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White House Watch

Dan Froomkin
White House Watch Columnist
Wednesday, June 13, 2007; 1:00 PM

What's going on inside the White House? Ask Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Watch column for washingtonpost.com. He'll answer your questions, take your comments and links, and point you to coverage around the Web on Wednesday, June 13, at 1 p.m. ET.

'Disastrous Consequences for the Constitution' (washingtonpost.com, June 5)

The transcript follows.

Dan is also deputy editor of Niemanwatchdog.org.


Dan Froomkin: Hi everyone, and welcome to another White House chat. So much to talk about!

Today's column, which will be up shortly, leads with President Bush's apparently fruitless lunch on Capitol Hill yesterday. He was hoping to get some more Republican senators to back his immigration bill -- but all he got was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

And just this morning, two congressional committees investigating the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year issued subpoenas for former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former White House political director Sara M. Taylor, setting up a showdown.

We can talk about those issues and more.


Milwaukee: Dan, I was very surprised at this morning's media coverage of the bombing at the shrine in Samarra. Every media outlet I checked (including The Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC) reported that the earlier attack on the shrine sparked the current wave of violence in Iraq. I know that's the picture the president has painted, even though the sectarian violence in Iraq was pretty intense long before that first bombing. Has the mainstream media simply taken Bush's version of the facts and accepted it? This really shakes my confidence in American journalism.

washingtonpost.com: Blasts Destroy Remnants of Samarra Shiite Shrine (Post, June 13)

Dan Froomkin: The blasts at the mosque today are portentous. And there's little doubt that the original blast accelerated sectarian violence in Iraq.

But your concern is legitimate. Bush's repeated insistence that Iraq's civil strife only dates back to that original attack (in February 2006) is ahistorical. As McClatchy's Mark Seibel has explained, it "understates by at least 15 months when Shiite death squads began targeting Sunni politicians and clerics."

I understand early coverage, in all the excitement, using shorthand and/or glossing over the history. But I hope this will be made more clear as the day progresses.

If that doesn't happen, what you'll be watching unfold before your eyes is another example of Bush's ability, by repeating things over and over again, to get them accepted in the media narrative even if they're not true.


Pleasanton, Calif.: You and others have been filing a steady stream of "lame duck" stories and columns, but Bush continues to run his war, keep his cronies in power, stonewall congressional oversight and arrange for global and outsourced torture. So tell me, what exactly is it that, as a lame duck, Bush cannot do? And Immigration reform doesn't count, because he couldn't do that before either. What is it that Bush was doing that now as a lame duck he no longer can do?

Dan Froomkin: He can't push legislation through Congress. (But your point is well taken.)


Swarthmore, Pa.: I think Judge Walton is going to send Libby to jail. If this comes to pass, what do you think the odds are of Bush pardoning Libby in the next 45 days? And if he does, what do you see as the consequences?

Dan Froomkin: There is a compelling argument that Bush will grant a pardon. (It starts with Dick Cheney). And there's also a compelling argument that he won't (see, for instance, this analysis by Ken Herman of Cox News).

As I wrote in my June 6 column, What About the Rule of Law?, I think Bush would have a very hard time explaining a pardon to the American people. One big variable, of course, is the press coverage.


Berkeley, Calif.: Great coverage of the Libby sentencing and aftermath. Some legal questions that I have: In Libby's appeal, will any new witnesses testify? Could Cheney take the stand even though he didn't in the first trial? Or Libby? I'm wondering if the appeal effort might be squashed by the White House if it will bring new attention to the case. But if there is no appeal, the president might have to give up the "ongoing legal proceedings" smokescreen...

Dan Froomkin: Thanks. And no, there would be no testimony unless there's a new trial. Appeals are based on the record established at the district court level -- and there will undeniably be an appeal.

My big question is, which three appeals court judges will be on the Special Panel?


Washington: Subpoenas at last! Will Fielding stonewall or compromise? And as former White House employees, can Miers and Taylor refuse to testify without risking a contempt of Congress charge?

washingtonpost.com: Panels Issue Subpoenas to Former Bush Aides (Post, June 13)

Dan Froomkin: I don't believe their "former"-ness has any impact on the executive privilege claim.

I don't know how this will end. In the past, such things issues have been resolved with a little give and take on both sides.

But the one thing I can predict with a certain amount of confidence: The White House will stall for as long as it can.


