Highlights of This Page
Hastert uses federal tax dollars to turn $1.5 million profit for himself. Bush stymies Abramoff investigation by firing US Attorney handling the case. Pat Robertson calls for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Hurricane Katrina strikes Gulf Coast; Bush administration response lackadaisical and incompetent.
See my Update Information page for an explanation of why this and other pages between September 2004 and September 2006 are not yet complete.
Hastert uses federal tax dollars to turn $1.5 million profit for himself
- August: Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert rams legislation through the House that uses $207 million in federal tax dollars to earn himself a profit of $1.5 million. In August 2002, Hastert and his wife purchased a 195-acre farm in Plano, located in his Illinois congressional district (IL-14). Almost 70 acres of the parcel has no access to roads. In February 2004, Hastert and two partners purchased another 69 acres adjacent to the original property. In August 2005, Hastert secures $207 million in federal dollars to build the "Prairie Parkway" through his district. The Chicago Tribune calls it as a "pet project" of Hastert's that will "cut through valuable farmland and increase suburban sprawl." Bush comes to IL-14 to sign the bill. The highway runs less than three miles from Hastert's property (Hastert's spokesman says the distance is closer to 6 miles, but satellite photos prove him wrong). The "Prairie Parkway" transforms the Hastert property from an isolated parcel to one with convenient access to major cities. In December 2005, Hastert will sell a chunk of his property to the Robert Arthur Land Company, who plans to builds 1500 homes on the property. Hastert earns at least $1.5 million in profit. His two partners makes another $1.5 million. In May 2006, the Kendall County Board will votes "in favor of putting an interchange on Galena Road, giving residents of the new development easy access to the highway." Hastert's spokesman will assert, "None of the properties purchased by the speaker are near enough to the Prairie Parkway to be affected by the proposed highway." (Think Progress)
August 2: A newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)concludes that Iran is about ten years away from being able to make nuclear weapons. The Bush administration has said that Iran is no more than five years from such capabilities, and Bush officials have frequently warned Americans of the threat represented by the supposedly imminent prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. Like all NIEs, this report represents a consensus of the entire US intelligence community. The NIE is cautious, saying that while the intelligence community is certain Iran's military is engaged in some sorts of clandestine activities, it cannot say that any of those activities are related to the creation of nuclear weapons. Still, a senior intelligence official familiar with the findings says that "it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons."
The White House has never used any intelligence assessments to back up its claims about an imminently nuclear Iran. Instead, it has pointed to years of Iranian concealment, and asked why Iran needs nuclear power plants considering the amount of oil it possesses.
This is the first NIE on Iran since 2001; more recent assessments produced during Bush's tenure were far more narrow in scope, and were sometimes rejected by hardliners unhappy with the intelligence community's previous findings. In 2002, then-deputy national security advisor Stephen Hadley commissioned an assessment of "regime change" in Iran. That assessment portrayed Iran as a nation slowly moving towards democracy, and cautioned that US interference would possibly derail that process. Many in the administration were not happy with those findings.
Until recently, Iran was judged, as exemplified by February 2005 testimony from Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as being within five years of having the ability to make a nuclear weapon. But since 1995, the government has continually made that same five-year estimate. Now, according to the NIE, Iran will be unable to produce a sufficient quantity of enriched weapons-grade uranium before "early to mid-next decade," closer to the year 2015. The report does not say whether Iran would have a delivery system ready if and when it manufactures enough uranium.
And the ten-year estimate is a minimum, assuming that Iran will pursue a nuclear weapons program as quickly as possible. The report does not take into account that Iran has suspended much of its uranium-enrichment work as part of a tentative deal with Britain, France and Germany.
