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White House Watch

Dan Froomkin
White House Watch Columnist
Wednesday, November 28, 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 answered your questions, took your comments and links, and pointed you to coverage around the Web on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 1 p.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

Dan is also deputy editor of Niemanwatchdog.org.


Dan Froomkin: Hi everyone. My apologies, I'm running a bit late today. I'll let you know when my column is out. Let's go right to your questions.


Grand Rapids, Mich.: Was wondering if you could elaborate on Charlie Rose's interview with Karl Rove, where Rove blamed the Iraq war on Democrats and why neither the MSM, nor any candidate seems to be taking Rove to task on his statements?

Dan Froomkin: Great question! And part of why I'm running late is that I was finding links to annotate Keith Olbermann's brilliant fact-checking of Rove's preposterous assertion. Here's a sneak preview of that item from today's column:

Here's the video and transcript of Keith Olbermann's evisceration on MSNBC last night of Karl Rove's latest Iraq war revisionism.

As I noted in yesterday's column, Rove told PBS's Charlie Rose last week that it was Congress's fault that America invaded Iraq before the administration was really ready.

Said Rove: "There was an election coming up in a matter of weeks. We thought it made it too political. We wanted it outside the confines of it. It seemed to make things move too fast. There were things that needed to be done to bring along allies and potential allies abroad."
Rove called it an "untold story."

Here's Olbermann last night: "It's an untold story because it isn't true. Here is what really happened according to a Rove Web site called Whitehouse.gov, despite Rove's claim that the White House opposed voting on Iraq in the Fall of 2002, on the first full day of Fall that year the president urged Congress to pass an Iraq resolution, quote, 'Promptly.' A week later, the president and the House Republicans agreed on Iraq resolution. A week after that, President Bush was pleased with the House vote on Iraq. And a week after that, Mr. Bush signed the authorization for the use of military force in Iraq."

Olbermann also recalled a November 2005 Los Angeles Times article quoting Tom Daschle, the former Democratic senator from South Dakota. Here's an excerpt: "The time was September 2002. The place was the White House, at a meeting in which President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney pressed congressional leaders for a quick vote on a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.
"But Daschle, who as Senate majority leader controlled the chamber's schedule, recalled recently that he asked Bush to delay the vote until after the impending midterm election.

"'I asked directly if we could delay this so we could depoliticize it. I said: "Mr. President, I know this is urgent, but why the rush? Why do we have to do this now?" He looked at Cheney and he looked at me, and there was a half-smile on his face. And he said: "We just have to do this now." '"

Said Olbermann's guest, Arianna Huffington: "I think it's the work of a shameless, remorseless and, perhaps, soulless political animal who cannot help himself even when he's out of the White House trying to rewrite history in his own way."


San Francisco: While the president was in Annapolis mispronouncing the names of the primary participants for 120 minutes, the vice president "returned to work Tuesday" after his heart procedure. Has it ever been established or confirmed exactly what it is the vice president does when he is "at work"? Are his meetings ever made public? Are his schedules ever published? Is there precedent for having such a private public officer in the White House?

washingtonpost.com: Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency

Dan Froomkin: I almost laughed out loud when I heard some CNN anchor asking a correspondent if someone was going to be filling in for Cheney while he was under sedation. (The joke answer, of course, is Bush.)

To respond to your questions in a nutshell, no. It is astonishing how little we know about what exactly Cheney does, although he is by all accounts hugely influential. The link to the Post's Cheney retrospective above is the closest anyone's come, and it's old and spotty.
Journalism professor and blogger Jay Rosen once wrote that the press should have tried to cover Dick Cheney more assertively. "Instead, Cheney is by common agreement in the press the most powerful and least scrutinized Vice President in modern American history. Much of the time the press does not know where he is or who he's meeting with. His is almost a stealth office."

Rosen acknowledges that it "would have taken a monumental effort to scrutinize Cheney because he was determined to operate without scrutiny." But that's no excuse.


Madison, Wis.: Hi Dan, love your work. Have you thought at all about what you are going to do once a new administration takes over? I hope you'll keep running the column. As a "moderate liberal," I'd actually really appreciate your analysis of a Democratic presidency, if that's what comes to pass.

Dan Froomkin: Thank you. I believe all presidents, of whatever party, need to be held accountable, and that's my current plan. Few presidents in the past have avoided accountability like this one, but that doesn't mean it'll be dull with the next one.


Baltimore: From your post yesterday, I saw that the war czar Lute says they won't need congressional approval for the agreements they are working on for bases, etc., in Iraq. If that is true, and they aren't actual treaties, then they won't have the force of law and the obligations that go with that. If they are based on executive orders, they can be reversed just as easily. I don't really see this as that big a deal, taken in the context of everything else that the administration is foisting on us. Do you see some other political/legal angle that I am not seeing?

