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A Holiday Video With a Bite

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, December 7, 2005; 1:18 PM

Looking for a healthy sense of self-mockery from the Bush White House? Like Christmas, it comes only once a year: In the form of a holiday video featuring the presidential pets.

This season's offering is just out, titled "A Very Beazley Christmas." The full, 10-minute version is available on the White House Web site in a Real Media and Windows Media versions. A four-minute edited version is available on washingtonpost.com.

It's a worthy successor to previous efforts (see barney.gov for more), with several tongue-in-cheek references to the current political climate.

The new video's premise is that Barney, the Bush's longtime Scottish terrier, is jealous of all the positive attention being paid to Miss Beazley, a more recent addition.

In an amusing riff on polling, Lynne Cheney lectures Barney: "Ooh, Barney, have you seen the latest presidential pet poll numbers? Not good! The numbers are way down. But don't worry about it; remember poll numbers are just a snapshot in time. That's right."

I'm not sure this one was intentionally funny, but it was: Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez squats down obsequiously before Barney's rival and says: "Miss Beazley, great job today. Listen I have the information here that you requested. Our unemployment is declining, we're creating a lot of jobs, and you're doing a great job, Miss Beazley."

President Bush himself makes an appearance. He calls both dogs into the Oval Office for a lecture on getting along. "Now Miss Beazley, I understand you're being a media hound," he says.

The video also features guest appearances by Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., Treasury Secretary John Snow and several journalists, including George Stephanopoulous, who appears from the set of ABC News's "This Week."

There's even a mock C-Span segment, in which anchor Steve Scully asks those who support Miss Beazley to call (202) 456-1415; others are asked to call (202) 456-1416. (Both, in reality, are "non-working numbers" at the White House.)

First lady Laura Bush wraps things up by saying: "President Bush and I wish everyone a happy holiday."

Rove Aide Leaving?

Is Karl Rove's top aide leaving the White House?

The Philippine-American media has long kept a close eye on Susan B. Ralston, Rove's right hand and the most influential Filipina in the administration.

Today, Cristina DC Pastor and Rita Gerona-Adkins either get it all wrong -- or just jump the gun -- in Philippinenews.com, with a report that Ralston has left the White House.

"The former Special Assistant to President Bush and deputy to presidential adviser Karl Rove has reportedly moved to the Department of Commerce, Philippine News learned from a source close to Ralston.

"Asked for the reason for the transfer, the source quoted Ralston as saying, 'Too much pressure (on the job).' "

But it's not true. Or at least not yet.

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy told me this morning: "Susan remains at the White House. She's still on the job. That story says that she's gone, which is completely inaccurate."

Familiar as I am with hairsplitting answers from the White House, I kept going: Is the whole story wrong, or just the timing? Is there in fact a move in the works?

"I don't have anything more for you on her future plans. But she's currently at her desk, hard at work," Healy said.

Is it even remotely possible that this is in the works?

"We don't speculate," Healey said

Ralston has been in the news lately as a witness in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, and also because she was controversial Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's personal assistant before becoming Rove's.

Fitzgerald's Back

Carol Leonnig writes for washingtonpost.com: "Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald appeared this morning to present information to a new grand jury in the CIA leak investigation. . . .

"Today's appearance was the first time that Fitzgerald has gone back to a grand jury since the Oct. 28 indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby."

Meet Robert Luskin

Richard Leiby profiles Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, in The Washington Post this morning.

"Karl Rove's greatest defender in Washington these days is a Democratic lawyer and onetime newspaper reporter named Robert Luskin. He is Rove's attorney in the high-stakes CIA leak case, and is widely credited with sparing his client from indictment so far."

Leiby writes: "To the Bush administration's foes, Rove's alleged complicity presents the possibility of divine payback. For some, the notion of the Machiavellian Rove plotting reprisals against Wilson is 'the story too good not to be true,' Luskin says.

" 'It is a much better story if he is playing a central role in this, and it is a much less interesting story if it turns out that there is no evidence to suggest, as was initially argued, that this was a White House plot to disclose the identity of a covert agent in order to punish a critic.' "

But Luskin insists that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald "will ultimately conclude that 'Karl didn't do anything wrong' because Rove has 'the virtue of being innocent.' "

Holiday Card Ruckus

Back to the holiday theme, Alan Cooperman writes in The Washington Post about the ruckus on the right caused by the White House's 2005 holiday card: "What's missing from the White House Christmas card? Christmas. . . .

" 'This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture,' said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. . . .

"Religious conservatives are miffed because they have been pressuring stores to advertise Christmas sales rather than 'holiday specials' and urging schools to let students out for Christmas vacation rather than for 'winter break.' They celebrated when House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) insisted that the sparkling spectacle on the Capitol lawn should be called the Capitol Christmas Tree, not a holiday spruce.

