Ads Raise Issue of Bush Testimony

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, March 5, 2004; 11:38 AM

If e-mail from my readers is any indication, the commotion over the use of 9/11 imagery in President Bush's campaign ads is just the prologue to a bigger furor.

At issue is the contrast between Bush's willingness to use the still raw feelings about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a central theme of his reelection campaign -- and his refusal to give the commission investigating the attacks more than an hour of his time, in private, with only two members allowed to attend.

William Douglas of Knight Ridder Newspapers touches on this in his story this morning.

"'Using my dead friends and my dead brother for political expediency is dead wrong,' said Chris Burke, whose brother, Tom, died in the North Tower. . . .

"Burke, whose brother died in the attacks, said tears welled in his eyes when he first watched the ad. He said he wouldn't have minded Bush using the imagery if the president hadn't obstructed an independent commission that's investigating the attacks. . . .

"'I find it hypocritical that he would use 9-11 images and then not cooperate with the commission,' said Stephen Push, co-founder of Families of September 11, a support group. Push's wife, Lisa Raines, was aboard the jetliner that crashed into the Pentagon."

After initial objections, Bush recently reversed himself and came out in support of a two-month deadline extension that commission members said they needed to finish their work. But the White House is now negotiating the terms under which he will meet with them. Commission chairman Thomas H. Kean, while praising Bush for being willing to testify at all, says they want more than the hour they've been offered.

The Bush campaign and the White House have long hoped for the media to be focused on national security issues -- but this isn't what they had in mind.

As Paul Farhi writes in The Washington Post today: "The reaction to the ads put Bush campaign officials on the defensive on a day in which they had hoped to have the political spotlight to themselves after months in which media attention focused on the Democratic candidates and their criticisms of the president. . . .

"Officials in both the Bush administration and his reelection campaign stood by the ads, saying the Sept. 11 images are justified by the president's record. 'Sept. 11 changed the equation in our public policy,' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. 'The president's steady leadership is vital to how we wage war on terrorism.' . . .

"Attempting to regain the initiative, the Bush-Cheney campaign went on the offensive yesterday, booking former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on two networks; former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik on three networks; Deena Burnett, the widow of United Flight 93 victim Tom Burnett, on five networks, including Spanish-language Univision; and Rep. Vito Fossella, a Republican from Staten Island, on three cable shows.

Richard W. Stevenson and Jim Rutenberg write in the New York Times: "On Thursday, the Republican counteroffensive began with Mr. Bush's former communications director, Karen P. Hughes, who appeared on all the major morning news programs and defended the commercials that were first broadcast that day.

"Mr. Bush's aides said that they would not pull the commercials and that the battle over them could even work to their advantage by focusing new attention on what they said was the president's forceful response to the attacks and the continued threat from terrorists."

Wayne Washington and Anne E. Kornblut write in the Boston Globe: "In deciding to include the Sept. 11 images, Bush advisers said they made a calculated risk and expected some family members and Democrats to complain regardless of how sensitively they handled the subject. The only other alternative, they argued, would have been to ignore the terrorist attacks altogether -- an unacceptable option eight months before the election.

"Another adviser said that the Bush-Cheney campaign welcomed the debate over the ads, arguing that it is better for Bush to face a discussion about his handling of Sept. 11 than almost any other topic the Democrats have raised in recent weeks. 'As long as we're reminding people that he showed strong leadership, that's all that counts,' the adviser said."

On CNN, Judy Woodruff had this to say: "Bush campaign officials now say they are spending in the $10 million range on their first ad buy, which begins airing nationwide today. That is more than double the price tag originally reported. As it turns out, though, the ads may cost the President in another way. . . .

"So look for continued controversy about the president's use of 9/11 in those campaign ads as we get closer to the Republican Convention in New York City, which is just days before the third anniversary of the terror attacks."

Jackie Calmes has this tidbit in the Wall Street Journal: "Florida's television stations are the big winners in Bush's first campaign advertising blitz, station figures show. The Bush-Cheney re-election committee bought more than $860,000 in that 2000 battleground state -- more than double the next-biggest buys in Pennsylvania and Michigan."

Maggie Haberman and Kenneth R. Bazinet write in the New York Daily News: "Amid a furious counterattack spearheaded by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and presidential confidant Karen Hughes, one top Bush political strategist said the spots might now be shown in even more media markets than the original buy. . . .

"'This is part of the President's record,' Giuliani told the Daily News. 'It's part of history. He did such a good job it would almost be false advertising not to include images of 9/11.'"

Nick Anderson writes in the Los Angeles Times: "As a practical matter, analysts said, it would be all but impossible to expect the president to refrain from visual references to the Sept. 11 attacks as he seeks reelection. But the initial furor sparked in some quarters made it clear that Bush is treading on potentially treacherous political ground."

CNN spoke with Patty Casazza, whose husband died in the attacks:

"When I look at the ads and I see Bush speaking over the pictures of Ground Zero, I know in my heart that President Bush failed the 3,000 Americans that died there on that day,"

They also spoke to David Gergen, a former advisor to both Democratic and Republican presidents, who said the campaign has to be careful in how it uses images from the attacks.

