It Started in April — Smearing the Report

There are three well-planned, coordinated Republican smear operations underway, designed to discredit key accusers who told us that the Bush administration was asleep on the job before 9/11.

I’ll bet if you took a poll of voters, at least 40% of the likely voters would call these the biggest stories of the election, while most of those on our side of the political spectrum have barely even heard about them. The context of the smears is to destroy the credibility of those accusing Bush of not paying attention before 9/11, and of lying about WMD before the Iraq war, and, finally, to blame Clinton for all of it. It is ALL OVER the Right-wing media, but is largely “under the radar” for most of us.

The first smear is the “Gorelick memo.” This is a bit complicated, but is a key to this effort to shift blame from Bush to Clinton. It started in April, and lays the groundwork for the second smear I’ll be talking about. During the 9/11 hearings Attorney General Ashcroft accused former Clinton Justice Department official Jamie Gorelick of having written a memo that caused agencies of the government to not share information that would have been crucial to learning that the 9/11 plot was underway. It is called the “Wall of Separation” memo. (Note the allusion to the hated “Wall of Separation” between church and state.) Some background from an April National Review column:

“In his public testimony before the 9/11 Commission the other day, Attorney General John Ashcroft exposed Commissioner Jamie Gorelick’s role in undermining the nation’s security capabilities by issuing a directive insisting that the FBI and federal prosecutors ignore information gathered through intelligence investigations. But Ashcroft pointed to another document that also has potentially explosive revelations about the Clinton administration’s security failures. Ashcroft stated, in part:

… [T]he Commission should study carefully the National Security Council plan to disrupt the al Qaeda network in the U.S. that our government failed to implement fully seventeen months before September 11.

The NSC’s Millennium After Action Review declares that the United States barely missed major terrorist attacks in 1999 ? with luck playing a major role. Among the many vulnerabilities in homeland defenses identified, the Justice Department’s surveillance and FISA operations were specifically criticized for their glaring weaknesses. It is clear from the review that actions taken in the Millennium Period should not be the operating model for the U.S. government.

What is Ashcroft talking about? An article in Reader’s Digest, “Codes, Clues, Confessions” (March 2002; by Kenneth R. Timmerman), provides some valuable insight. It states, in part:

[. . .] When the Department of Justice began interviewing “Norris”/Ressam, they didn’t have a clue who he was. But Judge Bruguière did. He called the Department of Justice, and offered prosecutors his file on Ressam and his ties to al Qaeda. At the time, Bruguiere said, DOJ had no idea what a big catch they had, nor did DOJ have access to any intelligence about Ressam’s ties to al-Qaeda. Ultimately, because of “The Wall” Bruguiere had to testify for seven hours in Seattle to lay out the al Qaeda connection to help U.S. prosecutors make their case against Ressam.

In other words, the “wall of separation” constructed by Jamie Gorelick made it virtually impossible for U.S. authorities to stop Ahmed Rassam, the “Millenium Bomber,” by design or intention. It was left to blind luck. The NSC’s Millennium After Action Review ? which, based on Attorney General Ashcroft’s testimony, must be devastating in its analysis of not only this event but of the Gorelick policy ? remains classified. And, most significantly, it’s likely the Review’s criticisms and warnings were either ignored or rejected by the Clinton Justice Department. …”

More on this later. (Other related April Gorelick stories from the Right here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and so on. This just touches the surface of the attention the Right gave to this.)

The second is this week’s Sandy Berger smear. If you just read the newspapers, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But if you pay attention to the Right’s channels of communication, it is a very big deal. On talk radio it is the ONLY thing.

The NY Times has a little story about Berger today, A Kerry Adviser Leaves the Race Over Missing Documents

Mr. Berger’s aides acknowledged that when he was preparing last year for testimony before the Sept. 11 commission, he removed from a secure reading room copies of a handful of classified documents related to a failed 1999 terrorist plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport. Republicans accused him on Tuesday of stashing the material in his clothing, but Mr. Breuer called that accusation “ridiculous” and politically inspired. He said the documents’ removal was accidental.

No big deal.