Dan Froomkin: Yes, I do -- inertia. It can be very hard for presidents to get out of agreements made by their predecessors, especially when they involve friendly governments and huge amounts of troops and money and contracts and concrete (i.e. military bases.)

That said, I believe you are correct that none of this would have the force of law. Unlike, say, the FISA changes that Bush is trying to force through.


Atlanta: Hi, Dan. What do you make of the Karl Rove interview with Charlie Rose? Do you think the media is going to let him get away with blaming Congress for the Iraq war?

Dan Froomkin: So far, other than Olbermann (see above), yes. Mind you, it's been a busy week. But that's no excuse.

I was also agog at Rove's denial that he lied to Scott McClellan. What was it, just a misdirection? We know Rove told McClellan something that led McClellan to tell the press that Rove wasn't involved in the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity. And we know that Rove was in fact one of the leakers. But Rove said: "The fact of the matter is that I told Scott something that was absolutely true." Argh!

That part, also chronicled in yesterday's column, wasn't actually aired, but Rose put it online. And there's been no reaction (except for mine) that I have seen.


San Francisco: Don't the post-Labor Day resignations of Frances Townsend and, today, Allan Hubbard, make White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten look rather weak? He supposedly made a rule that if you're at work on the day after Labor Day, you're in for the duration.

His rule's been violated twice now, and it's not even December!

Dan Froomkin: That's certainly one possibility. The other possibility is that Bolten never actually said any such thing -- but that Rove and Tony Snow just made it up (or exaggerated it) to provide some explanation of their timing.

And finally, if Bolten did say it, it was just stupid. You can't stop these sorts of departures, especially when the ship is sinking and there may be a short window during which WH aides can cash in on their experience.


Chicago: Regarding Rove's Charlie Rose interview; the thing that strikes me about Rove is that he is able to twist anything to his advantage in interviews. Someone says "you said X" and he has a convincing argument that "actually I said the exact opposite of X." And he gets away with it. My question is, why hasn't any journalist been able to pin him down? Admittedly he's a very slick weasel, but why hasn't any journalist done their homework on his technique and his very demonstrable record of lies and obfuscation? I think that until he is "busted" in public by a journalist, Rove is going to keep on causing more and more damage to our country.

Dan Froomkin: I was disappointed at Rose's enthusiastic acquiescence to Rove's outrageously revisionistic assertions.

It takes a lot of preparation and fortitude to entirely discredit someone you're interviewing in real-time -- but by golly, it sure seems to me that it would be worth it with this guy. And at least when it came to the Plame stuff, it wasn't exactly unexpected that he would try to dissemble.


Minneapolis: Nobody has asked yet, so I will: What's with the latest departure from the White House? Is the administration going to continue losing the hired hands, despite Bolten's request that people make up their minds several months ago?

Dan Froomkin: I believe that people will continue to leave, yes. And can you blame them?


London: I know that you are not a doctor, but I understand that doctors managed to restart Cheney's heart. Is 72 months some kind of record?

Dan Froomkin: Well, keep in mind that what they consider his "normal" heart rhythm is actually the Darth Vader theme. You know: Boom boom boom, boom de-boom, boom de-boom.


Madison, Wis.: Hi Dan. I remember reading stories about how White House operatives, including Karl Rove, would call reporters or editors who wrote unfavorable things about the White House to complain. Have you ever received this kind of response to a column? And if so, what form does this "push-back" take?

Dan Froomkin: Nope, not once. And I haven't heard of anyone at the paper or the Web site having dealt with complaints about me from the White House either. I've never been quite sure how to interpret that, but I think they don't take me seriously.


Chaska, Minn.: Hey Dan -- welcome back. Time to get on my soapbox and ask what the heck is going on. Last week you guys reported that a presidential advisor was involved in a case that resulted in the conviction of a Democratic Governor. The allegations of using the highest levels of the executive branch and judicial branch to target political enemies should send chills down the spine of any American, but I can't find a follow-up. Further, there are alternative source like rawstory.com doing multipart series on the whole affair, and it looks like there is a lot more to write about. Shouldn't The Post have followed up on this story by now? What gives? Seems like this story should be something The Post should be at the forefront of, given all the personal connections and contacts with the principles.

Dan Froomkin: I would like to see more MSM reporting on this, too.


Dan Froomkin: Today's column is now on the site: The White House 'After Party'.

My lead:

A day after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas nebulously agreed to begin negotiations, President Bush is hosting them at the White House -- but not, apparently, to lean on them for concessions and to start the arduous process of hashing out peace.

Rather, in the words of White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, "it's like the after party."


