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History > 2008 > USA > Politics > President George W. Bush (V)




An Inside View

of a Stormy White House Summit

McCain's Return to Washington
and Meetings With Fellow Republicans
Culminated in U.S. Leaders Yelling in Roosevelt Room


SEPTEMBER 27, 2008
The Wall Street Journal



WASHINGTON -- Midway through the White House summit on Thursday featuring America's top political leaders, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain was asked for his opinion about the administration's proposed $700 billion financial rescue package. He deferred to the top House Republican, who bluntly laid out a litany of complaints.

The sudden objections caused agitation among Democrats present, who thought they had the makings of a deal. The group turned to Sen. McCain to ask if he endorsed his party's qualms, but he dodged the question, saying only that the concerns had to be addressed, according to people familiar with the meeting. He wasn't specific about the legislation itself.

Then, all hell broke loose. "I just sat there and let them scream," Sen. McCain later told an adviser.

That afternoon, the theatrics of the presidential campaign collided with days of tense negotiations over the controversial bailout package designed to forestall the collapse of U.S. financial markets. At the center of the drama was Sen. McCain.

On Thursday morning, Democrats and some Republicans hammered out a tentative compromise. Then, Sen. McCain arrived in Washington, just before noon and under Secret Service escort. He met with House Republicans and listened to their complaints. He met with Senate Republicans and chided them for assenting to a deal without his input. At 4 p.m., he headed over to the White House.

Democrats say the senator blew up the delicately poised talks in order to curry favor with his conservative base and ultimately to take credit for a deal many assume will still come together.

Sen. McCain's camp says there was never a deal to begin with, and he was only trying to improve the legislation to better protect taxpayers. House Republicans see Sen. McCain's arrival as the point that revitalized their rear-guard action. Arizona Republican Jeff Flake says Sen. McCain sent the message that Republicans want to do more for taxpayers. "For him to come and say that coincides with our message completely," said Mr. Flake.

Whichever side is right, the day's drama represented a remarkable public display of dissension in a town used to high drama. On Friday, the White House and Congress redoubled efforts to forge legislation that would confront the financial crisis, with House Republicans showing a new willingness to engage.

This account is based on a series of interviews with congressional officials, campaign aides and others.

On Wednesday, Sen. McCain declared that the bailout package proposed by the Bush administration was in trouble and needed bipartisan support from the two presidential contenders. That prompted an invitation to Sen. McCain and Sen. Barack Obama from the president to meet at the White House.

On Thursday morning, Democrats and others hashed out the outlines of a plan that endorsed the core of the administration's desire for a $700 billion fund, but added conditions, such as help for homeowners, pay curbs for executives and the government taking equity positions in participating companies. Some Republicans voiced their support.

After arriving in Washington, Sen. McCain immersed himself in two hours of meetings, making a show of involving himself in the shaping of the bill.

In a private meeting on Capitol Hill, a group of House Republicans, with the blessing of Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio), urged Sen. McCain to consider a more market-based alternative to the Bush-backed plan.

The plan was developed by a cross-section of House Republicans, including Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, and involved a complex use of government insurance to bolster the toxic assets at the heart of the financial crisis. Mr. Cantor said the goal was to come up with something that House Republicans could support.

One Republican said Sen. McCain thought the plan was a "decent idea," but stopped short of endorsing it.

Later, Sen. McCain sat in on a lunch with Senate Republicans. Present were three senators who had supported the emerging compromise: Sens. Judd Gregg, Robert Bennett and Bob Corker. Mr. McCain, standing and sitting at various points, weighed in, according to people familiar with the meeting. He was upset his colleagues had supported the plan, which appeared likely to become law, without his input.

According to Sen. Jon Kyl, Sen. McCain told fellow Republicans to hold off making a deal. "We have got to see the details in this thing, in writing," Sen. McCain was quoted as saying.

A McCain adviser disputed the account, saying that Sen. McCain never grew upset and was not critical of his colleagues.

Even before the White House meeting started, tensions were running high. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was still at the Capitol when she got a call from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who informed her of the brewing revolt among House Republicans.

The attendees -- Sen. McCain, Sen. Obama, the president, the Treasury secretary and congressional leaders -- gathered in the Roosevelt Room, a formal meeting room off the Oval Office decorated with portraits of both Democrat Franklin Roosevelt and Republican Theodore Roosevelt.