"They have to salute, but not exploit it. It's a fine line," Gergen said.

On NBC, David Gregory reported: "The White House has made no secret of the fact that the 9/11 attacks and the president's response to them provide the political framework for Mr. Bush's reelection drive, and officials defend the ads, saying 9/11 shapes the entire debate over the war on terror, and can not be separated from politics."

On CBS, John Roberts used this Karen Hughes sound bite: "I can understand why some Democrats might not want the American people to remember the great leadership and strength that the president and first lady Laura Bush brought to our country in the aftermath of that."

Editorial opinion in New York is worth a look:

New York Times editorial: "When we think of 9/11, we think of loss, and of the heroism of average people who reached out in ways great and small to help their fellow men and women. Any political candidate who attempts to piggyback onto those emotions deserves to be shunned by the electorate."

Wall Street Journal editorial: "We write this from offices that are 200 yards from Ground Zero and were rendered uninhabitable for almost a year by the attack. . . . The threat of another such assault, and how to prevent it, has dominated our politics for three years. . . . Isn't an election supposed to be about such things?"

New York Daily News editorial: "Presenting images of those terrible events with a modicum of taste and restraint does not profane them. Bush's spots, to our eyes, fall within the bounds of acceptability. . . . On the other hand, it is entirely understandable that Bush's ads might particularly inflame passions in New York City."

New York Post editorial: "Is it fair for President Bush to use images from Ground Zero in his reelection campaign?

"Damned right it is.

"The more, the merrier."

Quote Watch

It's turning into the most-quoted Bush sound bite of the day: "I have no ambition whatsoever to use this as a political issue," Bush said in 2002.

Sen. John Kerry's staff sent an e-mail message to reporters that included the quote, from a 2002 Associated Press article. It's all over the media this morning.

But did Bush really say that? In those exact words? And in what context?

Here's an excerpt from the Jan. 23, 2002 AP story:

"Bush greeted congressional leaders at the White House and was quoted as making a pledge to Democrats not to use the war on terrorism for election-year gain. 'I have no ambition whatsoever to use this as a political issue,' he said, according to sources who declined to be identified by name. They quoted the president as saying, 'There will be no daylight between us.'

The story shows that the context was: 1) The upcoming 2002 election; and 2) The upcoming budget cycle.

More from that story: "White House adviser Karl Rove caused a stir among Democrats last week when he told a gathering of Republican Party leaders they would do well to talk up the popular war in this year's midterm elections. Rove was present in the Cabinet Room when Bush made his remark."

And: "One by one around the big table in the White House Cabinet Room, Bush and senior congressional leaders listed their legislative priorities for the year ahead: expanded trade authority for the president, a farm bill, a patients' bill of rights, energy legislation -- and an economic stimulus package to help victims of the recession and boost the sluggish economy."

So the Bush quote was not direct. I'm not quite sure who it came from (although it was never refuted).

In fact, in this January 24 Post story, Mike Allen and Thomas E. Ricks wrote that Bush "brought up a sensitive issue that hangs over the 2002 elections when he assured congressional leaders, 'I have no ambition to use the war as a political issue.' . . .

"Bush raised the issue during a Cabinet Room breakfast with the congressional leadership, which Rove attended. A congressional source quoted Bush as saying, 'There is no daylight between the executive and the legislative branches.' . . .

"Democratic leaders, both at the national party level and on Capitol Hill, have been careful since Sept. 11 to say that they stand shoulder to shoulder with Bush on his conduct of the war. But Democratic officials were infuriated last week when Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove, told a Republican National Committee gathering that Americans 'trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might.'"

So can this legitimately be called a pledge to avoid any use of 9/11 as an issue in the 2004 election?

Plame Watch

Tom Brune of Newsday has gotten a hold of the subpoenas issued in January as part of the probe over who leaked Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA officer.

"The federal grand jury probing the leak of a covert CIA officer's identity has subpoenaed records of Air Force One telephone calls in the week before the officer's name was published in a column in July, according to documents obtained by Newsday.

"Also sought in the wide-ranging document requests contained in three grand jury subpoenas to the Executive Office of President George W. Bush are records created in July by the White House Iraq Group, a little-known internal task force established in August 2002 to create a strategy to publicize the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

"And the subpoenas asked for a transcript of a White House spokesman's press briefing in Nigeria, a list of those attending a birthday reception for a former president, and, casting a much wider net than previously reported, records of White House contacts with more than two dozen journalists and news media outlets."

I wonder, by the way, if the Justice Department should consider Googling before it subpoenas. The subpoenaed press gaggle transcript alleged to be "missing" from the White House Web site may not show up on the White House Web site's own (sometimes flaky) search. But, thanks to Google, I found it right here, sitting on the White House servers after all.

