I Didn't Say That. But if I Did . . .

By Al Kamen
Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nominees trying to weave through Senate confirmation minefields know the basic how-to's for dodging difficult or embarrassing questions about prior statements, including: (1) deny the statement; (2) blame the media; (3) malign the people who leaked; (4) accept a bit of -- but not too much -- blame; (5) say that the offending quotes were taken way out of context; (6) drone on for a while about your deeply, sincerely held views contradicting the media version.

Our colleague Walter Pincus, as careful a reader as there is of intelligence data, spotted Adm. Dennis C. Blair, President Obama's pick for director of national intelligence, employing all those moves in his written response to a question from Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) after his hearing last week. (These questions are called QFRs, or questions for the record.)

"A number of negative comments about United States policy toward Taiwan have been attributed to you in the past -- I believe at one time, you referred to Taiwan as the 'turd in the punchbowl of U.S./China relations,' " Bond wrote, noting that Blair, former commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, had also said he thought the Taiwan Relations Act, which emphasizes Taiwan's importance to the United States, was great. So, Bond asked, "what is your view on U.S. policy towards Taiwan?"

"It is absolutely incorrect," Blair said, "that I ever referred to Taiwan itself as the 'turd in the punchbowl of U.S./China relations' [strategy No. 1]. Whoever gave this account to the press was maliciously attempting to portray me as a supporter of China at the expense of Taiwan [Nos. 2 and 3]," he continued.

"I did in fact use the too-colorful phrase 'tossing a turd in the punchbowl' [No. 4] in a closed meeting in 2000, but the phrase referred to a specific action by a former Taiwanese government official that had been taken without consulting the United States [No. 5]" and had caused a confrontation with Washington and the Chicoms, Blair wrote.

"I have never made negative comments about United States policy towards Taiwan in the past," he wrote. "I have stated opinions about statements. . . . [No. 6]."

Touched all the bases.

The Thankless Job Everybody Wants

Jockeying to take over the Federal Emergency Management Agency is getting rougher these days.

Backers of Los Angeles emergency manager Ellis M. Stanley Sr. are lobbying Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's advisers not to name New York City emergency commissioner Joseph F. Bruno to the post, calling him unqualified, our colleague Spencer S. Hsu reports.

"He was a disastrous fire commissioner. He's been a disastrous Office of Emergency Management commissioner. He just doesn't have the background to be" FEMA director, said Jerome Hauer, who handled emergency management in New York when Rudolph W. Giuliani was mayor, before serving as a Health and Human Services bioterrorism aide under President George W. Bush.

Bruno did not respond to the attacks yesterday, but a city official noted that Hauer has had "an unfair ax to grind" against Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's team because he wasn't given a job. Midst all the mortar fire, a source close to the process says that Bruno was never really in the mix anyway.

And there are other top contenders, sources said. One of them may be Ellen M. Gordon, Iowa's former homeland security adviser and a past president of the National Emergency Management Agency. Gordon is said to be backed by former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, now Obama's agriculture secretary.

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