Next week, “change is coming to America,” as President George W. Bush wraps up his tenure as one of the worst American presidents ever. He wasn’t able to accomplish such an ignominious feat all by himself, however; he had a great deal of help along the way. The ThinkProgress team heralds the conclusion of the Bush 43 presidency by bringing you our list of the top 43 worst Bush appointees. Did we miss anyone? Who should have been ranked higher? Let us know what you think.
1. Dick Cheney — The worst Dick since Nixon. The man who shot his friend while in office. The “most powerful and controversial vice president.” Until he got the job, people used to actually think it was a bad thing that the vice presidency has historically been a do-nothing position. Asked by PBS’s Jim Lehrer about why people hate him, Cheney rejected the premise, saying, “I don’t buy that.” His top placement in our survey says otherwise.
2. Karl Rove — There wasn’t a scandal in the Bush administration that Rove didn’t have his fingerprints all over — see Plame, Iraq war deception, Gov. Don Siegelman, U.S. Attorney firings, missing e-mails, and more. As senior political adviser and later as deputy chief of staff, “The Architect” was responsible for politicizing nearly every agency of the federal government.
3. Alberto Gonzales — Fundamentally dishonest and woefully incompetent, Gonzales was involved in a series of scandals, first as White House counsel and then as Attorney General. Some of the most notable: pressuring a “feeble” and “barely articulate” Attorney General Ashcroft at his hospital bedside to sign off on Bush’s illegal wiretapping program; approving waterboarding and other torture techniques to be used against detainees; and leading the firing of U.S. Attorneys deemed not sufficiently loyal to Bush.
4. Donald Rumsfeld — After winning praise for leading the U.S. effort in ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001, the former Defense Secretary strongly advocated for the invasion of Iraq and then grossly misjudged and mishandled its aftermath. Rumsfeld is also responsible for authorizing the use of torture against terror detainees in U.S. custody; according to a bipartisan Senate report, Rumsfeld “conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees.”
5. Michael Brown — This former commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association was appointed by Bush to head FEMA in 2003. After Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, Brownie promptly did a “heck of a job” bungling the government’s relief efforts, and was sent back to Washington a few days later. He was forced to resign shortly thereafter.
6. Paul Wolfowitz — As Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2005, Wolfowitz was one of the primary architects of the
Iraqwar, arguing for the invasion as early as Sept. 15, 2001. Testifying before Congress in February 2003, Wolfowitz said that it was “hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraqthan it would take to conduct the war itself.” Wolfowitz eventually admitted that “for bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction,” as a justification for war, “because it was the one reason everyone [in the administration] could agree on.”
7. David Addington — “Cheney’s Cheney” was the “most powerful man you’ve never heard of.” As the leader of Bush’s legal team and Cheney’s chief of staff, Addington was the biggest proponent of some of Bush’s most notorious legal abuses, such as torture and warrantless surveillance, and is a loyal follower of the so-called unitary executive theory.
8. Stephen Johnson — The “Alberto Gonzales of the environment,” EPA Administrator Johnson subverted the agency’s mission at the behest of the White House and corporate interests, suppressing staff recommendations on pesticides, mercury, lead paint, smog, and global warming.
9. Douglas Feith — Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 2001-2005, Feith headed up the notorious Office of Special Plans, an in-house Pentagon intelligence shop devised by Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to produce intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. A subsequent investigation by the Pentagon’s Inspector General found the OSP’s work produced “conclusions that were not fully supported by the available intelligence.”
10. John Bolton — As Undersecretary of State, Bolton offered a strong voice in favor of invading Iraq and pushed for the U.S. to disengage from the International Criminal Court and key international arms control agreements. A recess appointment landed Bolton the job of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, despite his stringent animosity toward the world body. Today, he spends his time calling for war with Iran.
11. John Yoo — As a lawyer for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Yoo authored a series of legal memos giving military interrogators authority to use torture and coercive techniques when interviewing terrorist suspects. Yoo said that only those techniques that inflict pain equivalent to “death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body functions” constitute torture. Last year, he refused to answer whether or not the president could order a detainee to be buried alive.
12. Ari Fleischer — Bush’s first press secretary helped redefine the role as that of liar-in-chief rather than informer of the public, earning a reputation as “the world’s most dishonest flack.” Whereas his successors sometimes looked uncomfortable lying, Fleischer was having fun, spinning a cowed and gullible press corps through two massive tax cuts and the initiation of a war undertaken on false pretenses.
13. John Ashcroft — In 2003, as Bush’s first Attorney General, Ashcroft approved waterboarding and other torture techniques on detainees. Ashcroft’s nomination was controversial, as he had a history of opposing school desegregation. The chief architect of the invasive Patriot Act, Ashcroft maintains to this day that Bush is “among the most respectful of all leaders ever” of civil liberties.
