Karl Rove, Fox News and the Swift Boats

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, August 26, 2004; 11:50 AM

It's not often that Karl Rove steps out from behind the curtain, but there he was with Brit Hume on Fox News yesterday.

"I'm pleased to be joined now for his first broadcast interview in years by Karl Rove, President Bush's counselor and chief political advisor. Welcome to you, sir," Hume said in his introduction.

I think it is fair to say that Rove's decision to face the cameras was not made lightly. This clearly means something. But was it damage control or a victory lap?

You decide.

Here's the transcript; here's the video.

Rove had one main message to deliver, before he and Hume descended into a ferociously wonky dialogue about poll numbers: "No one in the Bush campaign has coordinated with the swift boat veterans," Rove insisted.

Yesterday's big political story, of course, was the resignation of Benjamin L. Ginsberg as chief outside counsel to President Bush's campaign, after acknowledging he had provided legal advice to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth organization.

Here's how Rove spun it: "Ben Ginsberg, who's a great friend of this president and has been with him since he began to run for president in 1999 . . . resigned from the Bush campaign in order to remove any possibility of being a distraction to his friend. He wants to see the president reelected.

"He knows that there's a hypocritical double standard on the part of some in the media, where a lawyer for the Bush campaign who is also the lawyer for a 527 is somehow suspect, where a lawyer for the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee, who's also a lawyer for a 527 group is not. And he accepted that reality and decided he wanted to help his friend. And the best way he could help his friend was to resign."

It seems to me that Hume missed a great opportunity to ask Rove whether he himself agrees with the charges made in the veterans group's first ad, or whether he condemns them, or whether, when he does not have the cameras focused on him, he is rubbing his hands in glee.

Instead, they talked a lot about polling. Rove took great satisfaction in the latest Gallup poll, which gave Bush a 51 percent approval rating -- "within spitting distance of two men who won big reelections," Rove said. (Today's Los Angeles Times poll shows Bush with a 52 percent rating, but most other polls show Bush below 50; see pollingreport.com.)

Rove also divulged what the Bush campaign's own exhaustive, supersecret tracking polls are showing: "These battleground states are going to be battlegrounds."

The Resignation

Dan Balz and Thomas B. Edsall write in The Washington Post about Ginsberg's resignation and how the "volley of charges and countercharges opened up a new window on the activities of the controversial 527 organizations, named for the section of the tax code that governs them."

ABC News's Terry Moran reports: "Ginsberg's admission throws into doubt weeks of denials by the Bush campaign, including as recently as yesterday, that there was any link between them and the swift boat veterans."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "The quick resignation suggests that the Bush campaign, which has repeatedly said it has no ties to the Swift boat veterans group attacking Mr. Kerry, is eager to put the issue behind it as it heads into the Republican National Convention."

The McCain Factor

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times that Senator John McCain "said he took the president at his word that he was not behind the Swift boat advertisements," but "is irked enough at them that he said he would personally 'express my displeasure' to the president" when they campaign together next week.

Jill Zuckerman writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Republican Sen. John McCain, a Navy pilot held prisoner in Vietnam for almost six years, sharply criticized Kerry's critics Wednesday and said the long-ago war in Southeast Asia should not be an issue in the presidential campaign."

This in spite of the fact that, Zuckerman writes: "Several of the same people who went after McCain four years ago have been instrumental in attacking Kerry today through the swift boat veterans group. Many have longstanding ties to the Bush family and to the president's operatives."

She also writes that McCain "insisted that he and Bush really like each other, despite their awkward public embrace in a recent appearance in Pensacola, Fla., and what has long seemed to be a lack of personal chemistry. . . .

"Advisers to McCain, however, describe the relationship as businesslike and say part of McCain's motivation in helping Bush is to leave the door open to a possible run for president in 2008."

The Cleland Letter

There was political theater outside Bush's ranch yesterday.

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "The Kerry campaign announced Wednesday morning that it would surprise Bush by sending former senator Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who lost three limbs in Vietnam, to his ranch here with a letter asking the president to denounce criticism of Kerry's war record. But the Bush campaign got word of the stunt -- perhaps because it was reported on CNN -- and had its own Vietnam veteran waiting for Cleland with a letter defending the criticism of Kerry."

The result, Milbank writes: "Pure farce."

But NBC's Tom Brokaw had a different metaphor: "It was like a scene out of an old Western today at President Bush's Texas ranch."

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux told Wolf Blitzer: "Well, Wolf, sometimes it's about the law. Sometimes it's about politics and other times it's about image. And Republican watchers looking at this today say it was all about image. It was not a good day for the White House."

