Ambiguously Anonymous

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Reporters and sources often tussle over identification issues. Reporters want sources to speak by name on the record. Sources frequently request some form of cover and the press tries to make it as transparent as possible.

So eyebrows were raised when New York Times reporter Judith Miller disclosed in an article Sunday that she had graciously acceded to a request by Vice President Cheney 's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., that, if writing about ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson and using him as a source, she identify Libby only as a "former Hill staffer.'' Miller said she "agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr. Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill." In this town, that's pretty close to saying your source was "some guy."

Predictably, other senior officials, citing the article, have begun demanding similar treatment from reporters. So Loop Fans should be alert if they read that a "former sports business executive" or "cheerleader" held forth about the importance of the recent Iraqi elections. It's probably President Bush .

"A former oil services executive" or "Ivy League dropout" most likely is code for Cheney. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card might be that "former fast food restaurant executive" given for his management of a McDonald's franchise when he was in college.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could speak as a "winter sports enthusiast" for her ice skating talents or, for even deeper background, just "a football fan." Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld might be that "Midwest Republican" for his time in Congress, or he too could be a "former Hill staffer," having worked as an administrative assistant to two former representatives, David S. Dennison (R-Ohio) in 1958 and Robert P. Griffin (R-Mich.) in 1959.

And then there's Karl Rove , a former public relations executive.

The Branches of Government

Will the 2005 Capitol Holiday Tree, a lovely 80-foot spruce in a New Mexico national forest, make it here in time for the scheduled Dec. 8 lighting? It may depend on what happens in a court fight involving the U.S. Forest Service and environmental groups.

Enviros won a federal district court ruling last summer to slow commercial activities, such as logging, in the national forests. But the Forest Service and the Justice Department read the ruling to require public comment periods on permits for all manner of activities on national forest lands -- including hunting, fishing and even weddings.

Outraged enviros say this is a Forest Service ploy and "scare tactic" to make them look bad and that the ruling doesn't affect such activities. They've gone back to the judge for clarifications to limit the scope of the order and, ironically, get a tree cut down.

In the meantime, though, the Forest Service has sent the tree-cutting proposal out for a 30-day public comment period. If no one objects, no problem. But the Forest Service just received an objection from the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties for Stable Economic Growth, a pro-developer group, insisting on a "full public discussion" of the issues. That "discussion" and any appeals would mean the selected tree wouldn't get here on time.

New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici (R) and Jeff Bingaman (D) have asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns to move things along, Greenwire reports. And Domenici says he's going to provide a "backup" tree if this isn't resolved.

There's Always Plan B

Fish, fowl, whatever. First came news Aug. 9 that veteran Bush media guru Mark McKinnon -- an erstwhile Democrat -- was nominated to a seat on the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- which oversees outlets such as the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Marti -- to replace Democrat Joaquin Blaya on the nine-member board.

Senate Democrats, particularly Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) objected, saying someone who pulled in millions working for Bush hardly qualified as a Democrat by their lights.

The White House, showing its "uniter, not divider" credentials, agreed. Next thing you know, the White House on Monday pulled the nomination and renominated McKinnon to replace Republican board member Fayza Veronique Boulad Rodman .

Valerie Who?

Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, a longtime close Bush pal and now public diplomacy czar, says, news reports to the contrary, the White House hasn't been distracted by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald 's investigation of the Valerie Plame affair.

"It's not something that's affecting, I don't think, the daily business of the White House," Hughes told NBC "Today" show host Katie Couric . "And it's business as usual in terms of conducting the nation's business."

Here we thought Hughes had moved over to the State Department.

Two Steps Closer to Europe

A spokesman for Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) calls to say Martinez, after chatting recently with C. Boyden Gray , Bush's nominee as ambassador to the European Union, had lifted his hold on Gray's nomination. And Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) met with Gray yesterday and agreed religious faith should not be a criterion for judicial appointments. Salazar then also lifted his hold.


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