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“I’m perfectly happy with the language.” [Associated Press, 9/20/2002]
Ahmed Chalabi and Francis Brooke find allies in the US Senate’s Republican leadership. They provide the Republicans with details about the events surrounding the INC-CIA’s 1995 failed plot against Saddam Hussein (see March 1995) and Iraq’s subsequent incursion into Kurdish territory (see August 1996) which the Republican senators use against the Clinton White House and the CIA. “Clinton gave us a huge opportunity,” Brooke later recalls. “We took a Republican Congress and pitted it against a Democratic White House. We really hurt and embarrassed the president.” The Republican leadership in Congress, he acknowledges, “didn’t care that much about the ammunition. They just wanted to beat up the president.” Senior Republican senators, according to Brooke, are “very receptive, right away” to Chalabi and Brooke’s information, and Chalabi is soon on a first-name basis with 30 members of Congress, including senators Trent Lott, Jesse Helms, and Newt Gingrich. (Sirota, Harvey, and Legum 5/21/2004; Mayer 6/7/2004)
The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) publishes a letter addressed to Congressman Newt Gingrich and Senator Trent Lott. The letter argues that the Clinton administration has capitulated to Saddam Hussein and calls on the two legislators to lead Congress to “establish and maintain a strong US military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect [US] vital interests in the Gulf—and, if necessary, to help removed Saddam from power.” (Century 5/29/1998)
Weapons inspectors with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report finding evidence that Iraq put VX nerve toxin into missile warheads before the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq has denied being able to make a weapon using VX payloads. The evidence comes from a classified US Army laboratory analysis of warhead fragments recovered by UNSCOM inspectors from a destruction pit at Taji, Iraq, in March 1998. Swabs from the warheads analyzed for the UN at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland showed “significant amounts” of degraded “VX disulfide… and stabilizer” in the samples, according to the UN. The laboratory results seem to confirm suspicions raised by Iraqi defectors and other sources, which indicated that Iraq, contrary to its claims, had indeed succeeded in stabilizing and weaponizing VX nerve gas. VX is an intensely lethal compound; using such nerve toxin in a missile attack would potentially inflict large casualties on the targeted population. The discovery also lends credence to suspicions that Iraq has intentionally misled inspectors about its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has refused to admit that it ever created weaponized VX or that it deployed the nerve toxin in missile warheads. (Hoagland and Loeb 6/23/1998; Ritter 3/17/2008)
Leaked by INC - The Aberdeen report is leaked to the Washington Post through officials at the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which the Post will describe as “the principal Iraqi exile opposition group.” Diplomatic sources later confirm the findings, and US government officials will not dispute the conclusion.
Used to Criticize Clinton Administration - The report gives fresh ammunition to conservative Republicans seeking to target the Clinton administration for what they see as its failure to strongly support UNSCOM weapons inspections and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will write in response to the report, “The latest example of a failed policy toward Iraq will not be swept under the rug.” Lott will write that he and other Republicans may use the issue to derail the Senate confirmations of US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
Republican Official: Iraqis 'Lied from the Start' - INC president Ahmed Chalabi will call the report “a smoking gun,” and add: “It shows that Saddam is still lying, and that this whole arrangement based on his turning his weapons of terror over to the United Nations is not workable. He has stabilized VX, which means he can store it for a long time and bring it out for use when he wants.” A Republican Senate official adds: “This report means that they have VX out there now, and can use it. They have lied from from the start.” (Hoagland and Loeb 6/23/1998)
Press Leak Alters UNSCOM Reaction - UNSCOM chief Richard Butler’s plans to announce a “major breakthrough” in diplomatic negotiations with Iraq are scuttled when the Post reports on the VX lab test results. The story focuses not just on the fact that traces of VX were found in Iraqi warheads, but on the harsh criticisms leveled by Lott and other Republicans. The Post writes: “The new indications of Iraqi deception also are likely to reverberate in US politics, where conservative Republicans are increasingly critical of what they see as a failure by the Clinton administration to support strongly either aggressive UNSCOM inspections for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or efforts to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.” (Ritter 3/17/2008)
Report Disproven - Further research will disprove the Aberdeen test results, and conclude that Iraq had not, in fact, packed warheads with VX nerve toxin (see July 1998).
UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter attempts to leak a confidential United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report on Iraq’s production of VX nerve agent to the American press (see June 10, 1998). The attempt spirals into an effort by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) to recruit Ritter’s help in crafting a plan for Chalabi’s INC, with American assistance, to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and place Chalabi in control. Ritter becomes aware of a report from a US military laboratory that proves in 1991 Iraq had manufactured VX nerve agent and deployed it in missile warheads. The Iraqis have admitted to attempting to produce the deadly toxin, but have long insisted that they were never successful in producing weaponized VX. Although there is no reason to believe that Iraq retains active VX from its former chemical weapons program, UNSCOM officials are furious about having been lied to for years by the Iraqis. UNSCOM chief Richard Butler, involved in delicate negotiations with the Iraqi government on developing a “road map” for addressing numerous outstanding issues between Iraq and the UN, decides to keep the report under wraps. UNSCOM officials are even more outraged at Butler’s decision; many believe that Butler is acquiescing to Clinton administration officials who want to avoid a confrontation with Iraq and the UN. When Ritter offers to leak the document in Washington in such a way that would not be traced to the UNSCOM officials who have seen the report, they quickly slip him a copy of the report, and Ritter prepares to fly to Washington.
First Meeting with Chalabi - Ritter is already scheduled to meet with CIA officials about other intelligence support programs. He calls Randy Scheunemann, the national security adviser for Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), the Senate Majority Leader, and sets up a meeting to, as Ritter will later write, “discuss some new developments” regarding the Iraqis. Scheunemann agrees, and asks if Ritter would be willing to meet with Chalabi at Chalabi’s Georgetown townhouse. Ritter is nonplussed at the request, but decides that since he had already discussed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with Chalabi in a meeting authorized by Butler (see January 27, 1998), this Georgetown meeting could be construed as a legitimate followup. Ritter agrees. Upon arriving at Washington’s National Airport, he is met by Chalabi’s driver, who takes him to Georgetown. Chalabi presents Ritter with what Ritter will later recall as “an ambitious program, including briefings to senators and their staffs.” The meeting lasts well into the night, and Ritter agrees to stay overnight in a guest room.
Leaking the Report - The next day, Ritter meets with the CIA and then with Scheunemann. Ritter gives Scheunemann the UNSCOM report and explains its significance. “If it could find its way into the press in a way that removed any UNSCOM fingerprints, this would be ideal,” he tells Scheunemann. “That way the data remains uncompromised, and yet politically Butler and the White House can’t ignore it.” Scheunemann says with a smile, “I think we can manage that.”
'The Chalabi Factor' - Scheunemann then takes Ritter to meet Lott, who seems more interested in Ritter’s interactions with Chalabi than in the report. “I hope you take some time to talk with him, and some other interesting people I think you will be meeting with” Lott tells Ritter. “Exchange ideas. See if you can help him in any way. We’re all on the same side here, and we have to start finding ways to break down some barriers others have constructed between us.” Ritter returns to Chalabi’s home, where he meets with Francis Brooke, Chalabi’s principal American adviser, and Max Singer, a conservative foreign policy expert who specializes in what Ritter will term “political warfare.” Scheunemann has asked Singer to write a paper called “The Chalabi Factor” that touts Chalabi as the man to lead a revolution that would result in the ouster of Hussein. Chalabi asked Singer to share the paper with Ritter. Singer has sketched out a scenario that envisions Chalabi and INC fighters capturing the southern oil fields around Basra, giving the INC a political and military foothold inside Iraq, and then rallying disenchanted Shi’ites and Kurds into supporting his insurgency. Ritter later recalls: “I was somewhat taken aback by the content of the Singer paper. I was on dangerous political ground here, a UN weapons inspector charged with the disarmament of Iraq, suddenly dabbling in the world of regime change. Far from advising me on issues of intelligence regarding Iraqi WMD, Ahmed Chalabi had turned the tables and had me advising him on how to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” The three are soon joined by Chalabi and Stephen Rademaker, the lawyer for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and, as Ritter later describes him, an unabashed member of the far right and a Chalabi supporter. The conversation does not center on arms control, as Ritter had originally planned to discuss, but regime change. The others are uninterested in Ritter’s suggestion that pressure be brought to bear on the Hussein regime over the VX discovery. “[W]e all know Saddam is cheating, and that his days are numbered,” Rademaker says. “What we don’t have is a plan on what we are going to do once Saddam is out of office. Mr. Chalabi represents our best hopes in that regard, which is why we’re delighted that you and he are meeting like this.”
