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A Compelling Story

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, March 31, 2006; 10:54 AM

Slowly but surely, investigative reporter Murray Waas has been putting together a compelling narrative about how President Bush and his top aides contrived their bogus case for war in Iraq; how they succeeded in keeping charges of deception from becoming a major issue in the 2004 election; and how they continue to keep most of the press off the trail to this day.

What emerges in Waas's stories is a consistent White House modus operandi: That time and time again, Bush and his aides have selectively leaked or declassified secret intelligence findings that served their political agenda -- while aggressively asserting the need to keep secret the information that would tend to discredit them.

The latest entry in Waas's saga came yesterday in the highly respected National Journal. Waas writes: "Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, cautioned other White House aides in the summer of 2003 that Bush's 2004 re-election prospects would be severely damaged if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration."

This happened, Waas writes, after "then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley determined that Bush had been specifically advised that claims he later made in his 2003 State of the Union address -- that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon -- might not be true."

The aluminum-tube allegation was perhaps the strongest, most concrete piece of evidence the White House had in its campaign to drive the American public into the proper frame of mind to go to war against a country that had never before been seen as a threat to the national security.

In a March 2 story, Waas documented how Bush had been explicitly informed that the aluminum-tube allegation might not be true well before his State of the Union Address.

Yesterday's new twist is that Rove apparently understood that if American voters found out how Bush had intentionally misled them, the election might be lost. He was intent on not letting that happen.

Waas's narrative also helps explain why the White House felt so compelled to discredit former ambassador Joseph Wilson's charge in May 2003 that another key justification for war was manifestly false.

More of Waas's stories can be found here.

The blogosphere is abuzz with Waas's latest revelation. The Booman Tribune blog explains how it is in fact Waas's "magnum opus on the Plame Affair."

But in the traditional media, the reaction has been utter and complete silence -- both after Waas's well-documented March 2 story, and again today. There's not one word about it in a single major outlet this morning.

And that's just not acceptable. Waas's fellow reporters at major news operations should either acknowledge and try to follow up his stories -- or debunk them. It's not okay to just leave them hanging out there. They're too important.

Censure Watch

Laurie Kellman writes for the Associated Press: "John Dean, counsel to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal, is headlining a Senate hearing Friday on whether to censure President Bush for authorizing a domestic wiretapping program as part of the war on terrorism. . .

"Dean was summoned to the hearing by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., the author of a resolution to censure, or officially scold, Bush. The measure would condemn Bush's 'unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required' by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"Republicans planned ways to mock the censure effort as a partisan stunt."

Zachary A. Goldfarb writes in The Washington Post: "This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee meets to discuss a resolution introduced by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) that would rebuke President Bush for his secret surveillance program. Old newspaper clippings and historical writings show that censure has a mixed record as an effective means for Congress to express disapproval of presidents. . . .

"Censure has been proposed in more recent history by the president's supporters as an alternative to impeachment."

John Nichols writes in The Nation: "[W]here is Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold finding support?

"Among Republicans. Or, more precisely, among prominent alumni of past Republican administrations."

In addition to Dean, "Making arguments about the extreme seriousness of the warrantless wiretapping issue -- and the need for a Congressional response -- will be noted constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, who served in President Ronald Reagan's Department of Justice as Deputy Attorney General."

South of the Border

Hugh Dellios writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Putting aside the strains in their dos amigos friendship, President Bush praised Mexican President Vicente Fox during a summit meeting Thursday in which the two are trying to rally support for immigration reforms in the U.S.

"There was scant mention of previous tensions over Mexico's opposition to the Iraq invasion and the U.S. death penalty. Bush and Fox appeared smiling and relaxed in their shirt sleeves, and Bush opened his remarks waxing nostalgic about his visit to Fox's 'fantastic' ranch in 2000 and seeing Mexican navy sailors helping out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina."

Tim Padgett writes in Time: "President Bush spent the past four years snubbing and otherwise alienating his supposed amigo, Mexican President Vicente Fox, because Mexico didn't back Bush's invasion of Iraq. So Bush's critics in this hemisphere find it fitting that he's now knee-deep in a policy mess over illegal Mexican immigration into the U.S., looking to Fox for any help he can provide. But when Bush, Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet today in Cancún to discuss the continent's dysfunctional immigration situation, they might consider that one solution lies not so much in guest-worker programs or a 2,000-mile-long border fence, but in trade -- namely, a revision of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"Perhaps they should ask why NAFTA -- which took effect 12 years ago amid promises to raise the fortunes of Mexico's beleaguered workers -- hasn't done more to reduce desperate labor migration over the U.S. border."

Here are the transcripts of Bush's public appearances with Harper and Fox, then Fox, then Harper.

Here's the transcript of a press briefing by Dan Fisk, senior director in the National Security Council for the Western Hemisphere.

Itza Tourist

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "President Bush traded in his business suit Thursday for a white tropical short-sleeve shirt and khaki slacks as he played tourist, something he rarely does on foreign trips.

"The president was all smiles and business casual as he spent about an hour walking through the impressive ruins of Chichen-Itza, a Mayan archeological site about 127 miles west of Cancun, where he's meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The ruins date back to the sixth century."

James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times that Bush -- typically uninterested in sightseeing -- pretty much had no choice but to accept Fox's invitation.

