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White House Wiki Watch

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 17, 2007; 12:56 PM

WikiScanner, the most spectacular new invention on the Internet, allows you to see who has made changes to Wikipedia, the popular Web encyclopedia that anyone can edit -- and that includes White House staffers.

Wired News has been keeping a running tally on some of the more amusing and outrageous discoveries. (Someone at Exxon cleaning up the entry on the Valdez oil spill; someone at Halliburton editing the entry on war crimes, etc.) There have been so many edits by congressional staffers that the topic gets its own page on Wikipedia.

So what about the White House? Well, this WikiScanner results page is a list of Wikipedia edits by people who appear to use White House (eop.gov) servers.

(If you can't get through, try going directly to Wikipedia for a list of edits by these IP addresses:,,,, and

I don't know for certain if these edits were made by White House staffers. Many have vanished in time, overwritten by other changes made by the Wikipedia community. And I only had a chance to do a cursory examination this morning. But here's some of what I found. (Post anything you find in the comment section at the bottom of the page; I'll publish more on Monday.)

In May 2005 someone added to the main entry on President Bush: "His favorite sandwhich is peanut butter and jelly." (Which is true, though spelled wrong.)

In December 2005 someone removed this clause from the page on appointee Rob Portman: "who is a millionaire thanks to his family's heavy-equipment business."

In March 2007 someone edited presidential personnel director Liza Wright's profile to add the following: "She is responsible for leading the team that recruits thousands of candidates for all senior-level positions within the Bush Administration. Mrs. Wright meets with the President regularly to make recommendations for all political appointees throughout the Executive Branch, including cabinet and non-cabinet members, ambassadors, and appointees to Presidential boards and commissions."

Some of the other pages apparently edited by White House staffers include those on the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Jane Fonda, Washington socialite Juleanna Glover Weiss and Horcruxes (it's a Harry Potter thing).

Some changes are just copy-editing, like repeated fixes of this page about White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

Some were amusing, like of this West Wing page, changing the description of Pete Seat from "Special Assistant to The President and Press Assistant (Slide Show specialist)" to "Dude."

A Question of Shame

Notes from the FBI Director released yesterday support former deputy attorney general James Comey's dramatic description of a shameful White House attempt to get a desperately ill John Ashcroft to approve elements of a domestic spying program that Ashcroft's subordinates had determined was illegal.

Much of the debate over warrantless wiretapping is abstract. But this story is Hollywood-movie vivid.

It was the night of March 10, 2004, according to Comey, when two top White House aides -- then counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card -- arrived uninvited at the hospital bedside of the then-attorney general, in his George Washington hospital room, hoping he would sign an authorization for the controversial program.

But these heavily-redacted notes from FBI Director Robert Mueller, who arrived at the scene just moments after Gonzales and Card left support Comey's belief that Ashcroft was in no condition to be signing anything.

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "Then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was 'feeble,' 'barely articulate' and 'stressed' moments after a hospital room confrontation in March 2004 with Alberto R. Gonzales, who wanted Ashcroft to approve a warrantless wiretapping program over Justice Department objections, according to notes from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that were released yesterday. . . .

"Mueller's description of Ashcroft's physical condition that night contrasts with testimony last month from Gonzales, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Ashcroft was 'lucid' and 'did most of the talking' during the brief visit. It also confirms an account of the episode by former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, who said Ashcroft told the two men he was not well enough to make decisions in the hospital.

"'Saw AG,' Mueller writes in his notes for 8:10 p.m. on March 10, 2004, only minutes after Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had visited Ashcroft. 'Janet Ashcroft in the room. AG in chair; is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed.' . . .

"In his notes, Mueller recounts Comey's statement that Ashcroft complained to Gonzales and Card at the hospital about being 'barred' from obtaining 'the advice he needed' about the NSA program because of 'strict compartmentalization rules' set by the White House. Although Ashcroft, as attorney general, had been fully briefed about the program, many of his senior legal advisers were not allowed to know about it, officials said."

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that Mueller's notes "confirm an attempt to goad a sick and heavily medicated Ashcroft to approve the warrantless surveillance program. Particularly disconcerting is the new revelation that the White House sought Mr. Ashcroft's authorization for the surveillance program, yet refused to let him seek the advice he needed on the program."

David Johnston and Scott Shane write in the New York Times: "In providing corroboration for Mr. Comey's version of events, Mr. Mueller's typewritten entries served to rebut the suggestion of some Bush administration officials who have privately dismissed Mr. Comey's account of the hospital standoff as an overwrought and one-sided description."

