5 Questions the White House Must Answer About Jeff Gannon

“Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is circulating a letter among his colleagues that asks President Bush to launch an investigation” into how Gannon gained access to White House press briefings without any journalistic qualifications. Here are some basic, substantive questions that must be answered by the White House: HOW LONG CAN JOURNALISTS GAIN ACCESS TO THE WHITE HOUSE WITHOUT AN FBI BACKGROUND CHECK? 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, as Salon’s Eric Boehlert explains, “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? Is there a limit to how long a reporter can slide on “day” passes, as Gannon did for years?  HOW DID GANNON GET A WHITE HOUSE PRESS PASS TWO MONTHS BEFORE HIS SUPPOSED PUBLICATION EVEN EXISTED? Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan admitted the White House gave Gannon his first day press pass in February 2003. The problem: His “publication,” Talon News, didn’t exist until April 2003.

BY WHAT CRITERIA DID THE WHITE HOUSE EVALUATE TALON NEWS? Talon News is the brainchild of a Republican activist from Texas, Bobby Eberle. Eberle, who runs the aptly named “GOPUSA,” told the New York Times he created Talon News because he wanted to quietly construct a news service with a conservative slant: “if someone were to see ‘GOPUSA,’ there’s an instant built-in bias there.” In denying Gannon a pass, the congressional press office pointed out Gannon was unable to show that “Talon News has any paid subscribers.” They also found that while actual working reporters can show their principal income comes from reporting stories for publication in actual news services, Talon’s “paying a single reporter a ‘stipend’ does not meet the intent of the rule.” As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank put it, Gannon was “representing a phony media company that doesn’t really have any such thing as circulation or readership.”HOW DID GANNON GET A WHITE HOUSE PRESS PASS UNDER A FAKE NAME?: Jeff Gannon’s real name is James Guckert. (He told Wolf Blitzer that he changed his name because “Jeff Gannon” was easier to pronounce.) Although all applications for White House press passes are supposed to be thoroughly vetted, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said he was unaware that Gannon was using an alias. His predecessor, Ari Fleischer, also pleads ignorance. Gannon signed in to the White House each day as “Jeff Guckert,” a name which did not match his pass — yet no one seemed to think that was strange. In fact, no one at the White House seems overly concerned with what amounts to a stunning national security breach.  WHAT IS GANNON’S CONNECTION TO THE VALERIE PLAME CASE?: Jeff Gannon has been interviewed by FBI agents who are investigating another security breach in the White House, namely, the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name to the press. So far, Gannon has been coy, giving “conflicting signals, over many months, concerning whether he saw a secret document or merely knew about it from other sources.” Today he says he never really saw the memo, he’d only read about it in the Wall Street Journal. Reps. Conyers and Slaughter are asking Patrick Fitzgerald, the lead prosecutor in the Plame investigation, to subpoena the journal Gannon kept over the past two years to find out what Gannon actually knew, and when.