White House Excuses Partisan Briefings With False ‘Clinton Did It Too’ Defense

During yesterday’s press briefing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino resisted answering any questions about why the administration thought it necessary to give political briefings to appointees at federal agencies, and whose idea it was to hold them.

When one reporter asked Perino whether the briefings were a “White House idea, initially, or was it the agencies,” Perino dodged the question and replied that “the Clinton administration had similar briefings.” Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/04/perinoclintonpol.320.240.flv]

Perino’s “Clinton did it too” is wrong. Bush White House officials went to federal agencies on at least 20 occasions and conducted private briefings for large groups of political appointees. They gave presentations focusing on “Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election.” The Hatch Act explicitly prohibits the use of federal property for partisan political purposes.

Doug Sosnik, who served as President Clinton’s Director of Political Affairs and later as Counselor to the President, told ThinkProgress, “We never went to agencies and briefed political appointees.” Sosnik and several other former Clinton administration officials told ThinkProgress that Clinton officials never conducted similar briefings.


Q Okay, on the political briefings, there seems — there’s no shortage of political information out there. Why does the White House feel it’s necessary to give these employees these briefings in the first place?

MS. PERINO: I think that’s kind of ridiculous question. I mean, there’s — sorry, I usually don’t say those things, but I do think that that one was. Look, there is nothing wrong with political appointees providing other political appointees with an informational briefing about the political landscape in which they are working.

Q I understand. That’s not an answer, as ridiculous as the question was.

MS. PERINO: What, you think that we should just look at the CBS/New York Times poll and make our decisions based on that?

Q It’s 20 briefings —

MS. PERINO: Jim would agree.

Q Well, I’m trying to get to the motivation for this, and it’s 20 briefings —

MS. PERINO: The motivation is to provide people information.

Q But why? Why do they need this information —

MS. PERINO: Why are you asking me these questions? You’re asking information, as well.

Q No, no, but —

MS. PERINO: My point was that you’re asking —

Q Was there any intent to try to tell people that they need to do something about the election, and to take some action?

MS. PERINO: These are information — they’re informational briefings about the political landscape.

Q Okay, so there was — there was no intent to do that? Who — did they ask for the briefings, or was it the White House that decided they wanted to give these briefings?

MS. PERINO: I think it sort of goes both ways. I do know that political appointees around the government — I used to work at an agency, and you are interested in — the reason that you’re here working for the President is that you want to support his policies and his agenda, and so it’s good to get information from time to time.

Q Well, who’s idea — it was the White House idea, initially, or was it the agencies?

MS. PERINO: I think that these briefings — well, I know the Clinton administration had similar briefings. Where did they originate? I don’t know. I couldn’t give you a date.