Don’t Worry, Isikoff Says, DC Is Not Corrupt and Dishonest

When the Village needs to plant a story to counter a growing narrative, they know who to call: Michael Isikoff. And true to form, Isikoff writes a review of Philip Shenon’s book on the 9/11 Commission that–while it presents abundant evidence that agrees with Max Holland’s post on the book–still tries to refute Holland’s post.

Holland makes two main points in his post. First (as covered in this post), that Zelikow and Rove carried on back-channel communication after the Commission heads told him to stop. And, more generally, Holland argues that Zelikow used his position to,

… exploit[] his central position to negate or neutralize criticism of the Bush administration so that the White House would not bear, in November 2004, the political burden of failing to prevent the attacks.

To which, Isikoff scolds,

In any case, the suggestion by conspiracy theorists—who have seized on the evidence in Shenon’s book—that Zelikow was serving as a secret White House "mole" is hard to sustain.

Nosiree, Zelikow wasn’t the secret White House mole! While Isikoff includes a quote from Lee Hamilton, a Democrat with a long history of excusing Republican shortcomings, in which Hamilton vouches for Zelikow’s interest in exposing all the facts, Isikoff also presents the following evidence that supports and expands on Holland’s post:

  • After Commission investigator Warren Bass found emails from Richard Clarke warning of "hundreds of Americans [lying] dead in several countries," Zelikow, "disparaged Clarke as an egomaniac and braggart who was unjustly slandering his friend Rice."
  • Isikoff numbers "at least four" calls between Rove and Zelikow; Isikoff repeats Zelikow’s excuse that these were related to Zelikow’s academic job, but he doesn’t include the allegation that Zelikow tried to have his Executive Secretary stop logging his calls.
  • He repeats Shenon’s claim that Rove specifically said that a report that blamed Bush for 9/11 could most easily sink his re-election bid.

So to make his argument that Zelikow wasn’t a White House mole trying to prevent a critical report from hurting Bush’s re-election chances, Isikoff provides the quote of someone not known for candid speech, lauding the report itself. But Isikoff doesn’t refute the claim that Rove and Zelikow were communicating, he doesn’t refute the claim that Rove thought a favorable report was important, and he even adds another witness describing Zelikow as "bullying" the Commision to protect the reputation of his gal Condi!

Now, to be fair, Isikoff does three more things that are perhaps designed to distract from the notion that Zelikow was a mole. First, he shows that Zelikow wasn’t the only mole.

When Clarke finally did testify about his warnings to Rice, Shenon reports, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and his aides feverishly drafted tough questions and phoned them in to GOP commissioners to undermine Clarke’s credibility.

Then, he notes that George Tenet was remarkably quiet about all the "hair on fire" discussions he had with George Bush about impending terrorist threats.

Questioned in secret sessions by the panel, Tenet was unable to remember almost anything he said to Bush about Al Qaeda—or even that he had flown to Texas in August 2001 to brief the president at his ranch in Crawford.

Somehow, these details are supposed to refute the idea that the 9/11 Commission was designed to hide how badly Condi and Bush had botched 9/11? They prove that Zelikow wasn’t the only mole, but they don’t disprove that Zelikow was one of the moles for the Administration!

Finally, Isikoff makes a bid for the classic Republican defense: Bill Clinton did it.

Tenet also professed to be unaware of a highly classified December 1998 memo, discovered by the commission staff, in which Bill Clinton had authorized the CIA to recruit Afghan tribal leaders to kill bin Laden. To be sure, two months later, Clinton personally wrote out a second order crossing out the "kill bin Laden" directive and inserting more ambiguous language—one reason Tenet’s agents might well have been confused about just what they could do. In the end, Rove’s concerns about the ultimate impact of the 9/11 commission report was overwrought. There was more than enough blame to go around.

