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The White House press briefing got an abrupt surprise this morning.

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HUMAN EVENTS On the Scene for Old EOB Fire

The White House press briefing got an abrupt surprise this morning.

“They’re burning more CIA tapes!”  was what one wag in the White House briefing room called out, as Press Secretary Dana Perino abruptly halted her morning briefing for reporters.  My colleagues and I dashed out into the White House parking lot to watch the black smoke and flame across the street.

Today’s fire in the Old Executive Office Building could not have come at a more poignant time for Perino or those of us who cover her.  Sharp questions were flying like shrapnel; following the the breaking news that four Administration attorneys (including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and onetime White House Counsel Harriet Miers were aware of the controversial destruction of the CIA tapes, reporters led by Terry Hunt of the Associated Press pounded Perino with queries about that news.

The President’s top spokeswoman remained firm, pointing out that she has “not  commented from day one” on the tapes business and would not do so “in any way, shape or form” because of the preliminary inquires now being done by the Department of Justice and the CIA.  She referred to Attorney General Michael Mukasey (“Let him speak to it!”), prompting CBS-TV’s Bill Plante to snap at Perino: “Then get him over here!”  She said that it “was not fair” to suggest the President knew more than he has so far said about the tapes destruction — a reference to the New York Times front-page story this morning — and that the President “does not recall being told anything about the destruction of the tapes” until his CIA briefer told him after the fact.

As the rhetoric in the briefing room grew incendiary — with the press secretary beginning to ask several times for queries on topics other than the tapes — two cameramen dashed out in the parking lot.  “There’s a fire at old EOB,” one called.  Soon Perino left her podium and we all were outside to hear sirens, watch black smoke billow out of an office in the old EOB (next to the vice president’s ceremonial office), and file stories. 

Watching a firefighter looking like a commando in fatigues and gas mask on the balcony of the old EOB, it was poignant to hear Dave McConnell of WTOP Radio recall that the site of the fire was once home to the War Department

As it turned out, Deputy Press Secretary Scott Stanzel came out and explained that the 1700 employees in the Old Executive Office Building were evacuated and there were no injuries.  As to the cause of the fire, “we’re still working on that,” Stanzel said.

“Is it appropriate for me to light up a cigarette?”  a colleague from the foreign press asked, “If I’m going to get all this second-hand smoke, I might as well get the real thing.”

It was said of Bill O’Reilly that he left a network outlet in my hometown of Hartford, Connecticut allegedly because “I don’t do fires.”  After today, I do. 

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Written By

John Gizzi has come to be known as â??the man who knows everyone in Washingtonâ? and, indeed, many of those who hold elected positions and in party leadership roles throughout the United States. With his daily access to the White House as a correspondent, Mr. Gizzi offers readers the inside scoop on whatâ??s going on in the nationâ??s capital. He is the author of a number of popular Human Events features, such as â??Gizzi on Politicsâ? and spotlights of key political races around the country. Gizzi also is the host of â??Gizziâ??s America,â? video interviews that appear on HumanEvents.com. Gizzi got his start at Human Events in 1979 after graduating from Fairfield University in Connecticut and then working for the Travis County (Tex.) Tax Assessor. He has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV shows, including Fox News Channel, C-SPAN, America's Voice,The Jim Bohannon Show, Fox 5, WUSA 9, America's Radio News Network and is also a frequent contributor to the BBC -- and has appeared on France24 TV and German Radio. He is a past president of the Georgetown Kiwanis Club, past member of the St. Matthew's Cathedral's Parish Council, and secretary of the West End Friends of the Library. He is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence and was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002. John Gizzi is also a credentialed correspondent at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He has questioned two IMF managing directors, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Christine LaGarde, and has become friends with international correspondents worldwide. Johnâ??s email is JGizzi@EaglePub.Com

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