Profile: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton
Positions that William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton has held:
William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton was a participant or observer in the following events:
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President Clinton submits his biannual report to Congress on the “National Emergency with Respect to Iran” that was declared in Executive Order 12170 (see November 14, 1979). The report, required under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, states that Iran is not in full compliance with the Algiers Accords (see January 19, 1981) which require Iran to maintain a certain amount of funds in a special security account for the purpose of honoring claims made against Iran by US claimants. [US President, 11/16/1998]
According to a US intelligence assessment, “[bin Laden] is actively planning against US targets and already may have positioned operatives for at least one operation.… Multiple reports indicate [he] is keenly interested in striking the US on its own soil… Al-Qaeda is recruiting operatives for attacks in the US but has not yet identified potential targets.” Later in the month, a classified document prepared by the CIA and signed by President Clinton states: “The intelligence community has strong indications that bin Laden intends to conduct or sponsor attacks inside the US.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; US Congress, 7/24/2003] This warning will be mentioned in the August 2001 memo given to President Bush entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001).
Nawaz Sharif meeting with US Defense Secretary William Cohen at the Pentagon on December 3, 1998. [Source: US Department of Defense]Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes to Washington to meet with President Clinton and other top Clinton administration officials. The number one issue for Clinton is Pakistan’s nuclear program, since Pakistan had recently illegally developed and exploded a nuclear weapon (see May 28, 1998). The second most important issue is Pakistan’s economy; the US wants Pakistan to support free trade agreements. The third most important issue is terrorism and Pakistan’s support for bin Laden. Author Steve Coll will later note, “When Clinton himself met with Pakistani leaders, his agenda list always had several items, and bin Laden never was at the top. Afghanistan’s war fell even further down.” Sharif proposes to Clinton that the CIA train a secret Pakistani commando team to capture bin Laden. The US and Pakistan go ahead with this plan, even though most US officials involved in the decision believe it has almost no chance for success. They figure there is also little risk or cost involved, and it can help build ties between American and Pakistani intelligence. The plan will later come to nothing (see October 1999). [Coll, 2004, pp. 441-444]
US President Bill Clinton and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reach an agreement on co-operation between their countries. According to a deal offered by Clinton, the US will refund Pakistan most of the $470 million it owes for a group of F-16 fighters ordered and paid for by Pakistan but never delivered (see August-September 1989). In return, Clinton asks Sharif to close down Pakistani nuclear proliferator A. Q. Khan and his operations, as well as training camps for radical Islamists in Afghanistan that are supported by Pakistan. However, Sharif does not fulfill his end of the bargain, and the Pakistani government continues to support both Khan and the training camps. According to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, Sharif thinks he can get away with the inaction because of Clinton’s preoccupation with the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal and the US’s generally permissive attitude to Pakistani nuclear weapons. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 286]
Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli. [Source: Public domain]On December 4, 1998, an item in President Clinton’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) is titled, “Bin Laden Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks.” The PDB says “Bin Laden and is allies are preparing for attacks in the US, including an aircraft hijacking to obtain the release of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, and Muhammad Sadiq ‘Awda. One source quoted a senior member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (IG) saying that, as of late October, the IG had completed planning for an operation in the US on behalf of bin Laden, but that the operation was on hold. A senior bin Laden operative from Saudi Arabia was to visit IG counterparts in the US soon thereafter to discuss options-perhaps including an aircraft hijacking.” The same source says bin Laden may implement plans to hijack US aircraft before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on December 20 and that two members of the operational team had evaded security checks in a recent trial run at a New York airport. A possible different source says that in late September, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, brother of the assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and described in the PDB as an IG leader, was planning to hijack a US airliner during the “next couple of weeks” to free Abdul-Rahman and other prisoners. The PDB also says that “some members of the bin Laden network have received hijack training, according to various sources, but no group directly tied to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization has ever carried out an aircraft hijacking. Bin Laden could be weighing other types of operations against US aircraft.” The PDB mentions other bin Laden related threats, including recent reports that the IG has obtained surface-to-air missiles and intends to move them from Yemen to Saudi Arabia to shoot down aircraft. [Washington Post, 7/18/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128-130] The private intelligence group Stratfor will later say that, in addition to his ties with IG, Islambouli worked with bin Laden in the Maktab al-Khidamat charity front in Pakistan and is believed to have lived in Afghanistan in the 1990s as “part of the group of key Egyptian advisers surrounding bin Laden.” Islambouli will formally join with al-Qaeda in 2006. [Stratfor, 8/10/2006] In early 1998, the CIA ignored information from a recently retired CIA agent that claimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was in a terrorist cell with Islambouli, both were experts on plane hijackings, and were planning to hijack planes (see Early 1998). Perhaps not coincidentally, on this same day, CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” against al-Qaeda in a memo to the US intelligence community (see December 4, 1998). Also on this day, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke holds a meeting of his interagency Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG) to discuss the threat. The group agrees that New York City airports should go on a maximum security alert that weekend and security should be boosted at other East Coast airports. The FBI, FAA, and New York City Police Department get versions of the PDB report. Later in December and again in January 1999 the source says the hijacking has been postponed because two operatives have been arrested in Washington or New York. But the FBI is unable to find any information to support the threat nor is it able to verify any arrests similar to what the source described, and the source remains mysterious. The high alert in New York airports is canceled by the end of January. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128-130] This PDB will be mentioned in President Bush’s famous August 6, 2001 PDB, but mentions that US officials “have not been able to corroborate” the plot (see August 6, 2001).
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Richard A. Clarke, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Ramzi Yousef, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, Muhammad Sadiq ‘Awda, Osama bin Laden, New York City Police Department, Maktab al-Khidamat
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Unocal announces it is withdrawing from the CentGas pipeline consortium, and closing three of its four offices in Central Asia. President Clinton refuses to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban, making business there legally problematic. A concern that Clinton will lose support among women voters for upholding the Taliban plays a role in the cancellation. [New York Times, 12/5/1998]
Air Traffic Controllers on board the USS Enterprise guide strike aircraft on bombing runs into Iraq. Photo taken December 17, 1998. [Source: US Navy]The US and Britain launch a joint series of over 250 air strikes against Iraqi military targets, in a campaign dubbed “Operation Desert Fox.” The air strikes are designed to, in the mission statement released by the US Navy, “degrade Saddam Hussein’s ability to make and to use weapons of mass destruction,” to “diminish Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war against his neighbors,” and to “demonstrate to Saddam Hussein the consequences of violating international obligations.” The air strikes are carried out by US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft from the USS Enterprise, from US and British military bases in the region. The strikes feature, among other weaponry, over 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from naval vessels and US Air Force B-52s. Defense officials say that many of the strikes focus on destroying or damaging targets in southern Iraq, including surface-to-air missile sites, airfields, and command-and-control sites, all with the aim of giving US pilots a “safer corridor” to reach targets in the north. [American Forces Press Service, 12/18/1998; Barletta and Jorgensen, 5/1999; Roberts, 2008, pp. 121; US Department of Defense, 3/7/2008] Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz will later say that at least 62 Iraqis are killed in the strikes. No US or British casualties are reported. [BBC, 2002]
Failure to Comply with UN Inspections - President Bill Clinton explains that the military operation was in response to Iraq’s refusal to comply with UN weapons inspections (see December 16, 1998). “The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors,” Clinton says. “Saddam’s deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, the Iraqi dictator has disarmed the inspectors.… Saddam has failed to seize the chance. So we had to act and act now.” Clinton continues, “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.” He has used them before, Clinton adds, and “left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.” [American Forces Press Service, 12/17/1998] US Secretary of Defense William Cohen says that the attacks “degraded Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical and biological weapons,” and defends the US’s right to act unilaterally against Iraq if it is in “our national interest.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees with Clinton’s assessment. “He is a serial breaker of promises,” Blair says. [CNN, 12/16/1998]
Real Aim to Destabilize Hussein? - In January 1999, reporter William Arkin, a defense specialist, will write that he believes the strikes were designed to do far more than punish Iraq for not complying with UN inspections. The extremely specific target listings—down to specific buildings—and the nature of the targets chosen will lead Arkin to believe that Desert Fox was designed to cripple Iraq’s ability to wage war. Only 13 of the 100 or so sites were identified as chemical or biological weapons production or research facilities, Arkin will write. Additionally, Arkin will comment that the US-British strikes were not just to “degrade” Iraq’s military capabilities, but to destabilize the Hussein regime. [Washington Post, 1/17/1999]
Accusations of Political Distraction - Many of Clinton’s political opponents, including Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators and radio hosts, accuse Clinton, both during and after the strikes, of attempting to use a military operation to distract the nation from his admission of a sexual liaison with intern Monica Lewinsky. [BBC, 2002]
Destroys Remainder of Iraq's WMD Stockpiles - In 2004, US weapons inspector David Kay will say that Desert Fox and other 1998 air strikes destroyed the remaining stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons left over from the Gulf War (see January 23, 2004).
President Bill Clinton signs a memorandum of notification authorizing the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden. The memo is sent to Clinton by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, apparently at the request of CIA Director George Tenet, who has discussed the memo with Berger and seems to have given it his blessing. The highly classified memo concerns operations by a group of CIA tribal assets in Afghanistan who are monitoring bin Laden. Their task had previously been to capture bin Laden and they had been banned from assassinating him, but these rules are now changed and a kill operation is authorized. The memo makes it very clear that “the president [is] telling the tribal leaders they could kill bin Laden.” 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow will later recall the memo tells the tribal leaders: “you may conduct an operation to kill him,” adding, “There were no euphemisms in the language.” Although the CIA is still legally prevented from assassinating people, Clinton administration lawyers now say that bin Laden is an imminent danger to the US, so he can be killed as a part of pre-emptive self-defense. Despite his role in drafting the memo, Tenet and his deputies will later claim to the 9/11 Commission that Clinton never issued such clear authorization (see Before January 14, 2004). However, the order to assassinate bin Laden is garbled within the CIA and the CIA’s bin Laden unit appears not to receive it (see December 26, 1998 and After). [Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 357-8]
Henry Shelton. [Source: US Military]National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeatedly seek consideration of a “boots on the ground” option to kill bin Laden, using the elite Delta Force. Clinton also supports the idea, telling Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton, “You know, it would scare the sh_t out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of helicopters into the middle of their camp.” However, Shelton says he wants “nothing to do” with such an idea. He calls it naive, and ridicules it as “going Hollywood.” He says he would need a large force, not just a small team. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke similiarly recalls Clinton saying to Shelton “in my earshot, ‘I think we ought to have US commandos go into Afghanistan, US military units, black ninjas jumping out of helicopters, and go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.’ And Shelton said: ‘Whoa! I don’t think we can do that. I’ll talk to Central Command.’ And of course Central Command came back and said, ‘Oh no, that’s too difficult.’” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] US Central Command chief General Anthony Zinni is considered the chief opponent to the “boots on the ground” idea. [Washington Post, 10/2/2002] Clinton orders “formal planning for a mission to capture the al-Qaeda leadership.” Reports are contradictory, but some claim Clinton was told such plans were drawn up when in fact they were not. [Time, 8/4/2002; Washington Post, 10/2/2002] In any event, no such plans are implemented.
Richard Barlow, a former intelligence analyst who was repeatedly fired for correctly claiming that Pakistan had a nuclear weapons program (see 1981-1982, August 1987-1988 and August 4, 1989), is awarded a total of $1 million by President Bill Clinton in compensation for the treatment he received. However, Barlow does not receive the money, as the settlement has to be ratified by Congress. When it runs into procedural problems, it is moved to the Court of Federal Claims to be reviewed. After Clinton is replaced by George W. Bush, CIA Director George Tenet and NSA Director Michael Hayden assert the government’s “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953) over Barlow’s entire legal claim, causing it to collapse due to lack of evidence. [Guardian, 10/13/2007]
President Bill Clinton rewrites a memo authorizing the CIA to use the Northern Alliance in an operation to assassinate Osama bin Laden. This memo follows another one signed by Clinton the previous year that allowed the agency to use a group of tribal fighters to kill bin Laden (see December 24, 1998). The draft February memo contains similar language to the earlier one, but applies to the Northern Alliance, not just the tribal assets. However, Clinton himself deletes the wording authorizing an operation to simply kill bin Laden. Clinton will later tell the 9/11 Commission that he does not recall why he gives the CIA permission to kill bin Laden through the tribal assets, but not through the Northern Alliance. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 360]
President Clinton signs Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 99-13 designating seven Iraqi opposition groups as being eligible to receive US federal funds under the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act (see October 31, 1998). The act stated that the policy of the US should be to support regime change in Iraq. The seven groups include the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Congress, the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Movement for Constitutional Monarchy, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. [White House, 2/4/1999]
US President Bill Clinton apologizes to Guatemalans for decades of US policy in support of a murderous military that “engaged in violent and widespread repression,” costing the lives of over 200,000 civilians. That policy “was wrong,” the president declares, “and the United States must not repeat that mistake.” [CNN, 3/10/1999; Washington Post, 3/11/1999; BBC, 3/11/1999; Doyle and Osorio, 2000]
President Clinton orders the US Air Force to participate in a NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo. The campaign lasts for 79 days, and constitutes the first time since the War Powers Resolution became law in 1974 that any president has deployed US forces into overseas combat for over 60 days without Congressional authorization. Clinton’s legal advisers argue that Clinton has all the authority he needs to continue the air war because on May 22 Congress passes an emergency spending bill to fund the Kosovo war, just days before the 60-day clock runs out. The War Powers Resolution explicitly forbids appropriations to count as authorization, so Clinton’s legal ground is shaky. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will note the unusual role reversal in Washington—Democrats, who had insisted that Republican presidents obey the War Powers Resolution, now stand by Clinton (or at least offer no overt criticism), and Republicans, who had argued that Congress had no right to challenge a president’s authority to conduct a war as he sees fit, now challenge Clinton’s authority under the selfsame War Powers Resolution they have previously criticized. The Congressional debate ends inconclusively when the air campaign ends. [Savage, 2007, pp. 65-66]
With the chances of a pipeline deal with the Taliban looking increasingly unlikely, President Clinton finally issues an executive order prohibiting commercial transactions with the Taliban. The order also freezes the Taliban’s US assets. Clinton blames the Taliban for harboring bin Laden. [CNN, 7/6/1999; US President, 7/12/1999]
Nawaz Sharif [Source: Publicity photo]In early May 1999, the Pakistani army, at the instigation of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, seizes a strategic height called Kargil in the Indian province of Kashmir. This creates a grave crisis between Pakistan in India. By early July, the CIA picks up intelligence that Pakistan is preparing to launch nuclear missiles against India if necessary. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes to the US on July 4 to meet with President Clinton about this. Clinton is livid and yells at Sharif for breaking promises, not only about Kashmir but also about failing to help with bin Laden. According to notes taken at the meeting, Clinton says he had “asked repeatedly for Pakistani help to bring Osama bin Laden to justice… [Sharif] promised often to do so but had done nothing. Instead, the ISI worked with bin Laden and the Taliban to foment terrorists.” Clinton threatens to release a statement calling worldwide attention to Pakistan’s support for terrorists. He adds, “You’ve put me in the middle today, set the US up to fail, and I won’t let it happen. Pakistani is messing with nuclear war.” Sharif backs down and immediately withdraws his troops from Kargil, ending the crisis. But as a result, Sharif becomes deeply unpopular in Pakistan. A few months later he will be ousted in a coup by Musharraf (see October 12, 1999), the general who started the crisis in the first place. [Coll, 2004, pp. 476-478]
President Clinton signs the National Missile Defense Act of 1999 (NMDA), which states in its entirety, “It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate).” The NMDA mandates that the US will deploy some sort of missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991), but Clinton will refuse to order the system’s deployment in 2000, in part because it has failed its tests and in part because to deploy the system would require the US to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), a move Clinton is unwilling to make. Clinton will acknowledge that the US makes its own national security decision, but will add, “We can never afford to overlook the fact that the actions and reactions of others in this increasingly interdependent world do bear on our security.” [US Senate, 7/22/1999; White House, 7/22/1999; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 173-174]
Former Senator John Danforth (R-MO), the newly empaneled special counsel who will head a government investigation of the FBI’s actions that led up to the 1993 debacle at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco (see April 19, 1993 and September 7-8, 1999), says his investigation will answer “the dark questions” still pending six years later. “Was there a cover-up? Did the government kill people? How did the fire start? And was there shooting?” Danforth asks, ticking off the issues he hopes to resolve. “Those are questions that go to the basic integrity of government, not judgment calls.” Danforth says the investigation will focus primarily on the events of April 19, 1993, the final day in a 51-day standoff between the FBI and the Davidians, including allegations that FBI agents fired at the compound during that final assault and military personnel took part in the assault (see August 28, 1999). As a “special counsel,” Danforth can impanel a grand jury and seek federal charges. “I come into this with a totally open mind,” Danforth says, with Attorney General Janet Reno standing at his side. “I come into this with the notion that the chips should fall where they may. And that’s going to happen.” Congressional Republicans praise Danforth’s appointment, while President Clinton calls him honorable and intelligent, and says, “Based on what I know of him, it [Danforth’s selection] was a good move by the attorney general.” Reno says she will turn over future decisions on Danforth’s investigation to her deputy, Eric Holder, in the interests of impartiality. Danforth says he will use private-sector investigators rather than FBI agents to do the actual investigating. US Attorney Edward Dowd of St. Louis, a Democrat, will resign his position to join Danforth as his chief assistant. [Knight Ridder, 9/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999]
The Senate, led by Republican opponents such as Jesse Helms (R-NC), votes not to ratify the UN’s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons (see September 10, 1996). This is the first time in 80 years that the Senate has refused to ratify a security-related treaty. Helms and other Senate Republicans do not wish to give up the US’s ability to test nuclear weapons if desired, nor do they want to impede the continued development of the “Star Wars” / “Brilliant Pebbles” missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). [Federation of American Scientists, 12/18/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 169] The Times of India notes that many of the opposing senators fear “that abandoning forever the right to conduct explosive nuclear tests will undermine the hegemonic position of the US. The world is virtually unipolar today and they would like to keep it that way.” But, the Times goes on to observe: “The irony is that President Bill Clinton wants the CTBT for precisely the same reason. For all his administration’s propaganda about disarmament, the CTBT is intended to lock in to place the technological lead the US has over other nuclear weapon states in terms of weapon designs and delivery systems.” [Times of India, 10/16/1999] The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, will later say, “The Senate vote against the ban on nuclear tests was a devastating blow to our efforts to gain acceptance of more intrusive inspections of nuclear facilities around the world.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 277]
Congress approves legislation which repeals the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, greatly reducing regulation of Wall Street and clearing the way for the cross-ownership of banks, securities firms and insurers. The measure is approved in the Senate by a vote of 90 to 8 and in the House by 362 to 57. President Bill Clinton will sign the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act into law on November 12th, 1999. [Library of Congress, 3/27/2009] The New York Times reports that passage of the bill elicits optimism that the measure will enhance American competitiveness and ensure American dominance in the global financial marketplace, as well as concerns that deregulation will lead to a future financial meltdown. The Times further notes that experts predict the new law will result in a wave of large financial mergers.
Optimism over Passage of the Measure - Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers praises the legislation, declaring that the law “will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.” Among others praising passage of the measure:
Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), sponsor of the bill, says: “We have a new century coming, and we have an opportunity to dominate that century the same way we dominated this century. Glass-Steagall, in the midst of the Great Depression, came at a time when the thinking was that the government was the answer. In this era of economic prosperity, we have decided that freedom is the answer.”
Rep Jim Leach (R-IA) remarks: “This is a historic day. The landscape for delivery of financial services will now surely shift.”
Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) says, “There are many reasons for this bill, but first and foremost is to ensure that US financial firms remain competitive.”
Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE) says, “The concerns that we will have a meltdown like 1929 are dramatically overblown.”
Warnings over Implications of the Measure - The measure provokes warnings from a handful of dissenters that “the deregulation of Wall Street would someday wreak havoc on the nation’s financial system,” according to the Times. Among the dissenters are:
Senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), who says: “I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930’s is true in 2010;”
Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), who remarks that the bill is “mean-spirited in the way it had tried to undermine the Community Reinvestment Act;”
Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), who says: “Glass-Steagall was intended to protect our financial system by insulating commercial banking from other forms of risk. It was one of several stabilizers designed to keep a similar tragedy from recurring. Now Congress is about to repeal that economic stabilizer without putting any comparable safeguard in its place.” [New York Times, 11/5/1999]
Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Byron L. Dorgan, Barney Frank, Bob Kerrey, Charles Schumer, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Congress, Jim Leach, Phil Gramm, Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Larry Summers, Paul Wellstone, Maxine Waters, Glass-Steagall Act
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
Congress allocates $10 million “to support efforts to bring about political transition in Iraq, of which not less than $8 million shall be made available only to Iraqi opposition groups designated under the ILA [Iraq Liberation Act of 1998] for political, economic humanitarian, and other activities of such groups, and not more than $2 million may be made available for groups and activities seeking the prosecution of Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi Government officials for war crimes.” President Clinton signs the appropriation bill into law on November 29. [US Congress, 11/29/1999 ] This $10 million dollars is the first allocation of funds to Iraqi opposition groups out of the total $97 million that was authorized by the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act (see October 31, 1998).
Ahmed Ressam. [Source: Public domain]The CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 205, 211] The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism [Washington Post, 4/2/2000; Associated Press, 6/28/2002] All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. [Newsweek, 3/31/2004]
The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center concludes in a classified report that bin Laden wants to inflict maximum casualties, cause massive panic, and score a psychological victory. He may be seeking to attack between five and 15 targets on the Millennium. “Because the US is bin Laden’s ultimate goal… we must assume that several of these targets will be in the US.” [Time, 8/4/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003] CIA Director George Tenet delivers this warning to President Clinton. Author Steve Coll later comments that Tenet also “grabbed the National Security Council’s attention with that prediction.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 482] The US takes action in a variety of ways (see Early December 1999). It will turn out that bin Laden did plan many attacks to be timed for the millennium celebrations, including ones inside the US, but all failed (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000).
As an al-Qaeda millennium plot is broken up in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), attention is focused on the fact that two of the plotters were long time US residents. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger sends a memo to President Clinton about the two men, Raed Hijazi and Khalil Deek. Hijazi had lived in California and then moved to Boston to drive a taxi there for several years. The 9/11 Commission will say Berger tells Clinton was a naturalized US citizen who had “been in touch with extremists in the United States as well as abroad.” Later in the month, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will warn Berger in an e-mail, “Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks in the US are likely.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 179, 501] Deek is arrested on December 11 (see December 11, 1999), but he will eventually be released without being charged (see May 2001). A few days later, Clarke authorizes a study that looks into Deek’s connections, but no action will be taken when it is discovered Deek’s next-door neighbor is still living in Anaheim, California, and running an al-Qaeda sleeper cell there (see December 14-25, 1999). Similarly, while Hijazi will be arrested overseas some months later (see September 2000), US intelligence seems oblivious to the other al-Qaeda operatives who have been his roommates and fellow taxi drivers in Boston (see June 1995-Early 1999 and October 2000). One of them, Nabil al-Marabh, will apparently go on to have a major role in the 9/11 plot (see for example January 2001-Summer 2001 and Early September 2001). Investigators will also fail to act on knowledge of financial transactions between Hijazi and three of the 9/11 hijackers (see Spring 2001).