14. Henry Paulson — Even as the financial system was crashing down around him, Treasury Secretary Paulson insisted for months that th
ebanking system was “safe and sound.” Once he decided that the economy needed saving, Paulson requested nearly unfettered authority to send billions of taxpayer dollars to banks with no oversight.
15. L. Paul Bremer — This Presidential Medal of Freedom winner took over the Coalition Provisional Authority in May 2003. Under his mismanagement, the insurgency exploded in Iraq. Bremer claimed he had all the troops he needed to secure the country, overestimated the strength of the new U.S.-trained Iraqi army, disbanded the Iraqi army leaving thousands of Iraqi soldiers with no income and no occupation, and enacted a de-Baathification law that barred many experienced Iraqis from government positions.
16. Bradley Schlozman — As a recent DOJ Inspector General report demonstrates, Schlozman was a central figure in Bush’s politicization of the Justice Department. Violating civil service laws, Schlozman used political and ideological considerations to ensure that only “right-thinking Americans” received jobs. He eventually lied to Congress about his efforts.
17. J. Steven Griles — A former energy lobbyist and no. 2 official in the Interior Department, Griles went to jail for lying to Congress about illegal favors he did for corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Griles also abused his position “to unlock nearly every legal barrier to exploitation” of our nation’s oil and mineral reserves. Before his conviction, Griles left the White House to become a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips.
18. Condoleezza Rice — As Bush’s national security adviser, Rice was another strong advocate for invading Iraq, once famously warning that the U.S. should attack Iraq and not wait for solid proof of its WMD because “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Rice also ignored an urgent warning from the CIA before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that a strike inside the U.S. was imminent.
19. Scooter Libby — Cheney’s former chief of staff was a key player in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame as part of the Bush administration’s quest to punish Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for publishing an op-ed debunking one of the White House’s main justifications for invading Iraq. Libby was ultimately convicted of perjury and obstructing justice in a federal investigation into Plame’s outing but later had his 30-month prison sentence commuted by Bush.
20. Monica Goodling — Goodling was the most notorious graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University during her tenure in the Justice Department. As the White House liaison at the DOJ, she based the department’s hiring of candidates on their sexual preference, GOP loyalty, and adherence to conservative ideology.
21. Alphonso Jackson — As Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Jackson let the U.S. housing market crumble while he was busy giving lucrative contracts to his golfing buddies, retaliating against Bush critics, and erecting giant photo homages to himself.
22. Michael Hayden — As director of the National Security Agency, Hayden ran Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program and misled Congress about the program’s legality. After moving to the CIA, he dismissed the destruction of evidence implicating the CIA in torture as “in line with the law.”
23. Lurita Doan — The former head of the General Services Administration (GSA)who doled out a no-bid contract to a friend, Doan famously hosted a meeting of White House political operatives where she asked how GSA employees could “help ‘our candidates’ in the next election.” After the Office of Special Counsel called for her firing, she was forced to resign
24. Gale Norton — A former industry lobbyist and Bush’s first Secretary of the Interior, Norton pushed a radical ideological agenda “through regulatory rollbacks, suppression of science, preferential treatment, and collusion with industry” — including doctoring scientific findings on the impacts of oil drilling on caribou. After resigning under the cloud of ties to Jack Abramoff, she joined Shell Oil.
25. Lester Crawford — After promising to act on the morning-after contraceptive pill during his confirmation hearings, the former FDA Commissioner “indefinitely postponed nonprescription sales of emergency contraception over the objections of staff scientists who had declared the pill safe.” Crawford resigned after just two months on the job and later pleaded guilty “to charges that he hid his ownership of stock in food and drug companies that his agency regulated.”
26. Harriet Miers — Well-known for being Bush’s failed Supreme Court nominee, Miers also thought it was “important” to her as White House Counsel that Rove protege Tim Griffin was installed as a U.S. Attorney, making her a central figure in the U.S. Attorney scandal. She is said to have called Bush “the most brilliant man she had ever met.”
27. Hans Von Spakovsky — Originally a political appointee in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, Spakovsky “injected partisan political factors into decision-making” and used every opportunity “to make it difficult for voters — poor, minority and Democratic — to go to the polls.” In 2008, Spakovsky withdrew his name from consideration for the FEC, following months of opposition from lawmakers and civil rights groups.
28. Tommy Franks — As head of U.S. Central Command from 2000 to 2003, Franks oversaw Osama bin Laden’s great escape from Afghanistan, gave orders for the stabilization of Iraq via PowerPoint, assumed that the U.S. would draw down to 25,000 troops by the end of 2004, and had American soldiers stand idly by as chaos and lawlessness took hold after the invasion.
29. Thomas Scully — As chief administrator for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Scully was the White House’s head negotiator on the Medicare prescription drug bill. Scully threatened to fire chief actuary Richard Foster if he revealed that Bush’s Medicare Part D legislation “would cost 25% to 50% more than the Bush administration’s public estimates.”
