A Battle Over Freedom

By Peter Baker
Monday, October 22, 2007

Halloween could turn out to be scarier than usual for some in Bushworld. Larry Klayman, the government watchdog who haunted the Clinton administration, has a little trick-or-treat planned for this one, too.

Klayman has sued supporters of President Bush for using Freedom's Watch as the name of a new advocacy group running commercials on behalf of the Iraq war. Klayman registered the name Freedom Watch with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2004, and he claims the Bush backers ripped him off.

A federal judge in Miami has granted Klayman a trial date and authorized discovery. Klayman plans to begin Oct. 31 with a deposition of Mel Sembler, the big-time Bush family fundraiser and co-founder of Freedom's Watch. Klayman plans to follow that with depositions of four other founders: former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer on Nov. 1, former White House aide Brad Blakeman on Nov. 2 and Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matthew Brooks and casino executive William Weidner on Nov. 5. If the other side does not agree to the schedule, a judge may have to set one.

Klayman proved during the 1990s what he could do with a little subpoena power, as he got many of the figures closest to the Clintons under oath. His open-ended interrogations unearthed all sorts of interesting revelations along the way. This time, Klayman wants to explore the origin of Freedom's Watch, saying that its ties to the White House make it "likely it was concocted by them as a scheme to circumvent the ban on soft money political advertising."

The men behind Freedom's Watch founded it in August to launch a $15 million advertising campaign supporting the president's strategy in Iraq. Klayman, who supported the invasion in 2003 but now opposes the war, complained that they took a name he uses for nonprofit activities. The status of Klayman's registration of Freedom Watch was listed as abandoned last year, but he said he has used the name continuously since 2004 and refiled for registration the day after the pro-Bush group used the similar name.

Freedom's Watch spokesman Matt David said the group's founders are "vigorously defending this case and firmly believe it has no merit." But U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck in Miami, where the suit was filed, agreed to give Klayman a Feb. 19 trial date and two months of discovery.

A Rare Guest for Cheney

Evidently our colleague Al Kamen is not the only one worrying that he hasn't seen much of Vice President Cheney lately. President Bush also must have been wondering what the veep has been up to because Saturday he traveled all the way out to St. Michaels to find his second-in-command at the Cheney weekend house.

The two, along with their wives, had a lunch of crab cakes. The Bushes had never visited the Cheneys at their Eastern Shore retreat before, but aides insisted there was nothing special about the president's decision to go. "It's a social lunch," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

Kamen's still waiting for the prez to file his report to whereistheveep@washpost.com.

Presidents' Tour

Just as Cheney is selective about whom he has out to the house, Bush uses rare invitations to his getaways to establish a certain pecking order among foreign leaders. A bunch of favorites have been treated to Camp David. Angela Merkel will become the first German chancellor invited to the ranch in Crawford, Tex., next month. Russian President Vladimir Putin is the only one who got to go with the president to his parents' place in Kennebunkport, Maine.

And then there are the tourist outings. The most memorable was when Bush took then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a noted Elvis Presley fan, to the King's home at Graceland. Now Bush plans to take his newest buddy on the international scene, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to Mount Vernon on Nov. 7 to show him George Washington's spread. Can anyone imagine Bush showing Jacques Chirac anything but the door?

Still, if he were really a friend, Bush would find the newly divorced Sarkozy a date for the White House dinner scheduled for the night before Mount Vernon.

Good Timing for First Lady's Trip

After lunch with the Cheneys, first lady Laura Bush took off for a week-long visit to the Middle East, her 14th solo international trip since arriving at the White House. She landed yesterday in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, and will spent the rest of this week shuttling to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan to promote the U.S.-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research.

The first lady will meet with the two King Abdullahs (of Saudi Arabia and Jordan) as well as other senior leaders, but aides said the trip is not political and was not aimed at helping to bring together Arab countries behind her husband's planned Middle East peace conference scheduled for November. Still, said Anita McBride, the first lady's chief of staff, "although they are not linked, certainly the timing is probably very good."

A Grizzled Veteran Departs

When Josh Deckard turns in his White House badge today, it will be the end of an era. Deckard is one of the last of the originals, joining the Bush team at age 19 to drive motorcade cars and haul bags during the 2000 campaign. He then got himself a job as an aide in the White House chief of staff's office and eventually became assistant press secretary, charged with keeping unruly journalists in line.

Deckard, now 26 and the longest-serving person in the White House press office, plans to travel for a while before deciding what comes next.

"You going to write a book?" Mark Knoller of CBS Radio asked at Friday's final briefing.

"No, sir," Deckard replied emphatically.

"He's going to read some, though," said deputy press secretary Tony Fratto.

Gone to the Dark Side

And speaking of old-timers in the briefing room, watching Bush's news conference last week from the back was none other than Michael Gerson, a temporary press badge hanging from his neck. Gerson was back in the West Wing more than a year after stepping down as the president's senior adviser, this time in his new role as a Washington Post columnist.

Quote of the Week

"I've been planning that myself."

-- Bush, asked about the prospect of Putin keeping power next year by becoming prime minister.

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