Clinton stole the silverware but left the appointees

Posted: Mar 24, 2004 12:00 AM

After his election in 2000, George W. Bush made a big mistake: He didn't clean house of Clinton administration figures. The Senate has confirmed hundreds of President Bush's appointments, but it's Bush's reappointments that have come back to haunt him. While several of the reappointees first served under Republicans, their service in the Clinton administration should have signaled that they would be trouble for Bush.

The latest Bill Clinton appointee and Bush re-appointee to damage the president is Richard Clarke. Clarke was appointed by Clinton in 1998 to become national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection and counter-terrorism. After his election, Bush allowed Clarke to remain at his post until October 2001. When Bush created the new Homeland Security Department, Clarke became the special adviser for cyberspace security.

Dissatisfied with his new position, Clarke resigned in 2003. But that wasn't the end of the line for this disgruntled government worker. Clarke decided to write a book discussing Bush administration anti-terrorism policy. This week, on CBS' "60 Minutes," Clarke pushed his new book by ripping into President Bush, accusing Bush of doing a "terrible job" in the war on terrorism. Clarke also stated that the president asked top advisers to look for an Iraq-Sept. 11 link, despite being told that no such link existed.

Ouch. Clarke's statements will surely be seen for what they are: a desperate attempt to make the New York Times best-seller list and a possible shot at re-entering the bureaucracy in a John Kerry administration. But Clarke only lengthens the list of back-stabbing reappointees.

One of Clarke's close friends is Rand Beers. Beers was appointed first principal deputy assistant secretary of state by Clinton; in 1998, Clinton made Beers assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs. In 2002, Bush appointed Beers to the National Security Council as special assistant to the president for combating terrorism. Beers resigned in June 2003 and took the job of national security adviser for the Kerry campaign.

Joe Wilson, the Bush-bashing former ambassador, was appointed by President Clinton to head African Affairs at the National Security Council. In 2002, the CIA asked Wilson to check intelligence allegations that Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Wilson went to Niger, lounged around drinking sweet mint tea and told the CIA -- non-definitively -- that no such deal had taken place.

After the 2003 State of the Union address, when President Bush cited British intelligence reports referencing the Iraq-Niger yellowcake deal, Wilson went public with his information. "I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat," Wilson wrote in The New York Times. Wilson, like Clarke, is now seeking a permanent position in a Kerry administration; the Kerry official Web site labels Wilson one of the heroes of the Kerry campaign.

More than anyone within the Bush administration, CIA Director George Tenet has damaged President Bush's credibility and re-election chances. The Washington Post reported in December 2000 that Bush was likely to keep the Clinton-appointed Tenet on as a bipartisan concession. Not only did Tenet remain at the CIA, much of his staff did as well, including John McLaughlin, Joan Dempsey, Robert McNamara Jr., James Simon, John Gannon and Charles Allen.

Unlike Wilson and Clarke, Tenet does not openly criticize President Bush. But it was Tenet's CIA that gave Joe Wilson the Niger job; it was Tenet's CIA that blew the intelligence on Iraq; it was Tenet's CIA that failed to prevent Sept. 11. In a classic CYA maneuver in February 2004, Tenet said in a speech at Georgetown University that CIA analysts "never said there was an 'imminent' threat" with regard to Iraq. His words provided ammunition to John Kerry, who stated in a press release that Tenet's speech proved "George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of the administration weren't passing on sound facts on Iraq to the American people -- they were playing politics with our national security."

Now, with his job on the line, Tenet has strongly supported the war in Iraq and the intelligence findings leading up to it. The question remains: If Bush had dropped Tenet after the 2000 election, how would events have been altered?

It is excusable for President Bush to make the mistake of picking the wrong bureaucrat but only if that bureaucrat has no dubious political history. To reappoint those who served under Clinton showed lack of foresight. If President Bush is re-elected, he needs to de-Clintonize his administration.