Handling the Ba'athists - Ritter tells the others that the Shi’ites and Kurds cannot be treated as “homogeneous movement[s],” but as loose, fractious amalgamations of disparate elements. He then asks: “The key to me is what is missing here: any discussion of the Ba’ath Party or the Sunni tribes. The Ba’ath Party is the only vehicle that exists in Iraq today that unites Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds alike. It makes modern Iraq function. How do you plan on dealing with the Ba’ath Party in a post-Saddam environment? And what is your plan for winning over the Sunni tribes? How will you bring the tribes that represent the foundation of Saddam’s political support into the fold with your Kurdish and Shi’a supporters?” As Ritter later writes: “Steve Rademaker and Francis Brooke stared blankly. Chalabi was grinning ear to ear. ‘We have a plan. First, we will do away completely with the Baath Party. Those minor members who were forced to join out of survival, of course, they will be allowed to retain their jobs. But anyone who profited from Baathist rule will be punished. As for the Sunni tribes, we are already in contact with their representatives. We feel that the best way to negotiate with them, however, is to make them realize that there is no future with Saddam. Once they realize that, they will come over to our side.’ Chalabi’s ‘plan’ struck me as simplistic at best, and entirely unrealistic.”
The Downing Plan - In answer to Ritter’s questions about defeating the Iraqi military—the large Iraqi Army, the well-trained Republican Guard and other security forces—Chalabi shows Ritter a document, “The Military Plan.” Chalabi says: “This was written for me by Gen. Wayne Downing. I believe you know him from Operation Desert Storm.” Downing had been a Special Forces commander during the 1991 Gulf War; Ritter had worked with Downing’s unit in preventing Iraqi missile launches at Israel (see January 17, 1991). Downing has crafted a plan (see Late 1998) that calls for the US to train and arm several thousand INC fighters who would operate out of bases in western Iraq, out of Hussein’s control. They would fight from light vehicles armed with anti-tank missile launchers, and would rely on support from local tribes in the area, particularly the al-Duleimi in and around Ramadi and Anbar. Ritter is dubious, knowing that the al-Duleimi have provided many of Hussein’s best soldiers. Chalabi is unworried about their support, and tells Ritter, “My people have already had discussions with the tribal leaders of the al-Duleimi, who are ready to join us once we get situated on the ground.” Ritter then objects to Downing’s inclusion of US military advisers and US warplanes, both directly supporting and perhaps even fighting alongside the INC troops. “We don’t operate like that,” Ritter objects. “If we have forces on the ground, then we’ll need to have a base, with a base support element, and base security, and a quick-reaction force in case some of our boys get in trouble. The US presence would have to be much greater than what you’re saying here.” Chalabi merely smiles. “That may be so,” he says, “but we don’t have to highlight it at this time.” Ritter later observes: “The ‘Downing Plan’ was a nice bit of trickery, plotting what was ostensibly an Iraqi opposition military force with minor US military involvement, but masking what was in reality a much larger US military effort with a minor role played by Chalabi’s INC ‘army.’” Ritter is now thoroughly alarmed.
'My Friend Ahmed' - The small group is joined by Danielle Pletka, Rademaker’s wife and a staunchly conservative staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former CIA director James Woolsey. Over dinner, the group moves from discussing the military plans for overthrowing Hussein to a broader discussion of Chalabi’s political future. Woolsey, a vocal supporter of Chalabi, has no patience with the CIA’s objections to earlier actions by Chalabi and the INC (see January 1996). “This [criticism] is all bunk,” Woolsey says. “Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot and visionary who intimidates many lesser thinkers in Langley. My friend Ahmed is a risk taker who understands the reality of Iraq, unlike the desk-bound analysts and risk-averse operators at the CIA. Chalabi scares these people, so they have created false accusations in order to denigrate him and ultimately destroy him.” Pletka agrees: “We cannot allow this to happen. Ahmed Chalabi has many friends in Congress, and it is our goal to make sure Ahmed Chalabi gets the support he needs to not only survive as a viable opposition figure to Saddam Hussein but more importantly to prevail in Iraq.” Ritter is increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call “a political strategy session.” It is clear, Ritter will write, “that Chalabi was being groomed for another run at power” (see March 1995).
Recruitment - According to Ritter, Chalabi suggests that Ritter would be very helpful to his organization, and Chalabi could be helpful to Ritter in return. “I have many friends here in Washington,” Chalabi says over breakfast. “With what you know about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, you can be of invaluable assistance to our cause. The VX story is but the tip of the iceberg.” Ritter will describe himself as “taken aback,” since he never told Chalabi about the VX lab report. Ritter replies: “Well, I am just a simple weapons inspector. In any event, it wouldn’t go over well back at the UN to have an UNSCOM inspector plotting regime change down in Washington, DC.” Then, locking eyes with Chalabi, Ritter says: “This is why you must be very discreet about the VX lab report. It simply won’t do for you to have your fingerprints on this information.” Chalabi smilingly replies: “I understand completely. As for your status as a weapons inspector, you must understand that those days are nearly gone. The inspection process has run its course. You need to think about what you are going to be doing in the future. I would like you to work for me.” Ritter objects, noting that an American citizen can’t be involved in plots to overthrow heads of foreign nations. Chalabi corrects Ritter: “You wouldn’t be working for me, but for the US Senate. My friends would create an advisory position for you, and you would in turn advise me. It wouldn’t pay much upfront. But don’t worry. One day I will be the president of Iraq, and will be in control of Iraq’s oil. When that day comes, I will not forget those who helped me in my time of need. Let’s just say that my friends will be given certain oil concessions that will make them very wealthy.”
Meeting with the Senator - Chalabi’s butler drives Ritter to meet with Pletka at the Capitol Building; the two go to the office of Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is fully aware of the VX lab report. Brownback is angry that the Clinton administration is reluctant to fully assist the UNSCOM inspectors. “This will not stand,” he tells Ritter. “Believe me when I say you and your colleagues have friends here in the US Senate who will make sure America honors its commitments and obligations, especially when it comes to disarming a cruel tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.” Afterwards, Ritter and Pletka are joined by Rademaker in the Senate cafeteria, who says he has the ear of several influential Congressmen. “We’ve got their attention,” Rademaker says, “and I think you’ll find that serious pressure will be brought on the Clinton administration to better support your work.” Pletka and Ritter then meet Lott and Scheunemann again; Scheunemann once again asks Ritter for his future collaboration. Lott reassures Ritter that there would be no legal or ethical conflicts: “Well, maybe we can find a way to bring you down here working for us. That might be the most useful thing to do.” Leaving the Senate building, Ritter muses that “Chalabi’s schemes seemed to have some substance behind them.”
Long-Term Ramifications - Butler will drastically revise his report to the UN Security Council, and the news of a “major breakthrough” in disarmament work with the Iraqis is shelved. The Clinton administration will issue statesments publicly supporting the UNSCOM inspectors, undercutting behind-the-scenes attempts by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to have the US pull back from blanket support of the inspections. Conservative Republicans will rally around the cause of Iraqi duplicity; Scheunemann will use the VX report to drum up support for the Iraqi Liberation Act, which will pass several months after Ritter’s dinner with Chalabi (see October 31, 1998). And Chalabi and the INC will become the leading candidates for replacing Hussein. Reflecting on Chalabi’s prominence in the Post report, Ritter will write, “After watching the Republicans build up Chalabi, I should have known that they could not have passed up this opportunity to interject his name into the limelight.”
