Saturday, October 22, 2005
Friday, October 21, 2005
The New York Times
Former Powell Aide Says Bush Policy Is Run by 'Cabal'
By BRIAN KNOWLTON
WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 - Secretary of State Colin Powell's former chief of staff has offered a remarkably blunt criticism of the administration he served, saying that foreign policy had been usurped by a "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal," and that President Bush has made the country more vulnerable, not less, to future crises.
The comments came in a speech Wednesday by Lawrence Wilkerson, who worked for Mr. Powell at the State Department from 2001 to early 2005. Speaking to the New America Foundation, an independent public-policy institute in Washington, Mr. Wilkerson suggested that secrecy, arrogance and internal feuding had taken a heavy toll in the Bush administration, skewing its policies and undercutting its ability to handle crises.
"I would say that we have courted disaster, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita - and I could go on back," he said. "We haven't done very well on anything like that in a long time."
Mr. Wilkerson suggested that the dysfunction within the administration was so grave that "if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence."
Mr. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and former director of the Marine Corps War College, said that in his years in or close to government, he had seen its national security apparatus twisted in many ways. But what he saw in Mr. Bush's first term "was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberration, bastardizations" and "perturbations."
"What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues," he said.
The former aide referred to Mr. Bush as someone who "is not versed in international relations, and not too much interested in them, either." He was far more admiring of the president's father, whom he called "one of the finest presidents we've ever had."
Mr. Wilkerson has long been considered a close confidant of Mr. Powell, but their relationship has apparently grown strained at times - including over the question of unconventional weapons in Iraq - and the former colonel said Mr. Powell did not approve of his latest public criticisms.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:47 PM
The New York Times
The Emergency Agency
Worker Tells of Response by FEMA
By ERIC LIPTON
WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 - It was on the day before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, after thousands of people had packed the Superdome, that the lone FEMA worker in New Orleans sent his first plea for help.
"Issues developing at the Superdome," the official, Marty J. Bahamonde, wrote in an agency e-mail message released Thursday by Congressional investigators. "The medical staff at the dome says they will run out of oxygen in about two hours."
Mr. Bahamonde sent a series of messages as the hours and days passed, desperation growing. Most startling, he told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday, was that his supervisors in Washington did not seem to understand. In a series of e-mail messages in which he warned of worsening problems, he was told that the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency needed time to eat dinner at a restaurant in Baton Rouge, La., and to have a television interview.
"It was sad, it was inhumane, it was heartbreaking, and it was so wrong," Mr. Bahamonde said of the conditions and the response. "There was a systematic failure at all levels of government to understand the magnitude of the situation."
A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, William R. Knocke, said Mr. Bahamonde was a respected official and did not contest his testimony. He said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was also frustrated at the response that Mr. Bahamonde was reporting.
Mr. Bahamonde's being the sole FEMA representative in New Orleans for the storm was unintentional, he said. He drove there on Aug. 27, two days before the storm hit, to introduce himself to City Hall officials. Though instructed by officials in Washington to leave, he stayed behind because of traffic jams.
Mr. Bahamonde stayed near the Superdome, where he had been told that a FEMA medical team, as well as 360,000 ready-to-eat meals and 15 water trucks, were being sent ahead of the storm.
None of that turned out to be true. Five water trucks and 40,000 meals were in place. The medical team did not arrive until Aug. 30, the day after the hurricane hit.
The situation worsened by late morning on Aug. 29, when Mr. Bahamonde learned that the 17th Street Canal levee had failed and that the city was flooding. An e-mail message at 1:38 p.m. to FEMA headquarters described the levee break, as well as reports that an estimated 12,000 people were at the Superdome and that 30,000 tourists were stuck in the city.
"North side of city under est. 11' water in heavy residential area," the message said, attributing the information to Mr. Bahamonde.
Mr. Chertoff has often said he did not know about the levee break and flooding until Aug. 30, explaining in part why he went to a meeting that day in Atlanta on avian flu.
"That is incredible," Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said about the communications delay.
Mr. Levin questioned Mr. Bahamonde about testimony last month by the former director of the emergency agency, Michael D. Brown, that a dozen agency employees were in New Orleans before the storm, including an emergency response team.
"How many FEMA people were pre-positioned at the Superdome or in New Orleans?" Mr. Levin asked.
"One," Mr. Bahamonde said.
"And that was?"
On Aug. 31, Mr. Bahamonde decided to send an e-mail message directly to Mr. Brown.
"I know you know, the situation is past critical," Mr. Bahamonde wrote. "Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water."'
An aide to Mr. Brown responded hours later that the director would need a restaurant in Baton Rouge that night. "It is very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner," the message said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:45 PM
The New York Times
Ruling From the Head, Not the Heart
By MORRIS B. HOFFMAN
ONE thing can be said of President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers. It has focused the spotlight of the Constitution's "advice and consent" clause on its proper target: the nominee's qualifications and not her politics. But one of the most important "qualifications" is a nominee's overarching view of the role of the judiciary in American life. With straight faces, Senate Democrats demand Supreme Court appointees who will "protect individual rights," except, of course, the wrong kinds of individual rights (like the right to be born, the right to bear arms, or the right to be considered for state jobs, contracts or college admission without regard to race or gender). Republicans demand, with equally straight faces, justices who will "apply the law, not legislate from the bench," despite a tradition of judge-made law that goes back centuries, and despite a written Constitution that even the most ardent textualists must concede contains at least a couple of ambiguous words.
This battle over the meaning, and continued vitality, of judicial restraint has been going on since Marbury v. Madison, when Chief Justice John Marshall, in the epitome of naked judicial activism, seized for the judicial branch the power to interpret a Constitution that itself was utterly silent on the matter.
Today's version of this fundamental philosophical question, on which our two major political parties seem so sharply to disagree, is this: Does a judge's obligation begin and end with the law, or is the law merely an instrument through which judges should strive to achieve greater social good? It would be unfortunate indeed if we lost sight of this important and legitimate question in our ache for moderation and our distaste of political excess.
Several years ago I had lunch with some trial court colleagues from another jurisdiction. I asked one of the newest judges how she liked the job so far, and she said that she enjoyed it immensely and that she "was even able to do some good in a case last week." Never has there been a more succinct confession of the roots of judicial activism. The good news is that even this activist judge admitted she wasn't free to "do good" all the time; she was often constrained by the unavoidable limitations of that nettlesome interloper, the law.
It is this difference over the perceived role of judges, more than any differences in interpretative theories or even political philosophy, that I believe distinguishes restrained judges from unrestrained ones. Those of us who see the judiciary as an essentially conservative institution, who are wary of our own power, and who know that all manner of personal preferences can be hidden in the sheep's clothing of "discretion" or "interpretation," don't try to find ambiguities in the law that we can then replace with our own views of proper public policy.
Truly restrained judges follow the law no matter how politically or socially unpleasant the destination. A week doesn't go by when I am not forced by the law to do something that I would rather not do if I were, say, a philosopher-king unencumbered by the legislation of mere mortals.
In the early 1900's, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was mistaken by many Progressives as one of them, when in a series of dissents he argued that Congress's progressive legislation was not unconstitutional. But in fact Holmes loathed the Progressive agenda and years later described the essentials of judicial restraint with these now famous words in a letter to a friend: "If my fellow citizens want to go to hell I will help them. It's my job."
We need more judges, at all levels, who are not frustrated policymakers, who won't strain to find ambiguity in unambiguous words because they want to "do good," and who won't hesitate to go where their own principled application of the law takes them, even if (and especially if) it is a result they would not freely choose.
As the Senate takes up the nomination of Harriet Miers next month, let us hope the process sheds as much light on her views on the role of judges in the constitutional firmament as it does on her political and personal preferences, or on the value of her other qualifications.
Morris B. Hoffman is a state trial judge in Denver.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:43 PM
The New York Times
By DAHLIA LITHWICK
OF all the mysteries surrounding President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, possibly the biggest is this: How could a man who got it so right with John Roberts get it so wrong with Ms. Miers?
If the lesson of the Roberts confirmation was to pick someone superbly qualified and watch him whiz through his confirmation, why did President Bush almost deliberately flout that wisdom by nominating an inexperienced crony?
But Chief Justice Roberts and Ms. Miers may have more in common than you think. Both their nominations reflect a deep concern about a too-powerful court and the president's troubling new hostility toward the institution.
Consider this: Chief Justice Roberts's judicial philosophy - to the extent he admits to one - is of "modesty." Throughout his public life, an overwhelming jurisprudential concern has been the constraint of judicial power. He made it clear at his hearings and in rulings from the federal bench that the court exists not to act - not even to react - but chiefly to interpret passively. He has defended court-stripping legislation and argued for limiting judicial remedies.
In Chief Justice Roberts's world view, there are few situations in which the courts ought to be proactive - not when a student is raped by a teacher, and Title IX, the federal law barring sex discrimination in public schools, does not provide her with a meaningful remedy; and not when Virginia Medicaid patients seek reimbursement at reasonable rates, and the Medicaid Act creates no expressly enforceable rights.
