Matters will also note that Novak knew at some point that Rove was Cooper’s source, though it is unclear if she knows it when she co-writes the January 2004 article with Dickerson. [Time, 1/12/2004; Media Matters, 2/6/2006] In 2005, the Los Angeles Times will report that Time magazine justified its reporting by saying it was “concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2005]
White House press secretary Scott McClellan is interviewed by several FBI agents as part of the FBI’s investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. The FBI team is led by John Eckenrode, the senior agent who has spearheaded the bureau’s investigation. McClellan is accompanied by a White House lawyer (see October 10, 2003). He has already turned over a sheaf of documents from his work files, including an e-mail from a friend of his personal assistant, Carmen Ingwell. The friend claimed that she had attended a class or lecture at a California university several years before, at which, she said, Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, told his listeners that his wife was a CIA agent. McClellan will write, “I had no idea whether the story was true or not.” The FBI questions revolve mostly around “how the White House, including the White House’s communication team, operated and interacted with the media.” After the interview, McClellan remarks to the White House lawyer, Ted Ullyot, “I was surprised they didn’t ask any substantive questions about what I might know, such as my conversations with [Karl] Rove and [Lewis] Libby.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 222] McClellan will subsequently be interviewed a second time by the FBI (see Late October or Early November, 2003).
White House press secretary Scott McClellan is interviewed a second time by FBI agents investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see Mid-October 2003). As McClellan will later recall, this second meeting is “more targeted to what I might know.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 222]
Saddam Hussein shortly after his capture. [Source: BBC]Saddam Hussein is captured by US forces, in an operation given the title of “Red Dawn.” Hussein is hiding in a tiny cellar at a farmhouse in Adwar, a village south of his hometown of Tikrit. Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer announces Hussein’s capture to a group of journalists by saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.… The tyrant is a prisoner.” According to soldiers present at the capture, Hussein put up no resistance. Iraqi Governing Council head Abdul Aziz al-Hakim says a DNA test proves the man in custody is indeed Saddam Hussein.
Reactions from Western Leaders - US President George W. Bush calls Hussein’s capture “good news,” and White House spokesman Scott McClellan says, “The Iraqi people can finally be assured that Saddam Hussein will not be coming back—they can see it for themselves.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Hussein’s capture “removes the shadow” hanging over Iraq. “Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people of Iraq.”
Tip from Clan Member Leads to Capture - US military spokesman Major General Raymond Odierno says Hussein was captured within 24 hours of US forces receiving a tip as to Hussein’s whereabouts from a member of his clan. “He was caught like a rat,” says Odierno. “It was ironic that he was in a hole in the ground across the river from the great palaces he built using all the money he robbed from the Iraqi people.” Of the tip, Odierno says: “Over the last 10 days we brought in about five to 10 members of these families, and finally got the ultimate information from one of these individuals.… This was not something that happened overnight. Since we have been [in Iraq] we have collected a lot of intelligence. We always knew that he was relying on family and tribal ties.” It is not known whether that clan member will receive the $25 million offered by the US for information leading to Hussein’s capture. Odierno describes Hussein as “very much bewildered,” and notes that when Hussein was captured, he said “hardly anything at first.” He is described by US officials as polite and cooperative in his captivity.
'Spider Hole' - Hussein’s hiding place, characterized by some US spokesmen as a “spider hole,” was a small hut with two rooms: a bedroom cluttered with clothes, and a kitchen with running water. [BBC, 12/14/2003; Fox News, 12/14/2003] The hut contains some $750,000 in US money. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/15/2003] The cellar where Hussein is found is a tiny, rough-dug hiding place, with a styrofoam cover and a tube to allow air in.
Iraqis Celebrate - In the northern Kurdish town of Kirkuk, people celebrate the news of Hussein’s capture and arrest by blowing their automobile horns and firing guns into the air. [BBC, 12/14/2003; Fox News, 12/14/2003] “We are celebrating like it’s a wedding,” says one Kirkuk resident. “We are finally rid of that criminal.”
Council Members: Hussein Will Stand Trial; Capture Will Bring End to Terrorism in Iraq - Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi says Hussein will be put on trial. “Saddam will stand a public trial so that the Iraqi people will know his crimes,” Chalabi says. Fellow council member Jalal Talabani says that with Hussein’s capture, terrorism in Iraq will cease: “With the arrest of Saddam, the source financing terrorists has been destroyed and terrorist attacks will come to an end. Now we can establish a durable stability and security in Iraq.” [Fox News, 12/14/2003]
Diane Sawyer with President Bush. [Source: USA Today]President Bush gives a rare one-on-one interview to ABC’s Diane Sawyer. Among other topics addressed, he reaffirms his belief that terrorists operated in Iraq before the March 2003 invasion (citing Ansar al-Islam, “a al-Qaeda affiliate, I would call them al-Qaeda, was active in Iraq before the war, hence—a terrorist tie with Iraq…”) and that his insistence that Iraq had an active and threatening WMD program was based on “good solid intelligence[, t]he same intelligence that my predecessor [Bill Clinton] operated on.” [ABC News, 12/17/2003] In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will respond, “His predecessor, however, never claimed that Saddam [Hussein] had imminent… nuclear capacity, nor did his predecessor say that Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 153]
Iraq Had WMD Program, Bush Insists - Bush insists that weapons inspector David Kay proved Iraq did have a burgeoning and active WMD program (see October 2, 2003), and implies that it is just a matter of time before the actual weapons are found. Sawyer says, “But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still,” to which Bush replies, “So what’s the difference?” Sawyer appears taken aback by the answer, and Bush continues that since it was possible Hussein would acquire WMDs, it was necessary to “get rid of him” to make “the world a safer, freer place.” Sawyer presses the point home: “What would it take to convince you he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction?” and Bush responds: “Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.” Sawyer asks, “And if he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction?” and Bush replies tartly: “Diane, you can keep asking the question. I’m telling you, I made the right decision for America. Because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). But the fact that he is not there is, means America’s a more secure country.” [ABC News, 12/17/2003] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “Bush’s response was telling, much more so than I stopped to contemplate at the time.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 200]
Why Read the News? - Sawyer asks Bush about his reported penchant for not reading the news for himself. Bush confirms that he gets his news from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who, Sawyer says, “give you a flavor of what’s in the news.” Bush agrees that this is the case, and says: “Yeah. I get my news from people who don’t editorialize. They give me the actual news. And it makes it easier to digest, on a daily basis, the facts.” Sawyer asks, “Is it just harder to read constant criticism or to read?” to which Bush replies: “Why even put up with it when you can get the facts elsewhere? I’m a lucky man. I’ve got, it’s not just Condi and Andy. It’s all kinds of people in my administration who are charged with different responsibilities. And they come in and say, ‘this is what’s happening, this isn’t what’s happening.’” Laura Bush, who joins her husband halfway through the interview, says she reads the newspapers, including the opinion columns, but says: “I agree with him that we can actually get what is really happening from the people who really know what’s happening. And that isn’t always what you get in the newspapers.… There are certain columnists I won’t read. I mean, what, you know, why would I?” [ABC News, 12/17/2003]