In January 2005, Dick Cheney suggested darkly that Iran was so close to having a nuclear weapon that Israel might be forced to launch a pre-emptive attack on that country. And in April 2004, John Bolton, then a State Department official responsible for the administration's position on weapons of mass destruction, and now US ambassador to the UN, said, "If we permit Iran's deception to go on much longer, it will be too late. Iran will have nuclear weapons." Those and other statements by Bush officials are directly contradicted by the new NIE. But, as later items demonstrate, the NIE will not restrain Bush, Cheney, and other officials from continuing to accuse Iran of being close to having a nuclear weapon, and warning that the US might have to take action to prevent such an acquisition. (Washington Post)
- August 1: Former CIA official Philip Giraldi warns that the Bush administration is deeply involved in planning to invade Iran. Giraldi writes, "The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing -- that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack -- but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections." Other sources cited elsewhere in this site worry that Bush and Cheney are even considering staging their own "terrorist attack" within the US, blaming Iran, and then using that attack as an excuse to mount an invasion. (American Conservative)
Bush stymies Abramoff investigation by firing US Attorney handling the case
- August 8: A US grand jury investigation in Guam into the criminal actions of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff was terminated over two years ago when Bush had the supervising federal prosecutor removed. The investigation went nowhere for years afterwards. The Guam investigation was separate from the federal grand jury in the District of Colombia that is investigating allegations that Abramoff bilked Indian tribes out of millions of dollars. In Guam, a US territory in the Pacific, investigators were looking into Abramoff's secret arrangement with Superior Court officials to lobby against a court reform bill then pending in Congress. The legislation, since approved, gave the Guam Supreme Court authority over the Superior Court. In 2002, Abramoff was retained by the Superior Court in what was an unusual arrangement for a public agency. In May, Abramoff was paid with a series of $9,000 checks funneled through a Laguna Beach, California, lawyer to disguise the lobbyist's role working for the Guam court. No separate contract was authorized for Abramoff's work. Guam court officials have never explained the contractual arrangement. At the time, Abramoff was a well-known lobbying figure in the Pacific islands because of his work for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Saipan garment manufacturers, accused of employing workers in what critics called sweatshop conditions. The transactions were the target of a grand jury subpoena issued Nov. 18, 2002, according to the subpoena. It demanded that Anthony Sanchez, administrative director of the Guam Superior Court, turn over all records involving the lobbying contract, including bills and payments. Instead, the chief prosecutor, US Attorney Frederick Black, was suddenly and inexplicably demoted.
- Black was a well-respected prosecutor who, though he was officially on temporary status, had served in the post for over a decade after being named to the post by the elder Bush. At the time he was replaced, Black was directing a long-term investigation into allegations of public corruption in the administration of then-Governor Carl Gutierrez. The probe produced numerous indictments, including some of the governor's political associates and top aides. Gutierrez and his supporters fiercely lobbied the White House for Black's removal or demotion.
- His replacement, Leonardo Rapadas, was confirmed in May 2003 without any debate. Rapadas had been recommended for the job by the Guam Republican Party. Fred Radewagen, a lobbyist who had been under contract to the Gutierrez administration, says he carried that recommendation to top Bush aide Karl Rove in early 2003. After taking office, Rapadas recused himself from the public corruption case involving Gutierrez. The new US attorney was a cousin of "one of the main targets," according to a confidential memo to Justice Department officials. The investigation fizzled. (Boston Globe)
- August 12: Henry Kissinger, Bush's informal but influential foreign policy advisor, writes one of his numerous op-eds about the US policies in Iraq for the Washington Post. Titled "Lessons for an Exit Strategy," Kissinger lays out his thinking towards Iraq. His key point is simple: "Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy." After the op-ed is published, Kissinger makes the rounds of the most senior White House officials, meeting with Bush, Cheney, and national security advisor Stephen Hadley. Victory has to be the goal, he emphasizes. Don't let Iraq become another Vietnam. Don't give an inch, or the media, Congress, and the American culture of avoiding hardship will push you backwards. He also says that the eventual outcome in Iraq is far more important than Vietnam. A radical Islamic or Taliban-style government in Iraq would be a model that will challenge the internal stability of key countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. It is the domino theory all over again. Kissinger tells Condoleezza Rice that in Vietnam, the US lacked the time, focus, energy, or support at home to get the politics in place. That's why it collapsed like a house of cards. He urges that the Bush administration get the politics in place, both in Iraq and in the US. Partially withdrawing troops isn't an option. Even entertaining such an idea will create momentum for an ignominious exit. Rice understands that Kissinger's thinking reflects Bush's own. (Bob Woodward)