The president and Mr. Paulson made opening comments, with Mr. Paulson reminding attendees of the gravity of the state of financial markets. Mr. Bush turned to Ms. Pelosi, who announced that the Democrats were going to allow Sen. Obama to lead off for them. The Democratic nominee spoke for a few minutes, going over his four well-known principles for what he would consider to be crucial to the legislation.

Then Mr. Bush turned to Sen. McCain and asked if he wanted to follow. Mr. McCain said, "Actually, the longer I'm here, the more I respect seniority." He said he would defer to the Republican congressional leaders who were present.

Mr. Boehner, the House minority leader, outlined his concerns about taxpayer protections in the legislation and then talked instead about the insurance-based alternative. At several points, the conversation became raucous, with members loudly talking over one another.

In a television interview, Sen. Obama recalled asking: "Well, do we need to start from scratch, or are there ways to incorporate some of those concerns?"

Sen. McCain didn't answer directly. Instead, he outlined the five principles that he wanted to guide the legislation.

Spencer Bachus, an Alabama Republican House member who initially supported the talks, recalled the meeting boiling over. "Then I started detailing what we wanted in the bill, and that's when Speaker Pelosi started yelling at me," he recalled.

Mr. Bush allowed everyone to vent their frustrations. Finally, he pointed out that both sides still agreed on the need to get the bill done. He added that "if we don't loosen up some money into the system, this sucker could go down," a repeat of the warning in his prime-time speech on Wednesday night that a financial panic is a real risk.

According to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, the president then said: "At the end of this debate, I'm going to turn to the Treasury secretary and ask him and Ben Bernanke, 'Does this legislation do what needs to be done to save the economy?' "

As the leaders were preparing to leave, a horde of at least 75 reporters and camera people waited outside under the West Wing portico. Mr. Bush said that if the attendees were going to make statements, he preferred that they go together and say that "we're all working to get it done."

After the clashes, they decided not to talk to the waiting reporters at all -- except for Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, a vocal critic of the rescue plan.

—Sarah Lueck, Jess Bravin and Elizabeth Holmes contributed to this article.

    An Inside View of a Stormy White House Summit, WSJ, 27.9.2008, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122247077035980785.html?mod=article-outset-box






Bush Aides

Linked to Talks on Interrogations


September 25, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Senior White House officials played a central role in deliberations in the spring of 2002 about whether the Central Intelligence Agency could legally use harsh interrogation techniques while questioning an operative of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah, according to newly released documents.

In meetings during that period, the officials debated specific interrogation methods that the C.I.A. had proposed to use on Qaeda operatives held at secret C.I.A. prisons overseas, the documents show. The meetings were led by Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, and attended by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top administration officials.

The documents provide new details about the still-murky early months of the C.I.A.’s detention program, when the agency began using a set of harsh interrogation techniques weeks before the Justice Department issued a written legal opinion in August 2002 authorizing their use. Congressional investigators have long tried to determine exactly who authorized these techniques before the legal opinion was completed.

The documents are a list of answers provided by Ms. Rice and John B. Bellinger III, the former top lawyer at the National Security Council, to detailed questions by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is investigating the abuse of detainees in American custody. The documents were provided to The New York Times by Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the committee.

ABC News first reported on the White House meetings in a broadcast earlier this year. Ms. Rice’s answers to the questions shed some light on the internal deliberations among senior officials but do not present a clear picture of the positions taken by participants in the debate.

Some of the techniques proposed by the C.I.A. — including waterboarding, which induces a feeling of drowning — came from a program used by the Pentagon to train American pilots to withstand the rigors of captivity.

“I recall being told that U.S. military personnel were subjected in training to certain physical and psychological interrogation techniques and that these techniques had been deemed not to cause significant physical or psychological harm,” Ms. Rice, now secretary of state, wrote in response to one question.

Still, Ms. Rice wrote that she asked Mr. Ashcroft personally to review the program and “advise N.S.C. principals whether the program was lawful.”

Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, declined to comment on which officials attended the meetings in 2002. He said Vice President Dick Cheney often attended meetings of the National Security Council’s principals committee, a group of senior officials who advise the president on national security.

The new documents do not specify dates for the White House meetings. Current and former officials have said that the C.I.A. began using harsh interrogation methods on Mr. Zubaydah in Thailand weeks before the Justice Department formally authorized the interrogation program in a secret memo dated Aug. 1, 2002.

The officials said Justice Department lawyers gave oral guidance to the C.I.A. before the secret memo was completed. But at one point during the summer of 2002, current and former intelligence officials have said, C.I.A. lawyers ordered that the use of the harsh techniques by C.I.A. personnel be suspended until they were formally authorized by the Justice Department.

