Politics

Excuse me, but do you ENJOY being in the minority?

This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that Senate Democrats were planning “to grill Bush confidant Karen Hughes” about her involvement in the ever widening leak-case. But, Senate Democrats must have gotten lost on the way to the hearing. Not one showed up. Instead, according to the Associated Press:

“A scaled-back Senate Foreign Relations Committee showered praise Friday on Karen Hughes and put the former political adviser to President Bush on a fast track to confirmation as the State Department’s top public relations official.”

The absence of the Democrats is even more glaring considering just today the New York Times reported that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald called Karen Hughes before the grand jury to testify as to her involvement in the leak-case. Of course, this begs the obvious question: Karen Hughes, did you have a role in leaking the name of an undercover CIA agent?

Instead of any substantive questions, the Democrats simply didn’t show up. But we did get this statement from ranking minority member Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE):

Mr. Chairman, I regret that previous commitments prevent me from attending the confirmation hearing this morning.

I am particularly interested in and supportive of the nomination of Karen Hughes to be undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. What this job requires, among other things, is continuity. The last two undersecretaries have stayed six and 18 months, respectively.

I met with the nominee yesterday and understand that, barring unforeseen circumstances, she is willing to stay through the president’s term.

I believe that she is highly qualified because of her professional background, and, importantly, enjoys the full confidence of the president and the secretary of state.

She will bring new energy and creativity to our public diplomacy efforts. I commend the president for choosing her and persuading her to return to Washington, and I look forward to working with her for the next three years on this important foreign policy priority.”

If the Democrats hadn’t failed to show up, here are some other questions they could have asked of Ms. Hughes:

What was the role of the White House Iraq Group, on which you served, in manipulating intelligence to sell the Iraq war?

Were you involved in declassifying memos to smear Richard Clarke?

Were you involved in the administration’s past efforts to hire fake news reporters to sell Administration policies?

Did you have any involvement in communications dirty tricks by the Bush administration? For example, giving Jeff Gannon Guckert White House press credentials?

Did you resist the administration’s efforts to politicize the September 11th attacks for political gain?

Did you intentionally falsify President Bush’s Guard record?

And here are the reasons why those questions need to be answered:

Did you have a role in leaking the name of an undercover CIA Agent?

The New York Times reports this morning that Hughes has been interviewed by the federal prosecutor investigating the leak of former covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. That revelation is not altogether surprising given that Hughes was “a member of the White House Iraq Group, an internal body that coordinated for, among other things, selling the war here at home.” At least two members of that group, Karl Rove and Lewis Libby, have been confirmed to be leakers of the agent’s name. In her book, Ten Minutes From Normal, Hughes discussed the leak, calling it “wrong” and “unfair” to Bush. Hughes earlier said the leak was “disruptive to democracy.” In her book, she said whoever conducted the leak “should come forward and not hide behind journalistic ethics for his or her self-protection.” She added, “The use of unnamed sources has become a convenient way for too many political operatives to hide and avoid accountability for their statements.” Will she stand by her previous statements and call for Rove and Libby to come forward and take accountability for their actions? And how does Hughes respond to her previous comments that she knew Rove wasn’t involved in the leak because “Karl has said he was not involved”?

What was the role of the White House Iraq Group, on which you served, in manipulating intelligence to sell the Iraq war?

The White House Iraq Group (WHIG) was specifically formed to sell the war in Iraq. Even Bush chief of staff Andy Card conceded WHIG’s purpose: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” The Washington Post reported that the “escalation of nuclear rhetoric” during the pre-war stage, “including the introduction of the term ‘mushroom cloud’ into the debate, coincided with the formation of a White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, a task force assigned to ‘educate the public’ about the threat from Hussein, as a participant put it.” Hughes took a leading role in crafting Bush’s statements to convince the American public of the Iraqi threat. Besides the deceptive use of “mushroom cloud,” Bush made a number of false and misleading pre-war statements including the idea that Saddam wanted to “use al-Qaeda as a forward army” and his assertion that Iraq “has weapons of mass destruction — the world’s deadliest weapons — which pose a direct threat to the United States.” Hughes should be asked about her role in formulating these statements, what intelligence she saw to indicate these statements were true, and whether she concedes that these statements were exaggerations.

