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Profile: Talking Points Memo (TPM)

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Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow.Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow. [Source: Armchair Generalist]Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge is interviewed by progressive television host Rachel Maddow. Ridge has authored a book, The Test of Our Times, a memoir of his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from October 2001 through the end of President Bush’s first term. Maddow notes that 22 federal agencies were incorporated under the leadership of DHS, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Border Patrol to the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, “the biggest change in what we pay federal tax dollars for since we got a unified Defense Department in 1947.” She goes on to note that one of the new agency’s biggest failures was its lackadaisical and incompetent response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, though the Coast Guard, one of DHS’s daughter agencies, did eventually deliver what she calls “belated but frankly relatively competent aid,” and Ridge was not DHS secretary when Katrina struck.
Raising the Threat Level - Maddow’s primary focus during much of the interview is the Bush administration’s raising of the so-called “threat level” during 2004, as the presidential elections heated up (see July 8, 2004, for example). In his book, Ridge noted that he wasn’t sure events justified the raising of the threat level.
October 2004 Threat Level Escalation 'Not Political,' Ridge Says - In his book, Ridge wrote that the administration tried to raise the threat level to “orange” just days before the presidential election, on October 29, 2004 (see October 29, 2004). However, when pressed on the subject, Ridge backs away from the implications he raised in his book that politics, not national security, prompted the escalation. “Well, that’s not quite the argument that I put in here,” he tells Maddow. “That passage has generated a lot of heat, so I would like to generate a little light on it.… Further in the book, I remind everybody that the system we designed to raise the threat level could not be manipulated, could not be orchestrated, directed, or pressured by any single individual. Regardless of what anybody says, the system was designed by the president to include the homeland security cabinet group sitting around from time to time when the intelligence warranted that group discussion. If you had a YouTube video of it, you would see the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and others, having a conversation as to whether the intelligence generates enough concern that we want to raise the threat level. That happened many, many times. This is a particularly dramatic moment, because it is the weekend before the election.… We don’t see anything in the department that generates it, and certainly other people agreed with us. But Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft, very strong in their opinions, as everybody had expressed opinions on any other occasions that you never heard about because we never—we never raised the threat level. At the end of the day, I am using in the book, is there more intelligence, is there something—that is new.… [A]t no time—at no time—at no time did politics enter in my judgment, anybody’s equation. These are tough judgment calls. We made them on a series of occasions throughout two years. Rarely did we make those decisions to go up. Politics was not involved.” Ridge says flatly, “I was not pressured” to raise the threat level. Maddow reads from the fly leaf of Ridge’s book, “He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election,” to which Ridge retorts: “Those aren’t my words.… It’s the dust jacket.”
Raising the Threat Level for Political Reasons - Maddow reminds Ridge that both in interviews and his book, he has frequently asked the question of whether the decision to raise the threat level during his tenure was made for political reasons, and notes: “I think that I am persuaded by the argument that I think you make in the book, and you may not have intended it from what you said earlier, that it is a pernicious thing for the American people to perceive that the parts of our government responsible for ensuring our security are actually making decisions that aren’t about our security at all. They’re telling us it’s about security and it’s not.” In 2005, she notes, “you said at a forum about the terror alert level, you said there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘for that?’ (see May 10, 2005) Were there times—were there times when you felt like people were wanting to raise it for reasons that weren’t about the country’s safety?” Ridge denies ever raising the question, and explains: “I do admit, there were some times when we took a look at the intelligence. Some of my colleagues said, ‘Yes, I think we better go up.’ But none of those colleagues had the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of taking the country to a higher level. And so we were always very modest.… I don’t doubt for a moment that any of my colleagues who were involved in those discussions felt the reason we should either go up or not go up, add more security or reduce the security, was based on what they thought was in the best interest of the security of the country, period.… When I said, ‘for what?’ I must tell you, a couple of times I would come back to the office and say, ‘I don’t get it.‘… I don’t think that’s enough to go up. And part of that is yours truly saying to his leadership team who has responsibilities to oversee what’s going to go on, there’s not enough here to tell the governors and the mayors and the security professionals, you have got to raise another level, you have got to increase expenses, you have got to call in personnel. In my judgment, it wasn’t enough. And by the way, at the time we made the right decision, I believe.” Maddow reminds Ridge that in his book he wrote: “[I]t seemed possible to me that something could be afoot. I wondered, is this about security or politics?” She asks, “You’re saying now that you wondered that and you shouldn’t have?” Ridge replies: “No. I mused at the time, ‘Is there something else here?’ I said, ‘Is it politics? Is it security?‘… But there wasn’t anything there.”
