By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 24, 2008; 12:03 PM
President Bush's highest-ranking aides got $4,200 raises this year, bringing their annual salaries to $172,200.
The latest White House staff list is out, and you can browse the whole thing here. There are 447 people on the list, their salaries ranging from $33,400 to $172,200. (Bush makes $400,000 and Vice President Cheney makes $221,200.)
Eighteen people are listed at the uppermost "assistant to the president" level. Some familiar names from previous years are notably missing, among them former Senior Adviser Karl Rove, who left the administration last summer, and former Press Secretary Tony Snow, who died earlier this month.
Indeed, with Joseph Hagin stepping down as deputy chief of staff for operations yesterday, fully half of Bush's top stratum of advisers have been replaced in the past year. And, as you might expect in the waning days of an administration, most of the new arrivals are unknowns outside the wonkosphere -- people like chief strategist Barry Jackson, chief lobbyist Dan Meyer and chief speechwriter Marc Thiessen.
The list, which the White House sends Congress annually, is far from exhaustive, however. It does not include staff members of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, or the numerous military attaches, or the household staff.
Even more notably, it does not include staffers in the vice president's office. Vice President Cheney has consistently refused to disclose who works for him. As a result, top Cheney aides such as chief of staff David S. Addington and national security adviser John Hannah, who are paid out of the vice president's executive appropriation, don't show up anywhere in the public domain. You can find a list of the 33 vice presidential staffers who are on the Congressional payroll, by virtue of the vice president's mostly ceremonial role as president of the Senate, on the Legistorm Web site.
Among the other facts to be gleaned from the new list:
* 130 White House staffers make over $100,000.
* Raises for deputy assistants and special assistants to the president -- the second and third tier of staffers -- were more generous than the 2.5 percent raises to those at the very top tier. Most deputy assistants, for instance, got 4.6 percent raises this year, bumping their salaries up $6,500 to $147,500.
* After four years of stagnating at $30,000, the bottom of the payscale was finally raised this year to $33,400.
* There are two new high-level positions. Tom Donahue, on loan from the CIA, has the title of director of cyber policy, and Richard A. Reed is now senior director for continuity policy. There are now four people at the White House whose titles relate to continuity policy, up from two last year.
* There are fully 25 lawyers in the White House counsel's office.
* Staci A. Wheeler, the White House's director of fact checking, is -- at $60,000 -- either being paid way too little or way too much, depending on how you want to look at it.
* And yes, the invisible Karl Zinsmeister is still on the books as Bush's chief domestic policy adviser.Hagin's Last Day
Mark Knoller reports for CBS News on yesterday's departure of the longtime deputy chief of staff for operations: "Hagin has served in the job from day one of the Bush Administration. There's no staffer who's been in the same senior level post longer than him. And there's no one at the White House whose been more intimately engaged in the moment-to-moment operations of the Executive Office of the President.
"He was the one who modernized the communications system at the White House. He brought 21st century technology to the Situation Room (see above image) and renovated the worn and tattered Press Briefing Room. . . .
"In his West Wing office around the corner and down the hall from the Oval Office, [see my now entirely out of date West Wing floor plan] Hagin was packing mementoes of his White House years. On the wall was a painting of Pres. Bush's landing aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003.
"It was Joe Hagin's idea that Mr. Bush -- a one-time pilot in the Texas Air National Guard -- fly to the carrier 'Top Gun'-style aboard a Navy S-3B Viking warplane.
"The flight went fine but he now confides 'it was a little nerve-racking on the landing.' It seems the plane came close to missing all of the four cables meant to catch the plane's tailhook. It snagged the last one by inches. . . .
"It was on the deck of the Lincoln that President Bush delivered that now controversial Address to the Nation in which he announced -- prematurely it turned out - that 'major combat operations' in Iraq had come to an end. On display in the background was a banner proclaiming 'Mission Accomplished' -- which some took as a declaration that the war in Iraq was over.
"Hagin says it was referring to the end of the Lincoln's mission overseas -- not to the war. And to this day, Hagin remains 'surprised' by the criticism of the flight and the banner -- but still regards Mr. Bush's visit to the ship as 'historic.'"Bush and the GOP
David M. Herszenhorn writes in the New York Times: "The House approved far-reaching government assistance on Wednesday for the nation's housing market, including broad authority for the Treasury Department to protect the nation's two largest mortgage finance companies from collapse. . . .
"The White House, citing an urgent need to restore market confidence in the two mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said President Bush would sign the measure despite his opposition to the inclusion of nearly $4 billion in grants for local governments to buy and refurbish foreclosed properties. . . .
"The House approved the bill 272 to 152, with just 45 Republicans joining 227 Democrats voting in favor.
"The weak support among House Republicans was remarkable given the president's position, and suggested an emerging split between Mr. Bush, who is nearing the end of his term, and lawmakers in the House, who are all up for re-election in November.
"Republicans said they would not support a bill that puts taxpayer money at risk while potentially bailing out irresponsible borrowers and greedy lenders."