Among the false statements Bush made prior to the war in Iraq were his famous sixteen words in the 2003 State of the Union address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” The Houston Chronicle (1/27/03) reported that Hughes was “involved in drafting the speech.” She said her primary goal in the process was to answer: “Why is Saddam Hussein’s continued defiance a threat to our country and to peace in the world?” In making the sale, the Bush team was overzealous in including a false statement for which Condi Rice, Stephen Hadley, Ari Fleischer, and George Tenet later had to apologize. Intelligence from the CIA and the State Department at that time indicated Iraq was not attempting to acquire uranium from Niger. So why did the Bush team ignore the conclusions of our own intelligence sources and instead cite the British? Was it an effort to include a statement known not to be true? Instead of addressing the allegations at the time they were made, Hughes defended the false intelligence and devised a communications strategy that questioned the motives of those who criticized the president (like Joe Wilson).

Were you involved in declassifying memos to smear Richard Clarke?

The New York Times (3/28/04) reported that Hughes “was an advocate of the howitzer treatment” of the former Bush counter-terrorism chief who made the mistake of criticizing the White House about its counter-terrorism strategies. In an attempt to attack and smear the character of Richard Clarke, the White House released numerous pieces of information that were previously classified, including an email from Clarke to Condi Rice shortly after 9-11 and Clarke’s resignation letter. The White House also revealed Clarke to be the source of an anonymous background briefing he had done on behalf of the president. However, the White House refused Clarke’s request to declassify his correspondence with Rice prior to 9-11 about the threats that were being ignored. Hughes admitted on ABC’s 20/20 that she was involved in these efforts against Clarke: “I’m involved in White House discussions about those issues… I think, from personal knowledge, that many of the things he said are not true.”

Were you involved in the administration’s past efforts to hire fake new reporters to sell Administration policies?

The Department of Education contracted with Ketchum public relations to produce and distribute “news” stories featuring a fake reporter announcing the availability of tutoring under No Child Left Behind. According to the Associated Press, the Administration paid $700,000 to Ketchum for the segment. The video includes a story featuring Education Secretary Rod Paige and ends with the “journalist” saying, “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.” [AP, 10/10/04, Washington Post, 10/15/04; People for the American Way Release, 10/11/04]

“It is the kind of TV news coverage every president covets. ‘Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.,’ a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three. The report from Kansas City was made by the State Department Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance.” [NYT, 3/13/05]

Bush’s Health and Human Services Department also contracted with Ketchum to promote the president’s Medicare drug benefit. Using the same public relations consultant, Karen Ryan, Ketchum produced a series of video news releases that included scripted interviews and pictures of Bush receiving a standing ovation as he signed the legislation. During the first two months of 2004, the pieces aired 53 times on 40 stations in 33 major media markets. [New York Times, 3/15/04; Atlanta Journal Constitution, 3/15/04; LA Times, 3/16/04; Lexington Herald Leader, 5/19/04]

On May 19, 2004, the General Accountability Office (GAO) released its investigation findings into fake news segments produced by Medicare to promote the Bush Medicare bill. The segments, video news releases, were distributed to local television sessions to be run as part of the station’s news programs. The segments contained no identifiers that they were produced by the government, which the GAO found violates the propaganda prohibitions of the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution of 2003. The GAO concluded, “Because [Medicare] did not identify itself as a source of the news report, the story packages, including the lead-in script, violate the publicity or propaganda prohibition.” [GAO, Decision in Matter of Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services – Video News Release, 5/19/04]

The General Accountability Office also reviewed video news releases produced for the Office of National Drug Control Policy warning of the danger of drug abuse. Some portion of the segments aired on at least 300 local news shows. The GAO found in the first week of January 2005 that the releases violated federal laws against covert propaganda. [Washington Post, 1/7/04]

USA Today revealed that the Department of Education paid political commentator/talk radio host Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative on his program and to other African American commentators. During these efforts, Williams failed to disclose his contract with the government. [USA Today, 1/7/05]

Did you have any involvement in communications dirty tricks by the Bush administration? For example, giving Jeff Gannon Guckert White House press credentials?