John Roberts was unequivocal, at his hearing last month, that if Congress wants to protect the weak, it must write crystal-clear legislation. He would argue that at the end of the day, it's the court's job not to ensure equity or social justice but rather to narrowly construe the law as written regardless of whether the results are fair.
That's a significant departure from the approach taken by the Rehnquist court. Chief Justice Roberts's argument that "if it is not necessary to decide more, it is necessary not to decide more," sounds clever. But it substantially constrains the formerly broad reach of the Rehnquist court.
But nowhere is John Roberts more deferential as a judge than when it comes to the executive branch. In his rulings when he sat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, he offered expansive readings of presidential authority. He ruled on that court that the Geneva Conventions do not confer on so-called enemy combatants any individual rights. And he was unwilling to answer at his hearings whether Congress has the power to end a war started by the president.
If you think of John Roberts as the justice who will urge a far more sweeping judicial deference - particularly to the executive branch - the subsequent Miers nomination makes sense. If Mr. Bush wants to refashion the courts into a weaker, passive entity that exists primarily to check its own institutional prerogatives, then a former White House counsel like Ms. Miers is the perfect choice.
For one thing, having been present in the White House boiler room during the discussions of presidential power in wartime, Ms. Miers is primed to rule in President Bush's favor in the executive power cases. But more profoundly, and perhaps more symbolically, the elevation of Ms. Miers - someone with no judicial experience, no body of constitutional thinking or writing, nothing it seems, but her noble heart to recommend her - sends precisely the message that Mr. Bush wants to send to the courts: You don't need the most qualified candidate. You don't even need someone among the top 500 most qualified candidates. Why? Because the Supreme Court doesn't matter.
Justice Roberts and Ms. Miers represent a one-two punch for presidential supremacy: Justice Roberts would turn the Supreme Court into a body of nine constitutional plumbers - tinkerers around the margins with no affirmative place on the national stage. And Ms. Miers is a plumber - a perfectly competent lawyer with no national distinction. Her nomination would be an insult to the court if the court's work still mattered. But President Bush doesn't want it to matter.
The president has long claimed that Congress and the courts were usurping his powers. The hallmark of his presidency has been efforts to reclaim those powers, be it through Patriot Act provisions that curtail judicial oversight, his invention of new courts to deliver justice-lite to Guantánamo detainees or threats to veto legislation that would prohibit torture.
Now he has had two openings to render the court toothless. He has filled those vacancies with a brilliant jurist who apparently believes the court should sit on its hands in perpetuity, and a place-filler - his new judicial ideal.
Dahlia Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:40 PM
The New York Times
Hiding Behind Katrina
It takes gall to use Hurricane Katrina as cover to undermine the democratic process, but that's what conservative ideologues are attempting in the House. Among their budget-cutting proposals - being sold as "tough choices" for America to pay for the Gulf Coast recovery - is a startling plan to kill public financing in the presidential election system.
That program, financed by $3 checkoffs volunteered by taxpayers on their returns, has been a bulwark of presidential elections. It was enacted about 30 years ago, after the Watergate scandal exposed the big-money bagmen corrupting the heart of the political process. It makes politics more competitive for underdogs, more involving for the public and less reliant on floods of special-interest campaign money.
Congress should indeed turn its attention to the program - not to end it, but to repair its outdated limits. The primary calendar has become so front-loaded that the candidates with the strongest sources of private donations are now choosing to skip the limitations of public financing so they can spend early and furiously, leaving other challengers at a disadvantage.
The primary subsidy formula needs to be made more realistic to level the field, and the checkoff amount should be increased. Candidates should not be allowed to have it both ways by feeding on private money in the primaries, then switching to public money in the general election, as President Bush and Senator John Kerry did last year.
Under the current system, participating candidates in the primaries receive matching funds for the first $250 of each private contribution. This one-to-one formula should be increased to two-to-one matching or more as a way to invite more of the small donations that began showing up impressively last year from Internet users.
Sponsors of the House proposal must know they are wrong because they are trying to tuck the change into a budget bill without a public hearing and debate. If they want budget cuts, they should focus on government waste, not open elections.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:35 PM
The New York Times
The National Parks Under Siege
Year after year, Americans express greater satisfaction with the National Park Service than with almost any other aspect of the federal government. From the point of view of most visitors, there is no incentive to revise the basic management policy that guides park superintendents, a policy that was last revised in 2001 and is usually re-examined only every 10 or 15 years. Longtime park service employees feel much the same way. Yet in the past two months we have seen two proposed revisions. The first, written by Paul Hoffman, a deputy assistant secretary in the Interior Department, was a genuinely scandalous rewriting that would have destroyed the national park system.
On Tuesday, the Interior Department released a new draft. The question isn't whether this revision is better than Mr. Hoffman's drastic rewrite. Almost anything would be better than his version, a glaring example of the zeal to dilute conservation with commercialism among political appointees in the Interior Department. But the new draft would still undermine the national parks.
This entire exercise is unnecessary, driven by politics and ideology. The only reason for revisiting and revising the 2001 management policy was Mr. Hoffman's belief, expressed during a press conference earlier this week, that the 2001 policy is "anti-enjoyment." This will surely come as news to the 96 percent of park visitors who year after year express approval of their experiences. The kind of enjoyment Mr. Hoffman has in mind - as clearly evidenced by his draft and by remarks from Interior Secretary Gale Norton - is opening up the parks to off-road vehicles, including snowmobiles. The ongoing effort to revise the 2001 policy betrays a powerful sense, shared by many top interior officials, that the national parks are resources not to be protected but to be exploited.
This new policy document doesn't go as far as the earlier version. But it would eliminate the requirement that only motorized equipment with the least impact should be used in national parks. It would lower air-quality standards and strip away language about preserving the parks' natural soundscape - language that currently makes it hard, for instance, to justify allowing snowmobiles into Yellowstone. It would also refer park superintendents to other management documents that have been revised to weaken fundamental standards and protections for the parks.
Mr. Hoffman and National Park Service officials have tried to argue that this new policy revision offers greater clarity. What it really offers is greater flexibility to interpret the rules the way they want to. The thrust of these changes is to diminish the historical, and legally upheld, premise that preservation is the central mission of the park system.
Here, for instance, is what this proposed policy revision would remove from the very heart of the park system's mission statement: "Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant."
These unambiguous words contain the legal and legislative history that has protected the parks over the years from exactly the kind of change Mr. Hoffman has in mind, allowing all the rest of us to enjoy the national parks in ways that are more respectful of the future and of the parks themselves.
One of the most troubling aspects of this revised policy is how it was produced. Instead of being shaped by park service professionals thinking in a timely way about how to do their jobs better, this is a defensive document that was rushed forward to head off the more sweeping damage that Mr. Hoffman's first draft threatened to do. It is a tribute to the National Park Service veterans who worked on it that they were able to mitigate so much of the harm, even though they, too, were working directly under Mr. Hoffman's eye. They risked their jobs to protect the parks from political appointees in the Interior Department. This is a measure of how distorted the department's policies have become.
There is more potential damage on the way. At least two deeply worrying new directives have been handed down. One allows the National Park Service to solicit contributions from individuals and corporations instead of merely accepting them when they're offered. This is another way to further the privatization of the national parks and edge toward their commercialization. Privatizing the government's core responsibilities - like the national parks - is unacceptable, and so is the prospect of any greater commercial presence in the parks.
More alarming still is a directive released last week that would require park personnel who hope to advance above the middle-manager level to go through what is essentially a political screening. What we are witnessing, in essence, is an effort to politicize the National Park Service - to steer it away from its long-term mission of preserving much-loved national treasures and make it echo the same political mind-set that turned Mr. Hoffman, a former Congressional aide to Dick Cheney and a former head of the Cody, Wyo., chamber of commerce, into an architect of national park policy.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:34 PM
The New York Times
Congress Passes New Legal Shield for Gun Industry
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 - The Republican-controlled Congress delivered a long-sought victory to the gun industry on Thursday when the House voted to shield firearms manufacturers and dealers from liability lawsuits. The bill now goes to President Bush, who has promised to sign it.
The gun liability bill has for years been the No. 1 legislative priority of the National Rifle Association, which has lobbied lawmakers intensely for it. Its final passage, by a vote of 283 to 144, with considerable Democratic support, reflected the changing politics of gun control, an issue many Democrats began shying away from after Al Gore, who promoted it, was defeated in the 2000 presidential race.
"It's a historic piece of legislation," said Wayne LaPierre, the association's chief executive, who said the bill was the most significant victory for the gun lobby since Congress rewrote the federal gun control law in 1986. "As of Oct. 20, the Second Amendment is probably in the best shape in this country that it's been in decades."
The bill, which is identical to one approved in July by the Senate, is aimed at ending a spate of lawsuits by individuals and municipalities, including New York City, seeking to hold gun manufacturers and dealers liable for negligence when their weapons are used in crimes.
While it bars such suits, the measure contains an exception allowing certain cases involving defective weapons or criminal behavior by a gun maker or dealer, such as knowingly selling a weapon to someone who has failed a criminal background check.
