Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft issued a joint statement late yesterday indicating that they have settled their tiff after Ashcroft surprised Ridge with some statements about terrorist threats at a news conference on Wednesday.
"We are entering a season of symbolic events that could be attractive targets for terrorism," the joint statement said. "In the months to come, we will hold significant national celebrations, host important international meetings, and conduct our democratic political process leading to our elections. Credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States during this period."
Ridge and other Homeland Security officials were miffed that on Wednesday Ashcroft, while asking Americans to look out for seven alleged al Qaeda associates, issued an updated terrorist threat warning. At one point he said al Qaeda is "90 percent" complete in its attack planning.
Under the Homeland Security Act and Bush administration rules, only Ridge is supposed to communicate with the public about such threat warnings -- and he was not using such language.
Ashcroft's statements caused concern at Homeland Security's Washington headquarters. Democrats such as presidential candidate John F. Kerry pounced on the moment to denounce the administration's performance on homeland defense. Some raised the prospect that the Bush administration was overstating dangers for political effect.
So yesterday morning, at the White House "principals meeting" of Ridge, Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and others, the assembled administration figures agreed to issue the joint statement and patch up the quarrel, government officials said.
"We're aware some of this week's press reports could have created confusion in the minds of the public by attempting to highlight perceived differences between the departments of Homeland Security and Justice," a Homeland Security official said, choosing his words carefully. "We wish to put aside any differences and demonstrate we're on the same page and unified in our efforts to prevent acts of terrorism."
"We thought this would be helpful as we move into this period of threat," he said.