Friday, August 21, 2009

Ridge pressured to raise terror level

After Osama bin Laden released a threatening videotape four days before the election, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pushed Mr. Ridge to elevate the public threat posture but he refused, according to the book. Mr. Ridge calls it a “dramatic and inconceivable” event that “proved most troublesome” and reinforced his decision to resign.

The provocative allegation provides fresh ammunition for critics who have accused the Bush administration of politicizing national security. Mr. Bush and his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, were locked in a tight race heading into that final weekend, and some analysts concluded that even without a higher threat level, the bin Laden tape helped the president win re-election by reminding voters of the danger of Al Qaeda.

Keith M. Urbahn, a spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld, said the defense secretary supported letting the public know if intelligence agencies believed there was a greater threat, and pointed to a variety of chilling Qaeda warnings in those days, including one tape vowing that “the streets of America will run red with blood.”

“Given those facts,” Mr. Urbahn said, “it would seem reasonable for senior administration officials to discuss the threat level. Indeed, it would have been irresponsible had that discussion not taken place.”

Mr. Urbahn said “the storyline advanced by his publisher seemingly to sell copies of the book is nonsense.”

Mr. Ashcroft could not be reached for comment. But Mark Corallo, who was his spokesman at the Justice Department, dismissed Mr. Ridge’s account. “Didn’t happen,” he said. “Now would be a good time for Mr. Ridge to use his emergency duct tape.”

Frances Fragos Townsend, who was Mr. Bush’s homeland security adviser, said that “there was a fulsome debate” about the threat level but that “the politics of it were not ever a factor.”

Mr. Ridge’s book, called “The Test of Our Times” and due out Sept. 1 from Thomas Dunne Books, is the latest by a Bush adviser to disclose internal disagreements and establish distance from an unpopular administration. Mr. Ridge complains that he was never invited to National Security Council meetings, that Mr. Rumsfeld would rarely meet with him and that the White House pressured him to include a justification for the Iraq war in a speech.

He also writes that he lobbied unsuccessfully before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to replace Michael D. Brown as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and that the White House killed his proposal to open a homeland security regional office in New Orleans.

The most sensational assertion was the pre-election debate in 2004 about the threat level, first reported by U.S. News & World Report. Mr. Ridge writes that the bin Laden tape alone did not justify a change in the nation’s security posture but describes “a vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion” on Oct. 30 to do so.

“There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None,” he writes. “I wondered, ‘Is this about security or politics?’ Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the president’s approval rating in the days after the raising of the threat level.”

Mr. Ridge provides no evidence that politics motivated the discussion. Until now, he has denied politics played a role in threat levels. Asked by Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times if politics ever influenced decisions on threat warnings, he volunteered to take a lie-detector test. “Wire me up,” Mr. Ridge said, according to Mr. Lichtblau’s book, “Bush’s Law.” “Not a chance. Politics played no part.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Papers Show Bush Aides’ Role in Firings of Prosecutors

August 12, 2009

WASHINGTON — Thousands of pages of once-secret congressional testimony and e-mail messages released on Tuesday showed that Karl Rove and other senior aides in the Bush White House played an earlier and more active role than previously known in the 2006 firings of a number of federal prosecutors.

Early discussions at the White House in the spring of 2005 were focused on unhappiness with David C. Iglesias, a United States attorney in New Mexico who was later among eight prosecutors who were fired in a purge that created a political firestorm for the White House. A top aide to Mr. Rove wrote in an internal e-mail message in June 2005, a year and a half before Mr. Iglesias was fired, that Republicans in New Mexico were “really angry” over what they saw as the prosecutor’s inaction in pursuing voter fraud charges against Democrats in the state in tight elections.”

“Iglesias has done nothing,” the Rove aide, Scott Jennings, wrote to another White House staff member. ”We are getting killed out there,” he added, urging that the White House “move forward with getting rid of the NM USATTY.”

White House aides to former President George W. Bush have long maintained that the White House played only a limited role in the firings of Mr. Iglesias and the seven other United States attorneys and that the Justice Department took the lead in the review that led to their dismissals. Mr. Rove and Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, played down their roles in congressional testimony last month as part of an agreement to resolve a years-long dispute with Congressional Democrats.

Transcripts of their testimony — including many instances in which the two aides said they could not remember important details of the debate over the United States attorneys — were among the materials released Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

A lawyer for Mr. Rove could not be reached immediately for comment.

The e-mail messages, in particular, raise questions about the Bush White House’s assertion that it played only a limited role in the firings. A federal prosecutor is continuing to investigate accusations that officials may have acted criminally in the firings or in their testimony to Congress about the incident, which led to the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and many of his top aides at the Justice Department.

Representative John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who leads the Judiciary Committee and has led the push to examine the Bush White House’s role in the firings, said the e-mail messages and testimony contradicted major claims by Bush aides.

“This basic truth can no longer be denied: Karl Rove and his cohorts at the Bush White House were the driving force behind several of these firings, which were done for improper reasons,” Mr. Conyers said. “Under the Bush regime, honest and well-performing U.S. attorneys were fired for petty patronage, political horse trading and, in the most egregious case of political abuse of the U.S. attorney corps — that of U.S. Attorney Iglesias — because he refused to use his office to help Republicans win elections.”