Iraqis Truthful about VX - Later evidence and inspection findings show that the Iraqi scientists had been truthful: they had never succeeded in stabilizing VX, and had never filled any warheads with the nerve toxin. The lab results are later shown to be severely flawed. Ritter will write, “In the end, I was wrong to have pushed so hard to have the lab results made public.” (Mayer 6/7/2004; Ritter 3/17/2008)
President Clinton signs the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (ILA) into law. The act, which passed with overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, was written by Trent Lott (R-MS) and other Republicans with significant input from Ahmed Chalabi and his aide, Francis Brooke. (US Congress 10/31/1998 ; DeYoung and Pincus 1/25/2002; Mayer 6/7/2004) (Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write that one of the driving goals behind the ILA is to revive the failed 1995 coup plans against Saddam Hussein, called “End Game”—see November 1993.) (Lang 6/2004) The act makes it “the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” To that end, the act requires that the president designate one or more Iraqi opposition groups to receive up to $97 million in US military equipment and nonlethal training. The act authorizes another $43 million for humanitarian, broadcasting, and information-collection activities. To be eligible for US assistance, an organization must be “committed to democratic values, to respect for human rights, to peaceful relations with Iraq’s neighbors, to maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity, and to fostering cooperation among democratic opponents of the Saddam Hussein regime.” (US Congress 10/31/1998 ; DeYoung and Pincus 1/25/2002; Mayer 6/7/2004)
Chalabi Receives Millions from State Department - Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress receives $17.3 million from the State Department to carry out what it calls the “collection and dissemination of information” about Saddam Hussein’s atrocities to the public. It will continue to receive hundreds of thousands per month from the Defense Department as well. (Fairweather 4/2006) However, the Clinton administration itself has little use for Chalabi. One administration official will say, “He represents four or five guys in London who wear nice suits and have a fax machine.” (Unger 2007, pp. 160)
Zinni Warns of Legislation Presaging Military Action - While few in Washington see the ILA as presaging military action against Iraq, one who does is Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, the commander of CENTCOM. As the bill works its way through Congress, Zinni tells some of his senior staff members that the bill is far more serious than most believe. It is much more than a sop for the pro-war crowd, Zinni believes, but in reality a first step towards an invasion of Iraq. In 2004, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write, “He was, of course, right, but few were listening.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 290)
According to newly presented documents, the FBI used two or three pyrotechnic tear gas canisters during the raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The documents contradict earlier FBI and Justice Department claims that law enforcement officials did nothing that could have contributed to the fire that killed over 80 sect members. Former senior FBI official Danny Coulson begins the revelations by admitting to the Dallas Morning News that the FBI had indeed used pyrotechnic grenades, though he says the grenades did not start the fires that consumed the building. Texas Department of Public Safety Commission Chairman James Francis says the Texas Rangers have “overwhelming evidence” supporting Coulson’s statement. “There are written reports by Rangers, there is photographic evidence, there is physical evidence, all three of which are problematic,” Francis says. Coulson, the founder of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and a former assistant deputy director, says that two M651 CS tear gas grenades were fired into the building, but they were fired hours before the blazes erupted. Attorney General Janet Reno, who tells reporters she knew nothing of the grenade usage and is “very, very frustrated” at the knowledge, appoints former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO) as the head of an investigatory commission (see September 7-8, 1999); Danforth will find that, regardless of the use of the pyrotechnic gas canisters, law enforcement officials were not responsible for the fire, and neither the FBI nor the Justice Department tried to cover up any actions (see July 21, 2000). (PBS Frontline 10/1995; Hancock 8/25/1999; Thibodeau 9/9/1999) The military M651 canisters, which burn for about 30 seconds to heat and release the solidified tear gas inside, were fired from a Bradley fighting vehicle at a bunker near the main building (see September 3, 1999). After the assault, a Texas Ranger found a spent 40mm gas canister shell lying on the ground and asked a nearby FBI agent, “What’s this?” The agent promised to find out, but never returned with an answer; the shell went into evidence containers (see August 10, 1999 and After). Two weeks after the FBI acknowledges the use of incendiary gas canisters at the Waco assault, Reno testifies on the matter to the House Judiciary Committee. She says that, based on the briefings she had been given (see April 17-18, 1993), “It was my understanding that the tear gas produced no risk of fire.… That fire was set by David Koresh and the people in that building.” After her testimony, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) calls on Reno to resign. (Isikoff 9/6/1999; Mittelstadt 9/10/1999) FBI agent Byron Sage, the chief negotiator during the Davidian standoff, will say in 2003 that the incendiary gas canisters could not have set the fires. “This is the critical point, the M651 rounds were never directed towards the wooden structure,” he will say. “They were used in an area yards away from the building. Also, they were used earlier in the day. The fire didn’t start until four hours later. They had absolutely nothing to do with that fire.” Sage will say that the canisters were fired only at a construction pit near the compound where other gas-discharging devices had been smothered in mud. The pit was targeted because some Davidian gunfire during the ATF raid had come from that area, he will say. (Anderson 3/16/2003) Charles Cutshaw, an editor of Jane’s Defense Information and an expert on this kind of weapon, says these military tear gas cartridges are not intended to start fires. He says he knows of no studies or reports on how often such cartridges may have caused fires. (Walsh 9/4/1999) Shortly after the admission, federal prosecutor Bill Johnston, one of the lawyers for the government in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by surviving Davidians (see April 1995), informs Reno that government lawyers had known for years about the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds (see August 30, 1999). Johnston will be removed from the lawsuit and replaced by US Attorney Michael Bradford. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram 7/21/2000) He will also plead guilty to concealing evidence from investigators concerning the canisters (see November 9, 2000).
After Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), certifies George W. Bush (R-TX) the winner of Florida’s presidential election (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000), the Bush campaign continues publicly—“ostentatiously,” to quote one London newspaper—preparing for Bush to transition into the White House, naming possible cabinet members and requesting that the General Services Administration (GSA) fund a transition office for Bush to prepare to ascend to the presidency. Andrew Card, a former General Motors executive whom Bush has said will be his chief of staff, says of Bush, “He’s getting ready to be a great president.” Bush’s chief of staff in Texas, Clay Johnson, heads the transition team and Ari Fleischer serves as press secretary. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) has told Senate committee chairpersons to convene their members on January 4, 2001 to begin confirmation hearings on Bush cabinet nominees. The GSA, however, has not gone along with the push. GSA officials say that the 80,000 square feet of Washington office space will stay locked until either Bush or Democrat Al Gore is certified as president. Instead, says Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney, the campaign will set up transition offices funded by private contributions. “We feel it is our obligation to the American people to honor their votes by moving forward and assembling the administration they’ve chosen,” he says. (Kettle 11/28/2000; Forbes 2011)
Curtis Hebert is replaced by Pat Wood as the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Hebert announced his resignation on August 6. (US Department of Energy 12/2001) Hebert, a Clinton appointee who nevertheless is a conservative Republican, an ally of Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), and quite friendly towards the energy corporations, had been named to the FERC shortly before Clinton left office; Bush named him to chair the commission in January 2001. (Parry 5/26/2006)
Replaced at Enron Request - Hebert is apparently replaced at the request of Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, who did not find Hebert responsive enough in doing Enron’s bidding. Hebert had just taken the position of FERC chairman in January when he received a phone call from Lay, in which Lay pressured him to back a faster pace in opening up access to the US electricity transmission grid to Enron and other corporations. (Lay later admits making the call, but will say that keeping or firing Hebert is the president’s decision, not his.) When Hebert did not move fast enough for Lay, he is replaced by Pat Wood, a close friend of both Lay and President Bush. (Borger 5/26/2001; Scheer 12/11/2001) Lay apparently threatened Hebert with the loss of his job if he didn’t cooperate with Enron’s request for a more pro-Enron regulatory posture. (CNN 1/14/2002)
Opposed Enron Consolidation Plan - Hebert was leery of Enron’s plan to force consolidation of the various state utilities into four huge regional transmission organizations (RTOs), a plan that would have given Enron and other energy traders far larger markets for their energy sales. Hebert, true to his conservative beliefs, is a states’ rights advocate who was uncomfortable with the plan to merge the state utilities into four federal entities. Lay told Hebert flatly that if he supported the transition to the RTOs, Lay would back him in retaining his position with FERC. Hebert told reporters that he was “offended” at the veiled threat, but knew that Lay could back up his pressure, having already demonstrated his influence over selecting Bush administration appointees by giving Bush officials a list of preferred candidates and personally interviewing at least one potential FERC nominee (see January 21, 2001). (Moyers 2/2/2002; Parry 5/26/2006) According to Hebert, Lay told him that “he and Enron would like to support me as chairman, but we would have to agree on principles.” (Borger 5/26/2001) Hebert added to another reporter, “I think he would be a much bigger supporter of mine if I was willing to do what he wanted me to do.” Lay recently admitted to making such a list of preferred candidates: “I brought a list. We certainly presented a list, and I think that was by way of letter. As I recall I signed a letter which, in fact, had some recommendations as to people that we thought would be good commissioners.…I’m not sure I ever personally interviewed any of them but I think in fact there were conversations between at least some of them and some of my people from time to time.” (Moyers 2/2/2002)
Cheney Behind Ouster - Joe Garcia, a Florida energy regulator, says he was interviewed by Lay and other Enron officials. After Hebert made it clear to Lay that he wouldn’t go along with Lay’s plans to reorganize the nation’s utilities, Vice President Dick Cheney, who supervises the Bush administration’s energy policies (see May 16, 2001, began questioning Hebert’s fitness. (Borger 5/26/2001) Cheney said in May 2001, “Pat Wood has got to be the new chairman of FERC.” In private, Cheney said then that Hebert was out as chairman and Wood was in, though Hebert did not know at the time that his days were numbered. (Moyers 2/2/2002) “It just confirms what we believed and what we’ve been saying, that the Bush-Cheney energy plan is written by corporations and it’s in the interests of the corporations,” says the National Environmental Trust’s Kevin Curtis. (Borger 5/26/2001) Not only was Hebert not responsive enough to Lay’s pressure, but he had become a focus of criticism for his refusal to scrutinize Enron’s price gouging in the California energy deregulation debacle. Wood’s more moderate position helps ease the worries of other states themselves losing confidence in the Bush administration’s deregulation advocacy. (Bradley 1/2/2002)
Hebert Investigating Enron Schemes - And even more unsettling for Enron, Hebert was beginning to investigate Enron’s complicated derivative-financing procedures, an investigation that may have led to an untimely exposure of Enron’s financial exploitation of the US’s energy deregulation—exploitation that was going on under plans nicknamed, among other monikers, “Fat Boy,” “Death Star,” “Get Shorty,” all of which siphoned electricity away from areas that needed it most and being paid exorbitant fees for phantom transfers of energy supposedly to ease transmission-line congestion. (Parry 5/26/2006) “One of our problems is that we do not have the expertise to truly unravel the complex arbitrage activities of a company like Enron,” Hebert recently told reporters. “We’re trying to do it now and we may have some results soon.” (Borger 5/26/2001) Instead, Hebert is forced out of FERC. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called for an investigation into Enron’s improper influence of the FERC committee after the media revealed Lay’s phone call to Hebert in May 2001 (see May 25, 2001).
Congressional leaders are evacuated from Washington and flown to Mount Weather, a secret and secure bunker in Virginia, where they remain until late in the afternoon. (Chen and Schrader 9/12/2001; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; ABC News 9/15/2002) The Capitol building was evacuated shortly after the Pentagon was hit (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). Most of the leadership teams of both parties subsequently assemble at the Capitol Police building. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 112) Around late morning or early afternoon, orders are given to take them to a secure location outside Washington. The Congressional leaders return to outside the Capitol building, and from there are flown by military helicopter to Mount Weather. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Each is allowed to bring one staff member with them. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 114) The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, is located 48 miles—about 20 minutes journey by air—from Washington. (Schwartz 11/2001; ABC News 9/15/2002) It was originally built to serve as the new seat of government if there was a nuclear war. (Yang 9/11/2001) The underground complex contains about 600,000 square feet of floor space, and can accommodate several thousand people. (Schwartz 11/2001) It has extensive communication systems linking it to the nationwide network of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bunkers, relocation sites, and the White House Situation Room. (Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter 3/2002) Members of Congress taken to the facility include House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI), Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Assistant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK). (Hastert 2004, pp. 10) Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was taken there earlier on (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bamford 2004, pp. 80-81) The Congressional leaders will remain at Mount Weather until later in the afternoon, and then return to the Capitol around 6:00 p.m. (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/15/2002; Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 116; Hastert 2004, pp. 10) The decision to send them outside Washington on this day has its roots in a top secret program dating back to the cold war, which serves to ensure the “Continuity of Government” (COG) in the event of an attack on the US (see 1981-1992). (United Press International 9/11/2001; CNN 9/11/2002; Mann 2004, pp. 138-139) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 8)
Vice President Dick Cheney talks with Congressional leaders who have been taken to a secure bunker outside Washington, and tells them they cannot return to the capital. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Lott 2005, pp. 221-222) A number of top members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/15/2002)
Cheney Controls Information - In the middle of the afternoon, the vice president makes a conference call from the White House to a number of groups, including these Congressional leaders. As Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will recall, Cheney “told us what he knew: that it was a terrorist attack; that it was carried out by al-Qaeda and directed by Osama bin Laden; that thousands were dead in New York, and hundreds more at the Pentagon. Though some concerns still existed, the immediate danger had abated.” (Lott 2005, pp. 221) Cheney also says the president has been moving around since the time of the attacks, and is now at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 115-116)
'We Control the Helicopters' - When the leaders say they want to leave the bunker and return to Washington, Cheney refuses. According to the Washington Post, his reason is that there are still terrorist threats and there is no way to guarantee their security. Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) complains, “We’re a separate branch of government—why do we need the approval of the White House?” Cheney replies, “Don, we control the helicopters.” (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
Cheney Initially Does Not Allow Congressional Leaders to Return - Cheney then initiates three or four private conversations, one of which is with Trent Lott. Lott says: “I want to go back to the Capitol. That’s where we belong.” But again Cheney replies, “No.” However, later in the afternoon, the Congressional leaders decide to return to Washington, and permission is arranged for this (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Hastert 2004, pp. 10; Lott 2005, pp. 221-222) It is unclear exactly when Cheney holds this conference call. If it takes place while Bush is at Offutt, as Cheney indicates, this would place it between 2:50 p.m. and around 4:30 p.m. But from around 3:15 until 4:00, Cheney participates in the president’s video conference call with his principal advisers (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), so it is unclear if Cheney talks to the Congressional leaders before or after this. (CNN 9/12/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326)