Wilson: Bush 'Systematically Deceived' US, 'Betrayed' Military - Months later, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write: “It was clear, from this one statement, […] that the administration, from the president on down, had systematically deceived the American people, Congress, and the world. Most of all, the president had betrayed the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who so bravely march out when ordered into war to defend our country against immiment threats, or even from grave and gathering dangers. Iraq had posed neither. The difference, Mr. President, I thought, is that war was not the only option, or even the best one. We had gone to war over capacity, not stockpiles, not mushroom clouds (see September 4, 2002), not intent, or, as John Bolton had earlier said more directly, because scientists were on Saddam’s payroll. Our troops had died—and were continuing to die—in vain. I came away from this sad revelation resolved that, unlike the other bitterly divisive war debate of my lifetime, over the war in Vietnam, we should admit this terrible fact sooner, rather than later, and thereby revise our national policies accordingly.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 414-415]
Entity Tags: Laura Bush, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Scott McClellan, Joseph C. Wilson, David Kay, Diane Sawyer, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, Ansar al-Islam, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation
After Deputy Attorney General James Comey announces the naming of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to head the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan is contacted by Ron Roos, the FBI’s deputy counterespionage director, to arrange a time where McClellan can testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury. This time, Roos says, he would like McClellan to come alone, without a White House lawyer (see October 10, 2003). McClellan’s sister-in-law, a former assistant district attorney, advises him to retain a lawyer, as many of his co-workers have done, but McClellan decides not to do so. Perhaps, he will later write, he was lulled by the almost-perfunctory interview sessions he has already participated in (see Mid-October 2003 and Late October or Early November, 2003). McClellan meets with Roos and other prosecutors for a pre-jury interview. This time, McClellan will recall, the interview is far more adversarial than the first two. Roos asks McClellan why he publicly exonerated Karl Rove (see September 29, 2003) and Lewis Libby (see October 4, 2003), and then asks why McClellan failed to mention in previous interviews that Rove had spoken with columnist Robert Novak. McClellan, later writing that he was “taken aback” by the question, reminds Roos that he had indeed informed them of Rove’s contact with Novak in an earlier interview. Afterwards, McClellan will write, he worries about the FBI’s “initial hard-edged approach.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 224-225]
Federal investigators working with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003) will ask White House officials to sign waivers freeing journalists from any pledges of confidentiality they may have granted during discussions about CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. A senior administration official says that a number of top aides to President Bush will be asked to sign a one-page form giving permission for journalists to describe any such conversations to investigators, even if the journalists promised not to reveal the source. Bush’s promises of full cooperation will put “tremendous pressure” on the aides to comply, the official says. However, some investigators believe that many journalists will not respect such “blanket waivers,” and will refuse to reveal sources regardless of whether the White House aides sign them or not. The form reads that it is the wish of the White House official that “no member of the media assert any privilege or refuse to answer any questions” about the leak, according to a copy of the form obtained by the press. One aide sent a copy of the form is White House political strategist Karl Rove. [Washington Post, 1/2/2004] By January 5, Bush has not publicly stated that White House officials should, or should not, sign the waivers, according to press secretary Scott McClellan, who directs journalists to steer questions about the forms to the Justice Department. One unnamed government official is more forthcoming, however, calling the forms a “quintessential cover-your-rear-end” move by investigators. “It provides political cover, because you can say you tried everything, and this is a very politically charged environment,” the official says. “There’s no other value to it.” [Washington Post, 1/6/2004]
The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; Newsday, 3/5/2004; Washington Post, 3/6/2004]
Entity Tags: Chris Matthews, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Wall Street Journal, White House Iraq Group, Ari Fleischer, Time magazine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrea Mitchell, Scott McClellan, Timothy Phelps, Newsday, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Erin Healy, Dana Priest, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, NBC News, Michael Duffy, Associated Press, New York Times, MSNBC, Mike Allen
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
After weapons inspector David Kay’s resignation (see January 23, 2004), the call to investigate the failure of intelligence surrounding the Iraq invasion reaches a fever pitch. White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “[President] Bush and his advisers feared outside investigators. However, as momentum built for yet another independent probe, we saw the benefit of acting quickly and on our terms. Bush soon announced the creation of a bipartisan, independent commission to look into our intelligence on WMD, including Iraq (see March 8, 2005). Its members were appointed by the president, and its scope set by his team. It would not include looking at how the intelligence had been used to make the case for war. That was something Bush and his top advisers sought to avoid, concerned at a minimum—particularly in an election year—that it would prove politically fatal. They were willing to allow things to become more politicized, some considering it a battle that could be fought to a draw or even used to motivate the base, and believed that the short-term political cost could be minimized. In Bush’s mind, how the case for had been made scarcely mattered. What mattered now was the policy and showing success. The public tends to be more forgiving when the results are promising. If the policy was right and the selling of the policy could be justified at the time, then any difference between the two mattered little. In this view, governing successfully in Washington is about winning public opinion and getting positive results. To this day, the president seems unbothered by the disconnect between the chief rationale for war and the driving motivation behind it, and unconcerned about how the case was packaged.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 202]
White House press secretary Scott McClellan testifies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak. He is quizzed before some 35 or 40 jurors by prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg. Most of the questions are reiterations of those asked in earlier interviews (see Mid-October 2003, Late October or Early November, 2003, and January 2004), but Zeidenberg asks some that have not yet been asked. One question is whether McClellan had told National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to say that White House political adviser Karl Rove was not involved in the leak before her September 28 appearance on Meet the Press. Though Rice had not specifically discussed the leak on that broadcast, McClellan recalls briefing her on a number of issues. He cannot recall, he testifies, whether he discussed the subject of the leak with Rice or not, and tells Zeidenberg that he probably told her what he said publicly (see September 29, 2003), and to refer back to that if pressed. McClellan is startled when Zeidenberg asks him bluntly whether President Bush had told him in the Oval Office that Rove had denied to him any involvement in the leak. McClellan knows that Bush has not yet testified, but chief of staff Andrew Card has, and Card most likely revealed Bush’s comments. McClellan will later write: “Knowing the president’s preference that his private conversations remain private, I hesitated momentarily [in answering the question]. But this was different. A frog in my throat, I managed to confirm that the president had indeed made such a statement.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 225-227] Days after McClellan’s testimony, someone the Washington Post identifies as “a source close to the investigation” will say that McClellan and other White House witnesses are asked about cell phone calls, and shown handwritten, diary-style notes from colleagues and e-mails from reporters to administration officials. The source will say the questioning of McClellan and others is often quite aggressive, with agents focusing on specific conversations with journalists. “Even witnesses that they describe as being potentially helpful are being treated as adversaries,” the source will say. [Washington Post, 2/10/2004]
