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Dan Froomkin
White House Watch Columnist
Wednesday, January 31, 2007; 1:00 PM

What's going on inside the White House? Ask Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Watch column for washingtonpost.com. He answered your questions, took your comments and links, and pointed you to coverage around the Web on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at 1 p.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

Dan is also deputy editor of Niemanwatchdog.org.

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Dan Froomkin: Hi everyone and welcome to another White House Talk. Lots going on these days -- Iraq continues to be an enormous drag on the country and the presidency; There's much speculation surrounding President Bush's intentions regarding Iran; The Scooter Libby trial is mesmerizing to many of us, in large part because of the unique glimpse into the inner-workings of the White House; And Bush is talking about his "microphone" again -- even as the evidence mounts that it's not working anymore. 

That and so much more. Read my column and join in the conversation.

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Toronto: Hi Dan. As you pointed out the other day, the Vice-President has no credibility left and has been verifiably wrong every step of the way. It occurs to me that there are individuals out there who have been right every step of the way and I wonder why they haven't been identified by the media as people to look to for guidance now. What's your take?

washingtonpost.com: The Unraveling of Dick Cheney (Post, Jan. 29)

Dan Froomkin: I think that's a very interesting point. The liberal blogosphere has been pointing out that those pundits and politicians who were for the war -- and especially those who were for the war and then changed their mind -- seem to get a lot more attention, airtime and even money than those who were against it from the get-go. Jebediah Reed had a particularly good piece in Radar magazine about how that played out among the punditocracy. Why people who accurately predicted what would happen weren't listened to then -- and aren't listened to now! -- truly is puzzling.

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Eugene, Ore.: Hi Dan. What do you think of The Post's decision not to pursue Cheney's visitor logs? Lawyers from The Post say there are other lawsuits pending that will cover their request and they had wanted them prior to the election. Seems like The Post is giving up on what is clearly an important piece of history. How do you see it?

Dan Froomkin: I don't know anything more than what I read in Josh Gerstein's story in the New York Sun today. It sounds like a shame to me but I'm sure there was a compelling reason of some kind. That said I very much would like The Post to write something about what happened.

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Bethesda, Md.: On the surface, it appears many of the White House witnesses are not interested at all in protecting Libby. Fleischer seemed much more sympathetic to Fitzgerald's questioning that the defense attorney's. Does this reflect a schism between the VP's office and others in the West Wing? Will Libby's defense team actually pursue the idea that Rove is the real bad guy?

Dan Froomkin: Excellent question. In their opening statement, the defense certainly indicated that Libby felt he was being scapegoated on Rove's behalf, and it's doubtful they would have mentioned that unless it's a significant part of their case. And so far all we've heard are prosecution witnesses. But even so, if the defense were out to get Rove, wouldn't you get some hint of it from their cross-examinations? So I think it may be wishful thinking on the Rove Obsessives out there.

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Malone, N.Y.: The Libby trial is laying bare the coziness of the MSM with the administration. At what point does this become a trial of the MSM? Acting as propagandists for unnamed government officials, having private interviews to get the party-line straight and not disclosing these relationships -- the MSM media appears increasingly ethically challenged to not come clean, such as with the State of the Union lead up when many MSM had private meetings with Bush, shared his line, but did not disclose their relationship or any strings attached. You've commented on this in the past. Do you think, especially with the Libby trial laying it out for all to see, that the increasingly blatant, unquestioned, and spoon-fed propaganda will become seen for what it is: propaganda and not news?

Dan Froomkin: The Libby trial is such a multi-faceted beast, isn't it? And you're right, it raises questions not just about Libby's guilt or innocence, how the White House does business and journalists' First Amendment rights, but also about whether Washington's "top" reporters are entirely too cozy with the sources who use them to spin without accountability. Not surprisingly that question isn't getting quite as much attention in the MSM as the others. I think the public should be more-skeptical readers -- but I'm not sure this trial will do the trick in itself.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you think having the bloggers in the media room has an impact on the media coverage? Does the media look at the live blogging and the daily round-ups for perspectives they may have missed?

Dan Froomkin: I think the blogger presence has been very healthy for the news coverage. For one, I think Firedoglake's liveblogging has been an enormous resource for everyone who's not in the courthouse, which includes a lot of journalists. I'm mystified as to why no media organization, including my own, appears to be springing for real-time transcription and the Web-publishing thereof. Boggles my mind, really. But beyond that resource -- which of course is more directional than quotable -- the presence of bloggers I think sort of keeps the reporters on their toes. They know if they're sloppy about characterizing something they'll get singed for it. I don't know how much reporters are benefiting from the perspective of the bloggers -- but most journalists would agree that the more voices out there the better.