Mr. Bellinger, the former National Security Council legal adviser, wrote in a separate document released on Wednesday that during the White House meetings, Justice Department lawyers frequently issued oral guidance to the C.I.A. about the interrogation program. One who did was John Yoo, the principal author of the August 2002 memo, Mr. Bellinger said.

A fierce dispute erupted between the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. during the spring and summer of 2002, as F.B.I. officials objected to the harsh treatment and ultimately withdrew from Mr. Zubaydah’s interrogation.

Ms. Rice said she did “not recall any specific discussions about withdrawing F.B.I. personnel from the Abu Zubaydah interrogation.”

Mr. Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the new documents showed that top Bush administration officials were more actively engaged in the debate about the limits of lawful interrogation than the White House had previously acknowledged.

“So far, there has been little accountability at higher levels,” Mr. Levin said. “Here you’ve got some evidence that there was discussion about those harsh techniques in the White House.”

    Bush Aides Linked to Talks on Interrogations, NYT, 25.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/25/washington/25detain.html







Absence of Leadership


September 25, 2008
The New York Times

It took President Bush until Wednesday night to address the American people about the nation’s financial crisis, and pretty much all he had to offer was fear itself.

There was no acknowledgement of the shocking failure of government regulation, or that the country cannot afford more tax cuts for the very wealthy and budget-busting wars, or that spending at least $700 billion of taxpayers’ money to bail out Wall Street and the banks should be done carefully, transparently and with oversight by Congress and the courts.

We understand why he may have been reluctant to address the nation, since his contempt for regulation is a significant cause of the current mess. But he could have offered a great deal more than an eerily dispassionate primer on the credit markets in which he took no responsibility at all for the financial debacle.

He promised to protect taxpayers with his proposed bailout, but he did not explain how he would do that other than a superficial assurance that in sweeping up troubled assets, government would buy low and sell high. And he warned that “our entire economy is in danger” unless Congress passes his bailout plan immediately.

In the end, Mr. Bush’s appearance was just another reminder of something that has been worrying us throughout this crisis: the absence of any real national leadership, including on the campaign trail.

Given Mr. Bush’s shockingly weak performance, the only ones who could provide that are the two men battling to succeed him. So far, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is offering that leadership.

What makes it especially frustrating is that this crisis should provide each man a chance to explain his economic policies and offer a concrete solution to the current crisis.

Mr. McCain is doing distinctly worse than Mr. Obama. First, he claimed that the economy was strong, ignoring the deep distress of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have already lost their homes. Then he called for a 9/11-style commission to study the causes of the crisis, as if there were a mystery to be solved. Over the last few days he has become a born-again populist, a stance entirely at odds with the career, as he often says, started as “a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution.”

After daily pivoting, Mr. McCain now says that the bailout being debated in Congress has to protect taxpayers, that all the money has to be spent in public and that a bipartisan board should “provide oversight.” But he offered not the slightest clue about how he would ensure that taxpayers would ever “recover” the bailout money.

Mr. McCain proposed capping executives’ pay at firms that get bailout money, a nicely punitive idea but one that does nothing to mitigate the crisis. And that is about as far as his new populism went.

What is most important is that Mr. McCain hasn’t said a word about strengthening regulation or budged one inch from his insistence on maintaining Mr. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. That trickle-down notion has done nothing to improve the lives of most Americans and, even without a $700 billion bailout, saddled generations to come with crippling deficits.

Mr. Obama has been clearer on the magnitude and causes of the financial crisis. He has long called for robust regulation of the financial industry, and he said early on that a bailout must protect taxpayers. Mr. Obama also recognizes that the wealthy must pay more taxes or this country will never dig out of its deep financial hole. But as he does too often, Mr. Obama walked up to the edge of offering full prescriptions and stopped there.

We don’t know if Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama will do any good back in Washington. But Mr. McCain’s idea of postponing the Friday night debate was another wild gesture from a candidate entirely too prone to them. The nation needs to hear Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain debate this crisis and demonstrate who is ready to lead.

    Absence of Leadership, NYT, 25.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/25/opinion/25thu1.html






Bush: 'Entire economy' at risk


USA Today
By Richard Wolf


WASHINGTON — President Bush argued his case for an unprecedented $700 billion bailout of troubled financial institutions to the American people Wednesday, a day before a White House session that will include Barack Obama and John McCain.