- August 13: General George Casey, the top US ground commander in Iraq, is privately dressed down by Bush after Casey publicly discussed plans to reduce troop levels in 2006. Bush has gone public to play down as "speculation" all talk of troop pull-outs because he fears that even discussing options for an "exit strategy" implies weakening resolve. Casey recently said that US troop levels in Iraq, currently at 138,000, could be reduced by 30,000 in the early months of next year as Iraqi security forces take on a greater role. The administration will be under pressure to signal a significant cut in the US presence by autumn next year to help Republicans fighting mid-term elections in November 2006. Military commanders, however, also need to wind down numbers, the imperative that prompted Casey's comments, according to Dan Goure, a Pentagon adviser and vice-president of the Lexington Institute defense think-tank. "It's number-driven," says Goure. "The military can only maintain these levels in Iraq if it has absolutely no choice. Otherwise, the current pattern of rotations and other commitments mean that they will have to lower numbers." There will, in any case, be a short-term increase in US troop levels to cover the Iraq elections scheduled for December. After that, says Goure, the military has drawn up three broad strategies for cutting troops. Their "best scenario" target is to reduce numbers to 60,000-70,000 by next autumn if Iraqi forces start to make progress against the insurgents. The fall-back option would be Casey's minimum 30,000 reduction by the summer. There is also a rarely-mentioned "Plan C" -- complete withdrawal if all-out civil war erupts between the Shi'as and Sunnis, both of whom are engaged in a last-ditch battle for political territory in the current negotiations. The Kurds and Shi'a Arabs want strong regional governments to be created in their northern and southern strongholds. But the minority Sunni Arabs, who dominated the country under Saddam Hussein, fear that they will be left with the central dust-bowl. (Daily Telegraph)
Pat Robertson calls for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez
- August 26: Televangelist Pat Robertson, the former head of the Christian Coalition and a powerful influence in Religious Right politics, tells his 700 Club audience, "Hugo Chavez [the president of Venezuela] thinks we're trying to assassinate him. I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it." Robertson is anything but a crazed Elmer Gantry Bible-thumper. His father, US Senator Absalom Willis Robertson, was the mentor of Senator Prescott Bush, the patriarch of the current dynasty of Bush rulers. "I am not a televangelist," Robertson tells journalist Greg Palast, "I am a businessman." And his reasons for advocating the assassination of Chavez are very businesslike: "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don't think any oil shipments will stop. This is a dangerous enemy to our South controlling a huge pool of oil that could hurt us very badly.... It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with." (Greg Palast)
Hurricane Katrina strikes Gulf Coast
- August 29: Hurricane Katrina, a devastating Category 4 storm, strikes the Gulf Coast near New Orleans. The immediate response from the federal government is lackdaisical, confused, careless, and tragic, costing innumerable lives and untold suffering in the wake of the devastation. An entire page of this site is dedicated to Katrina, its prelude, and its aftermath.
- Politically, the White House's response is baffling for Republicans desperate to see Bush show some leadership during the crisis. Political handler Karl Rove, fresh from mismanaging the administration's push to privatize Social Security, tries to squeeze a photo op out of the crisis, circulating a photo of Bush looking at the damage from the air. Authors James Moore and Wayne Slater write, "The photo of Bush gazing out the window in the gentle half-light, amid the security and considerable comfort of Air Force One, peering down on a city lost and ruined and rapidly descending into chaos, dominated the front pages the next morning. It was among the most damaging photos of his presidency. The president appeared detached and powerless, unable even to comprehend how he might use the government to help his own people. Worse, the picture conveyed no sense that the president cared or was worried about the catastrophe unfolding beneath the aircraft's big wings."
