Testy, Testy, Testy

By Dan Froomkin

The Washington Post

Friday, June 25, 2004; 11:43 AM

Do you get the sense things are a little tense at the White House these days?

Let's see.

On Tuesday, right on the Senate floor, Vice President Cheney snarled obscenely at a Democratic senator.

We can only imagine what it was like in the Oval Office yesterday morning when President Bush -- attended only by his new private lawyer -- faced 70 minutes of questions from prosecutors about the outing of a CIA operative.

But not long after that meeting, Bush got downright snippy with an Irish TV reporter when she tried to move him beyond his stock answers.

Let's start with the historic meeting in the Oval Office.

CIA Leak Investigation

Starting about 10:30 a.m. yesterday, Bush was interviewed for 70 minutes by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and members of Fitzgerald's team.

The only other person in the room was James E. Sharp, a private trial lawyer and former federal prosecutor who has now been formally hired by Bush.

Susan Schmidt writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush was interviewed for more than an hour yesterday by a special prosecutor investigating whether administration officials illegally disclosed the name of a covert CIA officer last summer. . . .

"Bush's session with prosecutors is unusual but not unprecedented. Bill Clinton testified or was interviewed at the White House in criminal investigations at least seven times during his presidency, on matters that included a probe of the death of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster Jr., campaign finance irregularities, the Whitewater inquiry and the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation that led to his impeachment."

Richard W. Stevenson and David Johnston write in the New York Times: "Mr. Fitzgerald appears to be moving into the final stages of the investigation, suggesting that he could reach a decision during the heat of the presidential campaign on whether to charge anyone and whether to issue a public report on the investigation if he does not file charges. . . .

"[T]he investigation has unsettled some current and former White House aides, and the presence of prosecutors in the Oval Office even though there is no indication that they suspect Mr. Bush of playing any direct role in the leak was hardly one the administration relished."

So what happened in there? There's lot of speculation but little or no actual information.

David Gregory reported on NBC News that the investigation has expanded beyond the initial leak. "This inquiry is also now focused on whether anyone has lied to investigators," Greogory said -- but he didn't say how he knew.

Here's the text of press secretary Scott McClellan's briefing on the meeting.

Cheney and the 'F-Word'

At a photo session on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Cheney ran into Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. That sparked an exchange about Cheney's ties to Halliburton and the White House's bare-knuckle tactics on judicial nominees.

Helen Dewar and Dana Milbank write in The Washington Post: "The exchange ended when Cheney offered some crass advice.

" 'Fuck yourself,' said the man who is a heartbeat from the presidency. . . .

"As it happens, the exchange occurred on the same day the Senate passed legislation described as the 'Defense of Decency Act' by 99 to 1. . . .

Dewar and Milbank also note: "This was not the first foray into French by Cheney and his boss. During the 2000 campaign, Bush pointed out a New York Times reporter to Cheney and said, without knowing the microphone was picking it up, 'major-league [expletive].' Cheney's response -- 'Big Time' -- has become his official presidential nickname. . . .

Here's the transcript from CNN's Inside Politics yesterday, when Ed Henry broke the news to Judy Woodruff:

"Judy, there's been an unrelenting Democratic assault on Vice President Dick Cheney, mostly over his ties to the company Halliburton, which he used to run. This spilled over, it looks like it might have gotten to Cheney a little bit on Tuesday. CNN confirms that the Vice President used the 'F' word as he confronted Senator Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor Tuesday. This occurred when all 100 Senators were taking the official Senate photo. This is supposed to be a happy occasion, but the smiles turned to snarls. What we're told happened, is that Vice President Cheney went up to Leahy, who has been leading the assault about Halliburton, and said he is not happy about the investigation. Leahy responded that Cheney once called him a bad Catholic. To that, Mr. Cheney used the 'F' word, right back to Leahy. This has been spreading around among Senators. Senator Leahy confirmed this to CNN, let me read to you what he told us:

" 'I think he was just having a bad day. I was shocked to hear this kind of language on the Senate floor.'

"We also have a statement from the Vice President's office. Spokesman Kevin Callums tells CNN, 'That doesn't sound like the kind of language the Vice President would use, but I can confirm that there was a frank exchange of views.'

"Bottom line, Judy, as if we needed another sign this Presidential campaign is underway. Tempers are flaring, nerves are frayed, and this is just another example, Judy."

Here's the cover of the Boston Herald today.

And here's an AP photo of Cheney, taken just a little while before his outburst.

He does look cranky. And here's one possible reason why: It appears that, unlike his boss, he reads the newspaper. Look for the telltale clue.

The Irish Incident

Shawn Pogatchnik writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq and insisted most of Europe backed the move during a tense interview Thursday on Irish television.

"On several occasions during the 15-minute interview, Bush asked RTE correspondent Carole Coleman not to interrupt him.

"When Coleman said most Irish people thought the world was more dangerous today than before the Iraq invasion, Bush disagreed and responded, 'What was it like Sept. 11th, 2001?' "

Here's the video of the interview with Coleman in the Map Room. Irish television viewers saw it prefaced by a report about how much Europe hates Bush, the "Toxic Texan."

Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

Coleman: "The world is a more dangerous place today."

Bush: "Why do you say that? . . . "

Coleman: "I think there is a feeling that the world has become a more dangerous place because you have taken the focus off Al Qaeda and diverted into Iraq. Do you not see that the world is a more dangerous place? I saw four of your soldiers lying dead, on the television, the other day. . . . "

Bush: "You know, listen, nobody cares more about the death than I do.

Coleman: "Is there a point at which --

Bush: "Let me finish. Please, please, let me finish, then you can follow up, if you don't mind. Nobody cares more about the deaths than I do. I care about it a lot. But I do believe that the world is a safer place, and becoming a safer place. . . .

"People join terrorist organizations because there's no hope and there's no chance to raise their families in a peaceful world where there is not freedom . . . so the idea is to promote freedom and at the same time protect our security."

RTÉ News, meanwhile, also reports that "Thousands of soldiers and Gardaí have begun sealing off areas around Shannon airport and Dromoland Castle ahead of this evening's arrival of the US President George W Bush for the EU-US summit."

Bush also gave an interview to a Turkish journalist yesterday.

Reuters reports: "President Bush pledged to work with Turkey and the new Iraqi government against Turkish Kurd militants in northern Iraq in an interview with Turkish television aired Friday."

Here's the transcript of the interview from NTV-MSNBC. But it's in Turkish. For instance, here's an excerpt:

"NTV: Sayin Baskan, gelecekte bir gün, daha çok vaktiniz oldugunda sizi Türkiye'ye tatil için bekliyoruz.

"Bush: Evet. Bir gün çok isterim. Ama su anda biraz mesgulüm."

Sounds sort of testy to me.

Bad Year

Whither the tension? Well, you might wonder if the Dump-Cheney rumors are getting to the vice president. You might wonder if Bush has reason to believe the CIA leak investigation is going to blow up in his face.

But Ron Fournier of the Associated Press makes the case that it's not been a bad week for Bush. It's been a bad year.

"From his unremarkable State of the Union address to the 360th slain U.S. soldier in Iraq, this has been a disastrous year for President Bush. And yet, he's tied with John Kerry in his race for re-election.

"How can that be?"

Fournier examines alternate theories -- then provides a bulleted list of 23 "lowlights" of the past year.

Cheney's Good News

Yesterday actually brought some really good news for the White House.

Charles Lane writes in The Washington Post: "The Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court yesterday to give Vice President Cheney another chance to shield the internal workings of the 2001 energy policy task force he headed, all but ensuring that none of its alleged contacts with industry lobbyists will be aired before the November elections. . . .

"At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan welcomed the ruling, saying: 'We believe that the president should be able to receive candid and unvarnished advice from his staff and advisers. It's an important principle.'

"Democrats renewed their charges of excessive White House secrecy, with the presidential campaign of John F. Kerry declaring that the 'Nixon legacy of secrecy is alive and well in the Bush White House.' "

Linda Greenhouse writes in the New York Times: "The lawsuit had the potential to embarrass the administration, especially given Mr. Cheney's former role as chief executive of Halliburton and the close ties of other administration members to the energy industry."

Here is the text of the opinion.

The AP Lawsuit on Bush's Service

Here's a copy of the lawsuit filed by the Associated Press on Tuesday seeking access to microfilm of all of Bush's military service records.

From the argument: "A significant controversy has arisen in the ongoing campaign over the President's military service during the Vietnam War, and specifically whether he performed his required days of service during a period between May 1972 and May 1973. Allegations have been made that the military personnel file for George W. Bush released to the press earlier this year is not complete. The public has an intense and legitimate interest in knowing the validity of these claims, which may well be answered by reviewing the microfilm copy of the personnel file in the Texas archives."

Associated Press Assistant General Counsel Dave Tomlin told me yesterday that AP reporters began trying to get the documents back in February, but hit roadblock after roadblock.

Tomlin said the AP has been informed that the microfilm in question does indeed exist. Tomlin said that because paper records can vanish and be tampered with, the microfilm "would erase any questions."

WMD Commission

The WMD Commission met Wednesday and Thursday, in secret, and nobody seems to care. Here's the press release.

Innovation

Jodi Wilgoren and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times: "Having paid less attention than their predecessors to Silicon Valley for much of the campaign, Senator John Kerry and President Bush today announced new proposals to aid the growth of high-tech businesses. Not surprisingly, each argued that the other's plans would stifle innovation."

Here's the text of Bush's remarks. "Today, I want to talk about how to make sure America is the best place to do business in the world," he said.

The Gore Critique

Michael Janofsky writes in the New York Times: "Former Vice President Al Gore accused President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday of undermining American democracy by using the Iraq war to empower the executive branch at the expense of civil liberties, Congress and the court system."

Here's the text of his speech.

The Reagan Critique

Rene Sanchez writes in The Washington Post: "With more than 35 million television viewers across the country watching, Ronald Prescott Reagan first hinted at his disdain for the Bush administration this month when he delivered a eulogy during his father's sunset burial service in Southern California. . . .

"Since then, in a series of nationally televised interviews, his comments about Bush have become less oblique and much harsher."