For background, here is my May 16 column, High Drama -- and High Crimes?

Here is Comey's May 15 testimony about what he did after Ashcroft's wife called to tell him that White House was sending someone to the hospital:

"COMEY: I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that. . . .

"And so I raced to the hospital room, entered. And Mrs. Ashcroft was standing by the hospital bed, Mr. Ashcroft was lying down in the bed, the room was darkened. And I immediately began speaking to him, trying to orient him as to time and place, and try to see if he could focus on what was happening, and it wasn't clear to me that he could. He seemed pretty bad off. . . .

"[T]he door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card. They came over and stood by the bed. They greeted the attorney general very briefly. And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there -- to seek his approval for a matter, and explained what the matter was -- which I will not do.

"And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me -- drawn from the hour-long meeting we'd had a week earlier -- and in very strong terms expressed himself, and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, 'But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the attorney general... There is the attorney general,' and he pointed to me. . . .

"The two men did not acknowledge me. They turned and walked from the room. And within just a few moments after that, Director Mueller arrived. I told him quickly what had happened. He had a brief -- a memorable brief exchange with the attorney general and then we went outside in the hallway. . . .

"I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.

"I thought he had conducted himself, and I said to the attorney general, in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before. But still I thought it was improper."

And here is Gonzales's testimony from July 24:

"Obviously, we were concerned about the condition of General Ashcroft. We obviously knew he had been ill and had surgery. And we never had any intent to ask anything of him if we did not feel that he was competent.

"When we got there, I will just say that Mr. Ashcroft did most of the talking. We were there maybe five minutes -- five to six minutes.

"Mr. Ashcroft talked about the legal issues in a lucid form, as I've heard him talk about legal issues in the White House. But at the end of his description of the legal issues, he said, 'I'm not making this decision. The deputy attorney general is.'

"And so Andy Card and I thanked him. We told him that we would continue working with the deputy attorney general and we left."

Abandon Ship?

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow spoke to conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday and almost made some startling personnel disclosures:

"HH: Now when Karl [Rove] announced his resignation, he said that [Chief of Staff] Josh Bolten had requested that anyone who wasn't going to go the distance leave now. Are there any other resignations upcoming, Tony Snow?

"TS: I think that probably -- as Josh said the other day, he thinks there are probably a couple coming up in the next month or so. I think the rule was let your intentions be known before Labor Day. But I will let others make their announcements. . . .

"HH: Your intention to go the distance, Tony Snow?

"TS: No, I'm not going to be -- I've already made it clear I'm not going to be able to go the distance, but that's primarily for financial reasons. I've told people when my money runs out, then I've got to go.

"HH: How long will that be?

"TS: I'm not going to tell you.

"HH: Well, come on, make some news.

"TS: No."

Snow, who is married and has three children, makes $168,000 a year.

The Padilla Verdict

Peter Whoriskey writes in The Washington Post: "A federal jury convicted former 'enemy combatant' Jose Padilla on Thursday of terrorism conspiracy charges, handing a courthouse victory to the Bush administration, which had originally sought to imprison him without a criminal trial.

"Padilla was arrested in 2002 for allegedly plotting a radiological 'dirty bomb' attack, but prosecutors chose not to pursue those allegations in court here. But after a three-month trial, they had convinced the jury that Padilla, 36, participated in a South Florida-based al-Qaeda support cell that in the '90s began to send money and people to wage holy war in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo and Somalia. . . .

"The conviction essentially accomplishes through the criminal-court system what the administration had tried to do five years ago by executive fiat. For 3½ years after he was arrested upon reentering the country, Padilla was held without charges at a Navy brig in South Carolina, where he was housed in solitary confinement. The tactic drew fierce criticism from civil liberties advocates. . . .

"[L]egal critics said the verdicts show that terrorism suspects can be tried in criminal courts and that there was no reason for the Bush administration to have declared Padilla an 'enemy combatant' and to hold him for years without formal charges.

"'This trial clearly undermines the Bush administration's unfounded fear that terrorists cannot -- in their view -- be tried in our criminal courts,' said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida. The verdict proves, he said, 'that the Bush administration should close Guantanamo and pursue terrorists in the criminal justice system, not outside the confines of the rule of law.'"

Gonzales welcomed the verdict: "The conviction of Jose Padilla -- an American who provided material support to terrorists and trained for violent jihad -- is a significant victory in our efforts to fight the threat posed by terrorists and their supporters," he said.

