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The Gonzales Clown Show

The Rove Factor

David Jackson writes for USA Today: "Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sat alone at the witness table Thursday, but another prominent official hovered over his Senate committee hearing: Karl Rove.

"The name of President Bush's longtime political guru surfaced repeatedly from Senate Democrats seeking to tie him to the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys.

"Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, devoted his first question to Rove, citing testimony that Rove passed along complaints about prosecutors who 'were not being aggressive enough against so-called voter fraud.'

"Gonzales, who said he made the final decisions on dismissals, recalled a single conversation with Rove in the fall of 2006. The White House deputy chief of staff 'mentioned to me concerns that he had heard about pursuing voter fraud, election fraud' in New Mexico, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, Gonzales testified. . . .

"White House spokesman Tony Fratto called the Democrats' 'fascination' with Rove 'disturbing and a little bit weird.'

"'If they can mention Karl Rove, they think they have something, even if it's clear that nothing improper occurred,' Fratto said."

Vietnam Revisited

Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post: "President Bush warned Thursday that pulling out of Iraq too soon would trigger a bloodbath akin to that of the Cambodian killing fields of the 1970s, while Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid declared that it is too late to stay because the war has already been lost. . . .

"Reid cast Iraq as another Vietnam and Bush as another Lyndon B. Johnson, while the president described dire consequences if the past repeats itself.

"'I want to remind you that after Vietnam, after we left, millions of people lost their life,' Bush said [in Tipp City, Ohio] when an audience member asked about comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. 'The Khmer Rouge, for example, in Cambodia. And my concern is there would be a parallel. . . . The same thing would happen. There would be the slaughter of a lot of innocent life. The difference, of course, is that this time around, the enemy wouldn't just be content to stay in the Middle East; they'd follow us here.'

"His comments came a day after Reid raised the Vietnam War during a closed-door White House meeting. Reid expanded on that in a Senate floor speech and a news conference on Thursday. 'I believe myself that . . . this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq,' he said, referring to the roughly 230 people killed on Wednesday in the worst death toll since Bush ordered more U.S. troops to Iraq in January.

"Reid said he reminded Bush during their Wednesday meeting that Johnson refused to acknowledge that the United States was losing in Vietnam and sent more forces into battle -- at the cost of thousands of U.S. lives. The senator said he warned the president that Iraq will be his legacy, as Vietnam was for Johnson.

"'I know that I was like the odd guy out yesterday at the White House,' Reid said. 'But I, at least, told him what he needed to hear, not what he wants to hear. I did that, and my conscience is clear.'"

Bush Without a Script

I wrote in Tuesday's column about how Bush's public campaign to push back against Congressional demands for withdrawal from Iraq is becoming highly reminiscent of his failed effort two years ago to win support for a radical overhaul of Social Security.

That became even more the case yesterday when Bush took up the role of talk-show host again, in a town-hall style session held in front of a friendly, invitation-only audience.

Here is the transcript. As was the case during Bush's Social Security barnstorming, Bush has apparently read enough speeches on the subject now that he -- and/or his aides -- feel he can work without a script.

The main topic was the war, but unscripted Bush tends to wander all over the place, especially when he has softball questions to work with.

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "Speaking at a 90-minute, town-hall-style meeting in a high school gymnasium, Mr. Bush said he would not buckle to polls showing opinion cutting against him on a variety of issues, and conveyed his belief that he would be vindicated by history."

Here's a short excerpt from the transcript (Bush's whiny answers to each of the questions he was asked were on average just under a thousand words long.)

"Q Mr. President, I admire your stay-to-it-iveness -- (inaudible) -- not using polls and focus groups. But I have to ask you personally, with respect to economics, with respect to the war, with respect to the war on terror and Iraq, and immigration, when you go to bed at night and you see these polls -- everybody and their brother does a poll now -- how does it make you feel?

"THE PRESIDENT: That's an interesting question. You know, I'm -- I've been in politics long enough to know that polls just go poof at times."

But of course the polls aren't going poof; they're going kablooey. They have been for a long time, and on the seminal issues of his presidency.

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: " Strange things sometimes come out of

President Bush's mouth. 'Polls just go poof.' 'Remember the rug?'

"When Bush went to Ohio on Thursday to talk about terrorism, he ended up musing about marriage and chicken-plucking plants, the agony of death and his Oval Office rug, which resembles a sunburst."

Julie Mason, blogging for the Houston Chronicle, speaks I am quite sure for many of the reporters who have to listen to everything the president says, when she asks Bush to stop telling the same stories over and over again.