"Our entire economy is in danger," Bush said in a high-stakes address. "Without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic. … More banks could fail, including some in your community."

The president warned that inaction could cause millions of layoffs, bank failures, business closures, lost retirement savings, more foreclosures, a further drying up of credit and "a long and painful recession." He added: "We must not let this happen."

With that in mind, Bush invited congressional leaders and the two men vying to succeed him to an extraordinary meeting this afternoon "to help speed our discussions toward a bipartisan bill."

Bush used the 22nd nationally televised address of his presidency to urge quick action on the plan, despite deep misgivings among lawmakers and the American public that it would put taxpayers' money at risk. "We expect that much, if not all, of the tax dollars we invest will be paid back," he said.

The administration wants a deal by Friday, but lawmakers are making changes to include more oversight, limits on executive pay and taxpayer protections. "We will pass it soon," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said.

Bush's prime-time address came as Republicans, such as South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, called the bailout a repudiation of free-market principles and Democrats proposed a price tag much lower than $700 billion. "We question whether it has to be that much," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

The administration agreed to include a limit on salaries earned by executives whose companies benefit from the plan. "The American people are angry about executive compensation, and rightfully so," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said.

Bush's decision to address the nation came after Democrats in Congress had criticized him for maintaining a low profile as Wall Street's leading financial services firms and home finance agencies were bailed out, bought out or folded up. "When it's a crisis, you hear from the president," said House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank, D-Mass. "No presidential speech for some people means no crisis, and he did resolve that."

Contributing: John Fritze and David Jackson

    Bush: 'Entire economy' at risk, UT, 24.9.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2008-09-24-bush-address_N.htm






Bush said

considering speech to nation

on economy


September 24, 2008
Filed at 12:49 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush is thinking of giving a speech to the nation on the ailing financial markets, the White House said Wednesday, amid persistent criticism of a $700 billion bailout plan and the Federal Reserve chairman's warning that economic growth hangs depends on it.

Ben Bernanke, the Fed chief, told Congress' Joint Economic Committee that the Federal Reserve will ''act as needed'' to minimize disruptions to business life. His appearance came a day after he and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson heard withering criticism of the Bush administration's proposed $700 billion bailout plan and not long after Bush said he was confident an agreement would be reached soon on a ''robust'' plan to relieve the stress.

Second-guessing of the bailout plan continued on Capitol Hill. And on Wall Street, the financial markets remained tense, with stocks fluctuating, following investor Warren Buffett's decision to invest $5 billion in Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The credit markets showed added strain as investors await news about the government's plan to rescue banks from crippling debt.

Meanwhile, Bush's chief spokeswoman, Dana Perino, revealed that the president is considering a formal speech to the nation -- his first such talk in over a year -- and said the country is at risk of a ''calamity'' without bold action to calm down the markets and soothe nervous Americans.

Amid a raft of statements of anger and doubt about the bailout plan, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday that ''it's not my job to just echo people being mad. I'm going to choose the bad choice over the catastrophic choice.''

Speaking to South Carolina reporters, the Republican said, ''We don't have the luxury of kicking this can down the road like we did with immigration or social security and dealing with it another day hoping somebody braver than us will come along and have courage that we can't muster to deal with immigration or social security. This is on our watch.''

Reflecting the urgency of the situation, White House officials revealed that Bush had taken Air Force One back to Washington from a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York and said he was canceling a planned fundraising trip to Florida to help the Republican Party. Bush had canceled a similar trip last week.

Perino said Bush has been trying to address the public's many questions and concerns and was weighing whether, when and where to have such a speech.

Pleading for Congress to act quickly, Bernanke said: ''Choking up of credit is like taking the lifeblood away from the economy.''

Asked whether the country would plunge into a depression if lawmakers do not enact a bill, Bernanke said he didn't want to make such a comparison. But he also said there would be ''certainly very negative implications,'' including likely losses on retirement funds and other investments held by millions of ordinary Americans.

Bernanke and Paulson made the case for the plan in a closed-door meeting with House Republicans Wednesday morning, where lawmakers voiced new doubts about the bailout and said their constituents were overwhelmingly opposed to it.

''The American people are furious about the fact that Congress is being asked to put up some $700 billion to help stem off this economic crisis,'' said Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the GOP leader. Still, he said ''Congress has a responsibility to act,'' and added that he hoped to strike a bipartisan deal that could pass within days.

Bush has an uphill battle in selling the rescue, however, even to members of his own party.