Again, I’m not sure how Tenet’s "forgetfulness" of two memos that proved Clinton was alert to the dangers of Al Qaeda really help Isikoff’s case. Furthermore, whether or not one ambiguous passage amounts to "blame" for Clinton, that’s not the question either Holland or Isikoff tackle. The question is whether the Bush Administration intervened to make sure the report didn’t blame Bush for the attack. And it didn’t. In spite of abundant warnings, in spite of scuttling Clinton’s efforts (however inadequate) to respond to Al Qaeda, the report really didn’t assign the Bush Administration the blame it deserved.

Now, understand, I’m sure Shenon’s book (as distinct from Holland’s post) is primarily focused on the wider political stonewalling, not just Zelikow’s role in that process. But Isikoff purports to refute Holland’s allegation that Zelikow used his role on the Committee to protect the White House. And in fact, he makes Holland’s point stronger.

26 replies
  1. bigbrother says:

    So important to tie the rethugs to their incompetence in protecting us from 9/11.Richard Clarke and Valerie Plame both are the smoking gun in the Administrations ineptitude in protecting us from known enemies that had attached the World Trade Center before.
    The symbol for world diminance to the Muslim world as a threat is so unmistakeable. It also goes back to a prior Republican administration, Regan, who fired all the competent Air Controllers to break another union. Those controllers would have been the last defense in an air attack. Who’s to say that a level of competence was lost that may well have prevented that or other attacks. The Muslin analyst may have realised that weakness and decided to exploit it which in fact they did.
    Rethugs protecting us…???

    • freepatriot says:

      When can we read Wheeler Isikoff Death Match Round 2? I can’t wait

      isikoff has a mean left, and some fancy footwork

      but EW can take him

      I bet isikoff dies of fear before he reaches the ring

      I’m a pretty rough and violent person, but I’d be kinda afraid of EW in that venue too …

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “disparaged Clarke as an egomaniac and braggart”

    Pray tell, how this purported description of Richard Clarke distinguish him from Isikoff, Mr. Cheney, or anyone above the rank of GS-11 inside the Beltway? As for slandering “his good friend”, tell me how that being so described would distinguish him from 90% of those who’ve obtained tenure or made it to the SES or political appointee in any administration.

    This sort of writing by Isikoff is cliched, worthy of inclusion in the Bulwer Lytton contest. It attests to nothing but how tired Mr. Bush’s supporters have already become.

  3. freepatriot says:

    greetings from beyond the void

    (Don’t ask)

    anybody familiar with “The Bonfire Of The Vanities” ???

    If the truth doesn’t set you free, then LIE

    kinda sums up the repuglitards

    they can’t tell the truth

    that would be a confession to CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

    all these criminal fucks have left is their lies

  4. redX says:

    The argument might be that it was one of the goals of the exercise – so not so much as a mole as a liason.

  5. JohnLopresti says:

    Blue ribbon commissions usually are a political artifice, but it is worthwhile chronicling their quirks in producing their final report. Reading the several recent posts on Rove’s lobbying the 911Commission, I was reminded of the similarly intense pressure on the ABA during the summer plenary session in Hawaii which produced the final ABA report on legitimate use of presidential signing statements; going into that meeting July 24, 2006 there was a panel of experts selected in June that year, the announcement of which elicited cries of liberal bias, but the final report from which evoked much chagrin for incompleteness and unwillingness to depict the need for and applicability of rule by executive fiat. In sum, another blue ribbon effort to address how the current executive has lobbied to assure ameliorated outcomes. Lobbyists favor biased propaganda in the press, or even better, no press, though Isikoff stenographs for the ruling faction pretty closely, as I recall his critics writing previously about his best credentials; lobbyists also enjoy connectivity with the legal team writing the implementation if rules and regulations are the outcome.

  6. Slothrop says:

    It’s the use of the pejorative phrase “conspiracy theorists” that grates. Who’s theorizing? It’s all abundantly clear. No “theory” to it.

    This is the traditional media’s great fall-back when all else fails.
    No need to refute anything if it’s a “conspiracy theory.”

    • emptywheel says:

      I rather suspect Rove called and complained about the conspiracy theorists.

      Also, if I’m not mistaken, the book is still supposed to be (or was supposed to be) embargoed. I’m wondering if they released it early because of the other post.

