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White House Talk

Dan Froomkin
White House Briefing Columnist
Wednesday, December 21, 2005; 1:00 PM


Dan Froomkin: Hello everyone and welcome. Lots to talk about today --including of course the revelation that President Bush secretly authorized a domestic spying program. My column today (late today, my fault this time) is about how the "I-word" -- impeachment -- is back in the mainstream political lexicon. No one's saying it's likely -- Republican control of Congress makes it almost inconceivable, really -- but they are talking about it.


Pleasanton, Calif.: Bush has put forward three claims: (1) Iraq is the war on terror, (2) as President he has near total power as long as we're at war on terror and (3) he has a plan for victory in Iraq: complete victory.

It follows that he plans to give up his special wartime powers as victory arrives.

Will he confirm that?

And when does he see that happening? This year? This century? Just a ballpark would help.

Dan Froomkin: I think you've oversimplified. For instance, Bush says that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror -- not the whole thing.

If I were asking Bush a question on this topic, I would rephrase it this way:

"Thank you, Mr. President. I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a President during a war, at wartime? And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?"

Which, by the way, is precisely the question that Washington Post reporter Peter Baker asked at

Monday's press conference


The question rattled Bush, but not enough for him to give a straight answer.


Reston, Va.: Should Americans be concerned about their civil liberties with George W. Bush as President?

Dan Froomkin: Americans should be concerned about civil liberties with any president.


Baltimore, Md.: Hi Dan, why, for goodness sake, is everyone knocking themselves out praising Bush for finally making some speeches and addressing (sort of) failings of judgment, mistakes etc.?? Feels like --too little too late, and yet, poll numbers are on the rise--even in the face of possible impeachable practices regarding the domestic spying program. I don't get it...

BTW, thank you very much indeed for all you do to keep us informed and up to date. It is greatly appreciated.

Dan Froomkin: It has been kind of amazing to watch so many of my colleagues write about how Bush is suddenly being so much more forthcoming. And it's largely a function of the daily news cycle and its premium on what's new.

So what's new? Well, Bush admitting that not everything's been hunky-dory in Iraq. And Bush acknowledging his critics.

But what's *not* new, of course, is pretty much everything else. So, for instance, while he's admitted that mistakes were made in Iraq, they were other people's mistakes; he hasn't admitted any of his own. He acknowledges his critics, but doesn't engage their arguments forthrightly or engage them directly.

I guess it comes down to this: Bush *is* being more forthcoming -- by Bush standards.


Silver Spring, Md.: How plausible is it to you that the unauthorized wiretaps were only used on international calls? I am not talking about the newly-revealed "inadvertent" domestic taps, but the claim that "dirty numbers" were only monitored for outside calls. Doesn't sound right to me.

Dan Froomkin: There's no evidence whatsoever to suggest that this secret authority was intentionally abused and used on political enemies, the press, etc. But who knows? There was no oversight.

Bush is basically saying trust me. But that is a dangerous thing for a president with serious credibility problems to do.


Escanaba, Mich.: Good morning, sir. Excellent column.

But has anyone else noticed that if you merely substitute the word, "Communism" for "terrorism" that it is the same old excuses?

After all, the last time domestic spying was used, it was to protect us against such "dangerous" people as Dr. Martin Luther King, although I don't think that had Presidential approval.

Thank you for listening.

Dan Froomkin: Thank you for posting. Have you seen "Good Night and Good Luck"? It seems to raise some of those same issues.

But to be honest, when it comes to eavesdropping, I'm hearing a lot more Nixon references than McCarthy ones.


Arlington, Va.: Good Afternoon Mr. Froomkin.

Thank you for the opportunity to ask this question.

Do you believe The Washington Post should be polling about public support for impeachment of the President?

I have to admit I have been troubled by comments made by Richard Morin, polling director of The Washington Post, and the double standard he has set between President Clinton and President Bush.

Dan Froomkin: I write about this in my column today. (I'll let you know when it's published.)

Washington Post polling director

Richard Morin

said in a Live Online discussion yesterday: "We do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion -- witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment. When it is or they are, we will ask about it in our polls."

As a columnist for washingtonpost.com, I am utterly removed from the newspaper newsroom's decision making process on such things, but yes, I think it's worth asking, even if the leadership isn't calling for it.

It's worth noting for contrast, by the way, that The Washington Post story about Monica Lewinsky appeared in its

Jan. 21, 1998



January 26, 1998

Morin had an article reporting on a poll that asked about impeachment.

