White House Aides Take to Talk Shows to Dispute Book

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 2, 2006

The White House intensified efforts yesterday to limit the political damage caused by a new book portraying the Bush administration as divided to the point of dysfunction over the war in Iraq, as top officials took to network talk shows to rebut the book's suggestion that President Bush has misled the nation about how dire the situation is there.

Counselor Dan Bartlett, a top aide to Bush, said that despite assertions in "State of Denial," by Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, the president has been forthright with the public about the challenges in Iraq.

"What's interesting about this book is that he doesn't connect his own dots," Bartlett said of Woodward on ABC's "This Week." In fact, "he references throughout the book time after time after time where the president was being presented with the bad information, was pushing the internal process to make sure we were adapting to the enemy, and he was sharing this news with the American people."

Bartlett appeared on three network news shows as part of a larger administration effort to push back against criticism being generated by the book. It draws a portrait of Bush growing increasingly isolated in his determination to stay the course in Iraq while his inner circle rejects recommendations to change direction.

Five weeks before the Nov. 7 midterm elections, and days after the disclosure of a National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that the Iraq war has increased the global terrorism movement, Democrats have seized on the book's disclosures to underscore their position that the administration has clung to its strategy regardless of the facts it faces.

"I think there's an evidence-free zone in the White House and the top levels of the Pentagon," Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said on "Fox News Sunday."

The White House has issued long news releases disputing assertions made in the book, and current and former White House aides have taken to the airwaves to dispute or play down the significance of incidents reported in the book.

Bartlett took issue with the book's assertion that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, failed to take action after then-CIA Director George J. Tenet warned her, during a meeting on July 10, 2001, of intelligence pointing toward an impending al-Qaeda attack. The book reports that Tenet and his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, left the meeting feeling brushed off.

The previously undisclosed meeting was not mentioned to members of the Sept. 11 commission, who did an exhaustive investigation of the events leading up to the deadliest terrorist attack in the nation's history. The White House acknowledges that the meeting occurred but disputes the book's depiction of it.

"I spoke to [Secretary Rice] this morning," Bartlett said. "She believes that this is a very grossly misaccurate characterization of the meeting they had."

Speaking on Fox News, former chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr., who is reported in the book to have suggested twice that Bush fire Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, acknowledged that he sat for long interviews with Woodward "more than a handful of times." He did not dispute that he recommended Rumsfeld's removal, although he added, "I did not start a campaign."

Card added that it is an "overstatement" to say that first lady Laura Bush joined any effort to oust Rumsfeld. The first lady's office has disputed the assertion.

Bartlett added that Rice proposed a turnover of Bush's national security team before his second term began, but that the president decided against making wholesale changes.

The book depicts Rumsfeld as a difficult and alienating figure. At one point, he would not return Rice's phone calls, Woodward reports. White House spokesman Tony Snow said Rice dismissed that assertion as "ridiculous."

Asked whether things were truly that bad, Card said on Fox: "Well, I would not describe that as bad. We are all human beings. There are Type A personalities running around in this government, and that's good. And sometimes a chief of staff or somebody else has to help bring people together to provide counsel to the president."

Despite the controversy that follows him, Rumsfeld continues to have the backing of Bush. "The president has full confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld," Bartlett said. He "is doing an enormously difficult job fighting a war. . . . We recognize he has his critics."

Traveling in Nicaragua yesterday, Rumsfeld said that he is not considering resigning and that the president had called him personally in recent days to express his continued support, the Associated Press reported.

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