"Then along comes a generic season's greeting from the White House, paid for by the Republican National Committee. The cover art is also secular, if not humanist: It shows the presidential pets -- two dogs and a cat -- frolicking on a snowy White House lawn. . . .

"One of the generals on the pro-Christmas side is Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss. 'Sometimes it's hard to tell whether this is sinister -- it's the purging of Christ from Christmas -- or whether it's just political correctness run amok,' he said. 'I think in the case of the White House, it's just political correctness.'"

Next Ruckus?

At yesterday's press briefing with Scott McClellan, briefing room eccentric Lester Kinsolving tried to stoke another scandal:

"Q [A]t the National Christmas Tree lighting last week the President said, 'Each year we gather here to celebrate the season of hope and joy, and to remember the story of one humble life that lifted the sights of humanity. Santa, thanks for coming.' And the question: Will the President apologize to Christians offended by his referring to Jesus as Santa?

"MR. McCLELLAN: The President meant exactly what he said, Les."

Holidays as Hell

John Dickerson writes in Slate: "Imagine hosting a party for only the people you've always wanted to avoid. The president and the first lady will hold two such events next Thursday as they welcome the press corps into their home. They are less the hosts of these parties than their victims. The first couple will not sip at eggnog or nibble on tiny lamb chops in the state dining room. They will stand in one spot in the Blue Room, next to a Christmas tree, as hundreds of correspondents, sound people, and photographers line up to have individual photographs taken with the first couple.

"During the holidays, the president is a virtual prisoner in the White House. He and his wife will perform this grueling act of cheer at 26 holiday parties between Dec. 4 and Dec. 20. There's one for the diplomatic corps, members of Congress, the Secret Service, and top military brass. Invites also go out to political donors and allies across the country. The last evening is reserved for the White House staff -- the plumbers, electricians, cooks, and butlers who hang the president's towels when he leaves them on the bed and polish his floor. For most of that period, the Bushes will have 'two-a-days,' hosting one party from 4 to 6 p.m. and a second from 7 to 9."

And Dickerson notes: "The Bush White House isn't hiding the baby Jesus. There He is among the wise men and barnyard creatures in the 18th-century Italian crche. Mrs. Bush calls the 18-and-a-half-foot Fraser fir from Laurel Springs, N.C., a Christmas, not a 'holiday' tree."

Happy Holidays

When it comes to holidays, the White House is inclusive.

Here is the text of Bush's remarks yesterday in a 19-day-early celebration of Hannukah at the White House.

Just last week, Bush lit the National Christmas tree.

He celebrated Ramadan in October.

And I'm sure his annual Kwanzaa message is coming soon.

Live Online

I'll be Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET. We can chat about Bush's speech to the Council on Foreign Relations -- which came after my deadline -- and whatever else is on your mind. Send me your questions and comments .

Poll Watch

Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: "A majority of Americans still want U.S. troops out of Iraq despite President Bush's public relations offensive to convince the country he has a strategy to win the war, a new poll indicated yesterday.

"Sixty percent of Americans said the U.S. must withdraw from Iraq, including 40% who think the troops should get out immediately, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

"Even more ominous for Bush, 49% of the respondents think the President deliberately misled the country into going to war, and 45% said they don't trust him.

" 'They read the headlines and see some kid from around the block got killed over there and say, "Let's get out of there,'' ' said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac poll."

Here are the complete Quinnipiac poll results .

Asked if they like Bush a lot, like him a little, dislike him a little, or dislike Bush a lot, a plurality -- 32 percent -- said they dislike him a lot. And more than a third of those -- 13 percent in all -- said they are angry with him.

Here's how Quinnipiac phrased its troop-withdrawal question. (See yesterday's column for more on the importance of wording.)

"Do you support or oppose withdrawing American troops from Iraq immediately? (If not immediately) Do you support or oppose setting a firm deadline for withdrawing American troops from Iraq? (If support deadline) When should US troops be withdrawn from Iraq? In 6 months, in 1 year, in 2 years, or in 3 years?"

A plurality -- 40 percent -- said withdraw immediately; 4 percent said in six months; 10 percent said in a year, 4 percent in two years; 1 percent in three years; only 34 percent agreed with the Bush position that there should be no firm deadlines.

Torture Watch

Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times: "The White House has all but abandoned its effort to persuade Senator John McCain to exempt Central Intelligence Agency employees from legislation barring inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody. But a top presidential aide continued to negotiate a deal on Tuesday that would offer covert officers some protection from prosecution, administration and Senate officials said. . . .

"Mr. McCain is balking at agreeing to any kind of exemption for intelligence officials, members of his staff say. Instead, he has offered to include some language, modeled after military standards, under which soldiers can provide a defense if a 'reasonable' person could have concluded that he or she was following a lawful order about how to treat prisoners. . . .

