White House Watch

Dan Froomkin
White House Watch Columnist
Wednesday, January 14, 2009; 1:00 PM

What's going on inside the White House? Ask Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Watch column for washingtonpost.com. He was online Wednesday, Jan. 14 at 1 p.m. ET to answer your questions about the White House and the Bush/Cheney Legacy.

The transcript follows.

Dan is also moderator of the White House Watchers discussion group and deputy editor of Niemanwatchdog.org.

Click here to read past White House Watch discussions.


Dan Froomkin: Welcome! It's Bush-Cheney Legacy Week here at washingtonpost.com. My column yesterday, The Verdict Is In, was my big contribution -- although Monday's column, Bush's Last Press Conference, included some looking back. As does today's column, The Reality of Torture (which will be out in a jiffy).

I had hoped to be focusing more on Barack Obama by now. But George Bush, I just can't quit you.


Juneau, Alaska: Hi Dan -- Posting early because I have a meeting....Bob Woodward's lead story has the "Casablanca" feel to it. The part with the French Vichy guy saying "gambling, I am shocked." And then the employee of Rick's saying "your winnings sir."

What options are there for us to clear up what was done and bring some sense of closure to this sad, despicable affair? Are criminal cases the only way forward? Or...?

washingtonpost.com: Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Officia (Post, Jan. 14)

Dan Froomkin: Given how the MSM has so consistently underplayed the torture story, I was a bit surprised at how prominently that story was placed today. But it is a milestone, and I think its play accurately reflected the fact that torture is going to be one of Bush's dominant legacies.

As for options, there is an ongoing hot debate as to whether criminal investigations, blue-ribbon commission investigations or truth commission investigations would best do the trick. Views vary. And some, of course, don't want to look back at all.


Bremerton, Wash.: Is it true that while Laura Bush has been offered big bucks for her memoir, George has not?

Dan Froomkin: Yes. Are you surprised? There are some people out there genuinely curious about what Laura Bush has to say. George, by contrast, not so much.


Seattle: Dan, I was wondering if you can settle a bet here.

Is George W. Bush the first President since Herbert Hoover to leave office with the GDP worse than when he entered?

Dan Froomkin: I cannot settle that bet. Readers? Anyone up for a little research?


Alexandria, Va.: In the past couple weeks I've been amused/appalled to hear two people use the word "conversate," W's version of "converse," while talking on the Metro. Yikes!

As part of this last 43 chat, I thought you might like to compile other "Bushisms" that might become a permanent part of the American vocabulary. I personally like "misunderestimate" from last Tuesday's press conference (does this mean "overestimate?") but figure it's probably too long and cumbersome to make the cut.

washingtonpost.com: W.'s Greatest Hits: The top 25 Bushisms of all time. (Slate, Jan. 12)

Dan Froomkin: Decider and strategery come to mind. Anyone else spotted any Bushisms loose in the real world?


Bellevue, Wash.: Hi Dan-I still don't understand Cheney's defense of torture. He appears to believe it's effective, yet every expert I've read says it's not and in fact is counterproductive. Why does Cheney believes it works when the experts disagree? Is this somehow tied to Cheney's holy war to expand executive powers? Or is there some psychological issue at play here with rage at being attacked on 9/11 leading to some primitive quest for vengeance? Has anyone made a stab at examining what's going on in Cheney's (and other pro-torture proponents') mind on this issue?

Dan Froomkin: Your questions are good ones, and like so many things related to Cheney, I'm not sure we'll ever know. He certainly isn't telling.

I do think that one of the thing Obama needs to do, in terms of clearing the air about torture, is let the public know whether Cheney's argument that it saved lives was based on fact or fantasy. Now mind you, even if it did save lives, it remains a perverse argument. But we should know what was done in our name, and why.


Austin, Tex.: Dan, Here's a quick comparison question. I'd like to hear your opinions of which of the following in each pair was a bigger Bush mistake, disappointment, faux pas, what have you... choose the worse action from each of the following pairs:

Choosing Cheney to chair VP search committee (and thus as VP) OR Choosing Gonzales as AG?

Going down the Enemy Combatants road OR Going down the Invade Iraq road?

Failure to act in the summer before 9/11 OR Failure to act (effectively) in the wake of Katrina

Seeing Putin's soul (or at least claiming he did) OR Giving the (female) German Chancellor a shoulder rub?

Dan Froomkin: What an interesting bunch of pairs. Very clever and thought-provoking. Producer Paul is putting together an insta-poll so you readers can weigh in.



Dan Froomkin: Here's the poll. Remember to vote for just one in each pair.


Vienna, Va.: Dan: I just read the article in Newsweek that you referenced in a recent WHW column ("Obama's Cheney Dilemma" by Stuart Taylor and Evan Thomas). I don't know what you thought about it, but some of the assertions could have been extracted from the brains of the VP and his sidekick, David Addington (for example, that "enhanced interrogation techniques" are actually useful). I also didn't understand the comment attributed to Jack Goldsmith, saying that "The Presidency has already been diminished in ways that would be hard to reverse". Diminished in what sense? The secrecy and ad hoc approach to dealing with terrorism certainly diminished the public's approval of the Bush administration specifically, but do you have any idea what Goldsmith is saying?

Given that Obama hasn't been sworn in as Number 44 yet, the article struck me as premature. The first and best thing that Obama can do to ENHANCE the presidency is establish credibility in dealing with terrorism -- by virtue of a transparent, well-constructed protocol for dealing with the issues of torture, wiretapping, rendition, preventative detention and trial procedures.


