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Cheney to Face Nats Fans

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, April 6, 2006; 12:18 PM

President Bush is throwing Vice President Cheney to the wolves -- or, more specifically, to the Nationals fans.

According to longstanding precedent, one of the two of them had to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the home opener of Washington's home team on Tuesday -- and face the inevitable boos and catcalls.

Bush is sending Cheney.

The Washington area remains stubbornly Democratic even at the best of times for Republicans -- and these are not the best of times. Furthermore, unlike people at most presidential or vice presidential venues, ballpark fans are not too bashful to express their displeasure vocally.

Last year, when Bush threw out the first pitch, he was greeted with a fair number of boos amid the cheers. And at that point, his job approval ratings were hovering around 50 percent -- not to mention that it was a day of giddy celebration as baseball returned to the nation's capital after more than three decades.

This time around, Bush's approval ratings are in the mid-30s. Cheney's are even lower, in the low 30s -- and his favorability rating hit 18 percent in one recent poll.

So it could get ugly.

How does Cheney feel about this? Well, it's hard to imagine that the unathletic, cantankerous, notoriously private vice president actually volunteered for this duty.

Rather than face the Nationals crowd himself, Bush threw out the first pitch in Cincinnati on Monday. And although he received scattered boos there, he insulated himself from the worst by walking out to the mound accompanied by two injured American soldiers and the father of a soldier who was killed in action.

Cheney's best bet would be to do something similar -- or have the Secret Service be particularly finicky about letting people in. After all, last year, many fans were late to their seats because security lines at the metal detectors installed for the president's visit were still 20 deep when the game began.

Here's the Associated Press story on Cheney getting the call.

Associated Press reporter and baseball historian Frederic J. Frommer recently wrote: "For most of the past century, when Washington was home to a baseball team known as the Senators, presidents typically took center stage on Opening Day."

Here's the Nationals press release: "Marking the start of the Nationals' second season, Vice President Cheney continues the Washington baseball tradition, dating to 1910, when a president or vice president has thrown the ceremonial first pitch.

"The first vice president to toss the pitch was Charles Dawes in 1926. The last vice president to do the honors was Hubert Humphrey in 1968."

Of course, Cheney's presence rather than Bush's raises a singular new question: Will he bean someone by mistake?

Fitzgerald Lets Loose

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald late yesterday filed a response to a motion by Scooter Libby's defense team, and it contains a shocker.

Josh Gerstein of the New York Sun was first out of the gates this morning. (In fact, as of this writing, none of the major news outlets has published a word on the subject.)

Gerstein writes that according to the filing, Libby "testified to a grand jury that he gave information from a closely-guarded 'National Intelligence Estimate' on Iraq to a New York Times reporter in 2003 with the specific permission of President Bush."

As Gerstein explains: "[T]he new disclosure could be awkward for the president because it places him, for the first time, directly in a chain of events that led to a meeting where prosecutors contend the identity of a CIA employee, Valerie Plame, was provided to a reporter."

That reporter, of course, was Judith Miller.

Here's an excerpt from Fitzgerald's filing: "Defendant testified that he was specifically authorized in advance of the meeting to disclose the key judgments of the classified NIE to Miller on that occasion because it was thought that the NIE was 'pretty definitive' against what Ambassador Wilson had said and that the vice president thought that it was 'very important' for the key judgments of the NIE to come out."

Gerstein writes: "Mr. Libby is said to have testified that 'at first' he rebuffed Mr. Cheney's suggestion to release the information because the estimate was classified. However, according to the vice presidential aide, Mr. Cheney subsequently said he got permission for the release directly from Mr. Bush. 'Defendant testified that the vice president later advised him that the president had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE,' the prosecution filing said."

Fitzgerald's filing also "quotes from handwritten suggestions Mr. Libby gave to the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, urging the spokesman to proclaim the vice presidential aide's innocence with the same vigor that the press secretary previously denounced as 'ridiculous' suggestions that Mr. Rove might have had a hand in leaking Ms. Plame's identity.

"Mr. Libby's note, as typed up by the prosecution, reads like a stanza of verse:

" 'People have made too much of the difference in/How I described Karl and Libby/I've talked to Libby./I said it was ridiculous about Karl/And it is ridiculous about Libby./Libby was not the source of the Novak story./And he did not leak classified information.' "

Murray Waas weighs in on the National Journal Web site and adds, based on his interviews with senior officials: "In yet another instance, Libby had claimed that President Bush authorized Libby to speak to and provide classified information to Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward for 'Plan of Attack,' a book written by Woodward about the run-up to the Iraqi war."

Waas reported in the National Journal last month that Libby had testified that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" to disclose classified information. Of course, Libby didn't have many other superiors, besides Cheney and Bush. But this is the first time it's been directly alleged that Bush himself was involved.

Speaking of Waas, I wrote in Friday's column about how unseemly it is for the traditional media powers to be ignoring Waas's scoops.

Now Greg Sargent in the American Prospect takes another stab at explicating the relevance of Waas's work, including his March 30 story about Bush administration deceptions about Iraq.

Writes Sargent: "To do this we need to step back and look at his revelation in the context of the ongoing investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame. If you do, you can see that what once were a bunch of disparate subplots -- the pre-war duplicity, the 2004 election, the Libby indictment, the continuing investigation into Karl Rove -- suddenly can be woven together into one grand narrative that makes coherent sense in a way that much of this story didn't before. And the resulting storyline is not a pretty one."

Earlier Wednesday

Earlier Wednesday, the judge in the Libby case issued a ruling.

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: "A federal judge in the CIA leak case set limits on the ability of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff to challenge prosecutors who are reluctant to provide classified information to the defendant."

