The White House Strikes Back

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, January 13, 2004; 9:39 AM

After three days of negative stories spawned by former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill's revelations about the workings of the White House, the Bush administration struck back yesterday.

As Dana Milbank of The Washington Post reports, President Bush, in Mexico, took issue with O'Neill's statements about Iraq.

Press secretary Scott McClellan said O'Neill was "trying to justify personal views."

"It's laughable to suggest that the administration was planning an invasion of Iraq that shortly after coming to office," a White House official told Richard W. Stevenson of the New York Times.

And in an unusual move the Treasury Department is seeking an investigation into whether a classified document was shown on a "60 Minutes" segment featuring O'Neill on Sunday night. "We don't have a secret document. We didn't show a secret document. We merely showed a cover sheet that alluded to such a document," CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco told Jeannine Aversa of the Associated Press.

Setting up a report on the NBC Nightly News by David Gregory last night, Tom Brokaw said that that O'Neill was "apparently determined to get even for getting fired."

The bloggers are all exercised about O'Neill's comments -- and the administration's reaction. True to form, they're all over the map. Power Line alleges that it has "blown the lid" off the "O'Neill/Suskind Hoax." Daniel Drezner writes: "Paul O'Neill is a smart guy, but do bear in mind that he was a pretty lousy Treasury secretary when he was in charge." Talking Points compares the amount of time it took the administration to launch investigation in the O'Neill matter versus the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent.

Bush's statements on O'Neill came toward the end of his news conference with Mexican President Vicente Fox (see transcript); the whole second half of McClellan's "gaggle" with reporters on Air Force One on the way to Mexico was about O'Neill (see transcript.)

Yesterday's White House Briefing has many more links. By the way, the book in question -- "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill" by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, is officially on sale today, and is still No. 1 at this morning.

That Mexico Trip, Day Two

In Mexico, Bush won strong support from Fox for his plan to overhaul U.S. immigration policy.

"Bush was more frank than before about the intent of his immigration plan, saying he 'expects that most temporary workers will eventually return permanently to their home countries' after their work period expires," write Mike Allen and Kevin Sullivan in The Washington Post.

"Mr. Bush acknowledged that politics played a part in his proposal to offer legal status to millions of illegal workers, but he said that did not undercut the merits of his plan," write Elisabeth Bumiller and Tim Weiner in the New York Times.

"Leaving behind a bitter quarrel over Iraq, [Bush] said that Fox "is a good enough friend" to have opposed the war "without the loss of friendship," write Richard Boudreaux and Maura Reynolds in the Los Angeles Times.

Poll Watch

Those "big ideas" may not be going over so well.

Polls from ABC News and CNN-USA Today-Gallup, via AP, show that most Americans oppose President Bush's immigration proposal.

An AP poll shows Americans are tepid on his space proposal, too.

But Bush's job approval rating is holding steady, according to

And it's not exactly an objective, scientific poll, but . . . "A spot featuring children toiling as dishwashers, maids and factory workers that asks: 'Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1-trillion deficit?' took top honors Monday night in's national contest to create a television ad that best bashes administration policies," writes Elizabeth Jensen in the Los Angeles Times. (See all the finalists on

The Sad Lot of the White House Correspondent

In a very long piece in this week's New Yorker (not available on the Web at all), Ken Auletta assesses the miserable state of relations between the Bush White House and the press. White House officials think of the press as just another special interest. Reporters feel they are treated with contempt. (See the fifth item in yesterday's White House Briefing and the second item in Howard Kurtz's Media Notes from yesterday's Washington Post.)

In a Q and A on today, Auletta says that the much-coveted position of White House correspondent just ain't what it used to be. "This is partly because the news organizations are less interested in government," Auletta says. "It is partly because ambitious reporters are turned off by the stenographic aspects of the White House beat. And it is partly the result of having fewer standout journalistic 'stars' covering the White House."

Your thoughts? I'd love to hear them.

Today's Calendar

The president wraps up his two-day visit to Monterrey, Mexico, where he is attending a summit of the Western Hemisphere's 34 democratically elected leaders. In the morning, he has his first meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, who took office in December. Bush and Martin are to meet in private for 10 minutes, then move to a larger, formal breakfast, where security and mad cow are sure to be on the agenda, writes Susan Delacourt in the Toronto Star. Relations between the United States and its neighbor to the north have been unusually frosty of late, explains Anne McIlroy in the Guardian

In between plenary sessions, Bush will meet with Bolivian President Carlos Mesa of Bolivia and President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina. Then it's closing ceremonies, the group photo, and back to the White House on Air Force One.

Vice President Cheney has two fund-raisers today: lunch in Seattle, then dinner in Portland. Then it's off to Los Angeles. "From now on, aides say, the vice president intends to intensify his work on the campaign -- with fundraising and speeches -- as it kicks into gear with the president's State of the Union address Jan. 20," writes Maura Reynolds in the Los Angeles Times.

More Cooperation with India

Peter Slevin of The Washington Post and Christopher Marquis on the New York Times note that the White House, in Slevin's words, "pledged yesterday to help India with its nuclear energy and space technology in return for India's promise to use the assistance for peaceful purposes and to help block the spread of dangerous weapons." (See White House statement.)

Anti-Corruption Proclamation

The AP reports that "President Bush acted Monday to bar people involved in corruption from the United States, a move that coincides with one of his goals at a summit meeting of 34 Western Hemisphere nations." (See text of proclamation.)

Laura Bush Biographer Takes Your Questions

The Washington Post's Ann Gerhart is out this week with a new book: "The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush." In chapter one, on the Simon & Schuster Web site, Gerhart describes the car accident in which Laura Bush, then 17 and living in Midland, Tex., tragically and accidentally killed a classmate. In this excerpt, which appeared in The Post, Gerhart writes about the Bush twins, often surly and disobedient, and their mother's indulgence.

Gerhart will be Live Online today at 2 p.m. on to answer your questions.

© 2004