Mike Isikoff and Newsweek Go To Bat Against Clarke For The White House
Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas of Newsweek have attempted to get the jump on Richard Clarke’s “60 Minutes” appearance tonight by running their own interview with him from last week. Isikoff, who made a name for himself being led around by the nose by Lucianne Goldberg, Ken Starr, and Linda Tripp during the Lewinsky debacle, shows more evidence of the same with this story. Although Isikoff and Thomas run some of Clarke’s comments in this piece, they run a good deal of the White House’s discrediting campaign against Clarke as well.
Clarke, who was interviewed by NEWSWEEK last week, is telling his story to the world: to "60 Minutes" on Sunday night, in testimony this week to the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks and in his new book, "Against All Enemies," just out. Clarke portrays the Bush White House as indifferent to the Qaeda threat before 9/11, then obsessed with punishing Iraq, regardless of what the evidence showed about Saddam's Qaeda ties, or lack of them.
The Bush administration is already pushing back. A White House official told NEWSWEEK that Bush has "no specific recollection" of the post 9/11 conversation described by Clarke, and that records show the president was not in the Situation Room at the time Clarke recalls. "His book might be called 'If Only They Had Listened to Dick Clarke'," said an administration official.
This is exactly the same line of attack Rove used against Paul O’Neill, in trying to discredit what he was saying by portraying O’Neill as being bitter that no one listened to him anymore, without ever dealing with what O’Neill actually said.
Clarke does not absolve Clinton (or himself) of responsibility—the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa happened on Clinton's watch—but he saves his harshest criticism for Bush and his national-security team. In his new book, Clarke recounts how on Jan. 24, 2001, he recommended that the new president's national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, convene the president's top advisers to discuss the Qaeda threat. One week later, Bush did. But according to Clarke, the meeting had nothing to do with bin Laden. The topic was how to get rid of Saddam Hussein. "What does that tell you?" Clarke remarked to NEWSWEEK. "They thought there was something more urgent. It was Iraq. They came in there with their agenda, and [Al Qaeda] was not on it."
A White House official countered that the true fault lay with Clarke for failing to propose an effective plan to go after Al Qaeda. On Jan. 25, this official told NEWSWEEK, Clarke submitted proposals to "roll back" Al Qaeda in Afghanistan by boosting military aid to neighboring Uzbekistan, getting the CIA to arm its Predator spy planes and increasing funding for guerrillas fighting the Taliban. There was no need for a high-level meeting on terrorism until Clarke came up with a better plan, this official told NEWSWEEK. The official quoted President Bush as telling Condi Rice, "I'm tired of swatting flies." Bush, this official says, wanted an aggressive scheme to take bin Laden out.
Really? If Bush was so focused on getting a plan that was something other than “swatting flies,” why did he allow his crackerjack national security team to dawdle on it for eight months? And in the months after the inauguration, if this was such a priority for Bush, he sure allowed Ashcroft, Rice, and others to downplay it while letting the CIA and the Pentagon bicker over who would fly the armed Predator drones. But did Isikoff or Thomas follow up on this angle?
And when Clarke goes after Wolfowitz for focusing on Saddam instead of Al Qaeda, Wolfie in typical cabal fashion simply flat-out denies Clarke’s account as “a fabrication.”
Then Isikoff makes the assertion that the August 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief did not contain a specific warning about Al Qaeda using aircraft to crash into buildings here in the US. How does Isikoff know this, when the contents of this PDB is one of the Bush Administration’s most closely guarded secrets? They never say what their source is for this assertion. Perhaps this information also came from Lucianne Goldberg or Linda Tripp.
Lastly, Isikoff cannot resist exiting with one Rove-inspired discrediting:
Clarke is perhaps not the most neutral source. Last year Clarke's best friend, Rand Beers, quit as the White House's counterterrorism chief after complaining—over glasses of wine on Clarke's front porch—about the wrong-headedness of Bush's plan to invade Iraq. Beers is now a principal foreign-policy adviser to Kerry.
Oh, it’s the old “glasses of wine on the front porch” smear.
Well, it’s good to see that Isikoff is consistent in his whoredom.