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What Was in That Office, Anyway? You Tell Us.

By Al Kamen
Friday, December 21, 2007

That fire in Vice President Cheney's digs in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Wednesday naturally has everyone in Washington speculating about its origin. Arson might seem a bit far-fetched to folks outside the Beltway, but it would not be the first time a small conflagration was planned by a White House official.

We recall that Watergate burglary mastermind G. Gordon Liddy plotted firebombing the Brookings Institution -- "as a diversion," he writes in his memoirs -- to get into the security vault and steal Daniel Ellsberg's Vietnam War papers.

"We devised a plan that entailed buying a used but late-model fire engine of the kind used by the District of Columbia fire department," Liddy wrote, "and marking it appropriately." The plot included "uniforms for a squad of Cubans" and adequate "training so their performance would be believable."

The firebomb would go off at night "so as not to endanger lives needlessly," Liddy wrote. "The Cubans in the authentic-looking fire engine would 'respond' minutes [later] . . . hit the vault, and get themselves out in the confusion" as real fire equipment arrived. "The bogus engine would be abandoned at the scene."

The decision from higher-ups, Liddy wrote, "was swift. 'No.' Too expensive. The White House wouldn't spring for a fire engine." (Pikers!)

And now we have this curious, possibly successful fire Wednesday. So the obvious question is: What did they try to burn? (We'll let the appropriate authorities find the perps.)

Yes, it's the final In the Loop Contest for 2007. Simply guess what documents or other materials the arsonists were trying to destroy. Could it have been a secret legal opinion from Cheney Chief of Staff David Addington, giving the vice president the inherent authority to set the fire?

Send your entries to hitthevault@washpost.com. Winners will receive an In the Loop T-shirt. You must include your name and telephone number (home, work or cell) to be eligible. And of course, administration officials and Hill folks may opt to enter "on background." Deadline is Jan. 9. Don't delay.

Say Cheese

President Bush signed a major energy bill Wednesday at the Department of Energy. "One of the most serious long-term challenges facing our country is dependence on oil," he said, according to a White House transcript, "especially oil from foreign lands. It's a serious challenge. . . . Because this dependence harms us economically through high and volatile prices at the gas pump; dependence creates pollution and contributes to greenhouse gas admissions [sic]."

Looks as though they'll have to add another Bush picture to the Energy Department's new photo gallery of significant presidential contributions to America's energy policies. That would make, based on a quick count, six photos for Bush, three for Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, two pics each for Presidents Nixon, Ford, Eisenhower and Truman, and one for President Lyndon B. Johnson. President Bill Clinton apparently made no contributions of note.

Merry Xmas From Belgium

GOP mega-contributor Sam Fox, the Swift boat backer who received a controversial recess appointment to be ambassador to Belgium, has arranged for special, one-kilo (2.2-pound) bars of superb, dark Belgian chocolate, stamped with the State Department seal, to be given as Christmas presents.

The Belgians are speculating that President Bush, a renowned chocophile who shopped for chocolates on trips to Belgium in 2001 and 2005, will most surely find one of these under the tree Christmas morning.

That bar would be part of a 1,700-bar order that Fox placed with famed Antwerp chocolatier Erik Goossens, whose company specializes in high-end chocolates. Most likely, several other White House aides and administration officials will be getting the prized chocolates.

"It was quite difficult to do," Goossens told us, requiring "special molds and special boxes." It was all "very fancy. We did our best." That should be more than delicious.

How much would all this cost? Goossens wouldn't touch that one, though he noted that his 52-year-old family company considered it a "prestige project." That probably means Fox got something of a break on the price. And this is a nearly two-ton purchase.

Let's do some cogitating. Goossens's chocolates sell for a little more than $50 a pound in this country. So each bar would cost about $110.

Perhaps Fox could make such a bulk purchase for $150,000. Maybe he will send some chocolate to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Democrats, who are still furious at the White House for pulling back his nomination at the last minute and giving him the ambassadorship?

Fireworks! Fried Fish!

Many Environmental Protection Agency officials attended the recent U.N.-sponsored climate change conference in Bali, but Administrator Stephen L. Johnson wasn't one of them.

That's because he and some top assistants had to go to China to talk about public health and environmental protection, and to see how the Chicoms are handling environmental concerns during the 2008 Olympics.

Fortunately, Johnson and his group decided to blog about their experience, so we could benefit from their thoughts.

"Well, after 14 hours and a quick change into a business suit, (not easy for someone who is 6'3" in an airplane restroom)," they arrived, Johnson wrote Dec. 11 from the Beijing Airport. ". . . I'm pleased to report the sky is remarkably blue."

EPA public affairs chief Lisa Lybbert, reporting on the Dec. 12 opening meetings, gave us an insight into the gatherings. "More than one hundred press covered the opening session this morning," she wrote. "It looked kind of like the media risers in front of the red carpet at the Emmy's, but Brad Pitt was no where in sight.

"All of the media attention is an obvious reminder to me of how important these meetings are," she said, adding that the "air in Beijing this trip is better than I've seen it in the past few years," so maybe the Chinese are making progress.

Johnson that night was ecstatic. "Wow, what a fantastic day. From Vice Premier Wu on, virtually every speaker today mentioned the need for both economic and environmental sustainability," he wrote. No doubt they praised apple pie and motherhood.

"The evening concluded w/a grand banquet and a fireworks display that rivaled anything I've ever seen in the US -- of course weren't fireworks invented in China? So when I say the day ended w/a bang, I really mean it."

EPA Chief of Staff Charles Ingebretson reported on not just the lunch menu, which included fried Mandarin fish, steamed bean curd with minced chicken and Xianghe beef pie, but the entire dinner, "during which the People's Liberation Army Military Band played" -- apparently the Stones were a no-show -- "and the China National Acrobatic Troupe performed." The menu was the usual Beijing duck, baked prawns, etc.

The next day, Ingebretson reported that " Vice Premier Madame Wu Yi is leading the Chinese delegation" at the meetings. "Although she's less than five feet tall, she's one of the most powerful women in China's central government."

Extraordinary.

For more on this fascinating trip, go to http://www.epa.gov/chinadiary/index.html.

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