NEWS | OPINIONS | SPORTS | ARTS & LIVING | Discussions | Photos & Video | City Guide | CLASSIFIEDS | JOBS | CARS | REAL ESTATE
Access for Sale

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, June 26, 2006; 1:28 PM

It's not exactly breaking news that money buys access in Washington. But it's always worth noting who's selling what and for how much -- especially when the White House is involved.

John Solomon writes for the Associated Press: "Wanted: Face time with President Bush or top adviser Karl Rove. Suggested donation: $100,000. The middleman: lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Blunt e-mails that connect money and access in Washington show that prominent Republican activist Grover Norquist facilitated some administration contacts for Abramoff's clients while the lobbyist simultaneously solicited those clients for large donations to Norquist's tax-exempt group.

"Those who were solicited or landed administration introductions included foreign figures and American Indian tribes, according to e-mails gathered by Senate investigators and federal prosecutors or obtained independently by The Associated Press. . . .

"A Senate committee that investigated Abramoff previously aired evidence showing Bush met briefly in 2001 at the White House with some of Abramoff's tribal clients after they donated money to Norquist's group.

"The 2002 e-mail about a second White House meeting and donations, however, was not disclosed. The AP obtained the text from people with access to the document.

"The tribes got to meet Bush at the White House in 2002 again and then donated to Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, or ATR."

In another instance, Norquist made "a special effort -- at Abramoff's request -- to introduce a British businessman and an African dignitary to Rove at another ATR event in summer 2002."

The White House response? "The White House said Rove was unaware that Norquist solicited any money in connection with ATR events in both 2001 and 2002 that brought Abramoff's tribal clients and others to the White House."

Safavian Who?

Remember David Safavian, the former White House procurement chief and Abramoff crony who was convicted of lying and obstruction of justice just last week? No? Read my column from last Wednesday .

It's hard to imagine how the criminal conviction of a White House official could fall off the media radar so quickly, but that's exactly what's happened -- with the exception of New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich (subscription required) who on Sunday linked Safavian to an even bigger scandal.

Rich writes that "what's most indicative of Mr. Safavian's public service is not his felonies in the Abramoff-Tom DeLay axis of scandal, but his legal activities before his arrest. In his DNA you get a snapshot of the governmental philosophy that has guided the war effort both in Iraq and at home (that would be the Department of Homeland Security) and doomed it to failure. . . .

"In this favor-driven world of fat contracts awarded to the well-connected, Mr. Safavian was only an aspiring consigliere. He was not powerful enough or in government long enough to do much beyond petty reconnaissance for Mr. Abramoff and his lobbying clients. But the Bush brand of competitive sourcing, with its get-rich-quick schemes and do-little jobs for administration pals, spread like a cancer throughout the executive branch."

Timetable Watch

After a week of White-House orchestrated pounding on Democrats for cravenly proposing some sort of timetable for a troop withdrawal from Iraq, could it be that Bush has a timetable of his own -- it's just a secret?

Michael Gordon wrote in the Sunday New York Times: "The top American commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the United States military presence there by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September, American officials say.

"According to a classified briefing at the Pentagon this week by the commander, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the number of American combat brigades in Iraq is projected to decrease to 5 or 6 from the current level of 14 by December 2007. . . .

"On Friday, General Casey and Mr. Rumsfeld met with President Bush at the White House. A senior White House official said that General Casey did not present a formal plan for Mr. Bush's approval but rather a concept of how the United States might move forward after consulting with Iraqi authorities, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki."

Michael Abramowitz and Thomas E. Ricks write in The Washington Post: "Senate Democrats reacted angrily yesterday to a report that the U.S. commander in Iraq had privately presented a plan for significant troop reductions in the same week they came under attack by Republicans for trying to set a timetable for withdrawal. . . .

"Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), one of the two sponsors of the nonbinding resolution, which offered no pace or completion date for a withdrawal, said the report is another sign of what he termed one of the 'worst-kept secrets in town' -- that the administration intends to pull out troops before the midterm elections in November."

Bush this morning confirmed meeting with Casey, but said: "[I]n terms of our troop presence there, that decision will be made by General Casey, as well as the sovereign government of Iraq, based upon conditions on the ground. And one of the things that General Casey assured me of is that, whatever recommendation he makes, it will be aimed toward achieving victory."

Cheney on the Warpath Again

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Eric Lichtblau write in the New York Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday vigorously defended a secret program that examines banking records of Americans and others in a vast international database, and harshly criticized the news media for disclosing an operation he said was legal and 'absolutely essential' to fighting terrorism.

" 'What I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some of the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people,' Mr. Cheney said, in impromptu remarks at a fund-raising luncheon for a Republican Congressional candidate in Chicago. 'That offends me.' "

Here's the transcript of Cheney's remarks.

He also showed no hesitation to use Friday's much-publicized indictment of seven men in Miami for political purposes.