Here's the letter Cleland tried to deliver to Bush. Here's the letter to Kerry that Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who was chosen to represent the Bush campaign, tried to give to Cleland.

Richard L. Smith and Ken Herman of Cox News Service note that "Patterson, a former state senator, has received more than $150,000 in campaign contributions from Houston home builder Bob Perry, a longtime top donor to GOP candidates and causes. Perry has given $200,000 to 'Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.' "

Here's the transcript of Cleland's impromptu news conference afterward.

"We're asking George Bush today to put up or shut up," Cleland said.

Here's the text of press secretary Scott McClellan's gaggle.

"Senator Kerry says that he wants to talk about the issues. Today's political stunt is an interesting way of showing it," he said.

Olympic Games

Karolos Grohmann reports for Reuters: "The U.S. Olympic Committee has asked the campaign to re-elect President Bush to pull an ad that refers to the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee said on Thursday.

"The ad has angered Olympic officials because they feel it hijacks the Olympic brand -- a registered trademark -- even though it does not display the Games logo."

Here's the ad.

NBC's Jim Maceda reports that "it was a day when the Olympic ideals of sport collided with international politics."

The ad, he explains, "uses the games to make a political point -- that the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been clear victories . . . but the ad has angered Olympic officials, who want it pulled. . . .

"On Tuesday, the coach of the Iraqi soccer team spoke out. 'Talk of freedom is just propaganda,' he said. 'Our country remains occupied.' "

On the Trail Again

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "After a weeklong hiatus at his Texas ranch, President Bush returns to the campaign trail today, with a vengeance.

"He will attend three rallies in New Mexico, and then is scheduled to campaign every day through next Thursday, when he is to deliver his nomination acceptance speech in New York. And he plans to keep going -- with little if any letup -- until the Nov. 2 election. . . .

"At the ranch, Bush has hosted a small army of aides, including confidant Karen Hughes, chief speechwriter Michael Gerson, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and strategist Karl Rove.

"Hughes, who was White House counselor before returning to her Austin home in 2002, has resumed her position as Bush's traveling companion and closest advisor. At the ranch, she and Gerson have been working with the president on his convention acceptance speech."

AFP writes: "Amid wilting election-year support for the military campaign in Iraq, US President George W. Bush is distancing himself from the go-it-alone 'war president' image he once embraced with relish."

He's now the "peace president," AFP notes. And "the leader who once demanded Osama bin Laden 'dead or alive' and told Iraqi insurgents mulling attacks on US troops to 'bring them on' now barely ever mentions the elusive terrorist mastermind and has been thrown on the defensive where it comes to the March 2003 invasion."

Looking Ahead to New York

Michele McPhee, Helen Kennedy and Kenneth R. Bazinet write in the New York Daily News: "President Bush wants to watch the Republican convention from a New York City firehouse and 'bond' with the city's Bravest, officials said yesterday. . . .

"The President intends to watch Wednesday night when Vice President Cheney addresses his party. Bush takes the stage on Thursday night. . . .

"An evening in the firehouse could rekindle memories of one of Bush's finest moments, standing in the 9/11 rubble with a bullhorn and surrounded by weary firefighters."

Steven Thomma writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "Bush's biggest goal in New York will be to raise doubts about Kerry as commander in chief."

Live Online

That was another lively Live Online we had yesterday, with lots of good discussion about Cheney, 527s and Aristotle. Here's the transcript.

Cheney Watch

Marc Kaufman writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney spent Wednesday campaigning in eastern Pennsylvania, taking a bus tour from Wilkes-Barre to Hazleton, Pottsville and Bloomsburg. In his speeches, Cheney stayed almost entirely on message: the threat of terrorism and how the Bush administration is best able to control it. . . .

"During the day, the vice president did not mention the controversy he provoked on Tuesday when he said at a town hall meeting in Iowa that he personally thought that the states should determine what constitutes marriage, as opposed to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage -- a measure supported by President Bush."

Kaufman notes: "The tour went through hardscrabble coal towns with boarded-up shops and empty houses in what is traditionally Democratic territory. Although many people waved American flags and applauded the motorcade, a fair number of others made obscene gestures and booed or held Kerry signs. . . .

"In a lighter moment, the Cheney tour stopped at a farm stand owned by Ray Levan, 65, in the small town of Catawissa. Cheney and his wife went to buy fruit and vegetables, while daughters Mary and Elizabeth went with the Cheney grandchildren to watch cows being fed.

"The Cheneys purchased nine apples, five large tomatoes, three green peppers and a dozen ears of corn. Cheney pulled a $10 bill from his pocket and gave it to Levan. Asked by a reporter whether the $10 covered the cost of the produce, Levan indicated that it did not. But he said it was an 'honor' to sell the fruits and vegetables to the vice president, even if at a discount."

Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times writes, in a story contrasting Cheney and Sen. John Edwards: "Perhaps the most telling distinction between Cheney and Edwards is in their choice of audiences. The Republicans have calculated that they can do more for their vote totals by firing up Republican true believers and making sure they vote on election day than by appealing to Democrats and independents."

Here are the transcripts of Cheney's nearly identical speeches in Pottsville and Bloomsburg. For some reason, the White House never sent out the text of his town meeting yesterday.

That Comment on Tuesday

Michael Janofsky writes in the New York Times: "Leading social conservatives made their unhappiness clear on Wednesday that Vice President Dick Cheney expressed opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, a position in conflict with that of President Bush and, now, the Republican Party platform. . . .

"But even as some of Mr. Cheney's usual allies sharply criticized him as 'shooting from the hip and hitting the administration in the foot,' in the words of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, none expressed worry that Mr. Cheney's remarks would have lasting political consequences for Mr. Bush's re-election efforts."

And Cheney had nothing but warm words yesterday for one of his hosts, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), one of the leading proponents of the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

"He does a superb job for the country," Cheney said of Santorum.

Charles Babington writes in The Washington Post: "Republican activists sharpened their party's opposition to gay marriage Wednesday, a day after Vice President Cheney defended such unions. The action was among several steps conservatives took to firmly place their stamp on the GOP platform ahead of next week's convention, whose long list of moderate speakers has irked some on the party's right flank."

Poll Watch

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush heads into next week's Republican National Convention with voters moving slightly in his direction since July amid signs that Sen. John F. Kerry has been nicked by attacks on his service in Vietnam, a Times poll has found. . . .

"Bush's overall approval rating, which many analysts consider the best single gauge of his prospects in November, stood at 52%, with 47% disapproving; the numbers last month were 51% to 48%."

Here are more of the poll results.

The AP Profiles

The Associated Press unleashes its big profiles of the first and second couples.

Nancy Benac writes of the president: "Americans do want their presidents to be strong and decisive. But with President Bush, the qualities his supporters find appealing can also be kindling for his critics' fire.

"Steadfast becomes stubborn. Confident becomes cocky.

"Bush is the resolute president who gripped a bullhorn at Ground Zero and called out to rescue workers straining to hear him: 'I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you!'

"Less attractive to some is the swaggering commander in chief who dared militants attacking U.S. forces in Iraq by taunting, 'Bring 'em on.' "

Siobhan McDonough writes about the first lady: "Sure, she let it be known she didn't care for his 'dead or alive' ultimatum to Osama bin Laden. But first and foremost, this first lady is cheerleader to the president, and one who has used a louder megaphone this campaign than in the last to tell people what a great guy she and the country have landed."

Laura Meckler writes about the vice president: "In a string of high-profile jobs -- as President Ford's chief of staff, as a GOP leader in the House, as secretary of defense -- Cheney has rarely sought, or attracted, the limelight. Even now he jokes about his reputation as the man lurking in the shadows. . . .

"To many conservatives, he's a hero -- a steady hand and wise adviser to the president in a time of crisis. . . .

"But now, to his detractors, he's nothing short of the administration's Darth Vader, the man who helped push the nation into an ill-advised war, wrongly implied a connection between Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11 attacks, held secret meetings to craft an energy policy and once ran Halliburton, the energy services company that won a no-bid contract in Iraq."

And Elizabeth Wolfe writes about the vice president's wife: "Lynne Cheney came to Washington with a public image, hints of celebrity and a day job she intended to keep.

"While that job didn't change -- she only recently took leave from her position at a research institute in order to campaign -- her reputation as an outspoken conservative gradually has softened."

Climate Change

Andrew C. Revkin writes in the New York Times: "In a striking shift in the way the Bush administration has portrayed the science of climate change, a new report to Congress focuses on federal research indicating that emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are the only likely explanation for global warming over the last three decades. . . .

"American and international panels of experts concluded as early as 2001 that smokestack and tailpipe discharges of heat-trapping gases were the most likely cause of recent global warming. But the White House had disputed those conclusions."

Here's the White House report.

Radio, Radio

Brian C. Mooney writes in the Boston Globe that talk-show hosts "of a conservative bent or broadcasting in a battleground state" have had "good access to high-ranking administration officials. On the White House website, www.whitehouse.gov, nearly all of the administration radio interviews featured since April are with conservative commentators, hosts at stations in battleground states, or both."

Here is the White House Web site's radio interview archive page.

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