Bush's bunker

John McCaslin
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Posted: Oct 06, 2005 8:55 PM

Last year, when nobody else was writing about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, best-selling author Ronald Kessler was in his book "A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush."

Albeit, Kessler was writing about how little was known of Miers - or for that matter, anybody else toiling in the Bush White House.

"Reporters reacted with stunned disbelief when Bush said he wasn't watching TV for news on the war in Iraq," recalls the author. "At a press conference on Dec. 12, 2003, Fox TV correspondent Wendell Goler asked Bush, 'Mr. President, in light of the New York Times editorial today, tell me why?'

"'Let me stop you, Wendell,' Bush said. 'I don't read those editorials.'"

"Bush's aides made the point that not everyone reads the Washington Post and the New York Times," Kessler says. "Rather, the Bush people were like antimatter: rather than having the normal inclination to feed their egos by garnering attention, they had the opposite orientation and were nearly impervious to press criticism."

Margaret Spellings, then assistant to the president for domestic policy (now education secretary), observed in the book: "The press office and I have a deal. They don't do policy, and I don't do press. You never see Harriet Miers' name in the paper." Harriet who?

The remark gave Kessler impetus to write everything he could learn about Miers, from her days in Texas and arrival at the White House - in her first job, "she controlled the paper flow to the president, making sure that briefing papers submitted to him were clearly written and timely and presented all sides of the issues" - to her last position as White House counsel.

Calling her petite and soft-spoken, the author wrote that "she applied discipline even-handedly, telling aides that they had not gotten their papers in on time or had written a magnificent paper, but it was not tight enough or did not have a bottom line."

Then, when the time came for former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to announce Miers' appointment as deputy chief of staff, "a reporter had to ask how to spell her name."

"She doesn't want to be in the paper," Spellings said at the time of Miers. "She's all about the president. Will people think she is important and in the know for her next gig? I can tell you she is and she is."

Little did Kessler know that next gig would be as nominee to become a Supreme Court justice.

What he did know was that Miers, one of Bush's most powerful aides, was so "unknown to the media and the public, (it) was a measure of how successful the Bush White House was at maintaining secrecy."

BETTER BE PEPPER

White House reporters strive to know every detail about the daily activities of the president and vice president - what they do, where they go, whom they meet and what they eat.

Sam Coates of The Washington Post is no exception. Given White House pool duty this week, he saw fit to note that Vice President Dick Cheney "added either salt or pepper before eating" his turkey, sweet potatoes, carrots, rice and peas.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"We learned in school that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. You know, the bottom line is that unethical conduct, illegal activity, just totally confronts a reform agenda. . . . Even if he is not guilty of criminal activity, he has been admonished three times ethically. And it just seems to me, it's a good thing that he is not our leader."

- Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, in an interview with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough (a former Republican congressman from Florida), referring to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

NEW LIFE

Before his death in April, Pope John Paul II designated the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem as one of the world's most important works of charity - if for no other reason than its location on the map. The hospital cares for pregnant women and newborns in the West Bank, regardless of religion or national origin.

Now, in honor of the late pope, Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, has just secured $3.5 million for the hospital to improve and expand its maternal, neonatal and well-baby facilities. The funding will be provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

As Kerri Houston, vice president for policy at Frontiers of Freedom, tells us, "This will help to promote an environment of peace and a culture of life in a war-torn area. It's the perfect way to honor Pope John Paul II."

MIRROR, MIRROR . . .

That was former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell backstage for Monday night's sold-out Rolling Stones concert at the MCI Center, glad-handing fans just prior to Mick Jagger's dedicating the song "Back of My Hand" to controversial Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.

"We've got a good partisan crowd here tonight," Jagger told the crowd, which included Washington Times reporter Audrey Hudson. "We've got some Democrats, we've got some Republicans. We've also got Harriet Miers here tonight.

"You know, she was in charge of the Supreme Court justice selection committee," Jagger noted. "She looked high and low for a judge, you know. But she couldn't find one. And one day, she woke up and looked in the mirror. She said, 'Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest judge of all?'"

RETURN TO SENDER

Maudelle Shirek won't get her post office after all.

Ask a majority of congressmen on Capitol Hill, and they'll tell you the 94-year-old former vice mayor and city council member of Berkeley, Calif., is far too liberal for them to have approved naming Berkeley's U.S. postal facility the "Maudelle Shirek Post Office."

Such a designation, pushed hard by Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, failed by a 215-190 vote.

So who is Maudelle Shirek, and why is her record so controversial?

The Republican Study Committee RSC calls our attention to past descriptions of Shirek, including when the San Francisco Chronicle labeled her "a giant in Bay Area leftist circles" who "traveled extensively on political missions, to Palestinian territories in protest of Israeli policies ... Nicaragua and Cuba, where she dined with Fidel Castro."

Even while pushing 90, she signed an International Action Center petition blasting a newly elected President Bush "and his racist, anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-environment program," which "poses a grave danger to the people and the planet on many fronts."

A native of Jefferson, Ark., Shirek moved to Berkeley in the 1940s.

HURRICANE HEYDAY

Given massive waste and fraud associated with the use of government-issued credit cards, another potential disaster is on the horizon now that Hurricane Katrina legislation approved by the House increases the credit limit on government purchase and travel cards from $15,000 to $250,000.

Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and former judge, can't help but recall 15 percent of 300 Department of Agriculture employees audited in 2003 who used Uncle Sam's credit cards to make personal purchases such as car payments and cash advances, spending $5.8 million in taxpayers' money.

And at the Pentagon, Air Force and Navy personnel were discovered in 2002 audits to have spent $73,950 at exotic dance clubs and/or for prostitutes, $102,400 for tickets to entertainment events and $48,250 on gambling, while others took ocean cruises (not on Navy ships) to the tune of $69,300 - and this was just in one recent 18-month period.

"If these examples were perpetrated with relatively low credit limits, imagine the fraud, waste and abuse that will take place now that the credit limit has increased 16 times its original limit," says Poe, who is introducing legislation to require that every government credit-card bill be posted on a specific agency's inspector general's Web site within 15 business days of the transaction.

Furthermore, he wants any federal employee caught abusing government credit cards to either be fired on the spot, forced to pay the bill or return the items.