How Tom Ridge didn't do politics

By Tim Grieve
Published February 17, 2005 8:03PM (EST)

During the presidential campaign, as he made appearance after appearance in cities that just happened to be in swing states, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge insisted: "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security." If that's the case, why did Ridge meet with two Republican strategists just before embarking on his swing state tours?

That's the question raised by a new report from the Associated Press. A year ago, the AP requested copies of Ridge's appointment calendars from the Department of Homeland Security. The department resisted, then finally complied with a Freedom of Information Act request -- what a coincidence! -- just after Ridge left office earlier this month.

According to the AP, the documents show that Ridge met with Republican strategists Frank Luntz and Bill McInturff in May 2004, just before he began a series of 16 trips that would take him to 10 states critical to Bush's re-election effort. Susan Neely, who worked under Ridge at Homeland Security, said the meetings had nothing to do with presidential politics. The meeting with Luntz was aimed at improving the department's communication skills, Neely said, and other department officials told the AP that the meeting with McInturff was purely personal.

While Ridge's travel plans sometimes looked like the itinerary of a presidential campaign, the AP hints that there may have been a different motivation for meeting with the strategists: At the time of the meetings, the AP notes, "President Bush's re-election campaign was reeling from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the news media was speculating that Ridge might replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, or even Vice President Dick Cheney."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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