If it barks like a cover-up
True, President Bush appeared here briefly to express sympathy for the handful of reporters obliged to spend their holidays at the Texas White House waiting for meager scraps of news. But beyond the standard pleasantries, the president again made clear that he would have nothing to say about the subject that has seized the country’s attention in the final days of the year: the possible destruction of the “Barney tapes.”
Barney, the First Family’s 7-year-old Scottish Terrier, is a favorite with children—and many adults—who visit the White House’s Web site. He is perhaps best known for his “Barney Cam” adventures, occasional dog’s-eye views of seasonal White House activities.
Recent media reports suggesting the existence of hundreds of hours of Barney outtakes, however, have thrown the White House on the defensive, raising the possibility that Barney’s entertaining frolics were, in fact, the result of strenuous—perhaps even illegal—coaching.
But the president, citing several ongoing investigations into the matter, refused today to shed any further light himself, declaring that he would “reserve judgment until I find out the full facts.”
“I know I’m going to be asked about this question a lot as time goes on,” Mr. Bush told reporters. “I’m just going to prepare you: Until these inquiries are complete, until the oversights are finished, then I will be rendering no opinion from the podium.”
The CIA and the Justice Department have announced a joint effort to determine what happened to the tapes, and on whose authority any action might have been taken. Meanwhile, the House Oversight and the Senate Canine committees have already issued their first subpoenas, with hearings expected to begin in late January. Congressional Democrats, and even some Republicans, have been skeptical of earlier White House explanations for the tapes’ disappearance.
Mr. Bush has insisted previously that his “first recollection” of the existence of the tapes came when he was briefed last August by Intelligence Director Michael Hayden. This, despite recent revelations that several top administration officials had discussed the tapes as long ago as 2005.
Critics of the president find it implausible that such close presidential confidants as Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales could have taken part in these discussions without the president himself being at least somewhat aware of them.
“These people weren’t in the habit of keeping information from the president,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “Unless he’d already made it clear it was something he didn’t want to know about.”
The current White House strategy, Mr. Reid suggested, was to wait out the various investigations in the hope that public interest flagged in the meantime.
“He could find out everything he needs to know right this minute—just call them in and ask them.”
And Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., was even more direct in his assessment.
“If it barks like a cover-up,” he said, “it’s a cover-up.”
For his part, the president resisted reporters’ efforts to draw him out on—or draw him into—the controversy.
“You know, you’re trying to get me to prejudge the outcome of this inquiry,” said Mr. Bush. “And let’s wait and see what happens. Let’s wait and see what the facts are.”
Mr. Bush’s no-comment stance received support this afternoon from Vice President Dick Cheney. In a statement issued from an undisclosed location, Mr. Cheney charged that, “those who choose to criticize this administration’s handling of its dogs undermine the global war on terror and leave us vulnerable to catastrophic attack.”