Charles Barkley famously admitted that he hadn’t read his autobiography. Now former (and first) Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge presents prospective readers with a new twist to the old punchline of the cheater caught in flagrante delicto: Who are you gonna believe — me or your lying eyes?
USA Today reports Mr. Ridge’s complete fold —which the paper’s headline generously describes as packpedaling— regarding his recent headline-grabbing (and, more to the point, book-launching) “revelation” that Don Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft vigorously urged him to raise the nation’s security threat level shortly before the 2004 election in order to help George W. Bush’s re-election.
His most explosive accusation: that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft pressed him to raise the national threat level after Osama bin Laden released a videotape criticizing President Bush shortly before Election Day 2004. Ridge writes he rejected raising the level because bin Laden had released nearly 20 such tapes since 9/11 and the latest contained nothing suggesting an imminent threat.
Noting that Bush’s approval ratings typically went up when the threat level was raised, Ridge writes that Ashcroft and Rumsfeld pushed to elevate it during a “vigorous” discussion.
“Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level, and was supported by Rumsfeld,” he writes. “There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered, ‘Is this about security or politics?’ ”
Although he prevailed and the threat level was not elevated, Ridge writes that the episode reinforced his decision to resign. He did so weeks after the election.
Last week, when word got out about Ridge’s accusations, Rumsfeld’s spokesman Keith Urbahn issued a statement calling them “nonsense.”
Now, Ridge says he did not mean to suggest he was pressured to raise the threat level, and he is not accusing anyone of trying to boost Bush in the polls. “I was never pressured,” Ridge said.