Just prior to the 2004 elections, The BRAD BLOG revealed a number of embarrassing White House moments that had been scrubbed --- in violation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978 --- from their website. Eventually, in the weeks just prior to the election, and after WaPo, AFP and other wire services picked up the story which broke here, they were forced to restore all of that information to the website. (Highlights from that series of reports here.)
Now it looks like they may be at it again.
Two years ago, I posted a piece at another web site on “Go ahead, Jeff,” i.e. Jeff Gannon, actually named James Guckert, at White House press briefings. The White House web site has a search function of sorts, usable given the exact name or phrase as a keyword. My search term in February 2005 was Scott McClellan’s phrase “go ahead, Jeff,” meaning – as Jeff’s sympathetic questions made amply clear – that McClellan was calling on mysterious White-House-press-pass person Guckert/Gannon, whose exact activities in the White House have yet to be clarified. I have tried to phone Mr. Guckert but probably have not gotten through.
The precise dates of those press briefings at which Mr. Gannon/Guckert had been explicitly called on, found at that time, were November 17, 2004; December 10, 13, 17 and 21, 2004; and January 10 and 25, 2005.
Now, belatedly running the same search this morning, I found further briefings with equally revealing questions posed by Mr. Gannon. However, the previous references to Gannon/Guckert appear to have been scrubbed...
Checking previously cited briefings – from December 10 or December 13, 2004, intermittently through January 2005 – I cannot turn up the key “go ahead, Jeff” line at all, in any of the transcripts where I found it before.
Some time between that posting and today, someone presumably at the White House went into the web site and removed those three little words, “go ahead, Jeff,” from seven briefings.
Truth will out. For one thing, my notes kept the previous briefing excerpts and dates. For another, whoever scrubbed the briefings earlier mentioned did not go so far as to scrub all references to Gannon/Guckert in press briefings. (See below.)
But sometimes little things are even weirder than big things. These people in the White House pay such attention to detail that they can follow up on commentary by a somewhat marginalized freelance journalist, and yet they cannot determine whether, for example, Saddam Hussein actually possessed weapons of mass destruction?
Well, actually that follows: it's called lack of proportion, and these people suffer from it to an impeachable extent. People who could excise the phrase “go ahead, Jeff” seven times while remaining vague, unfixed or unclear on the evils of invading another country lack ethical proportion. The wrong things are important to them.
Meanwhile, here is some of what Mr. Gannon/Guckert voiced (openly) when he was allowed into White House press briefings:
Q Thank you. Conservative groups have petitioned the public integrity section of the Department of Justice to take possession of a hard-drive now held by the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. It contains memos that allegedly detail unethical and possibly criminal activity by Senate members and their staff. Since this conduct is focused on defeating the President's judicial nominees, will the White House support the confiscation of this evidence?
MR. McCLELLAN: You need to direct those questions to the Department of Justice.”
[Other questions that day had concerned new Enron indictments, the U.S. economic forecast, Iraq, etc]
March 9, 2004:
[Following extensive questions about the president’s answering questions from the 9-11 independent commission:]
Q Thank you. First of all, I hope the grand jury didn't force you to turn over the wedding card I sent to you and your wife. (Laughter.) Do you see any hypocrisy in the controversy about the President's mention of 9/11 in his ads, when Democratic icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt's campaign issued this button, that says, "Remember Pearl Harbor"? I have a visual aid for folks watching at home.
MR. McCLELLAN: You're pointing out some historical facts. Obviously, Pearl Harbor was a defining moment back in the period of World War II, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was strongly committed to winning World War II and talked about it frequently.
Q So you think it certainly is valid that the President does talk about it and –“
April 29, 2004:
[Solid grilling over the 9-11 commission, what Bush and Cheney testified, etc:]
Q Scott, Governor Thompson set out in a meeting that he thought it went well and he wishes the American people would have been able to see this on television. What is the thinking now, in hindsight, of not releasing a picture or any part of this, given that he said it went well and you're saying it went well?
MR. McCLELLAN: The American people are going to have a report from this commission, and they're going to be able to see what the commission has learned. They're going to be able to see what the commission recommends. The President very much wants to see their report and see their recommendations and make sure that we take steps to act on those recommendations, as well.
