Inside the Real West Wing

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, March 10, 2004; 10:15 AM

It's the most powerful place on Earth.

The West Wing of the White House is the part you don't get to see on the tours. It's where the Oval Office is located, and where a few dozen other people have offices only a few steps away.

You've heard of some of those people -- Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Scott McClellan. But some you've probably never heard of.

Today, I'm uncorking a rare thing -- unique on the Internet, as far as I can tell. It's a floor plan of the West Wing, showing precisely who sits where.

Click here to see it.

In the West Wing, the two greatest indicators of status are proximity to president and quality of view. Exterior offices with windows, especially on corners, are considered the most desirable.

But here in the West Wing, even an office in the basement means you're at the pinnacle of power.

There's actually been quite a lot of movement in and out of the West Wing over the past three years. (The links below go to the mini-profiles I've put together on my Who's Who in the White House page.)

The first floor has been the most stable. These folks have been there all along: Vice President Cheney, of course; national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley; Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card and his deputy Joseph Hagin; and Linda Gambatessa, who runs Oval Office operations.

But on the second floor, the only folks who haven't budged are senior adviser Karl Rove; counsel Alberto Gonzalez and his deputy Israel Hernandez; and domestic policy adviser Margaret Spellings. Communications director Dan Bartlett has been on the second floor all along, but upgraded to Karen Hughes's old office when she resigned.

Who's no longer around from the original West Wing crew? Among the more notable departures: Press secretary Ari Fleischer, who started his own PR firm; adviser Hughes, who moved back to Texas and is active on the lecture circuit (see below); communications adviser Margaret Tutwiler, now at the State Department; legislative director Nicholas Calio, now a senior vice president at Citigroup Inc.; economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey, who was fired in 2002; and deputy chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten, now director of the Office of Management and Budget.

One note to help you decipher the White House org chart: Aside from Cheney and Rove, Bush's top advisers have the words "Assistant to the President" in their title; "Deputy Assistant" is one step down; "Special Assistant" is another. [Note: In an earlier version of this column the order of those last two positions was incorrectly reversed.]

You can also get a sense of rank by perusing this White House staff list, circa July of last year, ordered by salary.

After the Real West Wing

So what do you do after you leave one of those wonderful offices?

Leslie Wayne has a story in today's New York Times about how former White House officials are a hot commodity on the lecture circuit.

"With the campaign season heating up, former Bush officials, in particular, are in high demand, largely for their fresh insights into the inner workings of the White House."

"Ms. Hughes's fee is $50,000, a person familiar with the contracts said. In just three weeks in January, the person said, Ms. Hughes gave seven speeches, four in a Fsingle week. . . .

"Mr. Fleischer's Web-based promotional material provides a streaming-media version of his basic speech, in which he talks about life close to the president on themes big and small -- 'Boy, did I like Air Force One' -- as well as what it was like to be traveling with President Bush on Sept. 11, 2001 -- 'It sounds like we've got a war here,' he recalls Mr. Bush saying on hearing that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon."

And indeed, on Fleischer's lecture-booking page, you can find video clips of him talking about his travels with the president, about peace in the Middle East and 9/11.

Fleischer's fee is on a need-to-know basis only. By contrast, according to this page, you can rent Nicholas Calio for $10,000 - $15,000.

Meanwhile, Over in the East Wing

Sharon Theimer of the Associated Press reports: "President Bush opened the White House and Camp David to dozens of overnight guests last year, including foreign dignitaries, family friends and at least nine of his biggest campaign fund-raisers, documents show. . . .

"Some guests spent a night in the Lincoln Bedroom, historic quarters that gained new fame in the Clinton administration amid allegations that Democrats rewarded major donors like Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand with accommodations there. . . .

"Bush's overnight guest roster is virtually free of celebrities -- pro golfer Ben Crenshaw is the biggest name -- but not of campaign supporters."

Here's the full list.

Commission Watch

Flip-flop, course correction, clarification, whatever.

Mike Allen and Dan Eggen report in The Washington Post: "President Bush backed off yesterday from one of the major limitations he had set for cooperating with the independent commission looking into the terrorist attacks of 2001 and will now submit to open-ended questioning instead of setting a one-hour limit. . . .

