Perino blasts NYT presentation -- not content -- of report on White House lawyers discussing CIA tape destruction
Nick Juliano
Published: Wednesday December 19, 2007 |
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UPDATE: Times says White House did not challenge content of article revealing four White House lawyers discussed CIA's plans to destroy tapes, will correct sub-headline

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino spent the beginning of her daily briefing Wednesday addressing questions stemming from a devastating New York Times report on the extent of discussions within the administration about the destruction of CIA terror

Perino refused to comment on the story's main findings -- that at least four administration lawyers discussed with the CIA its plan to destroy several hundred hours worth of recordings depicting "harsh interrogation techniques" being used on at least two detainees. And no one from the White House challenged the essence of the article in behind-the-scenes discussions with the Times, an executive at the paper's parent company told RAW STORY Wednesday.

"The White House has not challenged the contents of our story," Catherine Mathis, a senior vice president for corporate communication at the New York Times Co. said in an e-mail, "but it questioned the precision of the second deck of our headline: 'White House Role Was Wider Than It Said.' While Bush Administration officials have discussed the White House role in the tapes episode (asserting, for example, that Harriet Miers opposed the destruction of the tapes) 'the White House' has not officially said anything on the subject. We have made the appropriate correction on line, and will print a correction."

In her daily briefing, Perino echoed complaints she voiced in a written statement earlier Wednesday, saying the sub-headline incorrectly implied that she had willfully misled the press. The Bush administration mouthpiece insisted, she had refused to comment on any details of the CIA tape destruction, except to say the president only remembered learning the spy agency had destroyed potential criminal trial evidence just before the story became public.

"We have not described -- neither to highlight, nor to minimize -- the role or deliberations of White House officials in this matter," she said.

Perino told reporters she was assured by Times editors that they would retract the sub-headline and issue a correction in Thursday's edition.

Several reporters in the room pressed Perino on whether the article was inaccurate in its substance, but she refused to provide any illumination on that issue.

"So you're disputing that characterization, not the underlying facts of the story," one reporter asked.

"I am not commenting on the underlying facts of the story," Perino stressed, maintaining the moratorium on illumination the White House has maintained since the story first appeared nearly two weeks ago.

Times scribes Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane, who were the first to report on the tapes' destruction, revealed Wednesday the involvement of four White House lawyers in discussing whether the tapes should be destroyed: Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel until 2005; David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's former lawyer and now chief of staff; John B. Bellinger, a former senior lawyer for the National Security Council; and Harriet Miers, who became White House counsel when Gonzales was promoted to Attorney General. Their report was based on unnamed current and former intelligence and administration officials.

"The accounts indicate that the involvement of White House officials in the discussions before the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was more extensive than Bush administration officials have acknowledged," Mazzetti and Shane wrote.

In Perino's view, that sentence implied she was a liar, but several White House reporters in Wednesday's briefing pointed out that Perino was not mentioned in early editions of the story and that administration officials had privately told several members of the press only of Miers's involvement in discussions over the tapes.

"I am not accountable for all the anonymous sources that you turn up," Perino scolded the assembled reporters. "This says that I was misleading, and I was not."

The article was updated on the Times Web site around 11 a.m. Wednesday with Perino's earlier written statement, which said, "The New York Times’ inference that there is an effort to mislead in this matter is pernicious and troubling."

The Times' Washington bureau chief reiterated that no one was questioning the contents of the story, and he defended his correspondents reporting.

Dean Baquet, the Times' Washington D.C. bureau chief, told Politico that while the deck — the subheadline — went a “little farther than the story,” the facts in the piece are accurate. “Nobody has challenged the thrust of the story,” Baquet said. “If they want to quibble with the deck, they have a legitimate point. But nobody is raising any questions with what the story is about, and what the story said.” Although the story was written and edited in Washington D.C., according to Baquet, the subheadline and layout, in typical fashion, were handled in New York. Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane, the Times reporters who co-authored the story, could not be reached for comment. “We stand strongly by the story,” Baquet said.