Bush administration smear campaigns

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In a February 10, 2004, exclusive for the online issue of Salon, Joe Conason called attention to the downright political ugliness of the Bush administration smear campaigns, both past and present. [1]

Heading the list during the month of August 2005 has been Gold Star Families for Peace co-founder Cindy Sheehan and her Peace Vigil in Crawford, Texas, both of which are soon to relocate their base of operations to Washington, DC.

"Smear Without Fear"

Paul Krugman wrote in his April 2, 2004, New York Times' Op-Ed "Smear Without Fear": [2]

"Look, I understand why major news organizations must act respectfully toward government officials. But officials shouldn't be sure ... that they can make wild accusations without any fear that they will be challenged on the spot or held accountable later.
"And administration officials shouldn't be able to spread stories without making themselves accountable. If an administration official is willing to say something on the record, that's a story, because he pays a price if his claims are false. But if unnamed 'administration officials' spread rumors about administration critics, reporters have an obligation to check the facts before giving those rumors national exposure. And there's no excuse for disseminating unchecked rumors because they come from the White House, then denying the White House connection when the rumors prove false. That's simply giving the administration a license to smear with impunity."

Bush's "Attack Puppy"

Maureen Farrell quoted Richard A. Clarke in her April 2, 2004, "Bush's Attack Puppy Nips at the Truth" for BuzzFlash:

"'[F]or the Bush White House to be attempting to undermine my credibility is really sort of ironic . . . They're scrambling very hard . . .They have five or six people running around doing talk shows and trying to refute me and trying to besmirch me.. . . I knew before I wrote this book that the White House will let loose the dogs to attack me. That's what they're doing. That's what they did to Paul O'Neill when he told the truth.'" --Richard Clarke, Larry King Live, March 24, 2004.

Wrote Farrell, "And now, as Clark, O'Neill and other honest brokers level credible accusations, their willingness to withstand the heat is exactly what makes them dangerous. 'The White House faces a grave and growing danger. Its attack machine is activated against Clarke, but, preferring character assassination over basic truth, it will be hard to sustain,' fellow whistle blower and former Pentagon insider Karen Kwiatkowski, explained. 'Clarke's public stance of honor and credibility has real staying power, and it has already inspired and heartened both new witnesses and the mainstream media to seek and reveal the truth.'"

And who is this "Attack Puppy" of whom Farrell spoke? None other than Jim Wilkinson and, said Farrell, "according to a variety of reports, his recent accomplishments reveal plenty. Consider the following," she says:

  • 1999: "Packaged and promoted" the distortion that Al Gore claimed to have "invented the Internet."
  • 2000: Showed up in Miami to defend the GOP protesters trying to shut down the Florida recount.
  • September 2001: Helped arrange George Bush's Sept. 14, 2001 PR visit to Ground Zero.
  • 2001-2002: Managed "Coalition Information Centers" during the war in Afghanistan.
  • March 2003: Managed hundreds of international correspondents covering the war out of the U.S. media center in Qatar.
  • April 2003: Hyped the Jessica Lynch saga.
  • July 2003: Helped promote the idea that Uday and Qusay Hussein’s deaths could ease the guerrilla-style insurgency against U.S. troops. [CNN]
  • August 2003: Named communications director for the 2004 Republican National Convention. [Washington Post] and by Nov, 2003, was busy at work.
  • March 2004: Served as Bush's attack puppy, nipping at the truth.

A "Smear" on an Alleged "Smear": The DNC "Smear" on RNC

"RNC Chairman, Ed Gillespie, is whining about how the Democrats are planning the 'dirtiest campaign' in modern history. I find it especially ironic (perhaps even cheeky) that Ed gave this speech on the day Matt Drudge posted a big 'scoop', courtesy of Karl Rove, that John Kerry was screwing an Associated Press reporter.

"To paraphrase Harry Truman, Ed, Democrats are just going to tell the truth about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and you'll THINK it's dirty." [3]

The "Wall"

Once topping the ever-growing list of Bush administration "smears" is the one reported by the Washington Post on April 20, 2004. During his testimony before the 9-11 Commission, Attorney General John Ashcroft "loosed a remarkable attack" on Commission member Jamie S. Gorelick, "who served as deputy attorney general during part of the Clinton administration."

"The 'single greatest structural cause for the September 11th problem,' Ashcroft said, 'was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents,' and the 'basic architecture for the wall . . . was contained in a classified memorandum' from 1995 -- which Mr. Ashcroft had conveniently declassified for the hearing. 'Full disclosure,' he said, 'compels me to inform you that the author of this memorandum is a member of the commission' -- that is, Ms. Gorelick."