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New Haven, Conn.: Dan, I have a crazy idea. What if Dick Cheney is being completely up-front and simply telling the truth about Iraq? "Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes, and we will continue to have enormous successes." So maybe what Cheney is saying is that he's actually an agent of Iran. Love the new name for the column, although I would have voted for "White House Vigil."

Dan Froomkin: Funny. Thanks. "White House Debriefing" has always been a closet favorite of mine, but I'm delighted with "White House Watch." It was my original first choice.

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Libby trial: Hello, and thank you for providing this forum. Do we know why Fitzgerald has not pursued charges against Armitage in the Plame leak investigation?

Dan Froomkin: Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, it turns out, was columnist Robert Novak's first source for the fact that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA. But it appears that special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald didn't have evidence that Armitage knowingly leaked classified material -- so no indictment on the leak itself -- and didn't lie about it to investigators -- so no indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice.

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Anonymous: The New York Times on Tuesday: "Each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee ... the White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency..." Isn't this the role of the cabinet members? Doesn't this directive undermine their authority? What do they think?

Dan Froomkin: No one would expect cabinet members to go over ever regulatory change with a fine-toothed comb. But the role of cabinet members in this administration already has been subjugated to the White House in a way that is breathtaking even by previous standards. That was a fascinating story by Robert Pear, wasn't it? And hidden in plain site -- the executive order had been out almost two weeks.

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Baltimore: Dan: Can you tell me if I'm wrong or over-simplistic in this analysis? We toppled Iraq's government but failed, miserably, to help make a new one. The country's broken and the reason it's not fixed yet is because the violence there is so bad. The only thing that will fix the violence is the insertion of a bunch more troops who can quell things until the new government gets a foothold -- but we've bungled things so badly so far that the public is against sending any more troops to what they see as a failed thing?

I mean, I'm a liberal, and it looks to me that there are only two options now: get out and let it burn or send more troops and keep trying to make it work. Agree? Thanks.

Dan Froomkin: There are other possibilities. One, which gets remarkably little attention, is championed by retired Gen. William Odom. His argument in a nutshell is that if we leave things actually will get better than if we stay.

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Being Right and on TV: Dan, isn't the real answer here that the Media doesn't look for people who are "right" but rather for people who will say things that make people watch? And that they will always (at least the "fair" media) put people on both sides of an issue, if for no other reason than it increases the base of likely viewers? Don't you think that the days are gone when "the Media" worries about truth, justice and the American way?

Dan Froomkin: That's one possibility. Another is that the "media" simply hates smug liberals. But I agree that the quest for "balance" and the appetite for conflict often have overwhelmed the search for accuracy.

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Concord, N.H.: A couple of days ago, you linked to an article comparing Dick Cheney to "Baghdad Bob" as an over-the-top propagandist. Hilarious and unfortunately dead-on. It's hard to believe that Cheney could be that disconnected from reality, and it does not appear that he is helping the Republicans politically. So what is he up to? Maybe he is trying to defuse any impeachment talk by making Bush look reasonable by comparison. Thoughts?

Dan Froomkin: You are referring to a column by Greg Mitchell in his column in Editor & Publisher. My point in Monday's column was that Cheney simply is not credible at this point. But I chose not to, and choose not to, speculate as to what's going on in there. I just don't know.

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Boston: "Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries." Pear, NYT (Tuesday's WHW) Perhaps the political appointee can verify that everyone who works in the agency is on the "right" side of Roe v. Wade and punched the GOP ticket in 2000 and 2004 a la the Iraq CPA...

Dan Froomkin: The Bush administration's politicization of the bureaucracy hardly could be accelerated. But you are forgiven for not knowing that -- it's one of the most under-covered stories in Washington. Princeton Professor David E. Lewis wrote a nice piece about this for NiemanWatchdog.org in September 2005. What Rajiv Chandrasekaran described in his book, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone," about CPA hiring, I suspect is replicated in many other places inside the Beltway.

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Reading, Mass.: Do you feel constitutionally that President Bush is on firm ground to conduct the war as he sees fit? The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse. Passing non-binding resolutions to express displeasure with a war policy is a grandstanding measure. What is needed is the political courage to cut off funding.

Dan Froomkin: The consensus among constitutional experts is that Congress has a great deal of power, if not to micromanage the war, certainly to establish its broad outlines -- and stop it, if need be. But what you raise is the question of political will (and a veto-overrideble one at that.)