So did the White House: "We commend the jury for its work in this trial and thank it for upholding a core American principle of impartial justice for all," said spokesman Gordon Johndroe. "Jose Padilla received a fair trial and a just verdict."

Abby Goodnough and Scott Shane, writing on the front page of the New York Times, call it "a significant victory for the Bush administration."

But the New York Times editorial board writes that "it would be a mistake to see it as a vindication for the Bush administration's serial abuse of the American legal system in the name of fighting terrorism.

"On the way to this verdict, the government repeatedly trampled on the Constitution, and its prosecution of Mr. Padilla was so cynical and inept that the crime he was convicted of -- conspiracy to commit terrorism overseas -- bears no relation to the ambitious plot to wreak mass destruction inside the United States, which the Justice Department first loudly proclaimed. Even with the guilty verdict, this conviction remains a shining example of how not to prosecute terrorism cases."

The Washington Post editorial board writes: "What was extraordinary, and reprehensible, was how long Mr. Padilla had to wait for the kind of due process most Americans take for granted."

Former Padilla attorney Jenny S. Martinez writes in a Washington Post op-ed that when Padilla was arrested in Chicago in May 2002, "[t]hen-Attorney General John Ashcroft held a news conference to announce that the government had thwarted a plot by Padilla to set off a radiological 'dirty bomb' in an American city."

But by late 2005, "the administration had begun soft-pedaling the 'dirty bomb' story, which it described as 'loose talk' rather than an imminent plot. It put forward a new theory: Padilla was planning to blow up apartment buildings with natural gas. The government also argued that he could be detained as an 'enemy combatant' because, it alleged, he had been in Afghanistan during the U.S. bombing campaign in late 2001.

"Two business days before the government's brief was due in the Supreme Court, the administration switched tactics again. Fearful that the court would rule that a U.S. citizen arrested in the United States could not constitutionally be detained forever without criminal trial, the government announced that Padilla would be tried in a federal court in Miami. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit noted, the government's actions made it appear that it was trying to evade Supreme Court review.

"The charges brought in Miami contained none of the allegations about the dirty-bomb plot, the apartment buildings or even Padilla's presence in Afghanistan in late 2001."

First Amendment Rights

The Associated Press reports: "A couple arrested at a rally after refusing to cover T-shirts that bore anti-President Bush slogans settled their lawsuit against the federal government for $80,000, the American Civil Liberties Union announced Thursday.

"Nicole and Jeffery Rank of Corpus Christi, Texas, were handcuffed and removed from the July 4, 2004, rally at the state Capitol, where Bush gave a speech. A judge dismissed trespassing charges against them, and an order closing the case was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

"'This settlement is a real victory not only for our clients but for the First Amendment,' said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia. 'As a result of the Ranks' courageous stand, public officials will think twice before they eject peaceful protesters from public events for exercising their right to dissent.'

"White House spokesman Blair Jones said the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing.

"'The parties understand that this settlement is a compromise of disputed claims to avoid the expenses and risks of litigation and is not an admission of fault, liability, or wrongful conduct,' Jones said."

Andrew Clevenger writes in the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette: "Jeff and Nicole Rank said Thursday they never intended to be a big First Amendment case.

"They came to West Virginia in 2004 because Nicole Rank was working as an environmental liaison officer with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. When they learned that the president was scheduled to speak in Charleston, they decided to get tickets to the event.

"'We'd noticed that whenever you see Bush on television, he's always surrounded by fervent supporters,' Jeff Rank said via telephone from Houston. . . .

"'We decided that we wanted to go, no doubt about it, but we didn't want to be added to the throngs of supporters,' he said."

Petraeus Watch

Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: "Under fire from Democrats, the White House insisted yesterday that it planned all along for Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker to testify publicly next month about whether the Iraq troop surge is working.

"'I think everyone expects Ambassador Crocker and Gen. Petraeus to offer a very candid assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq. . . . I don't think there will be any constraints in their testimony whatsoever,' said White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe."

See yesterday's column, Whose Report Is It, Anyway?, for background.

Iran Watch

Mark Kukis writes for Time: "U.S. military commanders in Baghdad have aired their strongest accusations yet against Tehran's leadership in recent weeks, saying Iranian forces are guilty of nothing less than training, arming and controlling a shadow army of Shi'ite militants in Iraq."

But they can't prove it.

"The veracity of these claims is unknowable, however, since the Americans have offered no solid proof to support their allegations."