The Times states that "Ashcroft's allegations, which triggered criticism and demands for her resignation from prominent Republicans, are grossly unfair," particularly since Gorelick could have previously been disqualified had an untenable conflict of interest existed. Secondly, as the Times points out, "blaming her for the 'wall' is absurd in any event. The memo by Ms. Gorelick that Mr. Ashcroft branded as the culprit is not even mentioned in the history of impaired information-sharing that Mr. Ashcroft's department gave to the special court that finally lifted the barriers after Sept. 11, 2001. That court described the wall's origin as 'sometime in the 1980s -- the exact moment is shrouded in historical mist.' A set of procedures promulgated in 1995 codified the policy of keeping intelligence and law enforcement separate and significantly fortified the wall. But as the Justice Department's brief itself acknowledged, prosecutors knew long before those procedures were announced that they were not to direct intelligence activities or to use intelligence surveillance to develop criminal cases. And the Bush administration explicitly maintained the 1995 procedures before the Sept. 11 attacks. The wall was no individual's fault but a product of years of department practice, judicial opinions and supervision of intelligence surveillance by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."

Additionally, the article continues, "Ms. Gorelick was an advocate of increased collaboration between spies and cops, not greater separation."

Bush's Political Opponents

  • Dick Durbin: In the July 23, 2003, The Hill's Sarita Chourey[4] reported that Illinois Senator Dick Durbin "defended himself against charges he leaked sensitive information."
"According to Durbin, an unnamed staffer in the White House press office told reporters that some senators were disturbed by his public statement blaming White House staffers for not removing the claim despite warnings from the CIA. He said that the 'White House press operation started floating the story that there were senators, who were asking for my removal from the Senate Intelligence Committee because [of] the statements that I made.'
"But Durbin said that he never disclosed the name of a White House staffer who was involved in the preparation of Bush’s speech and that he doesn’t know of any senators who want him to be removed from the panel.
"Senate Majority Leader William Frist (R-Tenn.) appeared to support Durbin's claim. He told reporters yesterday that 'no one has come to me as majority leader asking that he be removed."
The Daily Kos commented: "The smear machine tactics of this administration really do smell of desperation, don't they? ... But Durbin isn't backing down. On the contrary, he's fighting fire with fire"[5]:
"At Durbin's request, the Intelligence Committee will investigate whether administration officials compromised the identity of Wilson's wife.
"Durbin said he understands that the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), respectively, intend to call White House staffers before the committee 'to ask what led up to this situation and why we're in the position that we're in today.'"
Also see July 23, 2003, BuzzFlash Editorial "The Integrity and Dignity of the White House Become a Scum Pond of Betrayals and Gutter Smears Under Bush."
"Karl Rove, for example, didn't call up the Washington Post gossip columnist and tell them ahead of time that he was going to conduct a sub rosa smear campaign against John McCain in South Carolina accusing him of collaborating with the Viet Cong among other things. Or that he fathered a 'black child,' out of wedlock. ... He just DID it." [6]

Richard A. Clarke

The April 8, 2004, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial Board commented in "Matching truth, secret testimony reports" that "Senator and surgeon, Tennessee Republican Bill Frist badly botched his recent attempt to eviscerate Richard Clarke's integrity on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

"Frist made a disingenuous call for declassification of Clarke's past testimony to Congress. Frist insinuated that taking the wraps off that earlier congressional testimony and comparing that with what the former White House anti-terrorism chief told the independent 9/11 commission would show that 'Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath.'

"Telling 'two entirely different stories under oath' suggests, of course, perjury, a very serious crime. How convenient for Frist that he could make such a slanderous charge while under the 'absolute' privilege of immunity from suit for defamation while on the Senate floor. How doubly convenient that he could make the charge based on secret documents.

"So Frist must have found it doubly inconvenient that two of his Senate colleagues challenged Frist's memory, if not his ethics.

"Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said, 'To the best of my recollection, there is nothing inconsistent or contradictory in that testimony ...' Then, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he did not recall any contradictions in Clarke's testimony.

"One can only hope," the Editorial Board writes, "that Frist is more judicious in wielding his scalpel than with the meat ax he took to Clarke's character."

In his March 30, 2004, New York Times Op-Ed, Paul Krugman wrote:

"The facts that terrorism was placed on the back burner before 9/11 and that Mr. Bush blamed Iraq despite the lack of evidence are confirmed by many sources, including Bush at War, by Bob Woodward. ... And new evidence keeps emerging for Mr. Clarke's main charge, that the Iraq obsession undermined the pursuit of Al Qaeda. [7]
"That's why the administration responded to Mr. Clarke the way it responds to anyone who reveals inconvenient facts: with a campaign of character assassination." [8]

"Coalition of the Willing, WMD and France

Andrea Koppel and John King reported on May 15, 2003, for CNN that "France says it is the victim of a smear campaign by the Bush administration, charging some U.S. officials are leaking false stories about alleged French complicity with the Iraqi regime."[9]

Hans Blix and the U.N. Weapons Inspections

The June 11, 2003, Guardian/UK headlined with Hans Blix's claim "I was smeared by the Pentagon". In an exclusive interview with the Guardian's Helena Smith, the United Nations' chief weapons inspector "lashed out last night at the 'bastards' who have tried to undermine him throughout the three years he has held his high-profile post. ... In an extraordinary departure from the diplomatic language with which he has come to be associated, Mr. Blix assailed his critics in both Washington and Iraq."