"Bush's speech made reference to both the amazing story of the president's friendship with former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and the tale of how Bush ended up with a yellow rug in the Oval Office.

"Both of these hoary old chestnuts have been in the presidential repertoire for too long, and need to be neatly packed and stowed for transport to the GWB presidential library, immediately."

The Unraveling

Two of Bush's key arguments took big hits yesterday. Bush has long maintained that as the Iraqi army gains strength, the U.S. army can start to pull out. And recently, he has been insisting that a delay in getting war funding approved would have nearly immediate harmful effects on the army.

But Nancy A. Youssef writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Military planners have abandoned the idea that standing up Iraqi troops will enable American soldiers to start coming home soon and now believe that U.S. troops will have to defeat the insurgents and secure control of troubled provinces.

"Training Iraqi troops, which had been the cornerstone of the Bush administration's Iraq policy since 2005, has dropped in priority, officials in Baghdad and Washington said.

"No change has been announced, and a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Gary Keck, said training Iraqis remains important. 'We are just adding another leg to our mission,' Keck said, referring to the greater U.S. role in establishing security that new troops arriving in Iraq will undertake. . . .

"President Bush first announced the training strategy in the summer of 2005.

"'Our strategy can be summed up this way,' Bush said. 'As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.'"

And Andrew Taylor writes for the Associated Press: "The Pentagon says it has enough money to pay for the Iraq war through June, despite warnings from the White House that troops are being harmed by Congress' failure to quickly deliver more funds. . . .

"The Army is taking a series of 'prudent measures' aimed at making sure delays in the bill financing the war do not harm troop readiness, according to instructions sent to Army commanders and budget officials April 14."

Army Comptroller Nelson Ford "said the accounting moves are 'similar to those enacted last year' when [the Republican] Congress failed to deliver a war funding bill to Bush until mid-June."

She Said He Said

Michael Abramowitz and Lois Romano write in The Washington Post: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told colleagues yesterday that she was incredulous after President Bush pulled her aside at the end of a meeting Wednesday and told her he did not criticize her recent trip to Syria.

"After all, Bush and other senior administration officials and top Republicans had slammed the speaker publicly for meeting in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But in a private meeting with Democratic lawmakers yesterday, Pelosi said Bush told her in an unsolicited comment that it was actually the State Department that criticized her. . . .

"Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino, who was at the White House meeting Wednesday, took issue with Pelosi's account of the conversation in the Cabinet Room, which came at the end of talks largely devoted to funding the Iraq war. Perino said that Pelosi started the conversation about the Syria trip and that she never heard Bush back off his criticism."

Here's Bush on April 3: "We have made it clear to high-ranking officials, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, that going to Syria sends mixed signals."

Here's Vice President Cheney on April 5, talking to Rush Limbaugh: "I think it is, in fact, bad behavior on her part." And here he is again on another radio show on April 13: "[F]or the Speaker to go to Damascus and meet with this guy and treat him with the respect and dignity ordinarily accorded the head of a foreign state we think is just directly contrary to our national interest."

Virginia Tech

Bush seems to see the mass shooting at Virginia Tech as an opportunity for religious revival. Here he is in Tipp City yesterday:

"One of the things I try to assure the families and the students and the faculty of that fine university was that there are a lot of people around our country who are praying for them. It's interesting here in Tipp City, the first thing that happened was a moment of silence, a moment of prayer, to provide -- at least my prayer was, please comfort and strengthen those whose lives were affected by this horrible incident. It really speaks to the strength of this country, doesn't it, that total strangers here in Ohio are willing to hold up people in Virginia in prayer. And I thank you for that. And my message to the folks who still hurt in -- at Virginia Tech is that a lot of people care about you, and a lot of people think about you, a lot of people grieve with you, and a lot of people hope you find sustenance in a power higher than yourself. And a lot of us believe you will."

Putting Things in Perspective

From Dana Perino's interview with CNN's John Roberts this morning:

John Roberts: "The hearing yesterday, would you say that 'brutal' would be an accurate way to describe it?"

Perino: "Well I didn't have an opportunity to see the whole hearing, I've heard different, varying accounts, I would think brutal might refer to Alec Baldwin's voicemail message that he left to his daughter."

The Big Dinner

C-SPAN will be airing live coverage of the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner program on Saturday night from the Washington Hilton.

Cartoon Humor

David Horsey on Gonzales's startling revelation.

Late Night Humor

Jon Stewart explains: "Alberto Gonzales doesn't know what happened. But he assures you what he doesn't remember was handled properly."

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