On January 6, 2000, the CIA station in Malaysia begins passing details from the Malaysian government’s surveillance of the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Cofer Black, head of the CTC, orders that he be continually informed about the meeting. CIA Director George Tenet is frequently informed as well. They are given continual updates until the meeting ends on January 8. [Stern, 8/13/2003] National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and other top officials are briefed, but apparently President Clinton is not. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 225-26] However, it appears that the CIA deliberately and repeatedly fails to tell the FBI that one attendee, future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has an active visa to visit the US (see Mid-July 2004, January 6, 2000, and January 5-6, 2000). No evidence will be presented suggesting anyone else outside the CIA is told this crucial fact either. The Malaysia summit ends on January 8. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] Officially, the CIA will later claim to have lost future hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar as they left the meeting (see January 8, 2000). However, Almihdhar will later report back to al-Qaeda that he thought he was followed to the US (see Mid-July 2000). It will not be reported whether any of the other attendees are monitored after leaving the meeting.
Maj. Brock Gaston. [Source: State Department]CIA official Gary Berntsen and a US Army Special Forces major known as Brock (an apparent reference to Maj. Brock Gaston) lead a six-person team with the mission to enter Afghanistan and capture one of bin Laden’s top aides. The exact target is not specified; the team is expected to take advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves. The team passes through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, then meets up with Northern Alliance forces in the part of Afghanistan still under their control. But from the very beginning they encounter resistance from a CIA superior officer who is based in a nearby country and is in charge of CIA relations with the Northern Alliance. Known publicly only by his first name Lawrence, he apparently had a minor role in the Iran-Contra affair and has a personal dispute with Gaston. The team stays at Ahmad Shad Massoud’s Northern Alliance headquarters high in the Afghan mountains for about two weeks. However, they never have a chance to cross into Taliban territory for their mission because Lawrence is sending back a stream of negative messages to CIA headquarters about the risks of their mission. A debate ensues back at headquarters. Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorist Center, and his assistant Hank Crumpton support continuing the mission. But CIA Director George Tenet and his assistant Jim Pavitt cancel the mission on March 25. Upon returning to the US, Berntsen, Gaston, Black, and Crumpton formally call for Lawrence’s dismissal, but to no effect. Berntsen will later comment that Black and Crumpton “had shown a willingness to plan and execute risky missions. But neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bill Clinton had the will to wage a real fight against terrorists who were killing US citizens.” [CNN, 12/15/2001; Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 43-64]
President Clinton visits Pakistan. It is later revealed that the US Secret Service believes that the ISI was so deeply infiltrated by Islamic militant organizations, that it begs Clinton to cancel his visit. Specifically, the US government determined that the ISI had long-standing ties with al-Qaeda. When Clinton decides to go over the Secret Service’s protestations, his security takes extraordinary and unprecedented precautions. For instance, an empty Air Force One is flown into the country, and then Clinton arrives in a small, unmarked plane. [New York Times, 10/29/2001] In an effort not to be seen endorsing Musharraf, he stays in Pakistan for only five hours after visiting India for five days, and he is not photographed shaking hands with Musharraf. Clinton gives a brief speech televised nationally in Pakistan, warning that Pakistan cannot use jihad as foreign policy. “This era does not reward people who struggle in vain to redraw borders with blood,” he says. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 49-50] Clinton meets privately with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Clinton will later recall that he told Musharraf, “If he chose to pursue a peaceful, progressive path, I thought he had a fair chance to succeed, but I told him I thought terrorism would eventually destroy Pakistan from within if he didn’t move against it.” Musharraf is non-committal on most issues Clinton tries to discuss with him. [Clinton, 2005, pp. 902-903]
In an interview, President Clinton says he “gave in” to the Justice Department’s arguments to go forward with the April 1993 FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. The resulting fiery conflagration took the lives of almost 80 Davidians and touched off a never-ending storm of controversy, accusations, and alternative theories (see April 19, 1993). The transcript of the interview will not be released until July 2000. When the transcript is released, Attorney General Janet Reno will say both she and Clinton required assurances about the operation’s necessity. “I think we both had to be convinced, if you will,” Reno will say. Reno signed off on the final orders for the assault (see April 17-18, 1993). Clinton says: “I gave in to the people in the Justice Department who were pleading to go in early, and I felt personally responsible for what had happened, and I still do. I made a terrible mistake.” Reno will say that she and Clinton discussed the imminent assault and the answers she had received from senior FBI officials. “My recollection was that we had a very difficult situation, that there were many issues,” she will say. “I went over those issues with him. He wanted to make sure my questions had been answered.” [Dallas Morning News, 7/28/2000] In November 2000, Reno will tell a group of schoolchildren in New York City, “[I]n a way, I’ll never know what the right thing to do was” in ending the standoff, but people have to “live with [their] judgments.… I’ve tried to do what is right.” Reno will make her statement in response to a direct question by a young girl. [New York Post, 11/21/2000]
The Washington Post writes, “With little fanfare, [President Clinton] has begun to articulate a new national security doctrine in which terrorists and other ‘enemies of the nation-state’ are coming to occupy the position once filled by a monolithic communist superpower.” In his January 2000 State of the Union address, President Clinton predicts that terrorists and organized criminals will pose “the major security threat” to the US in coming decades. However, some claim that a “preoccupation with bin Laden has caused errors in judgment.” National Security Adviser Sandy Berger counters that the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks on US soil is “a reality, not a perception.… We would be irresponsible if we did not take this seriously.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke predicts that the US’s new enemies “will come after our weakness, our Achilles heel, which is largely here in the United States” (see April 2, 2000). [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]
President Clinton considers building a radar facility as part of a proposed national missile defense system. Clinton’s legal advisers have told him that he could “interpret” the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972) to allow such a facility, even though the treaty clearly prohibits any moves towards a missile defense system. Clinton later authorizes the construction of a radar facility in Alaska, but leaves the bulk of the decision-making to the next administration. [Agence France-Presse, 6/21/2000; Savage, 2007, pp. 67] Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, will withdraw from the treaty entirely (see December 13, 2001).
The Senate approves bipartisan legislation, the so-called “Stealth PAC” bill, that requires secretive tax-exempt organizations that raise and spend money on political activities to reveal their donors and expenditures. The so-called “527” organizations have flourished because until now, Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code has protected both their nonprofit status and their right to keep their donors and funding information secret (see 2000 - 2005). President Clinton will sign the bill into law. It is the first major legislative change in American campaign finance law in two decades (see January 8, 1980). Under the new law, Section 527 organizations raising over $25,000 a year must comply with federal campaign law, file tax returns, disclose the identities of anyone contributing over $200, and report expenditures in excess of $500. That information will be reported to the IRS every three months during an election year, and the information will be posted on the Internet. The bill takes effect as soon as Clinton signs it into law.
Passed Despite Republican Opposition - The House passed the bill on a 385-39 vote; only six Senate Republicans vote against the bill. Senate and House Republican leaders have blocked the bill for months. Clinton says, “Passage of this bill proves that public interest can triumph over special interests,” and urges Congress to pass a more comprehensive overhaul of campaign finance law. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says, “I’m not pretending we don’t have other loopholes to close, but those groups that have found this an easy, painless way to go on the attack are now going to have to scramble to figure out different ways.” Some ways that groups will avoid the requirements of the new law are to reorganize themselves as for-profit organizations—thus losing their tax exemptions—or trying to reorganize as other types of nonprofits. Many expect donors to rush big contributions to these 527 groups before the new law takes effect. Mike Castle (R-DE), a House Republican who supports the bill, says, “I am sure that the phones are ringing over on K Street right now about how to get money into the 527s before they are eliminated.” Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who helped Senate Republicans block the bill and who voted no on its passage, now calls it a “relatively benign bill,” downplaying his stiff opposition to the bill and to campaign finance regulation in general. McConnell advised Republicans up for re-election in November 2000 to vote yes for the bill “to insulate them against absurd charges that they are in favor of secret campaign contributions or Chinese money or Mafia money.” McConnell explains that he voted against the bill because it infringes on freedom of speech (see December 15, 1986). Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), the GOP’s presidential candidate, issues a statement supporting the bill: “As I have previously stated, I believe these third-party groups should have to disclose who is funding their ads. As the only candidate to fully disclose contributors on a daily basis, I have always been a strong believer in sunshine and full disclosure.” Bush defeated Republican challenger John McCain (R-AZ) in part because of the efforts of Republicans for Clean Air, a 527 group headed by Bush financier Sam Wyly and which spent $2.5 million attacking McCain’s environmental record (see March 2000 and After). McCain helped push the current bill through the Senate, and says: “This bill will not solve what is wrong with our campaign finance system. But it will give the public information regarding one especially pernicious weapon used in modern campaigns.”
527s Used by Both Parties - Both Democrats and Republicans have created and used 527 groups, which are free from federal oversight as long as they do not advocate for or against a specific candidate. The organizations use donations for polling, advertising, telephone banks, and direct-mail appeals, but are not subject to federal filing or reporting rules as long as they do not advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate. Some groups, such as the Republican Majority Issues Committee, a 527 organization aligned with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), intend to continue functioning as usual even after the bill is signed into law, while they examine their legal options. The committee head, Karl Gallant, says his organization will “continue on our core mission to give conservative voters a voice in the upcoming elections.” The Republican Majority Issues Committee is considered DeLay’s personal PAC, or political action committee; it is expected to funnel as much as $25 million into closely contested races between now and Election Day. Gallant says the organization will comply with the new law, but complains, “We are deeply concerned that Congress has placed the regulation of free speech in the hands of the tax collectors.” He then says: “We’re not going anywhere. You will have RMIC to amuse and delight you throughout the election cycle.” The Sierra Club’s own 527 organization, the Environmental Voter Education Campaign, says it will also comply “eagerly” with the new law, and will spend some $8 million supporting candidates who match the Sierra Club’s pro-environmental stance. “We will eagerly comply with the new law as soon as it takes effect,” says the Sierra Club’s Dan Weiss. “But it’s important to note that while we strongly support the passage of this reform, 527 money is just the tip of the soft-money iceberg. Real reform would mean banning all soft-money contributions to political parties.” Another 527 group affected by the new law is Citizens for Better Medicare, which has already spent $30 million supporting Republican candidates who oppose a government-run prescription drug benefit. Spokesman Dan Zielinski says the group may change or abandon its 527 status in light of the new law. “The coalition is not going away,” he says. “We will comply with whatever legal requirements are necessary. We’ll do whatever the lawyers say we have to do.” A much smaller 527, the Peace Voter Fund, a remnant of the peace movement of the 1970s and 80s, says it intends to engage in voter education and issue advocacy in about a dozen Congressional races. Executive director Van Gosse says the group will follow the new law and continue as before: “Disclosure of donors is not a major issue for us. So we’ll just say to donors in the future that they will be subject to federal disclosure requirements. It’s no biggie.” [New York Times, 6/30/2000; OMB Watch, 4/1/2002; Huffington Post, 9/28/2010]
Entity Tags: Karl Gallant, John McCain, Environmental Voter Education Campaign, Dan Zielinski, Dan Weiss, Citizens for Better Medicare, Van Gosse, US Senate, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, George W. Bush, Republican Majority Issues Committee, Republicans for Clean Air, Peace Voter Fund, Mike Castle, Mitch McConnell, Tom DeLay, Sierra Club, Sam Wyly, Russell D. Feingold
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
People involved in the 2000 PNAC report (from top left): Vice
President Cheney, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld,
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis
Libby, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, Undersecretary of Defense Dov
Zakheim, and author Eliot Cohen.
[Source: Public domain]The neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century writes a “blueprint” for the “creation of a ‘global Pax Americana’” (see June 3, 1997). The document, titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century, was written for the George W. Bush team even before the 2000 presidential election. It was written for future Vice President Cheney, future Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, future Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Florida Governor and Bush’s brother Jeb Bush, and Cheney’s future chief of staff Lewis Libby. [Project for the New American Century, 9/2000, pp. iv and 51 ]
Plans to Overthrow Iraqi Government - The report calls itself a “blueprint for maintaining global US preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.” The plan shows that the Bush team intends to take military control of Persian Gulf oil whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power and should retain control of the region even if there is no threat. It says: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” The report calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the internet, the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran and other countries. It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool” (see February 7, 2003). [Project for the New American Century, 9/2000 ; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/7/2002]
Greater Need for US Role in Persian Gulf - PNAC states further: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
'US Space Forces,' Control of Internet, Subversion of Allies - PNAC calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the Internet, and the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran, and other countries.
Bioweapons Targeting Specific Genotypes 'Useful' - It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”
'A New Pearl Harbor' - However, PNAC complains that thes changes are likely to take a long time, “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/12/2003]
Bush Will Claim a 'Humble' Foreign Policy Stance - One month later during a presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush will assert that he wants a “humble” foreign policy in the Middle East and says he is against toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq because it smacks of “nation building” (see October 11, 2000). Around the same time, Cheney will similarly defend Bush’s position of maintaining President Clinton’s policy not to attack Iraq, asserting that the US should not act as though “we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world, taking down governments.” [Washington Post, 1/12/2002] Author Craig Unger will later comment, “Only a few people who had read the papers put forth by the Project for a New American Century might have guessed a far more radical policy had been developed.” [Salon, 3/15/2004] A British member of Parliament will later say of the PNAC report, “This is a blueprint for US world domination—a new world order of their making. These are the thought processes of fantasist Americans who want to control the world.” [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/7/2002] Both PNAC and its strategy plan for Bush are almost virtually ignored by the media until a few weeks before the start of the Iraq war (see February-March 20, 2003).
Entity Tags: Robert Kagan, Robert Martinage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Killebrew, Peter Rodman, Project for the New American Century, Roger Barnett, Paula J. Dobriansky, Saddam Hussein, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Steve Forbes, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William J. Bennett, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Vin Weber, Stephen A. Cambone, Steve Rosen, Thomas Donnelly, Norman Podhoretz, Phil Meilinger, Midge Decter, Donald Kagan, Donald Rumsfeld, Dov S. Zakheim, Devon Gaffney Cross, Aaron Friedberg, Abram Shulsky, Michael Vickers, Dan Quayle, Eliot A. Cohen, Dan Goure, Alvin Bernstein, Barry Watts, David Epstein, Elliott Abrams, Frank Gaffney, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, James Lasswell, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mark P. Lagon, Mackubin Owens, Francis Fukuyama, Henry S. Rowen, Gary Schmitt, Fred C. Ikle, Frederick Kagan, David Fautua, Hasam Amin, George Weigel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence
The first Predator flight over Afghanistan on September 7, 2000 captures bin Laden circled by security in his Tarnak Farms complex. [Source: CBC]An unmanned spy plane called the Predator begins flying over Afghanistan, showing incomparably detailed real-time video and photographs of the movements of what appears to be bin Laden and his aides. It flies successfully over Afghanistan 16 times. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] President Clinton is impressed by a two-minute video of bin Laden crossing a street heading toward a mosque inside his Tarnak Farms complex. Bin Laden is surrounded by a team of a dozen armed men creating a professional forward security perimeter as he moves. The Predator has been used since 1996, in the Balkans and Iraq. One Predator crashes on takeoff and another is chased by a fighter, but it apparently identifies bin Laden on three occasions. Its use is stopped in Afghanistan after a few trials, mostly because seasonal winds are picking up. It is agreed to resume the flights in the spring, but the Predator fails to fly over Afghanistan again until after 9/11. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-21] On September 15, 2001, CIA Director Tenet apparently inaccurately tells President Bush, “The unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft that was now armed with Hellfire missiles had been operating for more than a year out of Uzbekistan to provide real-time video of Afghanistan.” [Washington Post, 1/29/2002]
Hours after the USS Cole bombing in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), President Clinton says regarding the bombing: “If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.” [ABC News, 10/12/2000] But the US will not quickly retaliate against al-Qaeda, as it did with missile strikes after the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa (see August 20, 1998), despite convincing evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole bombing (see Shortly After October 12, 2000, November 2000 or After, and November 7, 2000).
Congress substantially increases its support for Iraqi opposition organizations, more than doubling the groups’ funding to $25 million for 2001. Of this amount, $18 million is specifically designated for the Iraqi National Congress: $12 million for “food, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance,” and $6 million for the “production and broadcasting inside Iraq of radio and satellite television programming.” In addition, $2 million is allocated for groups and activities seeking the prosecution of Saddam Hussein, while the remaining $5 million is “to support efforts to bring about political transition in Iraq.”
[US Congress, 11/6/2000 ; US Congress, 11/6/2000 ]
The logo for the 2000 Green Party presidential ticket, featuring Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke. [Source: 4President (.org)]Many Democrats blame third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader for the election confusion in Florida (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000), noting that had he not run, most of those who voted for him would have voted for Democratic presidential contender Al Gore instead and thus given Gore an unquestionable win. Nader ran on the left-wing Green Party ticket, winning 2,883,105 votes nationwide (2.73 percent of the popular vote), and, more importantly, 97,488 votes, or 1.63 percent, of Florida’s electorate. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper writes, “Ralph Nader is a jerk” who seeks media attention like Pat Buchanan and Jesse Jackson, and “he can match them in the ego department as well.” And “isn’t it great for Ralph that instead of walking around as a nostalgic trivia question from the 1970s—the activist equivalent of [television actor] John Ritter—that he was getting so much attention again. Congratulations. Jerk.” A Boston Globe editorial states, “If Ralph Nader had not been in the race, Al Gore would today be preparing to become president.” The vote for Nader in Florida “was the key to George W. Bush’s” small lead there, and without Nader, “Gore would probably have gained enough of these to defeat Bush unless the latter does extraordinarily well in the recount.” Nationally, Gore “could have earned enough of Nader’s 2,655,233” to win Oregon and New Hampshire “and give him a convincing national plurality.” Though Nader’s supporters “raise serious questions” on several issues, “they chose the wrong campaign to make their point.” The Globe concludes that before this election, Nader “had earned an honored place in US history as a pioneer in consumer safety. If Bush prevails in Florida, Nader will become a footnote as the willful eccentric who denied Gore the political prize he deserved.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) says: “Ralph Nader is not going to be welcome anywhere near the corridors. Nader cost us the election.” Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) says: “He cost Al Gore the race. Not only by what happened in Florida, but by making these other states a threat to Al Gore. Not to recognize what was at stake—or to dismiss it if he did—was dangerous and represented a type of arrogance. As a result, he lost a lot of credibility.” AFL-CIO president John Sweeney calls Nader’s campaign “reprehensible,” and says: “As a rule, we really reject the role that Nader played in the political process this time around. I don’t know if there’s any room in a national election for president for somebody who is a message candidate.” Enviro Working Group president Ken Cook says: “The public interest community is going to spend tens of millions of dollars a year for the next four years playing defense. I don’t think [Nader is] going to build a Green Party any more than O.J.‘s out there looking for a murderer,” referring to notorious murder suspect O.J. Simpson, who famously claims to be aggressively searching for the person who supposedly killed his wife and her boyfriend. Miramax Studio chairman and Gore supporter Harvey Weinstein says Nader is a “name that will go down in infamy.” According to writer Harold Evans, President Clinton was “very emphatic about the damage Nader had done to Gore” at a post-election gathering. Former Nader supporter Larry Marx says: “Ralph got tunnel vision and lost sight of progressive goals. People remember those kind of things, and there’s a price to be paid.” Polls show that 80 percent of Florida citizens who voted for Nader would have voted for Gore had Nader not been on the ballot, giving Gore a presumed 77,990 extra votes—far more than the number Gore would have needed to take Florida. Fellow third-party candidate Pat Buchanan notes, “Mr. Nader, I believe, can take credit for having sunk… the Gore candidacy.” Nader himself is defiant, noting that Gore failed to win his own home state of Tennessee or Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, and saying: “The Democrats must find their progressive roots or watch the party wither away, or become a crypto-Republican Party, seeking the same money and voters.… I’ve always said that it was Al Gore’s election to lose, that only Al Gore could beat Al Gore. If Democrats are disappointed with the returns, they need to take a long, close look at their party and the empty campaign waged by Al Gore.” [Leip, 2000; National Journal, 11/9/2000]
Entity Tags: Harold Evans, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Boston Globe, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Green Party, Ralph Nader, Richard Roeper, Larry Marx, Joseph Biden, John J. Sweeney, Harvey Weinstein, Patrick Buchanan, George W. Bush, Ken Cook, Kate Michelman
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
In a memo to President Clinton that is also widely distributed in the US intelligence community, CIA Director George Tenet warns: “The next several weeks will bring an increased risk of attacks on our country’s interests from one or more Middle Eastern terrorist groups… The volume of credible threat reporting has grown significantly in the past few months, particularly concerning plans by Osama bin Laden’s organization for new attacks in Europe and the Middle East.… Our most credible information on bin Laden activity suggests his organization is looking at US facilities in the Middle East, especially the Arabian peninsula, in Turkey and Western Europe. Bin Laden’s network is global however and capable of attacks in other regions, including the United States.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 128-129] Just one day later, Clinton will brief incoming President Bush on the al-Qaeda threat (see December 19, 2000).