"[Press secretary Scott] McClellan said the White House still considers a single hour before the commission to be 'reasonable,' but he pledged that Bush 'is going to answer all the questions that they want to raise.'

"'Nobody is watching the clock,' McClellan said."

Philip Shenon of the New York Times writes: "Mr. McClellan's comments also suggested that the White House was eager to blunt criticism from Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Mr. Kerry accused Mr. Bush this week of 'stonewalling' the commission, which is focusing in part on law enforcement and intelligence blunders during the Bush and Clinton administrations.

Says John King on CNN: "The issue dominated the White House briefing a day after Senator Kerry said if the president has time to attend events like this rodeo he should be able to spend more than an hour answering questions from the commission."

President/Candidate Tango Watch

When the president is in full campaign mode, it can be hard to distinguish between a "White House" question and a "campaign" question.

An ongoing challenge in the White House press room involves trying to parse when McClellan will answer a question versus when he will duck it by waving it off as a "campaign" issue.

McClellan says he doesn't take campaign questions, but the truth is he does when he feels like it. Yesterday, he felt like it.

From the text of the briefing:

"Q The change in tone to, 'nobody is watching the clock,' is that in response to the criticism from Senator Kerry yesterday?

"MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think he's someone who lets the facts get in the way of his campaign."

But then a few minutes later, he was back to waving them off:

"Q Well, what does the White House feel about the quote from Kerry that he wants to be considered the second black President, especially as the White House, this White House, is not seen as being a friend --

"MR. McCLELLAN: I think some people have already spoken to that, and I'll leave questions like that to our campaign. We have a campaign office in place for that very reason."

Deciphering Tenet

Dana Priest and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post: "CIA Director George J. Tenet said yesterday that he did not believe the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence to justify going to war in Iraq but said he spoke privately to senior officials when he believed they publicly misconstrued facts they had been given."

Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times: "George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that he had privately intervened on several occasions to correct what he regarded as public misstatements on intelligence by Vice President Dick Cheney and others, and that he would do so again. . . .

"Mr. Tenet identified three instances in which he had already corrected public statements by President Bush or Mr. Cheney or would do so, but he left the impression that there had been more."

John Diamond writes in USA Today: "CIA Director George Tenet acknowledged Tuesday that his agency was 'wildly inconsistent' about policing White House statements on Iraq before the invasion last year."

And Jonathan S. Landay writes in Knight Ridder Newspapers: "CIA Director George Tenet on Tuesday rejected recent assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraq cooperated with the al-Qaida terrorist network and that the administration had proof of an illicit Iraqi biological warfare program."

The March Surprise

I wrote at length in yesterday's column about how it's unseasonably early for President Bush to be making direct, personal attacks on his Democratic opponent.

Adam Nagourney has more today in the New York Times, writing that the president himself is behind the White House "moving with unusual speed and force to try to discredit John Kerry, the president's likely Democratic challenger.

"Several Republicans said Mr. Bush had grown impatient at his advisers' counsel to stay in the White House, particularly as Mr. Kerry enjoyed a bath of mostly favorable publicity in what turned out to be a largely uncontested primary season."

But Nagourney says Bush may try to return to the high ground soon. "As much as Mr. Bush appears to be enjoying going on the attack, he will stop soon, aides said, and leave the whacking and attacking to surrogates and his television advertisements."

Today's Calendar

Steve Holland of Reuters got thoroughly briefed on today's agenda.

"After months of Democrat attacks over slow growth in U.S. jobs, President Bush will fight back on Wednesday with a strong defense of his economic policies and will accuse his opponents of having a 'tired defeatist mind-set.' . . .

"Bush will forcefully advocate what the White House called his 'pro-growth and free and fair trade agenda' in a speech to women business leaders in Cleveland. He will say Democrats like the party's presumptive nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, would respond in 'old ways' to the economic challenges facing the country.

" 'Their agenda is to increase federal taxes, build a wall around our economy and isolate America from the rest of the world. That old policy of tax and spend is the enemy of job creation. The old policy of economic isolationism is a recipe for economic disaster,' Bush will say.