Dan Froomkin: Yeah. That article struck me as bizarre. See the "Cheney vs. the World" section of Monday's column.


Laurel, Md.: Bush said he was "disappointed" about the fact that we never found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He was also disappointed by Abu Ghraib. This is like saying that a husband was "disappointed he cheated on his wife and got caught."

Dan, do you think that the President actually thinks his administration was not responsible for these events or it just his inarticulate way of passing blame?

Dan Froomkin: I think it's his way of saying "yeah, we sort of messed up, but it wasn't really my fault." But Jon Stewart had this to say about it last night: "Do you see what the president is doing here? He's using the word disappointment. Disappointment is what you feel when others make mistakes. We've let him down."


Rockville, Md.: What can I say? We won in Iraq.

You never thought we could or should win.

So, I have nothing more to say.


Dan Froomkin: I wish this were the case. But you have been sorely deceived.


Strategery...: ... not actually a Bushism, but rather provided to us by Will Ferrell. Still, sounds too true to forget it wasn't Bush.

Dan Froomkin: You are of course correct. My apologies.


Dan Froomkin: My column is now out: The Reality of Torture.


University Park, Md.: After Jan 20, where will we be able to find the Bush (and other official) documents online? For that matter, where are Clinton White House materials?

Dan Froomkin: I believe the Clinton stuff lived at clinton.archives.gov before moving over to the Clinton Library. So I guess I'll be checking bush.archives.gov as of Tuesday.

The bummer is that all the old links to whitehouse.gov will be broken. I sure hope the archives maintains the URL structure at least!


Shamrock, Tex.: Dan, When do you think Scooter's pardon will be granted?

Dan Froomkin: Ooh.

Must. Resist. Urge. To. Prognosticate.


Either Friday night or Monday night.


Laurel, Md.: Dan, do you think the President is still oblivious to the historic ineptness of the Federal Government's response to Katrina? His incoherent statement at the press conference the other day was beyond belief, even for him. Does he even remember the scene at the convention center or at the Superdome? Is he really that dense?

Dan Froomkin: That's a good question. I thought I had lost the ability to be shocked by anything he said, but that one still floored me. And he got in high dudgeon, no less! "Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed," he said.

It was slow, Mr. President. Terribly, horribly, almost criminally slow.

Did he never understand? Did he forget? Has he managed to convince himself it never happened? I'd love someone to follow up on that.

Incidentally, the 30,000 number is not strictly accurate. According to http://www.uscg.mil/history/katrina/katrinaindex.asp, "Coast Guardsmen saved more than 33,500" people -- but many of them were not "plucked off roofs."


Hamilton, Va.: I realize Rockville, Md., has nothing more to say but I'd love to hear his explanation of what and how we have won in Iraq.

Dan Froomkin: Look, the reality is that he's not alone. The White House, despite everything, has done a masterful job of subliminally delivering the message that we've won -- or at least have very nearly won, unless Obama screws it up. The press has not done a very good job of explaining why that's not the case.


Blairsville, Ga.: How can anyone say we won in Iraq when no one in the administration has ever said what victory would be? How can we say we succeeded in Iraq when no one in the administration has ever said what success is? Without clear-cut objectives, it was easy to keep us there in a semi-permanent state of war, making it easier to ask Americans to give up rights, and easier to target those who oppose the war as "not supporting our troops."

Or am I wrong? Has the administration said what victory would be or what success would be?

Dan Froomkin: Sure, they've defined victory. It's an Iraq that is peaceful, secular, democratic country that is an American ally and that can defend itself.

But we sure aren't there yet.


Dallas: Hey Dan, The whole "disappointment" that there weren't weapons of mass destruction in Iraq seems to me to be pretty perverse. I mean, shouldn't we be glad that Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction? I think the disappointment should be directed towards the decision to go to Iraq based on the false assertion of WMD (or, with Bush spin applied) the intelligence indicating that there were WMD in Iraq when there weren't. Has that struck you as odd?

Dan Froomkin: Odd, yes. I think it's Bush shorthand for "I'm disappointed that we were wrong about the WMD." But even that doesn't cut it. For one, there is a powerful argument to be made that, as the Downing Street Memo said, the intelligence was being fixed around the policy. And then there's the fact that he won't say that, had he known there were no WMD, he wouldn't have attacked anyway. So what's he disappointed about?

The answer is that, like the Mission Accomplished banner and not landing Air Force One in Louisiana, he's just sorry things looked bad. He doesn't seem to have any genuine regrets at all.


Long Island, N.Y.: Dan,

Any idea on what the content of tomorrow's farewell address to the country will include?

Other than to say that the U.S. hasn't been attacked by AQ since 9/11, I'm not sure how he's going to speak for 15 minutes.

Dan Froomkin: You haven't been reading/watching his exit interviews. He can go on an on about his successes. Go check out the Bush Record page on whitehouse.gov.


Columbia, Md.: Since Rockville, Md., is so convinced we have won in Iraq, perhaps they would like to send their spouse for a 14 month tour next week instead of mine?

Dan Froomkin: Would that he could.


Houston: Pardons: I'm down for the infamous Friday night document dump on the 16th, since Monday is MLK day.

Dan Froomkin: Noted.


Long Island, N.Y.: I heard about Obama's dinner with George Will and other conservative columnists last night.

I know Bush has hosted many dinners with these same columnists -- has he ever had a similar dinner with any liberal columnists (e.g. Frank Rich)?

Dan Froomkin: No.


Dan Froomkin: I have to run. Sorry. Talk to you again next presidency.


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