Clinton and Bush meeting in the White House on December 19, 2000. [Source: NBC]President Clinton and President-Elect Bush meet for their "exit interview," in a two-hour meeting. [CNN, 12/19/2000] Clinton gives Bush his list of his top five priorities. At the top of the list is dealing with Osama bin Laden. Clinton also discusses the tensions between Pakistan and India, who are threatening each other with nuclear strikes; the crisis in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine; he discusses North Korea; and he discusses Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Bush shakes Clinton’s hand after Clinton wraps up his presentation, and says, "Thanks for your advice, Mr. President, but I think you’ve got your priorities wrong. I’m putting Saddam at the top of the list." [Moore, 3/15/2004, pp. 16-17] Just one day before, CIA Director George Tenet had warned Clinton that al-Qaeda could attack US interests in the next several weeks (see December 18, 2000). In 2003, Clinton will speak about the interview, saying that he recognized Bush felt the biggest security issues facing the US was Iraq and a national missile defense: "I told him that in my opinion, the biggest security problem was Osama bin Laden." [Reuters, 10/16/2003]
Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, directs federal agencies to freeze more than 300 pending regulations issued by the administration of Bill Clinton. The regulations affect areas ranging from health and safety to the environment and industry. The delay, Card says, will “ensure that the president’s appointees have the opportunity to review any new or pending regulations.” The process expressly precludes input from average citizens. Inviting such comments, agency officials conclude, would be “contrary to the public interest.” Almost all of the regulations are later overturned. [US News and World Report, 12/23/2003]
After George W. Bush is inaugurated into office, the manner in which the daily intelligence briefings are presented to the president changes. President Bill Clinton read the PDBs, usually about 12 pages in length, himself and often had no need for the follow-up oral briefings. Bush, on the other hand, prefers a shorter seven-to-10-page PDB containing “more targeted hard intelligence” items. The PDB is delivered to him orally, as he reads along. According to the Washington Post, the CIA’s top officials personally review the PDB before it is presented to Bush. “Tenet reviews the PDB with the briefer as they drive from the director’s Maryland home to the White House. On the way, Tenet often makes notes and looks over the backup material the briefer has brought. Tenet and, often, the deputy director for intelligence have already looked it over before going to bed the night before, though it is finished by staffers who go to work at midnight and monitor incoming intelligence throughout the night.” Tenet is present during the actual briefing and “expands where he believes necessary and responds to questions by Bush and others,” the Post reports. [CNN, 1/18/2001; Washington Post, 5/24/2002] According to retired veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the CIA director’s presence during these briefing is highly unusual. The daily briefings began during the Reagan administration at the suggestion of then-Vice President George H. W. Bush. According to McGovern, the briefings were done at that time by a “small team of briefers… comprised of senior analysts who had been around long enough to earn respect and trust.” McGovern, who did such briefings for the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and the national security assistant from 1981 to 1985, says that briefers “had the full confidence of the CIA director, who… rarely inserted himself into the PDB process.…. The last thing we briefers needed was the director breathing down our necks.” McGovern suggests that Tenet’s presence at the briefings possibly influenced the content of the briefing. [Truthout (.org), 3/5/2005]
The Chevron oil tanker named after National Security Advisor Rice. [Source: ABC News]George W. Bush is inaugurated as the 43rd US President, replacing Bill Clinton. The only Cabinet-level figure to remain permanently in office is CIA Director Tenet, appointed in 1997 and reputedly a long-time friend of George H. W. Bush. FBI Director Louis Freeh stays on until June 2001. Numerous figures in Bush’s administration have been directly employed in the oil industry, including Bush, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Adviser Rice. Rice had been on Chevron’s Board of Directors since 1991, and even had a Chevron oil tanker named after her. [Salon, 11/19/2001] It is later revealed that Cheney is still being paid up to $1 million a year in “deferred payments” from Halliburton, the oil company he headed. [Guardian, 3/12/2003] Enron’s ties also reach deep into the administration. [Washington Post, 1/18/2002]
George W. Bush taking the oath of office. [Source: White House/ Wally McNamara]George W. Bush is inaugurated as president, replacing President Bill Clinton. Bush is sworn in after a tumultuous, sharply disputed election that ended with a US Supreme Court decision in his favor (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). He takes the oath of office on the same Bible his father, George H.W. Bush, used in his own 1989 inauguration; the oath is administered by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In his brief inaugural address, delivered outside the US Capitol, Bush asks Americans to “a commitment to principle with a concern for civility.… Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.” In words apparently chosen to reflect on the criticisms surrounding former President Clinton and his notorious affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Bush says, “I will live and lead by these principles—to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility, and try to live it as well.” He continues addressing the American people, saying: “I ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.” At a post-ceremonial luncheon, Bush issues a series of executive orders, some designed to block or roll back several Clinton-era regulations. He also acknowledges that because of the election turmoil, many Americans believe “we can’t get anything done… nothing will happen, except for finger-pointing and name-calling and bitterness.” He then says: “I’m here to tell the country that things will get done. Republicans and Democrats will come together to do what’s right for America.” [New York Times, 1/21/2001]
Thousands of Protesters - Thousands of protesters line the streets during Bush’s ceremonial drive to the Capitol, a fact not heavily reported by many press outlets. Salon reports, “Not since Richard Nixon paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1973 has a presidential inauguration drawn so many protesters—and last time, people were out to protest the Vietnam War.” Though Capitol Police refuse to estimate the size of the crowd lining the street, Salon reports that “many thousands of protesters were in evidence.” Liz Butler of the Justice Action Movement, the umbrella organization that helped coordinate the protests, says: “The level of people on the streets shows that people are really upset about lack of democratic process. They took it to the streets. We saw tens of thousands. We saw far more protesting Bush than supporting him.” Some of the people on the streets are Bush supporters, but many more are not, and carry signs such as “Bush Cheated,” “Hail to the Thief,” “Bush—Racism,” “Bushwhacked by the Supremes,” and others. The crowd, though outspoken in its protests and unrestrained in its heckling of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, is generally peaceful, and no serious violence is reported, though a few minor altercations do take place, and large contingents of police in riot gear—including personnel from every police department in the District of Columbia as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and from departments in Maryland and Virginia—are on hand. At least one protester throws an egg at the limousine transporting Bush, Cheney, and their families to the inaugural ceremonies; perhaps in response to the protests, Bush breaks with tradition laid down by earlier presidents and does not walk any large portion of the parade route. Nine people are arrested for disorderly conduct, most for allegedly throwing bottles and other debris. Bulter says: “Of course, we’re ashamed that Bush has decided to be a ‘uniter’ by uniting people against him. They all chose to come out in the freezing rain—even the weather couldn’t stop these people.” Protester Mary Anne Cummings tells a reporter: “I think it’s important to remind the incoming administration the country does not want a right-wing mandate. They did not vote for a right-wing mandate.” [Salon, 1/20/2001; CNN, 1/20/2001; New York Times, 1/21/2001] Thousands of protesters march in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities as well. [CNN, 1/20/2001]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, William Rehnquist, Salon (.com), Justice Action Movement, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George Herbert Walker Bush, George W. Bush, Mary Anne Cummings, Liz Butler, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina, 2000 Elections, Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties, Neoconservative Influence
Fed by stories from unnamed White House officials, the media reports that Air Force One was vandalized and looted by Clinton officials during the aircraft’s last trip with Clinton and former Clinton staffers on board. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell tells viewers, “The Air Force will replace Air Force One glasses and four hand towels, apparently pilfered by passengers traveling with the Clintons on their last plane ride home.” Fox’s Brit Hume says: “The raid that was conducted aboard that Air Force plane, the presidential plane, although it’s not called Air Force One because the president was no longer—Mr. Clinton, Mr. Clinton was no longer president—on the last flight to New York… was stripped bare. The plane’s porcelain, china… and silverware, and salt and pepper shakers, blankets and pillow cases, nearly all items bearing the presidential seal, were taken by Clinton staffers who went along for the ride. The Washington Times quoted a military steward as saying that even a supply of toothpaste was stolen from a compartment under a sink.” CNN’s Kate O’Beirne tells viewers: “During Bill Clinton’s final flight, the plane was stripped bare and not by sentimental staffers seeking mementos. Air Force One souvenirs were quickly posted for auction online. Why not make a final buck off the White House? Outrageous, but not surprising.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/21/2001; Salon, 5/23/2001] Weeks later, the story will be debunked by an Andrews Air Force Base spokesman (see February 8, 2001) and by President Bush himself (see February 14, 2001).
Tony Snow. [Source: Symonsez (.com)]Conservative pundit Tony Snow, who was a speechwriter for the first President Bush, alleges that Clinton aides rampaged through the White House and through Air Force One in the last days of the Clinton administration, leaving wholesale wreckage in both sites—giving Washington “one last White Trash Weekend,” he writes. The White House “was a wreck,” he alleges: “They trashed word processors, left obscene messages on voice-mail machines, cut some phone lines and re-routed others, tinkered with computers, scrawled obscenities on walls, soiled rugs and carpets, tipped over desks, vandalized file cabinets, left nasty messages for their successors—and generally went that extra mile to prove Team Clinton, for all its good and decent public servants, included a record number of punks.” Snow also repeats allegations that Air Force One was subjected to systematic theft, writing that after the presidential plane took former President Clinton and some aides to New York following the inauguration (“loaned graciously by President George W. Bush [after] Clinton insisted on the grand transport because he wanted something befitting his personal grandeur”), the aircraft “looked as if it had been stripped by a skilled band of thieves—or perhaps wrecked by a trailer park twister.” Snow alleges that many items, including silverware, porcelain dishes with the presidential seal, pillows, blankets, and even candy and toothpaste, were stolen from Air Force One by Clinton aides and perhaps the Clintons themselves. “It makes one feel grateful that the seats and carpets are bolted down,” he says. “Nothing better expresses the narcissistic tackiness of the Clinton years than the last-day exit, complete with its kangaroo-court justice, graceless self-celebration, opportunistic abuse of the gift-receiving privilege, and wanton desecration of the nation’s most important political shrine, the White House.” Snow’s assertions are contradicted by officials at Andrews Air Force Base, home of the presidential jets, who tell reporters that nothing is missing from Air Force One. Weeks later, President Bush will acknowledge that nothing was taken from Air Force One (see February 8, 2001 and February 14, 2001). [Jewish World Review, 1/26/2001; Kansas City Star, 5/18/2001] Snow also passes along allegations that the Clintons were given hundreds of thousands of dollars of illicit gifts and contributions, and that First Lady Hillary Clinton posted “a weird variation on a bridal registry, establishing password-protected sites in which contributors could pledge to purchase specific items selected in advance by the Clintons’ design teams for their his ‘n’ hers palazzos.” [Jewish World Review, 1/26/2001] As with the Air Force One allegations, the allegations of vandalism and theft, and the gift registry, will prove to be almost entirely false (see May 18, 2001).
The Washington Post reports that the US has confirmed the link between al-Qaeda and the October 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). [Washington Post, 1/27/2001] This conclusion is stated without hedge in a February 9 briefing for Vice President Cheney. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] In the wake of that bombing, Bush stated on the campaign trail, “I hope that we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action.… There must be a consequence.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz later complains that by the time the new administration is in place, the Cole bombing was “stale.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld concurs, stating that too much time had passed to respond. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The new Bush administration fails to resume the covert deployment of cruise missile submarines and gunships on six-hour alert near Afghanistan’s borders that had begun under President Clinton. The standby force gave Clinton the option of an immediate strike against targets in Afghanistan harboring al-Qaeda’s top leadership. This failure makes a possible assassination of bin Laden much more difficult. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
President George W. Bush, discussing his unwillingness to revoke Bill Clinton’s pardon of financier Marc Rich, says, “I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but my predecessors as well.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 1/29/2001]
Former President Clinton asks aides to investigate reports of vandalism alleged to have been perpetrated by outgoing members of his staff (see January 25-27, 2001 and January 26, 2001). If warranted, Clinton says he and his former officials will “make amends.” Clinton spokesman Jake Siewert says that Bush officials declined to allow Clinton officials to examine the reported damage: “We made an offer to go over and survey what was done—take a look and see if we can make amends. We asked to take a look at the damage and offered to try to sort it out. They said that it was isolated incidents and that that would not be necessary.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2001] The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
A. Q. Khan receiving a medal. [Source: Associated Press]The BBC later reports, “After the elections, [US intelligence] agencies [are] told to ‘back off’ investigating the bin Ladens and Saudi royals, and that anger[s] agents.” This follows previous orders to abandon an investigation of bin Laden relatives in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996), and difficulties in investigating Saudi royalty. [BBC, 11/6/2001] An unnamed “top-level CIA operative” says there is a “major policy shift” at the National Security Agency at this time. Bin Laden could still be investigated, but agents could not look too closely at how he got his money. One specific CIA investigation hampered by this new policy is an investigation in Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan and his Khan Laboratories. Khan is considered the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability. But since the funding for this nuclear program gets traced back to Saudi Arabia, restrictions are placed on the inquiry. [Palast, 2002, pp. 99-100] Also in early 2001, FBI agent Robert Wright, attempting to pursue an investigation into Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi, is told by FBI superiors, “it’s just better to let sleeping dogs lie”(see January-March 2001). Reporter Greg Palast notes that President Clinton was already hindering investigations by protecting Saudi interests. However, as he puts it, “Where Clinton said, ‘Go slow,’ Bush policymakers said, ‘No go.’ The difference is between closing one eye and closing them both.” [Palast, 2002, pp. 102]
Media stories that President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton accepted an inappropriate amount of gifts in the final days of the Clinton administration prove to be false. NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell led the story, claiming that Clinton supporters gave the first family approximately $190,027 of gifts, mostly to furnish their new homes. Mitchell incorrectly implied that Hillary Clinton accepted much of the gifts after she was elected US Senator for New York, but before she was sworn in, enabling her to duck the Senate’s ban on expensive gifts. The reality is less sensational. Some of the gifts were given as long ago as 1993, but were not listed until 2001, and most of the gifts that supposedly went to decorate the Clintons’ homes actually reside in the White House Museum collections, donated by the Clintons. [Salon, 1/31/2001]
John Derbyshire. [Source: John Derbyshire]National Review columnist John Derbyshire “satirically” advocates the murder of Chelsea Clinton, the only daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, in order to stamp out the Clinton bloodline once and for all. Former President Clinton has left the White House, to spend the rest of his life “goosing waitresses [and] defending himself in court.” Hillary “has no future beyond the US Senate… [she is] maxed out.” But, he warns, “Clintonism may yet rise again.… On February 27th, Chelsea Clinton will turn 21.”
'I Hate Chelsea Clinton' - Derbyshire confesses: “I hate Chelsea Clinton. I admit it’s not easy to justify my loathing of this person. I can pick out causes, but none of them is one hundred per cent rational.… I admit, I hate Chelsea because she is a Clinton.” After noting the negative reactions to his previous attack on the younger Clinton’s physical appearance, he acknowledges that she hasn’t committed the “array of crimes” her father is allegedly responsible for, but “she doesn’t deserve any credit for not having done these things; she just hasn’t had time yet.” He writes that since she was 18, she has “sign[ed] on to the Great Clinton Project. Which is, has always been, and forever will be, to enrich the family from the public fisc, and to lie, bomb, bribe, and intimidate your way out of trouble when necessary.”
'Sippenhaft' - Derbyshire notes that in totalitarian societies of the past, many people were executed merely because of their family connections, and says the same should be considered for Chelsea Clinton. “Chelsea is a Clinton,” he writes. “She bears the taint; and though not prosecutable in law, in custom and nature the taint cannot be ignored. All the great despotisms of the past—I’m not arguing for despotism as a principle, but they sure knew how to deal with potential trouble—recognized that the families of objectionable citizens were a continuing threat. In Stalin’s penal code it was a crime to be the wife or child of an ‘enemy of the people.’ The Nazis used the same principle, which they called Sippenhaft, ‘clan liability.’ In Imperial China, enemies of the state were punished ‘to the ninth degree’: that is, everyone in the offender’s own generation would be killed, and everyone related via four generations up, to the great-great-grandparents, and four generations down, to the great-great-grandchildren, would also be killed.… We don’t, of course, institutionalize such principles in our society, and a good thing too. Our humanity and forbearance, however, has a cost. The cost is that the vile genetic inheritance of Bill and Hillary Clinton may live on to plague us in the future. It isn’t over, folks.” [National Review, 2/15/2001]
'Hysterical Idiots' - After a week of angry criticism, Derbyshire will write a column defending his original column as “satire,” blaming “liberals” for “missing the joke,” and admitting his column “wasn’t meant to be a thigh-slapper. I had a point to make: There could be another Clinton in our future, and on present evidence (admittedly rather scant), it would be a chip off the old block. That’s fair comment. However, my tone was partly tongue in cheek.… Humor and irony are especially tricky.” He asks, rhetorically, if he intends to apologize, and answers himself: “In your dreams. I make it a point of principle never to apologize to hysterical idiots.” [National Review, 2/22/2001]
US Attorney Alejandro N. Mayorkas, who serves the Southern District of California, announces he is stepping down as of April 20. Mayorkas is one of the small number of US Attorneys allowed to keep his position for any length of time after President Bush took office in January (see January 2001). Mayorkas, a Democrat, was appointed during the Clinton administration. He says he is responsible for President Clinton issuing the controversial pardon of convicted cocaine dealer Carlos Vignali Jr.; Mayorkas says he asked the White House to consider the pardon because of his compassion for Vignali’s family. Mayorkas has been US Attorney for something over two years, and supervises the largest US Attorney’s office in the nation. He emphasized the prosecution of hate crimes, environmental crimes, and consumer fraud during his tenure, and won plaudits for his successful prosecution of spree killer Buford Furrow, a white supremacist who killed a Filipino-American and shot four people at a Jewish community center (see August 10, 1999). The Justice Department says there is an extra issue with naming Mayorkas’s replacement. Traditionally, the home-state senators make a list of potential nominees for the president to choose from, but both senators from California are Democrats, as is the governor. Congressional Republicans may be asked to come up with a list. Attorney General John Ashcroft will name an interim prosecutor, or prosecutors, to serve in Mayorkas’s stead for up to 120 days. If no one is confirmed in that time, the US District Court has the authority to name a replacement. [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2001] Former judge Carol Lam will be named as Mayorkas’s replacement (see November 8, 2002). Mayorkas will eventually become the head of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, 8/24/2012]
The dispute between the US and China over the downed US spy plane over Chinese territory, and the subsequent detention of the crew by the Chinese (see March 31, 2001, April 4-5, 2001, April 6-7, 2001, and April 8, 2001), is resolved. Chinese officials approve the letter from US officials expressing regret over the incident, and early that morning, the crew members are released into American custody. [CNN, 4/2001] The plane, filled with secret US surveillance equipment, remains in Chinese custody; it will eventually be disassembled on Hainan Island by US crews and returned to American custody in July, 2001. [US Pacific Command, 7/2001] Defense expert Paul Beaver says China’s acquisition of even part of the surveillance equipment—whatever was not destroyed by the crew before the plane was boarded by Chinese troops—is an incalculable loss to the United States. China may cut the US lead in electronic warfare by at least a decade. “The EP-3E is the jewel in the crown of the US Navy’s electronic intelligence gathering capability and the loss of its secrets to a potential unfriendly nation is a grievous loss to the US,” Beaver writes. He writes that the loss of the EP-3 is perhaps the most serious loss to the US intelligence community since the downing of Francis Gary Powers’s U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union in 1961, and warns that China could even sell the technology it acquires to nations such as Russia or Pakistan. [BBC, 4/3/2001] It is not publicly revealed until 2006 that President Bush secretly engaged Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar to conduct the delicate negotiations with the Chinese over the US aircraft and crew. Bandar, a close friend of the Bush family and a senior Saudi official, is an unusual choice for the negotiations, but Bandar has a special relationship with the Chinese due to Saudi Arabia’s various deals to purchase arms and missiles, and the increasing reliance of China on Saudi oil. Bandar, never a modest man, considers it a personal favor from the Chinese to have them release the 24 American hostages. Bandar also oversees the wording of the American “apology” to the Chinese for the incident, where the US apologizes for entering Chinese airspace to make an emergency landing, but does not apologize for the E-3’s legitimate intelligence-gathering mission. Secretary of State Colin Powell, nominally in charge of the US negotiations, only finds out about Bandar’s efforts through the NSA’s monitoring of Bandar’s phone calls to the Chinese; when he calls Bandar to congratulate him on his success, Bandar snaps to the Secretary of State, “How the hell do you know?” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 28-29] Media pundit Eric Alterman characterizes the response of the US media as “extremely indulgent” towards Bush, with the notable exception of neoconservatives, who complain about “the national humilation [Bush] has brought upon the United States” and Bush’s “weakness…and fear.” Alterman says that while the incident itself is a foreign policy disaster, the manipulation of a compliant US media is brilliant. He notes that Bush was able to apologize twice to the Chinese without actually being reported in America as apologizing. Neither was the tremendous intelligence loss of the EP-3 focused upon as the potential disaster that many military and intelligence officials perceived it to be. He quotes Washington Post correspondent John Harris as writing, “The truth is, this new president has done things with relative impunity that would have been huge uproars if they had occurred under Clinton. Take it from someone who made a living writing about these uproars.…Take the recent emergency landing of a US surveillance plane in China. Imagine how conservatives would have reacted had Clinton insisted that detained military personnel were not actually hostages, and then cut a deal to get the people (but not the plane) home by offering two ‘very sorrys’ to the Chinese, while also saying that he had not apologized. What is being hailed as Bush’s shrewd diplomacy would have been savaged as ‘Slick Willie’ contortions.” [Alterman, 2003, pp. 194-197]
David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial, was hired to represent FBI agent Robert Wright in September 1999 (see August 3, 1999). After 9/11, Schippers will claim that he began privately informing congresspeople about Wright’s investigation into terrorism financing in the US in early 2001, but found little interest (see February-March 2001). Schippers appears to have had different sources than Wright who began telling him about attack warnings. Supposedly, the first warning was based on a secret February 1995 report which stated that bin Laden was planning three attacks on the US: the bombing of a federal building in the heartland of the US, shooting down or blowing up an airplane, and a massive attack in lower Manhattan. Schippers believes the first warning was a prediction of the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the second was a prediction of the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800 (see July 17, 1996-September 1996). In some versions of this warning, the Manhattan attack was meant to be caused by a “dirty bomb” - explosives mixed with radioactive materials - but other accounts described the use of planes as weapons instead. He says one of his sources for this early warning was Yossef Bodansky, director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. Schippers will claim that his sources continued to uncover further information. The Manhattan warning “had started out just a general threat, but they narrowed it and narrowed it, more and more with time,” until the “same people who came out with the first warning” tell him in May 2001 that “an attack on lower Manhattan is imminent.” Schippers speaks to several FBI agents directly, and hears that “there are [other agents] all over the country who are frustrated and just waiting to come out.” They are frustrated by “a bureaucratic elite in Washington short-stopping information,” which gives “terrorism a free reign in the United States.” Schippers later claims that some FBI agents later told him that before 9/11, “they had [Mohamed] Atta in their sights.” They also had attempted to “check out” the names and activities of “very strange characters training at flight schools.” He will claim that “FBI agents in Chicago and Minnesota” tell him “there [is] going to be an attack on lower Manhattan.” Schippers will later claim that he will attempt to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft and other politicians about this warning in coming months, but that they will show little interest (see July-Late August 2001). [WorldNetDaily, 10/21/2001; Indianapolis Star, 5/18/2002; Ahmed, 2004, pp. 258-260]
[Source: Publicity photo]David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial and the lawyer for FBI agent Robert Wright since September 1999, will later claim that he was warned about an upcoming al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan in May 2001 (see May 2001). After May, Schippers continues to get increasingly precise information about this attack from FBI agents in Chicago and Minnesota, and around July he renews efforts to pass the warning to politicians. He will claim, “I tried to see if I could get a Congressman to go to bat for me and at least bring these people [to Washington] and listen to them. I sent them information and nobody cared. It was always, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ‘We’ll get back to you.’” At the same time he is attempting to pass on this warning, he will claim he is also attempting to pass on the work of reporter Jayna Davis and her theory that Middle Easterners were involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and also Wright’s claim that Hamas operatives were operating freely inside the US (see February-March 2001). The three claims put together seem to lead to a bad response; Schippers later comments, “People thought I was crazy.” Around July 15, he attempts to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft. Conservative activist “Phyllis Schlafly finally apparently made some calls. She called me one day and said, ‘I’ve talked to John Ashcroft, and he’ll call you tomorrow.’” The next day, one of Ashcroft’s underlings in the Justice Department calls him back and says, “We don’t start our investigations with the Attorney General. Let me look into this, and I’ll have somebody get back to you right away.” Schippers will say he never did hear back from anyone in the Justice Department. Perhaps coincidentally, on July 26 it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial aircraft due to an unnamed threat (see July 26, 2001). In late August, his FBI agent sources again confirm that an al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan is imminent. [WorldNetDaily, 10/21/2001; Indianapolis Star, 5/18/2002; Ahmed, 2004, pp. 258-260] In 2003, Wright will say, “In 2000 and in 2001, [Schippers] contacted several US congressmen well before the September 11th attacks. Unfortunately, these congressmen failed to follow through with Mr. Schippers’ request that they investigate my concerns.” It is not clear if Wright was one of the Chicago FBI agents that Schippers claims gave warnings about a Manhattan attack, or if Wright is only referring to Wright’s investigation into funding for Hamas and other groups that Schippers was also warning politicians about (see February-March 2001). [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Department of Justice, Al-Qaeda, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Phyllis Schlafly, John Ashcroft, Hamas, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Schippers, Jayna Davis
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Curtis Hebert of the FERC. [Source: PBS]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. [Consortium News, 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. [Guardian, 5/26/2001; Los Angeles Times, 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). [PBS, 2/2/2002; Consortium News, 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.” [Guardian, 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.” [PBS, 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. [Guardian, 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. [PBS, 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. [Guardian, 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. [American Prospect, 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. [Consortium News, 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.” [Guardian, 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).