Asked during their session with Paulson how many of them backed the plan, just four Republican hands went up, said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, R-Va.

''It's a tough sell to most of our members,'' Davis said. ''It's a terrible plan, but I haven't heard anything better.''

Republicans and Democrats both say Bush has lost credibility on Capitol Hill, particularly in cases where he argues there will be dire consequences if Congress doesn't act.

''They sold the war, they sold the stimulus package and some other things. It's the 'wolf at the door' '' argument, Davis said.

''It's hard being trusting'' of Bush's bailout plan, said Democratic Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill, who said the administration's full-court press to sell it reminded him of the one the White House mounted before the Iraq war.

''You feel like you're always getting hoodwinked, because they say the consequences if you don't do it is a complete demise and collapse of the system,'' he said.

Executives whose companies get a piece of the assistance would have their pay packages strictly limited under proposals that broadly supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

The administration was resisting that move as it scrambled to overcome widespread misgivings and swiftly push through its plan to rescue tottering financial firms by buying up their rotten assets.

Frank has proposed adding substantial congressional oversight over the bailout and a requirement that the government make an effort to renegotiate as many of the mortgages it purchases in the rescue as possible to help strapped borrowers stay in their homes. Paulson was said to be willing to accept those revisions.

Frank also has been pushing to allow the government to buy equity -- rather than just bad debt -- in companies it helps so taxpayers can benefit from future profits. That idea is also gaining bipartisan support, but Paulson argues it would hamstring the very companies the government is trying to help.

He also is strongly opposed to another key Democratic priority: letting judges rewrite mortgages to lower bankrupt homeowners' monthly payments. Democrats view that measure as the heaviest lift and the most likely to be dropped as part of a final deal.

    Bush said considering speech to nation on economy, NYT, 24.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/business/AP-Financial-Meltdown.html







World must stand united

against terrorism


September 23, 2008
Filed at 12:00 p.m. ET
The New York Times


UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- President Bush, who once warned that the United Nations was in danger of becoming irrelevant, said Tuesday that multinational organizations are now ''needed more urgently than ever'' to combat terrorists and extremists who are threatening world order.

In his eighth and final speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Bush said the international community must stand firm against the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran. He said that despite past disagreements over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, members of the U.N. must unite to help the struggling democracy succeed. And he scolded Russia for invading neighboring Georgia, calling it a violation of the U.N. charter.

''The United Nations' charter sets forth the equal rights of nations large and small,'' he said. ''Russia's invasion of Georgia was a violation of those words.''

Bush, who has had a testy relationship with the U.N. which he says has been slow to address global problems, called on the U.N. to focus more on results and aggressively rally behind young democracies like Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Liberia.

Bush said that instead of issuing statements and resolutions after terrorist attacks, the U.N. and such organizations must work closely to prevent violence. Every nation has responsibilities to prevent its territory from being used for terrorist, drug trafficking and nuclear proliferation, he said.

Bush, who ordered the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 without the U.N.'s blessing, said: ''The United Nations and other multilateral organizations are needed more urgently than ever.'' His farewell address, however, comes at a time when many multilateral diplomatic missions Bush has championed are stalled. North Korea is backing away from pledges to abandon nuclear weapons. A Palestinian-Israeli peace pact before Bush leaves office is unlikely. Violence is flaring in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran continues to pursue its nuclear work in defiance of international demands.

Throughout Bush's speech, hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has vowed that Iran's military will ''break the hand'' of anyone targeting the country's nuclear facilities, sat in his seat and smiled and waved to people in the chamber.

Bush insisted that while regimes like Syria and Iran continue to sponsor terror, ''their numbers are growing fewer, and they're growing more isolated from the world.''

But he warned: ''As the 21st century unfolds, some may be tempted to assume that the threat has receded. This would be comforting. It would be wrong. The terrorists believe time is on their side, so they've made waiting out civilized nations part of their strategy. We must not allow them to succeed.''

The 21st century needs a bold and effective United Nations, he said.

''Where there's inefficiency and corruption, it must be corrected. Where there are bloated bureaucracies, they must be streamlined. Where members fail to uphold their obligations, there must be strong action,'' Bush said.

He called for an immediate review of the U.N. Human Rights Council; a stronger effort to help the people of Myanmar live free of repression; and more pressure on the government of Sudan to uphold pledge to address violence in Darfur.