Former White House press official Adam Levine testifies before the federal grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Levine, who is not suspected of leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to the press, is asked about White House public relations strategies. [Washington Post, 2/10/2004] Sources later say that Levine may have been asked to testify because between July 7 and July 12, 2003, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and White House communications director Dan Bartlett were in Africa with President Bush, and deputy press secretary Scott McClellan was on vacation, leaving Levine in charge of press relations during that period [Fox News, 2/11/2004] , and thus one of the few press officials to field telephone calls from reporters during that time. His testimony is described as “brief” and non-confrontational. Levine has spoken with FBI agents on several occasions as a part of the investigation. [CNN, 2/10/2004]
President Bush gives a rare interview to a television show, NBC’s Meet the Press. Bush holds the interview, conducted by Tim Russert, in the Oval Office. [CNN, 2/9/2004]
Admits Iraq Had No WMD - Bush concedes that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, but defends his decision to invade it, saying, “Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I’m not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman.” He admits, “I expected to find the weapons.” He continues, “I’m sitting behind this desk, making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid.” And Iraq “had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum.” But even without proof of Iraqi WMD, Bush says the stakes were so high that “it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent.” Inaction in Iraq “would have emboldened Saddam Hussein. He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time.” Bush seems surprised when Russert asks if American soldiers had in fact been welcomed as “liberators” in Iraq, as some in his administration had predicted. “I think we are welcomed in Iraq,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure, given the tone of your questions, we’re not.” Resistance there is not surprising, Bush says, because “there are people who desperately want to stop the advance of freedom and democracy.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 202-203]
'War of Choice or War of Necessity?' - Russert continues to ask about the choice to invade Iraq, and at one point asks Bush whether it was a “war of choice or a war of necessity?” Bush responds: “That’s an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It’s a war of necessity. In my judgment, we had no choice, when we look at the intelligence I looked at, that says the man was a threat.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Bush asks him about the question after the interview, and that Bush was “puzzled” by the question. “This, too, puzzled me,” McClellan will write. “Surely this distinction between a necessary, unavoidable war and a war that the United States could have avoided but chose to wage, was an obvious one that Bush must have thought about a lot in the months before the invasion. Evidently it wasn’t obvious to the president, nor did his national security team make sure it was. He set the policy early on and then his team focused his attention on how to sell it. It strikes me today as an indication of his lack of inquisitiveness and his detrimental resistance to reflection, something his advisers needed to compensate for better than they did. Most objective observers today would say that in 2003 there was no urgent need to address the threat posed by Saddam with a large-scale invasion, and therefore the war was not necessary. But this is a question President Bush seems not to want to grapple with.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 202-203]
Bush Says Congress Saw Same Intelligence He Did - Asked whether Congress would have authorized the invasion (see October 10, 2002) if he had explained that, while Iraq may not have possessed WMD, Hussein should be removed because he was a threat to his people, Bush replies, “I went to Congress with the same intelligence Congress saw—the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had.” Two of Bush’s presidential rivals dispute Bush’s assertion. Senator John Edwards (D-NC) says Bush’s statement that Congress saw the same intelligence information as he did is a “big leap.” Edwards adds: “I’m not certain that’s true. I know the president of the United States receives a different set of information than we receive on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he receives more information, which he should.” And front-runner Senator John Kerry (D-MA) accuses Bush of backpedaling on the messages he gave Americans to justify going to war. “George Bush needs to take responsibility for his actions and set the record straight,” he says. “That’s the very least that Americans should be able to expect. Either he believed Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, or he didn’t. Americans need to be able to trust their president, and they deserve the truth.” [New York Times, 2/8/2004; NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Confident of Winning Re-Election - Bush tells Russert that he is confident he will win re-election: “I don’t intend to lose.… I know exactly where I want to lead the country. I have shown the American people I can lead.… I want to lead this world to more peace and freedom.” [New York Times, 2/8/2004; NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Defends Economic Policies - Bush defends his economic policies, and says that even though under his watch the US has run up a $521 billion deficit and lost 2.2 million jobs, his administration’s policies are more restrained and fiscally sound than those of his predecessor. “I have been the president during a time of tremendous stress on our economy and made the decisions necessary to lead that would enhance recovery,” he says. “The stock market started to decline in March of 2000. That was the first sign that things were troubled. The recession started upon my arrival.” Conservative critics of his administration’s spending, including the Heritage Foundation and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, are “wrong,” he says. “If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined. The other thing that I think it’s important for people who watch the expenditures side of the equation is to understand we are at war… and any time you commit your troops into harm’s way, they must have the best equipment, the best training, and the best possible pay.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
ABC News and Fox News are the only major news networks to broadcast a “hard news” report on the day’s exchange between Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and voter Cedric Brown (see March 15, 2004 and After).
CBS: Advantage Bush - CBS gives a brief synopsis of the exchange; neither NBC nor CNN devote much air time to the story. CBS anchor Dan Rather sums up the exchange by providing a brief overview of the controversy surrounding Kerry’s supposed claim of unnamed “foreign leaders” supporting his bid for the presidency (see March 8, 2004 and After and March 15, 2004) and the Bush campaign’s implication that Kerry is lying; the Kerry campaign’s response; and White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s insistence that Kerry either “name names” or admit to “making it up.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write, “By sandwiching the Kerry perspective between an opening and closing statement focused on the Bush perspective, the CBS piece creates a net advantage for the Republicans.”
ABC: Advantage Kerry - The ABC report, by reporter Linda Douglass, goes further in asking about the Bush campaign’s motives in attacking Kerry, and asks if the Bush campaign is not trying to deflect attention from reports about Bush administration misrepresentations about the true costs of its Medicare plan (see June 2003). ABC anchor Elizabeth Varga opens by noting the Bush campaign’s “extraordinary” attack on Kerry’s “credibility,” leading into Douglass’s report, which summarizes the “foreign leaders” controversy, reports the Kerry-Brown exchange, observes that the Kerry campaign is “sidestep[ping]” the accusations that he is lying about the foreign leaders claim, and notes that Kerry accuses the Bush campaign of trying to divert attention from the Medicare controversy. Douglass concludes, “Seven months before the election, the campaign seems to be all about credibility.”