- Republican pollster Matthew Dowd frantically tries to get some sort of response from Rove, peppering him with text messages and e-mails asking why was any kind of response taking so long, why does the White House seem so slow-footed? Finally, Rove quits responding entirely, and Dowd pounds out the following message: "Who's in charge? WHO'S IN CHARGE?" Dowd receives no answer. "I guess I pissed him off," Dowd later says.
- Instead of responding quickly and compassionately to the crisis, Bush and his aides spend the first 48 hours arguing over who would be in charge: the Pentagon, FEMA, or the National Guard, which is under the control of individual governors. Louisiana has a Democratic governor, Kathleen Blanco, and the idea of having a Democrat in the position of showing any leadership is anathema to White House aides. Lawyers for the Justice Department and the Pentagon find themselves squabbling over whether or not to federalize the National Guard. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refuses to allow active-duty troops to be dispatched to act as de facto police officers. Questions of legal liability, states' rights, and how to answer the crisis without giving Democrats the chance to garner any positive publicity dominate the discussion, nothing gets done in Washington, and state and local authorities are left to their own devices without any leadership or input from the federal government.
- The tone-deafness of Bush and his senior advisors is appalling, best exemplified by Bush's friendly endorsement of FEMA's hysterically incompetent head, Michael Brown -- "Heck of a job, Brownie" -- his odd, rambling observations about the fun he had in his youth partying in New Orleans, and his hope that millionaire Republican senator Trent Lott can soon rebuild the house he lost in the storm. Bush's entire response process seems out-of-touch, casting further doubts on Karl Rove's ability to successfully manage his president's public relations. Bush's remarks "sound more than clumsy," Moore and Slater write, "they sound oblivious." A matching flood of criticism of the Bush administration, and the clueless president giggling during disaster overwhelms the White House, leaving Rove and his top aides floundering and adrift. Rove tries to fight back, dispatching White House communications director Dan Bartlett -- another political appointee with no experience in dealing with natural disasters -- to draw up a public relations plan to send cabinet members to storm-ravaged communities and to have Bush return repeatedly to the Gulf Coast. Uncharacteristically, Rove directs White House members not to respond to Democratic attacks, worrying that to respond would make the White House look politically partisan at a time of crisis. But underlying his restraint is a typically partisan agenda -- to shift the blame for the failure of response away from the White House and onto the Democrats in Louisiana, particularly Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin.
- Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, himself criminally oblivious during the aftermath of the hurricane, tells NBC's Tim Russert on September 4 that the state and local authorities are to blame for the horrendous response: "The responsibility and power, the authority to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials. The federal government comes in and supports those officials." The counteroffensive is on. Reliable Republican agitator Grover Norquist leads the charge, blaming the chaos in New Orleans on "the looting in a Democratic city run by a Democratic mayor and a Democratic governor." Rove and Bartlett tell their sockpuppets on conservative talk radio to mount accusations that Nagin failed to commandeer hundreds of school buses to evacuate people, a charge quickly disseminated by Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham, among others. Bill O'Reilly brings the specious charges to his Fox News television talk show, blaming Nagin and Blanco for the failure to evacuate tens of thousands of New Orleans residents and glossing over the federal government's failure to respond. Fox's Sean Hannity accuses Nagin of "throw[ing] temper tantrums" instead of evacuating the citizens. While the Republican communications infrastructure finds itself completely unable -- by temperament as well as by competence -- to do anything productive about Katrina's devastation, it well knows how to launch attacks and smear campaigns.
- But the attempt to smear Democrats, though somewhat effective, has little real impact. The main political damage is to Bush himself. The picture of Bush as a strong, effective leader capable of protecting his country is shattered. The invasive budget cuts that have crippled federal agencies such as FEMA, as well as the rampant cronyism and GOP-led profiteering, all comes under renewed scrutiny.
