Cheney's Blemishes

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, February 10, 2004; 10:58 AM

Dana Milbank tackles the issue of Vice President Cheney's tarnished reputation this morning in his "White House Notebook" column for The Washington Post.

"The word around town is the vice president, once revered as the regent behind the throne of George W. Bush, is becoming something of a liability for his boss. The chattering class is speculating about whether Cheney will be dumped from the ticket in '04, and who should replace him," Milbank writes.

"Of course, there is very little chance of that happening," Milbank adds. But his chronicle of Cheney's "knack for controversy" is bound to stoke the issue.

Just this weekend, Newsweek's Tamara Lipper and Evan Thomas asked: "Is Dick Cheney a drag on the ticket?" and Time Magazine's Matthew Cooper asked: "Is Cheney an asset or a liability?"

Over at the New Yorker, Jane Meyer has an astonishing story laying out the intertwined stories of Cheney and the Halliburton Co., which he used to run.

Did you know Halliburton built the prison camps in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay for suspected terrorists?

Peter Carlson, in his "Magazine Reader" column in The Washington Post, provides a nifty summary of the New Yorker piece, which he calls "a peek into the cynical world of crony capitalism and war profiteering."

Leak Investigation Heats Up

The investigation into who leaked the name of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to columnist Robert D. Novak is heating up.

Mike Allen and Susan Schmidt write in The Washington Post: "A federal grand jury has questioned one current and two former aides to President Bush, and investigators have interviewed several others . . . sources involved in the case said yesterday."

The three who have testified so far are White House press secretary Scott McClellan; Mary Matalin, former counselor to Vice President Cheney; and Adam Levine, a former White House press official.

Allen and Schmidt have all sorts of new information on the leak investigation.

For instance: "FBI agents have interviewed those and at least five other current and former Bush aides and have questioned them about thousands of e-mails that the White House surrendered in October, along with stacks of call logs and calendars, the sources said."

And: "The logs indicate that several White House officials talked to columnist Robert D. Novak shortly before July 14, when he published a column quoting 'two senior administration officials' saying that Plame, 'an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction,' had suggested her husband for a mission to Niger to investigate whether Iraq tried to acquire uranium there as part of an effort to develop nuclear weapons."

Over at the New York Times, David Johnston reports on this fascinating wrinkle: "At first, the investigation seemed narrowly focused on trying to identify who at the White House provided the information about Ms. Plame to Mr. Novak. But more recently, prosecutors have focused on a Sept. 28, 2003, article in The Washington Post, which said the newspaper had been told that 'yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife.'

"Prosecutors, referring to the story as 'one by two by six,' have sought to learn the identity of the senior administration official or the two top White House officials, believing that whoever provided the information to the Post knew who spoke with Mr. Novak."

Here's that "one by two by six" article, by Mike Allen and Dana Priest.

Bloggers Beat Bartlett to the Punch

Walter V. Robinson reports in the Boston Globe that Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, intends to make public today a document that supports Bush's longstanding assertion that he fulfilled his military obligation.

The document in question? It's been out amongst the bloggers since at least Sunday night. As I mentioned yesterday, Calpundit posted it and discussed it then -- and came to a conclusion that it isn't entirely flattering to Bush.

But Robinson writes that it, and another document, show that "President Bush received credit for attending Air National Guard drills in the fall of 1972 and spring of 1973 -- a period when his commanders have said he did not appear for duty at bases in Montgomery, Ala., and Houston."

Robinson writes that he "obtained both of the documents from a political activist who says he acquired them in December 2000 from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Colorado. The activist, Bob Fertig, is a cofounder of, a website that has no formal affiliation with the Democratic Party. . . .

"The second document, which Bartlett said the White House had not yet obtained, is Bush's personnel record card for the period of May 27, 1972, to May 26, 1973."

Here's more on the aforementioned

In The Washington Post, Lois Romano writes: "The Defense Department has requested that President Bush's payroll records from his service in the National Guard be sent to Washington from a DOD archive in Colorado, to ascertain whether they can be released to news organizations and public interest groups that have formally requested them in recent days, according to DOD officials."

Never Mind, Part II?

First there were those 16 words from the 2003 State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Bush had to take them back. It was a big to-do.

But now there may be about nine more, from the previous year.

In his 2002 State of the Union speech, Bush said of Qaeda terrorists: "The depth of their hatred is equaled by the madness of the destruction they design. We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants. . . . "

Robert Block and Greg Hitt report in the Wall Street Journal that the White House is retreating from that assertion.