Entity Tags: National Environmental Trust, Trent Lott, Kevin Curtis, Pat Wood, Kenneth Lay, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, George W. Bush, Curtis Hebert, Joe Garcia, Dianne Feinstein, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Enron Corporation
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record
Dan Burton. [Source: US House of Representatives]Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, releases edited transcripts of taped White House conversations between then-President Bill Clinton and Israel’s then-prime minister, Ehud Barak (see Late August, 2001). President Bush’s counsel Alberto Gonzales decided to break with decades of tradition in releasing private conversations between a former president and a head of state, and gave Burton the tapes as part of Burton’s investigation into Clinton’s last-minute pardon of Marc Rich, a commodities trader who had fled the US ahead of tax evasion and fraud charges. Burton and other conservatives have charged that Clinton pardoned Rich at the behest of Rich’s wife Denise, a Clinton presidential library contributor, possibly in return for the contributions, or even sexual favors. However, the tapes indicate that one reason Clinton pardoned Rich was a request made by Barak. On December 11, 2000, Barak said to Clinton, “One last remark. There is an American Jewish businessman living in Switzerland and makes a lot of philanthropic contributions to Israeli institutions and activities and education.” Rich had “violated certain rules of the game in the United States,” Barak said, and wanted Clinton to consider pardoning him. Clinton replied, “I know about that case because I know his ex-wife. If your ex-wife wants to help you, that’s good.” Barak asked Clinton again on January 8, 2001, when Clinton called Rich’s case “bizarre” and said, “It’s best that we not say much about that.” In a third conversation, which took place just days before Clinton left office, Clinton said that such a pardon has “almost no precedent in American history,” and told Barak that he was pondering whether or not to allow Rich to return to the US if pardoned. [New York Times, 8/21/2001; Salon, 2/7/2002; Dean, 2004, pp. 85-86] Clinton, angered by the selective editing of the transcripts in an apparent effort to mischaracterize the Rich pardon, will request that all of the relevant portions of the transcripts be released; the White House will refuse and classify the rest of the transcripts (see Late August, 2001).
Marc Rich. [Source: Huffington Post]Former president Bill Clinton reacts angrily to edited transcripts of private conversations with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, in which Barak requested that Clinton pardon fugitive American financier Marc Rich (see August 21, 2001 and Early September, 2001). The transcripts were edited and released to the public by House Government Reform Committee chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) as part of his investigation into whether Clinton acted improperly in pardoning Rich. After reading the transcripts, Clinton thinks that Burton has selectively edited them, and giving a false impression of the nature and content of the conversations between himself and Barak. Clinton asks the White House, which had provided Burton with copies of the tapes of the conversations, to release all of the relevant portions of the transcripts, which he says will portray the conversations in a different light. But the White House refuses, saying the remaining portions of the transcripts are now classified. [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-86]
'Hating Bill Clinton' - The classification of the documents is quite sudden. Earlier in the month, a White House spokesperson said that the release of the Clinton-Barak transcripts was nothing more than part of their efforts to make more information available to Congress. “The excerpts were not classified,” the spokesperson said. “The decision to make the documents available was entirely consistent with past practice. You don’t just slap Top Secret on a whole document.” However, some observers dispute this. “Given the secrecy that the Bush-Cheney administration has pursued, it’s inconceivable that they would turn this information over if it affected President Bush,” says Phil Schiliro, the Democratic staff director for the House Government Reform Committee, which is trying in vain to secure information from the White House about the Cheney Energy Task Force. Lynne Weil, the press secretary for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls the sudden decision to classify the previously unclassified transcripts “highly unusual.” She adds, “People who have worked for the Foreign Relations Committee for years can’t recall the last time such a thing happened.” The National Security Archives’s Tom Blanton welcomed the original disclosure of the conversations, but says it came not from a sudden desire for transparency from the Bush administration, but from a desire to smear Clinton. The Bush administration passionately believes in secrecy, a belief rooted in its collective ideology, says Blanton. When asked why that same ideological concern didn’t extend to the Clinton-Barak transcripts, Blanton replies that the question ignores “a rather more focused version of that ideology that’s about hating Bill Clinton.”
Violation of Procedure - Typically, the Bush administration turns down requests such as Burton’s for private presidential conversations. However, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales decided to turn them over. At that point, Clinton could have attempted to block the release of the transcripts by invoking executive privilege, a move that may have cast him in a poor light politically. But the events as carried out by Burton and the White House—breaking with precedent to release potentially embarrassing transcripts, edit those transcripts to make their contents appear more damning than they actually are, then retroactively classify the remainder of the transcripts—is highly unusual. [Salon, 2/7/2002; Dean, 2004, pp. 85-86]
Entity Tags: Energy Task Force, Ehud Barak, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Tom Blanton, National Security Archives, Phil Schiliro, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Marc Rich, House Committee on Government Reform, Lynne Weil, Dan Burton
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, asks for more than twelve sets of internal Justice Department documents that detail purported fund-raising abuses by the 1996 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Burton also wants documents relating to the FBI’s use of mob informants by its Boston office, where evidence indicates that the office literally let the informants get away with murder and suppressed evidence that allowed an innocent man to go to prison. Burton’s request causes a dilemma for the White House. On the one hand, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have given explicit instructions for staffers to resist such calls for information. On the other hand, when Burton had delved into the questions surrounding Clinton’s last-minute pardons, Bush had already given him unprecedented access to Clinton’s private conversations (see August 21, 2001). Burton immediately released edited transcripts of the tapes (see August 21, 2001). The administration ponders whether or not to release the documents, and in the process perhaps further impugn Clinton, or to refuse, preserving their standard of executive privilege. It will eventually come down on the side of secrecy (see December 13, 2001). [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-86]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Ehud Barak, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Bush administration (43), Dan Burton, George W. Bush, Federal Bureau of Investigation, House Committee on Government Reform
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The New York Times reports: “Over the past several years, the United States has embarked on a program of secret research on biological weapons that, some officials say, tests the limits of the global treaty banning such weapons.… The projects, which have not been previously disclosed, were begun under President Clinton and have been embraced by the Bush administration, which intends to expand them.” The US claims that this research is needed to protect Americans from the threat posed by rogue nations or terrorist groups who may be developing such weapons. [New York Times, 9/4/2001]
President Bush’s first budget calls for $13.6 billion on counterterrorism programs, compared with $12.8 billion in President Clinton’s last budget and $2 billion ten years earlier. However, there are gaps between what military commanders say they need to combat terrorism and what they are slated to receive. These gaps are still unresolved on September 11. [Knight Ridder, 9/27/2001; Washington Post, 1/20/2002; Time, 8/4/2002]
On the same day NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw interviews former President Clinton, NBC executives receive phone calls from senior communications staffers at the White House about the interview. While these staffers do not explicitly ask NBC to refrain from showing the interview, they do complain that showing it will not be helpful to the war on terrorism. NBC shows the interview despite the calls. Ironically, in the interview Clinton merely says that he supports President Bush and urges the rest of the country to do so as well. [Salon, 9/27/2001]
Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the National Liberation Army (NLA), announces that the NLA has been dissolved. Despite this, there will be continued fighting around Tetova throughout 2002 and half way through 2003. It is widely believed that the 9/11 attacks dealt a serious blow to Albanian militancy, because the USA and NATO are preoccupied elsewhere and are more concerned about terrorism. The Bush administration is also considered less pro-Albanian than the Clinton administration was. [Kola, 2003, pp. 381; Phillips, 2004, pp. 177]
Bush and Putin at a Kremlin news conference announcing the SORT signing. [Source: September 11 News (.com)]Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin sign a joint US-Russian treaty, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), agreeing to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals from some 6,000 warheads, respectively, to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads apiece. Bush allies hail the agreement as evidence of Bush’s willingness to negotiate with other nations and his desire to reduce and perhaps end the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation. However, the treaty is very similar in content to an informal agreement between Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in 1997. And SORT has far more flexibility built into its framework than either Clinton or Yeltsin had discussed: it does not call for the destruction of delivery vehicles, as the START I and II agreements had (see May 1982 and After), nor does it call for the destruction of warheads themselves, as START III had. In reality, either side can merely remove weapons from missiles and bombers, store them, and redeploy them in the future. Secretary of State Colin Powell will reassure conservative senators in June that “the treaty will allow you to have as many warheads as you want.” Arms reduction opponent John Bolton (see June 2001) approves the treaty, later noting that it “provided ‘exit ramps’ to allow for rapid change.” The treaty—only 500 words long—provides for no verification protocols whatsoever. And, as author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “in a bit of diplomatic quantum mechanics, the treaty’s warhead limit was slated to take effect on the very day that it expired—December 31, 2012—meaning it would be valid for no more than twenty-four hours.” Scoblic will conclude that the treaty, in line with Bush’s “new strategic framework” (see May 1, 2001), is “still designed to fight nothing less than an all-out nuclear war with Russia.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/24/2002; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 177-178] Bush sees little need for the treaty, or any treaty, saying that “mutual trust” between the US and Russia should suffice (see July 2001). He agrees to this treaty in what Scoblic later calls a “condescending” manner, saying, “If we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I’ll do that.” Bolton will later call the treaty “the end of arms control.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 184]
Robert Wright tears up as he apologizes to 9/11 victims’ relatives in his 2002 press conference. [Source: Getty Images]FBI agent Robert Wright holds a press conference. He makes a statement that has been preapproved by the FBI. As one account puts it, “Robert Wright’s story is difficult to piece together because he is on government orders to remain silent.… [T]his is in distinct contrast to the free speech and whistle-blower protections offered to Colleen Rowley, general counsel in the FBI Minneapolis office, who got her story out before the agency could silence her. Wright, a 12-year bureau veteran, has followed proper channels” but has been frustrated by limitations on what he is allowed to say (see September 11, 2001-October 2001). “The best he could do [is a] press conference in Washington, D.C., where he [tells] curious reporters that he [has] a whopper of a tale to tell, if only he could.” Wright says that FBI bureaucrats “intentionally and repeatedly thwarted [his] attempts to launch a more comprehensive investigation to identify and neutralize terrorists.” He also claims, “FBI management failed to take seriously the threat of terrorism in the US.” [Fox News, 5/30/2002; Federal News Service, 5/30/2002; LA Weekly, 8/2/2002] Larry Klayman, a lawyer representing Wright, says at the conference that he believes one reason Wright’s investigations were blocked “is because these monies were going through some very powerful US banks with some very powerful interests in the United States. These banks knew or had reason to know that these monies were laundered by terrorists. And there are very significant potential conflicts of interests in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations—with the country primarily responsible for funding these charities, mainly Saudi Arabia. We have both Clinton and Bush, and in particular this Bush Administration, who is as tight with Saudi Arabia as you can get.” He also says, “Corruption is knowing when something is not being done, knowing when the American people are being left unprotected and when you make a decision not to do something to protect the American people… And you effectively allow 9/11 to occur. That is the ultimate form of government corruption—dereliction of duty. That’s subject in the military to prosecution, to court martial…. Frankly, if not treason.” [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002]
Dr. Stuart Wright, a professor of sociology who testified before Congress on the Branch Davidian siege (see April 19, 1993) in 1995 (see Late July 1995 and August 4, 1995), says government investigations of the Davidian siege and the final assault that took almost 80 lives became so politicized as to be almost useless. “The [National Rifle Association] got involved in it, allied with the Republicans, in Congressional subcommittee hearings,” Wright says. “And on the other side, the Democrats were defensive because the Republicans were going after [President] Clinton.” Wright concludes, “I’m not sure the evidence was ever looked at in an objective light.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 2/23/2003]
President Bush signs an executive order delaying the public release of millions of government documents, citing the need to more thoroughly review them first. The government faced an April 17 deadline for declassifying millions of documents at least 25 years old. [Reuters, 3/26/2003] The order countermands a 1995 executive order by then-President Bill Clinton, who mandated that government documents over 25 years old be automatically declassified unless there was “significant doubt” as to whether their release would damage national security. [New York Times, 3/21/2003] The order also treats all material sent to American officials from foreign governments, no matter how routine, as subject to classification. It expands the ability of the CIA to shield documents from declassification, giving the director the right to unilaterally block any declassification of agency documents. And for the first time, it gives the vice president the power to classify information. The New York Times says, “Offering that power to Vice President Dick Cheney, who has shown indifference to the public’s right to know what is going on inside the executive branch, seems a particularly worrying development.” [New York Times, 3/21/2003; New York Times, 3/28/2003] Historian Anna Nelson says of the decision: “This is in context with the way this administration has done the whole bit on secrecy. They have left a skeletal process.” But Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists is less harsh in his assessment, saying, “One might have expected a more aggressive, pro-secrecy policy than this draft.” Tom Blanton of the private National Security Archive says the provision to classify information from foreign governments is far too broad: “Making all foreign government information presumptively classified means we’re lowering our openness standard to the lowest common denominator of our ostensible allies.” [New York Times, 3/21/2003]
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. [Source: Broadcatching (.com)]The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 304]
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006]
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” [Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006; Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]
Entity Tags: David S. Broder, Chris Matthews, Tom Cruise, Texas Air National Guard, Ronald Reagan, Public Broadcasting System, Walter Mondale, Washington Post, Wendell Goler, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Ann Coulter, Bob Schieffer, Pat Caddell, Brian Williams, CBS News, Wolf Blitzer, Brit Hume, New York Times, Vladimir Putin, Michael Dukakis, George S. McGovern, Fox News, CNN, Elisabeth Bumiller, Detroit Free Press, David Sanger, Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush, NBC News, Jerry Bruckheimer, Keith Olbermann, Gwen Ifill, Karl C. Rove, Laura Ingraham, Jon Scott, MSNBC, Joe Klein, Maureen Dowd
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Arthur Miller. [Source: OvationTV.com]Playwright Arthur Miller has written about the level of “acting” in the White House, and given the best marks to Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. He is not so impressed with George W. Bush’s performances. “To me it is all puffery,” Miller will write on May 11 in regard to Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” presentation (see May 1, 2003). “He is strutting about like the bad actor he is, but film and theatre are full of bad actors who find a public. The crowning moment of his presentation was his having emerged from an airplane that he did not land, in a pilot’s get-up with the helmet gallantly under one arm, as if he had passed through heavy enemy fire. At long last some commentators caught on to this, but I’m afraid the yahoos may have fallen for it.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 74]
The Bush administration installs L. Jean Lewis as the Defense Department’s inspector general. Her office investigates fraud and audits Pentagon contracts, including the billion-dollar arrangements with companies like Halliburton and Bechtel. While the post is traditionally non-partisan, Lewis is a strongly partisan Republican. Lewis is best remembered as the driving force behind the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC)‘s relentless investigation of then-President Bill Clinton over a parcel of land called Whitewater. FBI investigators refused to pursue Lewis’s work, calling it sloppy, biased, and incompetent. Lewis repeatedly lied under oath during the Whitewater investigation before bringing the questioning to a halt by suddenly “fainting.” Her partisanship was on display throughout her career with the RTC, having once proposed selling coffee cups and T-shirts with the slogan “Presidential B_TCH” emblazoned under a photo of Hillary Clinton out of the RTC offices, and calling President Clinton a “lying b_stard.” (Lewis claimed under oath that neither instance indicated any bias she might have towards the Clintons or towards Democrats.) She now has the prime responsibility for ensuring that billions of tax dollars are spent wisely by the government and its private contractors. Lewis says that, although her employers are well aware of her background, “I would prefer to think it was my ability and skills they were interested in.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 71; New York Observer, 3/18/2007]
Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, finally gains access to Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs). Co-chairman Lee Hamilton calls the PDBs the “holy of holies.” They are documents that the Bush administration has worked relentlessly to keep out of the commission’s hands. Kean assumes that the documents are chock full of critical information. “I thought this would be the definitive secrets about al-Qaeda, about terrorist networks, and all the other things that the president should act on,” Kean will later recall. “I was going to find out the most important things that a president had learned.” Kean believes the PDBs should contain “incredibly secretive, precise, and accurate information about anything under the sun.” When he begins reading through the PDBs, he finds that the documents are not what he expected. He finds that they contain almost nothing of use. The realization terrifies him—these digests of the most important, sensitive secrets garnered by the US intelligence community, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars per year, used by the president to base his actions and decisions upon, are, in Kean’s words, “garbage.” He continues, “There really was nothing there—nothing, nothing.” Had his students at Drew University turned in terms papers this poorly researched, he says, “I would have given them an F.” There are a few snippets of solid information among the dross, tidbits about al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Occasionally, something intriguing catches Kean’s attention, for instance a report of a sighting of Osama bin Laden or a tip from a foreign intelligence service about possible future actions by a terrorist group. But most of the PDB contents could have been gleaned from reading the newspaper. Author Philip Shenon will write: “Perhaps the reason why the White House had fought so hard to block the commission’s access to the PDBs was that they revealed how ignorant the government was of the threats it faced before 9/11. Kean could understand their fear. Imagine the consequences if al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies knew how little the United States really knew about them.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 220-221] 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick also sees the same PDBs around the same time, and while she also is surprised by the lack of detail, she is more surprised at how alarming the warnings about an al-Qaeda attack are (see Early December 2003).
Diane Sawyer with President Bush. [Source: USA Today]President Bush gives a rare one-on-one interview to ABC’s Diane Sawyer. Among other topics addressed, he reaffirms his belief that terrorists operated in Iraq before the March 2003 invasion (citing Ansar al-Islam, “a al-Qaeda affiliate, I would call them al-Qaeda, was active in Iraq before the war, hence—a terrorist tie with Iraq…”) and that his insistence that Iraq had an active and threatening WMD program was based on “good solid intelligence[, t]he same intelligence that my predecessor [Bill Clinton] operated on.” [ABC News, 12/17/2003] In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will respond, “His predecessor, however, never claimed that Saddam [Hussein] had imminent… nuclear capacity, nor did his predecessor say that Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 153]
Iraq Had WMD Program, Bush Insists - Bush insists that weapons inspector David Kay proved Iraq did have a burgeoning and active WMD program (see October 2, 2003), and implies that it is just a matter of time before the actual weapons are found. Sawyer says, “But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still,” to which Bush replies, “So what’s the difference?” Sawyer appears taken aback by the answer, and Bush continues that since it was possible Hussein would acquire WMDs, it was necessary to “get rid of him” to make “the world a safer, freer place.” Sawyer presses the point home: “What would it take to convince you he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction?” and Bush responds: “Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.” Sawyer asks, “And if he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction?” and Bush replies tartly: “Diane, you can keep asking the question. I’m telling you, I made the right decision for America. Because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). But the fact that he is not there is, means America’s a more secure country.” [ABC News, 12/17/2003] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “Bush’s response was telling, much more so than I stopped to contemplate at the time.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 200]
Why Read the News? - Sawyer asks Bush about his reported penchant for not reading the news for himself. Bush confirms that he gets his news from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who, Sawyer says, “give you a flavor of what’s in the news.” Bush agrees that this is the case, and says: “Yeah. I get my news from people who don’t editorialize. They give me the actual news. And it makes it easier to digest, on a daily basis, the facts.” Sawyer asks, “Is it just harder to read constant criticism or to read?” to which Bush replies: “Why even put up with it when you can get the facts elsewhere? I’m a lucky man. I’ve got, it’s not just Condi and Andy. It’s all kinds of people in my administration who are charged with different responsibilities. And they come in and say, ‘this is what’s happening, this isn’t what’s happening.’” Laura Bush, who joins her husband halfway through the interview, says she reads the newspapers, including the opinion columns, but says: “I agree with him that we can actually get what is really happening from the people who really know what’s happening. And that isn’t always what you get in the newspapers.… There are certain columnists I won’t read. I mean, what, you know, why would I?” [ABC News, 12/17/2003]
Wilson: Bush 'Systematically Deceived' US, 'Betrayed' Military - Months later, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write: “It was clear, from this one statement, […] that the administration, from the president on down, had systematically deceived the American people, Congress, and the world. Most of all, the president had betrayed the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who so bravely march out when ordered into war to defend our country against immiment threats, or even from grave and gathering dangers. Iraq had posed neither. The difference, Mr. President, I thought, is that war was not the only option, or even the best one. We had gone to war over capacity, not stockpiles, not mushroom clouds (see September 4, 2002), not intent, or, as John Bolton had earlier said more directly, because scientists were on Saddam’s payroll. Our troops had died—and were continuing to die—in vain. I came away from this sad revelation resolved that, unlike the other bitterly divisive war debate of my lifetime, over the war in Vietnam, we should admit this terrible fact sooner, rather than later, and thereby revise our national policies accordingly.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 414-415]
Entity Tags: Laura Bush, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Scott McClellan, Joseph C. Wilson, David Kay, Diane Sawyer, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, Ansar al-Islam, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation
For the first time, 9/11 Commissioner Thomas Kean says that the 9/11 attacks could and should have been prevented. Kean, a Bush appointee and former Republican governor of New Jersey, states that “This was not something that had to happen… There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed.” In 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, “[T]here was nothing the agency could have done to anticipate and prevent the [9/11] attacks” (see May 8, 2002) and other Bush administration officials have also said the attacks were all but unstoppable. Kean promises major revelations from the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, NSA, and possibly former President Clinton and President Bush. [CBS News, 12/17/2003] But within days, Kean amends his comments. He says that he wants to make it “clear” that he meant that officials at the operational level two years ago deserved to be singled out for blame and that no judgments had been reached about senior officials. This coincides with continued attempts from the White House to paint the intelligence prior to the attacks as non-specific “chatter,” and the attacks themselves as “literally bolts from the blue.” [Boston Globe, 12/21/2003]
Saddam Hussein in US custody. [Source: US Department of Defense]The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” [CBS News, 1/27/2008]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, George Piro, George W. Bush, Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Joe Persichini, CBS News, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Scott Pelley, Al-Qaeda, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Iraq under US Occupation
Police photo of Tom DeLay, after his 2005 indictment on election fraud charges. [Source: Mug Shot Alley]The co-founder and editor of the American Prospect, Robert Kuttner, subjects the 2002 House of Representatives to scrutiny, and concludes that under the rule of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), it is well on its way to becoming what he calls a “dictatorship.” Kuttner writes that such authoritarian rule in “the people’s chamber” of Congress puts the US “at risk of becoming an autocracy.” He explains: “First, Republican parliamentary gimmickry has emasculated legislative opposition in the House of Representatives (the Senate has other problems). [DeLay] has both intimidated moderate Republicans and reduced the minority party to window dressing.… Second, electoral rules have been rigged to make it increasingly difficult for the incumbent party to be ejected by the voters, absent a Depression-scale disaster, Watergate-class scandal, or Teddy Roosevelt-style ruling party split.… Third, the federal courts, which have slowed some executive branch efforts to destroy liberties, will be a complete rubber stamp if the right wins one more presidential election. Taken together, these several forces could well enable the Republicans to become the permanent party of autocratic government for at least a generation.” Kuttner elaborates on his rather sweeping warnings.