Bush's appearance at U.N. headquarters was overshadowed by the U.S. financial markets crisis that has rippled through world markets. Trying to reassure world leaders that his administration is taking decisive action to stem market turmoil, Bush said he is confident that Congress will act in the ''urgent time frame required'' to prevent broader problem. But he did not ask other nations to take any specific actions.

Before his speech, Bush met with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to discuss the weekend bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad and U.S. military incursions into Pakistan targeting militants using remote areas of the Muslim nation to launch attacks in neighboring Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Bush expressed sorrow for the victims of a deadly truck bomb that devastated a Marriott hotel in Islamabad and acknowledged tensions over U.S. military incursions into Pakistani territory.

Pakistan is under growing pressure from the United States to act against al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents along its border with Afghanistan, a staging ground for attacks against coalition troops in Afghanistan and bombings in Pakistan. Pakistan accuses the U.S. of violating its sovereignty.

''Your words have been very strong about Pakistan's sovereign right and sovereign duty to protect your country, and the United States wants to help,'' Bush said.

Pakistani officials said Tuesday that its security forces backed by helicopter gunships and artillery killed more than 60 insurgents in the nation's northwest tribal regions in offensives aimed at denying al-Qaida and Taliban militants safe havens. But with little political clout and support from the Pakistani military, it's unclear whether Zardari will be willing or capable of rooting out extremists.

Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in December, said democracy is the answer for Pakistan.

''We will solve all the problems. We have a situation. We have issues. We've got problems. But we will solve them and we will rise to the occasion,'' Zardari said. ''That's what my wife's legacy is all about. That's what democracy is all about -- to take difficult decisions and do the right thing for the people of our country and our two great nations. We should come together in this hard time and we will share the burden and the responsibility with the world.''

    Bush: World must stand united against terrorism, NYT, 23.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Bush.html






With Gustav,

Bush tries to avoid Katrina mistakes


Mon Sep 1, 2008
1:44pm EDT
By Jeremy Pelofsky


AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - President George W. Bush warned on Monday the danger to the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Gustav was far from over as he sought to assure Americans his administration has learned the lessons of the botched handling of Katrina in 2005.

"This storm has yet to pass. It's a serious event," he said at a briefing with emergency officials in Austin, after a weakened Gustav hit the Louisiana coast but appeared to spare Katrina-battered New Orleans its full force.

Bush, who flew to Texas after scrapping plans to go to Minnesota to address the Republican National Convention on Monday, insisted, however, that coordination of the emergency response to Gustav was "a lot better" than during Katrina.

Bush's hastily arranged visit to the region kept him well inland from Gustav's strong winds and lashing rains even as it weakened to a Category 2 hurricane before making landfall on the Louisiana coast to the west of New Orleans.

But the trip underscored Bush's determination not to be seen as out of touch, as he was widely viewed when Katrina devastated New Orleans three years ago, leaving a stain on his legacy and hastening his slide in popularity.

Bush's fellow Republicans prepared to open their convention in St. Paul on Monday to nominate John McCain as their presidential candidate. McCain, mindful of the political damage from Katrina, ordered toned-down festivities to avoid any hint of insensitivity to storm victims.


With less than five months left in office, Bush was taking pains to show Americans he is deeply engaged in the biggest test of the government's revamped hurricane response capabilities since Katrina.

"What I look for is to determine whether or not assets are in place to help, whether or not there's coordination and whether or not there's preparation for recovery. So to that end, I feel good," Bush said at an emergency operations center in Austin.

Bush praised the hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents who heeded warnings and left their homes before Gustav hit, and thanked the states that had taken them in.

"It's been a huge evacuation," he said.

Determined to avoid past mistakes, Bush had quickly ordered top officials to the region, trying to erase memories of the sluggish Katrina response symbolized by his oft-ridiculed remark to then-disaster chief Michael Brown: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." Brown was later relieved of his job.

Bush canceled plans to travel to St. Paul to headline the opening of the Republican convention, and then took the unusual step of heading for sites near the storm zone even before Gustav had made landfall.

He had been widely criticized for taking too long to visit New Orleans after Katrina hit three years ago, and his administration was accused of bungling the initial response by taking days to evacuate stranded residents.

(Writing by Matt Spetalnick, editing by David Alexander and David Wiessler)

    With Gustav, Bush tries to avoid Katrina mistakes, R, 1.9.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSN3151756920080901






Bush Seeks to Affirm

a Continuing War on Terror


August 30, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Tucked deep into a recent proposal from the Bush administration is a provision that has received almost no public attention, yet in many ways captures one of President Bush’s defining legacies: an affirmation that the United States is still at war with Al Qaeda.

Seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush’s advisers assert that many Americans may have forgotten that. So they want Congress to say so and “acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are dedicated to the slaughter of Americans.”

The language, part of a proposal for hearing legal appeals from detainees at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, goes beyond political symbolism. Echoing a measure that Congress passed just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, it carries significant legal and public policy implications for Mr. Bush, and potentially his successor, to claim the imprimatur of Congress to use the tools of war, including detention, interrogation and surveillance, against the enemy, legal and political analysts say.

Some lawmakers are concerned that the administration’s effort to declare anew a war footing is an 11th-hour maneuver to re-establish its broad interpretation of the president’s wartime powers, even in the face of challenges from the Supreme Court and Congress.

The proposal is also the latest step that the administration, in its waning months, has taken to make permanent important aspects of its “long war” against terrorism. From a new wiretapping law approved by Congress to a rewriting of intelligence procedures and F.B.I. investigative techniques, the administration is moving to institutionalize by law, regulation or order a wide variety of antiterrorism tactics.

“This seems like a final push by the administration before they go out the door,” said Suzanne Spaulding, a former lawyer for the Central Intelligence Agency and an expert on national security law. The cumulative effect of the actions, Ms. Spaulding said, is to “put the onus on the next administration” — particularly a Barack Obama administration — to justify undoing what Mr. Bush has done.

It is uncertain whether Congress will take the administration up on its request. Some Republicans have already embraced the idea, with Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, introducing a measure almost identical to the administration’s proposal. “Since 9/11,” Mr. Smith said, “we have been at war with an unconventional enemy whose primary goal is to kill innocent Americans.”

In the midst of an election season, the language represents a political challenge of sorts to the administration’s critics. While many Democrats say they are wary of Mr. Bush’s claims to presidential power, they may be even more nervous about casting a vote against a measure that affirms the country’s war against terrorism. They see the administration’s effort to force the issue as little more than a political ploy.

Mr. Bush “is trying to stir up again the politics of fear by reminding people of something they haven’t really forgotten: that we are engaged in serious armed conflict with Al Qaeda,” said Laurence H. Tribe, a constitutional scholar at Harvard and legal adviser to Mr. Obama. “But the question is, Where is that conflict to be waged, and by what means.”

With violence rising in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden still at large, there are ample signs of the United States’ continued battles with terrorism. But Mr. Bush and his advisers say that seven years without an attack has lulled many Americans.

“As Sept. 11, 2001, recedes into the past, there are some people who have come to think of it as kind of a singular event and of there being nothing else out there,” Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey told House lawmakers in July. “In a way, we are the victims of our own success, our own success being that another attack has been prevented.”

Mr. Mukasey laid out the administration’s thinking in a July 21 speech to a conservative Washington policy institute in response to yet another rebuke on presidential powers by the Supreme Court: its ruling that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay , were entitled to habeas corpus rights to contest their detentions in court.

The administration wants Congress to set out a narrow framework for those prisoner appeals. But the administration’s six-point proposal goes further. It includes not only the broad proclamation of a continued “armed conflict with Al Qaeda,” but also the desire for Congress to “reaffirm that for the duration of the conflict the United States may detain as enemy combatants those who have engaged in hostilities or purposefully supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations.”

That broad language hints at why Democrats, and some Republicans, worry about the consequences. It could, they say, provide the legal framework for Mr. Bush and his successor to assert once again the president’s broad interpretation of the commander in chief’s wartime powers, powers that Justice Department lawyers secretly used to justify the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects and the National Security Agency’s wiretapping of Americans without court orders.

The language recalls a resolution, known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress on Sept. 14, 2001. It authorized the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force” against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks to prevent future strikes. That authorization, still in effect, was initially viewed by many members of Congress who voted for it as the go-ahead for the administration to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban, which had given sanctuary to Mr. bin Laden.

But the military authorization became the secret legal basis for some of the administration’s most controversial legal tactics, including the wiretapping program, and that still gnaws at some members of Congress.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he wanted to make sure the Bush administration — or a future president — did not use that declaration as “another far-fetched interpretation” to evade the law, the way he believes Mr. Bush and aides like Alberto R. Gonzales, the former attorney general, did in using the wiretapping program to avoid the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“I don’t want to face another situation where we had the Sept. 14 resolution and then Attorney General Gonzales claimed that that was authorization to violate FISA,” Mr. Specter said.

