No one is buying Terry McAuliffe's story that some innocent Democratic staffer happened upon a computer disk on a street corner that revealed the White House and the Republican Party's assessment of the 2002 elections.
You'll recall, the DNC earlier this month announced that it had obtained through Republican bumbling a computer disk that contained a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Karl Rove, the White House and the RNC, and outlining their evaluation of the fall campaign. It was mildly embarrassing, if only because the presentation took a more cautious approach to certain elections: it didn't predict a sweep of open Senate seats for Republicans, it portrayed negatively GOP hopes to win gubernatorial elections around the country, and it was cautious about House elections.
McAuliffe claimed a Senate Democratic staffer came upon a computer disk somewhere between the White House and the Hay-Adams Hotel. Once the staffer realized what it was, he handed it over to the DNC, which released it to the media with much fanfare.
But, in fact, Republicans now believe there was no disk. They believe after a White House political staffer made the presentation at the Hay-Adams to a group of California Republicans, a Democratic Party sympathizer at the hotel copied the presentation off of the temporary file that was created in the hotel's overhead projection system.
"The presentation was made using a White House laptop and the Hay-Adams projection system. There was no disk, because you can't easily store a full PowerPoint presentation on a disk like that. It's easier just to store it on a hard drive and use the computer," says a White House source. "We know the computer wasn't stolen, so it had to come from somewhere else."
Some in the White House even checked into whether the presentation could have been videotaped by a DNC operative, then re-created by Democrats. "Anyone could redo the PowerPoint presentation, there was nothing special about it," says the source. "The DNC has the same capabilities we do. It would take them a day to do it."
Either option portrays McAuliffe and his DNC elves as more devious and industrious than Republicans might prefer. "But we know we didn't bumble this," says an RNC senior adviser. "The Democrats didn't get this because we were careless. If McAuliffe is so concerned about his party's standing that he felt he had to sneak into one of our meetings for a campaign update, then he can crow about it all he wants. It just makes them look desperate."
According to White House sources, no one was impressed with Tom Ridge's performance on Capitol Hill last Thursday. "It certainly confirmed in our minds the reasons why we didn't let him testify before. It wasn't good," says a White House policy staffer.
That said, the testimony hasn't dimmed the president's opinion of Ridge or his abilities to master the Homeland Security bureaucracy. While insiders insist that Ridge has not told the president he doesn't want the job, the president isn't considering other names. "If he is, he isn't telling anyone. No big surprise there," says another White House political staffer. "They launched this Homeland plan with a working group of five and it never got leaked. What makes anyone think names of possible Ridge replacements would be leaked?"
So where did the rumor about chief of staff Andrew Card becoming Secretary of Homeland Security come from? White House staffers believe it came from backers of Card who see him as the only counter-balance they have to Karl Rove's influence with the president. "There are some people working here, who do some good work, but who work for the vice president and some others here, who don't see eye to eye with Mr. Rove and others," says the White House policy staffer. "Now that it appears Karen Hughes is losing influence, you see them leaking again, the way it was back under Bush I. But we aren't going to let things get out of hand. It's pretty easy to close up the leaks once you figure out where they are coming from."
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