Woodward Book Rattles the Capital

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, April 19, 2004; 11:29 AM

The media just can't get enough of former Watergate reporter Bob Woodward's new book and its treasure-trove of disclosures from inside the White House.

The second of five articles adapted from Woodward's "Plan of Attack" is out in The Washington Post this morning. Woodward writes that in telling President Bush that military action was the only feasible way of removing Saddam Hussein -- and then that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction -- the CIA contributed to the gathering momentum for war.

Here's some background about the book, and a summary of the five excerpts appearing in The Post.

Sunday's excerpt describes how, soon after New Year's in 2003, Bush made up his mind to attack Iraq -- and how Vice President Cheney told Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador, all about it even before Bush told Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Woodward will be Live Online Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET answering questions.

Woodward was on 60 Minutes last night. There are lots of video clips on the CBS Web site.

Reuters considered this the big new revelation: "Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, promised President Bush the Saudis would cut oil prices before November to ensure the U.S. economy is strong on election day, journalist Bob Woodward said in a television interview on Sunday."

On a 10-minute segment on NBC's Today show this morning, Woodward says the White House was engaged in "intense, secret planning" of the war in Iraq so as to not disrupt the "karma" of the Congress.

Woodward also brushes off White House suggestions that the decision to attack wasn't made until March. "They're not really saying that," he says.

Today's Coverage

Judy Keen writes in USA Today this morning that "Bush administration officials are challenging some assertions in a new book that details the 'secret history' of preparations for the war with Iraq, especially the idea that Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell barely speak to each other.

"But overall, White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Sunday, 'This is a pretty detailed look at the complex process that was underway to bring the issue of Saddam Hussein before the world community and ultimately remove him from power.' President Bush has not read the book, aides said."

Evan Thomas writes in Newsweek: "The real news, however, is not that Bush was secretive about his war planning, but rather that there was so little consideration of the consequences. In Woodward's telling, Bush was deeply involved in the details of the invasion plans from the moment he first grabbed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's elbow in November 2001 and asked, 'What kind of war plan do you have for Iraq?' But at no time did the president sit down with his war cabinet and debate whether the war on Iraq would distract from the war on terror -- or whether the risk of postwar Iraq's becoming a failed state outweighed the reward of getting rid of Saddam Hussein."

Steven R. Weisman writes in the New York Times that Powell has previously acknowledged some concern before the war about the post-war.

"But Mr. Powell's apparent decision to lay out his misgivings even more explicitly to the journalist Bob Woodward for a book has jolted the White House and aggravated long-festering tensions in the Bush cabinet. Moreover, some officials said, the book has created problems for the secretary inside the administration just as the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and President Bush is plunging into his re-election drive. . . .

"The view expressed Sunday by people in the administration that Mr. Bush comes across as sober-minded and resolute in the book, asking for contingency plans for a war early on but not deciding to wage one until the last minute, saves Mr. Powell from any immediate difficulties that might grow from seeming to betray his confidential relationship to a president who prizes loyalty, several officials said."

More White House Response

As Robert S. Greenberger and David Rogers write in the Wall Street Journal, "As it has done before, the administration deployed Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, yesterday to defend Mr. Bush."

Kirk Semple and Carla Baranauckas write for the New York Times: "Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, said today that the president decided in March 2003 to go to war against Saddam Hussein, not in January 2003, as a new book contends."

She also bristled at the report that the Saudi ambassador was briefed on the war plan before the secretary of state.

"It's just not the proper impression that somehow Prince Bandar was in the know in the way that Secretary Powell was not. It's just not right. Secretary Powell had been privy to all of this. He knew what the war plan was."

Here's the transcript from CBS's Face the Nation.

And here's the followup by Bob Schieffer:

"Schieffer: So he knew that Bandar was being told?

"Rice: So he -- we -- I certainly knew, and I suspect that Colin would not have been surprised going through the Gulf War experience that one of the allies that you had to be certain understood what might happen if the president decided to go to war was the Saudis."

But was that an answer to the question?

Here's Rice on Fox News Sunday, disputing the Woodward assertion that Powell and Cheney are barely on speaking terms: "I've had lunch on a number of occasions with Vice President Cheney and with Colin Powell, and they're more than on speaking terms. They're friendly."

At Friday's public session with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush himself didn't exactly deny the Woodward timetable. Did he ask Rumsfeld to draw up war plans against Iraq in November, 2001?

"You know, I can't remember exact dates that far back," Bush said.

Scott McClellan, in his briefing on Friday, said "there is a difference between planning and making a decision."

A Summary

William Hamilton, a senior editor at The Washington Post, penned this story for Saturday's Post summing up the biggest news flashes of Woodward's book.

Scoop Scoop

You weren't really supposed to read anything about the book until the first excerpt appeared in early editions of Sunday's Post, which went on sale and were posted online Saturday morning. But the Associated Press got hold of a copy and had a story on the wires early Friday morning.

