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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

Goss Move Outflanks Democrats

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, August 11, 2004; 12:06 PM

The nomination of a partisan to run the CIA, in some other time in our history, might have been doomed.

But President Bush's selection of Rep. Porter J. Goss of Florida yesterday is being widely seen as a masterful example of Washington gamesmanship.

It put Democrats in a bind. The consensus of today's press coverage is that they will cave on the Goss nomination rather than risk being blamed -- just before the November elections -- for undermining the CIA while the nation is under threat of terrorist attacks.

Stymied when it comes to Goss himself, however, the Democrats are looking at the confirmation hearings as a bully pulpit from which to attack the man who bested them.

So the Senate hearings on Goss appear likely to become a pointed seminar on Bush's intelligence reform plans, with the Democrats trying to call attention to the ways in which he is resisting key elements of the very popular 9/11 commission's recommendations.

A Calculated Decision

Mike Allen and Walter Pincus write in a Washington Post news analysis: "By picking a loyal GOP lawmaker to head the CIA, President Bush tried to reassert himself on an issue where he has been losing ground -- but did so at the cost of inviting Democratic accusations he is politicizing intelligence. . . .

"Administration officials said the White House calculated that the president could not lose: Democrats would either cave when faced with a fight, or Bush could accuse them of obstructing CIA stability at a time when the nation is under threat of a terrorist attack. . . .

"A Republican political operative, who requested anonymity because of participation in the party's regular conference calls, said the president turned back to Goss because 'poll data showed Kerry had closed the gap with Bush on handling of terrorism and was slightly ahead as fit to be commander in chief.' . . . Goss had to be named 'to show Bush was moving ahead.' "

Bill Plante of CBS News concludes this morning that "by making this nomination now before the election, the president is throwing down a challenge to the Democrats . . . : 'You oppose this nomination at your political peril.' "

Litmus Test for Reform

Knut Royce writes in Newsday: "The announcement, less than three months before the November election, prompted leading Democrats to quickly declare that his confirmation will be a litmus test of whether the administration supports major reforms of the intelligence community urged by the Sept. 11 commission.

"Both Bush and Goss have been reluctant to embrace some of the commission's most significant recommendations, such as the naming of a cabinet-level intelligence czar who would have control over the intelligence community's purse."

Joel Brinkley and James Risen write in the New York Times: "The Republican congressman chosen by President Bush to head the Central Intelligence Agency initially resisted efforts in Congress two years ago to create an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks, Democratic Congressional officials who were involved in the legislative battle say. . . .

"Democratic Congressional officials who have been involved in intelligence say they believe that Mr. Goss is now close to Vice President Dick Cheney, and they say there have been times when their impression was that Mr. Goss was unwilling to pursue matters that could cause him problems with the vice president's office."

David S. Cloud writes in the Wall Street Journal: "By picking the 65-year-old Mr. Goss, who has questioned the need for the national intelligence director, Mr. Bush increased doubts that he backs the 9/11 commission's idea. . . .

"If Mr. Goss is confirmed, Mr. Bush can claim that as another step forward, while getting an ally who shares his cautious approach to intelligence reform."

Dana Priest and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "The nomination appeared, at least in part, to be an attempt by Bush to demonstrate leadership on intelligence as it becomes a defining factor of the campaign."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in a New York Times news analysis: "President Bush is hoping to open a new chapter at the C.I.A. after a run of epic intelligence failures, but he may be buying himself as much trouble as he is trying to overcome."

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Rep. Porter J. Goss almost certainly will win approval by the Senate as CIA director, but reaction to his nomination on Capitol Hill suggested Tuesday that the confirmation process could be like a visit to the dentist -- quick but painful."

Here is the text of Bush and Goss's remarks in the Rose Garden yesterday morning.

Airbrushing the Web

The Washington Post notes this mini-drama on the Internet: "The Bush-Cheney campaign briefly stripped from its Web site yesterday an attack on Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) by Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), several hours after President Bush nominated Goss as the director of central intelligence.