Despite having been instructed by Vice President Dick Cheney to remain where they are, Congressional leaders who have been evacuated to a secure bunker outside Washington decide to return to the capital and are then flown back there. (Hastert 2004, pp. 10; Lott 2005, pp. 222) A number of members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/15/2002) According to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), who is among this group: “We all felt anxious and frustrated, feeling responsible as Congressional leaders to both communicate and take action, but unable to do either. We talked among ourselves of our concern for our loved ones back in Washington and our need to be with them as soon as possible.” In particular, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) begins “pressing the people around him—his own security detail and the facility’s personnel—about his strong desire to get back to Washington.” (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 115) However, during a teleconference, Vice President Cheney told the leaders they could not leave Mount Weather (see (Between 2:50 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Lott will recall that, in spite of this, he makes the decision to go back to Washington and arranges for this to happen: “I’d finally had enough. I told my ground security to leave for the Capitol, and now—‘because I’m not spending the night here.’ I had this decision radioed back to the vice president’s people, and the others pulling the strings. They finally relented and arranged to have us ferried back to the Capitol by helicopter.” (Lott 2005, pp. 222) But House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) will say he in fact is responsible for making this decision, and that he then tells his colleagues: “Hey, it’s up to us. We need to stand together, go back to Washington and show people that we are standing together.” The leaders are flown back to Washington at around 6:00 p.m. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 116; Hastert 2004, pp. 10)
President Bush privately tells Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) to make sure the bipartisan resolution being pushed by senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Joseph Biden (D-DE) (see October 1, 2002) does not make it through the Senate. Their proposed resolution would explicitly restrict authorization for the use of military force to Iraq only. Bush tells Lott, “Derail the Biden legislation and make sure its language never sees the light of day.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 127)
Nine Republican senators, led by conservatives Jesse Helms (R-NC), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972, May 1, 2001, and June 2001). They explain their position by arguing that the ABM Treaty has become “the most significant obstacle to improved relations between the United States and Russia.” This argument is a complete reversal of conservatives’ earlier positions: that arms control agreements such as the ABM Treaty did nothing to stabilize relations between the US and its nuclear-armed opponents. The argument also flies in the face of public and private statements by Russian leaders, who consider the treaty one of the key elements of stable US-Russian relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed the importance of the treaty in maintaining nuclear parity between the two nations (see July 2001), even as Russia seeks to reduce its nuclear arsenal from 6,000 to 1,500 deployed missiles. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will speculate as to why conservatives wish to withdraw from the treaty: “For isolationists, missile defense renewed the dream of Fortress America, allowing us to retreat even further from crises abroad. For nationalists and moralists, missile defense was a shield against engagement and detente in the event that, say, North Korea was to develop a nuclear-armed ICBM (see August 31, 1998). For neoconservatives, missile defense was a necessary adjunct to their proactive vision of changing regimes and democratizing the world” (see March 12, 2001). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 174-176)
US Congressmen write a letter to President Bush urging him to take military action against Iraq. Among those who sign the letter are Jesse Helms (R-NC), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Henry Hyde (R-IL), and Trent Lott (R-MS). The letter states, “As we work to clean up Afghanistan, it is imperative that we plan to eliminate the threat from Iraq. This December will mark three years since United Nations inspectors last visited Iraq. There is no doubt that since that time, Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs.… Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War levels. We believe we must directly confront Saddam, sooner rather than later.” (Kristol 12/6/2001; Jensen 12/15/2001)
When asked in a press conference if the success of the “war on terrorism” has been overstated, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) replies: “I don’t think the success has been overstated. But the continued success I think is still somewhat in doubt.… I will say that at this point, given the information we’ve been provided, I don’t think it would do anybody any good to second-guess what has been done to date. I think it has been successful. I’ve said that on many, many occasions. But I think the jury’s still out about future success, as I’ve said.” He adds that it would be necessary for the US to find Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders for the “war on terrorism” to be considered a success. But despite the mild tone of these comments, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) responds by saying: “How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field. He should not be trying to divide our country while we are united.” Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) calls Daschle’s remarks “thoughtless and ill-timed.” And Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) uses language analogous to a charge of treason, saying that that Daschle’s “divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit divisions in our country.” (Keefer 3/1/2002) Secretary of State Colin Powell defends Daschle and other Democrats, saying: “They’re raising questions. And I think that’s what a loyal opposition does.” The Washington Post editorial board criticizes the Republican response, saying that the US “would be a weaker country if Sen. Lott succeed[s] in choking off debate.” But Lott refuses to apologize, and says that “any sign that we are losing that unity, or crack in that support, will be, I think, used against us overseas.” (Purdum 3/1/2002; Nyhan 3/5/2002)
On May 16, 2002, CBS News broke the story that President Bush was given a Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) one month before 9/11 entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see May 15, 2002). Some Democratic politicians immediately criticized Bush for not acting on this before 9/11. The next day, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett tells the Washington Post that such comments by Democrats “are exactly what our opponents, our enemies, want us to do.” The news website Salon comments, “This is the most direct statement by an administration official to date suggesting that dissent aids the enemy.” Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) similarly comments, “For us to be talking like our enemy is George W. Bush and not Osama bin Laden, that’s not right.” (Nyhan 5/21/2002)
The Bush administration embarks on a program to politicize the Justice Department’s civil rights division (CRD). The CRD is staffed by some 350 permanently employed lawyers who take complaints, investigate problems, propose lawsuits, litigate cases, and negotiate settlements. For decades, the decisions on who should fill these positions have been made by civil servants and not by political appointees. The CRD is an obvious target for politicization, and until now the Justice Department has tried to ensure that no such politicization ever took place. “There was obviously oversight from the front office [where the political appointees work], but I don’t remember a time when an individual went through that process and was not accepted,” Charles Cooper, a former lawyer in the CRD during the Reagan administration, will later recall. “I just don’t think there was any quarrel with the quality of individuals who were being hired. And we certainly weren’t placing any kind of political litmus test on… the individuals who were ultimately determined to be best qualified.”
Hiring Conservatives in Place of Career Lawyers - But Attorney General John Ashcroft changes those rules, without making any sort of official announcement. The hiring committee is not formally disbanded, but it stops having meetings scheduled, and the political appointees begin making career hiring decisions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “The result of the unprecedented change was a quiet remaking of the civil rights division, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.” No longer would career attorneys be hired for their civil rights background; instead, lawyers from conservative law schools or from conservative legal organizations such as the Republican National Lawyers Association are given favorable treatment. Some of the new hires worked with Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigative team or had worked with other prominent conservatives, including former Attorney General Edwin Meese or Senator Trent Lott (R-MO). Some list themselves as belonging to prominent Christian political organizations that promote socially conservative views such as opposition to abortion and to affirmative action.
Shift towards 'Reverse Discrimination' Cases - After the new hires are in place, the division shifts its focus: instead of working on voter rights, employment discrimination, and other such cases affecting African-Americans and Hispanics, the division begins working to develop “reverse discrimination” cases in favor of whites and Christians. (Savage 2007, pp. 295-297)
Driving Career Employees Away - Over the next few years, the types of cases pursued by the CRD changes drastically (see 2005, 2006, and 2006), and career attorneys with decades of service begin leaving the division in large numbers. The Justice Department will even encourage older hires to leave by offering them a buyout. Savage will write, “With every new vacancy, the administration gained a new change to use the new rules to hire another lawyer more in line with its political agenda.” CRD attorney David Becker will tell a 2006 NAACP hearing: “Even during other administrations that were perceived as being hostile to civil rights enforcement, career staff did not leave in numbers approaching this level. In the place of those experienced litigators and investigators, this administration has, all too often, hired inexperienced ideologues, virtually none of which have any civil rights or voting rights experience.” Some supporters say that the Bush administration is merely righting an imbalance, where the CRD was previously top-heavy with liberal lawyers interested in protecting African-Americans over other groups, but one of the CRD’s top career lawyers from 1965 through 1994, Jim Turner, says, “To say that the civil rights division had a special penchant for hiring liberal lawyers is twisting things.” (Savage 2007, pp. 298-299)
President Bush invites a group of congressional leaders to have breakfast with him and Cheney in the White House’s private dining room to discuss Iraq. Present at the meeting are Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. Bush tells the lawmakers that he needs a Congressional resolution authorizing military force against Iraq, and he needs it soon. During the meeting, Daschle suggests that it would be better to postpone the debate on such a resolution until after the November elections, so as to take politics out of the equation (see September 19, 2002). According to Daschle, Bush looks at Cheney, who replies with a “half smile.” Then Bush answers, “We just have to do it now.” (Bumiller 9/7/2002; Dean 2004, pp. 140; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 23) After the meeting, the lawmakers pass the word that Bush implied new intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program would be forthcoming. That new information never materializes. (Dean 2004, pp. 140) In the upcoming days, many Democrats will accuse the Bush administration of attempting to “politicize” the debate on the resolution in order to impact the upcoming midterm elections (see September 25, 2002 and September 26, 2002).
Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet meet with senators Trent Lott (R-Miss), Tom Daschle (S-SD), Dennis Hastert (R-Ill), and Richard Gephardt (D-Mo) and, in the words of Cheney, “share the most sensitive information [on Iraq’s alleged WMDs] with them.” (Bumiller 9/7/2002; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 30) They show blurry satellite photos of buildings or warehouses that Cheney insists are Iraqi nuclear weapons sites, and shots of drone aircraft presumably capable of attacking Israel with biological and chemical weapons. They also share sketches of tractor trailers that Tenet says are mobile biological weapons factories. Daschle, a former Air Force photo analyst intelligence officer, is skeptical of the photos, but says nothing. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 30)
Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet give a classified briefing to some members of Congress in an attempt to persuade them of the immediate need to invade Iraq (see September 19, 2002 and September 24, 2002). After the briefing, several Democrats say they are unconvinced that Saddam Hussein poses an imminent threat to the US; some intimate that the White House is trying to “politicize” the debate on the resolution in order to impact the elections. Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I know of no information that the threat is so imminent from Iraq” that Congress cannot wait until January to vote on a resolution. “I did not hear anything today that was different about [Saddam Hussein’s] capabilities,” save a few “embellishments.” She is joined by Tom Lantos (D-CA), a hawkish Democrat who supports the overthrow of the current Iraq regime, but who wants a special session of Congress after the November 5 elections to debate a war resolution. “I do not believe the decision should be made in the frenzy of an election year,” he says. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) agrees: “It would be a severe mistake for us to vote on Iraq with as little information as we have. This would be a rash and hasty decision” because the administration has provided “no groundbreaking news” on Iraq’s ability to strike the United States or other enemies with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Durbin’s fellow senator, Evan Bayh (D-IN) adds that while he agrees Iraq is a valid threat, the White House must do more to convince lawmakers and the American people of that threat before asking Congress to approve military action. “If the president wants to have a vote before the election, he needs to give the military threat, or he risks looking political. With that timing, he will run the risk of looking brazenly political,” Bayh says. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) agrees with Pelosi and Durbin, saying, “What was described as new is not new. It was not compelling enough” to justify war. “Did I see a clear and present danger to the United States? No.” Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) favors delaying the vote as well, but Daschle says he will likely allow the Senate to vote on the resolution if Bush meets several criteria, including obtaining more international support for a military campaign and providing senators a more detailed explanation of how the war would be conducted and how Iraq would be rebuilt. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is one of the very few Republicans to oppose the resolution coming up for a vote before the elections. Most Republicans agree with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), who wants the White House to submit a specific war resolution by September 23 so it can be voted on before the October adjournment. But an unnamed House Republican leader also seems to believe the case Tenet and Rice presented is weak: he says, “Daschle will want to delay this and he can make a credible case for delay.” (VandeHei and Eilperin 9/10/2002; Snow and Barrett 9/10/2002; Bash 9/11/2002)
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle blasts the Bush administration for trying to use the debate over the Iraq war resolution for political purposes, and for smearing the patriotism of Democrats who question the need for the resolution. After reading through a number of statements by White House and Congressional Republicans, including one from President Bush who said Senate Democrats were “not interested in the security of the American people,” the usually conciliatory and soft-spoken Daschle retorts, “‘Not interested in the security of the American people’? You tell Senator [Daniel] Inouye he’s not interested in the security of the American people. You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they’re not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous. Outrageous. The president ought to apologize.” Inouye (D-HI) lost his arm while fighting in World War II. Daschle also cites a Republican pollster who says war as a political issue could tip the elections in favor of the Republicans, references Dick Cheney’s use of Iraq as an issue to promote the campaign of a GOP House candidate in Kansas (see September 25, 2002), and recalls White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card’s statement that “from a marketing point of view,” it makes sense to raise the issue of Iraq after Labor Day when lawmakers would be back from their August break (see September 6, 2002). White House press secretary Ari Fleischer counters that Daschle is taking Bush’s comment out of context, and is relying on erroneous or misleading press releases to make his charges. Fleischer advises to “take a deep breath,” “stop finger-pointing,” and join Bush in “protect[ing] our national security and our homeland defense.” Daschle responds to Fleischer’s comments by saying there is “no context” in which Bush or any other Republican can fairly question whether Senate Democrats are interested in national security. He says the White House’s explanation of Bush’s remarks are “not worth the paper they’re printed on.” Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) charges that Daschle and his fellow Democrats are unfairly attacking the president. “Who is the enemy here, the president of the United States or Saddam Hussein? [Daschle] needs to cool the rhetoric.” Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) retorts, “There is nothing more sobering than the decision to go to war. But the administration has turned the decision into a bumper-sticker election theme.” (Loughlin 9/26/2002)
The 10 members of the new 9/11 Commission are appointed by this date, and are: Republicans Thomas Kean (chairman), Slade Gorton, James Thompson, Fred Fielding, and John Lehman, and Democrats Lee Hamilton (vice chairman), Max Cleland, Tim Roemer, Richard Ben-Veniste, and Jamie Gorelick. (Kemper and Zuckman 12/12/2002; Associated Press 12/16/2002; Shenon 12/17/2002) Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and John McCain (R-AZ) had a say in the choice of one of the Republican positions. They and many 9/11 victims’ relatives wanted former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH), who co-wrote an acclaimed report about terrorism before 9/11 (see January 31, 2001). But, possibly under pressure from the White House, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-MS) blocked Rudman’s appointment and chose John Lehman instead. (Jacoby 12/12/2002; Fournier 12/13/2002; Zabarenko 12/16/2002; Shenon 2008, pp. 55-56) It will slowly emerge over the next several months that at least six of the 10 commissioners have ties to the airline industry. (CBS News 3/5/2003) Henry Kissinger (see December 13, 2002) and his replacement Thomas Kean (see December 16, 2002) both caused controversy when they were named. In addition, the other nine members of the Commission are later shown to all have potential conflicts of interest. Republican commissioners:
Fred Fielding also works for a law firm lobbying for Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. (Associated Press 2/14/2003; CBS News 3/5/2003)
Slade Gorton has close ties to Boeing, which built all the planes destroyed on 9/11, and his law firm represents several major airlines, including Delta Air Lines. (Guggenheim 12/12/2002; CBS News 3/5/2003)
John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy, has large investments in Ball Corp., which has many US military contracts. (Associated Press 3/27/2003)
James Thompson, former Illinois governor, is the head of a law firm that lobbies for American Airlines and has previously represented United Airlines. (Associated Press 1/31/2003; CBS News 3/5/2003) Democratic commissioners:
Richard Ben-Veniste represents Boeing and United Airlines. (CBS News 3/5/2003) He also has other curious connections, according to a 2001 book on CIA ties to drug running written by Daniel Hopsicker, which has an entire chapter called “Who is Richard Ben-Veniste?” Lawyer Ben-Veniste, Hopsicker says, “has made a career of defending political crooks, specializing in cases that involve drugs and politics.” He has been referred to in print as a “Mob lawyer,” and was a long-time lawyer for Barry Seal, one of the most famous drug dealers in US history who is also alleged to have had CIA connections. (Hopsicker 2001, pp. 325-30)
Max Cleland, former US senator, has received $300,000 from the airline industry. (CBS News 3/5/2003)
James Gorelick is a director of United Technologies, one of the Pentagon’s biggest defense contractors and a supplier of engines to airline manufacturers. (Associated Press 3/27/2003)
Lee Hamilton sits on many advisory boards, including those to the CIA, the president’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the US Army. (Associated Press 3/27/2003)
Tim Roemer represents Boeing and Lockheed Martin. (CBS News 3/5/2003)