"Mr. Blix said: 'I have my detractors in Washington. There are bastards who spread things around, of course, who planted nasty things in the media. Not that I cared very much. ... It was like a mosquito bite in the evening that is there in the morning, an irritant.'

"In a wide-ranging interview Mr. Blix, who [was to retire] in three weeks' time, accused:

  • "The Bush administration of leaning on his inspectors to produce more damning language in their reports;
  • "'Some elements' of the Pentagon of being behind a smear campaign against him; and
  • "Washington of regarding the UN as an 'alien power' which they hoped would sink into the East river.

"Asked if he believed he had been the target of a deliberate smear campaign he said: 'Yes, I probably was at a lower level.'"

The Bush administration's response came from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who joined together that same day to praise Blix.

"'There is no smear campaign I am aware of,' Powell said. 'I have high regard for Dr. Blix. I worked very closely with Dr. Blix. I noted the president had confidence in him as well.

"Annan, standing alongside Powell at the entrance to the State Department, said the Swedish diplomat was very professional. 'He did a good job. He had universal respect for his professionalism.'

"The United Nations chief said he could not address the question of any smear campaign, but he said some press reports about Blix were unfair."

Valerie Plame

Regarding the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, David Corn wrote for "Capital Games" in The Nation on July 16, 2003:

"The Wilson smear was a thuggish act. Bush and his crew abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation's counter-proliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security."

See Treasongate and Treasongate: Beyond Karl Rove.

Swiftboating Joseph Wilson

The Clinton administration

The Moderate Independent's Betsy R. Vasquez wrote in the December 16-31, 2003, "Take the smear stories spread by the Bush administration during the transition period after the 2000 election. Every paper and TV station carried detailed coverage of how members of the outgoing Clinton administration were vandalizing the White House, writing graffiti, cutting phone lines, leaving obscene things on voice mail and computers. Again and again the supposed acts were detailed and covered widely.

"Yet when, a few months later, it was found out -- and even confirmed by the Bush administration -- that every single one of those stories had been pure fabrications, virtually no one even mentioned it, never mind gave it wide coverage and made a large scandal of smearing deceit and press manipulation. A small story in the Washington Post is about the only place the reality appeared, putting the lie to all the claims of Clinton-transition tawdriness.

"People wonder how media bias works. This is one of the central games in the right-wing dominated 'mainstream' media's standard operations manual these days. Bad news for the right -- like Newt Gingrich getting caught sleeping with his aid while bashing Clinton, or like the massive story CBS broke laying blame for September 11, 2001 at the Bush administration's doorstep -- get basically no coverage at all, while any counterspin or cover stories – such as, 'Newt left because the election went badly,' or the now recanting Thomas H. Kean -- get wide and full coverage. While on the other side of things, the smear gets the full press, the retraction, nothing."

MoveOn's "Bush In 30 Seconds" Ads

Blogger Colin, posted January 6, 2004, at Active Free Media addressed the Republican National Committee smear of MoveOn's ad contest for "Bush In 30 Seconds":

"While the real story is that almost 3 million votes were cast to choose 15 amazing final ads, the RNC and other media outlets have chosen instead to focus on two of most extreme of the 1,500 citizen made submissions, comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler, to make MoveOn seem like a radical organization. Reject this clear attempt to mislead and misinform.

"This behavior by the RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie reflects a comfortableness with misrepresentation and misinformation that the Bush Administration seems to have embraced these past few years. Clearly the two ads in question are extreme and perhaps 'Hate Speech.' However, they are not 'MoveOn ads' and should not be used to prove a stereotype some may have of the web-based network of nearly 2 million active citizens."

Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill

On January 13, 2004, Martin Crutsinger, reporting for the Associated Press, wrote that "Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, embroiled in a dispute with the White House over his harsh criticism of President Bush's leadership style, denied Tuesday that he used classified documents for his new book.

"Reacting to an announcement by the Treasury Department that it was launching an inspector general's investigation into how an agency document stamped 'secret' wound up being used in his interview Sunday night on the CBS program '60 minutes', O'Neill said, 'The truth is, I didn't take any documents at all.'"

"Republican supporters of Bush aimed their fire at O'Neill, contending that his comments showed the grudge he held against Bush for the president's decision to fire him for fighting against a new round of tax cuts.

"'Mr. O'Neill is now as bitter as he was ineffective when he served as treasury secretary,' said Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio."

Susanne Malveaux, writing February 6, 2004, for CNN, reported that O'Neill had been "cleared in use of classified documents" and that the "Probe faults [the] Treasury Department for releasing secret papers."

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