The Washington Times has a picture of Bush clowning around on the pyramid.

Straw Man Watch

A reader who prefers to remain anonymous e-mails me to point out that Bush's argument Wednesday that sectarian rivalries in Iraq are not his fault is, in fact, based on a straw-man argument.

I wrote about Bush's assertion in yesterday's column, Don't Blame Me.

"Today, some Americans ask whether removing Saddam caused the divisions and instability we're now seeing. In fact, much of the animosity and violence we now see is the legacy of Saddam Hussein," Bush said.

But my reader points out that nobody is saying Bush is responsible for the sectarian animosity. "They are saying he is responsible for not having a plan to deal with it, [for failing] to put in place a secure government in a timely manner to prevent us from becoming an unpopular occupying force that further aggravates the situation, and for making the region a magnet for foreign fighters and terrorists who throw more gasoline on the situation."

Nuking the India Deal

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The Bush administration's proposed nuclear deal with India is meeting with a chilly reception from lawmakers, who are predicting that instead of swift approval, the initiative faces revisions and delays, if not outright rejection. . . .

" 'It may be going too far to say there's panic within the administration, but I think there's deep concern that it hasn't been received nearly as well as hoped,' said a Republican House staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity. 'They're trying to create the impression of momentum. Frankly, I don't think it's there.' "

Former President Jimmy Carter wrote on Wednesday in The Washington Post: "The proposed nuclear deal with India is just one more step in opening a Pandora's box of nuclear proliferation. . . .

"The five original nuclear powers have all stopped producing fissile material for weapons, and India should make the same pledge to cap its stockpile of nuclear bomb ingredients. Instead, the proposal for India would allow enough fissile material for as many as 50 weapons a year, far exceeding what is believed to be its current capacity."

Glenn Kessler wrote in The Washington Post two weeks ago: "In a setback for the administration's efforts to win approval of a landmark nuclear pact with India, former senator Sam Nunn said yesterday that he has serious concerns the deal would harm the 'United States' vital interest' in preventing nuclear proliferation and urged Congress to set conditions for its support."

Nunn "said he is concerned it would lead to the spread of weapons-grade nuclear material, unleash a regional arms race with China and Pakistan, and make it more difficult for the United States to win support for sanctions against nuclear renegades such as Iran and North Korea."

Also see my March 3 column, Did Bush Blink?

Who Knew?

Guy Dinmore writes in the Financial Times: "In choosing Freedom House as the venue for a foreign policy address this week, President George W. Bush has stepped into an intense debate among democracy activists in the US and Iran on how US dollars should be used to carry out the administration's policy of promoting freedom in the Islamic republic.

"Few in the Washington audience on Wednesday realised that Freedom House, an independent institution founded more than 60 years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, the former first lady, is one of several organisations selected by the State Department to receive funding for clandestine activities inside Iran."

Reconciliation Watch

Rep. Henry A. Waxman and other Democratic members of the House Government Reform Committee yesterday introduced a "Resolution of Inquiry directing the President to submit to Congress all documents relating to the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which the President signed on February 8. The version the President signed was different in substance from the version the House of Representatives passed on February 1, 2006."

Going Public

Agence France Presse reports: "The White House has condemned China in a rare public statement over the treatment of a North Korean asylum seeker.

" 'The United States is gravely concerned about China's treatment of Kim Chun-Hee,' said the statement which called on the Beijing government not to forcibly return North Koreans to the Stalinist state without first giving the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to them."

Card the Happy Martyr

Ryan Lizza writes for the New Republic (subscription required) that Tuesday may have been the happiest day of White House Chief of Staff Andy Card's life.

"For more than five years, he has worn blame as a badge of honor and elevated self-flagellation to the highest virtue of presidential service. He has long tried to convince White House observers that all of Bush's problems are his fault alone. By accepting his resignation, Bush finally agreed. . . .

"Card's whole White House career had been leading up to this hari-kari moment. He repeatedly told interviewers that he worked hard not to become Bush's friend, 'because he has to have the courage to fire me when I'm not doing the job well.' Over the course of several meetings, it was Card who had to convince Bush to accept his resignation. Finally, Bush told the world what Card always knew in his heart and wanted the rest of the world to know, too: Everything was his fault."

Repeating It Doesn't Make It So

Joe Conason writes in Salon: "President Bush persists in blatantly falsifying the war's origins -- perhaps because, even now, he still gets away with it."

Conason takes issue with Bush's statement in his press conference last week that Saddam Hussein "chose to deny inspectors . . . chose not to disclose."

Writes Conason: "For the third time since the war began three years ago, Bush had falsely claimed that Saddam refused the U.N. weapons inspections mandated by the Security Council. For the third time, he had denied a reality witnessed by the entire world during the four months when those inspectors, under the direction of Hans Blix, traveled Iraq searching fruitlessly for weapons of mass destruction that, as we now know for certain, were not there."

The first time, Conasan writes, came in a July 2003 photo op .

The following day, Dana Priest and Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post: "The president's assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective."

But since then, Conason writes that the "lazy and intimidated press corps" has let Bush get away with a bald-faced lie.

"Historians will wonder someday how a free press permitted the world's most important official to say such things without contradiction."

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