President Bush said in a statement that he looked forward to signing the bill, which he said would "further our efforts to stem frivolous lawsuits, which cause a logjam in America's courts, harm America's small businesses, and benefit a handful of lawyers at the expense of victims and consumers."
Backers of the measure say it is necessary to keep the American arms industry in business, while opponents say the law would deprive gun violence victims of a legitimate right to sue. Dispirited gun-safety advocates said they now expected attempts to dismiss nearly a dozen lawsuits around the country, and they vowed to challenge the constitutionality of the bill in court.
"It's always been a tough fight, let's face that," said Representative Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York, who ran for Congress in 1996 after her husband was killed and her son injured by a gunman on the Long Island Rail Road. She added, "This is personal for me."
Fifty-nine Democrats joined 223 Republicans and the House's lone independent to pass the bill. The chief House sponsor of the bill, Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, said the measure received a boost in July, when Pentagon officials wrote a letter saying they supported it as a way to "safeguard our national security" by limiting lawsuits against companies that supply weapons to the military.
"There's a subtle undertow here about buy America," Mr. Stearns said, adding, "This bill has picked up a little bit of steam because of that."
Mr. Stearns said he had been working to pass the legislation for six years. But the turning point came not in the House, which had previously passed a similar bill, but in the Senate, which has 55 Republicans after the 2004 elections. The stronger majority enabled Republicans to beat back Democratic amendments that had doomed the measure in the past.
The bill's passage was a bit of good news for President Bush and Congressional Republicans, who have been consumed by an intraparty budget battle in the House, the criticism over the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers, a leak investigation involving the president's senior political adviser and the scheduled arraignment of Representative Tom DeLay, who was recently forced to step aside as majority leader, on charges of money laundering and conspiracy in Texas.
Mr. DeLay issued a statement calling the gun bill an important step toward revamping the nation's tort law system. On Wednesday, the House passed another measure, the so-called cheeseburger bill, which protects the restaurant industry from obesity-related lawsuits. Taken together, Mr. DeLay said, the bills "protect America's legal system for genuine plaintiffs."
There have been dozens of lawsuits against the gun industry in recent years, most of them dismissed by the courts. In response to those suits, Mr. LaPierre said, 33 states have adopted laws similar to the federal bill.
While opponents of the measure said it singles out the gun industry for special protection, Mr. LaPierre said the protection is necessary because, unlike auto manufacturers or pharmaceutical companies, American firearms makers "don't have deep pockets," and the industry would be at risk simply from the cost of fighting the lawsuits.
But opponents called the bill shameful - "bought and paid for by the N.R.A.," in the words of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, whose constituents include victims of the 2002 sniper shootings in Washington and its suburbs, called the measure "a cruel hoax" on victims of gun violence.
"I went to a lot of memorial services during that period of time," Mr. Van Hollen said. "I've met with family members. To tell them that their cases were frivolous is, I think, to add insult to injury."
Eight of the sniper victims or their relatives won a $2.5 million legal settlement from the manufacturer of the gun used in the shootings and the dealer in Washington State who sold it. Mr. LaPierre said that suit would have been permitted under the law passed Thursday. But the lawyer who brought it, Dennis Henigan of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, disagreed.
Mr. Henigan said that while the dealer had violated federal law, the bill would have prevented the suit nonetheless because the violations did not pertain directly to the weapon used in the sniper shootings. He said he intended to challenge the bill on constitutional grounds, arguing that it deprives states of their right to legislate and deprives victims of their right to sue.
"We're going to argue that this statute is literally unprecedented in American history," Mr. Henigan said, "because it is the first time that the federal government will be stepping in and retroactively depriving injured people of their vested legal rights under state law, without providing them any alternative."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:31 PM
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Flu jab for whole population plan
Plans to purchase enough vaccine to cover every person in the UK in the event of a flu pandemic have been announced by the Department of Health.
Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said 120 million doses would be needed.
But he said it could not be developed until the exact strain of the flu virus causing the pandemic was known.
The ability of EU nations to coordinate their efforts to tackle a pandemic is to be tested in a simulation exercise.
On Wednesday an outbreak of the bird flu virus was reported in poultry in the Russian province of Tula, to the south of Moscow.
China revealed that 2,600 birds have died from the disease in Inner Mongolia.
And Romania has confirmed birds infected a second outbreak in the country did have the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.
Sir Liam Donaldson on Wednesday published updated guidance on how to prepare for a possible pandemic.
The government is inviting manufacturers to tender for a contract to supply the pandemic flu vaccine.
And thousands of information packs are to be sent to GPs.
25% of the population - 15 million people - may suffer from flu during a pandemic
Out of a population of 100,000 people, local health care organisations should expect to see at least 1,000 new flu patients a week
This figure could rise to 5,000 a week at the virus's peak
Around 25% of the working population may need to take sick leave of between five and eight working days
Source: Department of Health
Sir Liam said: "We cannot prevent a flu pandemic, but we can reduce its impact.
"One of the most effective counter-measures we can take against a flu pandemic is to make sure we develop and manufacture a vaccine as quickly as possible.
"We will use this vaccine to immunise the UK population and reduce the impact of a pandemic on society."
Sir Liam said each person in the country would need two doses of vaccine if a mutated form of bird flu affecting humans hit the UK.
However, he admitted that manufacturing the vaccine could take some time - experts have predicted it could take months.
It is thought that there is no direct threat to the public from current outbreaks in other countries.
Sir Liam has predicted that the epicentre of any new strain is likely to be in East Asia, and that a major outbreak is unlikely in the UK this year.
But he has also warned that 50,000 lives could be lost in the event of bird flu taking hold in the UK.
The UK Influenza Pandemic Contingency Plan includes quarantine measures, stockpiling of anti-viral drugs and research into a vaccine as well as arrangements for the emergency services.
Concerts and football matches could both be banned and travel restricted in the event of an outbreak to stop the virus spreading.
The UK has so far stockpiled 2.5 million doses of anti-viral drugs - and may restrict travel if there is an outbreak.
On Monday, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt told MPs she was confident enough was being done.
The European simulation exercise will involve officials in command centres across Europe reacting to imaginary scenarios.
The exercise, called Common Ground, requested by the European Commission, will not involve any "real world" mobilisation of emergency services and healthcare staff. It will be command centre and desk-based.
Other European countries are stepping up measures to prevent the spread of bird flu, following the discovery in Turkey and Romania of the H5N1 strain which is dangerous to humans.
The European Commission has banned bird and poultry imports from the countries.
H5N1 has killed more than 60 people in South-East Asia since 2003.
On Monday, Greece became the first EU member to confirm a case of bird flu.
It is not yet known if the Greek case is H5N1.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:53 AM
Terror threat snarls Baltimore
BALTIMORE - A sketchy threat to blow up vehicles full of explosives prompted authorities yesterday to close one of the busy tunnels underneath Baltimore's harbor and partially shut down the other.
One person who may have been connected to the threat was arrested on immigration charges, a law enforcement official said.
Traffic was allowed to resume by early afternoon after being diverted for nearly two hours, but the FBI continued to investigate.
The four-lane Baltimore Harbor Tunnel was closed around midday, and the eight-lane Fort McHenry Tunnel was reduced to one lane in each direction. The tunnels, both about 1.4 miles long, carry traffic between Washington and the Philadelphia and New York City areas.
A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a man in custody in the Netherlands was the source of information about the threat.
The Associated Press
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:52 AM
Hil and Chuck slam tax plan
NEWS WIRE SERVICES
WASHINGTON - A proposal to do away with many tax deductions would wallop New Yorkers with an extra $12 billion tax bill, officials warned yesterday.
The President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform's offering of a drastically simplified income tax system - one that would no longer allow taxpayers to deduct what they pay in state and local taxes - was denounced by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
"It is a dagger to the heart of the people on New York," said Schumer, who vowed to defeat the "pernicious proposal."
Clinton said 3.2 million families in the state would be affected and demanded Bush immediately dismiss the plan.
Gov. Pataki also vowed to fight the proposal.
Nationally, taxpayers would pay roughly the same amount of tax under the proposed system, and much of the paperwork would be eliminated.
The White House made no commitment to stick to the panel recommendations when forwarding its tax-simplification proposal to Congress next year, Bush administration spokesman Scott McClellan said.
More info about the plan is at www.taxreformpanel.gov.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:50 AM
Prez Iraq team fought to squelch war critics
BY JAMES GORDON MEEK and KENNETH R. BAZINET
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON - It was called the White House Iraq Group and its job was to make the case that Saddam Hussein had nuclear and biochemical weapons.
So determined was the ring of top officials to win its argument that it morphed into a virtual hit squad that took aim at critics who questioned its claims, sources told the Daily News.
One of those critics was ex-Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who debunked a key claim in a speech by President Bush that Iraq sought nuclear materials in Africa. His punishment was the media outing of his wife, CIA spy Valerie Plame, an affair that became a "side show" for the White House Iraq Group, the sources said.