Legislative Dictatorship - The House, and to a lesser extent the Senate, used to have what was called a “de facto four-party system”: liberal Democrats; Southern “Dixiecrats” who, while maintaining their membership as Democrats largely due to lingering resentment of Republicans dating back to the Civil War, often vote with Republicans; conservative Republicans; and moderate-to-liberal “gypsy moth” Republicans, who might vote with either party. Rarely did one of the four elements gain long-term control of the House. Because of what Kuttner calls “shifting coalitions and weak party discipline,” the majority party was relatively respectful of the minority, with the minority free to call witnesses in hearings and offer amendments to legislation. In the House, that is no longer true. While the House leadership began centralizing under House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX) between 1987 and 1989, the real coalescence of power began under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) between 1995 and 1999. The process, Kuttner asserts, has radically accelerated under DeLay and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).
Centralized Legislation - Under current practices, even most Republicans do not, as a rule, write legislation—that comes from DeLay and Hastert. Drastic revisions to bills are often rammed through late in the evening, with little or no debate. The Republican leadership has classified legislation as “emergency” measures 57 percent of the time, allowing them to be voted on with as little as 30 minutes of debate. Kuttner writes, “On several measures, members literally did not know what they were voting for.” Legislation written and proposed by Democrats rarely gets to the floor for debate. Amendments to legislation is also constrained, almost always coming from Hastert and DeLay. “[V]irtually all major bills now come to the floor with rules prohibiting amendments.” DeLay enforces rigid party loyalty, threatening Republican members who resist voting for the leadership’s bills with loss of committee assignments and critical campaign funds, and in some circumstances with DeLay’s sponsoring primary opponents to unseat the uncooperative member in the next election.
Democrats Shut out of Conferences - In the House, so-called “conference committees,” where members work to reconcile House and Senate versions of legislation, have become in essence one-party affairs. Only Democrats who might support the Republican version of the bill are allowed to attend. The conference committee then sends a non-amendable bill to the floor for a final vote.
No Hearings - The general assumption is that House members debate bills, sometimes to exhaustion, on the chamber floor. No more. Before DeLay, bills were almost never written in conference committees. Now, major legislation is often written in conference committee; House members often never see the legislation until it has been written in final, non-amendable form by DeLay and his chosen colleagues.
Abuse of Appropriations - Appropriations, or funding of events authorized by legislation, are ripe for use and misuse by the one-party leadership. Many appropriations bills must pass in order for Congress or other entities of the government to continue functioning. While “earmarks”—“pork-barrel” appropriations for individual members’ pet projects and such—are nothing new, under Gingrich and later Hastert/DeLay, the use of earmarks has skyrocketed. Huge earmarks are now routinely attached to mandatory appropriations bills. DeLay has perfected a technique known as “catch and release.” On close pending votes, the House Republican Whip Organization, made up of dozens of regional whips, will target the small but critical number of Republicans who might oppose the legislation. Head counts are taken; as members register (and change) their votes, some are forced to vote against their consciences (or their constituents) and others are allowed to vote no. Kuttner writes, “Basically, Republican moderates are allowed to take turns voting against bills they either oppose on principle or know to be unpopular in their districts.” This allows the member to save at least some face with their constituents. Under Wright, Republican members such as then-Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) were outraged when Wright held a vote open for 15 minutes after voting was to end; Cheney called it “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.” It is not unusual for DeLay to hold votes open for up to three hours to get recalcitrant members in line. [American Prospect, 2/1/2004] In 2006, author John Dean will note that when the Republicans took control of the House in 1999, there were 1,439 earmarks in that year’s legislation. By the end of 2005, “there were a staggering 13,998 earmarked expenses, costing $27.3 billion.” Dean will write, “Needless to say, there is nothing conservative in those fiscal actions but there is much that is authoritarian about the wanton spending by those Republicans.” [Dean, 2006]
Lack of Opposition - Kuttner notes that Congressional Democrats have not mounted a systematic, organized denunciation of the DeLay operation. Kuttner believes that many Democrats believe voters are uninterested in what they call “process issues,” and that voters will dismiss complaints as “inside baseball,” of little relevance to their lives. Worse, such complaints “make… us look weak,” as one senior House staffer says. Kuttner writes that many Democrats believe such complaints sound “like losers whining.”
Permanent Republican Majority - If DeLay and his confreres in the White House have their way, there will be, in essence, a permanent Republican majority in the House and hopefully in the Senate as well. Bill Clinton routinely practiced what he called bipartisan “triangulation,” building ad hoc coalitions of Democrats and Republicans to pass his legislative initiatives, and in the process weakening the Democratic leadership. Kuttner writes, “Bush’s presidency, by contrast, has produced a near parliamentary government, based on intense party discipline both within Congress and between Congress and the White House.” Republicans have been busy reworking the district maps of various key states to ensure that Republicans keep their majorities, concentrating perceived Democratic voters to have overwhelming majorities in a few districts, and leaving the Republicans holding smaller majorities in the rest. Both parties have been guilty of such “gerrymandering” in the past, but with DeLay’s recent “super-gerrymandering” of his home state of Texas, the Republican makeup of the Texas House delegation is all but assured. DeLay and other House Republicans are working to redistrict other states in similar fashions. As of the 2004 midterm elections, of the 435 House seats, only around 25 are considered effectively contestable—over 90 percent of the House seats are “safe.” Democrats would have to win a disproportionate, and unlikely, number of those “swing” seats to take back control of the House. Kuttner writes: “The country may be narrowly divided, but precious few citizens can make their votes for Congress count. A slender majority, defying gravity (and democracy), is producing not moderation but a shift to the extremes.”
Control of Voting - Kuttner cites the advent of electronic voting machines and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) as two reasons why Republicans will continue to have advantages at the voting booth. The three biggest manufacturers of electronic voting machines have deep financial ties to the Republican Party, and have joined with Republicans in opposing a so-called “verifiable paper trail” that could prove miscounts and possible fraudulent results. HAVA, written in response to the 2000 Florida debacle, requires that voters show government-issued IDs to be allowed to vote, a provision that Kuttner says is ripe for use in Republican voter-intimidation schemes. Republicans “have a long and sordid history of ‘ballot security’ programs intended to intimidate minority voters by threatening them with criminal prosecution if their papers are not technically in order,” he writes. “Many civil rights groups see the new federal ID provision of HAVA as an invitation to more such harassment.” The only recourse that voters have to such harassment is to file complaints with the Department of Justice, which, under the aegis of Attorney General John Ashcroft, has discouraged investigation of such claims.
Compliant Court System - Increasingly, federal courts with Republican-appointed judges on the bench have worked closely with Republicans in Congress and the White House to issue rulings favorable to the ruling party. Kuttner notes that if President Bush is re-elected: “a Republican president will have controlled judicial appointments for 20 of the 28 years from 1981 to 2008. And Bush, in contrast to both his father and Clinton, is appointing increasingly extremist judges. By the end of a second term, he would likely have appointed at least three more Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and locked in militantly conservative majorities in every federal appellate circuit.” The Supreme Court is already close to becoming “a partisan rubber stamp for contested elections,” Kuttner writes; several more justices in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986) and Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) would, Kuttner writes, “narrow rights and liberties, including the rights of criminal suspects, the right to vote, disability rights, and sexual privacy and reproductive choice. It would countenance an unprecedented expansion of police powers, and a reversal of the protection of the rights of women, gays, and racial, religious, and ethnic minorities. [It would] overturn countless protections of the environment, workers and consumers, as well as weaken guarantees of the separation of church and state, privacy, and the right of states or Congress to regulate in the public interest.” [American Prospect, 2/1/2004]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Democratic Party, Dennis Hastert, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Tom DeLay, Robert Kuttner, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Republican Party, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, House Republican Whip Organization, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Dean, Newt Gingrich, Help America Vote Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The 9/11 Commission privately interviews former President Bill Clinton about his counterterrorism policy. Clinton tells the Commission that he did everything he could to kill Osama bin Laden and is reluctant to criticize the current administration’s actions. In addition, Clinton says that the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal did not affect his decisions, although Democratic commissioner and former senator Bob Kerrey points out that it had a “big impact” on him and other Democratic lawmakers; when Clinton attacked al-Qaeda, they were forced to deny it was an attempt to divert attention from the scandal. Clinton may have been willing to testify publicly, but such a move was not considered seriously, as it would have been blocked by the Republicans on the Commission. Had Clinton testified in public and President George Bush only in private, this would have created the impression Bush was hiding something. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 303-306]
The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) attempts to rebut a 60 Minutes appearance by former President Bill Clinton by buying television time to accuse Clinton of leaving the US unprepared for the 9/11 attacks. Clinton appears on the CBS newsmagazine to discuss his upcoming autobiography, My Life. In the book, Clinton says that CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) helped to create the Whitewater scandal that plagued his second presidential term and led to his impeachment by the Republican-led House of Representatives. Bossie has published a book, Intelligence Failure, blaming the Clinton administration for leaving the country vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks. Bossie recently told an interviewer that he has been working on “uncovering the truth” about the Clinton administration for a decade. “I am going to make sure people remember the facts, not just what he wants people to remember,” he said. Bossie’s organization runs a commercial in several markets listing a number of terrorist attacks during Clinton’s two terms, and accusing Clinton of leaving the nation unprepared for the 9/11 assault. The CU refutation is just one of a number of conservative attacks on Clinton over his book, possibly because Clinton shows signs of being willing to join Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on the campaign trail. A number of conservatives are advising the Kerry campaign to keep its distance from Clinton. [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
Former president Bill Clinton questions the priorities of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” asking why the administration is issuing groundless terror alerts “[b]ased on four-year-old information” (see August 1, 2004). He asks rhetorically, “Now, who is the threat from? Iraq? Saddam Hussein? No. From bin Laden. And al-Qaeda. How do we know about the threat? Because the Pakistanis found this computer whiz [Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan and got his computer and gave it to us so it could be analyzed (see August 2, 2004). … [W]e basically are dependent on [Pakistan] to find bin Laden…to break in and find the computer people and give it to us because we got all our resources somewhere else in Iraq.” He continues to ask why Bush isn’t focusing on bin Laden: “Why did we put our number one security threat in the hands of the Pakistanis with us playing a supporting role and put all of our military resources into Iraq, which was, I think, at best, our number five security threat[?] After the absence of a peace process in the Middle East, after the conflict between India and Pakistan and all the ties they had to Taliban, after North Korea and their nuclear program. In other words, how did we get to the point where we got 130,000 troops in Iraq and 15,000 in Afghanistan? It’s like saying… Okay, our big problem is bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We now know from the 9/11 Commission, again, that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it. Right? We now know that al-Qaeda is an ongoing continuing threat, even though when I was president we took down over 20 of their cells, they still had enough left to do 9/11, and since then, in the Bush years, they’ve taken down over 20 of their cells. But they’re operating with impunity in that mountainous region going back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan and we have only 15,000 troops in that country.…[W]e would have a better chance of catching them if we had 150,000 troops there rather than 15,000.” Asked if the US could have captured bin Laden in the days and months after 9/11, he replies, “[W]e will never know if we could have gotten him because we didn’t make it a priority….” [Canadian Broadcast Corporation, 8/6/2004]
Former Pakistani government official Husain Haqqani says that Pakistan, not the US government, may have originally leaked the news to the international press that Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant for the US and Pakistan, was a double agent (see August 2, 2004). The leak of Khan’s identity ruins his capability to provide information about al-Qaeda and allows senior al-Qaeda operatives to escape arrest. Haqqani writes that there are two possible reasons for Pakistan’s decision to leak such damaging information: either Pakistani officials were eager to demonstrate their success in penetrating al-Qaeda, or, more likely, that Pakistan wanted to curb the inroads being made into al-Qaeda in order to keep the terrorist group safe and functional. A second leak, from Pakistani intelligence officials like the first, fingered US officials for the leak. The US government accepted the responsibility for outing Khan because, Haqqani writes, administration officials were complicit in the leak, and because the Bush administration is involved in a twisted, mutually duplicitous relationship with the Musharraf regime of Pakistan: “ostensibly driven by the mutual desire for security, there is clearly a political element to the relationship related to the survival of both the Bush and the Musharraf governments.” [Salon, 8/17/2004] On August 6, 2004, former President Bill Clinton accused the Bush administration of essentially contracting out US security and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Pakistan in its zeal to wage war in Iraq (see August 6, 2004). One consequence of the decision to subcontract the hunt for members of al-Qaeda to Pakistan is that the terrorists appear to be regrouping and regaining in strength. [Washington Post, 8/14/2004] Haqqani believes that the two have mutual political concerns: while Pakistan cooperates, to a point, in hunting down al-Qaeda members, the government of Pervez Musharraf is more secure. In return, Pakistani officials, known for their reticence, have lately been unusually forthcoming in issuing well-timed reports designed to help Bush’s re-election efforts. For instance, on July 29, just hours before John Kerry’s speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Pakistan’s interior minister, Faisal Hayat, held an unusual late-night press conference announcing the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the man wanted for the 1998 terrorist bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see July 25-29, 2004). [Salon, 8/17/2004]
The 9/11 Commission interviewed presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in 2004 (see April 29, 2004) but the details of what was revealed in these interviews were not included in the commission’s final report (with one exception, see August 6, 2001). On this day, former 9/11 Commission Richard Ben-Veniste says, “I had hoped that we had—we would have made both the Clinton interview and the Bush interview a part of our report, but that was not to be. I was outvoted on that question.… I didn’t have the votes.… I think the question was that there was a degree of confidentiality associated with that and that we would take from that the output that is reflected in the report, but go no further. And that until some five years’ time after our work, we would keep that confidential. I thought we would be better to make all of the information that we had available to the public and make our report as transparent as possible so that the American public could have that.” [CNN, 9/25/2006]
Ryan Crocker [Source: CBC]In preparation for his expected announcement of a new “surge” of 21,500 combat troops for Iraq (see January 10, 2007), President Bush puts together a new team of advisers and officials to oversee his administration’s Iraq policy. The new team includes:
Zalmay Khalilzad as the ambassador to the United Nations. Khalilzad, the only Middle East native in a senior position in the administration, is the former ambassador to both Afghanistan and Iraq (see November 2003), a well-known neoconservative who formerly held a position with the oil corporation Unocal. He will replace interim ambassador John Bolton, an abrasive neoconservative who could never win confirmation in the post from the US Senate.
Ryan Crocker is the leading candidate to replace Khalilzad as the US ambassador to Iraq. Crocker, who speaks fluent Arabic, is currently the ambassador to Pakistan.
Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will become the top deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Negroponte, a controversial veteran of US foreign operations in Latin America and the Middle East, has also served as the US ambassador to Iraq. Rice is widely viewed as in dire need of a savvy, experienced deputy who can assist her both in handling the sprawling State Department bureaucracy, and focus her efforts to handle diplomatic efforts in the Middle East as well as in other regions.
Retired Admiral Mike McConnell, who headed the National Security Agency under former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, will replace Negroponte as DNI.
Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Pacific Command, will replace General John Abizaid as commander of the US forces in the Middle East. Abizaid has drawn media attention in recent months for his muted criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraqi policies.
Army General David Petraeus will replace General George Casey as the chief military commander in Iraq. Petraeus once headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. Like Abizaid, Casey has been skeptical about the need for more US forces in Iraq. [USA Today, 1/5/2007; CBS News, 1/5/2007]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Unocal, United Nations, William Fallon, Ryan C. Crocker, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Casey, David Petraeus, John Negroponte, John P. Abizaid, George W. Bush, Mike McConnell, Condoleezza Rice, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Eric Edelman. [Source: BBC]Seven weeks after Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling for Congressional briefings on Pentagon plans to withdraw troops from Iraq or explanations as to why those plans do not exist (see May 23, 2007), Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman responds to Clinton in a letter of his own. After giving a brief overview of the current military and political situation in Iraq, Edelman says: “Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.…[S]uch talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.” [US Department of Defense, 7/16/2007 ] Some observers are surprised by Edelman’s language as Clinton is not only a senator, but a member of the Armed Services Committee. The New York Times’s Kate Phillips terms the letter “a stunning rocket.” [New York Times, 7/19/2007] The letter also directly contradicts Gates, who said earlier that the Senate debate on withdrawing from Iraq was “helpful in bringing pressure” on the Iraqi government to work towards peace and unity (see March 30, 2007).
'Impugning the Patriotism of Any of Us Who Raise Questions' - Clinton fires back four days later, accusing Edelman of dodging her questions. Instead, she says, Edelman “made spurious arguments to avoid addressing contingency planning.… Undersecretary Edelman has his priorities backward.” [USA Today, 7/20/2007] Edelman, Clinton says, is “impugning the patriotism of any of us who raise serious questions.” [Army Times, 8/6/2007] Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines says, “We sent a serious letter to the secretary of defense, and unacceptably got a political response back.” Clinton again asks for a briefing on end-of-war planning, classified if necessary. Edelman does imply that the Pentagon is formulating such plans in his letter, but says that the Pentagon will not divulge any such planned operations. [USA Today, 7/20/2007]
Democrats Defend Clinton - Fellow Democratic senator John Kerry joins in criticizing Edelman’s response. “This administration reminds us every day that they will say anything, do anything, and twist any truth to avoid accountability,” Kerry says in a statement. [US Senate, 7/19/2007] Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, calls Edelman “one of the more ideological holdovers” in the Defense Department from President Bush’s first term in office. Edelman, who replaced Douglas Feith in the Pentagon, is a former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. [Think Progress, 7/22/2007]
Conservatives Weigh In - On the other side, conservative blogger and Fox News pundit Michelle Malkin asks rhetorically, “Wasn’t this a case of Hillary putting on her little imaginary four stars on her sleeve and playing armchair general?” [Media Matters, 7/23/2007] But an Army Times writer, Air Force veteran Robert Dorr, calls Edelman’s letter “disrespectful” and writes: “No matter what you think of the war or of Clinton, Edelman’s response was unusually harsh. Senators hold their jobs because people voted for them. Appointees such as Edelman, who weren’t elected by anyone (and in the case of Edelman, received a recess appointment and wasn’t confirmed by the Senate), should be responsive to lawmakers’ concerns.” [Army Times, 8/6/2007]
Entity Tags: Eric Edelman, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Douglas Feith, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kate Phillips, Robert M. Gates, Philippe Reines, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michelle Malkin, Robert Dorr
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Alexis Debat. [Source: PBS]Conservative security consultant Alexis Debat, a former French military official often used by ABC News and other US media outlets, admits that he published an interview with Democratic senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama that he never conducted. In the interview, Obama supposedly said that Iraq was “already a defeat for America” and that the US has “wasted thousands of lives.” Debat claims that he signed off on the article, published in the Summer 2007 issue of the French magazine Politique Internationale, but did not write it, instead farming it out to a freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, and having it published under Debat’s name. Sherman concocted the interview, says Debat, who says both he and Obama are victims. [Washington Post, 9/13/2007] “Rob Sherman asked me to remove his name from the interview, and my mistake was to put my name on it,” says Debat. [ABC News, 9/12/2007] “I was scammed. I was very, very stupid. I made a huge mistake in signing that article and not checking his credentials.” [Washington Post, 9/13/2007]
Greenspan: No Such Interview - Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on September 7 that an interview with him, conducted by Debat and published in the same magazine, also never happened. [Rue 89, 9/7/2007]
Many US Officials Also Not Interviewed - Hours after Obama’s campaign disavowed the Debat interview, numerous other US politicians and business figures also say they were victimized by fake interviews supposedly conducted by Debat. Those figures include former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Politique Internationale editor Patrick Wajsman says “This guy is just sick,” and says his magazine is removing all of Debat’s work from its Web site. Annan’s deputy communications director, Stephane Dujarric, says he warned the magazine that the Annan interview was a fabrication back in June 2005, and said that if the magazine published it—which it did—Annan’s office would “denouce the interview as a fake. This was not some obscure guy. This was the sitting secretary-general of the UN, and the magazine was told it was a fake.” Nevertheless, ABC News and Politique Internationale continued to rely on Debat as a source of information and a regular contributor of “interviews” with a variety of influential Americans. The magazine published a second interview with Annan earlier this year, but it, too, was a fabrication, apparently culled from a speech Annan gave at Princeton University. Wajsman calls the publications of the Annan interviews either a “technical” error or a misunderstanding. “I was a victim of this man. I had no reason to suspect someone like him could lie,” Wajsman says. So why did Wajsman continue to rely on Debat after the UN protests? “Everybody can be trusted once,” Wajsman says. “He seemed to be well-connected in Washington, working for ABC and the Nixon Center.” Debat admits he never interviewed any of the above-named figures, but explains: “The magazine asked me to send questions. They got the answers, and then I edited and translated them and put my name on it.” Wajsman retorts, “That is an outright lie.” [ABC News, 9/13/2007]
Debat Frequent Source of Unreliable Information on Iran - Debat has been a frequent source of incendiary information and commentary about the US’s need to invade Iran; on September 2, The Times of London published commentary from Debat in which he claimed the US is planning massive, systematic air strikes against Iran, and called it a “very legitimate strategic calculus” (see Late August, 2007). Recent reports have claimed that an organized campaign to insert reports and commentary in the US and European media drumming up support for a US attack against Iran is being orchestrated by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. [Attytood, 9/13/2007]
Debat Falsified University Record - Debat’s other reports are now being scrutinized for possible fabrications. ABC News fired Debat in June 2007 after finding that Debat lied about his background: Debat claimed he has a Ph.D from the Sorbonne, when in fact he does not. (Debat claims he earned his Ph.D, but the university hasn’t granted him the degree because of an “administrative issue.”) ABC’s chief investigative reporter Brian Ross, who has worked closely with Debat and has high praise for his work, now says: “I was angry with him because it called into question, of course, everything he had done. He could never satisfy us that he had the Ph.D.… I was very upset.” Debat has specialized in reports on terrorism and national security for the last six years. ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schnieder says that while it has so far verified all of Debat’s reporting: “There are some very serious questions about exactly who he is and how he works. We want nothing more than to get to the absolute bottom of that.” Debat directed the terrorism and national security program from Washington’s Nixon Center, a conservative think tank set up by former President Richard Nixon. He wrote for the conservative political journal National Interest, which is chaired by Henry Kissinger. Debat has now resigned both positions. His position as a regular contributor to Politique Internationale has also probably ended, Debat admits. [Washington Post, 9/13/2007]
'Never Spoke with Your Alexis What's-His-Name' - The French magazine Rue 89 exposed Debat earlier this week, calling him a “strange character” and questioning his credibility. It interviewed the purported freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, who is not a journalist but a radio talk show host in Chicago; according to Sherman, he “never spoke with your Alexis what’s-his-name.” It also reports that Debat once claimed to have earned a Ph.D from Edenvale University, in Britain, an institution that does not exist. He has also claimed to be the director of the scientific committee for the Institut Montaigne in Paris, which denies Debat ever worked with it; he has appeared on French television news claiming to be a former social worker and to be a former French commando who fought against Serbian soldiers in Yugoslavia, claims which have not been confirmed. As for his service in the French military, the French government confirms that Debat indeed held a desk job in its Ministry of Defense for a few months. [Rue 89, 9/7/2007]
'Lone Wolf' or Disinformation Source? - Philadelphia Daily News journalist Will Bunch observes: “[T]here are two radically different ways to look at this scandal. Either Debat is a lone wolf, a deluded self-aggrandizer whose main agenda is promoting himself. Or he is acting in his role at the Nixon Center as a conduit, spreading information and occasional disinformation at the behest of others.” [Attytood, 9/13/2007]
ABC News Also to Blame - Reporter Laura Rozen, a regular contributor to numerous high-end US media outlets such as the Boston Globe and Mother Jones, is unforgiving of both Debat and ABC News: “My own feeling as primarily a print world reporter… is that it is deeply problematic for a news organization to have a paid source/consultant to sometimes put on the reporter hat and act as the reporter too.… Seriously, imagine if a New York Times reporter put an ex-NSC or CIA operative on the payroll for about $2,000 to $4,000 a month as a source, cited in articles as a source, and then sometimes let him or her report news stories with a byline, without glaringly indicating to readers what was going on. But this is what ABC was doing with Debat. ABC must have known they were stretching the rules on this one. For instance, their consultant Richard Clarke is never presented as the reporter. But ABC changed the rules in the Debat case, presumably because he was bringing them such sexy scoops, that they loved flacking at the time. Now they insist the scoops were solid, but Debat misrepresented his credentials. They’re blameless.… [D]id ABC bend the rules by paying a source who also served as their reporter while having a full time appointment elsewhere, smoothing over any complications by calling him an all purpose ‘consultant?’ How much did Brian Ross approve the unusual arrangement and independently verify the information Debat was bringing from the dark corners of Pakistan? [If] Debat faked interviews for a French journal, what was to keep him from faking interviews that informed multiple stories for ABC? I find it implausible that ABC has independently re-reported all that stuff so quickly and determined it’s kosher.” [Laura Rozen, 9/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Politique Internationale, Philadelphia Daily News, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Will Bunch, Stephane Dujarric, Patrick Wajsman, William Gates, Nixon Center, Richard M. Nixon, Michael R. Bloomberg, Brian Ross, Barack Obama, ABC News, Alexis Debat, Alan Greenspan, French Ministry of Defense, Colin Powell, Nancy Pelosi, Laura Rozen, London Times, Jeffrey Schnieder, Henry A. Kissinger, Kofi Annan
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’ [Source: New York Times]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see May 1998 and (May 11, 2004)) releases a film entitled Hillary: The Movie. The film is a lengthy diatribe attacking the character and career of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Large portions of the film are comprised of conservative critics launching attacks against the personalities and character of Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he based his film on a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, released in 2004 by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (see August 6, 2004), and calls it “a rigorously researched critical biography” comparable to the material presented on political talk shows such as Meet the Press. [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Bossie intended for the film to be released in late 2007 and impact the 2008 race in the same way that he believes Fahrenheit 9/11 impacted the 2004 race. A cable company made the film, at a cost of $1.2 million, available for free to viewers on “video on demand.” Bossie also scheduled a small theater run for the film, but his primary focus was always cable television and the accompanying television advertisements. Knowing the film will probably run afoul of campaign law, he hired lawyers, first James Bopp Jr. (a former member of the far-right Young Americans for Freedom—YAF—and the former general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee—see November 1980 and After) [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] and later Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under the Bush administration. Olson will later say the film is “a critical biographical assessment” that provides “historical information about the candidate and, perhaps, some measure of entertainment as well.” The New York Times calls it “a scathingly hostile look at Mrs. Clinton” replete with “ripe voice-overs, shadowy re-enactments, and spooky mood music.” The film also contains interviews and material from mainstream media reporters, and interviews with figures such as former CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a “tell-all” book about the Clinton administration, and with Kathleen Willey, who has claimed that Bill Clinton once made an unwelcome sexual advance towards her. Reviewer Megan Carpentier of Radar Online will trounce the movie, saying that it “scrolls through more than a decade of press clippings and a treasure trove of unflattering pictures in its one-sided romp” and will advise potential viewers to watch it “while inebriated in the manner of your choosing, and only if you don’t pay $10 for the privilege.” [New York Times, 3/5/2009] Bossie claims the movie has nothing to do with the impending primary elections. CU intends to show the movie in a small number of theaters but primarily on “video on demand” cable broadcasts, with accompanying television advertisements. In return for a $1.2 million fee, a cable television consortium has agreed to make the movie freely available to its customers as part of what CU calls its “Election ‘08” series. (CU has another negative documentary on Clinton’s Democratic challenger Barack Obama in the works—see October 28-30, 2008—but apparently has no plans to air any documentaries on Republican candidate John McCain or any other Republican presidential candidates.) However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the film to be aired on cable channels, or advertised for theater release, because the FEC considers the film “electioneering” and thus subject to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002) restrictions. Moreover, the film and its planned distribution are funded by corporate donations. [United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Bossie claims the film takes no position on Clinton’s candidacy, and says that if he had to vote between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he would vote for Clinton. [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Court Fight - Bopp, CU’s original lawyer, decides to pursue the same general aggressive course that he took in a recent successful Supreme Court campaign finance case, the Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) decision (see Mid-2004 and After). The Hillary film was envisioned from the outset to serve multiple purposes: to advance conservative ideology, damage Clinton’s presidential chances (despite Bossie’s claims), and generate profits. Bopp knows that the FEC would likely classify the film as a political advertisement and not a work of journalism or entertainment (see August 6, 2004), and therefore would fall under campaign law restrictions. Before the film is officially released, Bopp takes the film to the FEC for a ruling, and when the FEC, as expected, rules the film to be “electioneering communication” that comes under campaign law restrictions, Bopp files a lawsuit with the Washington, DC, federal district court. The court rules in favor of the FEC judgment, denying CU its request for a preliminary injunction against the FEC’s ruling. The court specifically finds that the WRTL decision does not apply in this case. “[I]f the speech cannot be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote for or against a candidate, it will not be considered genuine issue speech even if it does not expressly advocate the candidate’s election or defeat,” the court states. The court also questions CU’s statement that the film “does not focus on legislative issues.… The movie references the election and Senator Clinton’s candidacy, and it takes a position on her character, qualifications, and fitness for office.” Film commentator Dick Morris has said of the film that it will “give people the flavor and an understanding of why she should not be president.” The court rules, “The movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” (During arguments, Bopp says that the film is much like what a viewer would see on CBS’s evening news show 60 Minutes, and Judge Royce Lamberth laughs aloud, saying: “You can’t compare this to 60 Minutes. Did you read this transcript?” Other judges find it problematic that one of the film’s central “issues” is its assertion that Clinton is, in Bopp’s words, “a European socialist,” but still claims not to be overtly partisan.) [Mother Jones, 1/13/2008; United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Supreme Court Appeal - CU appeals the court’s decision directly to the Supreme Court. Bossie soon decides to replace Bopp with Olson, a far more prominent figure in conservative legal circles. Toobin will write: “Ted Olson had argued and won Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and was rewarded by President Bush with an appointment as solicitor general. Olson had argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, and he had a great deal of credibility with the justices. He knew how to win.” [Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Previous Attempt - In September 2004, Bossie and CU attempted, without success, to release a similar “documentary” supporting President Bush and attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on television, just weeks before the presidential election. The FEC turned down the group’s request. The FEC did allow the film to be shown in theaters (see September 8, 2004 and September 27-30, 2004).
