It Comes Down to Trust

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, October 29, 2004; 12:08 PM

President Bush gave a brief interview to USA Today on Air Force One yesterday that, while low on substance, gave him the opportunity to frame Tuesday's election about as succinctly as I've seen.

"This campaign boils down to a matter of trust: Who has earned the trust of the American people? Who do they believe in? Who do they believe can fight and win the war on terror and keep America secure?" he told Judy Keen.

Of course for Bush, working from talking points on a small white notepad, the answer to those questions was self-evident.

"I have shown the American people I can do the job in tough times. I have shown the American people I have a vision, and I have shown the American people I am consistent and true to what I believe," he said.

Keen describes a somewhat tense atmosphere in the flying Oval Office: "His mood wasn't jocular, as it often is in encounters with reporters, nor was he particularly reflective. There was an audience of staffers: longtime adviser Karen Hughes, perched on the arm of a sofa, campaign communications director Nicolle Devenish, White House spokesman Scott McClellan and press aide Josh Deckard."

In one bit of news, Keen writes: "He already is thinking about the first days of a second term. He'll quickly call a Cabinet meeting, he said, and remind the secretaries of the priorities he defined during the campaign: reforming the tax code, allowing younger workers to invest some of their Social Security withholding in the stock market, limiting medical liability awards.

" 'When those issues are embraced by the people, I'm going to not only talk to the Cabinet, I'm going to talk to the Congress and say the people have made their opinions known, now let's get forward on the people's business.' "

Keen also writes: "Asked to compare this campaign to the 2000 race, which ended with the outcome undecided for 36 days, Bush asked, 'Refresh my memory -- how was I feeling four years ago?' Told that he was confident, then reminded of what happened, he said a little testily, 'What did happen is I won.' "

From what Keen wrote, there's no evidence of any particularly tough questions. Of course it wouldn't appear that her USA Today colleague Jill Lawrence exactly grilled John Kerry either, in the companion piece.

But without the full text of the interview, it's hard to tell if Keen didn't ask the tough questions -- or if Bush just ducked them.

Once and for all, people, can we all agree to Web-publish full transcripts of presidential (and presidential-candidate) interviews?

Is there any good reason a news organization could possibly have to keep these transcripts secret?

Turning Defense Into Offense

Scott Lindlaw writes for the Associated Press: "The presidency comes with powerful tools that can help incumbents keep their jobs: a mighty public-relations machine, a bully pulpit, a famous airplane. Yet President Bush has been powerless to halt a recent tide of bad news, from surging violence and missing weapons in Iraq, to missteps by his own campaign, to a potentially damaging new probe by his own FBI."

Maura Reynolds and Michael Finnegan write in the Los Angeles Times: "The Bush campaign found itself conducting damage control on three fronts: over the missing 380 tons of munitions, comments by New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and controversy over a digitally altered television ad. . . .

"But it was the munitions issue that the Bush camp focused on, suggesting that Kerry's comments raised more doubts about the senator than they did about the president.

" 'This has allowed us to crystallize that this is a man on the other side who will say anything to get elected,' said chief Bush strategist Karl Rove."

Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei write in The Washington Post: "Bush has responded to Kerry's onslaught about the munitions with a last-minute adjustment in his campaign message. He now devotes the bulk of his speeches to criticism of Kerry -- a sharp change from his pattern through much of the campaign in which his barbs at Kerry were few and lighthearted. And he dropped the word 'liberal' from his speeches on Thursday, returning to his original accusation that Kerry is opportunistic and prone to vacillation. . . .

"Bush strategist Karl Rove said Thursday night that the campaign's private polls show the president even or ahead in eight of the 10 battleground states -- including Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and New Mexico -- with leads outside the polls' margins of error in four. He predicted a victory for Bush but said 'the next five days are critical.'"

CNN's John King told Paula Zahn last night: "[M]ake no mistake about it. The ferocity with which they are fighting back on this issue certainly reveals a bit of nervousness on the Bush campaign that this question about his leadership could stick in the final days of the campaign."

David M. Halbfinger and Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush, campaigning from Michigan to Ohio to Pennsylvania, hit his opponent with sharp new attacks about his character and trustworthiness and said that Mr. Kerry's changing positions on the war sent a dangerous signal of retreat to the nation's enemies.

"The words were slightly different, as Mr. Bush's campaign is rewriting part of his stump speech every night. But the theme was the same: voting for a man with such a 'lack of conviction' was too risky at a vulnerable period in the nation's history."