The Plame leak is now the subject of a criminal probe that has seen presidential political guru Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, hauled before a grand jury.
Both men were members of the group, also known as WHIG. From late 2002 through mid 2003, it was locked in a feud with officials inside the CIA and State Department over claims Saddam tried to buy "yellow cake" uranium in Niger to build nukes, a former Bush administration and intelligence sources told The News.
"There were a number of occasions when White House officials or Vice President [Cheney's] staffers, or others, wanted to push the envelope on things," an ex-intelligence official said. "The agency would say, 'We just don't have the intelligence to substantiate that.'" When Wilson was sent by his wife to Africa to research the claims, he showed the documents claiming Saddam tried to buy the uranium were forgeries.
[NOTE: Wilson was NOT sent by his wife. That is an extremely inaccurate statement.]
"People in the Iraq group then got very frustrated. It was a side show," said a source familiar with WHIG.
Besides Rove and Libby, the group included senior White House aides Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James Wilkinson, Nicholas Calio, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley. WHIG also was doing more than just public relations, said a second former intel officer.
"They were funneling information to [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller. Judy was a charter member," the source said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:48 AM
Bush whacked Rove on CIA leak
BY THOMAS M. DeFRANK
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF
WASHINGTON - An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair, sources told the Daily News.
"He made his displeasure known to Karl," a presidential counselor told The News. "He made his life miserable about this."
Bush has nevertheless remained doggedly loyal to Rove, who friends and even political adversaries acknowledge is the architect of the President's rise from baseball owner to leader of the free world.
As special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald nears a decision, perhaps as early as today, on whether to issue indictments in his two-year probe, Bush has already circled the wagons around Rove, whose departure would be a grievous blow to an already shell-shocked White House staff and a President in deep political trouble.
Asked if he believed indictments were forthcoming, a key Bush official said he did not know, then added: "I'm very concerned it could go very, very badly."
"Karl is fighting for his life," the official added, "but anything he did was done to help George W. Bush. The President knows that and appreciates that."
Other sources confirmed, however, that Bush was initially furious with Rove in 2003 when his deputy chief of staff conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak.
Bush has always known that Rove often talks with reporters anonymously and he generally approved of such contacts, one source said.
But the President felt Rove and other members of the White House damage-control team did a clumsy job in their campaign to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, the ex-diplomat who criticized Bush's claim that Saddam Hussen tried to buy weapons-grade uranium in Niger.
A second well-placed source said some recently published reports implying Rove had deceived Bush about his involvement in the Wilson counterattack were incorrect and were leaked by White House aides trying to protect the President.
"Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way," the source said.
None of these sources offered additional specifics of what Bush and Rove discussed in conversations beginning shortly after the Justice Department informed the White House in September 2003 that a criminal investigation had been launched into the leak of CIA agent Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak.
A White House spokesman declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of Fitzgerald's investigation.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:45 AM
GOP Is Caught Between Alliances
By Ronald Brownstein Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — As they navigate turbulent political seas, President Bush and congressional Republicans find themselves in a boat leaking from both ends.
Amid public discontent over the war in Iraq, high gas prices, the response to Hurricane Katrina and ethical controversies in Washington, approval ratings for Bush and the GOP-led Congress have tumbled to ominously low levels among independent and moderate voters.
But the White House and congressional leaders also are facing widespread dissatisfaction among conservative leaders antagonized by Bush's spending policies and his nomination of White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court.
This two-front war complicates the challenge for the GOP as Bush tries to regain the initiative in Washington and the party prepares for the 2006 midterm elections.
Many of the actions Bush could take to reassure conservative leaders — such as replacing Miers with a more identifiably conservative nominee — might alienate voters in the center. On immigration, Bush confronts the opposite problem: pushing for changes that might broaden the party's appeal, especially among Latinos, would further fracture his base.
Across a range of issues, said veteran GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio, Bush and Republican congressional leaders "are going to have a very tough time moving forward" in a way that pleases conservatives and moderates.
In the near term, Bush and GOP congressional leaders seem focused on quelling the uprising among conservatives. "The common theme is, 'We have to get back to the base,' " said one prominent lobbyist who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was involved in strategy discussions with Capitol Hill Republicans and the White House.
One measure of that focus is the effort by House Republican leaders to impose additional spending cuts on next year's federal budget — a response to demands from House conservatives uneasy with new federal spending Bush has promised after Hurricane Katrina.
On immigration, congressional Republicans may be executing a similar shift. In recent weeks, House and Senate leaders have said they intend to advance legislation that emphasizes the increased border security favored by conservatives, rather than the more comprehensive approach — including a guest worker program — that Bush and most Democrats prefer.
The revelation Tuesday that Miers indicated support for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion during her 1989 race for the Dallas City Council also seems likely to soothe some conservatives.
Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, said that stabilizing the president's base was more important for the GOP over the next year than wooing independents disaffected from the administration.
Those independent voters, Dowd predicted, will "shift rather quickly based on current events" in the coming months. But, he maintained, "the more important question for 2006 is: How motivated is each side's base? That's more important than the vicissitudes of swing voters."
Democrats say that calculation underestimates the difficulty Republicans could face in regaining the allegiance of independent voters who have soured on Bush and Congress, according to recent surveys.
Stanley B. Greenberg, a veteran Democratic pollster, said that independents appeared increasingly "alienated by the base-oriented Bush presidency," and that the White House and GOP congressional leaders could compound their problems if they tilted right to satisfy conservatives.
"He could lose all the independents in the process," Greenberg said.
According to polls, voters who describe themselves as independents made up about a quarter of the electorate in 2002 and 2004. But Dowd and other strategists close to the White House contend the share of voters entirely unattached to either party is much smaller.
Dowd's focus on voters from the party's base, and the recent moves by congressional Republicans, fit with the political strategy the party has generally followed under Bush.
From the outset of his presidency, Bush has consistently pursued policies that excite grass-roots conservatives and unify congressional Republicans but alienate Democrats and unsettle many independents.
In the 2002 and 2004 elections, that approach benefited the GOP. In each contest, Bush inspired a huge Republican turnout. And although he didn't run as well with independents as his father, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s, his image as a strong leader helped the GOP roughly break even with that group in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns, polls found.
Now, both ends of that formula are under pressure.
In recent national surveys, Bush's standing among independents has dropped to its lowest point during his White House tenure. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey released Monday, 32% of independents said they approved of his performance as president, whereas twice as many — 64% — said they disapproved.
Attitudes toward Congress are even more negative. In the new poll, 1 in 4 independents said they approved of Congress' performance, whereas about 7 in 10 said they disapproved. Among all Americans, the approval rating for Congress in the survey was 29% — its lowest level since 1994, the year Democrats lost their majorities in both chambers.
If the poll numbers among independents toward Bush and Congress do not improve, many party analysts fear it would create a political problem too large for Republicans to overcome simply with high turnout from their base in next year's elections.
"The Republican base can be as intense as it wants, but if you are going to lose independents nationally by 15 [percentage] points, it doesn't matter," said Fabrizio, the pollster for GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996.
Adding to the challenge, Republicans are being warned by conservative leaders that their followers might not turn out in full force at the next election.
"From now on, this administration will find it difficult to muster support on the right without explaining why it should be forthcoming," David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, wrote this week in the Hill, a newspaper covering Congress. "The days of the blank check have ended."
Polls don't show the discontent among conservative leaders yet trickling down much to the rank and file. Although down from his high point of 90% or more, Bush still attracted approval ratings of about 80% from Republicans, according to the new poll.
But Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said that if conservative leaders were "continually negative, we would expect that rank and file conservatives would eventually follow."
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:44 AM
Analysis: CIA leak case spotlights Bush tactics
By Tom Raum, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's CIA-leak inquiry is focusing attention on what long has been a Bush White House tactic: slash-and-burn assaults on its critics, particularly those opposed to the president's Iraq war policies.
If top officials are indicted, it could seriously erode the administration's credibility and prove yet another embarrassment to President Bush on the larger issue of how he and his national security team marshaled information — much of it later shown to be inaccurate — to support their case for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
The grand jury is concluding a 22-month investigation of whether administration officials illegally leaked information disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA officer, Valerie Plame, in an effort to discredit her husband, former diplomat and war critic Joseph Wilson.
Anxiety at the White House increased after Bush adviser Karl Rove's fourth appearance last week before Fitzgerald's grand jury, and with a New York Times reporter's firsthand account of her dealings with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide.
Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, the Bush administration's public diplomacy chief and a longtime Bush confidante, said, however, that the White House was not distracted by the investigation. "It's not something that's affecting the daily business of the White House," Hughes said in a taped interview aired Tuesday on NBC's Today show. "It's business as usual."
The piece by reporter Judith Miller also fueled speculation that Fitzgerald was seeking to determine whether Cheney played a role in a campaign to discredit Wilson.
"The grand jury investigation has the possibility of really shining a light on the credibility of the administration, how officials tried to undermine those who were criticizing them and how they then covered up that attempt," said American University political scientist James Thurber.