Fox News: Heavy Attack against Kerry - Fox News anchor Brit Hume begins his report by saying, “John Kerry still won’t say who those foreign leaders were, whom he claims are back—who he claims are backing him for president.” The Fox report, by Carl Cameron, begins by claiming Kerry is being “[b]attered for refusing to name foreign leaders that he claims want President Bush defeated,” says Kerry is trying to “get back on offense” by attacking the Bush administration’s failure to fully fund firefighters (an attack “few Americans believe,” Cameron asserts), and notes that Bush defenders accuse Kerry of “voting against the troops” by opposing the $87 billion to stabilize and complete the post-Saddam Iraq occupation. Cameron then quotes unnamed Republicans as calling Kerry an “international man of mystery,” a disparaging comparison to the Austin Powers movie satire, “for his various un-backed-up charges” about the foreign leaders’ support. Cameron ends the report by playing a snippet from the Kerry-Brown exchange where Kerry demanded Brown identify himself as a “registered Republican” (he does not air Brown’s response where he admits to being a Bush supporter) and with the White House’s assertion that “Kerry is making it up to attack the president.” Fox twice has Brown appear as a guest on its news broadcasts. In one, Brown says Kerry “didn’t appear to be honest” during their conversation, says, “I think Senator Kerry betrayed our country,” and calls for a congressional investigation into Kerry’s supposed claim of having “secret” deals for foreign leaders’ backing.
Television Coverage Analysis - Authors Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The strategic frames of Fox and ABC differ. On Fox, Kerry is cast as ‘battered’ and on the strategic defensive (‘Kerry tried to get back on offense and tried to turn the tables on his inquisitors,’) [emphasis added by authors]. By contrasts, ABC situates Kerry as a contender who is ‘determined not to give ground on the war over who is more truthful.’ On Fox, Kerry’s attack is portrayed as an attempt to ‘get back on offense,’ whereas the Bush response is portrayed as motivated by outrage.” Fox “focuses on Kerry’s credibility, while ABC centers on charges and countercharges about the relative truthfulness of Bush and Kerry.” Douglass attributes claims of truth or falsity to the respective campaigns, but Cameron makes blanket assertions—unattributed value judgments—about Kerry’s supposed dishonesty.
Print Media - The print media shows much of the same dichotomy in covering the Kerry-Brown exchange as do ABC and Fox. The Washington Post gives Brown a chance to again accuse Kerry of lying, but calls him “a heckler… who interrupted Kerry’s comments on health care, education and the economy to raise questions about the assertion of foreign endorsements.” The Los Angeles Times describes Brown as “abruptly” shouting over Kerry, and, when the audience tries to shout Brown down, shows Kerry asking the audience to allow Brown to speak. In these and other accounts, Jamieson and Cappella will note, “Kerry’s questioning of the questioner is set in the context of Brown’s interruption, inflammatory charges… and verbal attacks on Kerry.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page joins Fox News in ignoring Brown’s initial interruption and verbal assault on Kerry (see March 15, 2004), and instead focuses on what the Journal’s James Taranto calls “Kerry’s thuggish interrogation of the voter.” Taranto also directs his readers to coverage by Fox News and Limbaugh, who himself accuses Kerry of “browbeating” Brown.
Media Strategies to Denigrate Kerry - Jamieson and Cappella will write, “Specifically taken together, [Rush] Limbaugh, [Sean] Hannity, and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages marshaled four strategies to marginalize Kerry and undercut his perceived acceptability as a candidate for president: extreme hypotheticals [i.e. Kerry’s supposed ‘secret meeting’ with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il—see March 17, 2004 ], ridicule, challenges to character, and association with strong negative emotion.” Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, for example, characterize Kerry’s response to Brown as “yelling” and “thuggish,” while other media outlets report Kerry’s response as generally restrained and civil, and Brown as the one shouting and angry. [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5-17]
Entity Tags: Elizabeth Varga, Cedric Brown, CBS News, Brit Hume, ABC News, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Carl Cameron, Joseph N. Cappella, John Kerry, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Linda Douglass, James Taranto, Scott McClellan, Fox News
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
President Bush flounders in answering a question about what his “biggest mistake” after 9/11 might have been. During a White House press conference, Time reporter John Dickerson asks Bush: “In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you’d made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You’ve looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?” Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, is horrified by what he later calls Bush’s “tortured response to a straightforward question.” Bush attempts to buy a moment with a quip—“I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it”—but continues to fumble, saying: “John, I’m sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just—I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn’t yet.”
'A Terrible Silence' - After what McClellan will recall as “an agonizingly long pause… a terrible silence [that] hung embarrassingly in the air,” Bush continues: “I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we’ll find out the truth on the weapons. That’s why we’ve sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm. One of the things that [weapons inspector] Charlie Duelfer talked about was that he was surprised at the level of intimidation he found amongst people who should know about weapons, and their fear of talking about them because they don’t want to be killed. There’s a terror still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq; they’re worried about getting killed, and, therefore, they’re not going to talk. But it will all settle out, John. We’ll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today, just like it would have bothered me then. He’s a dangerous man. He’s a man who actually—not only had weapons of mass destruction—the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm on America, because he hated us.” After justifying his military actions, Bush concludes: “I hope I—I don’t want to sound like I’ve made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t—you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.” McClellan will write that he remains “stone-faced and motionless” as Bush manages to flounder through the question without actually admitting any mistakes. [US President, 4/19/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 204-208]
'Why Can't He Pull Up Some of Those Talking Points?' - McClellan’s first response is to blame himself for Bush’s inability to answer the question, then he has what he later calls a “counterreaction,” thinking: “Wait a second! We’re talking about the president of the United States here! He didn’t get to be president without being able to bat down a simple question. We’ve talked about mistakes. We’ve talked about 9/11. We’ve talked about the invasion of Iraq. Why can’t he pull up some of those talking points?” McClellan calls Bush’s answer “rambling, rather incoherent, and ultimately unsatisfying.”
A 'Cocksure' President - After the press conference, McClellan and White House communications director Dan Bartlett carefully approach the president. They agree among themselves that the Dickerson question had gone poorly, but know better than to broach the subject to Bush straight out. They begin, McClellan later recalls, by complimenting Bush on “hitting the right tone and getting his message across” on the government’s fight against terrorism. Then, McClellan will write: “Dan tactfully broached the awkward response of the Dickerson question. We had to bring it up in the little time we knew we could hold the president’s attention.” Bush says: “I kept thinking about what they wanted me to say—that it was a mistake to go into Iraq. And I’m not going to. It was the right decision.” McClellan will recall Bush’s tone as “cocksure and matter-of-fact, not testy.”