"The campaign later restored the statement and said removing it was a mistake."

Here it is as the new URL. Here's what you get when you go to the old URL. (And here's a Google-cached version of the old one.)

Were the Tax Cuts Effective?

Mike Allen and Jonathan Weisman write in a news analysis for The Washington Post: "For President Bush, tax cuts have been an all-purpose elixir, a cure for budget surpluses and a bursting stock bubble, for terrorist attacks and boardroom scandals, for the march to war and a jobless recovery in peacetime.

"Now, after three successive tax cuts, and after a record budget surplus has turned to a record deficit, the president faces an unenviable choice. He can either concede that his $1.7 trillion tonic has not worked as advertised, or he can insist that the economy is strong despite the slowdown in growth and job creation.

"Last week's news of stagnant job creation has revived the debate over the effectiveness of the tax cuts, the centerpiece of Bush's domestic program. Economists of all political stripes say the tax cuts did jump-start the economy, which was in recession from March to November 2001. But to many, that kick is starting to look more like a sugar high than a cure for the economy's underlying weaknesses."

Bloomberg, meanwhile, reports that Bush yesterday once again insisted that "his $1.7 trillion in 'well-timed tax cuts' helped revive the U.S. economy."

The Al Qaeda Leak

I'm still not clear about how or why administration officials leaked the name of an al Qaeda computer expert who was cooperating with investigators.

The name first appeared in an August 2 article by Douglas Jehl and David Rohde in the New York Times. They wrote: "The unannounced capture of a figure from Al Qaeda in Pakistan several weeks ago led the Central Intelligence Agency to the rich lode of information that prompted the terror alert on Sunday, according to senior American officials.

"The figure, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, was described by a Pakistani intelligence official as a 25-year-old computer engineer, arrested July 13, who had used and helped to operate a secret Qaeda communications system where information was transferred via coded messages."

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice left the issue a bit of a muddle with Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Sunday:

"BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the people who have been picked up, mostly in Pakistan, over the last few weeks. In mid-July, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. There is some suggestion that by releasing his identity here in the United States, you compromised a Pakistani intelligence sting operation, because he was effectively being used by the Pakistanis to try to find other al Qaeda operatives. Is that true?

"RICE: Well, I don't know what might have been going on in Pakistan. I will say this, that we did not, of course, publicly disclose his name. One of them . . .

"BLITZER: He was disclosed in Washington on background.

"RICE: On background. And the problem is that when you're trying to strike a balance between giving enough information to the public so that they know that you're dealing with a specific, credible, different kind of threat than you've dealt with in the past, you're always weighing that against kind of operational considerations. We've tried to strike a balance. We think for the most part, we've struck a balance, but it's indeed a very difficult balance to strike."

But an "on background" disclosure is still a disclosure -- that only means reporters can't fully identify the source.

Now Matthew Pennington reports from Pakistan for the Associated Press that "senior officials said Tuesday that some al-Qaida fugitives escaped after news reports revealed the arrest of a computer expert for Osama bin Laden's network who was cooperating with investigators.

" 'Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaida suspects ran away,' one of the Pakistani officials said on condition of anonymity."

Tom Ridge met with USA Today's editorial board yesterday, and was asked about the Khan leak. "I don't know how it was leaked or where it was leaked. There's a suggestion it was leaked in this country," he said. "I do know that leaks like that are not healthy. Who's responsible, I can't tell you."

Jeffrey Fleishman writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Heightened terror alerts and high-profile arrests of suspected Islamic extremists have international security experts and officials concerned that the Bush administration's actions could jeopardize investigations into the Al Qaeda network.

"European terrorism analysts acknowledge that the U.S. and its allies are under threat by Al Qaeda, but some suggest that the White House is unnecessarily adding to public anxiety with vague and dated intelligence about possible attacks. Some in Western Europe suspect the administration is using fear to improve its chances in the November election."