"The question of whether the vice president was involved, we'll probably never know. But it was pretty close to him," said Thurber. He questioned whether Rove and Libby would have operated "on their own" in discussing Wilson's wife with reporters.
White House officials have had quiet discussions about what to do if any Bush aides are charged. There is a general expectation that a staffer would resign if indicted.
Wilson had written a newspaper essay, published July 6, 2003, that sought to undermine the administration's earlier claims that Iraq had sought to buy uranium "yellowcake" from Niger to help it build nuclear bombs.
It came at a particularly difficult time for the president and his aides. The war clearly was not going well, despite Bush's "mission accomplished" speech two months earlier. And Bush was already reeling from criticism over mentioning the African yellowcake connection — which turned out to be based on faulty British intelligence — in his State of the Union address.
While the president and his top aides refuse to comment now on the investigation, or on any issues surrounding the unfounded Iraq-African uranium claim, they weren't so tightlipped in July 2003.
During a presidential trip to Africa just days after Wilson's article appeared, then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice — now the secretary of state — spent nearly an hour with reporters on Air Force One trying to put blame for the faulty State of the Union conclusions on the CIA and its then-director, George Tenet.
Bush was also talkative then. "I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services," he told reporters during a stop in Uganda.
Some analysts suggest that any administration plot to undermine Wilson privately only mirrored Bush and Rice's open efforts to undermine Tenet on the same subject.
"This is an administration that was trying to play hardball at every level," said Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy scholar at the Brookings Institution. "And that's what they were doing with Wilson. And he of course was playing hardball, too. It was an ugly back and forth."
Plame was named by columnist Robert Novak on July 14, 2003, as a CIA operative on weapons of mass destruction. Novak wrote that "two senior administration officials" had told him that Plame had suggested her husband, a former ambassador, be sent to Niger in 2002 to check out reports that Saddam Hussein was shopping for uranium.
The reports had no basis in fact, something Wilson reported back to a Bush administration that ignored his conclusions, Wilson later wrote.
In her account in Sunday editions of The New York Times, Miller, who spent 85 days in jail before agreeing to speak to the grand jury, wrote that Fitzgerald asked her questions about Cheney. "He asked, for example, if Mr. Libby ever indicated whether Mr. Cheney had approved of his interviews with me or was aware of them," she wrote.
Such a question could suggest the prosecutor was investigating whether Cheney was part of a conspiracy to discredit Plame and Wilson.
"The answer was no," Miller wrote.
While Bush vowed as recently as July to fire anyone on his staff found to have committed a crime in the CIA-leak matter, he has since completely clammed up.
"I've made it very clear to the press that I'm not going to discuss the investigation," Bush said Monday when asked by a reporter whether he would remove an aide under indictment. "There's a serious investigation. I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation."
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Posted by politicalstuff at 10:41 AM
Repeat of Past Mistakes Mars Government's Disaster Response
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
On Sept. 25, White House press secretary Scott McClellan defended the tumultuous evacuation of 3 million Texans from the path of Hurricane Rita. "This was an unprecedented number of people who were being evacuated," he said. His comments echoed sentiments offered by Texas's governor, a senator and several mayors.
In fact, the evacuation was the largest in U.S. history -- at least since 1999.
Barely six years ago, in a lesson seemingly forgotten by U.S. authorities, Hurricane Floyd prompted the headlong flight of more than 3 million people from coastal Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
The result, as summarized in a 240-page report by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, foreshadowed the anarchy on freeways leading away from Houston last month: 18-hour traffic jams outside Charleston, S.C.; complaints that highways were not quickly converted into one-way exit routes; and shortages of supplies for hundreds of thousands of evacuees.
The repeated cycle of calamity, response and criticism highlights a persistent flaw in the nation's disaster preparedness four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: the inability of emergency agencies to learn from past mistakes, even those committed in recent years, say current and former government officials involved in homeland security.
Instead, personnel turnover, constantly changing priorities and split responsibilities among federal agencies and state and local governments sap the nation's ability to break patterns of bureaucratic failure, experts say. From establishing compatible communications systems for first responders to enforcing baseline preparedness standards for cities and states, goals set in 2001 remain frustratingly out of reach.
Heightened debate over the military's role in domestic preparedness is also familiar ground. On Sept. 3, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff declared that the sluggish response to the "ultra-catastrophe" wrought by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast required officials to "break the mold" of disaster response and improve on an eight-month-old National Response Plan. On Sept. 25, President Bush proposed enabling "the Defense Department to become the lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort."
But 13 years earlier, authorities said that Hurricane Andrew had delivered a "mega-catastrophe" to South Florida. Then-Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) called for an expanded domestic role for the military; others called for improvements to a 1-year-old Federal Response Plan, the NRP's precursor.
Within five months, the Pentagon retooled its response to domestic disasters, issuing its first directive to speed "military support to civil authorities."
Yet the changes did not take root in time to help Katrina's victims.
"We shouldn't be in the same situation, especially now that we have a department whose mission is to increase our preparedness," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and head of the Senate investigation into the Katrina response.
Arnold Punaro, an aide to Nunn for 24 years and a major general in the Marine Corps Reserve, said the problem is not a shortage of plans or policies, but a failure to practice and execute existing powers. "The problem with lessons learned is people unlearn them and make the same mistakes," he said.
John A. Koskinen, the federal official in charge of preparing for the year 2000 software flaw, said a deeper concern is the assumption that disaster preparedness is someone else's problem -- state and local government's or the military's.
The weaknesses in federal disaster management exposed by Katrina are not new. Catastrophic events by their nature overwhelm emergency agencies' ability to respond, communicate and coordinate with one another. Likewise, human nature often places rare threats, no matter how awful, behind smaller, more routine problems in the battle for time and money.
But natural disasters are a predictable matter of actuarial certainty, said Peter Senge, a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When the complexity of a mission such as preparedness spreads responsibility so widely across governments, the challenge is to force a "cultural change" at all levels, he said.
The recent history of evacuation planning and military involvement in disaster response plans shows that need. Nine months after Floyd rolled up the Southeast's coastline and struck North Carolina as a Category 3 storm, consultants PBS&J of Tallahassee prepared a detailed evacuation assessment for FEMA and the Army Corps.
"Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina experienced the largest evacuation effort in American history," FEMA said in a Sept. 14, 2000, news release. "Traffic engineers estimated that 3 million people took to the highways in what was to become a frustrating effort. Instead, they created the largest, longest and most incredibly snarled traffic jam ever known."
Floyd's large size and "uncertain path" created "unanticipated volumes of evacuees," who fled areas not considered unsafe, the PBS&J report stated, circumstances shared with Rita last month.
Although the four Southeastern states updated their evacuation models and rebuilt some highways, the message never reached the other side of the Gulf, said PBS&J vice president Donald Lewis. PBS&J was hired to produce an evacuation study last year for the Houston-Galveston area.
The Floyd-affected states updated computer population and evacuation models to track vehicle movements. The improvement would have cost Texas "$100,000 at the most," Lewis said, but it was not done.
About $2 million a year goes to FEMA's hurricane evacuation study program, Lewis said, and the money is split among 24 states. It can take five to seven years for a state such as Virginia to accumulate the money for a full evacuation study of, say, Hampton Roads, Lewis said.
Gas shortages and traffic jams are also long predicted, but education campaigns to shape public expectations have never been undertaken. Lewis's colleague Bob Collins, hurricane program manager for Florida from 1994 to 2004, blamed a failure by government to share information with states and teach the public to prevent panicky overreactions.
"There truly is no overriding coordination, no guidance from the federal government," Collins said.
The debate over the Defense Department's role in disasters raises a different question, of whether the best plans can be stymied by poor execution, experts said. Bush's push for the military to play an expanded role in the worst natural disasters follows lengthy discussions in the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Reviews and the post-Sept. 11 creation of the U.S.-based Northern Command to assume greater homeland security functions.
A 2004 Rand Corp. study proposes a strategy that might permit the Army Reserve to conduct domestic homeland security missions, dedicate some active-duty forces for rapid deployment and training, and develop regional National Guard task forces with special law enforcement units.
Such discussion, joined by the White House, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and senior members of Congress, echoes debate in 1992, said Col. Mark Eshelman, director of defense support to civil authorities at the Army War College.
A January 1993 Defense Department directive reflected that Andrew "was a formative event for the military," Eshelman said, and laid out the military's construction of "a single system . . . to plan for, and respond to requests from civil government agencies for military support" and respond to "major disasters or emergencies" in cooperation with FEMA.
Lynn Davis, author of the Rand report, said the current debate should not focus so much on new legal authorities or powers, which already exist, but on what the public and leaders are prepared to do in an emergency. "The way you want to use your forces is really the issue," Davis said.
After reports that civilian authorities were slow to request or order military assets for Katrina on Aug. 29, the United States was able to muster what became a force of about 70,000 troops, 21 ships and 215 aircraft in the region for Rita about three weeks later.
