Attkisson exposes C-SPAN-White House dispute

By Erik Wemple – The Washington Post
Among the juicier tidbits in the new book “Stonewalled” by former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson relates to a tiff between C-SPAN and the White House. As Attkisson tells the story, C-SPAN eminence Brian Lamb interviewed President Obama on Aug. 12, 2010, for a documentary on the White House. In the session, Lamb asks Obama about the Oval Office: “What have you changed in this room?”

The president responds, “We have not yet redecorated this room . . . Given that we are in the midst of some very difficult economic times, we decided to hold off last year in terms of making some changes.”

Two weeks later, reports Attkisson in the book, a White House official contacts C-SPAN to say, “the Washington Post will be breaking the story of the President’s reported multi-million dollar renovation of the Oval Office,” reads “Stonewalled.” According to the author, the White House official, then-TV liaison Dag Vega, wanted to “make sure” that C-SPAN didn’t run its Obama interview snippet after the story in The Post surfaced. “The one taped just days before in which President Obama had implied, that in the spirit of austerity, there would be no Oval Office redecoration,” writes Attkisson. Actually, the president merely said that they’d made a decision to “hold off last year” on the changes — not that the changes wouldn’t be coming soon.

In any case, the White House, via Vega, wanted C-SPAN to drop the footage later, to coincide with the release of its full documentary about the White House. Not when it was most relevant, and when it would raise questions about why the president had spoken of austerity.
On Aug. 31, 2010, The Post drops its story on the Oval Office makeover, much of which took place while the Obama family had been on vacation (between the time of the Lamb interview and the story in The Post).

C-SPAN blows off the White House fussiness and publishes its interview. That very night, Josh Earnest, then the White House deputy press secretary, sends a tough e-mail to C-SPAN accusing the outlet of “being egregiously unethical and of violating terms of the interview. Though there’s no evidence of the existence of any prior agreement, he continues to insist the White House would not and did not agree to an interview with the president without specifying the terms under which it would air,” writes Attkisson, adding that the White House official threatened to “withhold future access.”

Of the contretemps, Attkisson concludes, “I hate to say it, but I think many news organizations would have agreed to the White House demand to hold the president’s interview, no questions asked.”

C-SPAN tells the Erik Wemple Blog that it has reviewed Attkisson’s treatment of this incident and deems it accurate.



Anonymous US Comment on Israel Roils Relations

By Donna Cassata – Associated Press

Anonymous White House criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that drew condemnation in Israel is roiling Washington politics, putting the U.S. administration on the defensive and prompting congressional demands for President Barack Obama to repudiate the remarks.

The Atlantic quoted an unidentified administration official who used profanity to assail Netanyahu and complained about his settlement policies in the West Bank. The official also questioned the prime minister’s commitment to Middle East peace efforts as well as his resolve to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran to thwart its nuclear program.

The incendiary comments come six days before elections with Democrats struggling to hold onto their Senate majority and taking steps to boost voter turnout in typically low-interest midterm contests. The remarks also come against the backdrop of negotiations involving the United States and other Western powers to secure a nuclear agreement with Iran.

The high-profile diplomatic flap, all based on anonymous opinion, underscored the already tense relationship between Obama and Netanyahu despite decades of close ties between the United States and its Mideast ally.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest insisted Wednesday that the remarks did not reflect the administration’s view and were counterproductive.

“The prime minister and the president have forged an effective partnership, they consult closely and frequently and did so as recently as this month right here at the White House in the Oval Office,” Earnest said. “That close relationship does not mean that we paper over our differences. The fact is the United States has repeatedly made clear our view that settlement activity is illegitimate, and only serves to complicate efforts to achieve a two-state solution in the region.”

Earnest said there was no effort to determine the identities of the official who made the remark.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice maintained that the U.S.-Israel relationship “is not in crisis.” Rice was meeting on Thursday with her Israeli counterpart, Yossi Cohen, and senior delegation of Israeli officials for the US-Israel Consultative Group Meeting — a biannual event.

In Jerusalem, Netanyahu dismissed the comments and insisted he was “not prepared to make concessions that will endanger our state.”

“Our supreme interests, with security and the unity of Jerusalem first and foremost, are not among the top concerns of those anonymous elements that are attacking us and me personally,” he said.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans and some Democrats pounced on the anonymous comments and criticized the administration.

“When the president discusses Israel and Iran, it is sometimes hard to tell who he thinks is America’s friend and who he thinks is America’s enemy,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “Over the last several months, I have watched the administration insult ally after ally. I am tired of the administration’s apology tour. The president sets the tone for his administration. He either condones the profanity and disrespect used by the most senior members of his administration, or he does not. It is time for him to get his house in order and tell the people that can’t muster professionalism that it is time to move on.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said “responsible presidents ensure their advisers work through policy differences with our closest partners respectfully and through the appropriate channels.”

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the comments “counterproductive” and “unprofessional.”

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., called them “outrageous” and added: “Personal attacks against leaders of allied countries have no place in our foreign policy.”

Said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., “Comments like these go right to our fears about the administration, which is seen as treating our friends like enemies and our enemies like friends.”