Q Were there any breaks in the meeting, or it was a solid three hours?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it went the full time.
Q Was the President in the room the whole time, or did he ---
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he was in the room the whole time.”
May 6, 2004:
[Context: the Iraq prisoner abuses; calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation:]
Q We're seeing these photographs in the sterile environment of an orderly society. But do we have a sense of the root cause of these acts? Was it excessive punishment, as opposed to gratuitous sadism? And do we --- there's an implication here that some of these acts occurred as the result of punishment for misconduct by some of the inmates.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Jeff, I'm not going to try to be the investigator from this podium. There are investigations going on, and we need to let those investigations proceed.
Q Would it make a difference, Scott?”
June 15, 2004:
[Custody of Saddam; Iraq; etc:]
Q Thanks. Why hasn't the administration made more of the U.N. inspectors' report that says Saddam Hussein was dismantling his missile and WMD sites before and during the war? And doesn't that, combined with the now proven al Qaeda link between Iraq --- between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist organization --- unequivocally make the case for going to war in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think in terms of Iraq and ties to terrorism, Secretary Powell outlined the former regime's support for and ties to terrorists when he went before the United Nations. Director Tenet has testified in open session before Congress about what we know about those ties. You heard the President talk about some of those ties earlier today in the Rose Garden when he was asked a question. So I think those ties are well known, and we have talked about them previously.
Certainly, when you look at someone like al Zarqawi, he was an individual who was in Iraq prior to the decision to go to war, and he is someone who remains in Iraq. And he is a senior al Qaeda associate.”
Q Thank you.
Q Calhoun. (Laughter.)
Q Forgive me if my colleague --- forgive me if my colleagues have already touched on this subject, but last Friday, the Senate –
MR. McCLELLAN: Three, if we don't shout over each other and we have a civil discourse.
Q I have a question.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm coming to you, Helen.
Q Last Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that shows that Ambassador Joe Wilson lied when he said his wife didn't put him up for the mission to Niger. The British inquiry into their own prewar intelligence yesterday concluded that the President's 16 words were "well-founded." Doesn't Joe Wilson owe the President and America an apology for his deception and his own intelligence failure?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, let me point out that I think those reports speak for themselves on that issue. And I think if you have questions about that, you can direct that to Mr. Wilson.
Q Well, we spent so many weeks here dissecting the 16 words that are now absolutely true. Don't you think ---
Q How do you know that?
Q Excuse me, Helen. Don't you think that America deserves the opportunity to have this information brought forward, as well?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I noticed the media reports on this very issue over the weekend.
Q There were very few of them.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I certainly recognize that it was getting a lot of attention previously. But I think the reports speak for themselves on it.”
August 9, 2004:
[Helen Thomas had opened with a good question about the deaths of innocent people in war:]
Q Thank you. The imam that was arrested in New York last week was discovered because his name appeared in a Rolodex in a terrorist training camp in Iraq before the war. The book was found after, by U.S. troops, but he was in Iraq before the war. Is this another piece of evidence showing the direct terror ties between Iraq and al Qaeda?
MR. McCLELLAN: One, that's an ongoing investigation. I think the questions related to those particular individuals are best directed to the Department of Justice. And so that's --- I would refer any questions about that investigation to the Department of Justice.
We are continuing to wage the war on terrorism on many fronts, both abroad and at home. And I think you're seeing that through the actions that we are taking.
Q Let me follow up with a second question. How damaging was the revelation of the deepest mole that we've ever had in al Qaeda? The publication of that man's name by The New York Times --- how damaging is that to our war on terror?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry --- which specific instance are you referring to?
Q The New York Times published the name of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was described by intelligence officials as the only deep mole we've ever had within al Qaeda.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure where it was published, first. Obviously, it was published recently --- the capture of this individual. It is important that we recognize that sometimes there are ongoing operations underway. And as we move forward on capturing or bringing to justice al Qaeda members, we need to keep that in mind. And sometimes we aren't able to go into as much detail we would like to because of those ongoing operations. And I think everybody has a responsibility to keep that in mind.”
[Et cetera. More on the useful Mr. Gannon later.]