Blogger Tom Maguire is making himself indispensable by Web-publishing the documents in the case.

Immigration Watch

Glenn Thrush and Craig Gordon write in Newsday: "Embattled White House political czar Karl Rove has injected himself into the increasingly chaotic immigration battle in the Senate, lobbying GOP senators in hopes they'll accept a guest worker program reviled by some conservatives in his party.

"On Monday, Rove met at the White House with Republican senators, including Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). Yesterday, he worked the phones, conferring with Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and others pushing a compromise aimed at uniting fractured Senate Republicans.

"Rove's involvement highlights the stakes for the White House and underscores Rove's belief that a liberalized immigration policy will help the GOP make inroads with Hispanic voters. Rove's ongoing legal troubles - he remains under investigation in a case involving the leak of a CIA agent's identity - have kept him mostly on the political sidelines in recent months."

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "As the struggle over an immigration overhaul reaches a make-or-break stage in the Senate, President Bush has adopted a strategy of calculated ambiguity that some worry may increase the risk of a legislative stalemate. . . .

"The formal ' statement of administration position' on immigration reform issued Tuesday night only deepened the confusion. Within hours of the statement's release, senators sponsoring the two principal alternatives for handling illegal immigrants both claimed it as a White House endorsement of their approach. . . .

"[T]he statement says the administration 'firmly opposes amnesty' as well as 'an automatic path to permanent residency or citizenship.' . . .

"But because the Bush administration statement does not define 'amnesty' or 'automatic path,' both sides in the Senate standoff claimed validation."

War Oversight?

Bryan Bender writes in the Boston Globe: "Two House Republicans have agreed to cosponsor a landmark proposal to create a special House committee to investigate Iraq war spending, joining Democrats in demanding more accountability for billions of dollars that allegedly have been misspent, according to lawmakers and congressional aides."

Steven Thomma, Tim Funk and James Kuhnhenn write for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "If Congress ever turns against the war in Iraq, analysts may look back at this week as a turning point.

"Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., on Wednesday urged setting a May 15 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops unless Iraq forms a unity government, and even if Iraq does form a government, Kerry urged complete American withdrawal by year's end. His twin-deadline proposal makes the 2004 presidential nominee the most prominent Democrat pushing for early full withdrawal.

"At the same time, three Republicans in the House of Representatives endorsed a resolution calling for a robust and lengthy congressional debate on Iraq."

Whither Bush's Domestic Agenda?

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post from Bridgeport, Conn: "President Bush tried to jump-start his legislative agenda Wednesday, summoning Republican congressional leaders to the White House to consult on strategy and then flying here to pitch his centerpiece health-care plan.

"With the White House preoccupied with rumors of further staff changes and Capitol Hill focused on the polarizing immigration debate, Bush tried to steer attention back to a domestic program that has largely languished in the two months since he unveiled it in his State of the Union address. . . .

"Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who is crucial to any tax legislation, has all but declared the proposal dead for the year."

Not to mention, as Baker points out, that Bush's plan looks small-bore compared to "the new legislation passed this week in next-door Massachusetts, which is set to become the first state to require that all residents obtain health insurance just as all drivers must have automobile insurance. Bush did not directly address the Massachusetts plan."

Far from taking hostile questions, Bush yesterday surrounded himself with preselected, well-rehearsed ringers.

Mark Pazniokas writes in the Hartford Courant: "Bush moderated a panel of five executives and consumers who gave testimonials about health savings accounts, which offer tax deductions to consumers who save for their health expenses. . . .

"The panelists' byplay was familiar to viewers of late-night infomercials. . . .

"The White House picked the panel, whose members rehearsed Tuesday night."

Suzanne Malveaux told Wolf Blitzer on CNN yesterday afternoon: "President Bush is trying to use whatever political capital that he has to push forward his domestic agenda. We're seeing that today when it comes to immigration reform, as well as the health savings accounts. . . .

"But the big question here, really, Wolf, is just how relevant, how much political capital does the president have?"

Health Savings Accounts

Here is the transcript of the Bush event in Bridgeport.

In one of his many attempts to explain his proposal in simple terms, Bush himself got tripped up.

"Just to make sure everybody understands -- a health savings account is a combination of a high deductible, catastrophic plan, and the deductible is a cash account that earns interest-free."

I think he meant to say that the money set aside to meet the deductible earns interest tax-free.

Iran Watch

William Arkin writes in his washingtonpost.com blog: "Nuclear diplomacy in Iran is beginning to look a lot like the United Nation's inspection work in Iraq before the 2003 war. The parties are committed to a peaceful outcome but the accumulation of bad blood torpedoes any hope for a peaceful outcome."

This in spite of Dana Priest's Washington Post story on Sunday in which she writes that an attack on Iran would likely backfire, according to U.S. intelligence and terrorism experts who "say they believe Iran would respond to U.S. military strikes on its nuclear sites by deploying its intelligence operatives and Hezbollah teams to carry out terrorist attacks worldwide."

Over at NiemanWatchdog.org , I raise several questions the press should be asking about Iran, based in large part on an article in Foreign Policy and a Council on Foreign Relations interview with Joseph Cirincione, the director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Froomkin Watch

I'm off tomorrow. The column resumes on Monday, and I'll be doing my biweekly Live Online at a special day and time: Monday at 2 p.m.

Then I'll be off again for a week starting Wednesday, April 12.

What the President Really Meant

Mike Allen writes in Time: "Presidents, like spouses, can send clearer messages with what they don't say as what they do."

Allen suggests that Bush's recent underwhelming show of support for Treasury Secretary John Snow "sure sounds like Washington-speak for, as my mother and grandmother say when you're on the way out the door, 'It's been nice knowing you.' "

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