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Douglas Feith: Is He the Next John Dean?

Reported by Marie Therese - February 13, 2007 -

Back in the Watergate era, White House Counsel John Dean realized that he was being set up to take the fall for the cover-up that occurred after the bungled break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Dean had allowed his ethical standards to erode as the White House tried desperately to stem the tide of leaks that were proving embarrassing to the administration. Ultimately, Dean made the decision to testify before the Senate Watergate Committee. I remember being riveted to my TV as Dean read page after page of a carefully prepared, utterly damning statement against the President and his staff. On Sunday (2-11-07), while watching FOX News Sunday, I thought about Dean as I watched Chris Wallace grill Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.

While Feith squirmed under the questioning (unusual for a man who for 15 years was the managing attorney of his own law firm), I could not help but notice the parallels between him and Dean.

Both attorneys. Both involved in disseminating what turned out to be false information to the Congress. Both the designated as scapegoats by their superiors.

The difference here is that committed neocon Douglas Feith apparently doesn't know - or doesn't care - that he is being set up to take the fall for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. And yesteday, FOX News was right there, helping out.

During the interview Wallace was combative, driving home the contradictions between Feith's statements and recent reports. Feith seemed defensive and I wondered while watching if he had expected a different kind of interview, perhaps more like the respectful ones FOX News is famous for conducting when the guest is someone of whom the Bush administration approves.

Wallace noted that, according to the Inspector General's report, Feith's office had "disseminated ... alternative intelligence assessments about links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda that made the case for going to war."

It was downhill from there. True to the bureaucractic code, Feith passed the buck farther down the chain of command.

"Well, as it turns out, there were actually several people who independently started working at lower levels of the government," said Feith. "One of them was an assistant to Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. Two of them worked in my office."

WALLACE (asking the $64,000 question!): "But did Rumsfeld - did Wolfowitz - ask you to undertake this project?"

FEITH: "Well, as I said, the fellow who worked for Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz was asked by the deputy secretary to do the work. The two people in my office actually were doing - they kind of got into this project fairly spontaneously. One of them was doing a project that had started months earlier. It's the way the bureaucracy works. There were a number of elements that came together. We then presented the briefing to Secretary Rumsfeld, and he directed that we present it to George Tenet at the CIA."

Wallace continued the cross examination, at all times phrasing his questions in ways that tended to shift blame away from Donald Rumsfeld.

Here is a sample:

WALLACE: "Mr. Feith, let's look at the timeline of what you did back in 2002. First, you briefed Secretary Rumsfeld on August 8th. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz said that this was an excellent briefing. On August 15th, 2002, you briefed CIA Director George Tenet. But in that case, you leave out a slide in your PowerPoint briefing that says that there are fundamental problems with the way the intelligence community is assessing the information. If this is, as you claim, good government - let's challenge the intelligence - why would you leave that slide out of the briefing when you were directly confronting the intelligence community?"

FEITH: "Because the whole briefing was a challenge to the CIA. And we knew that the CIA might be very sensitive about it and might resent it, which it turns out they did. But we presented it — we wanted to present it in the most constructive way. We thought that particular slide had some language that was a little harsh. So to make for a better meeting, we gave - the substance of that slide was represented in the meeting. We wanted the words to be a little more collegial, so we took that out. It is of no significance at all, because..."

WALLACE: "But, Mr. Feith, you say it's of no significance. On September 16th, 2002, you briefed top White House officials, including Steven Hadley and Scooter Libby."

FEITH: "No, I didn't. The people who did the briefing ..."

WALLACE: "Right. And you give them - first of all, you include that slide in that briefing, and you also give them information that the inspector general in his new report - this is the Pentagon Inspector General - says is not supported by available intelligence. And what's more, in this effort for good government, the CIA director isn't even told about the briefing and doesn't find out about it for two years."

FEITH: "Yeah. Well, that's - it's interesting because Steve Hadley asked for the briefing in the presence of George Tenet's deputy. So this business that George Tenet didn't know about it is just factually wrong. Or put it this way: If he didn't know about it, it's because his deputy didn't tell him about it. So that's nonsense."

COMMENT

Boy, that Chris Wallace can sure ask the tough questions - when his masters at FOX News see a need for it!

As for Douglas Feith, I wonder if we'll be seeing him some day soon, sitting at a table in front of a select Senate committee, calmly turning first one page then another of a damning statement about the misuse of intelligence to take a country to war?

You can view the entire interview at FOXNews.com.