As expected, the most secretive administration in recent U.S. history has moved into attack mode in the wake of President Bush’s former Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill’s possible “leaking” of “secret” documents to author Ron Suskind for the publication of his long anticipated book (by “long anticipated”, I mean, as of yesterday, when news of O’Neill’s comments initially broke) which is now destined to be an immediate, though short-lived, bestseller, “The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill”.
O’Neill, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show this morning, has denied any wrongdoing, saying that
the documents were given to him by the Treasury’s chief legal officer after he requested them to help former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind write a book on O’Neill’s time in the Cabinet.
“I said to him (the general counsel) I would like to have the documents that are OK for me to have. About three weeks later, the general counsel, the chief legal officer, sent me a couple of CDs, which I frankly never opened,” O’Neill said in Tuesday’s interview. He resigned under pressure a year ago in a shake-up of Bush’s economic team.
O’Neill, the first major Bush insider to criticize the president, said he had given the compact disc with the documents to Suskind.
“I don’t honestly think there is anything that is classified in those 19,000 sheets,” said O’Neill, adding only the cover sheet shown on television bore the words “secret.”
President Bush, a notorious baseball fanatic, must be doubly disappointed by the behavior of his former cabinet member, as the flap over O’Neill’s comments inevitably knocks Pete Rose’s revelatory text down a few notches in the cultural radar.
In the interim, Bush (or more accurately, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett) may want to begin boning up on some responses to this issue for the presidential debates this fall, since these off-the-cuff comments don’t function very well as an adequate and logical defense of his foreign policy of late:
Speaking in Mexico, Mr Bush rejected Mr O’Neill’s claims that he had planned the Iraq war within days of becoming President, and not as a result of the terrorism that shook the US.
“No, the stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear,” he said. “Like the previous (Clinton) administration, we were for regime change. And then all of a sudden September 11 hit,” Mr Bush said in Monterrey at a press conference with Mexican President Vicente Fox.
Asked if he regretted going to war, given that nearly 500 Americans had now been killed, Mr Bush defended his “tough” decision, saying “history will prove it’s the right one for the world”.
Oh, and as an afterthought, Brit Hume weighs in on the O’Neill matter with some entirely irrelevant, Roger Ailes-inspired logic over at FOX News:
Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who was forced out of the Bush administration in 2002, has criticized the president on everything from his demeanor in Cabinet meetings to the war in Iraq this week. But these recent attacks contradict statements O’Neill made in a television interview just after his ouster. O’Neill told KDKA Television in Pittsburgh last January — “I’m a supporter of the institution of the presidency, and I’m determined not to say any negative things about the president and the Bush administration. They have enough to do without having me as a sharpshooter.”