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A Ludicrous Denial

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, May 16, 2008; 1:29 PM

What do you call it when White House officials say one thing in public and almost the exact opposite in private?

You might call it lying.

President Bush yesterday took the highly provocative rhetorical step of likening those who support negotiating with our enemies to Nazi appeasers. For most people following the presidential campaign, it was an obvious attack on Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama, who has been particularly critical of Bush's refusal to talk with leaders who disagree with him.

On the record, White House officials issued disingenuous denials that Bush was talking about Obama. But on background, they admitted as much.

CNN's Ed Henry reported that "White House aides privately acknowledged the remarks were aimed at the presidential candidate and others in his party."

Sasha Issenberg writes for the Boston Globe: "White House officials indicated that the criticism applied to Obama."

Brian Williams reported on the NBC Nightly News that "it was clear to those listening that it was in part to make a point about Barack Obama back home." NBC correspondent John Yang then added: "Privately, White House officials said the shoe fits the Democratic frontrunner."

When asked at yesterday's gaggle if Bush's remark was "in any way directed at Senator Obama," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino replied: "It is not." And not only that: She tried to blame Obama for such an interpretation. "I understand when you're running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you," she said. "That is not always true and it is not true in this case."


Here's what Bush said in Israel yesterday: "Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century. Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)"

White House counselor Ed Gillespie offered reporters aboard Air Force One today a new variation on the official denial, suggesting that White House officials thought former president Jimmy Carter -- not Obama -- might be seen as the target. Carter met with leaders of the armed Islamist movement Hamas last month.

Q. "Ed, can you talk to us a little bit about yesterday's speech and how much the White House may or may not have anticipated the reaction that ultimately occurred, where people interpreted this as a reference to Barack Obama?"

Gillespie: "We did not anticipate that it would be taken that way, because it's kind of hard to take it that way if you look at the actual words of the President's remarks, which are consistent with what he has said in the past. . . . There was some anticipation that someone might say, oh, it's an expression of -- a rebuke to former President Carter for having met with Hamas. That was something that was anticipated. No one wrote about that or raised that as a question."

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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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