Jacques Steinberg of the New York Times writes that Leonard Downie, the executive editor of The Post, described the AP story as "mercifully terse."

But Mark Memmott of USA Today writes: "When the Associated Press scooped the Post and published a story about the book early Friday, a carefully crafted media campaign for Plan of Attack may have been ruined, but the book got another day's worth of publicity. It went from No. 22 on Amazon.com's Top 100 best sellers Friday afternoon to No. 1 by Sunday. And it doesn't officially go on sale until today.

And it's still No. 1 on Amazon this morning.

Karl Rove Watch

In another, short excerpt from the book, printed in Sunday's Post, Woodward writes that Karl Rove realized in February that Iraq could turn into a potential negative for the re-election campaign -- and expressed joy that that Sen. John Kerry, and not Howard Dean, was the likely Democratic nominee.

Woodward describes Rove reading from a "two-inch-thick, loose-leaf binder titled 'Bring It On.' It consisted of research into Kerry's 19-year record in the Senate. . . .

"Rove's eyebrows were jumping up and down as he read. 'My personal favorite,' he said, quoting Kerry on March 19, 2003, the day the war started: 'I think Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction are a threat, and that's why I voted to hold him accountable and to make certain that we disarm him.' . . .

"Rove was gleeful. 'It's on tape!' he said, 'and we've done testing on it, and you put out there, literally you take the footage of him saying some of this stuff and then have him in the exchange with Chris Matthews saying I'm antiwar and people say, 'What a hypocrite!'"

Speaking of Rove, he met on Thursday with the editorial board of the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. The Associated Press reports that Rove expressed regret over the use of a "Mission Accomplished" banner as a backdrop for the president's landing on an aircraft carrier in May, to mark the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

"I wish the banner was not up there," Rove said. "I'll acknowledge the fact that it has become one of those convenient symbols."

Cheney Watch

Woodward's book describes Cheney as a "powerful, steamrolling force" on Iraq, a description that isn't exactly surprising to most Cheney watchers.

But here's Kenneth T. Walsh of U.S. News today reporting on Cheney's affable side:

"Traveling with the secrecy-obsessed Cheney is a rarity for the media, but a handful of reporters, including one from U.S. News, were invited along on his Asia jaunt to get a closer view of the vice president as the presidential campaign begins. Cheney emerged as controlled, businesslike, and relentlessly on message. More surprising, Cheney up close is not the ideologically rigid cardboard cutout portrayed by critics and the late-night TV stand-up guys. . . . Instead, he came across as affable, thoughtful, reassuring, and almost totally lacking in pretension -- traits that the public rarely gets to see because Cheney keeps such a low profile."

Walsh notes: "It may be that the vice president was trying especially hard to make nice with the press this trip, but these are also precisely the characteristics that have made him invaluable to his boss."

Meanwhile, as Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post about an event on Saturday: "Vice President Cheney worked to mend White House relations with gun activists yesterday by warning a National Rifle Association convention in Pittsburgh that Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) would roll back rights of gun makers and users."

The News Conference

So I go out of town for a week, and the president holds a news conference? It just doesn't seem fair. Ah, well.

Luckily, it looks like it will be revisited for days if not weeks to come.

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times today: "Administration officials said the goal at Tuesday's news conference was to regain control of the national political conversation and to explain to Americans the president's reasons for remaining in Iraq. Whether Mr. Bush's performance accomplished that -- his supporters called him passionate and unwavering, his critics called him inarticulate and unfocused -- the event revealed a lot about the amount of presidential time and planning that goes into what Mr. Bush's aides, like all White House aides, call a highly risky hour with a huge potential for mistakes....

And a special note to my very suspicious readers who keep e-mailing me about this: Bumiller writes that reporters "do not submit questions to the White House beforehand, but administration officials have a good idea of what's coming from the questions reporters ask at the daily press briefings."

Howard Fineman and Tamara Lipper write in Newsweek: "Reporters 'will brother-in-law this,' one aide predicted, using a golf term for a type of teamwork on the course. They'll follow each other's questions, the aides said, serially demanding apologies and specifics on the tumult in Iraq and the findings of the 9/11 commission. 'Really?' the president replied, as in: so what? Back from Crawford, Texas, he knew he had to show he could take a few rounds from the press corps. But he had another goal: to use prime time (the 'American Idol' time slot, no less) to deliver a secular sermon on the strategic value of bestowing freedom upon the planet. . . .

"There it is, encapsulated in prime time: the Bush campaign, presidency and world view. This is a president who often would rather preach than answer questions -- or ask them. He leads and runs unapologetically on faith, dividing the world and the presidential campaign into two discrete spheres: one for patriots who believe in his policies and vision, and one for everyone else."