Live Online Today

I'm Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET. Send me your questions and comments.

Mocking Kerry

Dan Balz writes for The Washington Post from Florida: "President Bush taunted rival John F. Kerry here Tuesday over what he called another Kerry reversal on Iraq, seeking to put his challenger on the defensive over the central foreign policy issue of the election as he campaigned through heavily Republican territory in this battleground state."

Maura Reynolds writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Having called on Sen. John F. Kerry to explain his position on the Iraq war, President Bush on Tuesday derided Kerry's answer as disingenuous, accusing him of finding 'a new nuance.' . . .

"Kerry advisors said Bush was twisting the senator's words to avoid Kerry's own questions about the president's handling of the war."

Here's what Bush said, from the text of his speech in Pensacola:

"And now -- and now, almost two years after he voted for the war in Iraq, and almost 220 days after switching positions to declare himself the anti-war candidate, my opponent has found a new nuance. He now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq. After months of questioning my motives and even my credibility, Senator Kerry now agrees with me that even though we have not found the stockpile of weapons we all believe were there, knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. I want to thank Senator Kerry for clearing that up."

By the time he got to Panama City (here's the text of that speech) he had added a line at the end: "But be careful, there's still 84 days left in this campaign for him to change his mind."

The McCain Factor

Jeff Zeleny writes in the Chicago Tribune from Niceville, Fla.: "The relationship between President Bush and Sen. John McCain has not always lived up to the cordial name of this Florida Panhandle town.

"But when the one-time Republican rivals arrived here Tuesday aboard the president's red-and-blue campaign bus, their behavior closely matched the city's slogan: 'Niceville--A nice place to be!' They exchanged compliments, whispered to each other as they hugged on stage and delivered testimonials, never explaining how a tepid rapport had grown into a warm bond."

This New York Times picture tells that story better than words.

But G. Robert Hillman takes a slightly dissenting view in the Dallas Morning News.

"Despite their big bear hug at the start of the day and the president's invitation for the Arizona senator to spend the night at his Texas ranch, their sometimes-frosty relations have not entirely thawed. And the Bush campaign high command was taking no chances," Hillman writes.

"Usually on these campaign bus trips, Mr. Bush has local reporters aboard for a chat. . . .

"There were second thoughts, though, what with Mr. McCain incensed at a new television ad by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that accused Mr. Bush's Democratic rival, John Kerry, of lying about his record in Vietnam. Mr. McCain has called on the president to denounce the ad, but Mr. Bush has declined."

More From Niceville

Carl Hulse writes for the New York Times: "In Niceville, Mr. Bush's appearance took on the air of a revival meeting as the audience chanted affirmation to his description of the rationale for his antiterror efforts and roared at any religious reference. Gary Walby, a resident of nearby Destin, told the president during a question-and-answer session that though he always voted Republican, 'this is the very first time I felt God was in the White House.'"

There were a few other odd moments, as well. Here's the text of his remarks.

Reuters reports: "President George W. Bush has said that abolishing the U.S. income tax system and replacing it with a national sales tax is an idea worth considering."

That's based on this response to a question.

"He's talking about getting rid of the current tax system and replacing it with a national sales tax. It's an interesting idea. You know, I'm not exactly sure how big the national sales tax is going to have to be, but it's the kind of interesting idea that we ought to explore seriously. You know, we're working to try to simplify the code. It is, no question, complex. The more simple it is the better it is for the American people. That's certainly one idea. That's an interesting idea that we ought to explore.

"And the Senator and I -- we'll grill old Miller here on the bus to see if he can explain it all to us." That was a reference to Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, who was there for the event.

Bush was also asked about the International Criminal Court and said: "I'm against the International Court," he said.

And when one questioner asserted that the Democratic leadership in Congress wants to reinstate the draft, including women, Bush responded: "I haven't heard that, to be fair to the Democrat leadership. Maybe they have. I don't think I've heard it."