- In the days after the hurricane and the media onslaught of criticism, Bush is visibly angry -- not about the unrelieved suffering of the Gulf Coast citizens, but at the perception that the blame for the failure of response should land on him and his administration. He is angry that the media is saying that if the response to Katrina is any judge of how his administration would respond to another 9/11-style terrorist attack, then that response would be equally inept and callous. The damage to the administration is myriad -- Bush's leadership is now in question, the government is facing billions of dollars in expenditures that will drive up the deficit and further antagonize the GOP's fiscal conservatives, and mainstream media reporters and commentators once solidly in Bush's pocket are now daring to criticize him on the airwaves. And Rove's plan to woo minority voters to the GOP has taken a hit. The resounding perception that Bush let the poor, largely black citizens of New Orleans suffer without succor, voiced by rapper Kanye West in his accusation that "Bush doesn't care about black people," has done incalculable damage to Rove's attempts to recruit minority voters to the ranks of the Republican Party. Rove's campaign strategies had seen a small but important rise in the numbers of black voters for Bush, from 9% in 2000 to 11% in 2004, largely by strategic use of anti-abortion and anti-gay rhetoric. Republican accusations that Democrats, not Republicans, founded and still support white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan are now falling on deaf ears. After Katrina, Bush's support among African-Americans plummets to 2%. They feel, rightly enough, that race played a strong factor in the Bush administration's failure to respond to Katrina; the haunting visuals of blacks on the roof of New Orleans's Superdome and floating face-down in floodwaters give the truth to their beliefs.
- And another of Bush's strengths -- loyalty to his subordinates -- is now backfiring. What was once touted as loyalty is, in the aftermath of the Michael Brown debacle, looking more like arrant cronyism. Undeserving Bush loyalists like Brown have long infested Washington, but now the media, and the American people, want to know who they are and, if need be, ferret them out before the next crisis. Questions about the incompetence and cronyism surrounding the Iraq occupation are raised and renewed. "The shiny MBA presidency with all its metrics and efficiency had assumed the creaky look of Tammany Hall," Moore and Slater write, "which only fed public doubts and deepened Bush's problems in what had become a horrible September." Longtime Bush ally Don Sipple says simply, "They've lost their mojo."
- Sipple has feared such a backlash for some time, but not so much for political reasons as psychological. "A good deal of motivation on the part of this president was to avenge his father's failed presidency," Sipple later says. "His definition of a failed presidency is the failure to get re-elected, okay? I know that was a strong motivator for him from the first time I met him. And so if you're out to avenge your father's presidency, everything goes into re-election, because that's the tipping point. It's almost as if the whole predicate for his presidency was re-election, ahead of any agenda or anything." Sipple muses, "The failure of his presidency began shortly after his re-election. It was almost like that's what he was there for, and now he's on autopilot or sleepwalking. I think that's a partial explanation for the lack of vigilance and planning, of thinking ahead."
- Others echo and extend Sipple's explanation, accusing Bush of being distant and detached from reality, insulated by Rove and his top aides from the world around him. Newsweek makes it a cover story: "Bush In the Bubble." Bush's refusal to read newspapers or watch television news other than to catch up on sports has been a hallmark of his character for a long time, but until now has been treated jokingly, often as a positive affirmation of Bush's "just plain folks" image. Now his insistence that he knows enough to do his job is backfiring. And Bush's typical response -- to tighten his inner circle and reinforce the bubble -- will continue to harm his political standing. (James Moore and Wayne Slater)
Bush surveying damage from Air Force One
"Bush in the bubble"
- Late August: In the days after Hurricane Katrina, Bush finally decides to send more National Guard troops into the stricken region. He asks White House chief of staff Andrew Card to inform Rumsfeld. Typically, Rumsfeld is more concerned with his prerogatives and authority than he is about the needs of the country. "You know, I don't report to you," he sniffs to Card. "I know you don't report to me," Card replies. "You report to the president. But believe me, he would like you to do this." Rumsfeld flatly refuses: "I'm not going to do it unless the president tells me." Card protests that he is carrying the word directly from Bush. Rumsfeld refuses to budge. "Then he's going to have to tell me." Bush is forced to tell Rumsfeld himself to mobilize the National Guard units. (Bob Woodward)