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Arlington, Va.: It seems a little over-the-top to assert that the White House operates by "deliberately" outing a CIA agent and "knowingly" breaking federal law to discredit a critic. Yet that is precisely what you did in your lead Tuesday by using the press secretary's response to a question that asserted such. You did not accurately describe the question, so the answer was out of context. Is that fair reporting? It's one thing to criticize the White House, but to distort what was said to justify such an accusation only seems aimed to rally your liberal supporters on the Web. I hope you will respond to this question.

Dan Froomkin: Thanks for the tough question. McClellan repeatedly used the "that is not the way this White House operates" line and variations thereof to pooh-pooh any White House involvement in the leaking of Plame's identity as part of a campaign to discredit her husband. That of course turned out to be outright deception on his part. There were times when he was responding specifically to the accusation of a criminal leak -- and others when he was not. I'm sure some White House officials would argue that they were not denying what everyone very clearly heard them denying. But that would be sophistry.

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Richmond, Va.: The Libby trial reveals the frenzied efforts of the office of the VP to respond to a critic who charged they manipulated intelligence to get us to go to war. At the same time, we learn from Sen. Rockefeller that Cheney exerted constant pressure on the Senate Intelligence committee to stall the investigation on that flawed intelligence. Is it me or are these the actions of people who don't have something to hide?

Dan Froomkin: You know, it does sort of sound that way sometimes, doesn't it?

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Baltimore: Has Tim Russert responded to the testimony in the Libby trial that Cheney liked to appear on Meet the Press in order to "control the message?"

Dan Froomkin: Not that I know of. I look forward to it. See Dana Milbank in The Washington Post: "Memo to Tim Russert: Dick Cheney thinks he controls you."

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Alexandria, Va.: Dan -- great work on a day-to-day basis. I noticed that today Bush is having another cozy chat (I just can't call it an interview) with Fox News -- this time Neil Cavuto (in a previous chat, Cavuto asked if Bush agreed with his theory that Michael Jackson's trial was hurting his social security privatization plan). This made me wonder -- where has Fox News been in the Libby trial? We know that Cheney and the Administration pitched/leaked the Plame story to Bob Novak, Time, the New York Times, NBC and other "MSM" sources. It seems odd that they wouldn't go through their bread-and-butter/brothers-in-arms. Is it possible that Libby's defense will include Brit Hume or Carl Cameron or some other Foxite?

Dan Froomkin: I think one can take Fox conspiracy theories too far. That said, thanks for reminding me of that Bush-Cavuto interview in June 2005, of which I wrote up in my column, The Foxnewsified Bush Interview: "Thanks to Fox News' exclusive interview with President Bush yesterday, the leader of the free world is now on the record when it comes to John Kerry's Yale grades, Laura Bush's presidential aspirations and -- yes -- the Michael Jackson trial's effect on public policy discourse.

"Who wants to talk about that messy war in Iraq, or the Downing Street Memo? Not Neil Cavuto, Fox News executive, anchor, commentator and Republican campaign contributor."

Cavuto was considerably improved in his August 2006 Bush interview. But obviously he's seen as a safe pick.

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Savannah, Ga.: The Libby trial has exposed the way this White House has manipulated the press and certain reporters/news anchors with their cozy relationships and selective leaks. Do you think this is consistent with the way past administrations have tried to control the message, or is this Bush/Cheney crew way, way out there? Thanks!

Dan Froomkin: Press blogger Jay Rosen, among others, has argued that Bush has taken all this to a level never before seen -- and I think he's on to something.

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Washington: I'm just now reading today's WHW (I like the new name better), and just read about the bipartisan panel for fighting terrorism. It should be noted that Robert Novak wrote a scathing article about the Dems being rude to Bush in rejecting the initial offer, but didn't mention that Bush would determine the makeup of the panel.

washingtonpost.com: The Democrats' Rude Rebuff (Post, Jan. 25)

Dan Froomkin: Thanks. And the mention of Lieberman was certainly a poke in the eye, too.

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Sacramento, Calif.: Is there any practical constraint on a president's power to order an attack on another country?

Dan Froomkin: You'd think I'd know the answer to that question. But I'm not sure anybody does right now.

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Ellicott City, Md.: Since they moved you from "news" to "opinion", I have seen your comments have become more common and opinionated. Can not say I disagree, but is this something that you have consciously done or not?

Dan Froomkin: I have felt a bit more free in my writing as the years have passed. But I think the vast majority of what I write falls into the realm of legitimate news analysis, not the espousal of opinion.

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Dan Froomkin: Thanks very much for all your questions and comments. I wish I could have gotten to more of them, but I have to run. See you again here in two weeks, and every weekday afternoon on the homepage.

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