But all day yesterday on Limbaugh’s show, and Beck’s, and others, it was a different story. Limbaugh, Trousergate: Serious: Theft of Papers Showing Al-Qaeda in US Under Clinton is HUGE:

“The 9/11 commission leaked this. This is a 9/11 commission leak, I think, and I’m wondering. The White House claims they didn’t know about this investigation, even though the justice department was doing it. I’ll tell you what this does. This puts this into even greater context. You remember when Ashcroft showed up and testified on television even before the commission and outed Jamie Gorelick with her memo that built the wall? I think this places a lot of that in greater context now, why he did that. I think he might have been — he couldn’t discuss the investigation, but he was letting everybody know what he did know. [. . .] When he went in there to “inadvertently” purloin these documents and stuff ’em down his pants, there was no Clinton administration. He was sent in there by Bill Clinton, not the Clinton “administration.”

[. . .] Here I am laughing about it, but it’s big. This is big, and I’ll tell you why. It’s the stuff that was stolen, the stuff that’s probably now been shredded, the stuff that he just inadvertently sloppily can’t find.

[. . .] You know what those documents contained? Elements of evidence that Al-Qaeda was in the country in 1999! It’s all part of this millennium plot that the Clinton administration tried to take a lot of credit for stopping when in fact it was just good police work by a single Customs agent. It was not the results of any directive. This all came out in the 9/11 commission report as well, or hearings. But what’s missing is that there are documents elevating, or detailing elements of, Al-Qaeda entry into the United States in 1999, and so when Sandy Burglar says, “Yeah, well, I was sent by the Clinton administration,” da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, of course he was sent there by Bill Clinton to get the evidence out. That’s what one of the suspicions is, because the whole point of all this has been to shove every bit of Al-Qaeda, 9/11 blame onto the Bush administration. So, you know, none of this is an accident. You don’t go in there and inadvertently take things out when you’re the national security advisor! You know what the rules are.

[. . .] And you know who he’s working for now is John Kerry. Now, how much of what he saw did he pass on to John Kerry? Is it time maybe for John Kerry to have something to say about this? I mean, look at two of Kerry’s advisors: Joe Wilson — now patented liar — and Sandy Berger, thief. Well, presumed, alleged thief. Oh, he admitted it. He’s a thief. He admitted he took the documents, a sloppy, sloppy thief. I think it’s time for Senator Kerry here to maybe tell us a little bit more than just that he went to Vietnam: what he thinks of some of his advisors.

[. . .] Now, look, there are many of us, uh, ladies and gentlemen, who suspect that one of the objectives of the 9/11 commission Democrats is to deflect any blame or association for any acts of terrorism on this country to inaction or lackadaisical behavior, laziness on the part of the Clinton administration — and the reason we believe this is because we know that the Clinton people have been hauling ass trying to rewrite a legacy for this man.

They have been doing everything they can to erase the Monica Lewinsky image from everybody’s frontal lobe when they think and hear the name Bill Clinton, and so Clinton has been doing everything he can to rehab his image. He has a very large coterie of loyal supporters, one of whom is on the 9/11 commission, one of whom should have been a witness, not a member — one of them, Jamie Gorelick, whose memo erected the wall that prevented intelligence from sharing information it gathered with law enforcement, and now we find out that Sandy Burglar, Clinton’s #1 spook outside of the CIA. I mean this is the national security advisor guy!

[. . .] So you will pardon us if we have some doubts and suspicions about this when it’s the critical assessments that are suspiciously missing. The former national security advisor himself, Sandy Burglar, had ordered his anti-terror czar Richard Clarke in early 2000 to write the after-action report. He has spoken publicly about how to review brought to the forefront a realization that Al-Qaeda had reached America’s shores and required more attention. That’s what’s missing. Berger testified that during the millennium period, “We thwarted threats, and I do believe it was important to bring the principals together on a frequent basis to consider terror threats more regularly.”

[. . .] Now, let’s go back, and ask: “What is this really all about, folks?” because this, despite the obvious humorous aspects, this is really serious stuff because there is an ongoing effort to spare the Clinton administration — and Bill Clinton personally — of any responsibility whatsoever for anything that has happened deleteriously to this country in the world of terrorism.

