We couldn’t help but notice that, during yesterday’s press conference by President Bush, he did not (for the first time in a weally long time) call on CNN, making CNN’s Ed Henry and Helen Thomas (who almost never gets called on by Bush) the only two front-row journos not to be called on.
Any reason why? Who knows (an email to the White House went unreturned), but the conspiracy theorist in us wonders if it the snub is perhaps punishment for CNN’s tough questions to Dana Perino in recent days over the CIA videotape case.
Take a look at this transcript at cnn.com of Henry’s Wednesday package (one day before the president’s presser, by the way) about how Perino is handling questions about the CIA tape case:
HENRY (voice over): On the same day firemen rushed to the White House compound to put out a fire, Press Secretary Dana Perino was struggling to extinguish another problem caused by a “New York Times” headline claiming the White House’s role in the CIA videotape case was wider than officials first said.
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: … implying that I had either changed my story or I or somebody else at the White House had misled the public. And that is not true. And I have heard now from “The New York Times” that they will retract that headline.
HENRY: But most notable is the White House did not demand a correction over the story’s key assertion, that four White House lawyers were involved in discussions with the CIA about whether to destroy the tapes showing interrogations of terror suspects.
PERINO: I’m not commenting on the underlying facts of the story. I’m sticking with what I had done in the past, which is…
PERINO: Well, there’s…
HENRY: But in fact, “The New York Times” story does suggest a wider role for the White House that this Bush officials suggested earlier this month.
When the story first broke, administration officials anonymously told reporters that former White House aide Harriet Miers had urged the CIA not to destroy the tapes. One senior official then telling CNN of the CIA, “They were told not to destroy the tapes. It was fairly unequivocal and completely unanimous.”
PERINO: I am not accountable for all the anonymous sources that you turn up. I am not. I am accountable — I speak to the president and for the White House. This says that I was misleading, and I was not.
And, after the jump, Henry and guest anchor John King play hardball with the President in the “Situation Room.”
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I’m John King.
You’re in THE SITUATION ROOM.
First this hour, a federal judge calls the Bush administration on the carpet. At issue, those destroyed CIA videos of terror suspects being investigated and interrogated. In question, did the administration defy court orders to preserve those tapes? A hearing is now set for Friday.
Here is our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.
Ed, what’s the administration’s reaction to this brief but stern ruling from the judge?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That’s right, John. Well, White House officials are refusing to answer any of these explosive questions about whether the destruction of those CIA tapes was really defying a court order to preserve evidence, as you said, of possible torture.
HENRY (voice over): It’s a White House version of political hot potato.
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that’s a question that is best put to the Justice Department.
HENRY: Ask spokeswoman Dana Perino about a federal judge ordering the Bush administration to answer questions about the destruction of interrogation videos…
PERINO: I’m referring you to the Justice Department. HENRY: Is the White House making sure the CIA does not destroy any other tapes or potential evidence in terror cases?
PERINO: I’m going to refer you to the Justice Department.
HENRY: But, in fact, the Justice Department is not commenting on the judge’s order either and is not being cooperative with congressional investigations to see if any laws were broken in the destruction of the CIA tapes.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey is refusing to provide any information to the House and Senate intelligence panels, charging that would interfere with his own preliminary inquiry.
REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We in Congress, we have a job to do, and we are going to do it. You and the executive branch, you’ve got a job to do. You go do your job, we’re going to do our job.
HENRY: The top Republican on the House intelligence panel says it’s not good enough for the executive branch to investigate itself. And he may support congressional subpoenas to force answers.
HOEKSTRA: There were misleading statements that came to the Intelligence Committee from the community regarding these tape. You know, we have a constitutional responsibility to do our job and to hold the community accountable for the work that it has done or the work that it has not done.
HENRY: Will the White House comply with those subpoenas?
PERINO: I’m going to refer you to the Justice Department.
HENRY: Now, the showdown will come — the showdown will come this Friday at 11:00 a.m. in federal court here in Washington. It will be an open courtroom, so there will be press coverage. The next chapter in a story that has become more and more curious — John.
KING: A quick question, Ed. And I hope you won’t refer me to the Justice Department.
The White House is, you know, hiding — my word, not theirs — behind the lawyer question, saying they can’t answer questions about this because the lawyers are all looking into it, there are ongoing investigations. I understand that to a degree from the legal perspective as the investigations go. But politically they must be cringing with Republicans in Congress questioning them, some of the lawyers involved in this case saying cover up, people saying what are you trying to hide?
Politically, this must be a nightmare.
HENRY: Absolutely. It’s very difficult and it is a question of credibility. But I think the White House realizes that they have used this before.
As you know, in the Scooter Libby case, they were able to deflect questions for probably a couple of years in that legal case by continually saying there is an ongoing investigation, an ongoing legal matter, we’re not going to answer any questions. In the end, though, obviously they still took a political and a public relations hit. But they were able to sort of kick the can down the road for a couple of years — John.
KING: Interesting court hearing to watch on Friday.
Ed Henry at the White House.