But "the GOP still has the other Reagan son in its corner: Michael Reagan, the nationally syndicated conservative radio talk show host."

The Clinton Critique

Bill Clinton speaks in the most candid terms yet about his successor in an interview with Joe Conasaon in Salon.

The Moore Critique

Martin Kasindorf and Judy Keen write in USA Today: "For months, from Hollywood to the White House, storms as well as speculation have surrounded 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' the 116-minute assault by the outspokenly liberal [Michael] Moore on President Bush and the war in Iraq. The $6 million movie opened in New York City on Wednesday and opens in 868 theaters nationwide today."

Jeff Zeleny writes in the Chicago Tribune: "With Election Day slightly more than four months away, filmmaker Michael Moore has infuriated the White House with the release of 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' which depicts President Bush in the most unflattering of lights."

The movie is getting mostly rave reviews from movie critics. The Rotten TomatoesWeb site, which links to 95 reviews at last count, gives it an 82% on the tomatometer. That's "Certified fresh."

ABC News's The Note reports: "Communications Director Dan Bartlett was asked by Diane Sawyer early this morning whether he intended to see the movie. 'I'm busy these days and I doubt that will elevate to the top of my movie watching list. If I wanted to see a good fiction movie I might see Shrek,' Bartlett quipped.

"He continued, criticizing Moore: 'Mr. Moore has made it a habit of his not to pay attention to facts. And he comes from a very extreme ideology which he in fact opined that we shouldn't have a military response to 9/11 and bin Laden. He's outside the main stream.' "

Stewart Critique

Jon Stewart on Comedy Central Wednesday night lambasted Bush for -- once again -- not being able to pronounce the name of the Abu Ghraib prison. Stewart shows footage from Bush's photo-op with the Hungarian prime minister Wednesday, in which Bush calls it "Abu-gareff," and then looks sort of confused.

Says Stewart: "When you mispronounce the name of the prison that is at the center of the prison abuse scandal, it does give the public the sense that you don't [expletive-laced euphemism suggesting a lack of caring]."

CIA Director Watch

Mike Allen and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post: "President Bush has decided he needs to choose a new CIA director to replace George J. Tenet before the election, and the leading candidate is House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter J. Goss, senior administration officials said yesterday....

"Bush advisers said naming a replacement for Tenet would show that the president was taking seriously the need for changes in the intelligence community. But several Democrats noted yesterday that if Kerry won the November election, it would be unlikely that he would keep Goss, should he win Senate approval."

More About the Trip

Mike Allen and Robin Wright write in The Washington Post: "President Bush heads overseas today for twin summits amid increasing signs that he will win token -- but politically important -- support from NATO for the fledgling Iraqi government, administration officials said yesterday.

"[A]dministration officials say they are optimistic that Bush will be able to join in an announcement of a new international commitment to Iraq at the end of a NATO summit in Istanbul on Monday and Tuesday. . . .

"The summit -- part of a five-day trip for a European Union summit in Ireland and the NATO meeting in Turkey -- may be one of Bush's last chances to chalk up a victory overseas before he faces reelection."

Here's the text of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's briefing on the trip yesterday.

Calabresi Watch

Gail Appleson reports for Reuters: "A U.S. appeals judge on Thursday apologized for comparing the way President Bush took office after the disputed 2000 election to the rise of dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

"Guido Calabresi, a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, sent a letter to his chief judge expressing 'my profound regret' for the comments made at a legal conference in Washington on Saturday."

Poll Watch

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "Most Americans now say that sending U.S. troops to Iraq was a mistake, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll finds. For the first time, a majority also says that the war there has made the nation less safe from terrorism. . . .

"Souring attitudes toward the war could present challenges to President Bush, who plans to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq even after the hand-over of power. While he has linked the war to the fight against terror, 55% of those polled now say that the war has increased U.S. vulnerability to terrorism."

Here are the complete poll results. They show Bush's approval rating down one tick from two weeks ago, to 48 percent, with 49 percent disapproving. But the poll also finds that among "likely voters" nationwide, Bush leads Kerry 48% to 47%, with independent candidate Ralph Nader at 3%. Three weeks ago, Kerry led 49% to 43%.

More Backdrop Troubles

John Nolan writes for the Associated Press: "A former bookkeeper praised by President Bush for turning around her life with help from a social-services agency still owes at least $300,000 to the company she was convicted of stealing from, according to court records and the business owner. . . .

"During a visit Monday to Talbert House, a Cincinnati social-service agency that helps former convicts, Bush praised [Tami] Jordan as a 'good soul' and an 'inspirational person' who was making the best of her second chance.

The business owner, Susan Morin, said she was stunned to see Jordan with Bush. "After her story appeared in newspapers Thursday, Morin said she received an e-mailed apology from the White House and a telephoned apology from the Talbert House."

Here's that Thursday story, by Barry M. Horstman in the Cincinnati Post.

Here's a White House photo of Bush giving Jordan a big thumbs-up.

Here's the text of Bush's remarks in Cincinnati. "There's nothing like having a story like this to be able to share with people," he said after Jordan spoke.