Bush's Lie

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 1, 2006; 1:18 PM

It's not necessarily a huge deal in itself, but with credibility a paramount issue for the White House these days, it's worth noting that when asked about Treasury Secretary John Snow's future last week, President Bush could easily have ducked the question, or told the truth -- but instead, he chose to lie about it.

Lying is probably the one word mainstream journalists are the most averse to using when recounting what the president said -- even when they know he's not telling the truth. The act of lying requires not just the presentation of false information, but an intention to deceive. Reporters -- and, particularly editors -- are notoriously resistant to ascribe such volition without ironclad evidence.

But there's really no other way to describe what Bush said Thursday. Press secretary Tony Snow's widely-quoted explanation that Bush's statement was in some way "artfully worded" is just plain wrong.

It may not have been an important lie. And there are some mitigating factors: It was, after all, a personnel matter and there was some possibly legitimate concern about the financial markets. But it couldn't be more clear that Bush was being intentionally deceptive.

Here's the transcript of last Thursday's joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Bloomberg White House correspondent Richard Keil, who Bush calls "Stretch," asked the president the following question:

"Has Treasury Secretary Snow given you any indication that he intends to leave his job any time soon?"

Keil also tacked on a question about the economy. But Bush responded to his first question first: "No, he has not talked to me about resignation. I think he's doing a fine job."

At Tuesday's press briefing , spokesman Tony Snow (no relation) confirmed that Bush had offered John Snow's job to Goldman Sachs chairman Henry Paulson several days before the press conference, and the spokesman didn't deny that Bush and his treasury secretary had talked about it.

So was Bush being intentionally deceptive?

Tony Snow's response: "No, he said, 'He's not talked to me about resignation.' That does not mean that there were not other discussions. I mean, it was artfully worded. . . . [T]he one thing you do not want to do in a situation like this is to start speculating about changes before the changes are ready to be made. Those do have impacts on markets, and you have to be responsible and cautious in the way you deal with them."

Several White House correspondents dutifully reported Snow's explanation -- but neglected to note that it doesn't wash.

First of all, Bush's direct answer to the question of whether John Snow had given him any indication that he intended to leave his job was, "No." Hard to get around that.

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