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:40 AM
Messages Depict Disarray in Federal Katrina Response
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
As Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans on Aug. 29, Michael D. Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, appeared confused over whether Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had put him in charge, senior military officials could not reach Brown and his team became swamped by the speed of the unfolding disaster, according to e-mails to and from Brown.
When Chertoff belatedly named Brown the on-site disaster coordinator on the night of Aug. 30 and declared Katrina an "incident of national significance" -- the highest- order catastrophe under a new national response plan -- Brown and his assistants privately complained.
"Demote the Under Sec to PFO [Principal Federal Officer]?" an outraged FEMA press secretary Sharon Worthy wrote Brown at 10:54 p.m., soon after Chertoff's decision. "What about the precedent being set? What does this say about executive management and leadership in the Agency?"
"Exactly," replied Brown, then-under secretary for preparedness and response, according to e-mails obtained by The Washington Post.
The e-mails also show that the government's response plan, two years in the making, began breaking down even before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Before the storm hit, Brown's deputy chief of staff, Brooks Altshuler, said White House pressure to form an interagency crisis management group was irrelevant, even though a task force and principal federal officer are key parts of the plan.
"Let them play their raindeer games as long as they are not turning around and tasking us with their stupid questions. None of them have a clue about emergency management," Altshuler told Brown and Brown's chief of staff, Patrick Rhode.
The documents offer a glimpse of the disarray in preparations for and the response to Katrina, for which FEMA has been widely criticized. A misunderstanding of national disaster plan roles, communications failures, delayed decision-making and absent voices of leadership mark the documents, which came as a partial response by FEMA's parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, to a request by a House select investigative committee.
The Post obtained copies of 20 of about 80 e-mails to and from Brown between Aug. 23 and Sept. 12.
There are many gaps in the record. For instance, there are few references to Chertoff or the White House. Brown has testified that he was in at least daily telephone or e-mail contact with Chertoff and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. or his deputy, Joe Hagin.
The Homeland Security Department has not completed its response to the House panel's request for Brown's e-mails and for his correspondence with Chertoff or his predecessor as secretary, Tom Ridge, regarding the development of FEMA's budget since 2003.
Brown has said the department caused "the emaciation of FEMA" by cutting funds, staff and denying spending on a New Orleans hurricane preparedness plan.
Chertoff's voice is markedly absent from the correspondence so far, said I. Michael Greenberger, a former Clinton administration official who heads the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland. "Chertoff appears to be sort of an interested overseer, rather than the chief of staff to the president managing this in Washington," he said.
Chertoff is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House Katrina committee, his first extended public appearance on Capitol Hill regarding the disaster.
A spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the investigation, declined to discuss the documents yesterday, saying members will ask Chertoff about them Wednesday.
"Davis wants to know if Michael Brown had it right. Does Secretary Chertoff agree that FEMA has grown emaciated, that its budget's been hijacked and that it's been organizationally undermined since Congress folded it into DHS?" Davis spokesman David Marin said.
Asked about the e-mails, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke cautioned: "It is extraordinarily difficult to extract a clear understanding of everything that was going on from a single e-mail, or even a few e-mails." As reviews continue, he said, "We'll undoubtedly deconflict some individual accounts."
The documents show a quick breakdown in communications after the hurricane hit Aug. 29. With telephone and wireless reception spotty, FEMA's operations center resorted to e-mailing Brown the next afternoon to ask him to call Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England.
As late as Sept. 1, the head of the military's Hurricane Katrina Task Force, Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, was unable to reach Brown and asked FEMA officials to track down his satellite phone.
"He [Honore] wants to speak with Mike very badly," FEMA aides wrote at 1 p.m. Three hours later, the reply came from a Brown aide: "Not here in [Mississippi.] Is in [Louisiana], as far as I know."
The first FEMA request to the Defense Department was not reported in Brown's e-mails until 10 a.m. on Sept. 2 -- nearly three days later -- seeking "full logistical support to the Katrina disaster in all [emergency] declared states."
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) requested 40,000 U.S. troops on Aug. 31.
Brown's e-mails show that FEMA leaders acted on information that conflicts with the timeline released by Homeland Security a week after the hurricane. Altshuler's e-mail of Aug. 28, for example, referred to White House pressure to create the interagency team that would include FEMA, the Pentagon, the State Department and others. The group began meeting Aug. 26, according to the department timeline.
Knocke said that the group convened Aug. 29, but that individuals received updates earlier.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:38 AM
The New York Times
October 19, 2005
9/11 Panel Says Congress and White House Are Failing to Act
By PHILIP SHENON
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 - The members of the Sept. 11 commission will sharply criticize the Bush administration and Congress this week in a new, privately financed report expected to single out the F.B.I. as having failed to act on many of the panel's recommendations to protect the nation from terrorist attack, members of the bipartisan panel and its staff said.
They said the report, scheduled for release on Thursday by a private educational group created by the 10 former commissioners, will also criticize the White House as not doing enough to defend civil liberties and privacy rights as it expanded the government's surveillance powers after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. A civil liberties oversight board created by the White House earlier this year is toothless and underfinanced, some of the commissioners said.
A Democratic member of the commission, Timothy J. Roemer, a former House member from Indiana, said the new "report card" would show that the administration and Congress had taken no action on many of the panel's central recommendations, "and we're not going to get many more chances to get things right before the terrorists come at us again."
Mr. Roemer said in an interview that the F.B.I. would be criticized because it "has talked about well-intentioned reform but has not delivered it."
"We still need to see a big change in that culture," he said.
Congress would be criticized, Mr. Roemer said, for having failed to follow through on the panel's major recommendations for an overhaul of Congressional oversight of intelligence and terrorism issues. In its final report last year, the commission described Congressional oversight as "dysfunctional."
The report is being prepared by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, a privately financed lobbying group that reflects an unusual effort by members of a federal blue-ribbon commission to press for their recommendations.
Asked about the report, a White House spokeswoman, Erin Healy, said that "while we haven't seen the report, the president knows that protecting the American people from terrorist threats requires a comprehensive approach." The administration had a "clear strategy of strengthening our defenses at home and taking the fight to the enemy abroad," Ms. Healy said.
The F.B.I. had no comment on the new report. A spokesman referred to testimony last month for Congress by the bureau director, Robert S. Mueller III, who insisted it had made important progress in pursuing terrorist threats.
In its final, book-length report last year, the commission offered some of its strongest criticism for the F.B.I. and documented how the bureau had repeatedly mishandled intelligence about terrorist threats before the Sept. 11 attacks, including detailed warnings that terrorists might try to use commercial planes in an attack. The report said the bureau should retain its responsibility for domestic terrorism investigations "only if it makes an all-out effort to institutionalize change."
In recent months, the bureau has acknowledged that many of the failings identified by the Sept. 11 commission continue to plague it, including antiquated computer and communications equipment that make it almost impossible for agents to coordinate information on terrorism investigations easily.
In March, the F.B.I. shut a $170 million program to update computer software, admitting it would take more than three years to develop a workable system. The Justice Department inspector general reported this year that the bureau had a backlog of thousands of hours of tapes to be translated from Arabic and other languages for terrorism inquiries. Commission members said they expected that the new report would include some praise for the administration and Congress, especially on enacting a central recommendation, creating the post of director of national intelligence to force the intelligence and law-enforcement agencies to work together.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:36 AM
MI6 goes online in plea for spies
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain's foreign spy service MI6 has turned to the Internet in an attempt to recruit real-life James Bonds and dispel myths about the secretive agency.
The launch of the Web site on Thursday marked the first time the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) -- as MI6 is also known -- has publicly appealed for staff since its creation in 1909.
The move follows intelligence failures that gave no warnings of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States or this year's July 7 transport bombings in London.
MI6 also said it hoped the Web site would help to quash "ridiculous" conspiracy theories such as the idea that British agents murdered Princess Diana, a spokesman said.
The intelligence agency has frequently been the subject of fiction over the years, most famously in the adventures of Ian Fleming's spy James Bond.
"Although the SIS archive remains closed, a great deal has been written about the service. Much of it is inaccurate or misleading," the Web site warned.
The site also has a careers page outlining the qualities SIS, which is based at Vauxhall Cross in south London, requires in an agent.
Applicants are promised foreign travel and must be resourceful and flexible, thrive on a challenge and be able to cope with stress.
"Whether you feel that your strengths could lead you towards operations, intelligence analysis, management, data handling or security, whether you have the skills to design high-tech gadgets or to deploy them in a hostile environment, SIS may have the career for you."
Candidates must be over 21 and British, have lived in Britain for five of the last 10 years and pass an "extensive security clearance process."
The Web site -- at www.sis.gov.uk and also www.mi6.gov.uk -- details the role and history of the overseas intelligence gathering organization.
Nev Johnson, a spokesman for MI6, said: "It's important for the public to know more about the service and to explain why MI6 has to be secret in its operations and personnel.
"Also some of the allegations, myths and rumors that have grown up around the service, such as conspiracy theories that Princess Diana was murdered, are so ridiculous that they need to be corrected," he said.
"And the best way of enhancing the public's knowledge of SIS's roles and responsibilities is a Web site because that is accessible to everyone."
