During his press briefing with Capitol Hill reporters on Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle could barely contain the smile on his face as he discussed what he believed the Bush Administration knew about possible terrorist attacks prior to September 11.
"I wouldn't know," Daschle said with a smile, adding quickly that he was never briefed on those issues by the White House, nor did he ever ask.
Daschle should be smiling, and White House staffers know why. The initial leaks about the intelligence briefings President Bush received last August came from Democratic staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, not the FBI or the CIA as some on Capitol Hill would have us believe.
According to one knowledgeable Senate source, the Senate and House intelligence committees received some of the briefing material prepared by the CIA for the president's daily review about three weeks ago. This, as part of their ongoing review of the CIA's analysis of potential terrorism threats leading up to September 11.
"It wouldn't be the kind [of intelligence information] the committee staffers would normally see in the course of their work," says the source. "Those briefings are limited to the White House, the President, the Vice President, Condi Rice, senators and representatives don't get those briefings. I don't know if the CIA intended for that material to end up here or not. It might have been an oversight. No matter now, the cat is out of the bag."
According to a senior Democratic Senate aide, the word has been out for more than six weeks that "We have to get Bush," says the source. "Daschle is absolutely desperate. Gephardt, I guess is absolutely desperate. Bush's polling numbers weren't moving down, he was bulletproof. Everyone was under orders to keep their eyes and ears open for anything we could use."
It's not clear whether Daschle was aware of the potentially explosive information prior to its being put in the hands of Washington reporters. "I'd be surprised if he did," says a senior Democratic leadership aide. "It isn't the kind of thing he's want to really see or know about beforehand. But we know someone friendly to our side did the leaking. We knew if we could get something out there, the media wouldn't try to put the leak into political perspective for the public, just the potential for a 'Briefing-gate.' And, as usual, the press did our job for us."
Unlike the times when then President Bill Clinton had to go shopping for a university or a site for his presidential library -- remember the embarrassment when Georgetown and Yale turned him down? -- schools are already lining up to snatch up a library deal for George W. Bush.
But Baylor University is going about it the wrong way. Last month, as it prepares to make a formal pitch to the Big Guy in Washington, the Texas college school sent representatives to Little Rock to spend a few days with Clinton Library staffers and fundraisers.
"We talked to them about our fundraising problems, highlighted the amount of planning it takes to put a deal like this together, all the blood and sweat," says a Clinton Library source. "Baylor views this as a huge opportunity to raise its visibility. Hearing them talk made us realize we should have sought a tighter relationship with Mr. Clinton's schools."
But those schools didn't want the relationship or couldn't or wouldn't provide the cash the Clintons were asking for up front to grant them "library privileges." Instead, Clinton cut a deal for a slight association with the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, where he taught law part-time decades ago. The school is housing some of Clinton's papers and undertaking an "oral history" of his presidency. That's about it.
Bush has apparently expressed an interest in Baylor, as well as the University of Texas in Austin, where the library could become a cash cow for the state school if the legislature budgeted to cover some of its construction costs. "It would also help Mr. Bush avoid some of the embarrassing fundraising moments Mr. Clinton is going through right now," says a White House staffer.
Despite Baylor's eagerness to get its foot in the door at the White House, the president himself has told staff he's not interested in thinking about a library. "He says he has six more years to worry about that," says the White House aide.
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