Brune points out, by the way, that the only previous account of the mysterious White House Iraq Group's existence came in a story by Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus in The Washington Post last August.

Who Pays?

Readers often ask: Who pays for Bush's overtly political trips all over the country (though heavily concentrated in swing states)? The answer: Taxpayers pay the lion's share.

Mike Allen of The Washington Post writes: "When President Bush headed west on Wednesday to raise $1.5 million dollars for his reelection, his campaign enjoyed one of the greatest bargains in American politics: all-day use of Air Force One for the price of a few first-class airfares. . . .

"Although the trip had an explicitly political purpose, taxpayers will pick up most of the expenses, as they did for President Bill Clinton and his predecessors. . . .

"But in almost every case, Bush combines a fundraising event with an official appearance. In Atlanta in January, for instance, the president laid a wreath at the grave of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., then delivered a 30-minute speech at a $2.3 million fundraiser.

And, yes, this issue comes up, brandished by whatever party doesn't have the White House, on a fairly regular basis. Here are some flashbacks from The Post archives:

On the Way to the Fundraiser; Stopovers Let Bush Charge Taxpayers for Political Trips May 20, 2002

GOP Report Raps 'Air Hillary' Costs; Clinton's Travel Bill Tops $182,000 March 24, 2000

Finance Rules in Presidential Politics Can Produce Bizarre Resuts April 7, 1996

Flying Political Class on Air Force One; Commercial Rates Make Every Trip an Incumbent Advantage October 19, 1992

Bush in California

Mike Allen of The Washington Post reported from Bakersfield: "President Bush rhapsodized Thursday about the possibility that a stock-car firm in this hot, dry community will add two jobs this year, as he refined his campaign message of economic optimism. . . .

"Prompted by the president, chassis-maker Les DenHerder said the tax cuts Bush backed might allow him to hire two or three more people.

"'When he says he's going to hire two more, that's really good news,' Bush said. . . .

"Bush's future may depend on it at least as much as DenHerder's does."

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush charged Thursday that Democratic rival John Kerry's approach to recent tax cuts would be to 'take them away' and use the money to expand the federal government.

"In fact, the Massachusetts senator and Bush both would keep in place key tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of the year. . . .

"Virtually the only area where they disagree on this issue is on Kerry's call to end tax cuts Bush signed into law for those earning more than $200,000 a year.

Whose Recession Was It Anyway?

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration, irked that the official arbiter of recessions continues to say the current downturn began on President Bush's watch, has unilaterally changed the official start of the recession to the last months of the Clinton administration.

"The only trouble with this assertion is the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research, which does the official dating of recessions, says the downturn began in March 2001 -- early in Bush's presidency."

Here's the National Bureau of Economic Research chart showing that a peak in business activity occurred in the U.S. economy in March 2001.

Mubarak to Bring 'Strong Words' to Bush Ranch in April

Reuters reports that "Bush will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak next month to discuss the 'road map' for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the U.S. war on terrorism and a Washington initiative to encourage democratic reform in the Middle East, the White House announced on Thursday."

AFP reports Mubarak told an Italian newspaper yesterday "that any effort by the United States to impose democracy on Arab societies could result in a 'vortex of violence and anarchy.' . . .

"And he indicated he would have strong words for US President George W. Bush when he visits Washington next month.

"'I will ask him to specify the content of his reforms, which are still obscure. I will explain to him that without our participation, this initiative is doomed to failure.'"

Ranch Visit Nets a Gift for Fox

Suzanne Gamboa reports: "The Bush administration will back off plans to require that visa-carrying Mexicans who make short visits to America and stay close to the border be fingerprinted and photographed, The Associated Press has learned.

"The move is a concession to Mexican President Vicente Fox, who begins a two-day visit to President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Friday."

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Some indignant readers sometimes e-mail me because they think they've heard Bush make the same joke twice, and they think this is deserving of an expose.

Folks, when Bush's speechwriters think they've got a good line, they don't use it twice. They use it, like, a million times. After all, he's got a lot of fund-raising to do, and a whole mess of conversations about the economy to hold.

Possibly the hoariest of the current presidential chestnuts is this bada-bing sequence that Bush has used, as far as I can tell, about 40 times since late June.

"We have had no finer Vice President than Dick Cheney," Bush will say at his fund-raising lunches, dinners and receptions. There is a pause for the obligatory applause. "Mother may have a different opinion." Uproarious laughter ensues.

Over time, there have been some variations. Just the other night, for instance, in his toast at the state dinner for the nation's governors, he said: "I oftentimes say Dick Cheney is the finest Vice President our country has ever had. Mother always says, 'Wait a minute.'"

So it's no surprise that he'd eventually blow the line completely. Which he did yesterday, according to the transcript provided by the White House.

"Speaking about the Vice President, I made a really good pick when I asked Dick Cheney to serve by my side. He is a fabulous Vice President for our country. (Pause for applause.) Mother may have a second opinion."

Interestingly enough, the transcript shows there was laughter when he finished. This time, possibly nervous?

© 2004