Portland, Maine: Yesterday's initial session at Annapolis produced the "promise to keep talking" that's been highly touted in the mainstream media. It seems that, if nothing else is accomplished at Annapolis, the administration is going to get credit for a foreign policy success. What's your reaction to the "progress" and "prospects" for something meaningful coming out of Annapolis?

washingtonpost.com: Gathering Israelis and Arabs May Have Been the Real Feat (Post, Nov. 28)

Dan Froomkin: I'm not exactly optimistic. Here are the next three paragraphs in today's column:

Most Middle East experts agree that the chance of yesterday's summit leading to anything remotely concrete will decrease from slim to none without Bush's intense personal engagement.

But other than presidential lip service to delegates at a conference at the Naval Academy yesterday -- "I give you my personal commitment to support your work with the resources and resolve of the American government," he said-- there are scant signs that he intends to follow through.

As I wrote in Monday's column, Bush's flirtation with Middle East summitry looks more like an attempt to humor his beloved secretary of state than it does a departure from his hands-off and ardently pro-Israeli posture of the past seven years.


San Carlos, Calif.: How can Karl Rove claim that the White House did not want Congress to pass the Iraq War authorization bill when the president was making public statements at the time that encouraged Congress to do so? What is the White House position on Rove's claims?

Dan Froomkin: I don't know! And to the best of my knowledge, no one's asked. And if they ask, they will probably get the brush off.


St. Paul, Minn.: Do you have any comment on the Joe Klein/Time Magazine/Glen Greenwald dustup concerning Klein's FISA column?

Dan Froomkin: I believe that journalists who make mistakes should admit them promptly and thoroughly.


Long Grove, Ill.: Hi Dan, I really enjoy your column. My question has to do with a report in the local press about the fact that the U.S. is paying and of course arming over 67,000 former Sunni militiamen in Iraq and this has more to do with the lessening of attacks than does the 'surge.' If this is true, whom do they start fighting with after we leave, if ever?

Dan Froomkin: A very important question that ought to be asked of the White House -- although, as Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post today, journalists's curiosity about Iraq seems to have waned: "Not counting the Turkish conflict with Kurdish rebels, Bush at his most recent news conference last month was not asked about the Iraq war until the 10th question. Not a single Iraq question came up at four of White House press secretary Dana Perino's seven full-fledged briefings this month."

Here's Middle East expert Wayne White raising similar questions over at NiemanWatchdog.org.


Washington: What if Rove told Scotty something that was legalistically true ("I didn't break the law," which he apparently didn't) but Scotty botched it in the delivery by saying Rove wasn't involved?

Dan Froomkin: That's certainly a possibility, especially considering Rove's insistence on careful phrasing in his public denials. But does it really make it any better? That he was so obviously trying to mislead everyone, and then didn't try to clear up the record?

As for that insistence on careful phrasing, this is from my June 13, 2006 column:

As ABC News's The Note reported on Sept. 29, 2003, ABC News producer Andrea Owen and a cameraman approached Rove that morning as he walked toward his car.

Owen: "Did you have any knowledge or did you leak the name of the CIA agent to the press?"

Rove: "No."

Then on August 31, 2004, Rove spoke to CNN's John King.

King: "Did someone in the White House leak the name of the CIA operative? What is your assessment of the status of the investigation, and can you tell us that you had nothing to do with..."

Rove: "Well, I'll repeat what I said to ABC News when this whole thing broke some number of months ago. I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name."


Boston: Speaking of follow-up, has the press asked Bush/Perino why Doan of the GSA still is employed after the inspector general's report recommended her firing? By the way, nice plant in today's Wall Street Journal about the IG himself, who also is looking into Rove.

washingtonpost.com: Head of Rove Inquiry in Hot Seat Himself (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 28)

Dan Froomkin: The Doan question is a legitimate one. But so was that WSJ story a legitimate story. In fact, a screamingly funny one. I mean, the guy hired "Geeks on Call" to wipe his federal-issue computers? You can't make this stuff up.


Atlanta: I find it quite amazing that getting the Middle East parties to agree to start negotiations is touted as success. Why can't the press do better than that?

Dan Froomkin: We love a party.


Boston: Read your column today about Bush's role in the Palestinian/Israel peace process. One question: Do we seriously want Bush to get involved in the nitty-gritty of the negotiations? Maybe he should just leave well enough alone and let Condi handle it.

Dan Froomkin: That's a very interesting point. There is a bit of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't to this.

But there is something magical about the presidency, and certainly as long as Cheney is perceived as a potent countervailing force to Rice, she simply won't be as effective as Bush could be at arm-twisting. And let's be real: arm-twisting will be necessary.


Chicago: Olbermann's fact-checking is fine and dandy, but why don't journalists do a little fact-checking beforehand and press Rove on his inconsistencies and lies when he's on camera?

Over and over again these guys get away with lying on the spot and it's only in the footnotes that they get scrutinized -- after it's too late.

Dan Froomkin: Fair point.


Dan Froomkin: Okay, Bush is talking, so I'd better go listen. Thanks very much for all your great questions and comments.


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