Praising the President in 2004 - After a brief discussion of DHS’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Maddow asks about an incident in August 2004, when Ridge praised President Bush’s leadership in the Middle East. As Maddow describes it, Ridge was asked to praise Bush’s leadership. During a subsequent press conference, Ridge said that Bush’s leadership “was causing us to better target our defensive measures here and away from home. And the implication was that going to war in Iraq was a defensive measure like homeland security stuff that we do here at home.” She asks if he regrets making that statement. Ridge says he agrees with his 2004 assessment, and says he merely “threw the sentence into the press conference.” He says his comment became a “sideshow” that “marginalized the process” and caused people to question his objectivity. Ridge tries to deny that he was specifically talking about the war effort in Iraq, though, as Maddow notes, “[W]hen you said ‘targeting our defensive measures away from home,’ this is August ‘04, so we are more than a year into the war in Iraq with the implication there was that you were talking about Iraq.” Ridge now says that he meant the general war against terrorism. “I should have never mentioned the president’s name,” he says, “because it, again, created a perception—we talked about this earlier—that somehow politics were involved, but and politics was not involved in that decision. It was driven by intelligence.”
Making the Case for War with Iraq - Maddow segues into a statement Ridge made in February 2003, when he said on ABC: “I agree that as the president has said, the world community has said this is a rogue regime that has chemical biological weapons, trying to develop nuclear weapons, has means of delivery. That’s the reason this individual needs to be disarmed. The point in fact is that the world community has known for 12 years he’s got chemical biological weapons, means of delivery, and that’s precisely the reason of the United States and its partners are trying to disarm Saddam Hussein. He’s a threat to his region, he’s a threat to our allies. He’s a threat to us.” Maddow notes: “You were a crucial authoritative part of making what turned out to be a false case to the American people about Iraq being a threat, and us needing to attack them.… You made that case on national television a month before we started invading. Do you regret that?” Ridge replies: “No.… At the time, I think [sic] it’s true, and subsequent to that, the president’s leadership and the things we have done have kept America safe.” Ridge goes on to note that “everyone” believed the intelligence showed Iraq was an imminent threat to the US at the time the invasion was being considered. “You believed it at the time,” Maddow confirms, and then asks, “You don’t still believe it, do you?” Ridge replies: “Well, it’s pretty clear that the intelligence communities of several countries who had assessed his—who claimed that he had weapons of mass destruction, we haven’t found them.… But there were other reasons to go in. That was the one that was—that everybody focused on, and everyone who has been critical of the president for going into Iraq said we never found them. But I think the president made the decisions based on the facts and the intelligence as he knew it at the time, and I think it was the right decision at the time.” He denies that anyone in the administration did anything to “skew” or politicize the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs. “There’s no way that anybody in that group—I just—they would commit our blood and our treasure to a cause if they didn’t think it was necessary to commit our blood and treasure to a cause to keep America safe. The intelligence may have proven to be false, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were motivated to keep America safe. In retrospect, we can say that the intelligence was faulty.”
Maddow: No Credibility on National Security until GOP Admits Fault - Maddow tells Ridge: “I think you making that argument right now is why Republicans after the Bush and Cheney administration are not going to get back the country’s trust on national security. To look back at that decision and say, we got it wrong but it was in good faith and not acknowledge the foregone conclusion that we are going to invade Iraq that pervaded every decision that was made about intelligence—looking back at that decision-making process, it sounds like you’re making the argument you would have made the same decision again. Americans need to believe that our government would not make that wrong a decision, that would not make such a foregone conclusion—take such a foregone conclusion to such an important issue, that the intelligence that proved the opposite point was all discounted, that the intelligence was combed through for any bit that would support the foregone conclusion of the policy makers. The system was broken. And if you don’t see that the system was broken and you think it was just that the intel was wrong, I think that you’re one of the most trusted voices on national security for the Republican Party, and I think that’s the elephant in the room. I don’t think you guys get back your credibility on national security until you realize that was a wrong decision made by policy makers. It wasn’t the spies’ fault.” Ridge says any suggestion that anyone would have deliberately skewed or misinterpreted the intelligence on Iraq is “radical.… Later on, it may have proven that some of the information was inaccurate, but there were plenty of reasons to go into Iraq at the time; the foremost was weapons of mass destruction. That obviously proven [sic] to be faulty. But the fact of the matter is, at that time, given what they knew—and they knew more than you and I did—it seemed to be the right thing to do, and the decision was made in what they considered to be the best interests of our country.” When democracy in Iraq is finally established, Ridge says, “the notion that we went in improperly will be obviously reversed, and the history has yet to be written.” Maddow replies: “If you can go back in time and sell the American people on the idea that 4,000 Americans ought to lose their lives and we ought to lose those trillions of dollars for democracy in Iraq, you have a wilder imagination than I do. We were sold that war because of 9/11. We were sold that war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from this guy who didn’t have them, and our government should have known it. And, frankly, a lot of people believe that our government did know it, and that it was a cynical decision. And maybe everybody wasn’t in on it, maybe that is a radical thing to conclude, but I think that…” Ridge interjects: “I don’t share that point of view. You do.” [MSNBC, 9/2/2009]
Reactions - Reactions to the interview are predictably split, with progressives noting how much Ridge backpedals on questions he himself raised, and conservatives declaring victory for Ridge. Talking Points Memo notes the irony in Ridge’s claim that while his words should be trusted, the words on the dust jacket of his book should not be. [TPM LiveWire, 9/2/2009] Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic write that Ridge “pwned” Maddow, video game slang for dominating or “owning” someone. [Free Republic, 9/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Free Republic, Talking Points Memo, George W. Bush, US Secret Service, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Republican Party, Tom Ridge, Rachel Maddow, US Border Patrol, US Department of Homeland Security, US Coast Guard