Kalamazoo, Mich.: Any thoughts on Ed Gillespie replacing Dan Bartlett? You think this could lead to changes in Iraq policy down the road, given how fearful the Republicans are of being tied to the war and who may abandon the President in September without "extraordinary" progress per Sen. Sessions? Seems like E.G. would be keenly attuned to the real-world implications for the GOP come 2008...

Dan Froomkin: That's an interesting observation. Gillespie isn't exactly an outsider, but like you said, he's probably been much more attuned to 2008 politics than a lot of the people in the White House, who may be more focused on Bush legacy issues.


Oak Forest, Ill.: Dan, are we to take it that the Washington Post Editorial board couldn't find a consensus on a potential pardon (or commutation) for Scooter?

Dan Froomkin: The editorial board's silence on such a quintessentially "Washington Post" issue is undeniably odd. (See all the other papers that have weighed in, most of them opposing a pardon.) But I'm not sure how to interpret that silence.


Attorney Generals: Dan, do you think the lack of experience and using party loyalty to hire career prosecutors in the Department of Justice plays any part in some of the high profile terrorism cases that have been decided in the past few weeks (specifically the Virginia court's decision against indefinite detention, and the throwing out of charges for the two Guantanamo cases because of incorrectly labeling the defendants as enemy combatants)? Or is it just that the laws crafted to fight terrorism are too abysmal to stand up in court?

washingtonpost.com: Judges Rule Against U.S. On Detained 'Combatant' (Post, June 12)

Dan Froomkin: Several readers have pointed out, accurately, that when the stakes are really high, the Bush White House does not rely on inexperienced or dubiously trained political hacks. They bring out the big guns.

Case in point, you will notice that none of the new additions to the White House counsel's office attended Regent University Law School.

On the detainee law, they may just not have had a legal leg to stand on. See Jess Bravin's excellent piece in today's Wall Street Journal.


Springfield, Va.: I saw that video on YouTube ... Bush clearly has his watch stolen ... but the White House can't even come out and tell the truth about that! They said Bush took off his watch. How many times do you think they'll have to repeat that lie before it's accepted as gospel?

Dan Froomkin: There are other video angles that make his story seem plausible. I don't think this is the story on which to base your theory, though it is oddly gripping.


Dan Froomkin: Today's column is now available for your reading pleasure: Bush Comes Up Empty.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Increasingly, on every single subject, it seems the only tone Bush can muster is peevishness. Having his back up all the time seems to lead to a lot of "I'll do what I want, so there" actions, even when they no longer make sense -- like keeping Gonzales (and it really can't be fun for Alberto anymore). If Bush pardons Libby, it would be more in the same vein.

Dan Froomkin: Interestingly enough, the reports from yesterday's Senate lunch consistently describe a non-peevish president, even while he was being roundly criticized. They say he was on a charm offensive (which of course didn't work either). So he evidently is able to modulate when he feels like it -- at least with members of his own party.


Montgomery Village, Md.: Dan, it seems that today more than ever your chat is most appropriately named. So what is the true story about Bush's wristwatch? Seriously, can you imagine the Secret Service allowing a crowd of people in the U.S. to get close enough to touch Bush? Not sure who would want to, but nonetheless. I guess that's why the new department was called homeland security.

Dan Froomkin: White House Watch indeed! The topic came up in yesterday's briefing:

Q "The President's head was in a guy's arm, and it looked like if it was the wrong guy, they could have had a problem.

"MR. SNOW: Well, you know what? If there was a problem, Secret Service would have dealt with it, trust me."

Snow then joked about "a little noogie action."

And as I noted in yesterday's column, Jon Stewart asked: "How did those people get so close to the president? They're hugging him, they're playing with his hair. We're not even allowed to ask the guy questions."


Los Angeles: What do you make of BBC reporter Greg Palast's reports on the U.S. attorney firings and their connections with voter disenfranchisement in the upcoming elections?

Dan Froomkin: Way back in October 2004 I first called attention to Palast's reporting, which was based on GOP e-mails intended for people at georgewbush.com that instead ended up in the hands of the folks at the parody site georgewbush.org.

Some of those connected then-GOP research operative Tim Griffin with a "caging list" of 1,886 names and addresses of voters in predominantly black and traditionally Democrat areas of Jacksonville, Fla. Palast was told the list showed voters whose mail was returned went sent to their listed address.