Mark Silva and Jill Zuckman write in the Chicago Tribune: "As Bush makes his closing arguments, the Republican is attempting to define with a new dash of speechwriter's poetry and boxer's defiance what it means to be president in a dangerous world. And, most important for his chances at re-election next week, Bush is attempting to explain why Kerry shouldn't be in the White House."

Kerry, meanwhile, said: "The president's shifting explanations and excuses and attacks on me demonstrate once again that this president believes the buck stops everywhere but with the president of the United States. . . . Mr. President, it is long since time for you to start taking responsibility for the mistakes that you've made."

Here are transcripts from the Bush rallies yesterday in Saginaw, Mich., Dayton, Ohio, Westlake, Ohio, and Yardley, Pa.

Halliburton Watch

Robert O'Harrow Jr. writes in The Washington Post: "The FBI has expanded an investigation into allegations of contract irregularities by Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root Inc. in Iraq and Kuwait.

"The FBI requested an interview with a Pentagon official who complained recently that the Army gave KBR preferential treatment when granting it a $7 billion classified contract to restore Iraq's oil fields just before the war began in March 2003, her lawyers said yesterday.

"The request comes at a sensitive time because Vice President Cheney once was Halliburton's chief executive and Democrats have accused the Bush administration of favoring the giant oil-services company."

John Solomon writes for the Associated Press: "The line of inquiry expands an earlier FBI investigation into whether Halliburton overcharged taxpayers for fuel in Iraq, and it elevates to a criminal matter the election-year question of whether the Bush administration showed favoritism to Vice President Dick Cheney's former company."

T. Christian Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanders awarded a lucrative contract extension to Halliburton Co. this month by circumventing the organization's top contracting officer, who had objected to the proposal, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times."

He writes that "the previously undisclosed documents are part of a growing body of evidence indicating unusual treatment was given to government contracts won by the Houston-based firm."

Explosive Watch

More coverage today of the missing munitions in Iraq. Bradley Graham and Thomas E. Ricks write in The Washington Post that "the military significance of the loss, in a country awash with far larger amounts of munitions, is open to question. . . .

"Several defense analysts said Kerry's focus on Qaqaa has resonated mainly because the explosives issue has become symbolic of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq, especially its long-running insistence that it has a sufficient number of U.S. forces there."

William J. Broad and David E. Sanger write: "A videotape made by a television crew with American troops when they opened bunkers at a sprawling Iraqi munitions complex south of Baghdad shows a huge supply of explosives still there nine days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, apparently including some sealed earlier by the International Atomic Energy Agency. . . .

"The question of whether the material was removed by Mr. Hussein's forces in the days before the invasion, or looted later because it was unguarded, has become a heated dispute on the campaign trail, with Senator John Kerry accusing President Bush of incompetence, and Mr. Bush saying it is unclear when the material disappeared and rejecting what he calls Mr. Kerry's 'wild charges.' "

The video is from KTSP-TV, an ABC affiliate in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Mark Mazzetti writes in the Los Angeles Times that it "appears to be the strongest evidence so far in the debate over whether a huge cache of high-grade explosives disappeared on the Americans' watch."

Ad Watch

Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post that "the Bush campaign acknowledged using computer editing to produce a better shot of a military crowd shown in what was to be the president's closing ad Wednesday. The admission came after the liberal blog Daily Kos reported that some faces in the crowd appeared several times. . . .

"Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt defended the doctored ad, said the 2002 photo of a crowd in Fort Drum, N.Y., was electronically altered because part of it was blocked by the president's podium. He dismissed as 'ridiculous' suggestions that it was wrong for the campaign to change the picture of an actual event to improve the shot, noting that 'real soldiers' were involved. But Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman later told CNN that 'we're correcting the editing error' to substitute the unaltered photo."

Here's the blog post that started it all. Scroll down to see the original photo.

Really Big Show

Miriam Jordan writes in the Wall Street Journal: "In the 11th hour of a close presidential race, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are delivering their messages to the crucial Hispanic constituency through perhaps the silliest and most powerful man in Spanish-language show business: Don Francisco."

Don Francisco, whose real name is Mario Kreutzberger, hosts the mega-variety show "Sábado Gigante" on Univision.

The Santiago Times has more: "Kreutzberger asked both candidates about the amnesty to be applied to those living in the United States illegally, but neither candidate had a clear answer.

" 'Neither of the candidates has a clear stance on this issue. They both have partial solutions. The problem in the United States is that the Latino population -- almost 40 million people -- lives in economic conditions that are inferior to those of most Americans,' Kreutzberger said. . . .

