The morning after President Bush's pair of holiday parties for journalists last week, White House press secretary Scott McClellan was asked at a briefing to react to Weekly Standard editor William Kristol telling "everyone within earshot" that the White House had encouraged him to write an opinion article in The Washington Post that began a wave of conservative criticism of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"I was within earshot -- I didn't hear him say that," McClellan replied coyly.
The attacks on Rumsfeld have been a surprising wrinkle in Bush's roll-out of his second-term Cabinet, and it would be explosive if they had been condoned.
Not so, said an amused Kristol, who said someone must have overheard him joking about what he would say when he had his photo taken with the president and first lady Laura Bush later in the party. Kristol said it is not true that there has been "any kind of White House encouragement or back-channel contact."
"I maybe said that if he pats me on the back and says, 'Good op-ed, Bill,' that would indicate something," Kristol said. The editor said he used his few seconds with Bush to thank him for awards he had given his parents, neoconservative writer Irving Kristol and historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. The Rumsfeld article did not come up.
White House Turnovers
Andrea Ball, one of the original members of Bush's senior staff, is leaving her job as chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush at the end of January to return to Austin to rejoin her husband, Lonnie. She was also Laura Bush's chief of staff when she was Texas first lady. Her successor as head of a staff of about 20 is Anita McBride, who is a senior adviser in the State Department's Bureau of International Organizations. McBride was director of White House personnel from 1987 to 1992, under President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush. Her husband, DaimlerChrysler lobbyist Timothy McBride, was just named chief lobbyist for Freddie Mac.
Also, the White House social secretary, Cathy Fenton, is returning to her New Jersey home in mid-January and will be succeeded by Lea Berman, who worked as a troubleshooter in the coalitions and finance divisions of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. Before that, Berman was social secretary and later chief of staff to Lynne Cheney in the vice president's office. Berman has owned an event-planning business and was senior fellow in Latin American studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In another White House turnover, deputy communications director Suzy DeFrancis is departing at year's end and plans to rejoin the private sector. DeFrancis, who has specialized in economic and other domestic issues for the president, was a speechwriter in the Nixon administration, a deputy communications director at the Republican National Committee, and then worked for the Porter Novelli public relations firm.
Crawford on a Roll
President Bush's home town of Crawford, Tex., is celebrating its first high school football championship in a decade. The Crawford High School Pirates wrapped up a perfect 16-0 season with a 28-14 win over Troup on Saturday.
It was a gem of a game. Crawford got out to an early lead. Troup came back to tie the game on a two-point conversion in the third quarter. Then Crawford quarterback Lee Murphy lofted a pass to the end zone that appeared to be intercepted.
But Jad Tawater, one of the heroes of the semifinal game, somehow pried the ball from the hands of Troup defender Jarriel Norman. When Tawater rose from a tangle of players, holding the ball in triumph, Crawford fans went wild.
"How in the world did he catch that ball?" Coach Robert Murphy mused to the Waco Tribune-Herald.
Staff writer David Von Drehle contributed to this report.