30. Julie MacDonald — A top Interior Department appointee, MacDonald “interjected herself personally and profoundly” and “tainted nearly every decision made on the protection of endangered species” over a five-year period, intimidating the staff with “abrupt and abrasive, if not abusive” tactics. MacDonald also leaked government documents to a young acquaintance whom she met while playing “internet role-playing games.”
31. William Haynes — As the former general counsel at the Defense Department, he was part of a five-person team of high-level administration lawyers, dubbed the “War Council,” that tossed the Geneva Conventions aside and hatched out the legal framework for torture in secret meetings.
32. David Safavian — Safavian was (twice) tried and convicted for his role in the jack Abramoff scandal. Safavian was found guilty of “lying and obstructing justice” in an attempt to cover-up “his many efforts to assist Abramoff in acquiring two properties controlled by the GSA.”
33. James Connaughton — As chairman of the White House Council of Environmental Quality, Connaughton wrote EPA press releases downplaying the danger of the air quality in lower Manhattan following 9/11. “A former lobbyist for utilities, mining, chemical, and other industrial polluters,” Connaughton insisted “there’s a lot of disagreement” about humans’ impact on global warming, and he touted a bogus study purporting to show that the 20th century was not unusually warm.
34. William Luti — A former Navy officer and Cheney aide, Luti was dispatched to the Pentagon in 2001 to work underneath Feith to find “evidence” to support his boss’s belief in conspiracy theories linking Saddam to al Qaeda. Luti was an integral component of Cheney’s campaign to pressure intelligence professionals to conform their judgments to administration policy rather than reality.
35. Susan Orr — As Assistant Deputy Secretary for Population Affairs, this former Family Research Council officialIt’s not a medical necessity that you have [contraception].”
36. Christopher Cox — Under Chairman Cox, the Securities and Exchange Commission censored internal reports showing that it ignored critical signs pointing to Wall Street’s meltdown. Cox’s SEC also failed to detect Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme, despite a decade of warnings.
37. Elliott Abrams — An Iran-Contra convict pardoned by Bush 41, Abrams was named by Bush 43 as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations. As a founding Israel‘s 2006 bombing of Lebanoninto Syria and advocated a Fatah coup after Hamas won the February 2006 Palestinian elections.
38. Philip Cooney — A former oil lobbyist who served as chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Cooney doctored climate reports to “soften” words and phrases linking greenhouse gas emissions to global warming. After his political interference was revealed, Cooney left the White House to become a lobbyist for Exxon.
39. Colin Powell — Though Bush called him “an American hero” when he appointed him to be the first African-American Secretary of State, Powell placed an ugly “blot” on his record when he pushed the Bush administration’s faulty case for the Iraq war in a speech to the U.N. on Feb.5, 2003, using inaccurate information. Liberal hawks and the media rallied around Powell’s false case, calling it the “winning hand” for war.
40. Elaine Chao — The Labor Secretary made it through all eight years of the Bush administration, driving morale at the Labor Department so low that staffers threw a “good-riddance party” to cheer her departure. She leaves behind a “deeply troubled department” that “spent eight years attacking workers’ rights, strong workplace health and safety rules, and unions while they carried the water for Big Business.”
41. Julie Myers — After being hired as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement based on little more than her personal connections, Myers made herself famous by awarding “Most Original Costume” to an employee who dressed up in blackface and a prison costume for Halloween. She was also heavily criticized for conducting politically-motivated immigration raids.
42. Wade Horn — As Assistant Secretary for Community Initiatives at the Department of Health and Human Services, Horn funneled millions of tax-payer dollars into right-wing abstinence-only programs. Shortly before he resigned, it was revealed that he had given nearly $1 million “to the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), where he was the president for at least three years until joining the Bush administration in 2001.”
43. George Deutsch — As a young, inexperienced press officer for NASA, Deutsch “told public affairs workers to limit reporters’ access to a top climate scientist and told a Web designer to add the word ‘theory’ at every mention of the Big Bang.” He resigned in 2006 after it was discovered he had lied on his resume, falsely claiming that he had a journalism degree from Texas A&M.
Dishonorable Mentions: Bush appointees who didn’t quite make the list included a child pornography aficionado, a patron of hookers, a shoplifter, a mail fraudster, an operator of an illegal horse gambling ring, and a CIA official who took bribes in the form of prostitutes.
After we published this list in The Progress Report, Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), Chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee, contacted us to urge that OIRA head Susan Dudley be added to the list. Dudley headed the Mercatus Center at George Mason University before heading OIRA. “The Mercatus Center takes the view that regulation is never appropriate unless there has been a market failure, and the market never fails,” Miller said. “Dudley concocted elaborate explanations for how the market will eventually solve whatever the problem is. She was probably more responsible for EPA’s failings than Stephen Johnson.”