Jeff Gannon/James Guckert is the fake reporter with a false name given all-too-real press credentials by the White House. He’s known for asking biased, leading questions during press briefings before finally being exposed a month ago as a right-wing operative with no journalism experience, a fake name, and a shady past. Most White House journalists have what is called a “hard pass,” a permanent pass obtained after undergoing a rigorous FBI background check. Gannon skipped over that step. Instead, “the White House waved him into press briefings for nearly two years using what’s called a day pass.” Now, day passes are special exceptions that are “designed for temporary use by out-of-town reporters who need access to the White House, not for indefinite use by reporters.” If the background check is necessary for reporters with extended access to the White House, why were the rules circumvented for Gannon?

Pentagon officials confirmed that the Bush administration authorized the Department of Defense to create a vast data-collection project called the Total Information Awareness project. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), headed by controversial Iran-Contra figure retired Admiral John Poindexter, was in charge of developing the project. Privacy advocates called the project “a supersnoop’s dream.” It aimed to take information collected by corporations such as credit card purchases, airline reservations and other personal information on U.S. citizens and add it to existing government databases to look for trends and patterns. [Washington Times, 11/21/02; Houston Chronicle, 11/26/02; National Journal’s Technology Daily, 11/25/02]

In September 2004, the General Accounting Office concluded that the Bush Administration violated Federal law when it blocked the release of cost estimates of Bush’ Medicare proposal. The GAO instructed the Administration to retract 7 months of Scully’s salary for violating provisions of appropriations legislation. A Congressional Research Service report released in late April 2004 reached the same conclusion that Scully violated federal law and Supreme Court precedent in his attempts to muzzle Foster. [New York Times, 9/8/04; Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/4/04]

“When it came to lobbying the Security Council members, it turned out the administration hadn’t been satisfied with arm-twisting alone. It had resorted to espionage, bugging the offices of several U-6 nations.” The National Security Agency had mounted a surveillance surge aimed at undecided nations in the pre-war phase. The N.S.A.’s purpose “was to gain ‘insights as to how the membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/ negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/dependencies, etc-the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.'” [Vanity Fair, 5/04]

“The Bush administration has dozens of intercepts of Mohamed ElBaradei’s phone calls with Iranian diplomats and is scrutinizing them in search of ammunition to oust him as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to three U.S. government officials.” [Wash Post, 12/12/04]

Did you resist the administration’s efforts to politicize the September 11th attacks for political gain?

Ellen Goodman wrote about an exchange between Karen Hughes and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer: “Wolf Blitzer asked the Bush adviser whether abortion would be an issue in this election. ‘Well, Wolf, it’s always an issue,’ she answered. ‘And I frankly think it’s changing somewhat. I think after September 11th the American people are valuing life more and realizing that we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life.’ Just in case anyone didn’t get it, she added that ‘the fundamental difference between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life.'” [Goodman, Washington Post Writers Group, 4/30/04, accessed on workingforchange.com]

In March 2004, during the early stages of the presidential campaign, the Bush campaign released an ad showing the charred shell of the World Trade Center, and another showing firefighters removing shrouded remains from ground zero. A firefighters union and relatives of victims objected to the politicization of 9-11. Discussing the campaign on CNN, Ms. Hughes said of the ads: ”I think it’s very tasteful.” [NYT, 3/5/04]

Did you intentionally falsify President Bush’s Guard record?

On page 34 of Bush’s autobiography, ghostwritten by Karen Hughes, he claims, that “after learning to fly the F-102 fighter jet, he was turned down for Vietnam duty because ‘had not logged enough flight hours’ to qualify for a combat assignment. Before going on to recall the ‘challenging moments’ that involved close formation drills at night during poor weather, he adds: ‘I continued flying with my unit for the next several years.'” [New York Observer, 2/2/04]

Bush Checked Box Not To Serve Overseas. On Bush’s application to the 147th Fighter Group at Ellington Air Force Base in Texas, Bush was asked what his “Area Assignment Preferences” were. Bush checked the box beside “Do Not Volunteer” for overseas duty. [Application for Extended Duty With The United States Air Force, 5/27/68]

Bush Suspended From Flying For Missing Physical. On Sept. 29, 1972, Bush was suspended from flying because he missed his annual medical examination. Air Force guidelines required Bush’s local commander to direct an investigation. Bush never regained his flying status. [Boston Globe, 2/12/04; New York Daily News, 2/12/04; Aeronautical Orders, Number 87, 29 Sept 72; AFM 35-13, Para 2-29m]