McClellan: Bush Unwilling to Admit Mistakes for Fear of Appearing Weak - McClellan will later reflect: “There were many other times, in private and in public, when the president defended the most fateful decision of his administration. But few will be remembered as vividly as the one he made that night. It became symbolic of a leader unable to acknowledge that he got it wrong, and unwilling to grow in office by learning from his mistake—too stubborn to change and grow.” McClellan believes Bush is afraid to admit a mistake for “fear of appearing weak,” and will write: “A more self-confident executive would be willing to acknowledge failure, to trust people’s ability to forgive those who seek redemption for mistakes and show a readiness for change.” McClellan will add that Bush was unwilling to risk “the personal pain he would have suffered if he’d had to acknowledge that the war against [Iraq] may have been unnecessary.” But, McClellan will conclude: “Bush was not one to look back once a decision was made. Rather than suffer any sense of guilt and anguish, Bush chose not to go down the road of self-doubt or take on the difficult task of honest evaluation and reassessment.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 204-208]
Defending Bush - Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, defends Bush’s refusal to admit any mistakes by saying Bush struck the proper tone with his questioners. “He was giving us a leadership statement on Iraq,” Hunter says, and adds, “That is not the right time for reporters to try to throw the president down on the analyst’s couch and have him try to tell them about all of his failings. He has to spend his time giving a vision of the future for the country.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004]
President Bush appears on two Arab television channels, the US-funded Al-Hurra network and the Al-Arabiya satellite channel. The interviews last ten minutes for each station. He says: “People in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent.…must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know.” He adds: “The America that I know has sent troops to Iraq to promote freedom.” [CBS News, 5/5/2004] During the interviews, Bush is not asked to make an apology and nor does he offer one. [BBC, 5/5/2004] Later in the day, White House spokesman Scott McClellan uses the word “sorry” a half-dozen times. “The president is sorry for what occurred and the pain it has caused.” Asked why the president has not apologized himself, McClellan says: “I’m saying it now for him.” [CBS News, 5/5/2004]
White House senior counsel Alberto Gonzales is questioned by the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. [New York Times, 2006] White House press secretary Scott McClellan refuses to discuss what Gonzales may have told the grand jury, saying only, “The judge was pleased to do his part to cooperate” with the investigation. [Washington Post, 6/19/2004] A year later, Gonzales will tell Fox News interviewer Brit Hume that he “had no information regarding Ms. Plame [Wilson] and her role at the CIA.… I believe I first learned about it, Brit, at the same time that most Americans did, and that’s when the stories began running about her role.” Hume will ask, “So, basically, you read about it in the paper?” and Gonzales will reply, “That’s correct.” [Fox News, 7/24/2005] In 2006, the media will learn that Gonzales withheld crucial White House e-mails from the investigation (see February 15, 2006).
President Bush is interviewed for over an hour as part of the ongoing investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). Bush, who is not sworn in, is interviewed by a team of federal prosecutors led by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. His lawyer, James Sharp (whom Bush has nicknamed “Shooter”), is also present during questioning (see June 5, 2004). White House press secretary Scott McClellan refuses to divulge any details of what Bush says to his interviewers, only telling reporters: “The leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. The president directed the White House to cooperate fully with those in charge of the investigation. He was pleased to do his part to help the investigation move forward.” Fitzgerald has already interviewed Vice President Dick Cheney (see May 8, 2004), and has called several current and former White House officials to testify before a grand jury. He has also subpoenaed a number of records, including White House phone logs. McClellan confirms that the interview with Bush and Sharp lasted about 70 minutes; asked if the White House had set a time limit on the interview, he says it would be “wrong to characterize it that way.” Even though Bush does not testify under oath, federal law requires him to be truthful in his statements, and he could be charged with making false statements if prosecutors found he lied or was evasive. [New York Times, 6/25/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 228]
Directly Contradicting Cheney - The media will later learn that Bush says he personally directed Cheney to lead a White House effort to counter allegations made by Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, that the White House had manipulated intelligence to make the case for war with Iraq (see March 9, 2003 and After). Bush also admits that he directed Cheney to disclose classified information that would both defend his administration and discredit Wilson. His testimony directly contradicts Cheney’s. Bush says he did not know that Cheney had told his then-chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, to covertly leak the classified information to the media instead of releasing it to the public in the usual, overt fashion.
Denies Instructing Subordinates to Leak Plame Wilson Info - He also denies telling anyone to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and says he does not know who in his administration made her CIA status public knowledge. Libby has testified that neither Bush nor Cheney directed him or any other White House official to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. According to one senior government official, Bush told Cheney to “Get it out,” or “Let’s get this out,” regarding information that administration officials believed would rebut Wilson’s allegations and would discredit him. Another source with direct knowledge of the interview will later say that characterization is consistent with what Bush tells Fitzgerald. Libby told the grand jury that Cheney had told him to “get all the facts out” to defend the administration and besmirch Wilson. [National Journal, 7/3/2006]
The grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity (see December 30, 2003) subpoenas New York Times reporter Judith Miller to testify. The Times says it will fight the subpoena. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 8/12/2004 ; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Unusual Negotiations between Lawyers - The subpoena will open a lengthy and sometimes puzzling set of negotiations between lawyers for Miller and her source, White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Miller refuses to divulge the identity of her source or the contents of their conversations (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). But she sends her lawyer, Floyd Abrams, to talk to Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate, to see if Libby will approve of her testimony. According to Abrams and others involved in the negotiations, Tate initially tells Abrams that Miller is free to testify. However, Abrams will say, Tate says that Libby never told Miller the name or the undercover status of Plame Wilson. This raises a conflict for Miller: her notes clearly indicate that she was told three times about Plame Wilson’s identity. If she testifies, she will contradict Libby’s own accounts of their conversations.
Libby Attempting to Influence Miller? - Miller decides that Libby is sending her a signal not to testify. She will later recalls Abrams’s recounting of his conversation with Tate: “He was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn’t give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, ‘Don’t go there, or, we don’t want you there.’” Abrams himself will recall: “On more than one occasion, Mr. Tate asked me for a recitation of what Ms. Miller would say. I did not provide one.” (Tate will angrily dispute both Abrams’s and Miller’s recollections, saying: “I never once suggested that she should not testify. It was just the opposite. I told Mr. Abrams that the waiver was voluntary.… ‘Don’t go there’ or ‘We don’t want you there’ is not something I said, would say, or ever implied or suggested.”) Miller’s executive editor, Bill Keller, will later say that Miller believed Libby feared her testimony. “Judy believed Libby was afraid of her testimony,” he will recall. “She thought Libby had reason to be afraid of her testimony.” Because of these reasons, Miller will decide not to further pursue the idea of a waiver from Libby that would allow her to testify about their conversations. For over a year, the two sides do not speak to one another. “I interpreted the silence as, ‘Don’t testify,’” Miller will later say. Tate will counter that he never understood why Miller or Abrams wanted to discuss the matter further. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
McClellan: Fighting to Protect Partisan Government Leakers - In 2008, one-time White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write of Miller and fellow journalist Matthew Cooper, also battling a subpoena (see August 9, 2004): “Of course, there was a curious twist to the defense used by Cooper and Miller. By refusing to divulge the names of their sources in the leak case, the two reporters were not protecting courageous whistle-blowers revealing government wrongdoing in the public interest. Rather, they were shielding government officials whom administration critics believed had used leaks as weapons of partisan warfare. It was hard for some in the public, and especially those critical of the administration, to see this as an act of journalism.… This episode… seemed to confirm for at least some administration critics that reporters were no longer heroic figures, but were now participating in the same partisan warfare they created.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 256]
The New York Times reports on the recent issuance of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq by the US intelligence community. It is the first NIE to be issued since before the invasion (see October 1, 2002). The report was leaked to the Times by unnamed government officials.