Cheney Video Redux

So where did that mesmerizing (and infuriating) YouTube video of 1994 Dick Cheney come from? (You know, the one in which he explains that occupying Iraq would be a "quagmire," and which has 600,000 views and counting?)

Mary Ann Akers blogs for washingtonpost.com that it was a clip from the "Life and Career of Dick Cheney," produced for C-SPAN's "American Profile" series in 1994 -- and recently rebroadcast as part of a 12-hour Cheney marathon for C-SPAN 3.

Rove Redux

Joseph L. Galloway writes for McClatchy Newspapers about the resignation of Karl Rove, who he calls "the biggest rat yet to skitter down the hawser of the SS Bush Titanic."

Writes Galloway: "There was a time when politicians of both major parties could beat each other around the head and shoulders all day long in the halls of Congress and then when the sun went down head off together to a friendly bar to sit and drink and talk and laugh together like the old friends they were. . . .

"Who outside the inner circle of the Bush White House or the Cro-Magnon Wing of the Grand Old Party or a few journalist hacks bartering their souls for 'access' would want to sit down and have a drink with Karl Rove?"

Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes in his Washington Post opinion column that "in several years as a colleague, I found Rove to be the most unusual political operative I have ever known; so exceptional he doesn't belong in the category. . . .

"Rove's main influence on the Republican Party has not been a series of tactical innovations but a series of strategic arguments. In this way, Rove is the opposite of a cynical political operator. . . .

"Rove argues that Republicans win as activist reformers, in the tradition of Lincoln, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. 'We were founded as a reformist party,' he said in our conversation this week, 'not to be against something, but to help the little guy get ahead.'"

Jenna Gets Engaged

Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: "Wild Jenna Bush is getting married -- to a former Karl Rove intern!"

Here's the White House announcement.

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post: "Back in February 2005, Laura Bush was asked about the guy her daughter Jenna was seeing. 'This is not a serious boyfriend -- I hate to have to be the one to say it on television,' said the first lady. 'But he's a very nice young man.'

"And one not easily dissuaded. Henry Hager proposed marriage to Jenna on Wednesday in Maine. She said yes."

Hager's mom says he first asked the president for permission to marry his daughter.

Argetsinger and Roberts write: "Henry, a student at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, has a sterling Republican pedigree. His dad, John, is a former lieutenant governor of Virginia and now heads the state's Republican Party. Henry met the blond first twin while working on the president's 2004 reelection campaign, and the two have been dating ever since. . . .

"The courtship was serious enough that in May 2006, Jenna apparently thought he was ready to tie the knot. The two were dining at Asia Nora when waiters brought champagne to the table -- with a mysterious note taped to her glass. Jenna read it and burst out laughing. 'I thought you were proposing!' she hollered loud enough for everyone to hear. 'I nearly [soiled] my pants!'"

Andrew Romano blogs for Newsweek about the good old days, shortly after Bush took office: "Within a month, the then 19-year-old UT-Austin student coerced a Secret Service agent into springing a buddy from a Texas slammer after he was arrested for public drunkenness. Then she landed on the cover of the National Enquirer, smoking a cigarette and falling to the floor atop a giggling gal-pal. Then she was cited, in Austin, for underage drinking. Then she tried to sweet-talk a bartender into serving her liquor and, when he refused, fled from her security detail down a back alley, yelling that her father would 'have your ass.' Then she was arrested after slipping another bartender a fake ID. Then she partied with Diddy. And Chris Cornell of Audioslave. And Ashton Kutcher, who claimed that he witnessed a friend 'smoking [pot with] the Bush twins on his hookah.'"

A Dressing Down

Argetsinger and Roberts write in The Post: "Last week, Marques Harper of the Austin American-Statesman wrote a short piece about the president's sartorial style on his Texas ranch, where Bush is spending a two-week vacation. The article was reprinted Tuesday in a Waco, Tex., paper, and the leader of the free world was not pleased.

"Harper received a phone call that morning from White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino, who, Harper told friends, said the president read the article and was unhappy about the way he was portrayed. . . .

"Harper wrote: 'The president has two distinct looks when he's in Texas: the ranch-hand man and the crisp appearance of a ranch owner. In recent months, with his sliding popularity, he's opted to look more like 'Walker, Texas Ranger' than a sweaty, tough ranch hand.' In the piece, an image consultant offered that Bush needed to 'step it up' to keep his 'bravado image' on the ranch. . . .

"No laughing matter for the president, who apparently was offended that anyone would think he just dresses like a real rancher. After clearing all that brush? Never!"

Cartoon Watch

Mike Luckovich on the lonely president.

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