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Diplomats Received Political Briefings

The political briefings with diplomats were conducted mostly by deputies to Karl Rove, President Bush's top adviser. At least half a dozen have been held.
The political briefings with diplomats were conducted mostly by deputies to Karl Rove, President Bush's top adviser. At least half a dozen have been held. (By Gerald Herbert -- Associated Press)

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By Paul Kane
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 24, 2007

White House aides have conducted at least half a dozen political briefings for the Bush administration's top diplomats, including a PowerPoint presentation for ambassadors with senior adviser Karl Rove that named Democratic incumbents targeted for defeat in 2008 and a "general political briefing" at the Peace Corps headquarters after the 2002 midterm elections.

The briefings, mostly run by Rove's deputies at the White House political affairs office, began in early 2001 and included detailed analyses for senior officials of the political landscape surrounding critical congressional and gubernatorial races, according to documents obtained by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The documents show for the first time how the White House sought to ensure that even its appointees involved in foreign policy were kept attuned to the administration's election goals. Such briefings occurred semi-regularly over the past six years for staffers dealing with domestic policy, White House officials have previously acknowledged.

In one instance, State Department aides attended a White House meeting at which political officials examined the 55 most critical House races for 2002 and the media markets most critical to battleground states for President Bush's reelection fight in 2004, according to documents the department provided to the Senate committee.

On Jan. 4, just after the 2006 elections tossed the Republicans out of congressional power, Rove met at the White House with six U.S. ambassadors to key European missions and the consul general to Bermuda while the diplomats were in Washington for a State Department conference.

According to a department letter to the Senate panel, Rove explained the White House views on the electoral disaster while Sara M. Taylor, then the director of White House political affairs, showed a PowerPoint presentation that pinned most of the electoral blame on "corrupt" GOP lawmakers and "complacent incumbents." One chart in Taylor's presentation highlighted the GOP's top 36 targets among House Democrats for the 2008 election.

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, asked whether the briefings inappropriately politicized the diplomatic agencies or violated prohibitions against political work by most federal employees.

"I do not understand why ambassadors, in Washington on official duty, would be briefed by White House officials on which Democratic House members are considered top targets by the Republican party for defeat in 2008. Nor do I understand why department employees would need to be briefed on 'key media markets' in states that are 'competitive' for the president," Biden wrote.

His aides said Biden plans to raise the matter at a confirmation hearing today for Henrietta Holsman Fore to be administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose political appointees received at least two White House briefings in the past 10 months, as well as at an oversight hearing tomorrow on the Peace Corps.

Several months ago, White House aides said that about 20 private briefings were held in 15 agencies before the 2006 midterms and that other briefings were held irregularly throughout Bush's first term.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel found, in a May report, that General Services Administration chief Lurita Alexis Doan violated the Hatch Act when she allegedly asked GSA political appointees how they could "help our candidates" win the next election at a January briefing by White House officials. The Hatch Act insulates virtually all federal workers from partisan politics and bars the use of federal resources -- including office buildings, phones and computers -- for partisan purposes.

Doan has denied any wrongdoing.


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