"Unless somebody thinks the threat has gone away and does not exist, they ought to look at their morning newspaper. . . . [T]his morning the Attorney General held a press conference which I was watching as I came in on the plane to Chicago to announce the arrest of seven individuals in a cell in Miami, plotting among other things an attack on the Sears Tower here in Chicago. It is a very real threat."

Very real threat? As Josh Tyrangiel writes for Time: "Were the consequences of underestimating terrorists neither so grave nor so fresh, it would be tempting to look at the seven men indicted on conspiracy charges for plotting to blow up the Sears Tower and laugh. Not so much at the suspects -- five American citizens, a legal immigrant from Haiti and an illegal Haitian national, all of whose hardscrabble bios make them seem more sad than sinister -- but at those who considered them a real threat to wage, as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales put it, 'a full ground war against the United States.' "

Responding to Cheney

Sunday talk-show hosts asked two Democratic senators to respond to this clip from Cheney's recent CNN interview, in which he said: "The worst possible thing we could do is what the Democrats are suggesting. And no matter how you carve it, you can call it anything you want, but basically it is packing it in, going home, persuading and convincing and validating the theory that the Americans don't have the stomach for this fight."

Here's how Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin responded to NBC's Tim Russert : "The worst thing we could possibly do is what Vice President Cheney and President Bush did, which was take us into an unnecessary war that had nothing to do with 9/11 on false pretenses. They have done the worst thing that's ever been done in this regard. The question is, do we just keep making the same mistake over and over again? Do we just stay in Iraq so that Cheney and Bush can say that, that they were right?"

Here's Wolf Blitzer talking to Joseph Biden of Delaware:

"BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to the vice president, Senator Biden?

"BIDEN: No, I don't want to respond to him. He's at 20 percent in the polls. No one listens to him. He has no credibility. It's ridiculous."

Mayer on Addington

In this week's New Yorker (not available online), Jane Mayer profiles David S. Addington, Cheney's chief of staff and longtime legal adviser, who has "played a central role in shaping the Administration's legal strategy for the war on terror.

"Known as the New Paradigm, this strategy rests on a reading of the Constitution that few legal scholars share -- namely, that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority to disregard virtually all previously known legal boundaries, if national security demands it. Under this framework, statutes prohibiting torture, secret detention, and warrantless surveillance have been set aside."

She writes: "Conventional wisdom holds that September 11th changed everything, including the thinking of Cheney and Addington. . . . But a close look at the nearly twenty-year collaboration . . . suggests that in fact their ideology has not changed much. It seems clear that Addington was able to promote vast executive powers after September 11th in part because he and Cheney had been laying the political groundwork for years."

Mayer notes that former secretary of state Colin Powell recently told friends that Addington "doesn't care about the Constitution."

In a short Q and A on the New Yorker Web site, Mayer explains: "It seemed important to me to hold the creator of these policies accountable, so that the public could understand better who is behind them and how he thinks."

And what would Mayer ask Addington, if the notoriously secretive official let her? "I'd like to ask him whether, in his view, there is anything that the President cannot legally do in the service of national security."

Fickle GOP?

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "With elections barely four months away and their majorities at risk, Republicans on Capitol Hill say they are making calculations based on survival, not loyalty. President Bush has convinced them that sticking with him on Iraq and casting critics as soft on terrorism is a winning strategy despite public unease. But he has failed to convince them that his approach to immigration is good politics.

"The result may be a third election campaign in a row focused on national security, yet it also may mean a second year in a row without a signature victory for the president in domestic policy. Just as Bush invested much of 2005 in pushing a Social Security plan that went nowhere, he has thrown his weight in 2006 behind an immigration proposal that increasingly appears doomed for the year."

Adam Nagourney, Carl Hulse and Jim Rutenberg have a lengthy post-mortem on Bush's immigration push in the New York Times.

"An account of the administration's push for the initiative, based on interviews with members of Congress and senior White House and Congressional officials, shows that Mr. Bush's immigration measure was derailed by an overly optimistic assessment by the White House of the prospects for building a bipartisan coalition in support of the bill. It was also hurt by a fundamental misreading of the depth of hostility to the measure among House Republicans."

Wiretap Watch

Bryan Bender writes in the Boston Globe: "The White House and key congressional committees have begun crafting legislation that would try to overcome legal objections to the Bush administration's controversial domestic surveillance program and subject it to review by a secret intelligence court, government officials said yesterday."

Contraception: For or Against?

As seen on The Washington Post's Federal Page on Friday: President Bush's official position on birth control. It states: "This Administration supports the availability of safe and effective products and services to assist responsible adults in making decisions about preventing or delaying conception."

Joerg Dreweke, a spokesman for the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual health, writes in an e-mail to reporters that the statement is "noteworthy for the strange way it talks about birth control. It's mostly code-speak to avoid offending the president's base, but it raises more questions than it answers. For example, why does the president believe birth control is only for 'responsible adults'? what about irresponsible adults? and what about adolescents?"