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Posted by politicalstuff at 2:06 AM
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Miers Backed Ban on Most Abortions in '89
Court Nominee Miers Indicated in 1989 Questionnaire That She Supported Banning Most Abortions
By JESSE J. HOLLAND Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers pledged support in 1989 for a constitutional amendment banning abortions except when necessary to save the life of the mother, according to material given to the Senate on Tuesday.
As a candidate for the Dallas city council, Miers also signaled support for the overall agenda of Texans United for Life agreeing she would support legislation restricting abortions if the Supreme Court ruled that states could ban abortions and would participate in "pro-life rallies and special events."
Miers made her views known in a candidate questionnaire the White House submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to hold hearings on her Supreme Court nomination next month. The one-page questionnaire was filled out, but unsigned, although the Bush administration affirmed its authenticity.
"The answers clearly reflect that Harriet Miers is opposed to Roe v. Wade," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat and only woman on the Judiciary Committee. "This raises very serious concerns about her ability to fairly apply the law without bias in this regard. It will be my intention to question her very carefully about these issues."
GOP Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn of Texas, who support Miers, say the questionnaire was written while Miers was a politician, and she would leave political decisions behind as a judge. "That information is interesting, and some people may draw their own conclusions from it, but I believe that Harriet Miers will be the type of judge who will not attempt to pursue a personal or political agenda from the bench," Cornyn said.
That view was echoed at the White House where presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said that Miers answered the questions as a candidate during the course of a campaign.
"The role of a judge is very different from the role of a candidate or a political officeholder," McClellan said.
"Harriet Miers, just like Chief Justice (John) Roberts, recognizes that personal views and ideology and religion have no role to play when it comes to making decisions on the bench," he said. "Your role as a judge is to look at all the facts and look at the law and apply the law to that case."
The questionnaire also revealed that the White House was considering Miers for its first Supreme Court nomination along with now-Chief Justice John Roberts.
"When Justice Sandra Day O'Connor first announced her desire to retire, I was asked whether my name should be considered," she said in the questionnaire. "I indicated at that time that I did not want to be considered."
The document surfaced as the White House struggled to reassure conservatives who have been critical of Miers' appointment, depicting her as a crony of President Bush who lacks the background or qualifications to sit on the high court.
There was fresh evidence of trouble for Miers during the day, when Sen. David Vitter, R-La., issued a statement saying, "My top questions are: does she have a consistent and well-grounded conservative judicial philosophy and what objective evidence is there of it from her life's work?"
Miers, 60, meanwhile, continued meeting privately with senators during the day, part of a round of courtesy calls that precede the opening of confirmation hearings.
"With her conservative judicial philosophy, she understands that judges must not legislate from the bench," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice and a Miers supporter. "And while she may hold personal views that underscore the value of human life, it would be wrong for those views to be used against her in the confirmation process."
The 1989 questionnaire was designed to gauge candidates' views on the drive to ban most abortions, either by constitutional amendment or by state law in the event the Supreme Court overturned a 1973 ruling that established abortion rights.
"If Congress passes a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit abortion except when it was necessary to prevent the death of the mother, would you actively support its ratification by the Texas Legislature," asked an April 1989 questionnaire sent out by the Texans United for Life group.
Miers checked "yes" to that question, and all of the group's questions, including whether she would oppose the use of public moneys for abortions and whether she would use her influence to keep "pro-abortion" people off city health boards and commissions.
The abortion issue hangs over Miers' nomination much as it did over the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts earlier this year. The situations are different, however Roberts replaced the late William Rehnquist, who voted to overturn the 1973 abortion ruling. Miers would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has voted to uphold it.
"A candidate taking a political position in the course of a campaign is different from the role of a judge making a ruling in the judicial process." said Jim Dyke, a White House spokesman.
Miers' nomination has been met with skepticism from some conservatives, who say she has little by way of a record to establish her views on abortion, affirmative action and other issues. The Texans United for Life questionnaire is additional evidence of how Miers feels about abortion, with some of her supporters assuring conservatives that they believe she would overturn the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.
Miers also bought a $150 ticket to a Texans United for Life dinner in 1989 and took a leadership role in trying to get the American Bar Association to reconsider its abortion-rights position in 1993.
Senators say Miers has insisted that she has not given anyone any assurances that she would overturn Roe v. Wade if given the chance.
"She said nobody knows my views on Roe v. Wade. Nobody can speak for me on Roe v. Wade," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Monday, referring to the case that guaranteed women's constitutional right to an abortion, setting a legal precedent that abortion foes have been trying to overturn ever since.
In the questionnaire that she turned in the Judiciary Committee, Miers answered "no" to questions asking whether anyone during the nomination process discussed specific cases or legal issues with her to get an assurance on her positions. She also answered "no" to whether she told anyone how she might rule if confirmed.
Miers also revealed that her law license was suspended in the District of Columbia earlier this year for non-payment of bar dues. "I immediately sent the dues to remedy the delinquency," she wrote. "The nonpayment was not intentioned, and I corrected the situation upon receiving the letter."
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Elizabeth White contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Documents including the full questionnaire, financial disclosures and the TULPAC letter are available at: http://wid.ap.org/documents/scotus/miers/index.html
White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov
Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:35 PM
Key CIA leak detail disputed as announcement nears
By Adam Entous
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff may have given New York Times reporter Judith Miller inaccurate information about where the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson worked at the CIA, a former intelligence official said on Monday.
The possible discrepancy comes amid signs the federal prosecutor investigating who leaked the identity of Wilson's wife, covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, will announce whether he will bring charges as early as Wednesday, people close to the case said.
Investigators have questioned Miller and other witnesses about whether Cheney was aware or authorized his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to talk to reporters about Wilson, Miller and others involved in the case have said.
The Washington Post reported special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has assembled evidence showing Cheney's long-running feud with the CIA contributed to Plame's unmasking.
Wilson, a former diplomat, says White House officials exposed his wife, damaging her ability to work undercover, to discredit him for accusing the Bush administration of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war in a New York Times opinion piece on July 6, 2003.
According to Miller's account of a meeting with Libby on July 8, she wrote in her notes that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control, or Winpac, unit, which tracks unconventional arms.
A former intelligence official said Plame did not work at Winpac but for the CIA's clandestine service. The former official, who is familiar with Plame's CIA activities, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.
AFFECT THE INVESTIGATION
It is unclear how the discrepancy might affect the investigation. The former intelligence official said the WINPAC error could bolster Libby's defense, if he were charged with intentionally compromising the identity of a covert operative, since most Winpac employees are not undercover.
"It may actually be helpful to him by showing he was acting under a misimpression and it wasn't an intentional outing of a known undercover officer," the official said.
Libby and President George W. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, are among the officials facing possible charges, legal sources have said.
Miller, who was jailed for 85 days before agreeing to testify about her conversations with Libby, said she told the grand jury Libby "indicated that Ms. Plame worked for Winpac, I assumed that she worked as an analyst, not as an undercover operative."
While Fitzgerald could try to charge administration officials with knowingly revealing the identity of an undercover operative, several lawyers in the case said he was more likely to seek charges for conspiracy and easier-to-prove crimes such as disclosing classified information, making false statements, obstruction and perjury.
Fitzgerald's office said on Monday it had decided to announce any decisions in the Plame case in Washington, rather than Chicago, where the special prosecutor is based.
It is unusual for Fitzgerald's office to comment on the case and the statement led some observers to wonder if it might signal an imminent decision or that Fitzgerald was trying to increase pressure on potential targets to cut a deal.
After promising to fire anyone found to have leaked the information, Bush offered a more qualified pledge in July, saying, "If someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration."
Asked on Monday if he would expect members of his administration to resign or take a leave if they were indicted, Bush said: "My position hasn't changed since the last time I've been asked this question. There's a serious investigation. ... I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation."
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:33 PM
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Matthews, Mitchell, and O'Beirne combined for Plame misinformation triple-team
On the October 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne, and host Chris Matthews presented false and misleading statements concerning the investigation into the alleged outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame. Mitchell wrongly asserted that Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, claimed that Vice President Dick Cheney "dispatched" him to Niger in 2002 to investigate the alleged sale of yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Matthews stated as fact the disputed claim that Plame "suggested her husband for the mission" to Niger. And O'Beirne confused two statutes that may have been violated when Plame's identity was leaked to the press -- the 1917 Espionage Act and the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act -- and wrongly attacked Wilson's credibility by claiming he was "[n]o expert in weapons of mass destruction."
Mitchell, claiming she wanted to "clear something up," stated that "[t]here had been inaccurate reporting -- some of it came from Wilson's mouth himself -- that he was dispatched by the vice president." Wilson, however, never claimed that Cheney or Cheney's office sent him to Niger. As Media Matters for America has noted, Wilson -- in his July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed and in numerous televised appearances -- claimed he was sent to Niger by the CIA to answer questions from Cheney's office regarding the purported sale of uranium to Iraq. The false claim that Wilson stated or implied that Cheney sent him to Niger (literally a Republican National Committee talking point) is significant to the controversy surrounding the White House's alleged outing of Plame. In an attempt to justify the purported leaking of Plame's identity to the press, the White House claimed that it had a legitimate interest in setting the record straight by disclosing that Plame, not Cheney, was actually responsible for Wilson's being sent to Niger.
