Fingerpointing Gets Fast and Furious

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, July 20, 2004; 12:16 PM

Round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows.

The blame, that is.

Mimi Hall and Judy Keen write in USA Today: "Even before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks releases its report later this week, Democrats and Republicans are trying to use it for political advantage. . . .

"Republicans suggested that it pins much of the blame for the terrorist attacks on the Clinton administration. Democrats said it proves President Bush did not take the threat of terrorism seriously enough."

John Roberts reports for CBS News that "in a media blitz worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, commission members will launch an aggressive campaign to sell their recommendations."

And, he notes, "as the election season shifts into high gear, the commission, whose creation President Bush resisted for months, will put heavy pressure on him to make dramatic changes."

Aaron Brown and Suzanne Malveaux chatted about it on CNN yesterday.

"BROWN: How nervous, if that's the right word, is the White House about the report coming out Thursday?

"MALVEAUX: Well, it's very interesting because one of the things that the White House has done in terms of strategy is they have already started to talk about what the Clinton administration had done or not done when it comes to heeding warnings of terrorist attacks. They contend that it is not just the Bush administration but previous administrations that perhaps did not see the warning signs before the September 11th attacks.

"But honestly, Aaron, a lot of the news has already come out before. . . ."

The commission report is expected to address all the Really Big Questions: How could 9/11 have been avoided? Was the Bush administration prepared? Did Bush and the White House respond appropriately? How can intelligence be improved in the future?

But so far this week, at least, a lot of the media attention is focused on two issues: Iran's relationship with al Qaeda (particularly compared to Iraq's) and the report's endorsement of a cabinet-level national intelligence director.

Caption Contest

I have the winners today. Keep scrolling to the end.

Iran and Al Qaeda

The report is expected to state that Iran had a relationship with al Qaeda that -- while falling short of complicity in the 9/11 attacks -- was much more extensive than Iraq's. And that, of course, raises the question of why Bush went after Iraq instead of Iran.

Suddenly, three years later, Bush is expressing interest in Iran's role.

Mike Allen and Dan Eggen write in The Washington Post: "President Bush said yesterday that the United States is investigating possible connections between Iran and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, renewing his periodic warnings to one of the two remaining members of his 'axis of evil.'"

But, they write: "White House officials said Bush was not hinting at any new intelligence or at any change in administration policy."

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "Intelligence officials have said emphatically that while Iran's Muslim fundamentalist leaders appeared to have offered a transit point to some of the Sept. 11 terrorists and other Qaeda members, there was nothing to indicate that Iran knew in advance about the plot."

And yet, "In his meeting with reporters on Monday, Mr. Bush seemed to suggest that despite the C.I.A.'s appraisal, the administration believed there might in fact be an Iranian connection to Sept. 11.

" 'As to direct connections with September the 11th, you know we're digging into the facts to determine if there was one,' he said. 'We will continue to look and see if the Iranians were involved.' "

By contrast, Edward Alden and James Harding, writing in the Financial Times, describe what they see as a "broad White House defence of its policy towards Iran in the face of growing pressures for change from critics on both sides."

They quote a senior official praising Iran's hardline government for refraining from efforts to destabilize the new government in Iraq and write that "the senior official said the White House had no plans to adopt a more aggressive policy aimed at 'regime change' in Iran."

Here is the text of Bush's comments in a photo op with President Ricardo Lagos of Chile.

The Intelligence Director

Bloomberg writes that Bush "is willing to consider a Cabinet-level director to oversee U.S. intelligence agencies to help prevent a future terrorist attack, his spokesman said. . . .

"Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin disagreed with the idea of creating a new position to supervise U.S. intelligence efforts, saying on the 'Fox News Sunday' television program that 'the CIA director can do that well and appropriately.'

"McLaughlin was speaking for himself, not the Bush administration, McClellan said."

Here's the text of McClellan's briefing.

The White House and the Indy 500

Meanwhile, there's an election to win!

The Associated Press reports on Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice's photo-op at the White House yesterday, complete with car.

"In his latest election-year appeal to the racing crowd, Bush posed with the red, white and blue car on the South Lawn, holding Rice's helmet and caressing the car.

"'I know you're busy,' one of Rice's crew members told Bush, who had just left an Oval Office meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

" 'Not busy enough to say hello to the champ,' Bush said."

In fact, writes Bruce Martin of SportsTicker: "After posing with the race winner, the winning car and the Borg-Warner Trophy, President Bush invited Rice and his team to the inner sanctum of the Oval Office, where teamwork and the same qualities that go into a successful race team also are used.

" 'I'm the driver of our team here,' Bush said. 'Just like you guys have a team, we have a team very similar. You know how it takes teamwork to get the job done and to win. You won the biggest race in the world, and that takes teamwork.' "

"The President and the Indy 500 winner were together for about 20 minutes."

Did Castro Really Say That?

Maura Reynolds writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In a hotel conference room in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, Bush told law enforcement officials that Fidel Castro was brazenly promoting sex tourism to Cuba."

Here's the text of his speech in which he said: "The dictator welcomes sex tourism. Here's how he bragged about the industry. This is his quote, 'Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world.' "

Reynolds asked White House officials what their source was for the quote and was led to a paper on the Internet written by Charles Trumbull, then an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. Trumbull told Reynolds he didn't remember the source, and that it was taken out of context anyway.

Lesley Clark, writing in the Miami Herald on Saturday, traced the quote back to comments Castro made in a 1992 address "when he spoke about the country's need for tourism and acknowledged the presence of prostitutes in Cuba, even though prostitution is illegal. His actual words, according to a transcript prepared by the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, were: 'We can say that they are highly educated hookers and quite healthy, because we are the country with the lowest number of AIDS cases.' "

Tracey Eaton wrote in the Dallas Morning News that the charge has even further enraged Cubans, who already call Bush "Pinnochio."

"Cuba was a bustling sex tourism destination in the early 1990s after its economy collapsed, travel writers say, but police crackdowns have turned that around," Eaton wrote.

Tax Cuts

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "Eager to sign his fourth tax cut in as many years, President Bush is pushing congressional leaders to extend a series of middle-class tax cuts before Congress's planned adjournment at the end of the week.

"Democrats charge that the president is trying to ram the tax cuts through in time to hold a signing ceremony during their convention next week. . . .

"The tax cuts themselves have broad, bipartisan support."

Malpractice Caps

Ceci Connolly writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney, with a swipe at his Democratic trial-lawyer counterpart, yesterday blamed rising health care costs on 'runaway litigation' and promoted a $250,000 cap on medical malpractice awards as the central tenet of the White House program to improve access, affordability and quality of care. . . .

"Strategically, the Bush team has decided to spotlight tort reform because 'most people in this country have some form of insurance, and they're worried about how much it costs,' said senior strategist Matthew Dowd."

Here is the text of Cheney's speech at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo.

And here is the text of Cheney's Q&A at the Boone County Lumber Company in Columbia, Mo. (Sample question: "We thank you for the privilege to ask questions. As a person who had the privilege to wear the uniform of the uniformed services of the United States, I know my fellow veterans have a deep and abiding affection for the flag that we see waving behind us. And I know many of them would support a constitutional amendment banning the degradation of the flag. Is there a difference between the two campaigns with respect to this issue? Thank you.")

Same States, Different Country

Adam Nagourney writes in the New York Times: "They campaign in the same places: rural stretches of West Virginia, the suburbs of Philadelphia, farm country in Ohio. They talk about the same issues: the economy, tax cuts, the war in Iraq, the nation's security. They are scrapping for many of the same voters.

"But what they are saying could hardly be more different. . . .

"On Iraq and the economy, on the United States' place in the world and the candidates' views of each other, it sometimes seems as if Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry are campaigning in different countries."

Halliburton Watch

Dana Milbank writes in his White House Notebook for The Washington Post about the Democratic attempt to use Halliburton, the oil services company once run by Vice President Cheney "as a metaphor for all things anti-Bush. . . .

"There is no proof the government was wrong to award Iraq contracts to Halliburton without competitive bidding, or that Cheney helped his former employer. Democrats, though, are hoping the image of Halliburton, and President Bush, could be damaged further by news from one of the ongoing investigations into the company. The Treasury Department is examining whether a Halliburton unit violated laws against doing business in Iran. The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing a change in Halliburton accounting practices. And various entities are examining charges about Halliburton bribery in Nigeria."

And as luck would have it, there's news of a new Halliburton probe today. AFP has that story.

Malaysia Watch

The Oval Office thing really works sometimes.

AFP reports:

"Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said his country was ready to mobilize an international Muslim force to rehabilitate war-torn Iraq.

" 'We are prepared to rally support among Muslim countries for . . . rebuilding Iraq and strengthening its institutions of governance and its economic system,' Abdullah said late Monday after talks with US President George W. Bush in the White House Oval Office."

But the commitment apparently does not include the sending of any troops.

Here's the text of the Oval Office remarks by Bush and Badawi.


Jack Brubaker of the Lancaster (Pa.) New Era writes a twice weekly column called the Scribbler.

On Friday, he had quite the exclusive, and it's being e-mailed all over the Internet.

"President Bush met privately with a group of Old Order Amish during his visit to Lancaster County last Friday. He discussed their farms and their hats and his religion. He asked them to vote for him in November.

"This story has not been reported before. You might think an observant press follows the president everywhere, especially during a re-election campaign, but no reporter attended this meeting."

Well, that's because none were invited! But that didn't stop Brubaker.

"Sam Stoltzfus, an Old Order historian and writer who lives in Gordonville, spoke with a number of people present at the session with the president."

There are some charming details. For instance: Stoltzfus reports, "It took a while to get them through the metal detectors as these were farmers and shop men, with vice grips, pocket knives, and nuts and bolts in their pockets. Some ladies had baby gear. All pockets had to be emptied."

But here's the line that has prompted all the e-mails:

"At the end of the session, Bush reportedly told the group, 'I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job.' "

That would be quite the news story -- except of course, it's third hand (someone told Stoltfus who told Brubaker).

And as Dana Milbank notes at the end of his column today: "The White House said Bush said no such thing."

Protest Watch

Ed Lowe writes in the Appleton (Wis.) Post-Crescent that Outagamie County Supervisor Jayson Nelson -- who actually had a ticket! -- got bounced from the VIP list for President Bush's speech Wednesday at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon because of inappropriate attire.

"Nelson attended a John Kerry for President rally in Fond du Lac earlier in the day before taking his spot in line outside the Bush campaign venue. The event was part of a daylong Bush campaign bus tour through eastern Wisconsin, including the Fox Cities.

"Nelson said he was ejected after being caught sporting a T-shirt endorsing the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, though he said it was fully hidden beneath a heavy cotton button-down shirt. . . .

"Once exposed, the female election worker who singled Nelson out snatched the VIP ticket from his hand and called for police, he said.

" 'Look at his shirt! Look at his shirt!' Nelson recalled the woman telling the Ashwaubenon Public Safety officer who answered the call.

"Nelson said the officer told him, 'You gotta go,' and sternly directed him to a Secret Service contingent that spent seven or eight minutes checking him over before ejecting him from the property."


Jerry Fink writes in the Las Vegas Sun: "Aladdin President Bill Timmins ordered security guards to escort pop diva Linda Ronstadt off the property following a concert Saturday night during which she expressed support for controversial documentary filmmaker Michael Moore."

Today's Calendar

The Associated Press reports: "President Bush will squeeze in some campaigning Tuesday before the political spotlight turns to next week's Democratic National Convention in Boston.

"Bush flies to re-election rallies in Iowa and Missouri, toss-up states that he and Democratic rival John Kerry are fighting hard to win this year. . . .

"Bush is scheduled to speak at an 'Ask President Bush' event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before heading to a rally at the Family Arena in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles on his 19th presidential visit to Missouri."

Bush also meets with his economic advisers in the morning.

"On Thursday, Bush speaks about homeland security in Glenview, Ill., and attends a GOP fund-raiser in nearby Winnetka.

"Aides say the president will stay out of sight at his Crawford, Texas, ranch from Friday evening until the Democratic convention concludes July 29. He's expected back on the campaign trail the day after the convention."

Convention Plans

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush plans to lie low during next week's Democratic National Convention, but his re-election campaign will send a 'thorn-in-their-side' contingent to react to Bush-bashing, and Vice President Dick Cheney will keep up the attacks on John Kerry during a West Coast swing."

Cheney's 45th Reunion

Andrea Falkenhagen writes in the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune: "Vice President Dick Cheney was in Casper last night -- and unlike most events in Washington D.C., his 45-year high school reunion was a 'wonderful low-key event,' involving no politics, or media, according to former classmate Ron Lewis."

Caption Contest

And finally, what you've all been waiting for, the winners of the Karl Rove caption contest. On Friday, I asked you readers to propose captions for this photo. I was overwhelmed with the response. Here are the winners.

• "Karl Rove demonstrates for Dick Cheney a kinder, gentler way to rebut Pat Leahy." (John Buaas, Wichita)

• "' . . . and to all the president's close friends in the NAACP . . . '" (Joseph Styles, Los Angeles)

• "'Blue Fairy, Blue fairy -- My nose is growing! Make it stop!'" (Tom Moureau, Cornwall, Vt.)

• "'Barkeep! Another tequila. Our numbers are in the toilet.'" (Larry Mack, New Orleans)

• "Karl Rove tries a visual aid in a futile attempt to teach Dubya how to count to five." (Cliff Rowland, Beaverdam, Va.)

• "'You think your vote's gonna count?'" (Jay Margolis, Boynton Beach, Fla.)

• "'People think that I'm some evil genius, but really, I just like acting like a five-year-old.'" (Justin Short, Baltimore)

• "'What Cheney said.'" (Alma Evans, Natchez, Miss.)

• "'Democracy -- thhhhpppbt!'" (John Tully, Oakland)

• "'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but I still control the presidency.'" (Jason Hensley, St. Louis)

• "'Why give them just one finger?'" (Tricia Everson, Douglas, Alaska)

• "Sorry, I don't have a caption, but couldn't help noticing the photo's striking similarity to the Stuart Carlson comic in today's Washington Post. Perhaps you could use the comic's caption?" (Andy Mitchell, Austin, Tex.)

• "'And the advantage of this one, Dick, is that they can't quote you.'" (Devona Wyant, Lincolnton, N.C.)

• "'This is the new Iraqi salute. It is a sign of respect, they say.'" (Phil Anderson, Washington D.C.)

© 2004