Saddam Verdict Surprise?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, November 6, 2006; 2:32 PM

Controversy over the timing of Sunday's announcement of Saddam Hussein's conviction provides a fitting finish for an election campaign that has been as much a contest between competing views of reality as between two political parties.

Did White House officials manipulate the timing of the verdict for political gain?

Bush critics are skeptical, saying it fits a pattern and seems awfully convenient.

The White House denies it vehemently, castigating those who would even suggest such a thing as being on drugs or crazy.

The traditional media raises the issue -- but leaves it unresolved.

Maybe we'll find out the answer in a few years, in some book.

The Coverage

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush and politicians from both parties hailed the conviction of Saddam Hussein on Sunday but disagreed on its larger meaning as campaign strategists tried to gauge the political impact just 48 hours before hard-fought midterm elections.

"Speaking in the shadow of Air Force One on a Texas tarmac and at later campaign events, Bush called the verdict a 'landmark event' in Iraq's transition to democracy, and aides hoped it would be seen as vindication of his decision to go to war. Democrats were quick to agree that justice had been done for a vicious tyrant but argued it would not fix what they see as the debacle in Iraq. . . .

"By the time the verdict was announced in a Baghdad court, aides traveling with Bush on the campaign trail were ready with talking points. White House press secretary Tony Snow was booked on television programs starting at 7 a.m., and his office sent e-mails touting other reactions. . . .

"Democratic leaders avoided publicly accusing the Bush administration of orchestrating the verdict's timing but privately some raised questions, and liberal Internet blogs have been full of angry discussion about it. The Iraqi court originally planned to render a verdict in October but delayed it until two days before the election, prompting a defense lawyer for Hussein to write a letter accusing Bush of manipulating the proceedings for campaign purposes."

White House press secretary Tony Snow "dismissed the suggestion as 'preposterous' and absurd. 'Are you smoking rope?' he replied when a reporter asked about timing manipulation aboard Air Force One on Saturday. 'Are you telling me that in Iraq, that they're sitting around -- I'm sorry, that the Iraqi judicial system is coming up with an October surprise?' Corrected on the date, he expressed incredulity, 'A November surprise. Man, that's -- wow.'"

It was Wolf Blitzer 's first question to Snow on CNN on Sunday: "Can you say, categorically, that the United States government had nothing to do with the timing of this verdict?"

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