Civil War a Strong Possibility - The NIE’s findings are grim. Civil war is a strong possibility, the NIE finds. Even the best-case scenario is an Iraq whose political, economic, and national security stability is tenuous and fragile. One government official says of the report, “There’s a significant amount of pessimism.” This NIE was initiated by the National Intelligence Council under the aegis of then-CIA Director George Tenet, who has since resigned. Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin approved the final report. The NIE stands in contrast to recent pronouncements by White House officials, who have insisted that the situation in Iraq is improving daily.
Critics 'Pessimists and Hand-Wringers' - The day before the NIE was released, White House press secretary Scott McClellan called critics of the occupation “pessimists and hand-wringers” who are being “proven… wrong.” [New York Times, 9/16/2004]
White House Ignores NIE - The NIE was prepared in July 2004 and not circulated until August, indicating that the White House had little use for the document. “It was finished in July, and not circulated by the intelligence community until the end of August,” one senior administration official says. “That’s not exactly what you do with an urgent document.” [New York Times, 9/28/2004]
This NIE Closer to CIA's Own Assessments than Earlier Report - Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar will later say that the agency’s own prewar assessments “foretold a long, difficult, and turbulent transition,” assessments more in line with the current NIE than with the 2002 estimate (see January 2003 and September 28, 2004). “It projected that a Marshall Plan-type effort would be required to restore the Iraqi economy, despite Iraq’s abundant oil resources. It forecast that in a deeply divided Iraqi society, with Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and Shi’ites seeking power commensurate with their majority status, there was a significant chance that the groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it. And it anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks—including by guerrilla warfare—unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam” Hussein. The NIE, and the White House’s blase response to it (see September 21-23, 2004), will deepen the tension and distrust between the White House and the CIA. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 153, 244]
Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, testifies for a third time before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). (The date of Rove’s second testimony to the grand jury is not publicly known, though Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff later says Rove testified twice in February 2004.) Rove tells the jury that he spoke with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), a conversation he has failed to disclose in previous testimony both before the jury and when interviewed by FBI agents (see October 8, 2003 and February 2004). Rove now says he recalls speaking with Cooper, but cannot remember details of their conversation. His lawyer, Robert Luskin, says Rove “answered fully and truthfully every one of their questions,” and did not try to avoid answering questions on legal grounds. White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that Rove’s testimony shows he is “doing his part to cooperate” in the probe. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, charges that Rove and other Bush aides are refusing to tell the public everything they know about the outing of Plame Wilson as a CIA official. “Karl Rove needs to come clean and tell us what he told the grand jury today,” McAuliffe says. Luskin claims that Rove has been informed he is not a target of the inquiry. [Time, 10/15/2004; New York Times, 10/16/2004; National Journal, 4/28/2006; Newsweek, 5/8/2006]
Names Libby - Rove informs the jury that he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from former White House official Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Almost a year later, the Washington Post will learn of Rove’s naming of Libby from “a source familiar with Rove’s account.” Days before Plame Wilson’s identity was publicly revealed (see July 14, 2003), Libby and Rove discussed conversations they had had with Cooper and other, unnamed reporters. Both Plame Wilson’s CIA identity and her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, were discussed, Rove tells the jury. He says that his conversations with Libby were confined to information the two men heard from reporters. He also says he heard about Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from “someone outside the White House,” but cannot recall that person’s identity. [Washington Post, 10/20/2005]
Claim of Memory Failure - Rove has claimed not to remember the conversation between himself and Cooper, but has recently found an e-mail he sent to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley confirming the conversation (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove and Luskin claim that Rove only recently found the e-mail and immediately turned it over to Fitzgerald’s investigators. They claim that Rove never intended to withhold evidence from the investigation. [New York Times, 11/4/2005]
Kerry Campaign Calls for Full Disclosure from White House - Joe Lockhart, the campaign spokesman for the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA), says: “With two weeks to go before the election, the American people are still in the dark about how it is that their White House leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative to the press, jeopardizing the life of this agent and possibly violating federal law. Instead of hiding behind the lawyers he so often likes to criticize, George Bush should direct Karl Rove and anyone else involved to go to the White House briefing room and come clean about their role in this insidious act.” [Salon, 10/15/2004]
Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Terry McAuliffe, Stephen J. Hadley, Matthew Cooper, Robert Luskin, Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joe Lockhart, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
President Bush nominates former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security, replacing outgoing DHS head Tom Ridge. Kerik is a close friend and political ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who pushed Kerik for the position. Kerik also actively campaigned for Bush in the recent presidential campaign. “Bernie Kerik is one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America,” Bush says. “In every position, he has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice, a heart for the innocent, and a record of great success. I’m grateful he’s agreed to bring his lifetime of security experience and skill to one of the most important positions in the American government.” Kerik recently returned from a stint in Iraq, where he trained Iraqi police officials (see May 2003 - July 2003). Kerik was also in charge of New York City police activities during the 9/11 attacks (see (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001). Kerik says: “I know what is at stake. On September 11, 2001, I witnessed firsthand the very worst of humanity and the very best.… I saw hatred claim the lives of 2,400 innocent people, and I saw the bravest men and women I will ever know rescue more than 20,000 others.” Bush says of Kerik: “He was there when the Twin Towers collapsed—he knew the faces of the rescuers who rushed toward danger, he attended the funerals for the officers who didn’t come back. Bernie Kerik understands the duties that came to America on September 11. The resolve he felt that morning will guide him every day on his job and every first responder defending our homeland will have a faithful ally in Bernie Kerik.” Congressional Republicans laud Kerik’s nomination. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees DHS, calls Kerik a “strong candidate” for the post. “He knows first hand the challenges this country faces in guarding against terrorist attacks,” Collins says. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (R-CA) calls Kerik “the perfect choice for the job,” and goes on to say: “There is no doubt that Bernie is a strong, no-nonsense manager who is intimately familiar with the homeland security mission. The new standing Committee on Homeland Security will work closely with him to build on the strong foundations laid by Tom Ridge to secure America against terrorism.” Some Democrats, including Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), also praise Kerik’s nomination. “Coming from New York, Bernie Kerik knows the great needs and challenges this country faces in homeland security,” Schumer says. “He has a strong law enforcement background and I believe will do an excellent job in fighting for the resources and focus that homeland security needs and deserves in our post-9/11 world.” Kerik’s biggest drawback as the choice to head DHS may be his lack of experience in managing a federal bureaucracy, some observers say. Former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safire says of Kerik: “Bernie is a very good operational person, he knows how to run the operation. What he needs to learn and what he’s going to need help with is the Washington bureaucracy.” DHS is an umbrella department overseeing and managing 22 separate federal agencies and some 200,000 employees and contract workers. [New York Times, 12/2/2004; Fox News, 12/3/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246] “People here are waiting to find out who this guy is and what changes he’ll bring,” says an anonymous Homeland Security senior official. “He’s really an unknown factor here in Washington.” [New York Times, 12/4/2004] In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House press secretary, will describe DHS as “still in its infancy and still struggling to define its identity,” and will call it a “vast, unwieldy agglomeration of dozens of formerly independent agencies, now bundled together under one name, and with a new focus (physical threats to the American ‘homeland’) that sometimes contradicted the old mandates. Homeland Security was hampered by bureaucratic infighting, incredibly complex coordination challenges, and slumping employee morale.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246] Less than two weeks later, Kerik will withdraw his name from consideration, ostensibly over a problem with an illegal immigrant he hired to babysit his children (see December 13, 2004), though some believe his withdrawal is spurred by the media’s interest in his business dealings (see December 9-10, 2004).