For Bush critics like Bruce Fein, a Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, the answer is simple: do not give the administration the wartime language it seeks.

“I do not believe that we are in a state of war whatsoever,” Mr. Fein said. “We have an odious opponent that the criminal justice system is able to identify and indict and convict. They’re not a goliath. Don’t treat them that way.”

    Bush Seeks to Affirm a Continuing War on Terror, NYT, 30.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/30/washington/30terror.html






Judge Rules Bush Advisers

Can’t Ignore Subpoenas


August 1, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Bush’s top advisers cannot ignore subpoenas issued by Congress, a federal judge ruled on Thursday in a case that involves the firings of several United States attorneys but has much wider constitutional implications for all three branches of government.

“The executive’s current claim of absolute immunity from compelled Congressional process for senior presidential aides is without any support in the case law,” the judge, John D. Bates, ruled in United States District Court here.

Unless overturned on appeal, the ruling would require a former White House counsel, Harriet E. Miers, and the current White House chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, to cooperate, at least partly, with the House Judiciary Committee, which has been investigating the dismissal of the federal prosecutors in 2006.

By implication, the ruling could also affect Karl Rove, former chief political adviser to Mr. Bush, who has also resisted appearing before Congressional inquiries that concern the Justice Department during the Bush administration.

While the ruling is the first in which a court has agreed to enforce a Congressional subpoena against the White House, Judge Bates called his 93-page decision “very limited” and emphasized that he would rather see the dispute resolved through political negotiations.

Mr. Bush’s chief spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said that the White House was studying the decision and that “once we’ve had a chance to do that, we’ll consider whether the decision should be appealed.”

Before the ruling, several lawyers said it would almost surely be appealed, no matter which way it turned, because of its importance. Given that probability, it appears unlikely that Ms. Miers, Mr. Bolten or Mr. Rove will be testifying before Congress any time soon.

Ms. Perino, speaking to reporters on Air Force One on the way to Kennebunkport, Me., noted that Judge Bates had not ruled on the merits of any specific executive privilege claim and had in fact said that some considerations, like national security, might justify such a claim.

Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten, citing legal advice from the White House, have refused for months to comply with Congressional subpoenas. The White House has repeatedly invoked executive privilege, the doctrine that allows the advice that a president gets from his close advisers to remain confidential.

In essence, the judge — whom Mr. Bush appointed in 2001 — held that whatever immunity from Congressional subpoenas that executive branch officials might enjoy, it was not “absolute.” And in any event, he said, it is up to the courts, not the executive branch, to determine the scope of its immunity in particular cases.

The ruling was the latest setback for the Bush administration, which maintains that current and former White House aides are immune from Congressional subpoena. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to recommend that Mr. Rove be cited for contempt for ignoring a committee subpoena.

The House has already voted to hold Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten in contempt for refusing to testify or to provide documents about the dismissals of the United States attorneys, which critics of the administration have suggested were driven by an improper mix of politics and decisions about who should or should not be prosecuted.

Last December, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to hold Mr. Bolten and Mr. Rove in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoenas. The full Senate has yet to act.

The House Judiciary Committee, acting on behalf of the full House, brought the lawsuit that led to the ruling by Judge Bates. In rejecting the administration’s request to dismiss the suit altogether, the judge said Ms. Miers could not simply ignore a subpoena to appear but must state her refusal in person. Moreover, he ruled, both she and Mr. Bolten must provide all nonprivileged documents related to the prosecutors’ dismissals.

Democrats in Congress issued statements in which they claimed victory and said they looked forward to hearing from the appropriate White House officials.

“I have long pointed out that this administration’s claims of executive privilege and immunity, which White House officials have used to justify refusing to even show up when served with Congressional subpoenas, are wrong,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Leahy’s counterpart in the House, Representative John Conyers Jr., had a similar reaction. “Today’s landmark ruling is a ringing reaffirmation of the fundamental principle of checks and balances and the basic American idea that no person is above the law,” said Mr. Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Aitan Goelman, a former assistant United States attorney in New York City who also worked in the Justice Department’s terrorism and violent crime section, said in an interview on Thursday that there was never a chance that Judge Bates would dismiss the suit outright. Deciding issues like those raised in the suit, he said, “is what courts do” and have done for two centuries.

    Judge Rules Bush Advisers Can’t Ignore Subpoenas, NYT, 1.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/01/us/01subpoena.html




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