Cashing in on Tragedy

President Bush Thursday used a "brief visit" to a 9/11 memorial to force taxpayers to pick up the tab for a political fundraising trip in which he raked in more than $1.6 million for his campaign. The White House has repeatedly used this tactic before, even using a brief visit to Martin Luther King's grave as a pretext to get taxpayers to foot the bill for a Georgia fundraiser. But it has never been used before with 9/11, as the President himself had previously declared that tragic day off limits from politics. And as the Washington Post notes, the proximity between politics and Sept. 11 "was unmistakable" yesterday. Unfortunately, yesterday was only the latest chapter in the White House's deliberate attempt to politicize 9/11. Well before the debris from Ground Zero was cleared, the White House at every turn began distracting the public from its pre-9/11 security failures, trying to reap political advantage from the terrorist attacks themselves. Here is a timeline of the politicization of 9/11, and questions that are still unanswered:

While the White House now says Bush "has every right" to politicize 9/11 and the War on Terror, it was President Bush and Vice President Cheney who reassured Congress after 9/11 that national security would never be used for political purposes. On 1/23/02, President Bush said, " I have no ambition whatsoever to use [national security] as a political issue." On 5/17/02, Vice President Cheney even said legitimate questions about the White House's failure to better defend America before 9/11 were "thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war." On 3/4/03, Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) was asked if his party should use the war for political gain and responded, "Absolutely not. And as a Republican, I would deplore such tactics. I think that what we've got to do in a bipartisan way, as Americans, is win this war."

Less than 19 weeks after the 9/11 attacks, top White House adviser Karl Rove gave a speech on 1/19/02 urging fellow conservatives to "go to the country" on issues surrounding the War on Terror, an invitation to politicize national security in an election year, as he claimed Americans trust conservatives to do a better job of "protecting America." The NYT noted that the White House had effectively "rolled out of a strategy branding anyone who questions the administration as 'giving aid and comfort to our enemies,'" as Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) said.

In March 2002, AP reported that in speeches, President Bush began "making the defense budget a patriotic issue." The story noted that "despite the lack of concerted opposition," Bush was seeking partisan political gain from the traditionally bipartisan issue of defense spending.

On 5/15/02, CNN reported the White House allowed political campaign committees to use an official, taxpayer-funded photograph of President Bush taken on September 11 to be sold to fat cats at political fundraisers. The photograph, paid for with government money, "shows Bush aboard Air Force One, talking to Vice President Dick Cheney hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon." The picture was being offered "to donors who contribute at least $150 and attend a fund-raising dinner with Bush and the first lady."

The Associated Press reported on 6/13/02 that the White House began urging conservatives to push "messages highlighting the war on terrorism" according to a presentation formulated by top Presidential advisers in the White House. On 9/26/02, the President acted on this, claiming Senate opponents were "more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people." When senators asked for an apology, the head of Bush's legislative team said there will be no apology because "there has been no attempt on [Bush's] part to politicize the war."

On 10/11/02, AP reported that an advertisement was aired against triple-amputee Vietnam war hero Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) "that showed pictures of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and implied the Democratic incumbent is soft on homeland security." Instead of invoking his pledge not to use 9/11 and the War on Terrorism "as a political issue," the President Bush effectively condoned the tactic by repeatedly making campaign appearances on behalf of Saxby Chambliss, who was airing the ad. Even now, the White House has refused to discredit the statement by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) that opposing the Bush Administration means "Osama bin Laden wins."

The New York Times reported that the President has scheduled the latest Republican National Convention in history specifically to coincide with official ceremonies marking the three-year anniversary of 9/11. The President is set to "shuttle between political events at Madison Square Garden and memorial services at Ground Zero." Will taxpayers have to pick up the enormous cost of the President's travel, security and entourage at his political nominating convention?

The White House has continued to politicize 9/11 despite the pleas of victims' families and firefighters. Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said that while the White House has "shortchanged fire fighters by not providing adequate resources," the President is "calling on the biggest disaster in our country's history, and indeed in the history of the fire service, to win sympathy." Monica Gabrielle, whose husband died in the twin towers, said the President's insistence on politicizing the 9/11 attacks "is a slap in the face of the murders of 3,000 people. It is unconscionable."

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