Washington Post White House correspondent Dana Milbank said in a Live Online discussion on Friday: "There definitely was a sense that the press was piling on Tuesday night. But that's because the president was so determined not to yield one inch -- and indeed, his resolve or stubbornness, depending on how you look at it, has become perhaps the central characteristic of his presidency and the presidential campaign."

Also on Friday, Campaigndesk.org interviewed Bill Sammon, White House correspondent for The Washington Times since 1998 and a political analyst for Fox News Channel since 1999. He was the "must-call" who Bush turned to instead of answering the question from Mike Allen of The Washington Post, who had asked why Bush and Cheney are testifying together before the 9/11 commission.

In case you, too, were out of town, here is the transcript, and some video excerpts from Tuesday night.

Dan Balz did an analysis for The Washington Post; Washington Post Associate Editor Robert G. Kaiser did a Live Online; Washington Post TV Critic Tom Shales weighed in with his take, and Washington Post Media Notes columnist Howard Kurtz assessed the reaction.

On the Wall Street Journal opinion page, Peggy Noonan penned a much-quoted condemnation of the White House press corp.

In Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, Lewis L. Gould wrote that "Bush provided exhortation and a reiteration of his goals rather than a roadmap for how he intends to deal with the present crisis."

In the New York Times Week in Review, David E. Rosenbaum writes that "people who have worked inside the White House" were baffled that Bush seemed so surprised when he was asked what his "biggest mistake" had been since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Speaking of Biggest Mistakes

Since Bush couldn't come up with any on his own, his good friends at the Democratic National Committee suggested a few, writes Howard Kurtz. Here's the mocking video ad they posted on their Web site.

The equally friendly Center for American Progress set up a poll, and more than 22,000 readers responded.

Speaking of Polls

The first real poll since the news conference is out. The Zogby Poll overall shows little change in Bush's ratings, or Kerry's slight lead. But when asked if Bush "deserves to be re-elected," Zogby reports, "42.5% of likely voters (down from 44% last month) responded positively, while the majority (51.1%) continues to say that it is 'time for someone new.'"

It's not exactly a poll, but in the Los Angeles Times, John M. Glionna writes that "cracks have surfaced in President Bush's once-solid rural constituency. From places like Sherman County to Montcalm County, Mich., and Mahoning County, Ohio, some Republicans are so concerned about crop prices and high unemployment that they're considering voting Democratic for the first time."

Ask Andy Card

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card is on Ask the White House today. Once a home for puffball questions alone, Ask the White House is actually a good read these days.

So, by the way, is E-mail the White House.

For instance, on Tuesday, Tiffany from North Canton Middle School in Canton, Ohio, wrote to ask: "Can you please move the Presidents speech to another time? I want to watch American Idol. How about moving the speech to 9pm?"

Press Secretary Scott McClellan himself answered: "I think we are going to stick to the 8:30pm time tonight. There are some important issues that the President wants to discuss with the American people at a time when most Americans will be able to hear what he has to say. The good news for American Idol fans is that FOX is moving tonight's episode to tomorrow night at 8."

This Week's Calendar

Bush devoted his Saturday radio address to call for the extension of Patriot Act provisions that will otherwise expire at the end of next year.

Richard W. Stevenson and Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times write: "In raising the issue again now, Mr. Bush is hoping to emphasize to the nation the steps he took after the attacks to ensure that terrorists could never again operate so freely within the United States, administration officials said."

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press writes: "Key provisions of the Patriot Act aren't set to expire until after the election, but President Bush picked Pennsylvania, an electoral swing state, to argue the law is critical for keeping tabs on terrorists and should be renewed. . . .

"At two events -- in Hershey, Pa., on Monday and Buffalo, N.Y., on Tuesday -- Bush and law-enforcement officers will stress the Patriot Act's effectiveness.

"During his 27th visit as president to Pennsylvania, an important state in his re-election bid, Bush also will attend a fund-raiser in Pittsburgh for Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who is facing opposition in a GOP primary on April 27."

James Comey, deputy attorney general, previews Bush's message on the Patriot Act on the Today show.

Joel Eskovitz of TCPalm.com writes that Bush will visit Florida on Friday, for the 21st time since the election.

Global Peace Operations Initiative

Bradley Graham writes in The Washington Post: "Facing a chronic shortage of foreign troops for peacekeeping missions, President Bush has decided to launch an international drive to boost the supply of available forces. . . . aimed largely at Africa."

Crusade Watch

Reuters writes: "Years after President Bush set off alarm bells in the Muslim world by referring to his war against terrorism as a 'crusade,' the word that Arabs equate with Christian brutality has resurfaced in a Bush campaign fund-raising letter, officials acknowledged on Sunday."

Those Tax Returns

Thanks to the Tax History Project, anyone can eyeball Bush and Cheney's tax returns. Here they are: Bush and Cheney.

(For background, here's Jonathan Weisman's story in Wednesday's Washington Post.)

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