"My criticisms were groundless and baseless due to poorly chosen words and examples. I sincerely apologize and I am deeply remorseful."
-- Former Bush White House official John DiIulio last week after calling Bush political aides "Mayberry Machiavellis."
"I offer a complete and utter retraction. The imputation was totally without basis in fact, was in no way fair comment, and was motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my remarks may have caused you, or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat such a slander at any time in the future."
-- John Cleese, while being dangled from a window by Kevin Kline in the 1988 film "A Fish Called Wanda."
"I am fully and utterly guilty. I am guilty of having been the organizer, second only to Trotsky, of that bloc whose chosen task was the killing of Stalin. I was the principal organizer of Kirov's assassination. The party saw where we were going, and warned us; Stalin warned us scores of times; but we did not heed these warnings. We entered into an alliance with Trotsky."
-- Soviet official Gregory Zinoviev, before his execution in 1936.
The apology issued last week by John DiIulio, which echoed White House press secretary Ari Fleischer's denunciation of his remarks as "baseless and groundless," is destined for the Pantheon of Famous Recantations. It sent the grassy-knoll crowd into a frenzy: Did Bush aides threaten DiIulio's employer, the University of Pennsylvania, with loss of federal funds? Did the Huntsman family, Bush friends and big Penn donors, threaten to cut off the school?
Writing in the Philadelphia Daily News yesterday, DiIulio offered a less sinister explanation. Acknowledging that his recantation was a "verbatim" replica of Fleischer's charge, DiIulio said his father taught him to apologize "on your knees, or not at all. In other words, whether completely culpable or not, and whether there are complicated mitigating if not exonerating motivations and circumstances or not, you do not express honest, heartfelt remorse for wrong by quibbling over how the wronged person or persons characterize it."
The irony of DiIulio's recantation is he wound up rewarding an information control system he decried in his now-infamous e-mail to an Esquire magazine writer. "Bush staff, not just senior political adviser Karl Rove, came from Texas tightly knit and hyper-determined to protect the president and prevent the types of internal policy debates that beget bad press," he wrote in the e-mail. "They staffed and organized themselves accordingly, thereby limiting leaks -- but also eliminating efforts to devise social welfare initiatives in accordance with the president's compassion vision."
These are heady times for Rove and the political aides who have been quite successful at limiting scrutiny of White House operations. Yesterday, the administration scored a huge victory when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the congressional General Accounting Office to see which outside groups met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force. And public access to White House information was hobbled Friday when a federal appeals court blocked a public release of energy task force documents ordered by a lower court.
The administration has been making other decisions that limit the release of information. Late last month, the American Educational Research Association and a dozen other groups complained that the Bush Education Department called for removal from its Web site of information that "does not reflect the priorities, philosophies, or goals of the present administration."
The complaint was similar to one from Democratic lawmakers who wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson in October complaining that government Web sites removed fact sheets about the effectiveness of condoms and sex education programs.
The latest flap came last week, after the Justice Department warned that new grants to "first responders" to terrorist attacks would be delayed. The day that newspaper reports appeared, the letter announcing the delays disappeared from the agency's Web site. The link to the letter was restored after Democrats protested. Justice said it was a technological glitch.
President Bush's dismissal of top economic adviser Larry Lindsey came after the president complained privately about the full-figured aide's insufficient exercise. Newsweek this week reported that Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice share a "mutual fondness for working out." The administration has also seen the untimely departure of two other men of girth, DiIulio and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt. Is this a trend?
An administration official mused yesterday that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham may start limiting his visits to Wendy's.
Bush has yet to issue a presidential pardon, a White House spokeswoman confirmed yesterday. That puts him in the company of James Garfield and William Henry Harrison at the bottom of the University of Pittsburgh's tally of presidential clemency. Franklin Roosevelt tops the list at 3,687, while Bill Clinton pardoned 456; George H.W. Bush, 77; and Ronald Reagan, 406. But the current president is not without mercy: He has already pardoned two Thanksgiving turkeys.