Ben Pershing blogs for washingtonpost.com that Bush's decision to rescind his veto threat pulled the rug out from under House and Senate Republicans, "to the chagrin of congressional conservatives who had planned to use the veto threat as a roadblock against the otherwise unstoppable political momentum building behind quick passage of the housing measure. . . .
"[W]ith the president an unpopular lame duck and congressional Republicans nervous about November, don't expect the two sides of Pennsylvania Avenue to patch things up anytime soon."
Indeed, later in the day, Pershing writes, the House "voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill that would transfer $8 billion from the general Treasury to shore up a deficit in the Highway Trust Fund. Bush has threatened to veto the measure, but the House brushed his objections aside today in approving it, 387-37. A whopping 159 Republicans joined every Democrat in voting 'aye.'"
Martin Kady II writes for Politico: "On at least four votes over the past month -- Medicare, housing, the GI Bill and the Farm Bill -- Republican leaders haven't even bothered whipping members to toe the party line or back President Bush's veto threats. Instead, a GOP leadership aide says leaders have told vulnerable senators that it's all right to 'get well' with voters by siding with Democrats on anything but energy and national security. . . .
"Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) openly discussed how Vice President Cheney had personally asked him about his Medicare vote. Chambliss said he told the vice president that he needed to back his local doctors and senior citizens.
"'I said, "Dick, I'm beyond that,"' Chambliss said."
Ed Henry reports for CNN that Bush's veto recision "came at an awkward moment. Coincidentally, a tape emerged Tuesday of the president briefly joking about the housing crisis at a Republican fund-raiser last week."
See yesterday's column for more on that.
Added Henry: "Now, when I asked whether this tape had any effect on this decision about the veto, White House spokesman Tony Fratto told me -- and I want to quote -- 'This is about the most laughable connection I can ever imagine a news organization making.'"Rove's Denial
Eric Lichtblau writes in the New York Times: "Karl Rove, the former senior political adviser to President Bush, denied Wednesday that he had anything to do with the Justice Department's bribery prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama, a Democrat. House Democrats have subpoenaed Mr. Rove for information about Mr. Siegelman's case and other matters, but Mr. Rove has refused to comply. Instead, he responded in writing on Wednesday to a list of 12 questions posed by House Republicans, saying he 'never communicated, either directly or indirectly' with the Justice Department or officials in Alabama about the case. He also denied the accusations of a Republican lawyer in Alabama, Jill Simpson, who has linked him to the Siegelman prosecution. Democrats said they will continue to seek his sworn testimony."
Here is Rove's statement.
Rove's denial: "I have never communicated, either directly or indirectly, with Justice Department or Alabama officials about the investigation, indictment, potential prosecution, prosecution, conviction, or sentencing of Governor Siegelman, or about any other matter related to his case, nor have I asked any other individual to communicate about these matters on my behalf. I have never attempted, either directly or indirectly, to influence these matters."
But blogger emptywheel still sees a possible loophole. And indeed, Rove doesn't actually deny talking to people about Siegelman generally.
I always thought the Siegelman accusation was one of the most speculative against Rove. And I see this statement as one more attempt by him to avoid what he fears most: Being forced to answer direct questions, under oath, about his relations with the Justice Department.Mukasey Watch
Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball write for Newsweek: "Raising the prospect that Guantánamo Bay inmates might be unleashed onto the streets of American cities, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said Wednesday there is an 'urgent' need for Congress to enact a new law governing how federal courts handle legal challenges from detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Cuba.
"But Mukasey's plea for quick passage of a significant new counterterrorism measure essentially fell on deaf ears--at least from the Democrats who control Congress. 'Zero,' snapped one key lawmaker, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, when asked the likelihood that Congress will rush to pass the kind of law Mukasey and the Bush administration are seeking. . . .
"The derisive comments from the feisty New York liberal--just moments after Mukasey issued his strong appeal in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee--underscores the huge and poisonous gulf that now exists between the White House and Congress on virtually every issue related to the War on Terror."
Lara Jakes Jordan writes for the Associated Press: "The House Judiciary Committee chairman on Wednesday said the Justice Department is stonewalling efforts to make sure this year's presidential voting operates fairly.
"Chairman John Conyers told Attorney General Michael Mukasey there hasn't been enough cooperation with Congress on voting rights issues. Conyers also said the work that has been done hasn't been effective.
"'As we sit here today, probably 100 days before the election, we don't know specifically how our government will respond to the problems that made the elections of 2000 and 2004 so problematic and so controversial,' Conyers told Mukasey at the start of the panel's oversight hearing -- likely the last House appearance for the attorney general.
"Conyers, D-Mich., said it's unclear whether voting machines will be fairly allocated and how federal election monitors will be deployed across the country."
Matthew Blake liveblogged the hearing for the Washington Independent. "Two hours into the House Judiciary Committee questioning Michael Mukasey and we're getting into the good stuff. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fl.) just asked Mukasey how he defines executive privilege. Mukasey says that executive privilege should be granted to a conversation a president has with closest advisers. How then, Wexler asked Mukasey, does Dick Cheney's interview with the FBI about the leaking of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity qualify as executive privilege?