'Ten-Year Plan' - Bopp will later reveal that the lawsuit is part of what he will call a “10-year plan” to push the boundaries of campaign finance law, and that he urged Bossie and other CU officials to use the documentary as a “test case” for overturning the body of law (see January 25, 2010).
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kathleen Willey, Megan Carpentier, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, New York Times, Michael Moore, John McCain, Royce Lamberth, James Bopp, Jr, Dick Morris, Gary Aldrich, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Hillary Clinton, Citizens United, David Bossie, Federal Election Commission, Clinton administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Barack Obama. [Source: Public domain via US Senate]The State Department confirms that three of its contract employees improperly accessed the private passport files of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two of the three were fired and a third was subjected to as-yet-unstated disciplinary procedures. The Obama campaign quickly demands a “complete investigation” of who accessed the files, who they may have shared the information with, and what their possible motivations may have been. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refuses to identify the three employees, and says that there is no reason as yet to believe that the three break-ins were motivated by anything but “imprudent curiosity.” The State Department’s inspector general is conducting an internal investigation. The Justice Department is monitoring the situation, and may launch its own investigation. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008; Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Senior State Department officials claim not to have known about the violations of Obama’s passport files until very recently. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008] Patrick Kennedy, the Undersecretary of State for Management and the department official responsible for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the office which oversees such records, also refuses to divulge any information about the contractors who broke into Obama’s records. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008]
Bureau Should Have Informed Senior Officials - Kennedy says that his department erred in not informing senior State Department officials about the violations. “I will fully acknowledge this information should have been passed up the line,” he says. “It was dealt with at the office level.” Kennedy also says that the political affiliations of the three contract employees are not known, but “[n]ow that this has arisen, this becomes a germane question, and that will be something for the appropriate investigation to look into.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Kennedy says he will brief Obama’s campaign staff today on the situation. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] Kennedy is new to the post; before him, the bureau chief was Maura Harty, who served as a US ambassador to Paraguay under the Clinton administration. [Huffington Post, 3/21/2008]
Breaches Immediately Detected - The files were accessed on January 9, February 21, and March 14 (see March 21, 2008). All three improper accesses were immediately detected through a computerized monitoring system, and supervisors were notified shortly after each access. But no one in the Obama campaign was notified until today, a week after the third break-in. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008]
Breaches May Constitute a Crime - The employees who broke into Obama’s files had access to his basic personal information, including his Social Security number, as well as his travel information, including information submitted by various US consulates from the nations to which Obama traveled (see March 21, 2008). Obama’s Social Security number can be used to pull a vast amount of information about Obama’s finances and other private, protected information. While the breaches themselves are not illegal (though they are violations of State Department protocols), if any information from the files were shared with anyone else, that would likely constitute a violation of US privacy laws.
Compared with 1991 Breach - In 1991, President George H. W. Bush’s re-election campaign illegally broached Democratic contender Bill Clinton’s passport files for political reasons; that incident prompted an investigation led by independent counsel Joseph diGenova. DiGenova says of the Obama breach that because the two contract employees who were fired were not State Department employees, it will be more difficult for the acting inspector general of the department to force them to testify. “My guess is if he tries to talk to them now, in all likelihood they will take the Fifth,” he says, referring to the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. DiGenova says it is improbable that senior State Department officials, perhaps including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, could not have known about the breaches. “Is inconceivable to me that civil servants working in a department which was part of a scandal in 1992 on this very subject would not understand that it was a management necessity to inform superiors,” he says. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] DiGenova’s investigations brought no charges against anyone in the Bush passport break-in. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph diGenova, Maura Harty, George Herbert Walker Bush, Sean McCormack, Condoleezza Rice, Patrick Kennedy, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Barack Obama
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
The timing of the unauthorized accesses of presidential contender Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files at the State Department (see March 20, 2008) raises questions among political observers. The first breach of Obama’s files was on January 9, six days after Obama defeated fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Iowa caucuses and thereby became a national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the day after Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire. The second breach took place on February 21, a day after Obama’s primary victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the same day that Clinton and Obama debated in Texas. The third took place on March 14, ten days after Clinton and Obama split the votes in the key states of Ohio and Texas, and three days after Obama won Mississippi. March 14 is also the same day that the mainstream media began reporting the divisive and inflammatory comments made in months and years past by Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. [Project VoteSmart, 2008; Independent, 3/21/2008] British journalist Leonard Doyle notes that the file violations seem similar to the 1991 violations of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, when campaign officials for President George H. W. Bush not only broke into Clinton’s passport files, but asked for information about Clinton’s collegiate days at Oxford University from Britain’s Conservative government. Doyle adds, “The security breach also has echoes of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration” (see June 17, 1972). [Independent, 3/21/2008]
A front-page Washington Post story reveals that, eight years after al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole just off the coast of Yemen and killed 17 US soldiers (see October 12, 2000), “all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials.”
Two Key Suspects Keep Slipping from Yemeni Prisons - For instance, Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni and key organizer of the bombing, broke out of Yemeni prisons twice and then was secretly released in 2007 (see April 11, 2003-March 2004, February 3, 2006 and October 17-29, 2007). The Yemeni government jailed him again after the US threatened to cut aid to the country, but apparently he continues to freely come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded the right to perform random inspections to make sure he stays jailed. Another key Cole suspect, Fahad al-Quso, also escaped from a Yemeni prison and then was secretly released in 2007 (see May 2007). Yemen has refused to extradite al-Badawi and al-Quso to the US, where they have been indicted for the Cole bombing. FBI Director Robert Mueller flew to Yemen in April 2008 to personally appeal to Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh to extradite the two men. However, Saleh has refused, citing a constitutional ban on extraditing its citizens. Other Cole suspects have been freed after short prison terms in Yemen, and at least two went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.
US Unwilling to Try Two Suspects in Its Custody - Two more key suspects, Khallad bin Attash and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were captured by US forces and have been transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. Al-Nashiri is considered the mastermind of the Cole bombing, but the US made the decision not to indict either of them because pending criminal charges could have forced the CIA or the Pentagon to give up custody of the men. Al-Quso, bin Attash, and al-Nashiri all attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 attacks were discussed (see January 5-8, 2000).
'The Forgotten Attack' - A week after the Cole bombing, President Bill Clinton vowed to hunt down the plotters and promised, “Justice will prevail.” But less than a month after the bombing, George W. Bush was elected president. Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who helped oversee the White House’s response to the Cole bombing, says, “During the first part of the Bush administration, no one was willing to take ownership of this. It didn’t happen on their watch. It was the forgotten attack.”
'Back to Square One' - Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing, complains,
“After we worked day and night to bring justice to the victims and prove that these Qaeda operatives were responsible, we’re back to square one. Do they have laws over there or not? It’s really frustrating what’s happening.” The Post comments, “Basic questions remain about which individuals and countries played a role in the assault on the Cole.”
Possible Government Complicity - One anonymous senior Yemeni official tells the Post that al-Badawi and other al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. For instance, in 2006, an al-Qaeda suicide attack in Yemen came just days before elections there, and Saleh tried to link one of the figures involved to the opposition party, helping Saleh win reelection (see September 15, 2006). Furthermore, there is evidence that figures within the Yemeni government were involved in the Cole bombing (see After October 12, 2000), and that the government also protected key bombers such as al-Nashiri in the months before and after the bombings (see April 2000 and Shortly After October 12, 2000).
Bush Unwilling to Meet with Victims' Relatives - Relatives of the soldiers killed in the bombing have attempted to meet with President Bush to press for more action, to no avail. John P. Clodtfelter Jr., whose son died on the Cole, says, “I was just flat told that he wouldn’t meet with us. Before him, President Clinton promised we’d go out and get these people, and of course we never did. I’m sorry, but it’s just like the lives of American servicemen aren’t that important.” [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
Entity Tags: John P. Clodtfelter Jr., Ali Soufan, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Fahad al-Quso, Jamal al-Badawi, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Yemen, Khallad bin Attash, Roger Cressey, Robert S. Mueller III, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting access to the transcripts of interviews by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). The interviews were conducted as part of the investigation of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Waxman notes that he made a similar request in December 2007 which has gone unfulfilled (see December 3, 2007). Waxman wants the reports from Bush and Cheney’s interviews, and the unredacted reports from the interviews with Libby, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former White House aide Cathie Martin, “and other senior White House officials.” Information revealed by McClellan in conjuction with his new book What Happened, including McClellan’s statement that Bush and Cheney “directed me to go out there and exonerate Scooter Libby,” and his assertion that “Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney… allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie,” adds to evidence from Libby’s interviews that Cheney may have been the source of the information that Wilson worked for the CIA. For Cheney to leak Wilson’s identity, and to then direct McClellan to mislead the public, “would be a major breach of trust,” Waxman writes. He adds that no argument can be made for withholding the documents on the basis of executive privilege, and notes that in 1997 and 1998, the Oversight Committee demanded and received FBI interviews with then-President Clinton and then-Vice President Gore without even consulting the White House. [US House of Representatives, 6/3/2008; TPM Muckraker, 6/3/2008]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Henry A. Waxman, Condoleezza Rice, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Scott McClellan, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Michael Mukasey
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Right-wing blogs begin reprinting and recirculating an email that claims presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) is somehow responsible for at least 19 mysterious deaths. Right-wing terrorism expert David Neiwert will compare the “Obama death list” to the equally spurious “Clinton death lists” that circulated throughout the two terms of the Clinton administration and still survive in some places today. The email falsely claims that the fact-checking Web site Snopes.com has validated the list. The email reads in part: “Please send this to as many people as you can, especially those who might be thinking of voting for B. Hussen Obama. We cannot have a man like this in office.… The following is a partial list of deaths of persons connected to Barack HUSSEIN Obama during his time inside the United States. Read the list and judge for yourself.” The list includes a number of known and supposed Obama associates, all of whom “died mysteriously” from a variety of causes, from “suspiciously timed” heart attacks and car crashes to drug overdoses. According to the list: an author died in 2003 after supposedly “exposing” Obama as a secret “radical Muslim” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, Before October 27, 2008, January 11, 2008, Around March 19, 2008, and April 18, 2008), as did a supposed FBI informant. Another died before he could share “sensitive information about meetings Barack Obama had with arms smugglers,” and that person’s father died “four hours after” his son made an appearance on right-wing talk show host Michael Savage’s broadcast. One woman died after filing and then dropping rape charges against Obama. A former Obama office secretary was murdered after meeting with a reporter to discuss Obama’s secret connections to black militants. A “childhood classmate” of Obama’s was beheaded before he could present evidence that Obama had attended a radical Islamist madrassa in Indonesia. One person, a former reverend of Trinity Baptist Church (see January 6-11, 2008), was allegedly murdered so the Reverend Jeremiah Wright could take over as head of the church; the pastor’s son was also murdered before he could expose Wright as a murderer. Another person died before he could expose his homosexual love affair with Obama. Another was shot to death before she could expose Obama as a frequent client of prostitutes. Another went missing after telling friends that she was carrying Obama’s “love child.” Bloggers for the progressive Sadly No site say they have tried and failed to authenticate most of the “deaths” of the people on the list, including author Sarah Berkley, whose alleged book The Jihad at the Ballot Box does not seem to exist. [My Right Wing Dad, 7/15/2008; Sadly No, 7/26/2008; David Neiwert, 7/28/2008] One blogger later finds that one person on the list, who supposedly died because of sinister Obama machinations in 2003, also supposedly died in 1994 from equally sinister Clinton machinations. [Civilization Fanatics, 7/26/2008]
The cover of Jamieson and Cappella’s ‘Echo Chamber.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble (.com)]Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, find that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh excels at using what they call “insider language” for his listeners “that both embeds definitional assumptions hospitable to his conservative philosophy and makes it difficult for those who embrace the language to speak about Democrats and the presumed Democratic ideology without attacking them.” They cite three examples from Limbaugh’s June 2005 newsletter which contains the following statements:
“Democrats are the enemy.”
“When she first ran for her Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton told citizens of the Empire State [New York] that she had been endorsed by environmental wacko-groups because… in her words, ‘I’ve stood for clean air.’”
After Harvard president Lawrence Summers commented on the intrinsic differences between the sexes, Limbaugh wrote, “Led by foaming-at-the-mouth feminists, the liberal elite experienced a mass politically correct tantrum.”
Jamieson and Cappella write: “Identifying terms such as ‘foaming-at-the-mouth feminists,’ ‘liberal elite,’ ‘enemy,’ and ‘environmental wacko-groups’ both create an insider language and distance those who adopt the labels from those labeled. One of the ways Limbaugh’s supporters telegraph their identification with him is by adopting his language.”
Identifying Nicknames - They cite the 1995 statement of freshman House Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY), who proudly proclaimed of her fellow female Republicans, “There’s not a femi-Nazi among us,” using one of Limbaugh’s favorite terms for feminists. “Listeners say ‘Ditto’ or ‘megadittoes’ to telegraph their enthusiasm for Limbaugh, his latest argument, or his show in general,” they write. Limbaugh refers to himself as “the MahaRushie” with “talent on loan from God.” Callers often refer to Limbaugh as “my hero.” Denigrating nicknames for Limbaugh’s targets of derision work to bring listeners into the fold: the new listener must labor to identify the people termed (and thusly become part of the Limbaugh community): “Clintonistas” (supporters of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton), “Sheets” (Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV), who in his youth wore ‘sheets’ as a Ku Klux Klan member), “the Swimmer” (Senator Edward Kennedy, D-MA, in reference to his involvement in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident), “Puffster” (former Senator Tom Daschle, D-SD), “the Breck Girl” (former Senator John Edwards, D-NC), and “Ashley Wilkes” (retired General Wesley Clark, in a reference to what Limbaugh called “the wimpy, pathetic Gone with the Wind character”). Some of the nicknames are physically derogatory: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) became “Senator Leaky, a.k.a. Senator Depends,” and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) became “‘Little Dick’ Gephardt.” Such use of “insider” nicknames indicates an identification between the listener and Limbaugh, and an affiliation with the Limbaugh community of supporters.
Redefining and Relabeling - Limbaugh routinely redefines and relabels his political enemies in the most derogatory terms. Pro-choice supporters are termed “pro-aborts,” and Democrats are supported by “beggar-based constituencies.” As noted above, feminists are “femi-Nazis” (though Jamieson and Cappella note that Limbaugh has used the term less often since it became a topic of criticism in the mainstream media).
Gender Identification - One of Limbaugh’s strongest attacks is on gender roles. In Limbaugh’s continuum, Democratic women are, the authors write, “either sexualized manipulators or unattractive man haters.” A 1994 Clinton tribute to women’s accomplishments became, in Limbaugh’s words, “Biddies’ Night Out.” Other times, Democratic women become “babes,” as in “Congressbabe Jane Harman.” (On his Web site, Limbaugh often shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s head affixed to the body of a Miss America contender.) The authors note, “Neither label invites the audience to take these leaders seriously.” Women with whom he disagrees, such as liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, are “screeching,” and others are “broads,” “lesbians,” or “femi-Nazis.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes, in Limbaugh’s vocabulary, the NAGS. Attacks and innuendo about women’s sexuality are frequently used by Limbaugh: during the Clinton administration, for example, Limbaugh often implied that Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno were closeted lesbians. On the other hand, Democratic men are routinely portrayed as “two-inchers,” derogatory references to their physical attributes and sexual capabilities (as with the Gephardt nickname above). Jamieson and Cappella note that “Limbaugh’s attempts at gender-based humor are of the locker room variety,” noting several references to California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a Democrat whose name translates into “large breasts,” and referring to pop singer Madonna’s 2004 endorsement of General Wesley Clark for president by saying she had “opened herself” to Clark. In 2004, he said that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, married to wealthy heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry, “does his fundraising every night when he goes to bed.” (The authors write, “Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audience is a question for which we have no ready answer.”)
