Bush's Unsupported Assertion

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 16, 2004; 10:32 AM

President Bush yesterday pointed to Abu Musab Zarqawi as the "best evidence" of a connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

In so doing, he came to the defense of Vice President Cheney, who on Monday asserted that Saddam Hussein had "long-established ties" with al Qaeda.

But he also risked putting himself at odds with the Sept. 11 commission and the intelligence community.

Even though Zarqawi is actively terrorizing Iraq today, and does appear to have a relationship with al Qaeda, his association with Hussein has never been established.

Communications between Zarqawi and al Qaeda that Bush alluded to yesterday took place several months after Hussein was removed from power.

And a new report released this morning by the Sept. 11 commission declares that there is "no credible evidence" that Hussein's government collaborated with the al Qaeda terrorist network on any attacks on the United States, including the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings. (See Dan Eggen's story and the commission's report on washingtonpost.com.)

Michael Kranish and Bryan Bender write in the Boston Globe: "Bush has previously said there was 'no evidence' linking Hussein to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but he and other members of his administration have continued to say they believe there were ties between Hussein and Al Qaeda. . . .

"Before the war, intelligence officials said, Zarqawi was operating with the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Ansar Al Islam in Kurdish-held northern Iraq, not in territory under the control of Hussein's regime. Thus, questions have been raised about whether Zarqawi was working in concert with Hussein before the US invaded Iraq."

Dana Milbank writes in today's Washington Post that Bush "renewed an assertion that Hussein had longstanding ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network, one of the justifications underpinning the Iraq war. The alleged link between Hussein and al Qaeda has taken on more importance with the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

"Vice President Cheney, outlining al Qaeda's activities in various countries, said in a speech in Orlando on Monday that Hussein 'had long-established ties with al Qaeda.' Bush, asked yesterday if he would qualify that claim or cite evidence to support it, defended Cheney's assertion, citing the terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi.

"'Zarqawi is the best evidence of connection to al Qaeda,' Bush said during his appearance with Karzai. 'He's the person who's still killing. Remember the e-mail exchange between al Qaeda leadership and he, himself, about how to disrupt the progress toward freedom?'"

Faye Bowers and Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor profiled Zarqawi yesterday.

The News Conference

Bush's comment about Zarqawi came during a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Elisabeth Bumiller and Edward Wong write in the New York Times: "The White House had intended the news conference to promote progress in Afghanistan, and Vice President Dick Cheney and other top administration officials attended. But it was dominated by questions about Iraq."

Much of the discussion was about the fate of the former Iraqi leader.

"President Bush said Tuesday that the United States would hand over Saddam Hussein to the new Iraqi government only when it was clear that the Iraqis had the ability to securely keep him in custody," Bumiller and Wong write.

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press reports: "President Bush on Tuesday called Afghanistan the 'first victory in the war on terror,' yet both he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the nation remains on a long, rocky path toward peace and economic prosperity."

Here is the text of the Bush-Karzai news conference.

Live Online With 'Bush on the Couch'

Georgetown psychoanalyst Justin Frank, whose book, "Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President" was released yesterday, will be my guest today at 1 p.m. in a Live Online discussion.

Read an excerpt from the book and send in your questions and comments.

Laura Miller reviewed the book on Salon.com today. She calls it "far too partisan a work to make any claim to being a judicious examination of Bush the man. . . .

"Nevertheless, if you can hack your way through the underbrush, 'Bush on the Couch' brings together a lot of provocative information, and some genuinely enlightening hypotheses, from which the resourceful reader can assemble a portrait of Bush that accounts for his seeming contradictions. . . . "

"In some of the most insightful passages of 'Bush on the Couch,' he suggests that Bush's semiparalytic manner when speaking publicly, his insistence on rigorously scripting such appearances and the obviously enormous effort he puts into maintaining his focus during official occasions point to a horror of spontaneity, even if it comes in the form of a rudimentary dialogue.

"While the conventional wisdom might suggest that Bush fears being unmasked as a dolt, Frank believes that Bush's rigidity -- also manifest in his ironclad daily routine -- protects him from inadvertently revealing the darker emotions he's never come to terms with. . . .

"The primitive moral vision Bush subscribes to -- in which the world is divided into the good, 'freedom-loving' people of America and 'evildoers' like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein -- is another inflexible schema that imposes order on the internal chaos that's always threatening to rise up and swamp him."

Today's Calendar

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "Bush visits MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday to deliver a speech that will be broadcast live via satellite to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Bush's goal is "to persuade doubters that Iraq is on its way to self-rule despite persistent violence. . . . "

"The president's speech initially was scheduled for the afternoon, but White House press secretary Scott McClellan said it was rescheduled for three hours earlier to accommodate soldiers watching in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Ted Byrd writes in the Tampa Tribune about all the attention his neck of the woods is getting from the White House.

"It has long been clear that George W. Bush would campaign for re-election as a wartime president. Homeland security and the threat of terrorist attacks are frequent topics for Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

"But twice in three days along Central Florida's Interstate 4 corridor?

"Trips by Cheney to Orlando on Monday and by Bush to Tampa today have political observers wondering whether Republicans feel a need to shore up support for their signature issue."

WFLA-TV explains the significance of the I-4 corridor.

Adam C. Smith and Bill Adair write in the St. Petersburg Times: "White House spokesman Taylor Gross said Bush will meet with families whose loved ones 'have paid the ultimate price to defend our country' and will 'thank them for their sons' and daughters' sacrifices.'"

Cheney and Halliburton

Larry Margasak writes for the Associated Press: "Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff was told in 2002 that Cheney's former company would receive no-bid work to secretly plan restoration of Iraq's oil facilities, but the information wasn't given to the vice president, a White House official said Tuesday."

Backdrop Watch

Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News: "White House aides advancing President Bush's Normandy visit ordered the Pentagon to erect a $100,000 platform for his entry into a U.S. military cemetery, well-placed sources told the Daily News.

"American taxpayers picked up the six-figure tab for the red carpet, walkway and artificial island hurriedly built over a memorial pool so that Bush and French President Jacques Chirac could walk in style to the dais for last week's ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings."

Top Aides a Wealthy Bunch

Yesterday was annual financial disclosure day for top government officials.

The Associated Press reports, somewhat understatedly: "Several top White House aides to President Bush are well-to-do."

The big news: Senior Adviser Karl Rove sold his bed and breakfast business, the River Oaks Lodge Bed and Breakfast in Ingram, Tex., for somewhere between $500,000 and a million dollars.

The Briefing's Back

Here's the text of Scott McClellan's first full scale daily briefing in almost two weeks.

Gosh it's nice to have him back. Here's an excerpt:

"Q Has the President been asked to submit to questioning in the CIA link investigation?

"MR. McCLELLAN: No. And I will do my best to keep you informed at the appropriate time.

"Q That was a no?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Yes -- no, yes, yes."

Cell Phone Violation

Washington Post columnist Al Kamen fingers historian Michael Beschloss as the guy whose cell phone went off right in the middle of Bill Clinton's speech at the White House on Monday.

Bush on Religion

At yesterday's news conference, Bush was also asked to respond to Ron Reagan's eulogy of his father on Saturday.

"Q He said that politicians should not wear religious faith on their sleeve. And a lot of Republicans interpreted those remarks as being critical of you and your position on stem cell. I'd like to ask you about that.

"PRESIDENT BUSH: Whether or not a politician should wear their -- I've always said I think it's very important for someone not to try to take the speck out of somebody else's eye when they may have a log in their own. In other words, I'm very mindful about saying, you know, oh, vote for me, I'm more religious than my neighbor. And I think it's -- I think it's perfectly -- I think it's important for people of religion to serve. I think it is very important for people who are serving to make sure there is a separation of church and state."

Twins Watch

The Associated Press reports: "Bodyguards for President Bush's daughter were entangled in a fist fight with two men trying to steal a cell phone in southern Spain, a U.S. Embassy official said Tuesday. "

AFP reports that Jenna Bush was in Spain to take part "in a religious pilgrimage in Spain, walking up to 30 kilometers (20 miles) a day on the way to Santiago de Compostela."

Public Service: No Picnic

The Associated Press reports that at yesterday's congressional picnic on the South Lawn, "President Bush told lawmakers and their families Tuesday that the long hours and grueling travel that go along with public service are 'worth it.'"

Here's the text of his remarks.

Stem Cells Watch

David D. Kirkpatrick writes in the New York Times: "President Bush restated his commitment on Tuesday to sharply limit stem-cell research, bucking renewed pressure from Nancy Reagan and others to loosen the restrictions in the aftermath of the death of former President Ronald Reagan."

Speaking from the White House via satellite to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bush said: "Life is a creation of God, not a commodity to be exploited by man."

Here's the full text.

Economy Watch

Bloomberg reports: "President George W. Bush said the U.S. economy is growing as a result of his administration's tax cuts and needs new laws to promote more energy, limit lawsuits and control health care costs."

Michael Finnegan and James Rainey write in the Los Angeles Times: "With the death of former President Reagan and a week of public commemorations still fresh in the public consciousness, both President Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry laid claim Tuesday to a Reaganesque mantle of optimism about the U.S. economy.

"But the two men defined their optimism in strikingly divergent ways."

Noise Issues at Pebble Beach

Noise from all the construction on Pennsylvania Avenue is causing headaches for the television reporters who do stand-ups from the area in front of the West Wing known as Pebble Beach.

CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, talking to Judy Woodruff yesterday, apologized for all the noise.

"We're going to chastise them for not coordinating their hammering with Suzanne's report," Woodruff said.

"It always happens, every day," Malveaux replied.

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