From AC360, Fran Townsend defends the Bush Whitehouse against the latest allegations made by Tom Ridge, that he felt the administration was using the
August 21, 2009

From AC360, Fran Townsend defends the Bush Whitehouse against the latest allegations made by Tom Ridge, that he felt the administration was using the Department of Homeland Security to scare the bejesus out of everyone for political gain. Of course Townsend feigns innocence and says they'd never do that. Her excuses here sound a whole lot more to me like Alberto's "I can't recall" testimony on the Attorney General scandal than any type of straight answers.

She weighs her words very carefully to make sure she never actually answers Coopers's questions, or when she does, she throws Ridge under the bus. We never wanted to pressure him to repeat our taking points...he asked for Yeah, right. I give Cooper a good grade for asking the right questions here, and a bad one for not doing any kind of follow up. Heaven forbid anyone on CNN is going to push a Bushie even when they know full well they're lying to their face. That wouldn't be polite, would it?

Transcript below the fold.

COOPER: Well, we look at all sides here on this program. So, Ed, stay right there.

More on the "Raw Politics" now with Frances Townsend, a homeland security adviser to President Bush, now a CNN national security contributor, also political contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

Frances, what do you make of this? You were in that meeting that Tom Ridge was talking about. Did you feel there was pressure, political pressure?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Anderson, I chaired the meeting. I called it. It was not just Ashcroft and Ridge and Rumsfeld. There were other members of the national security team, there including the secretary of state, Colin Powell at the time, Bob Mueller of the CIA, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center.

What you want in those circumstances for -- is for all those security officials to come together and to -- to have a debate, to have a discussion. That's exactly what happened. People had views on both sides of that. Tom Ridge was not the only one at that meeting.

COOPER: Well, do you think Rumsfeld and Ashcroft were motivated by politics or concerns over -- over getting their president reelected?

TOWNSEND: No. In fact, politics were never discussed. It never came up.

And, in fact, the discussion I recall John Ashcroft pointing to was the transcripts of, not just the bin Laden tape, but a tape had also come out this -- of those days of Adam Gadahn, an American member of al Qaeda, who threatened to have the streets of the United States run with blood.

And, so, I recall John Ashcroft actually quoting from the transcripts and the intelligence that we had at the time.

COOPER: Paul, what do you make of this?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- first off, I wasn't there. Fran was. And I have great respect for her.

At the same time, as you point out, this is not hearsay. This is a first-person eyewitness account from a loyal member of the Bush Cabinet, who says that political pressure was brought to bear on him. So, the second thing you do -- you consider the source -- the second thing is, you look at the context.

As Ed Henry pointed out, they raised the threat level three days after the Democratic Convention. And, when they did, at the time, senior law enforcement officials were telling "The Washington Post" that there was nothing new here and that they could not understand why the Bush administration was raising the threat level.

You look at the fact that Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, had a strategy memo, a political strategy memo, that had been leaked. The first three words on that, his political strategy was focus on war.

You look at the fact that President Bush scheduled the vote for the war itself three weeks to the day before the 2002 midterm. So, just again and again and again, the Bush administration did politicize national security. So, it makes you think that maybe Governor Ridge has the better of the argument here.

COOPER: Frances, why was that threat level raised just days after the Democratic Convention?

TOWNSEND: Well, that was based on the information, the specific threat information, that had only recently been found regarding the plans and plots against the financial institutions.

They had been very detailed. In fact, some in the intelligence community advised us that they were the most detailed operational plans they had ever uncovered.

COOPER: But it was very old material, wasn't it?

TOWNSEND: It was old material. But it had -- the reason it...

COOPER: Like three years old.

TOWNSEND: But the reason it had come up then was, it had only recently been found and come to the attention of -- of policy and law enforcement officials.

And -- and Tom Ridge could have and should have, arguably, talked about the date of the material when he made the announcement.

COOPER: I want to play -- I want to read another section from -- from Tom Ridge's book about -- about the timing of the bin Laden tapes.

He says: "The timing of the tape may have been a surprise. The content was not. Within the department, no one felt it necessary to consider additional security measures or to call the Homeland Security Council into session."

Osama bin Laden had released many tapes before. What made this one so special that Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft wanted to raise the -- the threat level, Frances?

TOWNSEND: It really was -- I mean, you have to look at the context of this. You look at, in August and September, you had the financial district threat. You then had the bin Laden tape. You then had the Adam Gadahn tape.

And this entire intelligence picture, brought together, there was great concern at the time that this was an increasing indication that we were going to have a threat.

There was nothing wrong. Anderson, when you get this sort of intelligence, what you really want to encourage are the -- the security officials to have this kind of a debate. That's what happened. I think they came to the right conclusion, and the president and the country got the best possible advice. That is, we didn't raise it.

COOPER: Paul, raising a threat level after the Democratic Convention based on three-year-old material and then considering to raise it down the road right before the election, you think it smells fishy?

BEGALA: It does. And then, again, add to it -- I mean, I can go on and on, other examples. The Department of Homeland Security itself was politicized, was used by the Republicans to track down Democratic members of the Texas legislature when they walked out of the legislature trying to block a Tom DeLay redistricting deal. That's not Homeland Security. That's raw politics.

Paul O'Neill, who was on the National Security Council, was the secretary of the treasury in the first Bush term, told the journalist Ron Suskind that the difference between his time in the Ford administration and the his time in the Bush administration was -- and then -- let me quote it to you -- was that "Our group in the Ford days was mostly about evidence and analysis. And Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Karen Hughes and that gang seemed to be mostly about politics. It is a huge distinction," O'Neill said.

So, again and again, we have eyewitnesses and we have objective evidence that national security was politicized by the Bush/Cheney administration.

COOPER: Frances, in the...

TOWNSEND: You know...

COOPER: Frances, in the -- in the book, Tom Ridge says that you asked had him to put language in a speech basically linking Homeland Security with events overseas -- mainly, I guess he was talking about events in Iraq -- which he said he was reluctant to do, but did.

TOWNSEND: First of all, what the book actually says is that he got a call from the White House.

I will tell you, Anderson, Tom Ridge frequently gave speeches that I didn't see until they were in the press. This -- how did I get this one? Tom Ridge actually had his staff send his -- a draft of his speech to me and asked me to please circulate it in the White House among White House staff for comment.

I did exactly as Tom Ridge asked. And, as a result of that, I returned the comments to him that he had asked for. Now, what he chose to use was up to him. It was his press conference and his press statement. I merely did what he asked me to do, and that was get him the comments from White House staff.

COOPER: We will have to leave it there.

Ed Henry, Paul Begala, Fran Townsend, appreciate the discussion. Thank you.

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