" 'America has moved beyond that tired defeatist mind-set and we're not going back,' he will say, according to speech excerpts given out by a senior White House official.

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press notes that "For the 15th time as president, Bush on Wednesday visits Ohio, where unemployment is stuck at 6.2 percent and where nearly 200,000 jobs were lost during the recession from 2001 through last March -- nearly two-thirds in manufacturing. The national unemployment rate for February was 5.6 percent."

The Week Ahead

Paul Bedard in his Washington Whispers column for U.S. News writes: "He won't stand under a 'Mission Accomplished' banner this time, but that will be the general theme next week as President Bush -- and his whole war council -- celebrate the anniversary of the March 19 Iraq invasion. Insiders described the effort as an aggressive, weeklong plan to remind the country of what U.S. and coalition troops have faced and what they've accomplished so far. . . .

"The overriding theme will be that America is safer a year later. But, officials added, nobody will be spiking the ball."

My question: Will Bush explicitly pay homage to the 552 American service members who have died in the war? Stay tuned: This will be an issue.

Which of These Is Not Like the Other?

As Tom Brune reported last week in Newsday, the federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative has subpoenaed White House records on contacts with 25 journalists.

The list (low on the page) is full of familiar names: Columnist Robert Novak, of course, and MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Time's James Carney, The Post's Mike Allen, Newsweek's Evan Thomas.

And then there's Jeff Gannon of Talon News.

Who? Of what?

I first wrote about Gannon in my Feb. 19 column. Gannon works for a tiny, supremely conservative organization called Talon News which publishes a Web site by the same name as well as one called With the sole exception of Gannon, who says he is compensated, all the "reporters" are volunteers.

Gannon's presence in the White House briefing room is something of an irritant to most of the press corps, which considers his questions at briefings to be preposterous softballs. [Note: This paragraph has been corrected. Gannon does not have an assigned seat in the briefing room as was previously reported here.]

And in return, Gannon sometimes writes on his own Web site about his views of the corps and how there is "perhaps no depth to which it will not sink in order to undermine a presidency."

Anyway, the reason Gannon is on the list is most likely an attempt to find out who gave him a secret memo that he mentioned in an interview he had with Plame's husband, former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson.

Gannon asked Wilson: "An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?"

According to a December Washington Post story by Mike Allen and Dana Milbank, "Sources said the CIA is angry about the circulation of a still-classified document to conservative news outlets suggesting Plame had a role in arranging her husband's trip to Africa for the CIA. The document, written by a State Department official who works for its Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), describes a meeting at the CIA where the Niger trip by Wilson was discussed, said a senior administration official who has seen it."

On top of being secret, CIA officials said it was wrong.

Gannon won't talk about it. But he does keep lobbing those softballs. Sometimes he even brings props. And press secretary McClellan seems to appreciate it.

Yesterday, for instance, McClellan was getting hammered with questions about the 9/11 commission and the possible inappropriate juxtaposition of a visit to a 9/11 memorial with a fundraiser on Thursday.

It was getting ugly. "I'm not even going to dignify that with a response," McClellan said in response to a jibe. (See the full text of the briefing.)

Then he saw daylight:

"Go ahead, Jeff."

Gannon: "Thank you. First of all, I hope the grand jury didn't force you to turn over the wedding card I sent to you and your wife. (Laughter.) Do you see any hypocrisy in the controversy about the President's mention of 9/11 in his ads, when Democratic icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt's campaign issued this button, that says, 'Remember Pearl Harbor'? I have a visual aid for folks watching at home."

McClellan: "You're pointing out some historical facts. Obviously, Pearl Harbor was a defining moment back in the period of World War II, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was strongly committed to winning World War II and talked about it frequently."

Gannon: "So you think it certainly is valid that the President does talk about it and --"

McClellan: "Yes, he addressed this this weekend, when he was first asked about it. September 11th was a defining moment for our nation. We all shared in that experience. And it's important that we look at how we lead in a post-September 11th world. And that's an important discussion to have with the American people, and to talk about the differences in approaches to winning the war on terrorism and preventing attacks from happening in the first place."

© 2004