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Site posts White House strategy notes left at Starbucks

April 02, 2004

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Facing an eight-month presidential campaign season in the U.S. leading up to the November 2004 elections, many voters may need to look for some entertainment value in the steady barrage of partisan panderings from both major political parties. While staff and supporters for both major candidates would have us believe their respective advisors and supporting casts are omnipotent and can do no wrong, occasionally we glimpse a different reality -- that they're as capable of making silly, hasty (but potentially costly) mistakes as folks in any less-visible workplace.

The Center for American Progress, a self-proclaimed "nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all Americans," offers a PDF file illustrating a recent blunder by someone affiliated with the George W. Bush administration.

Dubbed the Pentagon's Papers [PDF: 640kb], a takeoff on the title of a secret government study about the Vietnam War that was leaked to and first published by The New York Times in 1971, the current document by comparison was found rather than covertly handed over. Though far less significant or damaging "political dynamite" than the original Pentagon Papers, which became the center of a major legal battle, the Bush-campaign-related file offers a glimpse into recent strategy. And like its 1971 namesake, it's become the source of national news coverage.

The seven-page file posted as a PDF by the liberal advocacy group was discovered at a Starbucks restaurant in Washington, D.C., apparently left behind by a person named Eric, based on the content. It appears to be related to the Bush team's organized response to a recently published book by former counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke, who charges that the administration was slow in responding to the threat of terrorism and fixated on attacking Iraq.

Members of the Bush inner circle, including U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, were scheduled to make the rounds of numerous TV news and talk shows to rebut Clarke's allegations and to offer alternate explanations for some of the potentially most damaging passages.

The papers discovered at the DC-area Starbucks -- one reportedly located near Rumsfeld's home -- and subsequently turned over by an unidentified person to the Center for American Progress, seem to be "talking points" and "hand-written notes on spin tactics" based on the results of a conference call and intended for use by Rumsfeld in interviews. News reports have revealed that the notes in "Eric's Telephone Log" were written by Pentagon political appointee Eric Ruff. Rumsfeld appeared on the "Fox News Sunday" television program.

The notes include comments and advice on dealing with the Clarke charges, indicating considerable concern inside the White House about political ramifications, such as:

"Stay inside the lines. We don't need to puff this (up). We need (to) be careful as hell about it. This thing will go away soon and what will keep it alive will be one of us going over the line."

The document also includes a hand-drawn map showing the location of Rumsfeld's home, but that information is redacted in the posted PDF for security reasons.

This isn't the first such reported blunder by Bush strategists. In mid-2002, we published a Weblog item titled "All the President's Red-faced Men" that detailed the discovery of a computer disk in a park near the White House that contained a "confidential analysis" of the 2002 elections by Karl Rove, Senior Advisor to the President. It was posted in PDF by The New York Times.

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