[. . .] And something very, very suspicious about this information that was never put into action, and that’s I think another reason why it’s vanished. But this information clearly illustrations and I think points out how Al-Qaeda in 1999 and 2000 are in the country, and the United States government knew it, and they didn’t put any plan into action to deal with it, and that’s what they are deathly afraid of having been seen. So Sandy Berger has fallen on the sword — and as Web Hubbell had to do, may have been asked to roll over here. The information was so obviously damning that he risked his career and freedom to take this information out of there and do who-knows-what with it, and that means, folks, that that report and those documents related to it provided advice and information relevant to the 9/11 attacks, some kind of complete breakdown which was not improved later otherwise it wouldn’t have been necessary to get rid of it, and that’s the bottom line. Take all this sloppiness out. Take all this inadvertently out.” [all emphasis added]

Let me clear one thing up – nothing is “missing”. The documents that Berger took out were copies of drafts of the memos. But the entire premise of Limbaugh’s – and the rest of the Right’s – massive explosion yesterday is that Berger took and shredded the only copies of documents criticizing Clinton. It is just a lie. But it is repeated and repeated and repeated — and Limbaugh’s audience is very large. And for those that missed it on Limbaugh the same story was on every other right-wing talk show I tuned in yesterday.

The third component is the Joe Wilson story. Joe Wilson is the guy who went to Niger, came back and said Iraq was not trying to buy uranium, and went public with this after Bush claimed Iraq WAS trying to. So in retaliation the Bush administration “outed” his wife, a covert CIA agent tracking down people who peddle WMDs. In preparation for the Berger story, and to counter the damage done by the White House’s “outing” of his wife, the Right has been circulating a new batch of lies about Wilson. In A Right-Wing Smear Is Gathering Steam, Wilson writes,

“For the last two weeks, I have been subjected ? along with my wife, Valerie Plame ? to a partisan Republican smear campaign. In right-wing blogs and on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and the National Review, I’ve been accused of being a liar and, worse, a traitor.”

This story is all over the Right-wing media. From the same Limbaugh show,

“I mean, look at two of Kerry’s advisors: Joe Wilson — now patented liar — and Sandy Berger, thief.”

In other words, don’t believe anything you may have heard about the White House “outing” a CIA agent, and, by extension, anything about Bush lying about WMDs in Iraq.

Did you wonder why the Republican machine made such a big deal about Gorelick, and demanded that she resign from the 9/11 Commission? Well, now we know — it was all preparation for this week. So, we have Gorelick, and by extension Clinton, preventing the government from sharing information. We have Wilson, and by extension Clarke and other accusers, discredited. And now we have Berger, the guy who led the effort to stop the Millenium bombing and who was trying to get the incoming Bush Administration to pay attention to al Queda, discredited.

Note that even Limbaugh credits Ashcroft with setting this all up in his April testimony to the 9/11 panel, obliquely referencing the things that were “leaked” this week. Remember, by April the entire Berger situation was over. But Ashcroft knew about it and they were using it to weave this tale to discredit critics of Bush.

Any why this week? Because this week the 9/11 Commission releases its report. And what happened was that the Clinton Administration was ALL OVER the terrorism threat, while the Bush Administration ignored it and went on vacation. That is the essence of what happened. That’s the big picture. So how do they counter that? The same way they’re countering ANOTHER big picture – that Kerry is a war hero and Bush didn’t show up for even the light duty his daddy had arranged for him. How they do that is they spread a fog of smears so thick that people lose track of what really happened.

As Richard Clarke told us, when the government detected increased “chatter” in 1999 they TOOK ACTION. They convened a task force to see what was going on, and put top people on the problem, and coordinated, and stayed up nights, AND THEY CAUGHT THE MILENIUM BOMBERS. Contrast that with the Bush Administration before 9/11 — on vacation, literally. And the 9/11 commission report comes out this week, and it is probably going to SAY that. Even if they don’t explicitly say that, it’s there and it will be the story. The Clinton Administration did their job, and governed. The Bush administration was never about governing, and we all have to live with the consequences.

So the Republicans have to knock this story down. The way Republicans fight back is with smears to discredit their accusers. They constructed a 3-part discrediting action that phased in, coming to a conclusion just before the commission releases its report.

UpdateGo read this.

Update – this post was modified slightly about an hour after original posting – because Blogger went down for an hour while I was working on it.