Chuck Hagel issues broad military Ebola isolation order

By Philip Ewing – Politico


All American troops returning from the Ebola zone in West Africa must spend 21 days in isolation, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered Wednesday.

Hagel’s decision comes one day after the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended that the 4,000 or more troops eventually set to deploy to Liberia and elsewhere to help fight the Ebola outbreak should be put in an effective quarantine. That’s despite the White House’s discouragement of quarantines for civilian medical workers and others.

President Barack Obama said on Tuesday the rules could be stricter for the military because it’s in a “different situation” than civilian workers or health care volunteers. So far, Defense Department civilians deploying to West Africa are not covered by Hagel’s order.

Hagel said Wednesday in an interview at the Washington Ideas Forum that the Defense Department has the most personnel of any agency helping to fight Ebola in West Africa and that its troops are not volunteering to go — they’re being ordered. So the Joint Chiefs recommended what they called “enhanced monitoring” out of “an abundance of caution.”

Defense officials do not appear to have worked out exactly how the isolation process will work. Hagel has ordered the Joint Chiefs to develop a plan within the next 15 days, said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. It isn’t clear, for example, whether troops returning home from the Ebola fight would be quarantined in Liberia, at their bases in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Hagel also directed the Joint Chiefs to review the quarantine regimen in 45 days, Kirby said, when they could recommend revising it. For now, Pentagon leaders concur that “enhanced monitoring” is the right move.

“The secretary believes these initial steps are prudent, given the large number of military personnel transiting from their home base and West Africa and the unique logistical demands and impact this deployment has on the force,” Kirby said. “The secretary’s highest priority is the safety and security of our men and women in uniform and their families.”

There are now 1,104 American troops in West Africa, said Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren. Many of them are soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), but the Ebola mission also includes Navy Seabees and medical workers, airmen and Marines.

In Liberia, the troops have been assigned to help build Ebola treatment centers, transport people and supplies and generally support the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is leading the American response. A smaller detachment in Senegal is supporting the “air bridge” that helps aircraft travel into and out of Liberia.

About 42 soldiers have already returned from Liberia and are in isolation in Italy, Warren said, including the two-star commander of U.S. Army Africa. No American troops have shown any signs of Ebola.

Commanders hope to complete the 15 days of planning and put comprehensive quarantine procedures into place before any more large groups of troops need to travel home from Liberia or Senegal.

Read more:



State Department plans to bring foreign Ebola patients to U.S.

By Stephen Dinan – Washington Times



The State Department has quietly made plans to bring Ebola-infected doctors and medical aides to the U.S. for treatment, according to an internal department document that argued the only way to get other countries to send medical teams to West Africa is to promise that the U.S. will be the world’s medical backstop.

Some countries “are implicitly or explicitly waiting for medevac assurances” before they will agree to send their own medical teams to join U.S. and U.N. aid workers on the ground, the State Department argues in the undated four-page memo, which was reviewed by The Washington Times.

“The United States needs to show leadership and act as we are asking others to act by admitting certain non-citizens into the country for medical treatment for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) during the Ebola crisis,” says the four-page memo, which lists as its author Robert Sorenson, deputy director of the office of international health and biodefense.

More than 10,000 people have become infected with Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and the U.S. has taken a lead role in arguing that the outbreak must be stopped in West Africa. President Obama has committed thousands of U.S. troops and has deployed American medical personnel, but other countries have been slow to follow.

In the memo, officials say their preference is for patients go to Europe, but there are some cases in which the U.S. is “the logical treatment destination for non-citizens.”

The document has been shared with Congress, where lawmakers already are nervous about the administration’s handling of the Ebola outbreak. The memo even details the expected price per patient, with transportation costs at $200,000 and treatment at $300,000.

A State Department official signaled Tuesday evening that the discussions had been shelved.

“There is no policy of the U.S. government to allow entry of non-U.S. citizen Ebola-infected to the United States. There is no consideration in the State Department of changing that policy,” the official said.

Another official said the department is considering using American aircraft equipped to handle Ebola cases to transport noncitizens to other countries.

“We have discussed allowing other countries to use our medevac capabilities to evacuate their own citizens to their home countries or third-countries, subject to reimbursement and availability,” the second department official said.

The internal State Department memo is described as “sensitive but unclassified.” A tracking sheet attached to it says it was cleared by offices of the deputy secretary, the deputy secretary for management, the office of Central African affairs and the medical services office.

A call to the number listed for Mr. Sorenson wasn’t returned Tuesday.

Mr. Obama has been clear about his desire to recruit medical and aid workers to fight Ebola in Africa.

“We know that the best way to protect Americans ultimately is going to stop this outbreak at the source,” the president said at the White House on Tuesday, praising U.S. aid workers who are already involved in the effort. “No other nation is doing as much to make sure that we contain and ultimately eliminate this outbreak than America.”

About half of the more than 10,000 cases in West Africa have been fatal.

Four cases have been diagnosed in the U.S., and three of those were health care workers treating infected patients. Two of those, both nurses at a Dallas hospital, have been cured.