"Comparing the two candidates, he pointed out that both have learned sentences in Spanish for their audience, but 'Bush understands more.' He added that while 'Kerry seems to have more political training, Bush is more concrete.'"

Protest Watch

A reader e-mailed me this story by Matt Coughlin in yesterday's Bucks County Courier Times:

"A Lower Makefield woman said she received a rude awakening Wednesday when she tried to get tickets to see President Bush today in Lower Makefield.

"Simi Nischal got a ride with a co-worker to pick up tickets for herself, her husband, Narinder, and their two children. But just as the tickets were about to be placed in her hands, she was escorted from the Yardley gristmill and told to leave, she said.

"'I deny you the right to attend this rally,' Nischal said a Bush-Cheney campaign worker told her.

"Apparently, Nischal's ride was a Kerry-Edwards supporter. Her car sported a bumper sticker for the Democratic candidates."

Another reader e-mailed me this two-week old Des Moines Register story by Lynne Campbell, who writes that "John Sachs, 18, a Johnston High School senior and Democrat, went to see Bush in Clive last week. Sachs got a ticket to the event from school and wanted to ask the president about whether there would be a draft, about the war in Iraq, Social Security and Medicare.

"But when he got there, a campaign staffer pulled him aside and made him remove his button that said, 'Bush-Cheney '04: Leave No Billionaire Behind.' The staffer quizzed him about whether he was a Bush supporter, asked him why he was there and what questions he would be asking the president."

Sachs told Campbell: "Then he came back and said, 'If you protest, it won't be me taking you out. It will be a sniper,' . . . He said it in such a serious tone it scared the crap out of me."

Chris Suellentrop writes in Slate from a rally yesterday for Laura Bush in Port St. Lucie, where the crowd was led in "the Bush Pledge" by Florida state Sen. Ken Pruitt.

"The assembled mass of about 2,000 in this Treasure Coast town about an hour north of West Palm Beach dutifully rose, arms aloft, and repeated after Pruitt: 'I care about freedom and liberty. I care about my family. I care about my country. Because I care, I promise to work hard to re-elect, re-elect George W. Bush as president of the United States.'

"I know the Bush-Cheney campaign occasionally requires the people who attend its events to sign loyalty oaths, but this was the first time I have ever seen an audience actually stand and utter one."

Today's Calendar

Bush speaks at four campaign rallies today. Two in New Hampshire, in Manchester and Portsmouth, and then two in Ohio, in Toledo and Columbus. In Ohio, he'll be joined by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Cheney's Changing Rhetoric

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: "Vice President Dick Cheney modified his criticism of John Kerry on Thursday after declaring the Democrat got his facts wrong about the disappearance of several hundred tons of explosives in Iraq.

"Hitting back on what has become a major campaign issue, Cheney embraced an ABC News report suggesting that much of the explosives were removed from a storage facility before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

"Kerry is 'just dead wrong. . . . Before our guys even arrived on the scene . . . upwards of 125 tons had been removed,' Cheney told supporters at a restaurant coffee session in the battleground state of Wisconsin."

But ensuing news reports cast doubt on that one, so later in the day, "Cheney dropped references to Kerry being 'dead wrong.' Instead, he cited a statement by a U.S. military commander that Saddam Hussein had moved most of his ammunition and explosives in the months before the invasion."

Cheney to Hawaii

Yost also reports: "Making a major detour on the campaign trail, Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday night will rally voters in Hawaii where just two Republicans have ever won the state in a presidential race."

Cheney and the Tough Crowd

While only Bush supporters are typically allowed into Bush and Cheney events, that doesn't mean everyone there supports the entire ticket.

Here's the transcript from Cheney's rally in Washington, Penn., on Wednesday.

Cheney: "The President and I are delighted to be part of a great Republican ticket here in Pennsylvania this year. I want to thank Congressman Tim Murphy for his kind words and the great leadership he provides. (Applause.) And I also want to put in a good word for Senator Arlen Specter, although he couldn't be here today.


"THE VICE PRESIDENT: This is a tough crowd. (Laughter and applause.)"

Specter barely won a bitter primary over a more conservative Republican. Apparently, some feelings are still a bit raw.

Chasing Cheney

Lyndsey Layton writes in The Washington Post: "Brooke Campbell and four new friends have been scurrying around the country this week, shadowing Vice President Cheney at his campaign stops in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

"The women call themselves the 'Band of Sisters,' and say they are chasing Cheney in the days before the election to tell the other side of the war the vice president has called 'a remarkable success story.' "

Live Online

Washington Post White House correspondent Dana Milbank will be Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET. Send him your questions and comments.

Limits of Speech

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "The Internal Revenue Service has threatened to revoke the NAACP's tax-exempt status because the civil rights group's chairman, Julian Bond, 'condemned the administration policies of George W. Bush' during a speech this summer, according to documents the group provided yesterday.

"The NAACP, which is based in Baltimore and is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, is incorporated under a tax-code section that prohibits participation in a political campaign. The group has long had a strained relationship with the Bush administration."

Michael Janofsky writes in the New York Times: "In an interview Thursday, Mr. Bond defended his remarks, saying they focused on policy, not politics. . . .

"He added, 'It's Orwellian to believe that criticism of the president is not allowed or that the president is somehow immune from criticism.' "

Middle East Watch

Sometimes you have to wonder: Why do either of these guys want the job? Consider the looming challenges in the Middle East alone.

Robin Wright writes in The Washington Post: "The United States faces a major test with Tehran over its nuclear program just three weeks after the U.S. election. Yet neither candidate has addressed the growing prospects that diplomacy may not work, that the world may be too divided to agree on punitive sanctions, and that military options, after Iraq, could spark major new domestic and international controversy."

Barry Schweid writes for the Associated Press: "The deteriorating health of Yasser Arafat, the 75-year-old Palestinian leader viewed as a pariah by both Bush and Kerry, brought the Mideast crisis once again into focus in an election that has largely bypassed the issue and focused instead on Iraq."

And Carol Giacomo writes for Reuters: "No matter who wins the White House, the next U.S. leader will be dogged by Iraq and its repercussions for years to come."

Neil Bush Watch

Walter F. Roche Jr. writes in the Los Angeles Times: "When President Bush came into office in 2001, it was a boom time for the energy industry. And one of the many boats lifted was that of a small Texas company in which the president's brother played an important role."

Bulge Watch

Kevin Berger writes in Salon that "a senior research scientist for NASA and for Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and an international authority on image analysis . . . has been analyzing images of the president's back during the debates. . . .

"[N]o one to date has enhanced photos of Bush's jacket to this degree of precision, and revealed what appears to be some kind of mechanical device with a wire snaking up the president's shoulder toward his neck and down his back to his waist."

The scientist, Robert M. Nelson, "stresses that he's not certain what lies beneath the president's jacket. He offers, though, 'that it could be some type of electronic device -- it's consistent with the appearance of an electronic device worn in that manner.' The image of lines coursing up and down the president's back, Nelson adds, is 'consistent with a wire or a tube.' "

Comic-Strip Humor

Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury today riffs on one of Bush's comments at the second debate that I thought would get followed up by the press, but wasn't.

The Rick Redfern character asks the President Bush icon: "Sir, the only mistake you've admitted to so far is making a few appointments you regret. . . . In other words, the only mistake you made was appointing a few aides who made the mistake of pointing out your mistakes. Sir, are you sure there's not a single other mistake you've made?"

Dead Tired

Al Kamen writes in his Washington Post column: "Some reporters are displaying signs of exhaustion as the presidential campaign hits the last few days. White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters Wednesday, 'I expect [Bush] will talk about the fact that more than 400,000 munitions have been seized or otherwise destroyed.'

" 'When you say that 400,000 musicians [sic] have been seized or destroyed,' one reporter said, according to a transcript, 'what, specifically, are you referring to?' "

"Most likely some wandering violinists. Or maybe some horn sections?"

Bush's Humor

In a new Web video from the Bush/Cheney campaign, twins Jenna and Barbara narrate a collection of clips that show how their dad is "really down-to-earth and he has a great sense of humor."

It's part blooper reel, part (bad) jokes.

One little scene comes from Bush's "impromptu" stop at Mitch's Candy store in Wisconsin in July, where he told the press corps, jovially: "Here's how the economy works. You're overpaid. My tax relief has left more money in your pockets to spend here."

Bush also talks about how his dog Barney is "the son I never had."

Chopper Drama

Dana Milbank reports in a campaign postcard for about the winged culprit apparently behind the gut-wrenching plunge some White House staffers experienced on one of the presidential helicopters yesterday.

Rovian Hijinks -- Will They Never Stop?

From the pool report yesterday by Tammy Lytle of the Orlando Sentinel, on the plane from Ohio to Pennsylvania.

"Karl Rove came bounding back to the press section looking like a kid who found the hidden stash of Halloween candy, and banging red and blue rally balloon souvenirs together. 'I only had to go to a hundred rallies to get my own thunder sticks.' "

Can someone please explain that one to me?

© 2004