Robert Novak

 WASHINGTON -- The executive producer of CBS's "60 Minutes" midweek broadcast, who partially blamed the Bush White House for bogus documents used by Dan Rather, is a former staffer for New York Democrats who was still making political contributions while on the network's payroll.

Josh Howard served on the staff of Rep. Stephen Solarz and worked for Sen. Charles Schumer when Schumer was a state assemblyman, a background confirmed by CBS. Federal election reporting records show that Howard, identifying himself as a CBS employee, contributed $1,000 in each of Solarz's last two campaigns for Congress in 1990 and 1992.

 When CBS first conceded possible defects in the documents about George W. Bush's military service, Howard said: "If the White House had just raised an eyebrow -- they didn't have to say they were forgeries -- but if there was any hint that there was a question, that would have sent us back."


 Former Secretary of State James Baker, the Bush campaign's debate negotiator, agreed to three instead of two debates to get what the White House wanted most: the first debate in Coral Gables, Fla., next Thursday discussing foreign affairs, not domestic affairs as originally scheduled.

 Bush aides had hinted they would insist on no more than two debates, but in fact they never felt it was important. Based on their belief that the first debate exerts an inordinate influence on public opinion, they wanted it to deal with the war on terror where George W. Bush is presumed to have an advantage over John Kerry.

 Had Bush insisted on canceling the second, town hall-format debate, it might have hurt politically. It is scheduled at Washington University in St. Louis, and Missouri is an important battleground state.


 Democratic politicians are sending advice to the Kerry campaign asserting the Democratic candidate's only hope to be elected will be to humiliate President Bush in the debates.

 That strategy is based on the widespread Democratic belief that the outcome of the 2000 debates was less Bush winning than Al Gore losing. These politicians argue that Bush cannot recover from a total Kerry assault.

 Bush campaign strategists have been studying the 1996 debates between Sen. Kerry and then Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. They believe that Weld lost interest and concentration during the long series of debates, and will try to get Bush to challenge all of Kerry's questionable assertions.


Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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