"Monday night, the White House defended the warnings about Islamic extremist intentions, but said the concerns highlighted by Mr. Bush were based on intelligence developed before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, and that no plant diagrams were actually found in Afghanistan. 'There's no additional basis for the language in the speech that we have found,' a senior administration official said. . . .

"Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, said Monday night that rather than being based on actual diagrams that were actually found in Afghanistan, the president's warning about nuclear plants grew from information collected by the U.S. intelligence community."

Matthew L. Wald reports in the New York Times that Edward McGaffigan Jr., a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has apparently been saying for a while now that there's no evidence that al Qaeda had designs for nuclear power plants, and that the president was "poorly served by a speechwriter."

How About That Economy

Amy Goldstein writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush traveled Monday to a small engine-manufacturing plant in the Ozarks to try to drum up support for his tax policies and divert attention from last week's Democratic presidential primary in Missouri, a perennial battleground state. . . .

"His remarks, during the first of three domestic trips this week to talk up the economy, was timed to match Monday's release of an annual report of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, which echoed Bush's optimism about the creation of new jobs.

Robert Pear and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times: "President Bush said Monday that a soft economy had caused 'hardship for people in many industries and regions of our nation,' but he declared that 'America's economy is strong and getting stronger,' and he predicted the creation of 2.6 million jobs this year.

"The prediction provides a benchmark that the president and his critics can use to measure the performance of the election-year economy."

Jonathan Weisman in The Washington Post: "Wading into an election-year debate, President Bush's top economist yesterday said the outsourcing of U.S. service jobs to workers overseas is good for the nation's economy."

Weisman notes that last year the administration projected 1.7 million new jobs would be added in 2003. The 2002 report had predicted 3 million new jobs in 2003. "Instead, the nation lost 53,000 payroll jobs last year, the Labor Department says."

Weisman will be Live Online today at 11 a.m. EST to talk about the economic report.

Click to see video from Springfield, the full text of Bush's remarks or the Economic Report.

How About Those Spontaneous Visits

After leaving the Springfield engine-manufacturing plant, Bush made an unannounced stop at the flagship store of Bass Pro Shops, a chain of fishing and outdoor stores based in Springfield.

As Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press notes: "Monday marked the fourth consecutive out-of-town trip in which Bush and the rest of his motorcade pulled over for a 'spontaneous' visit with some local citizens."

It's an election year, Lindlaw points out, and "Bush has taken a sudden interest in the people and places in between the airport and his speech sites."

"The stops do allow Bush to mingle with ordinary citizens, but they are hardly spontaneous. The Secret Service lays the groundwork days in advance, in cooperation with White House officials. . . .

"The new 'spontaneous visit' strategy guarantees Bush a little extra news media exposure in those states, where voters have heard a steady drumbeat of criticism directed at him."

Here's how the trip played in the Springfield News-Leader, which also has a nice photo gallery -- although for some reason it does not include this amazing AP photo.

Edwin Chen in the Los Angeles Times notes another trend: "President Bush's appearance here Monday marked the third time in recent weeks that he had visited a state within days of its presidential primary. Now, Democrats are accusing him of sticking taxpayers with the costs of what are essentially a political activity: responding to attacks from his potential 2004 rivals that arise during those contests."

'Meet the Press' Redux

Some more noteworthy reaction to Bush's appearance on "Meet the Press" (See yesterday's column):

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr.: "'I'm a war president.' On those words, President Bush will stand or fall."

New York Times editorial: On the economy, "None of what we heard made much sense."

New York Times columnist David Brooks writes what Bush should have said.

Blogger Wonkette does a hilarious, liberally edited summary.

The Daily Howler howls.

There's an annotated "Meet the Press" transcript from the Center for American Progress.

Poll Watch

Richard Benedetto reports in USA Today that "Bush's job approval came back from his all-time low of 49% a week ago to 52% now" in a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken over the weekend. See this and more job approval ratings on

Subpoenas on the Way?

Philip Shenon of the New York Times writes: "Members of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks warned the White House on Monday that it could face a politically damaging subpoena this week if it refused to turn over information from the highly classified Oval Office intelligence reports given to President Bush before 9/11. . . .

"Commission officials said that negotiations continued throughout the day on Monday and into the evening with the office of Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel."

What's a Political War?

"The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was, it was a political war," Bush said Sunday on "Meet the Press."

Christopher Marquis of the New York Times asks: "But what did he mean when he called Vietnam 'a political war'? And how is it different from the battle being waged for Iraq?"

© 2004