Responding to Mitchell's remarks, Matthews commented that "[o]f course Valerie Plame suggested her husband for the mission." But what Matthews presented as fact is a matter very much in dispute. Unnamed intelligence officials have been quoted in the press claiming that the CIA -- not Plame -- selected Wilson for the mission. Also, CIA officials disputed the accuracy of a State Department intelligence memo that reportedly indicates that Plame "suggested" Wilson's name for the trip. Moreover, the Senate Intelligence Committee did not officially conclude that Plame suggested the trip in its 2004 "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq."
O'Beirne, in an attempt to dismiss the possibility that leaking Plame's identity violated the law, apparently confused the Espionage Act and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) -- two statutes under which special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is reportedly considering seeking indictments. Responding to Matthews's comment that White House officials "could have still broken the law to whack" Wilson, O'Beirne said: "Yes, that underlying Espionage Act is pretty darn hard to break. They could've been unaware ... of what her status was at the CIA." The Espionage Act does not, however, specifically address the identities of covert agents, but instead deals generally with the unlawful distribution of classified information to individuals not authorized to receive it. O'Beirne's comments echo the language of the IIPA, which states that revealing the identity of an undercover agent is illegal only if the leaker was aware of the agent's covert status. Conservatives have questioned whether any law was broken in Plame's outing by claiming that the IIPA sets very high hurdles for prosecution, while apparently ignoring the other laws that may have been violated in the Plame leak. According to the IIPA:
Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
Also, O'Beirne attempted to undermine Wilson's credibility by claiming he was "[n]o expert in weapons of mass destruction." But as Media Matters noted, it is unclear how a lack of expertise in weapons of mass destruction would prevent Wilson from successfully investigating the reported sale of a commodity such as yellowcake uranium, particularly given that he had taken a similar trip to Niger in 1999 to investigate possible purchases by Iran.
From a discussion with New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, Matthews, Mitchell, and O'Beirne, on the October 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MITCHELL: Chris, I actually wanted to clear something up, because I was involved in that back then. And, in fact, one of the things that the administration, the Vice President's Office, was trying so desperately to clear up was that Dick Cheney, in his trips to the CIA, did not solicit Joe Wilson to go. There had been inaccurate reporting -- some of it came from Wilson's mouth himself -- that he was dispatched by the vice president. This was clearly the case, according to the Vice President's Office, where the vice president asked a lot of questions about the uranium in Niger. And as a result, he was tasked to go.
MATTHEWS: I acknowledge that that's their defense, but don't we know now the fact that the trip was, in fact, triggered. Of course Valerie Plame suggested her husband for the mission. But the mission was triggered by the inquiry by the vice president, and the vice president was denying that at that time, wasn't he?
MITCHELL: In fact, that's not the case. The trip was triggered by the vice president's inquiries on the part of NSC [National Security Council] and CIA officials who were eager to answer his questions.
MITCHELL: He did not necessarily know that any trip was even under way at the early stages of that trip.
MATTHEWS: Sure, but they --
MITCHELL: That's what they were trying to clear up. That's why they jumped up. And that was probably the original motivation.
MATTHEWS: Because he said there was some kind of a deal going on, and says the only thing Niger has to sell is uranium. It might be that that involved uranium, right?
O`BEIRNE: So given those questions that were raised, people said, well then how did he wind up getting sent, given that he is no expert.
MATTHEWS: Well, he was an expert in African relations. He had been an ambassador in that part of the world, right?
O`BEIRNE: No expert in weapons of mass destruction, and given that his findings, people don't find particularly persuasive, what was he doing over there? And the innocent answer would be, his wife works at the CIA, and she recommended him.
MATTHEWS: Everything you say could be true, and they could have still used -- they could have still broken the law to whack him. That's still possible, too. We will find out.
O`BEIRNE: Yes, that underlying Espionage Act is pretty darn hard to break. They could've been unaware --
MATTHEWS: Is it hard to --
O`BEIRNE: -- of what her status was at the CIA.
MATTHEWS: I understand that if you distribute -- Bob check me, but -- both, of you. But I understand the Espionage Act says if you distribute classified information --
MATTHEWS: -- then it's classified. Even if you get it from somebody else, a reporter, but you know it's classified, you are guilty.
Posted to the web on Friday October 14, 2005 at 7:10 PM EST
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:09 AM
CIA Leak Scandal: Rove Defied Bush's Command?
As I noted previously, it has been interesting to watch Karl Rove's defense evolve. After the news broke in September 2003 that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak in Bob Novak's July 14, 2003, column that outed former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie, as an undercover CIA officer, the White House declared that Rove and Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, were not involved in the leak--no ifs, ands or buts. Speaking of Rove, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "He wasn't involved. The president knows he wasn't involved." The White House was signaling--rightly or wrongly--that it had no worries about its uber-strategist. And a year later, a White House aide who had just left his job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue told me that the consensus view within the Bush gang at that point was that Rove was too smart for special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and that there was no reason for Rove to explain--or admit--anything. (One prominent Washington defense attorney said--after I recently mentioned this conversation--"only a fool would think he or she could outsmart a prosecutor.")
This past July, after Time agreed to turn over Matt Cooper's notes to Fitzgerald, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff revealed that Cooper had spoken to Rove about Joe Wilson. Responding to Isikoff's scoop, Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said that Rove "did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." But a week later, Isikoff disclosed that Cooper and Rove had discussed Wilson's wife and her employment at the CIA and that an email from Cooper to his editors had confirmed this. And days later, news reports--probably relying upon Luskin as an unidentified source--disclosed that Rove had told Novak that he, like Novak, had heard that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer. All this undermined the Rove camp's claim that Rove never mentioned Valerie Plame and her CIA position to any reporter. (I supposed Luskin could argue that Rove, during his chats with Cooper and Novak, had not referred to Wilson's wife as "Valerie Plame.")
In the three months since, Rove's defense has shifted further. This week, Luskin told CNN that "Karl has truthfully told everyone who's asked him that he did not circulate Valerie Plame's name to punish her husband, Joe Wilson." (When CNN asked if that included George W. Bush, Luskin added, "Everyone is everyone.") This line--Rove did not circulate Plame's name to punish Joseph Wilson--is a far cry from the assertion that Rove did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer. It appears that Luskin and Rove are making up lyrics as the music changes. Rove detractors might find this legalistic squirming perversely enjoyable. But what's telling is a comparison between Rove's position (the current one) and that of his boss.
Two years ago, when Bush was asked about the Plame/CIA leak, he said:
I have told our administration, people in my administration, to be fully cooperative. I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true.
A journalist then asked:
Yesterday we were told that Karl Rove had no role in it. Have you talked to Karl and do you have confidence in him?
Listen, I know of nobody--I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know, and we'll take the appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing....And if people have got solid information, please come forward with it....And we can clarify this thing very quickly if people who have got solid evidence would come forward and speak out. And I would hope they would....I want to know who the leakers are.
By Rove's own admission--or that of his attorney--Rove did pass classified information (Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA was classified) to at least two reporters (Cooper and Novak). By Bush's statement, Rove deserves "appropriate action." Yet so far no "appropriate action" has apparently been taken. Why might that be?
Moreover, if Rove used his current defense--that he did not circulate the Plame name to punish Wilson--in his conversations with Bush, as Luskin suggested to CNN, then Rove engaged in insubordination. Bush had said that he wanted to know the truth and that anyone with information should "come forward and speak out." Did Rove do that? No. According to Luskin, Rove told people--including the president--that he did not circulate the name of Wilson's wife. This seems to indicate that Rove did not tell Bush that he actually had spoken to Cooper about Wilson's wife and that he had confirmed the leak to Novak--actions that Rove and Luskin apparently do not consider "circulating." In other words, Rove did not respond to Bush's public request for information. Bush said he wanted to know who the leakers were. Yet Rove, if Luskin is to be believed, only assured Bush that he had not disseminated Valerie Wilson's maiden name in an act of vengeance. That was not being responsive to Bush. That was not sharing the full truth with the president. That was being insubordinate.
Perhaps the latest version of Rove's defense is--shall we say--not fully accurate. Perhaps Rove told Bush more. That would mean that Bush knew the White House line--Rove ain't involved--was false and took no steps to better inform the public.
There is no way to reconcile Bush's statements on the leak investigation and Rove's new-and-improved defense. Rove disobeyed Bush's I-want-to-know command. And Bush has let this slide and tossed aside his vow to take "action" against the Plame/CIA leakers. The wait for indictments continues, but Rove is already guilty of spreading--if not circulating--classified information, and he is guilty of either disobeying the president or drawing him into a White House conspiracy to mislead the public. His continued presence at the White House indicates that Bush does not take his own words seriously.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:07 AM