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Reliable Source - Richard Leiby

Bremer, a Little Ahead of Himself

By Richard Leiby
The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 2, 2004; Page C03

War and mis-remembrance? After the Iraqi interim government blamed a "lack of security" for the disappearance of nearly 380 tons of explosives in post-invasion Iraq, the former U.S. viceroy there, L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer, did a masterful spin job for President Bush. Grilled by NBC "Today" show host Matt Lauer on Friday morning, Bremer insisted that "facts" were the most important part of the controversy. But Bremer got slippery with one "fact." Let's go to the transcript.

Lauer cited a videotape that seemed to place the explosives at Al Qaqaa on April 18, 2003: "Does it prove, in your opinion, that these munitions disappeared after U.S. forces should have been guarding them?"


L. Paul Bremer, not on the ground immediately following the fall of Baghdad on April 9. He arrived May 12, 2003. (Al Goldis - AP)


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"No," said Bremer. "I think the most important thing to keep in mind here is we just don't know what the facts are."

Lauer: "What facts are we not understanding there?"

Bremer: "Well, let's start with the facts on the ground. Unlike most of the people talking about this story, I actually was in Iraq at the time. And I can tell you that there was basically no traffic moving on any of the streets except American military traffic. Moving 380 tons of explosives would have taken dozens, maybe scores of trucks. That kind of activity we would have noticed and we would have seen. And apparently there are no reports of having seen that kind of activity."

Except: Bremer didn't arrive in Iraq until May 12, 2003. In the immediate weeks after Baghdad's fall on April 9, all sorts of civilian vehicles were on the road. Looters ran wild, filling trucks with whatever they could grab. But Bremer stressed twice to Lauer that any removal of munitions could not have been done by "random looting."

We tried to reach the former occupation chief yesterday to ask him to clarify how he could be an expert about circumstances on April 18 without being on the ground "at the time." He wouldn't talk but Dan Senor, his trusted spinner, told us: "Ambassador Bremer was referring to the immediate couple months following the war."

For the Press Corps, A GOP Cover Charge

• The Bush administration continues its tradition of gracious hospitality to the press corps up until the very last minute. Reporters wishing to cover the president's election night party will have to pay $300 for the privilege of a 3-by-2-foot work space and a padded seat in a tent nearby to watch the proceedings on television. Wanna eat? That's $200 extra. Want a phone line or Internet hookup? Fork over separately to Verizon.

But it's not just the exceptional expense that has journalists grumbling. It's what the money buys: Small groups of media will be escorted into the atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building to look around -- but they won't be allowed to talk to participants. "There's really no mingling with the guests," said Megan Rose, of the public relations group handling arrangements. The restrictions are unusual, but the GOP message isn't: Reporters are not our kind.

A Committed Uncommitted

Ted Prus doesn't vote. Why? Because the Muskegon, Mich., concrete mason -- subject of a lengthy cover profile in Sunday's Post Magazine -- considers all politicians to be lying opportunists. But, he happened to say, if someone put a gun to his head and marched him into a voting booth, he'd probably vote for John Kerry.

As soon as the mag hit the streets, opportunism knocked in the form of Democratic loyalist Bo Billups. The Washington mortgage broker immediately called Prus and tried to persuade him to: 1) vote for Kerry, and, 2) join the campaign in its final days, flying around to battleground states.

But Prus couldn't be sweet-talked into abandoning a lifetime of apathy. He declined the invitation and reassured us yesterday that he's still not voting.

SQUIBS

• He may have won a million bucks as the champion on "Survivor: Africa," but that hunky Ethan Zohn seems penny-wise. In town to pick up an award for promoting HIV awareness, Zohn was spotted yesterday riding on the Orange Line, not splashing out on a limo.

• Here we thought McLean was just a suburb where the rich and powerful reside, but it turns out that it's a protest song, too. Singer-songwriter Doug Levitt, 32, who grew up watching his mother, D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, enmeshed in politics, traveled cross-country by Greyhound bus for six weeks, singing his ditty "McLean" to anyone who would listen. "If there are two Americas, McLean is one of them," Levitt, now back home in Los Angeles, told us yesterday. His favorite lyric? "Grand theft auto is our biggest export and people in the White House think Macedonia is a kind of nut you eat at fundraisers in McLean." Before you ask, the answer's no: Levitt doesn't have any friends who live there.

The Annals of Puffery

An occasional verbatim press release

• "If presidential candidate John Kerry were a car, he would be a BMW. If President George W. Bush were a car, he would be a Ford.

"A U.S. survey conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates asked 1,200 consumers to associate the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates with popular brands and provide descriptions of these selected products. The survey findings revealed that likely voters associate President Bush with so-called mainstay brands, such as Folgers coffee, which has been around for many years. Respondents connected Senator Kerry to Starbucks and categorized the brand as new and upscale. Survey findings revealed the brand consumers feel most comfortable with, and like, often correlates to a feeling of certainty and reliability, and in some instances boredom."

With Anne Schroeder


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