"Mukasey said because Cheney is discussing discussions the President had with his closest advisers, executive privilege applies. But when pressed, Mukasey admitted that 'in the abstract' the Vice President usually isn't shielded by executive privilege when it comes to a transcribed FBI interview. So why did the President assert executive privilege for this interview? Wexler is the first person to ask. Mukasey responds by dodging the question. Instead, he starts talking about a media shield law."Iraq Watch
Amit R. Paley writes in The Washington Post: "President Jalal Talabani said Wednesday that he would veto a measure governing provincial elections scheduled for this year, making it all but certain that the balloting will be delayed until 2009.
"The announcement was a setback for both the Bush administration and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which hailed a preliminary election law passed earlier this year as evidence of political progress in Iraq. The ongoing disagreements over the polling have instead highlighted the sectarian fissures that still divide the country."Indian Nuke Watch
Sue Pleming writes for Reuters: "U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday the Bush administration would push the U.S. Congress hard to agree to a civilian nuclear deal with India before President George W. Bush leaves office.
"India said this week it would go ahead with its nuclear deal with the United States after the government survived a parliamentary vote of confidence. The pact would give India access to nuclear fuel and technology."
The agreement is a sweetheart deal for India. See my March 2006 column, Did Bush Blink?. Bush directed his negotiators to give in to India's demands that it be allowed to produce unlimited quantities of fissile material and amass as many nuclear weapons as it wants. Critics say the agreement would reward India for its failure to comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and could lead to a regional nuclear arms race.White House Crime Watch
Emily Bazelon, Kara Hadge, Dahlia Lithwick, and Chris Wilson write for Slate about which Bush administration officials could be prosecuted in Nuremberg-style war-crime prosecutions.
"What kind of lawbreaking has happened on President Bush's watch, among his top and mid-level advisers? What hasn't? Who is implicated and who is not? Despite the lack of oral sex with an intern, the past seven years have yielded an embarrassment of riches when it comes to potentially prosecutable crimes. We have tried to sketch out a map of who did what and when, with links to the evidence that is public and notes about what we may learn from investigations that are still pending. . . .
"[A] truism of criminal prosecution is that it's easier to go after the coverup than the crime. For that reason, we think the likelihood that, say, Alberto Gonzales gets nicked for lying to Congress or that someone gets nailed for destroying the CIA tapes is higher than the chance that John Yoo ever goes to court for suggesting that an interrogation tactic is torture only if it causes pain on the level of organ failure. Or that David Addington or Gonzales--or Dick Cheney or President Bush--ever gets nailed for urging or accepting that advice. Whether that is fair or right or just is for you to judge."
Here's the annotated chart Slate put together, with a Venn diagram representing coercive interrogation, wiretapping, Justice Department hiring, Justice Department firing and CIA tape destruction. Interestingly, Gonzales is the only player who figures in all five alleged-crime categories.
In a blog post for NiemanWatchdog.org, where I am deputy editor, Saul Friedman calls for news organizations to assign a police reporter to the White House. "I wonder if it isn't time for the mainstream press to treat the president as it would any suspect of a crime, in this case, war crimes, which are punishable under American law. After all, we've seen endless stories about all sorts of crimes and suspects. The Washington Post, for example, just ran a multi-part series on the unsolved murder of congressional intern Chandra Levy and the possible suspects. The press still excels at police reporting, my first job in journalism."Poll Watch
Mark Murray reports for NBC News on the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: "[T]he Republican Party's brand is in tatters. President Bush's approval rating is at 30 percent, up two points from last month's poll. Also, for the 25th consecutive survey, more view the Republican Party negatively (48 percent) than positively (31 percent). By comparison, the Democratic Party has a 43-37 percent positive-negative rating."More Popular on the Wall
Daniel Libit writes for Politico: "He's poison in the polls, despised by Democrats, radioactive even to some Republicans." And yet: "For many senators, a picture of themselves with the commander in chief is like a dark blue suit -- not exactly stylish, but always in style no matter the season. . . .
"More than a quarter of the public [Senate] waiting rooms, 27 in total, feature a picture of Bush. That's 22 Republicans, four Democrats and one independent. Thanks to some offices with several Bush photos, a total of 79 Bush images are on display."Bush Library Watch
The Austin American-Statesman editorial board writes that "sitting presidents secretly raising money for their legacy libraries can be trading favors for sizable contributions. One solution is to prohibit presidents from soliciting money for their libraries while in office. Another would be to require public disclosure of contributors to presidential libraries, which are administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, a federal agency. . . .
"Of course, Bush could announce that all contributions to his library will be disclosed. He expects to raise $250 million for the building and another $250 million for administration and endowment.
"That would be the right thing to do. It would establish a new standard of openness for raising library funds and show that Bush cares about the reputation of these repositories of history. And it might take a bit of tarnish off Bush's controversial library. But don't look for something that out of character to happen anytime soon."Cartoon Watch