  7. Evolute says:

    OT: pre SB trash talk

    Hey bmaz, your Wildcats may have bruised up the Trojans a bit in some round-ball Thursday, but by half time today (20 points) the Bruins are applying some L.A. whoop-ass on your desert wussies.

  8. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    This is just sad.
    This line, however, was a special howler: “ Zelikow disparaged Clarke as an egomaniac and braggart who was unjustly slandering his friend Rice
    How quaint.
    So Zelikow counts Condalezza Rice as a ‘friend’…?
    That’s a damning admission.
    It makes him look like an idiot, while adding luster to Clarke’s reputation.

    As for Isikoff’s trying to cover Rove’s sleazy ass… (sigh)… If Isikoff wants to blow his little remaining credibility covering Rove’s sleazy ass, it’s just sad. But really, who wants to watch Iskioff allow himself to be eaten alive by a snake? Ick!!!!

  9. Citizen92 says:

    Let’s not overlook the two-way street angle here.

    Throughout most of his time at the White House, political advisor Rove held the title of Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff. That title holds important control and administrative distinctions inside the US Government. The list is exhausting, but best to focus in on that Karl would have tip-top security clearance to all SAP’s and just about any other intel he could want (the bureaucracy recognizes that holders of that title are so proximate to the President that they “have” to have those clearances in case the President should ask or share something). Did Rove need the clearances for that purpose. Hardly. But did he use them for other purposes? Probably.

    Point being that Zelikow, despite supposed cleared for everything was still unlikely to have accessed the full range of government secrets. Yet Karl held those keys. I absolutely concede that Zelikow could have been there do follow the WH’s orders. But I also think that Karl was a mole into the true treasure trove of secrets.

  10. Jeff says:

    It seems to me the abcnews story casts serious doubt on the first main point Holland makes, while I think, as I’ve been suggesting, there is something to the second main point, that the 9-11 Commission served (among other things, I would add) to political protect the White House more than a genuinely impartial investigation would have. However, I think it could have been a lot worse. (okay, so the response wasn’t that comprehensive; but it has essential points.)

    • emptywheel says:

      I guess my point in this post is not whether Shenon is correct or not–I find it quite possible he DID get just the six people who were disgruntled with Zelkow’s role.

      But Mikey Isikoff makes a claim that Holland’s piece–or those “conspiracy theorists” reading it–made Zelikow into a “mole.” Now, “mole” was not Holland’s word, so whoever is behind Isikoff’s column clearly took Holland’s post and blew IT out of proportion (and I should have made that point in my post).

      But the thing is, Isikoff’s story does nothing but provide more evidence for the argument that the whole thing, including Zelikow’s, Tenet’s, and Abu G’s role, was fixed for the White House. The evidence Isikoff chooses to present actually makes the larger point better than Holland’s piece.

      • Jeff says:

        I agree with that. And I should add that there is a complete disconnect in the passage in Isikoff’s report that moves from the details of Tenet’s forgetting the Clinton administration’s efforts to the notion that there was more than enough blame to go around to defuse the impact of the Report on the Bush administration’s political prospects. The Report in fact contains the information about the Clinton administration’s move to a law of armed conflict setting to deal with the assassination ban and so forth.

        • emptywheel says:

          Which is, again, why Isikoff’s article looks like a very concerted effort on someone’s part (not necessarily Zelikow’s–it’s worth remembering how absolutely fawning Isikoff has been over Rove for the last seven years) to do damage control.

  11. Sedgequill says:

    Alas, that letter Zelikow wrote for the 9/11 Commission recently concerning the interrogation recordings had left such a good first impression on me. I guess most historians can write well. A number of them will be undertaking to write well about Zelikow.

  12. Citizen92 says:

    Former 9/11 Commissioner Lehman:

    “We had to go through Karl Rove.”….._0203.html

    As pointed out above, political advisor Rove held keys to all the secrets, including the PDB. And it was because he held the “Deputy Chief of Staff” portfolio.

Comments are closed.