They haven't.

Meanwhile, in Not-Niceville

Maureen Dowd was on CBS's Early Show this morning, hawking her new book, Bushworld.

Here's an excerpt from the book.

Travels With Laura

Mark Leibovich of The Washington Post traveled with first lady Laura Bush on "her two-day tour of scripted sweetness and devotion to George W. Bush -- in other words, her 'I'm Not Teresa Tour.' . . .

"To many admirers of Laura Bush, Heinz Kerry is viewed as being outsize to the point of distraction. The Bush-Cheney campaign seems acutely aware of this sentiment. Mrs. Bush visited six midwestern battleground states over a 36-hour period on Monday and Tuesday, speaking in cookie-cutter hotel ballrooms, in cookie-cutter phrases, in cookie-cutter suburbs and exurbs of Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Detroit, among other stops."

Bill Salisbury of the St. Paul Pioneer Press concludes from his interview with the first lady: "Laura Bush would like to chat with Teresa Heinz Kerry."

Free Matt Cooper!

Anne Schroeder reports in The Washington Post's Names & Faces column that you can already buy a "Free Matt Cooper" T-shirt on the Internet here.

Otherwise, I couldn't find anything new out there about the investigation into who leaked Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative. (See yesterday's column.)

Medicare Bites Back

Ceci Connolly writes in The Washington Post: "The Medicare prescription drug benefit President Bush signed into law in December has not provided the political boost among seniors that the White House and independent analysts expected, according to a comprehensive survey released yesterday."

Pollsters for the Harvard School of Public Health and the Kaiser Family Foundation actually found that respondents trust Kerry more than Bush on the issue of Medicare drug benefits.

Bush "led an initiative that looks to be helping his challenger," marveled Harvard Professor Robert Blendon.

Here's more information from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Today's Calendar

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: "Accompanied by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Bush was campaigning Wednesday in the Southwest, with visits to Albuquerque, N.M., and Phoenix just days after Kerry went through the region."

Something's Fishy

Marc Sandalow notes a pattern in Bush and Kerry's movement.

"Kerry, over a six-day period that began Sunday, is campaigning in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and California. Bush, over three days beginning today, is campaigning in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and California. In each instance, Bush is scheduled to follow Kerry by less than 72 hours. Both candidates will be in Los Angeles on Thursday, and both are scheduled to be in Portland on Friday."

Who's stalking who? "Neither side will fess up to adjusting their schedules to clash with the other," Sandalow writes.

How to Guarantee a Loyal Audience

"Want a ticket to see President Bush campaign in Oregon on Friday?" asks Helen Kennedy in the New York Daily News.

"You'll have to put in a few hours working on the campaign phone bank first.

"Callers to the Republican Party in Portland were told yesterday that the only way to get tickets was to volunteer to come in and make calls touting Bush to swing voters.

"Bush campaign spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt later said 'someone misspoke' and that was not the campaign's policy."

The Arnold Factor

Judy Keen writes in USA Today that the California governor has the clout to help Bush win votes, but only if only the two can set aside their differences.

A Sovereign for Your Thoughts

Carl Hulse writes for nytimes.com that "Democrats were still chortling Monday over Mr. Bush's tortured response" on Friday at a convention of minority journalists to a question about the sovereignty of Native American tribes.

Hulse notes that "an audio version of it was getting some distribution via the Internet." He links to it here.

"Here is the beginning of the response: 'Tribal sovereignty means that -- it's sovereign. I mean, you're a -- you're a -- you've been given sovereignty and you're viewed as a sovereign entity. And therefore the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities.' "

White House Briefing Drinking Game

The Legal Fiction blog proposes a new drinking game: Throw one back every time White House press secretary Scott McClellan uses the phrase "moving forward."

On Monday you would have been blotto.

Yesterday, only tipsy.


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