A reinforced door on an Army truck at a base at Ar-Ramadi, Iraq. [Source: Public domain via the Department of Defense]During a visit by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, Specialist Thomas Wilson asks Rumsfeld why soldiers have to improvise armor for themselves out of scrap metal. Wilson, a National Guardsman from Tennessee, is referring to so-called “hillbilly armor” or “hajj armor” (see March 2003 and After). He asks Rumsfeld, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” His question meets with shouts of approval and applause from the assembled 2,300 soldiers; an obviously discomfited Rumsfeld responds: “It isn’t a matter of money, it isn’t a matter on part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the Army you have.” Colonel John Zimmerman of the Tennessee National Guard says: “What we basically have is what we call hillbilly steel, hillbilly armor. It’s real frustrating for these soldiers.” Zimmerman says 95 percent of his unit’s 300 trucks do not have appropriate armor. Specialist Blaze Crook says he was appalled when he saw the condition of a vehicle he is slated to ride in. “It’s got huge windows on the front of my truck,” he says. “It’s basically like a window of opportunity to get shot, or shrapnel or anything like that to come through. It just doesn’t make me feel good that I’m riding up there without the proper armor.” Kurt Hendler, a reservist with the Navy’s Seabees construction force, says he and his colleagues are using steel plates intended for road repairs to retrofit trucks and Humvees with better armor. “We cover up the doors and put on some three-inch plate to protect the passenger and driver’s side from IED [improvised explosive device] attacks, sniper fire, and any other small-arms fire,” he says. [ABC News, 12/8/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later call Rumsfeld’s answer “a defining moment of his career—and not a positive one.” He will add, “[H]is comments helped solidify an already-accepted media narrative: the administration was sending troops that were ill equipped to fight the IED threat from terrorists and insurgents; worse still, administration officials were either unaware of the problems, unable to fix them, or totally unconcerned.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 250] Wilson will come under scathing attack from right-wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh when it is learned that he was given his question to ask by a reporter (see December 9, 2004).
Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, withdraws his name from consideration to become the nation’s next head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS—see December 3, 2004). Kerik says he found information showing that a woman he had hired as a housekeeper and nanny was an illegal immigrant; DHS oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Kerik says that the discovery prompted him to withdraw his name from consideration. In a letter to President Bush, Kerik writes that although it is “the honor of a lifetime” to be nominated to head the department, “I am convinced that, for personal reasons, moving forward would not be in the best interests of your administration, the Department of Homeland Security, or the American people.… I uncovered information that now leads me to question the immigration status of a person who had been in my employ as a housekeeper and nanny. It has also been brought to my attention that for a period of time during such employment required tax payments and related filings had not been made.” He says that he cannot allow personal matters to “distract from the focus and progress of the Department of Homeland Security and its crucial endeavors.”
Questionable Stock Transactions May Be behind Kerik's Withdrawal - Some Democrats believe that the real reason for Kerik’s withdrawal may be questions about his involvement with Taser International, a stun gun company that does business with DHS; Kerik recently made $6.2 million by exercising stock options in that firm (see December 9-10, 2004). Kerik’s close friend and business colleague, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, says of Kerik’s choice: “I’m disappointed that this had to happen, but I think it’s the right decision, the only decision given the kind of issue that’s involved here. I don’t think this would be as major an issue if it were a different department of government.… When an issue like this emerges, it makes it impossible to go forward.” Kerik’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, says Kerik is the one who decided to withdraw his name. “It was Bernie Kerik who uncovered this [the information about the nanny] on his own. He brought it to the White House,” says Tacopina. “He wanted to put the country first. He didn’t want to distract the president and distract the important mission that Homeland Security has.” As he withdraws his name from consideration, Kerik has still not completed his ethics filings, which will disclose his sources of income and financial liabilities, and the FBI has not yet completed its background investigation of him. [Associated Press, 12/13/2004; New York Times`, 12/13/2004] A Democratic Senate staff member says he is unsure whether the nanny issue is the only reason why Kerik withdrew his name from consideration. “Multiple media organizations were pursuing multiple stories” that would be potentially damaging to Kerik, the staffer says. Because many of these questions had not yet been answered by the administration, “fundamentally, he was a bad pick.… The process worked here.” [New York Times, 12/12/2004] The press has begun looking into other aspects of Kerik’s financial life, including the possibility that Kerik, while serving as police commissioner, helped a close friend, Frank DiTommaso, with suspected ties to the Gambino crime family get a construction license from the city in return for over $7,000 in cash and gifts. DiTommaso denies having any ties to organized crime, but city regulators later denied the license, citing their suspicions of just such ties. The White House denies knowing about any such connections between Kerik and DiTommaso. [New York Times, 12/13/2004] Other ethical, financial, and perhaps criminal questions surround Kerik’s withdrawal, though they will not surface until months or years later. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246]
Kerik Unqualified for Position? - The New York Press’s editorial staff writes that Kerik was never qualified for the job, and that his candidacy is built upon what the editorial staff calls “the myth of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11.… The Rudy-9/11 myth is crucial to Kerik’s nomination, because without this myth there is no Rudy the National Player, and without Rudy the National Player there is no nomination of brusque outsider Bernie Kerik to a major cabinet post in Washington.” Kerik himself, the Press notes, is a senior vice president at Giuliani Partners LLC, where his reputation and manner help sell security-related products: “Because Kerik was acting chief of police when the planes slammed into the towers, and because Kerik embodies the Rudy myth by association, he is a golden moustache on the terror-business circuit, where he tells corporations and government agencies that another attack is on the way—especially if Democrats are in power—and that Nextel (or whoever) is the company to help them prepare for it.” Nothing in Kerik’s career, the Press observes, has prepared him to lead a sprawling federal bureaucracy, nor does he have any grounding in the world of international intelligence, “a critical field of knowledge for the incoming secretary.” The Press writes: “Homeland Security is meant to act as the ‘fusion center’ for all US intelligence operations. Whatever Kerik knows about this stuff, he likely gleaned from [action novelist] Tom Clancy.” [New York Press, 12/14/2004]
Media Did Its Job in Exposing Kerik's Flaws - In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House press secretary, will write: “After Bush nominated Kerik for secretary of Homeland Security… revelations about his behavior began flying. This was one episode in which the media illustrated the vital role the press can play in uncovering genuine malfeasance by public officials. Frankly, the media did a better job of vetting Bernard Kerik than the Bush administration did. Kerik was left with no choice but to resign.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246]
Entity Tags: Giuliani Partners, George W. Bush, Bernard Kerik, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US Department of Homeland Security, Frank DiTommaso, Scott McClellan, New York Press, Taser International, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Joseph Tacopina
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Bush awards Tenet the Medal of Freedom. [Source: Associated Press]President Bush gives the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA Director George Tenet, former Iraq war leader General Tommy Franks, and former Iraq functionary Paul Bremer. The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor the president can bestow. Bush comments, “This honor goes to three men who have played pivotal roles in great events and whose efforts have made our country more secure and advanced the cause of human liberty.” [Associated Press, 12/14/2001; Washington Post, 12/14/2004] However, the awards will come in for some criticism, as Tenet, CIA director on 9/11, wrongly believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction
(see December 21, 2002), Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army (see May 23, 2003), and Franks, responsible for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, failed to assign enough troops to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, thereby enabling him to escape (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Washington Post, 12/14/2001] John McLaughlin, Tenet’s deputy director, will later say that Tenet “wishes he could give that damn medal back.” [New York Times, 10/2/2006] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that this “well-intentioned gesture designed to create positive impressions of the war seemed to backfire.” Instead of holding these three accountable for their role in the deepening Iraq crisis, Bush hails them as heroes. McClellan will observe: “Wasn’t this supposed to be an administration that prided itself on results and believed in responsibility and accountability? If so, why the rush to hand out medals to people who had helped organize what was now looking like a badly botched, ill-conceived war?” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 250-251] David Wade, a spokesman for Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says, “My hunch is that George Bush wasn’t using the same standard when honoring Tenet and Bremer that was applied to previous honorees.” Previous recipients include human rights advocate Mother Teresa, civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and Pope John Paul II. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) says he “would have reached a different conclusion” on Tenet. “I don’t think [he] served the president or the nation well.” [Associated Press, 12/14/2001] Reporter Steve Coll will later comment: “I presume that for President Bush, it was a signal that he wasn’t making Tenet a scapegoat. It would be the natural thing to do, right? You’ve seen this episode of ‘I, Claudius.’ You know, you put the knife in one side and the medal on the other side, and that’s politics.” And author James Bamford will say: “Tenet [retired], and kept his mouth shut about all the things that went on, about what kind of influence [Vice President Dick] Cheney might have had. They still have a CIA, but all the power is now with his team over at the Pentagon. They’re gathering more power every day in terms of intelligence. So largely, Cheney won.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The three medals were given to the men who had lost Osama bin Laden (General Tommy Franks), botched the Iraq occupation (Paul Bremer), and called prewar intelligence on Saddam’s WMDs a ‘slam dunk’ (George Tenet). That the bestowing of an exalted reward for high achievement on such incompetents incited little laughter was a measure of how much the administration, buoyed by reelection, still maintained control of its embattled but not yet dismantled triumphalist wartime narrative.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 158]
Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Steve Coll, L. Paul Bremer, Scott McClellan, Thomas Franks, James Bamford, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Frank Rich, George J. Tenet, Carl Levin, David Wade
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation
The White House prepares to launch a huge PR campaign to win public support for sweeping changes to Social Security, including the creation of individual accounts with the option to invest (and win or lose) in the stock market, and partial privatization of the management of social security investments. In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “It was the kind of bold domestic initiative Bush had always hoped would define his presidency. He would get it passed through a massive [public relations] campaign to bring public pressure to bear on Congress.” The first major strategy meeting to develop the White House PR campaign centers on two main foci:
“Educating” the public about the economic and fiscal problems facing Social Security, the need to fix them, and creating a “crisis mentality” among the public, which, McClellan will write, “would give us a better shot at getting the necessary public support to bring about bipartisan backing for our reform plan in Congress”;
Shaping the solution and ensuring that “personal retirement accounts,” as the stock accounts will be termed, are included.
The White House’s congressional liaison, David Hobbs, says: “Seventy percent of the battle is defining the problem and putting Congressional leaders on the spot. We need public pressure.” The plan is for Bush to travel around the country touting the program, specifically visiting states and districts represented by targeted members of Congress. “Bush would use the re-election hopes of those crucial swing votes in Congress as the lever with which to apply the pressure required,” McClellan later writes. McClellan will reflect that, though the marketing campaign is well thought out, the reform plan isn’t, writing: “We were spending excessive effort on selling our sketchily designed plan while skimping on other elements of the process that probably should have been at least as important. We weren’t spending much time deliberating with members of Congress to work out details of our reform plan—we were doing minimal outreach to Democrats to build the kind of consensus that would make such a dramatic change easier to pass. Instead, we were leapfrogging many of the vital steps and jumping straight to the stage in the process we found most congenial—the public relations effort.” McClellan will compare the Social Security campaign to the administration’s efforts to market the Iraq invasion, calling it “reminiscent of the way we’d short-circuited debate over the necessity for war in Iraq and chose instead to turn it into the subject of a massive marketing blitz. We used a similar approach as we planned the Social Security campaign. With Iraq, it was a threat that needed confronting, with Social Security, it was a crisis that needed solving.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 248-249]
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