Perino watch

Couldn't the White House find someone competent to succeed Tony Snow?

Published October 10, 2007 6:59PM (EDT)

(Updated below)

I know the lame duck Bush administration is holding a lot more goodbye parties than hiring interviews lately, but I still have to ask: How long will Dana Perino keep her job? She's not doing it terribly well.

I admit it: I root for women in traditionally male jobs to succeed, even Condoleezza Rice. (On that one, I've mostly given up, though it was nice to read in the New York Times today that she's still fighting Dick Cheney over Israel's recent moves against Syria.) I've felt sorry for Perino since she was thrust into the top job, temporarily, after Tony Snow's cancer recurred. Now he's gone, ostensibly to make more money, and the job is all hers. Clearly it shouldn't be.

The latest debacle is the news that the administration leaked the most recent Osama bin Laden video, obtained by the private SITE counter-terror institute, to Fox News and other friends, after SITE shared the video with the White House for its intelligence value, while asking that it be kept under wraps. As a result of the administration leaks, SITE's ability to obtain comparable videos and other intelligence has been compromised. As its founder told the Washington Post: "Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless." Can you imagine the outrage if, say, Democratic leaders leaked intelligence information and cost counter-terror experts a valuable way into terror operations? Sure you can.

It's a tough topic to spin, for anyone, but Perino did a particularly bad job trying to cover up the administration's screw-up on Tuesday. First she said the administration got the video and "immediately turned it over to the National Center for Counterterrorism." Then she changed her story at least twice, suggesting SITE gave the video directly to the NCC, and wound up promising to get back to reporters. "I don't know who else they might have called with it in our government. Possibly the [director of national intelligence] counsel's office, but I'm not positive," she told reporters. "I can check." She described the leak scandal as merely a "process problem." On MSNBC's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" Tuesday night, Dana Milbank compared Perino to former press secretary Scott McClellan: "You could play certain tapes of Scott McClellan using the same words to exonerate Karl Rove or Scooter Libby."

But Milbank was being kind to Perino; throughout the whole briefing she looked far more rattled and thus less trustworthy than McClellan ever did. Clearly, the lying and incompetence starts at the top in the Bush administration, so I don't want to suggest Perino is uniquely responsible for either. I'm also trying to be fair here: What am I asking for? What would I like to see in a person whose job, in this White House, involves lying for a living? Am I being too hard on Perino for being a bad liar? But how long can she possibly keep this job? Tell me what you think in comments.

Meanwhile, these very same incompetents are arguing that Democrats will place the nation at risk by refusing to cave on a new FISA law that would exempt telecommunications companies from any liability for illegally spying on Americans. The temporary law passed with the support of frightened Democrats expires in February, and Bush warned today: "The problem is, the threat to America is not going to expire in February. So Congress must make a choice. Will they keep the intelligence gap closed by making this law permanent, or will they limit our ability -- collect this intelligence and keep us safe, staying a step ahead of the terrorists who want to attack us?" Will Democrats cave? I'll be discussing the new FISA legislation on MSNBC's "Live With Dan Abrams" tonight at 9 EDT.

Update: I had just pressed "Publish" when I got an email from Tim Grieve sharing a Perino whopper from today's briefing: She doesn't seem to know anything about legislation sponsored by Senators Jon Kyl and Joe Lieberman declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, which passed the Senate Sept. 26. From the transcript:

QUESTION: Does the president view the Lieberman-Kyl resolution as an invitation to attack Iran?

PERINO: I am not familiar with the Lieberman-Kyl resolution.

QUESTION: That's the resolution condemning the Revolutionary Guard as terrorists.

PERINO: I'll have to look into it and get back to you. I don't know about it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

And I wondered if I was being too hard on her in this post.

By Joan Walsh

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