But here's the big difference: Within one day of the first story,

on Jan. 22

, The Post was full of stories talking about possible impeachment.


Dan Froomkin: Hey! Today's column is live. Hooray.


Arlington, Va.: Interesting you should bring up the "i" word, because yesterday the Washington Post Polling editor got mad, madder, and maddest at suggestions that the WP poll people on the question of impeachment.

Transcript: Poll: Bush Approval Numbers Up

I understand his frustration with letter writing campaigns - I also think that they are fairly worthless - but I also think it would be interesting to see what the average American thinks about this issue.

Dan Froomkin: Right.


Silver Spring, Md.: Dan, in re: the question about polling for Bush's impeachment. Of course you want the polling of Bush's impeachment, isn't it what you want (his impeachment)?

Keep up the good work.

Dan Froomkin: I think questions are generally a good thing. I think a simple question about impeachment is not partisan. Nor do I think for a moment it will influence people one way or the other.


Annapolis, Md.: Dan,

IN response to Silver Spring, Md. concerns; actually, President Bush has Congressional oversite (program review every every 45 days if I heard him right). That means that for 18 months, Congressional members with need to know have been briefed on the program.

Dan Froomkin: Forgive me, but I know oversight, and that was no oversight.

My fellow washingtonpost.com columnist

William Arkin

puts it so succinctly today: "We tell you, tie your hands, and tape your mouth. Sounds more like S&M than Congressional oversight."


Alexandria, Va.: You said that you think it's worth polling the question of impeachment even if no one in Congress, including Democrats, is talking about it. I have to respectfully disagree. That would be a ``push poll'' and plant ideas in people's heads rather than truly trying to take a sampling of the public mood. It seems unethical, if there is any such thing as ethics in polling.

I realize the impeachment process was cheapened during the Clinton years but it's still a very grave tactic and shouldn't be thrown around lightly, no matter how despicable Bush is.

Dan Froomkin: That's a valid concern.

I think of "push polls" as being more like: "How do you feel about the fact that Candidate X is an adulterer?"

But maybe you're right. Maybe the first place people hear about impeachment shouldn't be from a pollster. So should it be in the paper?


Milwaukee, Wis.: Dan, your column today quotes Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales:

" 'This is not a backdoor approach,' Gonzales said at the White House. 'We believe Congress has authorized this kind of surveillance.' He acknowledged that the administration discussed introducing legislation explicitly permitting such domestic spying but decided against it because it 'would be difficult, if not impossible' to pass."

He's essentially saying (1) Congress approved domestic spying, and (2) Congress would never have approved this domestic spying if we had asked. Isn't this a direct contradiction?

Dan Froomkin: It's certainly a conundrum.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Dan: Just read your column ... for what it's worth, I think impeachment would be a grave mistake (and I'm no fan of the President). Doing so is an indignity that, frankly, should be reserved for only the most grievous crimes by a president. Besides that, look at the impact it has in Congress ... both sides are still smarting over the ill-conceived impeachment of President Clinton, and more than one congressional observer has indicated that has been the source for much of the polarization that exists today. Let the voters deal with President Bush, if they like, in the '06 and '08 electionsl. That's enough of a check on power ...

Dan Froomkin: Thanks for your comment. I've gotten several others like it, as well.


From the belly of a 757: I loved your story about Cheney's iPod taking preference over other devices on the electrical outlets on Air Force II! Now we want to know what he listens to. I am guessing "Perfidia" (I can't remember the artist), or maybe "Drop the big one, and see what happens." "Tainted Love?"

Dan Froomkin: Well, it wasn't my story, it was Nedra Pickler 's. But thanks. I wonder if any frustrated reporters looked through his play list while they were waiting to charge their laptops. That's the only way we'll ever know.


Seattle, Wash.: There have been a lot of scandals in the Bush administration; most have washed over them and done relatively little damage. Do you think that the current one is in a different league? Does it have long-term traction?

Dan Froomkin: Hard to say. Indeed, many Bush "scandals" have come and gone.

Liberal blogger

Peter Daou

sourly anticipates the following denouement: "The story starts blending into a long string of administration scandals, and through skillful use of scandal fatigue, Bush weathers the storm and moves on, further demoralizing his opponents and cementing the press narrative about his 'resolve' and toughness."


Dan Froomkin: Thanks for your questions; I'm sorry I couldn't get to more of them. And thank you to all of you who have been so supportive of the column in the past few weeks.

As some of you know, my wife and I have a baby on the way, so I'll be taking a few weeks off when that happens. We'll chat again when I return.


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