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) criticizes President Obama’s foreign-policy stance while preparing for a trip to Great Britain, and an unnamed Romney advisor tells a British reporter that Obama does not understand the US’s and the United Kingdom’s shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” Critics accuse the advisor of making a racially insensitive remark. Romney accuses Obama of “appeasing” the enemies of the US, and his advisors tell reporters that if elected, Romney will abandon what they call Obama’s “left-wing” coolness towards the UK. One advisor says: “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special.… The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” In a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) assemblage in Nevada, Romney says: “If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.” Romney says he will preside over a new “American century” in which the US acts as the world’s policeman and will not hesitate to “wield our strength.” He adds, “I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world.” Two Romney advisors augment his remarks to a collection of British reporters. “In contrast to President Obama, whose first instinct is to reach out to America’s adversaries, the governor’s first impulse is to consult and co-ordinate and to move closer to our friends and allies overseas so they can rely on American constancy and strength,” one says. The other says: “Obama is a left-winger. He doesn’t value the NATO alliance as much, he’s very comfortable with American decline and the traditional alliances don’t mean as much to him. He wouldn’t like singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’” The two advisors reference the criticism from some on the right about Obama’s removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office (see June 29, 2009), saying Romney would seek to restore the bust. One says Romney sees the replacement of the bust as “symbolically important,” and the other adds that the restoration would be “just for starters.… He is naturally more Atlanticist.” Some in Great Britain’s government view the Obama administration as less receptive to British concerns than the previous Bush administration. However, when reporters press Romney’s advisors as to what specific changes to US policy Romney would make as president, they are unable to respond. One says, “I’m not sure what our policy response is.” They cite Romney’s opposition to Islamist terrorism and Iran’s supposed intention to build nuclear weapons as examples of Romney’s focus as president. Romney’s advisors speak on the condition of anonymity because Romney campaign officials have asked that they not criticize Obama to representatives of the foreign media. When a Romney advisor attacked Obama in an interview by the German press last month, Obama reminded the Romney campaign that “America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/24/2012]
Romney Campaign Denies Making Remarks - The day after the remarks are made public, the Romney campaign attempts to distance the candidate from the remarks, including issuing denials that the remarks were not actually made. Romney’s press secretary Andrea Paul disputes that the comments were made as reported, and says such remarks do not reflect Romney’s beliefs: “It’s not true. If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.” CBS News reports, “Saul did not comment on what specifically was not true.” (The Washington Post and the National Journal cite Romney spokesperson Amanda Hennenberg, and not Saul, as issuing the denial. CBS and The Guardian report that it is Saul who issues the denial.) Romney attacks Vice President Joseph Biden for being critical of the remarks (see July 25, 2012), saying that Biden should not have given credence to the remarks and accusing him of trying to “divert voters’ attention with specious shiny objects.” Romney spokesperson Ryan Williams says in a statement: “Today, the race for the highest office in our land was diminished to a sad level when the vice president of the United States used an anonymous and false quote from a foreign newspaper to prop up their flailing campaign. The president’s own press secretary has repeatedly discredited anonymous sources, yet his political advisors saw fit to advance a falsehood. We have more faith in American voters, and know they will see this latest desperate ploy for what it is.” After the remarks were reported, Daily Telegraph reporter Jon Swaine posted on Twitter identifying the comments as coming from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.” The Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner says the Telegraph has a “looser” policy on anonymous quotes than most American press outlets, and often prints “rumors and blind quotes.” However, the Telegraph stands by its reporting. Al-Monitor reporter Laura Rozen notes that conservative British commentator Nile Gardiner is the co-chair of Romney’s Europe Working Group, has close connections to the Telegraph, and frequently uses the term “Anglo-Saxon.” Gardiner denies being the source of the comment, and says when Telegraph reporters contacted him for an interview, he referred them to Romney’s communications team. [CBS News, 7/25/2012; Washington Post, 7/25/2012; Guardian, 7/25/2012; National Journal, 7/25/2012] The liberal news Web site Talking Points Memo reports that according to the Telegraph, no one from the Romney campaign has asked the newspaper to retract its reporting. And the Romney campaign refuses to answer questions about what specifically it believes to be false, i.e. whether the quote itself was fabricated or the sentiment expressed by the advisor was inaccurate. [Talking Points Memo, 7/25/2012; National Journal, 7/25/2012] The Atlantic Wire’s Connor Simpson writes that he believes the Romney campaign will soon fire the advisor who made the remark. [Atlantic Wire, 7/25/2012]

Entity Tags: Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Amanda Hennenberg, Andrea Paul, Laura Rozen, Barack Obama, Jon Swaine, Connor Simpson, CBS News, Joseph Biden, Daily Telegraph, Washington Post, National Journal, Nile Gardiner, Willard Mitt Romney, Obama administration, Talking Points Memo, Rachel Weiner, The Guardian, Ryan Williams

Timeline Tags: 2012 Elections

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