As for why this is even an issue, see Russell Shorto 's article in the New York Times Magazine in May, which describes a growing anti-birth-control campaign that is "part of the evolution of the conservative movement."

Briefing Follies

Here's the transcript of Friday's press briefing by White House spokesman Tony Snow, who was being unavailing and argumentative even by his own standards. (See my June 16 column for more about those standards.)

A major topic, not surprisingly, was the report in the morning papers that the executive branch had unilaterally gained sweeping access to banking records from the international system known as Swift.

Snow pushed back against repeated queries about the banking records with this inexplicable and inapplicable question of his own:

"MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you what, does CNN disclose what it does with the financial information or personal information of the people who log onto its website? Does The New York Times? Does The L.A. Times? Your organizations all collect personal data on people who use your services."

That didn't go over well.

"Q Do you not understand the difference between private companies and governments, sir?" (Not to mention that Web sites like this one do not collect any information nearly as private and personal as bank records -- or phone calls.)

"MR. SNOW: I understand. I do understand. But what I'm saying here is, what the public -- I'll tell you what, you ask the American public, do you want -- do you think you have a right to know the specific means and methods by which -- "

Snow also got really ticked off at Hearst columnist Helen Thomas, who was repeatedly interrupting him.

"MR. SNOW: Helen, will you stop heckling and let me conduct a press conference.

"Q -- argument.

"MR. SNOW: Well, no, I'm making an argument, and you're pestering the teacher."

Snow also repeatedly insisted that until Friday's stories, the very existence of the organization called Swift was hidden from terrorists, and he mocked reporters who suggested otherwise.

"MR. SNOW: Are you kidding? Are you talking about Swift? When did you know about Swift before? . . .

"Q Let me ask a follow up. Are you saying that the financial experts in the terrorist ranks would not know about an organization that works for 7,800 different financial institutions in 200 countries?

"MR. SNOW: I'm saying, yes. I think that a lot of people didn't know about the existence of Swift."

As it happens, I went to my local bank two weeks ago to wire some money to some ailing relatives in Europe, and guess what the form required? The bank's Swift ID. Some secret.

North Korea Policy Watch

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times about the argument "that Mr. Bush, having gone into Iraq on bad intelligence about weapons that never existed, could be erring now in the other direction -- deliberately whistling past the warheads in Pyongyang, in hopes that the problem will solve itself."

Case in point: Former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle , who writes in The Washington Post's Outlook section of Bush's "ignominious retreat" in dealing with North Korea.

He blames the secretary of state. "Condoleezza Rice has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away. What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice's influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of -- and increasingly represents -- a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries."

Is Perle's piece a sign of serious disaffection on the right? It could be. But you never know with Perle, who is not just a leading hawk but is also a poster-boy for conflict of interest (see for instance, this 2003 Post story by David S. Hilzenrath ).

Birthday Watch

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "He talks about the March of Freedom around the world, but it's the March of Time at home that's on President Bush's mind lately. No matter how fast he pedals that mountain bike, no matter how much he towel-snaps foreign leaders, the Yale-by-way-of-Texas frat boy is facing the big 6-0 next week. . . .

"The approach of Bush's big day has been met with none of the hoopla that surrounded his predecessor's 50th birthday."

Return of the Doppelganger

Kasie Hunt writes for the Associated Press about last night's benefit for the Ford's Theatre, complete with a visit from Bush -- and Bush impersonator Steve Bridges, most recently seen at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.

"Abu Musab Zarqawi 'was an evildoer. He is now an evildider,' comic Steve Bridges said in a perfect Texas accent, referring to the recent death of the terror leader in Iraq."

Pool reporter Finlay Lewis of Copley News Services writes that Bridges also "claimed presidential progress in solving the immigration problem 'working with Vicente Fox and his news network.' "

Rove, Satan NOT Working Together

The editors of the St. Petersburg Times write: "It seems that in processing the syndicated column of satirist Andy Borowitz someone mistakenly labeled it to appear on the site as a straight news story. So it appeared online as a normal wire compilation. Headline: 'Satan, Rove plot GOP campaign strategy.' . . .

"Rove spoke to Online City Editor Kevin McGeever, and was exceptionally gracious. He thought it was funny and noted that he'd been accused of being Satan, but never actually working with Beelzebub. He wanted a copy of the online story for himself."

Poll Watch

Julie Mason writes in the Houston Chronicle: "White House officials hoping for a bounce in the polls from the killing of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and President Bush's surprise trip to Baghdad are having to make do with a flat line. . . .

" 'In the stock market they call it a "dead cat bounce," ' said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. 'I think there is a sense that Bush has had a good couple of weeks after a long, difficult period, but I do not think he recovers into the 40s and stays there.' "

Mason adds: "To keep Bush from sliding further in the polls, the White House is keeping him briskly scheduled -- no golf, limited time in Crawford and no photos of the weekly bike ride."

© 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive