Hughes Stands by State's Man in the Mideast

By Al Kamen
Friday, November 3, 2006

If you make a serious blunder, seems it's much better to be a Republican than a Democrat.

Take, for example, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the former -- and surely never again -- Democratic nominee for president. He botched a joke or insulted the troops, or both, and the Democrats cut and ran faster than an Olympic sprinter.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) promptly condemned the remarks as "inappropriate." Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr . (Tenn.) defected to the Republicans, saying Kerry "needs to apologize to our troops."

Compare that with the State Department's treatment of Alberto Fernandez , head of public diplomacy for the Mideast. Fernandez said the administration had been arrogant and stupid in its Iraq foray. He said this, in Arabic, in an Oct. 21 interview with al-Jazeera television. Then he apologized, saying he somehow misspoke.

So was he fired? Transferred? Hardly. His boss, Undersecretary Karen Hughes is backing him all the way, according to an e-mail circulated by Hughes's assistant, Adele E. Ruppe .

"We've received a number of calls and e-mails from people" asking about what's going to happen to Fernandez, Ruppe wrote. "I want to assure everyone" Hughes supports Fernandez, she added.

Hughes "called a public diplomacy staff meeting first thing Monday morning" two days after the al-Jazeera interview, "to express her strong support," said Ruppe's e-mail. "We have to back our people," Hughes said, according to the e-mail, "even if they occasionally make a mistake in their choice of words." Hughes "noted that Alberto is out there . . . every day, doing television, on some of the toughest media shows -- frequently in Arabic. . . . No one is perfect and all of us will occasionally make mistakes."

Hughes, according to Ruppe's meeting notes, said that "using the words 'arrogant' and 'stupid' was a mistake for which Alberto has apologized and it's important to remember those two words were in the midst of a lengthy television interview in Arabic."

So Hughes is staying the course with Fernandez. Probably helps that he's one of the few Arabic speakers she's got.

Chertoff Honored and Dishonored

And now, a new feature, Loop Fan Forum.

This e-mail arrived Wednesday from Miles Swanson regarding an item about Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff 's selection as recipient of the Henry E. Petersen Award, usually given to a career member of the Justice Department's criminal division for his longtime achievements and contributions.

"My grandfather was Henry Petersen," Swanson writes. "I was horrified when I spoke to my mother this morning" and learned that Chertoff will be getting the award.

"I am an attorney working in the disaster area that is post-Katrina New Orleans," Swanson wrote. "I staff a free legal clinic in the 9th Ward. . . . As you can imagine, I am at a loss for words because every day I have to deal with the effects of his 'leadership.' Thank you."

Swanson sent us a forceful letter he'd written to Chertoff, whose agency oversees FEMA. It was "sad for the people of New Orleans and of all the Gulf Coast" that Chertoff is getting the award. "In closing," he said, "I want you to remember every single time your eyes peer at the Henry Petersen Award in whatever job you happen to be mucking up, that you do not deserve it."

A Block of Endangered Incumbents

Sign of the times? A "For Sale" sign went up yesterday on D Street SE at a house that belonged to a former Florida GOP representative, and more recently to former CIA director Porter Goss . There's been some renovating -- perhaps folks removing the spook gear -- and an open house is set for Sunday.

But you might want to wait to buy until after the election, when the selling could be more competitive. Loop Fans will recall that this Capitol Hill block is an enclave of several endangered Republicans. Also along the street we find Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (Conn.). Next door is the house of Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr . (Fla.), and two doors down from there the townhouse of Rep. Chris Chocola (Ind.). He lives next door to former representative Mark Foley (Fla.), and across the street there's Rep. Jim Ryun (Kan.) .

The Price of Silencing a Mistress? $500,000

An update on another beleaguered Republican: Rep. Don Sherwood (Pa.) agreed last year to pay his former mistress about $500,000 to settle her $5.5 million lawsuit alleging he had abused her, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

The AP, citing a "person familiar with the terms of the deal," reported that the settlement called for her to be paid in installments. She's gotten less than half the money and will not get the rest until after the election. Sherwood has acknowledged that the woman was his mistress but denied abusing her. A clause in the settlement requires her to forfeit some of the money if she talks publicly about the case.

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