"Mr. Bush, speaking to reporters Tuesday morning , repeated his statement that 'we do not torture.' He added that the administration would do all it could, within the law, to protect its citizens from terrorists. His spokesman, Scott McClellan, refused Tuesday to discuss how Mr. Bush defines torture, or to say how the United States ensures that prisoners it turns over to foreign nations are not tortured.

" 'I'm not going to get into talking about these issues because it could compromise things in an ongoing war on terrorism,' Mr. McClellan said. Later, he called the question of how the United States monitors the treatment of prisoners an 'intelligence matter' that he could not discuss."

Claudia Parsons writes for Reuters: "Torture has always been rife around the world but governments have generally condemned it, denied it, or both.

"Since the Sept. 11 attacks, though, some experts say the U.S. government has tried a new tactic -- redefining the meaning of torture."

Cheney Watch

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press from Fort Drum, N.Y.: "Vice President Cheney told troops Tuesday that terrorists can win in Iraq only 'if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission.' He rejected calls for a speedy drawdown of armed forces.

" 'This would be unwise in the extreme,' Cheney told the soldiers, some just back from Iraq. Cheney spoke in an aviation hangar on this base in northern New York, addressing an audience that base officials put at around 3,000."

Danny Hakim writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Cheney, who in speeches last month forcefully challenged critics of the war, was not as blunt on Tuesday. He did say 'a sudden withdrawal' would be 'unwise in the extreme.' . . .

"The crowd, in a hangar at Fort Drum, included soldiers in the Army's 10th Mountain Division preparing for deployment and National Guard soldiers from the 42nd Infantry Division who were returning from Iraq. It was an enthusiastic crowd; the troops cheered even the landing of the vice president's plane, which was shown on large monitors as the music of the rock band AC/DC blared over the loudspeakers."

Here is the text of Cheney's speech.

In it, he repeated an assertion he's made before: "Some have suggested by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq in September 2001 and the terrorists hit us anyway."

At yesterday's press briefing , reporters tried to get McClellan to explain what Cheney meant by that.

"Q In the Vice President's speech this morning, he said -- and this was in the context of the war in Iraq -- he said, 'We weren't in Iraq on September the 11th, and the terrorists hit us anyway.' Why does the Vice President continue to give the impression that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was connected with the September the 11th attacks, when the President has conceded that they were not, and the 9/11 Commission conceded they were not?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that does. I don't think that does. But I think what you have to understand about September 11th is that September 11th taught us some important lessons. . . .

"Q 'We weren't in Iraq on September 11th and the terrorists hit us anyway.' Would you not agree that there's some linkage there?

"MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think he's making the point that the President made last week, that those who suggest that if we weren't in Iraq, that the terrorists would just be idle. That's an absurd allegation, because the terrorists are determined to spread their fear and chaos and violence throughout the civilized world. They attacked us well before we were in Iraq; they attacked other countries well before any decisions were made to go into Iraq."

Making Cheney's Day

Bill Sammon of the Washington Times writes in his pool report about the scene after Cheney's speech: "A bit later, the vice president met privately with about three dozen members of the 42nd Infantry who recently returned from Iraq. They were clad in desert fatigues and tan boots. Also present were about 10 spouses. The group was gathered around a large conference table and a short riser off to one side. Everyone stood when Mr. Cheney walked in, then sat back down when he said, 'at ease, please.' Gen. Taluto made a short opening statement and then Mr. Cheney explained he was there to have a dialogue with the troops. He promised that within about a minute he would 'kick the press out so nobody's intimidated by the presence of the cameras.' After making good on his promise, the vice president cracked: 'It always makes my day.' The soldiers laughed heartily as the reporters slunk away."

Bush's Jewish Friends

In her pool report to colleagues, Alexis Simendinger notes who was in attendance at Bush's Hannukah festivities yesterday: "White House and administration aides and officials at the reception included: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten; Jay Lefkowitz, the president's special envoy on human rights in North Korea; Elliot Abrams, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy, and his wife, Rachel.

"Also in attendance, according to a White House aide, was Tom A. Bernstein, Yale friend of the president's who is also a GOP Pioneer and president and co-founder of Chelsea Piers in New York."

The Diva Declines

Cindy Adams writes in her New York Post gossip column: "The Kennedy Center gives treasured awards to treasured Americans annually. You know that. Its latest awardees this week included Robert Redford. You know that. What you don't know is they assiduously courted [Barbra] Streisand. But, despite their efforts this year and every year for these last years, she's adamantly refusing to allow them the honor of honoring her. She says she will not let her country salute her in the capital of her country while George W. Bush is president of her country."

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