Impact - Far from merely giving a laundry list of Limbaugh’s derogatory and offensive characterizations, Jamieson and Cappella note how Limbaugh and the conservative media “wrap their audiences in a conversation built on words and phrases that embody conservatism’s ideological assumptions,” using “naming and ridicule to marginalize those named as part of an out-group,” and using “coherent, emotion-evoking, dismissive language” to denigrate and dismiss the liberals he routinely attacks. “Because language does our thinking for us,” they write, “this process constructs not only a vocabulary but also a knowledge base for the audience. That language and the view of the world carried by it are presumed by loyal conservatives and alien to the nonconservative audience. These interpretations of people and events also reinforce Limbaugh’s defense of conservatism and its proponents.” [Washington Post, 2/15/1995; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 184-190]
Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Robert C. Byrd, Wesley Clark, Tom Daschle, Teresa Heinz-Kerry, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, National Organization for Women, Nancy Pelosi, Rush Limbaugh, Larry Summers, Madonna, Edward Kennedy, Cruz Bustamante, Arianna Huffington, Barbara Cubin, Hillary Clinton, Patrick J. Leahy, Janet Reno, John Kerry, John Edwards, Joseph N. Cappella, Jane Harman, Kathleen Hall Jamieson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
WTMJ-AM logo. [Source: Ignite Your Life (.org)]Dan Shelley, the former news director/assistant program director at Milwaukee’s WTMJ AM talk radio station, writes of the methodologies he and other programming experts used to make their talk show hosts popular. Like many other radio stations, WTMJ hosts primarily conservative broadcasters, though its only nationally syndicated host with a political bent is former comedian Dennis Miller. Two of its most popular local broadcasters are conservatives Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner. (Shelley is quite complimentary of Sykes in particular as a top-flight talk show host.) Shelley notes: “I was often angrily asked, once by then-Mayor John Norquist, why we just didn’t change our call letters to ‘WGOP.’ The complaints were just another sign of our impact.”
'Differentiating' - Shelley writes that Sykes and Wagner “are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.” Hosts such as Sykes and Wagner “must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims,” he writes, “and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners. This enemy can be a politician—either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a ‘RINO’ (a ‘Republican In Name Only,’ who is deemed not conservative enough). It can be the cold, cruel government bureaucracy. More often than not, however, the enemy is the ‘mainstream media’—local or national, print or broadcast.… In the talk radio business, this concept, which must be mastered to be successful, is called ‘differentiating’ yourself from the rest of the media. It is a brilliant marketing tactic that has also helped Fox News Channel thrive. ‘We report, you decide’ and ‘Fair and Balanced’ are more than just savvy slogans. They are code words signaling that only Fox will report the news in a way conservatives see as objective and truthful.”
Vicitimization - One of their most successful strategies is to play into the perception that hosts and audience alike are “victims” of what Shelley sardonically calls “the left-wing spin machine.” Any criticism, especially personal epithets such as “right-winger” or “radio squawker” merely plays into those hosts’ hands, Shelley notes. “This allows a host like Sykes to portray himself as a victim… and will leave his listeners, who also feel victimized, dying to support him.”
One-Sided Discussions - However, talk show hosts rarely, if ever, present “fair, evenhanded discussions featuring a diversity of opinions.… Programmers learned long ago that benign conversations led by hosts who present all sides of an issue don’t attract large audiences.… Pointed and provocative are what win.” Shelley writes that callers never “win a disagreement” with Sykes or Wagner. Calls from listeners who disagree with them do not get on the air “if the show’s producer, who generally does the screening, fears they might make [the host] look bad. Sykes’s producer even denied calls from US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), the current and former mayors of Milwaukee, and other prominent figures. However, callers with dissenting points of view would get on the air if the host could “use the dissenting caller to reinforce his original point… [b]y belittling the caller’s point of view.” Shelley notes of Sykes: “You can always tell, however, when the antagonist has gotten the better of Charlie. That’s when he starts attacking the caller personally.”
More Diversity in Audience than Readily Acknowledged - Shelley writes that many liberals believe talk radio audiences are composed of “angry, uneducated white men.” Such is not the case, he writes. “Many are businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, academics, clergy, or soccer moms and dads. Talk show fans are not stupid. They will detect an obvious phony. The best hosts sincerely believe everything they say. Their passion is real. Their arguments have been carefully crafted in a manner they know will be meaningful to the audience, and that validates the views these folks were already thinking.”
Shaping Opinion - Listeners cannot be “led like lemmings” to a particular conclusion, Shelley writes, but “they can be carefully prodded into agreement with the Republican views of the day.” Conservative talk show hosts, both national and local, receive “daily talking points emails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee, and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too.” Shelley writes that Sykes would “mine the emails, then couch the daily message in his own words.… Wagner would be more likely to rely on them verbatim.” Both Sykes and Wagner keep abreast of what other conservative hosts are saying: “Rush Limbaugh’s Web site was checked at least once daily. Atlanta-based nationally syndicated talker Neal Boortz was another popular choice.”
Strategic Disagreement - On occasion, Shelley writes, “[a] smart talk show host will, from time to time, disagree publicly with a Republican president, the Republican Party, or some conservative doctrine.” President Bush’s selection of his own lawyer, Harriet Miers, for the Supreme Court gave Sykes, Wagner, and other conservatives the chance to disagree vehemently with the administration. But, Shelley notes, “these disagreements are strategically chosen to prove the host is an independent thinker, without appreciably harming the president or party. This is not to suggest that hosts don’t genuinely disagree with the conservative line at times. They do, more often than you might think. But they usually keep it to themselves.”
Selective Facts - Shelley notes that it is often difficult to refute the arguments of a host such as Sykes, who builds “strong case[s] with lots of supporting facts.” Shelley notes that usually “those facts have been selectively chosen because they support the host’s preconceived opinion, or can be interpreted to seem as if they do.… Hosts… gather evidence, but in a way that modifies the old Joe Friday maxim: ‘Just the facts that I can use to make my case, ma’am.’”
Rhetorical Strategies - Shelley writes of the two main strategies conservatives (and presumably other talk show hosts of other political stripes) use to bolster weak arguments or refute strong opposing points of view. He calls them “You Know What Would Happen If” and “The Preemptive Strike.”
Shelley writes: “Using the first strategy, a host will describe something a liberal has said or done that conservatives disagree with, but for which the liberal has not been widely criticized, and then say: ‘You know what would happen if a conservative had said (or done) that? He (or she) would have been filleted by the “liberal media.”’ This is particularly effective because it’s a two-fer, simultaneously reinforcing the notion that conservatives are victims and that ‘liberals’ are the enemy.”
He then notes: “The second strategy, The Preemptive Strike, is used when a host knows that news reflecting poorly on conservative dogma is about to break or become more widespread. When news of the alleged massacre at Haditha first trickled out in the summer of 2006, not even Iraq War chest-thumper Charlie Sykes would defend the US Marines accused of killing innocent civilians in the Iraqi village. So he spent lots of air time criticizing how the ‘mainstream media’ was sure to sensationalize the story in the coming weeks. Charlie would kill the messengers before any message had even been delivered.”
Such strategies, and others, are reliable and effective, Shelley notes.
Double Standards - Shelley gives numerous examples of the hosts’ double standards with various issues.
“In the talk show world, the line-item veto was the most effective way to control government spending when Ronald Reagan was president; it was a violation of the separation of powers after President Clinton took office.”
“Perjury was a heinous crime when Clinton was accused of lying under oath about his extramarital activities. But when [Lewis ‘Scooter’] Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide, was charged with lying under oath, it was the prosecutor who had committed an egregious act by charging Libby with perjury.”
“‘Activist judges’ are the scourge of the earth when they rule it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the rights heterosexuals receive. But judicial activism is needed to stop the husband of a woman in a persistent vegetative state—say Terri Schiavo—from removing her feeding tube to end her suffering.”
Shelley adds: “To amuse myself while listening to a talk show, I would ask myself what the host would say if the situation were reversed. What if alleged DC Madam client Senator David Vitter [R-LA] had been a Democrat? Would the reaction of talk show hosts have been so quiet you could hear crickets chirping? Hardly. Or what if former Representative Mark Foley [R-FL] had been a Democrat? Would his pedophile-like tendencies have been excused as a ‘prank’ or mere ‘overfriendly emails?’ Not on the life of your teenage son. Suppose Al Gore was president and ordered an invasion of Iraq without an exit strategy. Suppose this had led to the deaths of more than 4,000 US troops and actually made that part of the world less stable. Would talk show hosts have dismissed criticism of that war as unpatriotic? No chance. Or imagine that John Kerry had been president during Hurricane Katrina and that his administration’s rescue and rebuilding effort had been horribly botched. Would talk show hosts have branded him a great president? Of course not.”
Katrina an Epiphany - Shelley notes that it was Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of that disaster that convinced him conservative talk show hosts such as Sykes and Wagner were extremists, and not merely a counterbalance to a left-skewed national media. Shelley was horrified when Sykes and Wagner, emulating their more prominent nationally syndicated colleagues such as Limbaugh and Miller, did not criticize the government’s lethally slow and callous response, but instead attacked the journalists who were obviously part of an “angry left” conspiracy to unfairly smear the Bush administration.
Conclusion - Shelley writes: “[T]he key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons. Because of that, there will always be listeners who believe that Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and their compatriots are the only members of the media who truly care about them.” [Milwaukee Magazine, 11/13/2008; WTMJ-AM, 11/13/2008]
Entity Tags: David Vitter, Russell D. Feingold, Rush Limbaugh, Terri Schiavo, WTMJ-AM, Charlie Sykes, Dan Shelley, Ronald Reagan, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Neal Boortz, Fox News, Harriet E. Miers, Republican National Committee, Dennis Miller, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Jeff Wagner, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Norquist, Mark Foley
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Law professor Brandt Goldstein recommends that President Obama not rely on an executive order to shut down the Guantanamo detention facility, as he has ordered (see January 22, 2009), but work with Congress to pass a federal statute that will forever outlaw the use of the base as a prison. Goldstein notes that Guantanamo was used to house Haitian refugees in the early 1990s, when President George H. W. Bush used it to detain around 300 HIV-positive dissidents who were fleeing Haiti after a military coup. The Justice Department created the legal rationale that Guantanamo, because it is not within the US territorial boundaries, does not fall under Constitutional restrictions, even though the prison is on a US naval base. President Bill Clinton released the last of the Haitians in June 1993, but his administration managed to overturn a court decision that prohibited the federal government from housing detainees at Guantanamo indefinitely. President George W. Bush used the detention facility to house hundreds of terror suspects from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan. Goldstein writes: “[T]wice in recent times, the temptation to use Guantanamo as an offshore, extralegal prison camp has mired a presidential administration in legal and moral muck. It’s high time we cut off Guantanamo as an option for this sort of mess—forever. An executive order won’t do that.” Such an order can be vacated by the next president, or even Obama himself should he choose to change his mind. “If Congress passes such legislation,” Goldstein writes, “and Obama signs it into law, then not only will he be bound by its prohibitions, but future presidents will be bound by it as well. The political will is there to deal with this issue. Now is the time to do it.” Goldstein adds, “Some conservative policy scholars won’t like this idea. They’ll wring their hands about closing off options regarding situations we cannot foresee. The answer to that is simple: Some options should be off the table, and experience indicates that using Guantanamo as a prison camp is one of them. Of course, if a future president believes that new circumstances make it truly necessary to use Guantanamo as a detention facility, that future president can go to Capitol Hill and try to convince the House and Senate to change their minds on the matter.” [Huffington Post, 1/22/2009]
“The worst economic turmoil since the Great Depression is not a natural phenomenon but a man-made disaster in which we all played a part,” says Guardian City editor Julia Finch, who lists individuals who led the world into its current economic crisis (see June 2008). These individuals include:
Alan Greenspan, US Federal Reserve chairman, 1987-2006: “[B]lamed for allowing the housing bubble to develop as a result of his low interest rates and lack of regulation in mortgage lending. Backed sub-prime lending; urged homebuyers to swap fixed-rate mortgages for variable rate deals, leaving borrowers unable to pay when interest rates rose. Defended the booming derivatives business, which barely existed when he took over the Fed, but which mushroomed from $100tn in 2002 to more than $500tn five years later.”
Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England: “His ambition was that monetary policy decision-making should become ‘boring.’”
Bill Clinton, former US president: “Beefed up the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act to force mortgage lenders to relax their rules to allow more socially disadvantaged borrowers to qualify for home loans. Repealed the 1999 Glass-Steagall Act, prompting the era of the superbank; the year before the repeal, sub-prime loans were just 5 percent of all mortgage lending. By the time the credit crunch blew up it was approaching 30 percent.” [Guardian, 1/26/2009]
The US Supreme Court hears the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refused to let the conservative lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) air a film entitled Hillary: The Movie during the 2008 presidential primary season (see January 10-16, 2008). The FEC ruled that H:TM, as some have shortened the name, was not a film, but a 90-minute campaign ad with no other purpose than to smear and attack Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as being unfit to hold office. A panel of appeals judges agreed with the FEC’s ruling, which found the film was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” As a campaign ad, the film’s airing on national network television came under campaign finance laws, particularly since the film was financed by corporate political donations. CU was allowed to air the film in theaters and sell it in DVD and other formats, but CU wanted to pay $1.2 million to have the movie aired on broadcast cable channels and video-on-demand (pay per view) services, and to advertise its broadcast. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) hired former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Bossie denies that he chose Olson because of their shared loathing of the Clintons—they worked together to foment the “Arkansas Project,” a Clinton smear effort that resulted in Congress unsuccessfully impeaching President Clinton—but because Olson gave “us the best chance to win.” Bossie dedicated the Clinton film to Barbara Olson, Olson’s late wife, who died in the 9/11 attacks (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] “I just don’t see how the Federal Election Commission has the authority to use campaign-finance rules to regulate advertising that is not related to campaigns,” Bossie told reporters last year. [Christian Science Monitor, 2/1/2008]
Uphold or Cut Back McCain-Feingold? - Observers, unaware of the behind-the-scenes machinations, believe the case gives the Court the opportunity to either uphold or cut back the body of law stemming from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or McCain-Feingold) campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002), which limits the ability of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising before elections. CU is arguing that the BCRA is unconstitutional, having argued before a previous court that the the BCRA law was unconstitutional in the way it was being enforced by the FEC against its film. In its brief to the Court, CU denies the film is any sort of “electioneering,” claiming: “Citizens United’s documentary engages in precisely the political debate the First Amendment was written to protect… The government’s position is so far-reaching that it would logically extend to corporate or union use of a microphone, printing press, or the Internet to express opinions—or articulate facts—pertinent to a presidential candidate’s fitness for office.” The Justice Department, siding with the FEC, calls the film an “unmistakable” political appeal, stating, “Every element of the film, including the narration, the visual images and audio track, and the selection of clips, advances the clear message that Senator Clinton lacked both the integrity and the qualifications to be president of the United States.” The film is closer to a political “infomercial” than a legitimate documentary, the Justice Department argues. The film’s “unmistakable message is that Senator Clinton’s character, beliefs, qualifications, and personal history make her unsuited to the office of the President of the United States,” according to a Justice Department lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, who filed a brief on behalf of the FEC. The Justice Department wants the Court to uphold FEC disclosure requirements triggered by promotional ads, while Olson and CU want the Court to strike down the requirements. Olson says financial backers of films such as H:TM may be reluctant to back a film if their support becomes publicly known. Kneedler, however, writes that such disclosure is in the public interest. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is joining CU in its court fight, stating in a brief, “By criminalizing the distribution of a long-form documentary film as if it were nothing more than a very long advertisement, the district court has created uncertainty about where the line between traditional news commentary and felonious advocacy lies.” Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which supports the BCRA, disagrees with RCFP’s stance, saying, “The idea that [the law] threatens legitimate journalism and people who are out creating documentaries, I think, is a stretch.” [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] The RCFP has said that the movie “does not differ, in any relevant respect, from the critiques of presidential candidates produced throughout the entirety of American history.” And a lawyer with the RCFP, Gregg P. Leslie, asked, “Who is the FEC to decide what is news and what kind of format news is properly presented in?” [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Filled with False Information - The movie was relentlessly panned by critics, who found much of its “information” either misrepresentative of Clinton or outright false. CU made several other films along with the Clinton documentary, which included attacks on filmmaker Michael Moore, the American Civil Liberties Union, illegal immigrants, and Clinton’s fellow presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009]
Arguments Presented - Olson and his opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, present arguments in the case to the assembled Court. Traditionally, lawyers with the Solicitor General (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Toobin later writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and is a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative justice with a penchant for asking tough questions that often hide their true intentions behind carefully neutral wording, is interested in seeing how far he can push Stewart’s argument. Does the BCRA apply only to television commercials, he asks, or might it regulate other means of communication during a federal campaign? “Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth?” Could the law limit a corporation from “providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all those as well?” Stewart says that the BCRA indeed imposes such restrictions, stating, “Those could have been applied to additional media as well.” Could the government regulate the content of a book? Alito asks. “That’s pretty incredible. You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?” Stewart, who tardily realizes where Alito was going, attempts to recover. “I’m not saying it could be banned,” he responds. “I’m saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its—” Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a “swing” justice in some areas but a reliable conservative vote in campaign-spending cases, interrupts Stewart. “Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book,” Kennedy says. “Your position is that, under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60- and 30-day periods?” Stewart gives what Toobin later calls “a reluctant, qualified yes.” At this point, Roberts speaks up. According to Toobin, Roberts intends to paint Stewart into something of a corner. “If it has one name, one use of the candidate’s name, it would be covered, correct?” Roberts asks. Stewart responds, “That’s correct.” Roberts then asks, “If it’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, ‘And so vote for X,’ the government could ban that?” Stewart responds, “Well, if it says ‘vote for X,’ it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by the preexisting Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980) provisions.” Toobin later writes that with their “artful questioning, Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts ha[ve] turned a fairly obscure case about campaign-finance reform into a battle over government censorship.” Unwittingly, Stewart has argued that the government has the right to censor books because of a single line. Toobin later writes that Stewart is incorrect, that the government could not ban or censor books because of McCain-Feingold. The law applies to television advertisements, and stems from, as Toobin will write, “the pervasive influence of television advertising on electoral politics, the idea that commercials are somehow unavoidable in contemporary American life. The influence of books operates in a completely different way. Individuals have to make an affirmative choice to acquire and read a book. Congress would have no reason, and no justification, to ban a book under the First Amendment.” Legal scholars and pundits will later argue about Stewart’s answers to the three justices’ questions, but, as Toobin will later write, “the damage to the government’s case had been profound.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Behind the Scenes - Unbeknownst to the lawyers and the media, the Court initially renders a 5-4 verdict in favor of CU, and strikes down decades of campaign finance law, before withdrawing its verdict and agreeing to hear rearguments in the fall (see June 29, 2009). Toobin will write that the entire case is orchestrated behind the scenes, by Roberts and his fellow majority conservatives. Toobin will write of “a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case” that “reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court.” Toobin will write that although the five conservatives are involved in broadening the scope of the case, and Kennedy actually writes the majority decision, “the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.” The initial vote on the case is 5-4, with the five conservative justices—Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—taking the majority.
Expansive Concurrence Becomes the Majority Opinion - At the outset, the case is decided on the basis of Olson’s narrow arguments, regarding the issue of a documentary being made available on demand by a nonprofit organization (CU). Roberts takes the majority opinion onto himself. The four liberals in the minority are confident Roberts’s opinion would be as narrow as Olson’s arguments. Roberts’s draft opinion is indeed that narrow. Kennedy writes a concurrence opining that the Court should go further and overturn McCain-Feingold, the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), and end the ban on corporate donations to campaigns (see 1907). When the draft opinions circulates, the other three conservatives begin rallying towards Kennedy’s more expansive concurrence. Roberts then withdraws his draft and lets Kennedy write the majority opinion in line with his concurrence. Toobin later writes: “The new majority opinion transformed Citizens United into a vehicle for rewriting decades of constitutional law in a case where the lawyer had not even raised those issues. Roberts’s approach to Citizens United conflicted with the position he had taken earlier in the term.” During arguments in a different case, Roberts had “berated at length” a lawyer “for his temerity in raising an issue that had not been addressed in the petition. Now Roberts was doing nearly the same thing to upset decades of settled expectations.”
Dissent - The senior Justice in the minority, John Paul Stevens, initially assigns the main dissent to Justice David Souter. Souter, who is in the process of retiring from the Court, writes a stinging dissent that documents some of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the case, including an accusation that Roberts violated the Court’s procedures to get the outcome he wanted. Toobin will call Souter’s planned dissent “an extraordinary, bridge-burning farewell to the Court” that Roberts feels “could damage the Court’s credibility.” Roberts offers a compromise: Souter will withdraw his dissent if the Court schedules a reargument of the case in the fall of 2009 (see June 29, 2009). The second argument would feature different “Questions Presented,” and the stakes of the case would be far clearer. The four minority justices find themselves in something of a conundrum. They feel that to offer the Kennedy opinion as it stands would be to “sandbag” them and the entire case, while a reargument would at least present the issues that the opinion was written to reflect. And there is already a 5-4 majority in favor of Kennedy’s expansive opinion. The liberals, with little hope of actually winning the case, agree to the reargument. The June 29, 2009 announcement will inform the parties that the Court is considering overturning two key decisions regarding campaign finance restrictions, including a decision rendered by the Roberts court (see March 27, 1990 and December 10, 2003) and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Court observers will understand that the Court is not in the habit of publicly asking whether a previous Court decision should be overruled unless a majority is already prepared to do just that. Toobin will call Roberts and his four colleagues “impatient” to make the decision, in part because an early decision would allow the ruling to impact the 2010 midterm elections. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Created to Give Courts Shot at McCain-Feingold - Critics, as yet unaware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, will later say that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign will say: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” Bossie himself will later confirm that contention, saying: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010] CU’s original lawyer on the case, James Bopp, will later verify that the case was brought specifically to give the Court a chance to cut back or overturn campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010). The Court will indeed overturn McCain-Feingold in the CU decision (see January 21, 2010).
Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Scott Nelson, US Supreme Court, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Barbara Olson, American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Kennedy, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Michael Moore, Hillary Clinton, Gregg P. Leslie, Nick Nyhart, Edwin Kneedler, David Souter, Federal Election Commission, James Bopp, Jr, John Paul Stevens, David Bossie, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Malcolm Stewart
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A photo from Glenn Beck’s ‘The Civilest War’ broadcast on Fox News. Beck is at far left. [Source: Fox News]Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck writes an article for Fox News promoting his upcoming special program The Civilest War, which he says is an expose of the “tyranny” of the Federal Reserve over the American economy. Beck compares the program to the popular science fiction movie The Matrix, explaining that in the movie: “Nothing was real, the world people lived in was a fabrication—a computer program. Our lives have been like that movie and it is not about Barack Obama. It’s about Obama and [George W.] Bush and [Bill] Clinton and [George H. W.] Bush. It has been going on for years, it is just a play and it goes back to the progressive movement—on both sides of the aisle. In the movie the hero is offered two pills: red to learn the truth about the Matrix; blue to go on living blissfully ignorant to what is really going on. The way to take our country back will short-circuit the Matrix we are living in. And it has to do with gun rights, state’s rights, and what I call the civilest war. It is too much to get into now—but next week take the ‘red pill’ and get the truth.” The hour-long program begins with an adaptation of the famous poem by Martin Niemoller, rewritten by Beck as follows: “I think this is the problem. First they came for the banks. I wasn’t a banker, I didn’t really care. I didn’t stand up and say anything. Then they came for the AIG executives. Then they came for the car companies. Until it gets down to you. Most people don’t see—they are coming for you at some point! You’re on the list! Everybody’s on the list. You may not be rich—as currently defined.” The show features a Utah Republican legislator accusing the federal government of imposing “tyranny” on the citizenry, neo-Confederate historian Kevin Gutzman who gives a very different explanation of the meaning of “constitutional” liberties that would abolish suffrage for women and rights for minorities, and a Montana militia member, Gary Marbut, who concludes that the most sacred rights of the US citizen are to keep and bear arms. [Fox News, 5/2009; Fox News, 5/8/2009; Crooks and Liars, 5/15/2009] Author David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing extremism, notes that the ideas Beck is promoting in The Civilest War are identical to those promulgated by far-right “Patriot” and militia movements in the 1990s, including the idea of absolute “state sovereignty” (see 1983-1995). The ultimate idea behind Beck’s proposals, Neiwert writes, is the dissolution of the federal government and the transformation of the United States into 50 independent and disparate national entities. One of the earliest proponents of Beck’s ideas, Neiwert writes, was former Colorado state legislator Charles Duke (R-CO—see May 15-21, 1996), who still has deep ties to militia and anti-government organizations in the Western states. [Crooks and Liars, 5/15/2009; Crooks and Liars, 5/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Gary Marbut, Charles Duke, Barack Obama, Fox News, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Martin Niemoller, David Neiwert, Glenn Beck, US Federal Reserve, George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Kevin Gutzman
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Rep. Louis Gohmert. [Source: Associated Press / Washington Blade]Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX) lays out a skein of theories on radical radio host Alex Jones’s broadcast. During his interview with Jones, Gohmert accuses the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats of trying to implement socialism and kill senior citizens; Jones and Gohmert compare Obama to a number of foreign despots. Gohmert tells Jones and his listeners: “We’ve been battling this socialist health care, the nationalization of health care, that is going to absolutely kill senior citizens. They’ll put them on lists and force them to die early because they won’t get the treatment as early as they need.… I would rather stop this socialization of health care because once the government pays for your health care, they have every right to tell you what you eat, what you drink, how you exercise, where you live.… But if we’re going to pay 700 million dollars like we voted last Friday to put condoms on wild horses, and I know it just says an un-permanent enhanced contraception whatever the heck that is. I guess it follows that they’re eventually get around to doing it to us.” Gohmert is echoing claims by Republican lawmakers and industry lobbyists that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal will kill senior citizens (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009). Jones ups the ante by accusing the White House “science czar” of planning to “put… stuff in the water to sterilize us,” and then goes on to accuse the White House of, among other things, implementing a “eugenics control grid over us” and implementing “youth brigades, national service compulsory in a group outside the military under the Democratic Party control in the city year in the red and black uniforms.” Gohmert agrees with Jones, and says these kinds of policies were “done in the 1930s,” a plain reference to Nazi Germany, “and it’s not the only place its been done. It has been done throughout history.” Jones says, “Mao did it,” referring to Communist China’s Mao Zedong. Gohmert agrees: “Well, that’s exactly what I was thinking of. This is the kind of the thing we got to stop. We got to get back to the roots, the basics.” Gohmert praises Jones for his rhetoric and accusations: “That shows how on top of things you are, Alex.” For his part, Jones effusively thanks Gohmert and reminds him that “you’re there fighting and we’re supporting you.” [Think Progress, 7/27/2009] Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says of Gohmert and Jones: “You know, the Democrats may be fighting it out about whether they’re going to be beholden to the insurance companies and whether there’s going to be a public option in health care reform. But when it comes to the Republicans, this is the kind of thing they are bringing to the table: Hitler, Mao, and secret plots to kill old people.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2009]
Former President Bill Clinton accuses Republicans of trying to terrify Americans into opposing health care reform, and says the GOP is using those tactics because it lacks the political clout to fight it. Clinton, whose own health care reform efforts were derailed in 1994 (see December 2, 1993 and Mid-January - February 4, 1994), says the big difference between then and now is that Democrats have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate as well as control of the House of Representatives. He calls allegations that the Democrats’ reform proposals include so-called “death panels” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, and August 13, 2009) “crazy.” [Associated Press, 8/13/2009]
Former President Bill Clinton warns that the “tea party” movement is led, not by grassroots organizers and ordinary Americans, but by “people backing ultra right-wing corporate interests” who have been pushing the same agenda “for the last 30 years” (see May 16, 2008, August 2008, February 19, 2009, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, March 23-24, 2009, April 2009 and After, April 6-7, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 28, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, and August 30, 2010). Clinton has advised Democrats to “listen to the tea party” because many of its supporters are “people who feel the middle class has been hosed… by big business and government.… There are a lot of real people in this tea party movement that are saying something everyone should hear—which is: ‘Seems like everyone but average Americans are doing all right here. The people that caused the financial crisis are all back in great shape.’” Clinton expresses his “sympathy” for the members, but draws a sharp distinction between the “tea party” rank and file and its leadership. “The problem is that if you look at the financial energy behind the tea party movement, it’s not about restricting abuse of big public and private power,” Clinton says. “It’s about destroying the role of government in our life so that private centers of power will be untrammeled, and I don’t think that’s good for average Americans.” Democrats should listen to “tea party” members, but Clinton warns against letting their rhetoric “cloud their judgment.” If Republicans take back the House of Representatives in November 2010, Clinton warns that that body will spend most of its time launching pointless, politically-driven investigations into the White House. The nation will experience “two years of unrelenting investigations into the White House, staff, and cabinet,” he says. That is how President Obama will be “rewarded” by Republicans for not investigating alleged Bush administration wrongdoing, he adds. [Politico, 9/20/2010; Salon, 9/21/2010]
Author Jim Kennedy writes that the recent release of President Obama’s “long form” birth certificate (see April 27, 2011) will do nothing to “put an end to the antics of the bizarro-Quixotic birthers… because the birther movement is the Arkansas Project of 2011.” Kennedy is referring to the so-called “Arkansas Project,” a loosely organized effort to bring down the Clinton presidency that resulted in years of groundless allegations and investigations surrounding the Whitewater land deal, and other related allegations, that resulted in the unsuccessful impeachment of President Clinton. Kennedy writes: “The intent of both is the same: paint a false portrait of a Democratic president on a canvas of lies. Birthers claim that Barack Obama was not born in America and is therefore not legitimately serving as president. A simple, however faulty, assertion. But it is merely a gateway to a larger, misleading construct about President Obama—that he is not ‘one of us’ (see April 27, 2011). His values are alien to ours. He’s not fully American. He might be a Muslim, not a Christian. He has a radical agenda that will take our country down a path of socialism. The birthers don’t have to prove their point to make a point. In their scheme, the mere repetition of the question about where the president is from serves to raise questions about where the president is taking us.” Of the Arkansas Project’s claims of million-dollar boondoggles, sex orgies, drug deals, murders, and more, “[n]one of those charges proved true,” he writes, “but the Arkansas Project was never intended to be a search for the truth. It was a shiny, metal object designed to lead the media on a wild goose chase and mislead the public about the values of the Clintons. Like the birther movement, the Arkansas Project represented the marriage of lies and right-wing political agendas.” Significant differences between the two exist, Kennedy writes, most notably the reluctance of many in the mainstream media to pursue the “birther” claims, as opposed to the Arkansas Project allegations, which Kennedy writes, led “many journalists and nearly all Republicans [to] simply [take] the bait and [go] off and running in search of misdeeds that did not exist.” He concludes: “There are fewer media allies for the birthers, and even some noteworthy Republicans are distancing themselves from their cause. Yet their mission will continue, abetted by the likes of Donald Trump. No doubt they will create some excuse to question the new birth certificate, just as some continue to claim [former White House aide] Vince Foster was murdered. [Foster committed suicide, but the Arkansas Project alleged Hillary Clinton had him murdered.] A long form won’t dissuade those who are in it for the long haul. For the goal of the birthers is not to reach a conclusion about the birthplace of a president based on facts. The goal is to encourage the public to reach a conclusion about the values of a president based on lies.” [Huffington Post, 4/27/2011]
Jonathan Martin and John F. Harris, writing for the online news outlet Politico, say that President Obama’s decision to present his “long form” birth certificate as proof of his US citizenship (see April 27, 2011) is a “decisive new turn in the centuries-long American history of political accusation and innuendo. By directly and coolly engaging a debate with his most fevered critics, Obama offered the most unmistakable validation ever to the idea that we are living in an era of public life with no referee—and no common understandings between fair and unfair, between relevant and trivial, or even between facts and fantasy.” The authors note that presidents have been pursued by “[l]urid conspiracy theories” for centuries. However, until now, those presidents have “benefited from a widespread consensus that some types of personal allegations had no place in public debate unless or until they received some imprimatur of legitimacy—from an official investigation, for instance, or from a detailed report by a major news organization.” That is no longer the case, they say (see April 27, 2011). Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “There are no more arbiters of truth. So whatever you can prove factually, somebody else can find something else and point to it with enough ferocity to get people to believe it. We’ve crossed some Rubicon into the unknown.” The writers note their difficulty in envisioning former President Clinton “coming out to the White House briefing room to present evidence showing why people who thought he helped plot the murder of aide Vincent Foster—never mind official rulings of suicide—were wrong” (see April 27, 2011), or former President George W. Bush giving a press conference denying allegations that “he knew about the Sept. 11 attacks ahead of time and chose to let them happen.” Obama’s choice to release the documentation and even to make a personal appearance to announce it are a powerful indication that the political dynamic has changed. Obama advisers explain that he made the decision to do so “because of the radical reordering of the political-media universe over the past 15 years, or so. The decline of traditional media and the rise of viral emails and partisan Web and cable TV platforms has meant the near-collapse of common facts, believed across the political spectrum.” Debunking the myth of Obama’s “foreign birth” means nothing to a large percentage of Americans who still remain unconvinced, or firmly believe the myth, the authors write. After trying to ignore it and mock it into irrelevance, they write, Obama “finally gave in and affirmed a new truth of politics in the Internet era: Nothing can be dismissed and anything that poses a political threat must be confronted directly.” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer says: “We’re dealing with a lot of the same things Clinton and frankly Bush dealt with, but we’re dealing with them at 1,000 times the speed and with fewer referees. That is the downside of the disaggregation of the media. If you don’t want to believe what someone is telling you, you can go somewhere else. If you believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the president is not American, you can go somewhere to find somebody to validate that.” Another Obama adviser, who remains anonymous, adds: “Clinton never had to deal with a fully formed Internet. [Conservative Web gossip Matt] Drudge’s power was born out of the revelations of 1998. A fully automated cable TV universe with the Internet is something that [Clinton] never had to deal with.” Clinton’s press secretary Joe Lockhart says: “You’ve lost the ability to starve a story to death. So what you have to do is raise the price of those who are making the charges. If Donald Trump is out there saying this, you’ve got to make him pay a price for throwing a bomb before too much collateral damage is done.… You literally can’t laugh anything off. There’s nothing neutral in politics. It’s either helping you or hurting you. You’ve got to make sure it’s helping you or you’re going to lose.” The authors note that politicians are learning to use this phenomenon to their own advantage. While Washington Republicans often bemoan the ascendancy of “fringe” pundits like Fox News’s Glenn Beck, the authors write, “they relish the way Beck and ideological confederates excite the GOP base, a contributing factor in the party’s strong performance in 2010.” The authors also point to Democrats’ willingness to allow “liberal commentators” to push for the truth behind George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the National Guard. The authors claim that the Obama team “enjoys giving the stage to the GOP’s most divisive voices,” noting that Gibbs and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel often called conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh “the de facto leader of the Republican Party.” Obama, and his successors, will have to do things previous presidents have never considered, from appearing on less “serious” talk shows such as those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman, or making appearances on networks such as the sports broadcaster ESPN. “It’s hard to see a president doing those things 10 or 20 years ago, but it’s become almost a requirement now,” Gibbs says. It is hard to know where to draw the line, Gibbs continues. “Does it become incumbent to prove everything wrong? You have to be very careful to not fall into that trap because you’ll spend all of your time and energy chasing your own tail.” Pfeiffer says most open-minded Americans will take the “long form” certificate as the evidence required to settle the issue: “There will be some segment of the population who will believe what they’re going to believe, regardless of anything else. But for the majority of the country, we have the capacity to correct the record and convince people of the truth. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but it’s possible.” Pfeiffer notes the “huge amount of time and energy” spent on dealing with the “birther” issue, time better spent, he says, on issues confronting the country. Former Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove says the Obama administration has attempted to use the “birther” controversy against Republicans: “The president himself has hoped Republicans would continue to talk about it, thereby damaging their own credibility. It was a useful diversion (see April 27, 2011). But take a look at recent polls. The problem was the view was taking hold among independents. He got worried it was about to spin out of control” (see April 27, 2011). Rove says Obama was attempting to “play rope-a-dope with Republicans,” a charge Pfeiffer denies (see April 28, 2011). “Up until a month ago, nobody really asked for the long form. It was fringe. It was a settled issue for 99 percent of the country.” Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer says: “It’s a terrible problem for the body politic. People like me who have been or are in the arena have an obligation to speak out against people in both parties who push untruths” (see January 25, 2001, January 25-27, 2001, and April 18, 2001). “The political discourse is much worse now, but that’s not always to the detriment of the so-called victim. In this case, President Obama came out looking better.” Lockhart agrees, saying: “Look at the rogue’s gallery of Clinton accusers. Most of them blew themselves up.” Lockhart acknowledges that for some, the issue will never be settled (see April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, and April 29, 2011). “They’ll probably ask for the first diaper. They’ll want to see the DNA.” [Politico, 4/28/2011]
Entity Tags: Joe Lockhart, Donald Trump, Dan Pfeiffer, Barack Obama, Ari Fleischer, Glenn Beck, Vince Foster, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Robert Gibbs, John F. Harris, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Matt Drudge, Rahm Emanuel, Rush Limbaugh, Jonathan Martin
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Rolling Stone reporter Ari Berman writes that Republican lawmakers across the nation have launched “an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that helped elect Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots.” The initiative is ostensibly to counter the “epidemic” of “voter fraud” that Republicans insist is not only plaguing the nation, but affecting the outcome of elections. (In 2007, the Brennan Center released a report that found the instance of voter fraud vanishingly small, and concluded that more people die by lightning strikes than commit voter fraud—see 2007). Judith Browne-Dianis of the Advancement Project tells Berman, “What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century.” As far back as 1980, powerful Republican operative Paul Weyrich told evangelical leaders: “I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” In 2010, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group founded by Weyrich and funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011), began working to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of legitimate voters, almost of all identified as being part of ethnic or gender groups that are more likely to vote Democratic. Thirty-eight states have submitted legislation designed to impede voting “at almost every step of the electoral process.”
Requiring Proof of Citizenship - Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to show proof of US citizenship before being allowed to vote.
Impeding Voter Registration - Florida and Texas have passed legislation making it more difficult for groups like the League of Women Voters, an organization widely considered to lean Democratic, to register new voters. Maine repealed same-day registration, which had been in effect since 1973 and had worked to significantly increase voter participation. The Florida legislature passed a law requiring groups to hand in voter registration forms within 48 hours of collection, and imposed what Berman calls “a barrage of onerous, bureaucratic requirements” and serious criminal penalties for those who fail to comply. As a result, many people who once volunteered to help register voters are afraid to do so again. The League of Women Voters says it will no longer operate in Florida, and called Florida’s efforts “good old-fashioned voter suppression.” The Florida statute took effect one day after its passage, under an emergency statute designed for “an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare.” Since 2009, Florida has arrested a total of three people for suspected voter fraud. Republican state senator Mike Fasano, one of the few in his party to oppose the restrictions on registrations, says, “No one could give me an example of all this fraud they speak about.”
Curbing Early Voting - Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia have cut short early-voting periods. Six states have moved to impose new restrictions on voter registration drives. In 2004, then-Florida governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) said he thought early voting was “great.… It’s another reform we added that has helped provide access to the polls and provide a convenience. And we’re going to have a high voter turnout here, and I think that’s wonderful.” However, his successor Rick Scott (R-FL) does not agree, and neither do most Republicans. After analysis showed what a benefit early voting was for Obama’s numbers, early voting became a key target. Florida has cut early voting days from 14 to 8 days. Ohio, where early voting numbers gave Obama a narrow victory in 2008, has cut its early voting days from 35 to 11, with only limited hours on weekends. Both states have banned voting on the Sunday before elections, when many black churches historically mobilize their constituents. The Early Voting Information Center at Reed College states, “There is no evidence that any form of convenience voting has led to higher levels of fraud.”
Denying Convicted Felons the Right to Vote - Florida and Iowa have passed laws denying convicted felons the right to vote, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters even if they have already served their sentences and have returned to society. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) restored the voting rights of 154,000 felons convicted of non-violent crimes. In March 2011, after 30 minutes of public debate, Governor Scott overturned that decision, instantly disenfranchising almost 98,000 citizens and prohibiting another 1.1 million convicts from being allowed to vote after they are released from prison. Former President Bill Clinton asked in July: “Why should we disenfranchise people forever once they’ve paid their price? Because most of them in Florida were African-Americans and Hispanics and would tend to vote for Democrats—that’s why.” Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA) recently took a similar action, overturning his predecessor’s decision to restore voting rights to some 100,000 ex-felons. Until recent years, Iowa saw up to five percent of its residents ineligible to vote, including 33 percent of its African-American residents. Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia require former felons to apply for the right to vote to be restored.
Voter Identification - Six states—Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin, all controlled by Republican governors and legislatures—have passed laws requiring an official government ID to cast a ballot. Berman notes that some 10 percent of US citizens lack such identification, and the number of young and black voters, groups that traditionally lean Democratic, are much higher. The turn towards voter ID requirements began in 2008, when the US Supreme Court upheld an Indiana photo-ID requirement even though state lawyers could not produce a single instance of the kind of voter fraud that photo ID laws are designed to prevent. After the ruling, ALEC orchestrated a nationwide move towards photo ID requirements. ALEC wrote draft legislation for Republican legislators based on Indiana’s ID requirement. Five of the states that passed those laws had their legislation submitted by legislators who belong to ALEC. Heather Smith, president of the voter-registration group Rock the Vote, says: “We’re seeing the same legislation being proposed state by state by state. And they’re not being shy in any of these places about clearly and blatantly targeting specific demographic groups, including students.” In Texas, the Republican-dominated legislature passed “emergency” legislation that was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry saying that a concealed-weapons permit is acceptable ID, but a college ID is not. Republicans in Wisconsin effectively disenfranchised every college student by requiring that acceptable IDs contain information that no colleges put on their IDs. Dane County board supervisor Analiese Eicher says, “It’s like creating a second class of citizens in terms of who gets to vote.” In Wisconsin, for example, about half of African- and Hispanic-American citizens do not have a driver’s license, and the state has an extremely small number of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices—some of which are only open one day a month. Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) attempted to close 16 DMV offices, all in heavily Democratic-voting areas. Berman notes, “Walker planned to close a DMV in Fort Atkinson, a liberal stronghold, while opening a new office 30 minutes away in the conservative district of Watertown.” Democratic governors in five states—Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina—have all vetoed ID laws. Voters in Mississippi and Montana are considering ballot initiatives requiring voter IDs. Legislation is currently pending in Pennsylvania. Perhaps the most restrictive law was signed into effect by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC). Voters must have a free state ID to vote—but they must pay for a passport or birth certificate. Brown-Dianis says, “It’s the stepsister of the poll tax.” Many elderly black residents who were born at home in the segregated South and were never issued birth certificates can no longer vote unless they go to family court to prove their identity.
Significant Impact on 2012 Voting - Berman writes that when these measures are taken in the aggregate, the turnout of Democrats to the 2012 votes will be significantly smaller, perhaps enough to throw races to Republican candidates. In July, Clinton told a group of student activists: “One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time. Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate.” Clinton was referring to the 2010 elections, widely considered a Republican “wave” election in part because of far smaller turnouts among young and minority voters than in 2008, and because of a large number of “tea party” voters. Clinton added, “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.”
Cracking Down on Voter Fraud? - Republicans insist that voter fraud is rampant in America. Since George W. Bush took office in 2001 after losing the popular vote (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), his administration made “voter fraud” a top priority for Justice Department prosecutors. In 2006, the DOJ fired two US Attorneys who refused to prosecute patently fraudulent voter fraud allegations. Bush advisor Karl Rove called voter fraud “an enormous and growing problem.” He told the Republican National Lawyers Association that America is “beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are colonels in mirrored sunglasses.” The Republicans successfully destroyed the community activism group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) after false allegations were made that it was, as Berman writes, “actively recruiting armies of fake voters to misrepresent themselves at the polls and cast illegal ballots for the Democrats.” A massive DOJ probe in 2006 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for intentionally impersonating another person at the polls, an action that the DOJ claimed was at the heart of the voter fraud investigation. Eighty-six cases of voter fraud did win convictions, but most of those were immigrants and former felons who did not intentionally cast illegal votes. An enormous investigation in Wisconsin resulted in 0.0007 percent of the electorate being prosecuted for voter fraud. And the Brennan Center report found the instance of voter fraud in America extraordinarily small (see 2007).
Voter Fraud Allegations Dog Obama Victory - Republican lawmakers and activists made a raft of allegations after the November 2008 elections that placed the White House in the hands of Barack Obama (D-IL). The 29 states that register voter affiliation showed a roughly 2-1 increase in new Democratic voters over Republicans for 2008, and Obama won almost 70 percent of those votes. Election reform expert Tova Wang says flatly, “This latest flood of attacks on voting rights is a direct shot at the communities that came out in historic numbers for the first time in 2008 and put Obama over the top.” Berman cites Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as emblematic of the Republican pushback against the Obama victory. Kobach is a former Bush-era Justice Department advisor who helped push through his state’s requirement that every voter prove his or her citizenship, ignoring the fact that Kansas has prosecuted exactly one case of voter fraud since 2006. Kobach used fear of illegal immigrants to help push his requirement through, stating without evidence, “In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive.” He also stated that many people were casting ballots in the name of dead voters, and cited the example of Alfred K. Brewer as a dead voter who mysteriously voted in 2008. However, as the Wichita Eagle showed, Brewer is very much alive. “I don’t think this is heaven,” Brewer told the Eagle, “[n]ot when I’m raking leaves.” Representative John Lewis (D-AL), a civil rights crusader who was brutally beaten during the 1960s effort to win voting rights for African-Americans, says bluntly, “Voting rights are under attack in America.” On the House floor in July, Lewis told the assemblage, “There’s a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”
Fighting Voter Disenfranchisement - Voting-rights organizations are fighting back as best they can. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging several of the new voter-restriction laws in court. Congressional Democrats are pushing the Department of Justice to block or weaken laws that impede minority voters from exercising their rights. Lewis says, “The Justice Department should be much more aggressive in areas covered by the Voting Rights Act.” Meanwhile, many voting-rights experts predict chaos at the polls in November 2012, as voters react with confusion, frustration, and anger at being barred from voting. “Our democracy is supposed to be a government by, of, and for the people,” says Browne-Dianis. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race you are, or where you live in the country—we all get to have the same amount of power by going into the voting booth on Election Day. But those who passed these laws believe that only some people should participate. The restrictions undermine democracy by cutting off the voices of the people.” [Rolling Stone, 8/30/2011]
Entity Tags: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Scott Kevin Walker, Rick Scott, Republican Party, Ari Berman, Tova Wang, US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, Alfred K. Brewer, Paul Weyrich, American Civil Liberties Union, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, American Legislative Exchange Council, Analiese Eicher, Terry Branstad, League of Women Voters, Mike Fasano, Charles Koch, Charles Joseph (“Charlie”) Crist, Jr, Brennan Center for Justice, Barack Obama, David Koch, Early Voting Information Center, Nikki Haley, Heather Smith, John Lewis, Judith Browne-Dianis, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, George W. Bush, Kris Kobach, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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