Recent remarks by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) alleging that granting rights to homosexuals would also grant Americans the right to commit incest, child rape, and bestiality (see April 7, 2003) draw heavy criticism from both pro-gay organizations and political opponents. Winnie Stachelberg of the gay advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign says: “Senator Santorum’s remarks are deeply hurtful and play on deep-seated fears that fly in the face of scientific evidence, common sense, and basic decency. Clearly, there is no compassion in his conservatism.” Stachelberg asks Republican Congressional leaders to repudiate Santorum’s remarks. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) calls on Santorum to resign as chairman of the Republican Senate Caucus, the number three position in the GOP leadership; Santorum does not do so. The DSCC’s Brad Woodhouse says, “Senator Santorum’s remarks are divisive, hurtful, and reckless and are completely out of bounds for someone who is supposed to be a leader in the United States Senate.” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says Santorum’s position is “out of step with our country’s respect for tolerance.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA), a Democratic presidential contender, criticizes the White House for not speaking out against Santorum’s statements, saying, “The White House speaks the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism, but they’re silent while their chief lieutenants make divisive and hurtful comments that have no place in our politics.” Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean (D-VT) joins in calls for Santorum to step down from the RSC post, saying: “Gay-bashing is not a legitimate public policy discussion; it is immoral. Rick Santorum’s failure to recognize that attacking people because of who they are is morally wrong makes him unfit for a leadership position in the United States Senate. Today, I call on Rick Santorum to resign from his post as Republican Conference chairman.” Patrick Guerriero of the Republican pro-gay group, the Log Cabin Republicans, says that Santorum should either apologize or step down from his post as RSC chair: “If you ask most Americans if they compare gay and lesbian Americans to polygamists and folks who are involved in incest and the other categories he used, I think there are very few folks in the mainstream who would articulate those views.” Santorum’s remarks make it difficult to characterize the GOP as inclusive, Guerriero adds. (Loughlin 4/23/2003; CNN 4/23/2003) Guerriero later tells a gay advocacy newspaper: “Log Cabin Republicans are entering a new chapter. We’re no longer thrilled simply about getting a meeting at the White House. We’re organized enough to demand full equality. I’ve heard that vibration since I’ve been in Washington—that people in the party are taking us for granted. To earn respect, we have to start demanding it.… One of the most disappointing things about this episode is that we’ve spent a lot of time with the senator trying to find common ground. This is how he repays us? There is a sad history of Republican leaders choosing to go down this path, and he should’ve known better.” Another, less prominent Republican pro-gay organization, the Republican Unity Coalition, denounces Santorum’s views but stands by his right to hold them. (Bull 6/10/2003) Some Republican senators join in criticizing Santorum. Susan Collins (R-ME) says Santorum’s choice of words is “regrettable” and his legal analysis “wrong.” Olympia Snowe (R-ME) says, “Discrimination and bigotry have no place in our society, and I believe Senator Santorum’s remarks undermine Republican principles of inclusion and opportunity.” Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) says: “I thought his choice of comparisons was unfortunate and the premise that the right of privacy does not exist—just plain wrong. Senator Santorum’s views are not held by this Republican and many others in our party.” Gordon Smith (R-OR) says that “America and the Republican Party” no longer equate “sexual orientation with sexual criminality. While Rick Santorum intended to reiterate the language of an old Supreme Court decision, he did so in a way that was hurtful to the gay and lesbian community.” And John McCain (R-AZ) says: “I think that he may have been inartful in the way that he described it. I believe that—coming from a person who has made several serious gaffes in my career—that the best thing to do is to apologize if you’ve offended anyone. Because I’m sure that Rick did not intend to offend anyone. Apologize if you did and move on.” (Salon 4/26/2003) The only openly gay member of the House of Representatives, Barney Frank (D-MA), says of Santorum: “The only surprise is he’s being honest about it. This kind of gay bashing is perfectly acceptable in the Republican Party.” Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), calls Santorum’s remarks “stunning” and adds: “Rick Santorum is afflicted with the same condition as Trent Lott—a small mind but a big mouth. [Gandy is referring to Lott’s forcible removal from his position as Senate majority leader in 2002 after making pro-segregation remarks.] He has refused to apologize and Republican leaders have either supported or ignored Santorum’s rants blaming societal ills on feminists, liberals, and particularly gays and lesbians. Far from being a compassionate conservative, Santorum’s lengthy and specific comments expose him as abusive, intolerant, and downright paranoid—a poor combination for a top Senate leader.” (People's World 5/7/2003)
Santorum: AP Story 'Misleading' - Santorum says the Associated Press story reporting his remarks was “misleading,” and says he was speaking strictly about a recent Supreme Court case striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law. “I am a firm believer that all are equal under the Constitution,” he says. “My comments should not be construed in any way as a statement on individual lifestyles.” When questioned by a gay Pennsylvanian about his remarks, he says his words were “taken out of context.” (The questioner says to Santorum: “You attacked me for who I am.… How could you compare my sexuality and what I do in the privacy of my home to bigamy or incest?” Santorum denies being intolerant of homosexuality, but repeats his stance that if states were not allowed to regulate homosexual activity in private homes, “you leave open the door for a variety of other sexual activities to occur within the home and not be regulated.”) However, CNN reports that, according to unedited excerpts of the audiotaped interview, “Santorum spoke at length about homosexuality and he made clear he did not approve of ‘acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships.’ In the April 7 interview, Santorum describes homosexual acts as a threat to society and the family. ‘I have no problem with homosexuality,’ Santorum said, according to the AP. ‘I have a problem with homosexual acts.’” (Loughlin 4/23/2003; CNN 4/23/2003) In an interview on Fox News, Santorum says: “I do not need to give an apology based on what I said and what I’m saying now—I think this is a legitimate public policy discussion. These are not, you know, ridiculous, you know, comments. These are very much a very important point.… I was not equating one to the other. There is no moral equivalency there. What I was saying was that if you say there is an absolute right to privacy for consenting adults within the home to do whatever they want, [then] this has far-reaching ramifications, which has a very serious impact on the American family, and that is what I was talking about.… I am very disappointed that the article was written in the way it was and it has been construed the way it has. I don’t believe it was put in the context of which the discussion was made, which was rather a far-reaching discussion on the right to privacy.” (Salon 4/26/2003; Fox News 4/28/2003)
Bush Defends Santorum - After three days of remaining silent, President Bush issues a brief statement defending Santorum’s remarks, calling Santorum “an inclusive man.” In response, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) issues the following statement from chairman Terry McAuliffe: “President Bush is awfully selective in which American values he chooses to comment on. Rick Santorum disparaged and demeaned a whole segment of Americans and for that President Bush praises him. Three young women in the music business expressed their views and it warrants presidential action. I would suggest that rather than scold the Dixie Chicks (see March 10, 2003 and After), President Bush would best serve America by taking Rick Santorum to the woodshed.” (People's World 5/7/2003; Bull 6/10/2003)
Other Support - Some senators come to Santorum’s defense. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) says in a statement, “Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) blames the media for the controversy, saying: “He’s not a person who wants to put down anybody. He’s not a mean-spirited person. Regardless of the words he used, he wouldn’t try to hurt anybody.… We have 51 Republicans [in the Senate] and I don’t think anyone’s a spokesman for the Republican Party. We have a double standard. It seems that the press, when a conservative Republican says something, they jump on it, but they never jump on things Democrats say. So he’s partly going to be a victim of that double standard.” Santorum’s Pennsylvania colleague, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), says, “I have known Rick Santorum for the better part of two decades, and I can say with certainty he is not a bigot.” Asked if Santorum’s comments will hurt his re-election prospects, Specter says: “It depends on how it plays out. Washington is a town filled with cannibals. The cannibals devoured Trent Lott without cause. If the cannibals are after you, you are in deep trouble. It depends on whether the cannibals are hungry. My guess is that it will blow over.” Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) says, “Rick Santorum has done a great job, and is solid as a rock, and he’s not going anywhere.” A number of Republican senators, including Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), the only openly gay Republican in Congress, refuse to comment when asked. (Salon 4/26/2003) Gary Bauer, a powerful activist of the Christian Right who ran a longshot campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, says that “while some elites may be upset by [Santorum’s] comments, they’re pretty much in the mainstream of where most of the country is.” (Bull 6/10/2003) The conservative advocacy group Concerned Women for America says Santorum was “exactly right” in his statements and blames what it calls the “gay thought police” for the controversy. Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council agrees, saying, “I think the Republican Party would do well to follow Senator Santorum if they want to see pro-family voters show up on Election Day.” (Loughlin 4/23/2003) Joseph Farah, the publisher of the conservative online news blog WorldNetDaily (WND), says that Santorum was the victim of a “setup” by the Associated Press, and Lara Jakes Jordan, the reporter who wrote the story should be fired. Santorum’s remarks “were dead-on target and undermine the entire homosexual political agenda,” Farah writes. “Santorum articulated far better and more courageously than any elected official how striking down laws against sodomy will lead inevitably to striking down laws against incest, bigamy, and polygamy. You just can’t say consenting adults have an absolute right to do what they want sexually without opening that Pandora’s box.” He accuses the AP of launching what he calls a “hatchet job” against Santorum, designed to take down “a young, good-looking, articulate conservative in the Senate’s Republican leadership.” The AP reporter who interviewed Santorum, Lara Jakes Jordan, is, he says, “a political activist disguised as a reporter.” Farah notes that Jordan is married to Democratic operative Jim Jordan, who works for the Kerry campaign, and in the past Jordan has criticized the AP for not granting benefits to gay domestic partners. Thusly, Farah concludes: “It seems Mrs. Jordan’s ideological fervor is not reserved only for her private life and her corporate politicking. This woman clearly ambushed Santorum on an issue near and dear to her bleeding heart.” (Farah 4/28/2003)