Several American aid workers who contracted the disease overseas were flown to the U.S. for treatment.

The United Nations and World Health Organization are also heavily involved in deploying to the affected region, but other countries have been slower to provide resources to fight Ebola in West Africa or to agree to treat workers who contract the disease.

The State Department memo says only Germany has agreed to take non-German citizens who contract Ebola.

European nations are closer to West Africa, making transport easier, the State Department memo said.

Officials said the U.S. is the right place to treat some cases, notably those in which non-Americans are contracted to work in West Africa for U.S.-based charities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“So far all of the Ebola medevacs brought back to U.S. hospitals have been U.S. citizens. But there are many non-citizens working for U.S. government agencies and organizations in the Ebola-affected countries of West Africa,” the memo says. “Many of them are citizens of countries lacking adequate medical care, and if they contracted Ebola in the course of their work they would need to be evacuated to medical facilities in the United States or Europe.”

The memo says the State Department has a contract with Phoenix Aviation, which maintains an airplane capable of transporting an Ebola patient. The U.S. can transport noncitizens and have other countries or organizations pay the cost.

The U.S. has helped transport three health care workers to Germany and one to France.

In the U.S., the department memo lists three hospitals — the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Emory University Hospital in Atlanta — that are willing to take Ebola patients.

According to the memo, Homeland Security Department officials would be required to waive legal restrictions to speed the transport of patients into the U.S.
“A pre-established framework would be essential to guarantee that only authorized individuals would be considered for travel authorization and that all necessary vetting would occur,” the memo says.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman didn’t return emails seeking comment.

Judicial Watch, a conservative-leaning public interest watchdog, revealed the existence of a State Department plan this month. When The Times described the document to Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch’s president, he said it is evidence of why the administration balked at adopting a travel ban on those from affected countries.

“Under this theory, there could be people moving here now, transporting people here now, and it could be done with no warning,” Mr. Fitton said. “If our borders mean anything, it is the ability to make sure that dire threats to the public health are kept out.”

After those initial reports surfaced, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, sent a letter asking for answers. On Tuesday, he said the document The Times obtained “raises more concerns and questions than answers.”

“President Obama should be forthcoming with the American people about the scope of his plan to bring non-U.S. citizens infected with Ebola to the United States for treatment,” Mr. Goodlatte said in a statement.




Ex-Administration Official Sums Up The Obama Administration’s Insularity In One Brutal Sentence

By Brett Logiurato – Business Insider


Politico Magazine editor Michael Hirsh asked on Monday whether the Obama administration was full of a “team of bumblers” on the foreign policy and national security sides.

At the heart of the criticism is the charge that the Obama White House is too insular and often doesn’t have a strategy.

According to House Armed Services Committee staffers who spoke to Hirsh, there is often a lack of coordination among the White House, Capitol Hill, and the Pentagon. And the general feeling is that the administration’s National Security Council, which has beefed up to 300 members from 50, is reacting to a series of crises, rather than being proactive with a coherent strategy.

“There is a sense that the NSC is run a little like beehive ball soccer, where everyone storms to wherever the ball is moving around the field,” one former administration official said.

The criticism — from a variety of sources — that the administration has settled on “reacting” rather than “acting” is one that has gained steady traction since President Barack Obama told reporters in August that the administration did not “have a strategy yet” toward combating the Islamic State extremist group (also called ISIS or ISIL).

One senior Armed Services Committee staffer told Hirsh the Department of Defense “and Capitol Hill are often taken by surprise at same time and on same issues” by the White House.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), a frequent critic of the administration on national security and foreign policy issues, said in August the administration was constantly “flailing” from one issue to another. After the murder of James Foley by ISIS, McCain said he was amazed Obama still did not commit to the “comprehensive strategy necessary to defeat ISIS.”

Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican chair of the House Budget Committee and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, also blasted the administration’s reactionary nature in an interview with Business Insider earlier this year.

“The problem is, they’re reacting always. They’re reacting on a day-by-day basis and making decisions without an overall fundamental policy, strategy, or philosophy,” Ryan said. “That is dangerous.”

Others have pointed to the limitations of the Obama administration’s current strategy and also suggest that the administration had a hand in creating the conditions that led to those limitations.

“If you’re asking is [the] present Obama strategy going to defeat ISIS — the answer is no,” geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group, recently told Business Insider. “If you’re asking is there realistically a better, more workable strategy out there — the answer is also no.”

The Politico story details one particularly stunning example of a lack of communication between the White House and Defense Department. It came on the day Obama laid out his strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS during a primetime address from the White House, which included a request for Congress to grant his administration the authority to vet, arm, and train moderate Syrian rebels.

A senior defense official told Politico the DoD didn’t know “the policy was going to be in the speech.” The White House also did not have Pentagon lawyers review the legislative language it sent to Capitol Hill, which Republican staffers on the House Armed Services Committee said was “so sloppy that it failed to mention adequate protections against so-called ‘green-on-blue’ attacks by trainees on American troops.”

Fred Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and a former special adviser for transition in Syria at the US Department of State, recently told Business Insider the administration’s policy on ISIS and Syria was like “squaring the circle.”

Read more: