What is the White House hiding?

Gen. David Petraeus won't write the Petraeus report. If the White House has its way, he won't testify in public about it, either.

Published August 16, 2007 11:16AM (EDT)

That September report from Gen. David Petraeus? The one that he won't actually be writing? If the White House has its way, he won't be talking about it either, at least not in public.

As we noted yesterday, Bush administration officials have told the Los Angeles Times that the White House, not Petraeus, will be writing the Petraeus report on Iraq. Now senior congressional aides are telling the Washington Post that the White House wants Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to present the report to Congress. Under a White House proposal, Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker -- long billed as the authors of the September assessment -- would discuss the report only in private.

As the Post reports, the White House proposal may be coming as a surprise to Petraeus and Crocker, who have said before that they expect to testify before Congress after giving Bush their assessments from Iraq. The Post's Jonathan Weisman and Karen DeYoung write: "U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Baghdad appeared puzzled yesterday when told that the White House had indicated that the two may not be appearing in public."

We'll admit to being a little puzzled, too. When it comes to asking for more time for the "surge," Petraeus, who is treated with something like reverence by most members of Congress, is probably the best spokesman the administration has, if only because he hasn't been around long enough to deliver as many false promises as Dick Cheney has or counsel patience as many times as Condoleezza Rice has. When Rice went up to the Hill to sell the surge in January, she came under attack from Republicans and Democrats alike, and she was reduced to sniping back.

So what does it tell us that the White House wouldn't want Petraeus writing his own report or describing his findings in public? From the outside looking in, it's hard not to conclude that the White House thinks it won't like what Petraeus would say if he were allowed to say it.

Update: At today's White House press gaggle, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe -- man, everyone must be on vacation -- denied the Post's account of the administration's plan, saying that Petraeus and Crocker will testify, in public, about "the conditions on the ground in Iraq, what they see [and] what they think are some recommendations about the way forward" prior to the release of what used to be called the Petraeus report. Johndroe confirmed, however, that Petraeus won't be writing the report. "Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker, along with Adm. Fallon, Secretary Rice [and] Secretary Gates, will report in to the president on what they see as the conditions on the ground in Iraq," Johndroe explained. "Then the president will submit that report to the Congress. So it is a report that comes from the president . . . but it is with the input of all of these people."

By Tim Grieve

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

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