Washington Times editor Wesley Pruden calls on President Bush to immediately pardon convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007), calling Libby’s prosecution “malicious” and Patrick Fitzgerald a “rogue prosecutor.” Bush could turn the guilty verdict “into a Democratic debacle” by “appealing successfully to the American spirit of fair play.” Pruden asserts, without evidence, that the jury has said “they had to put clothespins on their noses to return guilty verdicts.” But Bush, like other Republican presidents, lacks boldness, and makes the perpetual mistake of being too “nice” to “the enemy,” the Democrats. Once Bush explains his pardon to the American citizenry, “they would applaud settling the account,” Pruden writes. The only criminals in the entire affair are Fitzgerald and “the judges who let him get away with” prosecuting Libby. Pruden lambasts Republicans such as Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) who counsel caution about issuing a pardon. Pruden concludes, “A pardon, now, would right a grievous government wrong.” (Pruden 3/9/2007)
The Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see 1978), is introduced in Congress. With limited debate and no committee hearings, it passes both houses with substantial majorities. (US Senate 8/5/2007; Savage 8/6/2007; House Judiciary Committee 9/18/2007 ) Congressional Democrats quickly capitulate on the bill, submitting to what the Washington Post later calls “a high-pressure campaign by the White House to change the nation’s wiretap law, in which the administration capitalized on Democrats’ fears of being branded weak on terrorism and on Congress’s desire to act on the issue before its August recess.” (Nakashima and Warrick 8/5/2007) Indeed, one Republican senator, Trent Lott, warns during the initial debate that lawmakers should pass the law quickly and get out of Washington before they could be killed in a terrorist attack (see August 2, 2007). McConnell tells the Senate, “Al-Qaeda is not going on vacation this month.” And Democrat Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a supporter of the bill, told his colleagues: “We’re at war. The enemy wants to attack us. This is not the time to strive for legislative perfection.” (Keefe 8/6/2007)
Some Democrats Unhappy - One Democratic lawmaker responds angrily: “There are a lot of people who felt we had to pass something. It was tantamount to being railroaded.” Many House Democrats feel betrayed by the White House; Democratic leaders had reached what they believed was a deal on the bill with the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, only to have the White House throw out the deal and present a new list of conditions at the last minute. Both McConnell and the White House deny that any such deal was reached. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I think the White House didn’t want to take ‘yes’ for an answer from the Democrats.” Representative Jerrold Nadler (R-NY) says lawmakers were “stampeded by fear-mongering and deception” into voting for the bill. Fellow House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) warns that the PAA will lead to “potential unprecedented abuse of innocent Americans’ privacy.” (Nakashima and Warrick 8/5/2007) The ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson has a succinct explanation of why the Democrats folded so quickly: “Whenever the president says the word terrorism, they roll over and play dead.” (Keefe 8/6/2007)
AT&T Whistleblower: Democratic Leadership Colluded in Passing PAA - AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and December 15-31, 2005) will later write that the Democrats played a far more active role in getting the PAA passed than others acknowledge. He will quote a 2008 column by liberal civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald, who will write: “[I]n 2006, when the Congress was controlled by [then-Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN] and [then-House Speaker] Denny Hastert [R-IL], the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [D-MD], [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] to accomplish that.” According to Klein, once the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, they engaged in “pure theater, posturing as opponents of the illegal NSA program while seeking a way to protect the president.” The few principled Democrats to actively oppose the legislation, such as Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), were, Klein will write, “hamstrung by their own leadership.” The PAA passage was accompanied by refusals from the Democratic leaders of “the relevant Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, which were now led by Democrats such as [John D.] Rockefeller, [Dianne] Feinstein (see February 1-6, 2006), and [Patrick] Leahy in the Senate, and John Conyers and Sylvestre Reyes in the House,” who “quickly decided not to launch any serious investigations into the NSA spying.” Klein will later add that at the time of the PAA passage, he was unaware of how thoroughly Democrats had been briefed on the NSA program (see October 1, 2001, October 11, 2001, October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001, July 17, 2003, and March 10, 2004), “and thus were in on the secret but took no action to stop it.” (Greenwald 6/19/2008; Klein 2009, pp. 86-87)
During the Senate debate over the controversial Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007), Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) says that the threat from terrorism is so dire, and so imminent, that lawmakers should pass the law and then get out of Washington as soon as they can to save their own lives. (Congress goes into recess in a few days.) Lott says that Congress needs to pass the PAA, otherwise, “the disaster could be on our doorstep.” He continues, “I think it would be good to leave town in August, and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th.” Lott provides no information about any predictions of an imminent terrorist attack on Washington or anywhere else. (Roll Call 8/2/2007)
A bipartisan immigration bill fails in the Senate, largely because of opposition mounted by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who mobilizes public opinion against it. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) later explains: “We came out and said, ‘We have a grand compromise.‘… Republicans and Democrats, moderates, conservatives, liberals. ‘We got a deal.’ And then we went home to celebrate, but we didn’t bother to say what was in it. Rush Limbaugh said, ‘This is amnesty’ [for illegal immigrants]. We were dead at that moment because they had a one-word bumper sticker, ‘amnesty,’ and we had a six-paragraph explanation. We got killed. So talk radio has a real impact.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later write that Limbaugh “trumpet[s] his influence” by playing the audio clip of Lott’s statement in his radio broadcast. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 58)
A press investigation reveals that corporate interests are behind a supposedly grassroots effort to block Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) from ascending to the high court. Raw Story reporters Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane have learned that the Committee for Justice (CFJ), an organization they call “an astroturf group established by big business in July 2002 to create an appearance of popular support for President Bush’s judicial nominees,” is taking the lead in the effort to oppose the Sotomayor nomination. The head of the CFJ, Curt Levey, lambasted Sotomayor as an “intellectual lightweight” the day of her nomination (see May 26, 2009), and has made regular media appearances since then attacking her as racist and biased. CFJ was created in 2002 by Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), who recruited Washington lawyer C. Boyden Gray to “create a fake grassroots organization” to support conservative, pro-business jurists such as Charles Pickering and Chief Justice John Roberts. Gray, a former White House counsel, received the support of former President George H. W. Bush, Republican political adviser Karl Rove, and former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour. Gray has a strong history of creating “astroturf” organizations, which are lobbying and activist groups supposedly founded and led by ordinary citizens but that in fact are created and funded by large political and corporate interests. CFJ is one of the most successful of these creations, and has often been successful in placing pro-business judges on the bench. CFJ and other astroturf organizations founded or assisted by Gray have been funded by, among other firms, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, insurance giant AIG, and the Ameriquest Capital Corporation, receiving over $100 million since 1998. CFJ’s board includes Stan Anderson, the legal advisor to the Chamber of Commerce; John Engler, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers; former Republican governor Frank Keating, now president of the American Council of Life Insurers; and former Republican Senator Connie Mack. (Alexandrovna and Kane 6/5/2009)
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