White House admits it conducted election briefings
"The White House acknowledged Thursday it has conducted about 20 briefings recently for federal agency employees on the election prospects of Republican candidates – the sort of meetings that sparked an investigation into whether Bush aides engaged in illegal political activity," the Associated Press reports.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that the briefings may have been in violation of the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits presentations of a partisan nature as an impermissible "political activity." Earlier this week, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel launched a probe into a January 26 presentation for political appointees at the General Services Administration (GSA), which was moderated by Bush aide J. Scott Jennings.
At a White House briefing Thursday morning, Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino suggested that the Bush Administration would not be releasing the PowerPoint demonstration used in January.
"I don't think there's any reason for us to release a PowerPoint presentation," Perino said. "Talking about informational briefings at the White House is – we don't turn over lots of documents. There's work done at the White House, and that is appropriately done. And I just think – I just caution everyone to take a step back. These briefings were not inappropriate, they were not unlawful, they were not unethical. There is nothing wrong with what they did."
Excerpts from AP article:
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said briefings were held at other federal agencies besides the GSA, for a total of about 20 - most in 2006 and a couple in 2007. They were conducted by White House political director Sara Taylor or Jennings, her deputy. It had been known that other briefings had been held, but not how many. Others were held in previous years as well, but Stanzel said the White House hasn't kept a count of how many.
Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said no laws were broken and that the White House counsel's office signed off on the effort. "It's not unlawful and it wasn't unusual for informational briefings to be given," Perino said. "There is no prohibition under the Hatch Act of allowing political appointees to talk to other political appointees about the political landscape in which they are trying to advance the president's agenda."
She added: "These briefings were not inappropriate, they were not unlawful, they were not unethical."
Some Democrats beg to differ.
FULL AP ARTICLE CAN BE READ AT THIS LINK
Excerpts from Perino's White House briefing:
Q How about this political interference by the Hatch Act, in the Hatch Act?
MS. PERINO: There wasn't political interference within the Hatch Act. What you're talking about is --
Q Use of the government agencies?
MS. PERINO: No, what -- it is perfectly lawful for the political appointees at the White House to provide informational briefings to political appointees at the agencies. And no laws were broken, and we provided more information about that last night.
Q Was that all vetted through the Counsel's Office prior to those sorts of sessions happening? What sort of oversight was done within the White House?
MS. PERINO: Yes, generally -- because it's not unlawful and it wasn't unusual for informational briefings to be given. They were run by Sara Taylor and Scott Jennings.
Q But there's a higher standard, obviously, at the White House than no laws were broken. Aren't there ethical questions, as well?
MS. PERINO: There were no -- what ethical would have been broken?
Q No, in terms of using federal resources, federal people to encourage people.
The allegation is out there that people --
MS. PERINO: There's no --
Q -- were being encouraged to help Republicans.
Q Targeting certain Democrats --
MS. PERINO: No, political -- there is no prohibition under the Hatch Act of allowing political appointees to talk to other political appointees about the political landscape in which they are trying to advance the President's agenda. None.
Q You say it's not a violation of the Hatch Act.
MS. PERINO: Not a violation of law, or of ethics.
Q So why is the Office of Special Counsel investigating it, if you're still saying that it's clearly --
MS. PERINO: That you'll have to --
Q -- fine, why would they be investigating?
MS. PERINO: You'll have to ask them. You'll have to ask them.
Q How many of those meetings did --
MS. PERINO: I think there was an average -- we had records from the 2006-2007 cycle. It was around 20.
Q Dana, on the political briefings, if it's the White House's position that those are appropriate, and it was done with public funds in a public agency, will the White House consider releasing the PowerPoint demonstration that was used? And if not, why not?
MS. PERINO: I don't think there's any reason for us to release a PowerPoint presentation. Talking about informational briefings at the White House is -- we don't turn over lots of documents. There's work done at the White House, and that is appropriately done. And I just think -- I just caution everyone to take a step back. These briefings were not inappropriate, they were not unlawful, they were not unethical. There is nothing wrong with what they did.
Q Who says so?
MS. PERINO: Who says so? I think -- I don't know who is saying so.
Q Then why not release the documents used and let --
MS. PERINO: I'll take it under consideration, David. I'll take it under consideration, but I sincerely doubt it.
Q If they're subpoenaed, they'll be out.
Q Did all the briefings take place at the White House or were some of at the agencies?
MS. PERINO: No, not necessarily. Sometimes at the agencies.
Q In federal agencies.
MS. PERINO: Yes, but there's -- but there's nothing prohibiting that.
Q Did you say that the Counsel's Office has reviewed this at all?
MS. PERINO: I think the question was had -- did they know about it beforehand, and as a general matter, yes.
Q Were they always presented to the Counsel's Office, can I do this one, can I do this one, on an individual basis?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if that was necessary.
Q It was just common practice and sort of known?
MS. PERINO: I think that since it was allowed and since it had been -- the initial general sign off had been given, I don't think -- I don't know; I'll check and see if each one was checked.
Q Can you clear up just one thing? You said you turned over a bunch of papers last night. Turned them over to who?
MS. PERINO: No, no, no, we provide more information last night about these briefings, in which we said --
Q To whom?
MS. PERINO: To reporters who had been asking about it.