Capital Briefs: Dec. 3-7

GREAT SCOTT!  WHAT’S MCCLELLAN WRITING?  The White House may well have been wondering that ever since Thanksgiving, when some “teaser” items for the book being written by former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan were released.  Titled What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong With Washington and due out in April, McClellan’s memoir includes this description of the furor surrounding former CIA employee Valerie Plame:  “So I stood at the White House briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.  There was one problem.  It was not true.  I had unknowingly passed along false information.  And five of the highest-ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the Vice President, the President’s chief of staff and the President himself.”  Within 24 hours, there were 16 pieces about the McClellan quote on CNN, major stories in the New York Times and Washington Post and fresh denunciations of the President over the Plame affair by Democratic Senators Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Christopher Dodd (Conn.) and Plame herself.  Peter Osnos, editor-at-large of Public Affairs, McClellan’s publisher, wrote in response that the President’s press secretary from 2003-06 is “writing a responsible book about his moment in history.  Much of our popular media, including some leading brand names, apparently shoot first and ask later.”  Asked by Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi what the White House reaction was to the advance reports of McClellan’s book, current Press Secretary Dana Perino said that “we talked about it earlier in the week” and “the bottom line is I would say the book is not out yet, none of us have read it.  But I know this President has not and would not knowingly ask anyone to pass on false information.”  Correspondent Kelly O’Donnell of NBC-TV then asked Perino whether her answer was an opinion or whether she had spoken to the President.  When Perino replied that she had spoken to the President, O’Donnell asked if it was about McClellan’s book.  Perino simply said “Yes” and closed the briefing.

HUCKABEE ON TOP IN IOWA:  Days before the St. Petersburg, Fla., debate last week, a new survey showed Mike Huckabee for the first time leading among likely participants in the January 3 Iowa Republican caucuses.  According to the latest Rasmussen Poll, the former Arkansas governor tops the GOP presidential field with 28%, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 25%, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani 12%, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson 11%, Texas Rep. Ron Paul 5% and Arizona Sen. John McCain 4%.  Rasmussen also showed that among Huckabee’s fellow evangelical conservatives — historically one the biggest groups of GOP caucus participants — he leads Romney 48% to 16%. 

WHITE HOUSE IGNORES CLINTON’S IRAQ ZIGZAG:  Bill Clinton stunned Iowa Democrats and national pundits alike last week when, during a campaign appearance for his wife at a party event in Iowa, he declared he was “opposed to Iraq from the beginning.”  This latest Clinton startler contradicts not only wife Hillary’s vote in favor of the strike to topple Saddam Hussein but the former President’s own public statements since 2003.  (Speaking at Tougaloo College in Mississippi May 18, 2003, Clinton declared: “I supported the President when he asked for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”)  Asked whether the President and National Security Council briefed Clinton on Iraq before the ’03 strike, Press Secretary Dana Perino said only: “That was long before my time [as Bush’s top spokesman]” and “I decline to comment further.”  However, Hillary Mann Leverett, a former White House director of Persian Gulf affairs, told the Washington Post she was “shocked” and “astonished” at Clinton’s latest remarks.  According to Leverett, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and NSC staffer Elliott Abrams came back from briefing Clinton on Iraq in ’03 and Abrams was “glowing and boasting that ‘we have Clinton’s support.’” 

KEENE KEEN ON ROMNEY:  Fresh from what many pundits call a strong performance in the St. Petersburg debate last week, Mitt Romney got a major boost from another endorsement by a prominent conservative.  David Keene, longtime chairman of the American Conservative Union, issued a strong endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor.  Noting the frustration of conservatives who are seeking a 2008 candidate they can rally to, Keene said that Romney “has emerged as the single candidate most worthy of conservative support” and promised to “spend as much time as possible in the weeks ahead convincing my fellow conservatives that if we are serious about electing a conservative President in 2008, it’s time to unite behind his candidacy.” Keene’s blessing came on the heels of a similar endorsement of Romney several weeks ago by another veteran leader of the conservative movement, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation.

CLINTON ECONOMIST FLEES TAX HIKE TALK:  Aware that even talk of raising taxes could hurt New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances, her top economic adviser last week moved ineffectively to knock down rumors that she would hike levies. BusinessWeek’s Maria Bartiromo reports that Roger Altman, deputy secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton and now chairman of the Evercore Partners equity firm, told her that the idea of a tax increase under a Democratic President was “a red herring,” that Sen. Clinton “simply proposed that the Bush tax cuts involving the two top marginal rates lapse on schedule in 2010 when they expire.” This would, of course, hike the rates back to the 39.6% and 36% levels that existed before Bush took office and thus raise taxes. Altman himself also called for “federal funds to qualified community organizations” for counseling of “stressed mortgagees” as a means of dealing with the subprime loan crisis. 

FRED’S TAX REFORM: Trying to increase interest in his lagging GOP presidential campaign, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson last week announced a sweeping tax-reform proposal. At the heart of his plan, inspired by some of the thriving Eastern European economies and a similar proposal by GOP Representatives Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), is a voluntary flat tax that would allow people to choose between paying under the current code or filing a simple return with 10% or 25% rates, depending on income totals and single or joint filing status. The plan also includes a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts, small business expensing and updates of the current depreciation schedules. Thompson would also eliminate the death tax and the alternative minimum tax and cut the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 27%. Thompson points to the Kennedy and Reagan tax cuts to show how his plan would increase revenue and improve the economy as a whole.