All I've seen since then, however, has been increasingly heated speculation. What I was hoping for then, and still hope for to this day, is that someone would do some more reporting and find out more about how the list was collected, for what purpose, and whether anything ever was done about it.

Griffin, of course, later became Karl Rove's deputy, and still later was appointed interim U.S. attorney in Arkansas, after someone forced Bud Cummins out of his post there.


Minneapolis: There have been hints in the press about a monumental struggle behind the scenes concerning war with Iran. One source has Admiral Fallon saying it won't happen "on his watch," but the rhetoric looks incredibly similar to summer 2002. Do you think the decision already has been made to attack, just as it had been by this time five years ago?

Dan Froomkin: I don't know. I'm curious myself and would very much like to see more reporting on this.

I don't think there is anywhere near the aura of inevitability regarding Iran that there once was regarding Iraq ... but some of the rhetoric and some of the "leaks" are starting to sound awfully familiar.

For what we know now, see my June 4 column, Cheney, By Proxy.


Long Beach, Calif.: Hi Dan. Do you think the recent non-reappointment of Gen. Pace as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was an affront to Cheney's influence? Also, I have a hard time foreseeing Cheney giving up the reins of power in January of '09. What do you see as his post-VP role?

Dan Froomkin: The Pace story is -- yet again -- another one I'd like to see more reporting on. The initial coverage had me reading between the lines and scratching my head: Okay, I guess he was fired, but why?

Pace was undeniably a Rumsfeld bootlicker -- but on the other hand Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker last year that Pace advised against an attack on Iran, citing nonmilitary concerns.

As for Cheney after 2009, I'm more interested in the lasting impact of what he did as vice president than what his role will be afterward. Although don't count out his wife Lynne or daughter Liz.


Madison, WI: Hi Dan. As a keen observer of the standard operating procedure of this administration, it seemed like last Friday (Paris Hilton returns to jail day!) would have been an ideal time to release some embarrassing information. Did they miss their opportunity, or was there a document dump that I missed?

washingtonpost.com: There was a Pace-dump that you missed: Joint Chiefs Chair Will Bow Out (Post, June 9)

Dan Froomkin: (Thanks, Chris, for that reminder!)

Your point is a good one: If the White House had been waiting to, say, dump Gonzales, that would have been ideal timing. I guess they aren't.


Australia: Hi Dan. Thanks for the column. Given the latest revelations about the payments to Bandar Bush in the BAE scandal, do you think Henry Waxman might hold hearings to see whether these payments may have influenced the foreign policy of Bush's White House?

washingtonpost.com: Saudi Reportedly Got $2 Billion for British Arms Deal (Post, June 10)

Dan Froomkin: A good question. There's been remarkably little in the coverage of this story about just how close and influential Bandar was with the Bushes for a long time.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Dan -- thanks for taking my question, I always appreciate your analysis. How are two events I'm hearing about today -- the attack on the mosque in Baghdad and reports I'm seeing about how the Iraqis have failed to accomplish anything in terms of "benchmarks" -- likely to impact upcoming debate on war policy? Is this the ammunition/cover Republicans have to finally say "enough," or could they hang with this president to the bitter end? How will the Dems use it to take some meaningful action (assuming that they can)?

washingtonpost.com: Upcoming Discussion: Significance of Golden Mosque Bombing (washingtonpost.com, 1:30 p.m. today)

Dan Froomkin: I'm not sure what the fallout of the mosque story will be. I do think the benchmarks story you mention from today's New York Times, by Damien Cave, is a watershed.

I would like to think that it will lead to a more honest debate about Iraq.


Raleigh, N.C.: So Dan, what do you make of the recent statement by Nicholas Burns that Iran is arming the Taliban in Afghanistan? I saw this reported yesterday, but the story seems to have evaporated. In the story I read, there was no indication that Burns offered any evidence to back his claim. Do you think these periodic unsubstantiated accusations against Iran by the administration are meant to reassure the Republican base that Bush may yet bomb Iran?

Dan Froomkin: Not sure. Here's an Associated Press story.
I certainly don't think reporters should be taking an accusation this seriously on face value. See, for instance, my piece for NiemanWatchdog.org in February: How the press can prevent another Iraq.


Dan Froomkin: I've gotta run. Thanks for all the great questions and comments. See you again here in two weeks, and every weekday afternoon on the home page!


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