A Brief History of Claims the White House Has Called “Absurd”

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This week, after a new book by journalist Ron Suskind reported that the White House had ordered the CIA to plant a forged letter that alleged that 9/11 lead hijacker Mohammad Atta had trained extensively in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a White House spokesman called Suskind’s allegation “absurd.”

“The notion that the White House directed anyone to forge a letter from [former Iraqi intelligence chief] Habbush to Saddam Hussein is absurd,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Today, washingtonpost.com columnist Dan Froomkin lays out a brief history of other recent White House statements calling past allegations similarly absurd. Froomkin:

Fratto’s response is also highly reminiscent of some previous White House non-denials.

One of my favorites has always been former press secretary Scott McClellan’s response to a British press report in 2005, to the effect that Bush had raised with British Prime Minister Tony Blair the idea of bombing al-Jazeera television headquarters. All McClellan would say about that is: “Any such notion that we would engage in that kind of activity is just absurd.”

Here’s McClellan in October 2003, responding to questions about the White House’s campaign against former ambassador and administration critic Joe Wilson: “We — this White House — it is absurd to suggest that this White House would seek to punish someone for speaking out with a different view. We welcome people with different views. That’s a healthy part of our democracy.”

And of course here is McClellan, in September 2003, responding to questions about whether Karl Rove was involved in the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA operative: “I’ve made it very clear that it was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place.”

Of course, we later learned that many of those allegations, despite initial White House protestations that they were “absurd” or even “ridiculous,” were also true. (Froomkin says the Al Jazeera charge was not fully explored).

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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