Seven years on, no answer from White House on anthrax attacks
It's been almost seven years since — in the weeks immediately following 9/11 — anthrax powder sent through the mail killed five people, threatened the lives of two Democratic senators, terrorized the entire nation, and helped prod a panicky Congress into passing the so-called Patriot Act.
In the intervening years, not only has the killer remained free, but missteps in the investigation have had major negative consequences. Just last month, in fact, the Department of Justice agreed to pay $4.6 million to former bioweapons expert Stephen Hatfill to settle a lawsuit Hatfill brought against the Justice Department, the FBI, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft for destroying his reputation and career by publicly implicating him in the case. And Glenn Greenwald has pointed out that in 2001, ABC News was fed false information by several "well-placed sources" (presumably officials in the Bush administration) suggesting an Iraq-anthrax link. That imaginary link was widely cited by pro-war cheerleaders.
At Monday's White House briefing, I asked if President Bush was satisfied with the progress of the investigation into the attacks. Press Secretary Dana Perino told me that she didn't even "know if he has had an update on it."
Here is our exchange:
Q Is the president satisfied with the progress of the investigation into the anthrax attacks?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if he has had an update on it. But obviously this is something that the FBI is doing. We don't do the investigation from the White House.
Q Well, is he following the progress?
MS. PERINO: You know, I'm sure he -- he gets updated by Director Mueller once a week on a variety of issues. And if that comes up, I'm sure he gets an update.
Q You don't know if he's satisfied with the progress?
MS. PERINO: I don't.
One reason I thought the White House might need to be reminded of this issue is because as recently as last January, in his 2008 State of the Union address, the President appeared to have completely forgotten about the attacks, stating, "We are grateful that there has not been another attack on our soil since 9/11." The anthrax letters, of course, were postmarked on September 18 and October 9, 2001, one to four weeks after 9/11. In his radio address to the nation on November 3, 2001, Bush called them "a second wave of terrorist attacks," and promised that "we will solve these crimes, and we will punish those responsible."
But just a few months later, the White House was already stalling. Asked about the pace of the investigation on February 25, 2002, then-Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, "The President would like to get this, obviously, resolved as quickly as is possible. The pace of justice is a methodical one...the President believes the FBI is doing a good, solid job."
The question didn't come up again at a White House briefing until more than three years later, when a reporter asked Scott McClellan, "Why have we not found the person or persons responsible for the anthrax attacks of 2001?" Scott's reply: "That's a matter that remains a priority. It remains under investigation. The FBI continues to pursue it."
So it's incredible that now, after three more years, all the White House spokesperson has to say is, "If that comes up, I'm sure he gets an update." Not "he believes the FBI is doing a good job." Not even "that matter remains a priority." Just "if it comes up, he gets an update."
That's simply unacceptable. Why isn't THE PRESIDENT bringing it up? And almost as bad, why hasn't the establishment media pressed the administration harder on this issue? Especially after this story by David Willman in the L.A. Times revealed that Justice Department officials kept the investigation focused on Hatfill for almost five years, even though investigators never found any evidence linking him to the attacks, and that many experts who have been involved in the case now believe that it will never be solved.
When the Ramsey family was cleared in the JonBenet case, the media went wild. I can only suppose that one more Bush failure is no longer considered newsworthy.
The preceding article was a White House report from Eric Brewer, who will periodically attend White House press briefings for Raw Story. Brewer is also a contributor at BTC News. He was the first reporter to ask about the Downing Street memo and the Pentagon analysts scandal at White House briefings.