White House aides held political briefings at Peace Corps headquarters
White House aides have conducted at least half a dozen political briefings for the Bush administration's top diplomats, including a PowerPoint presentation for ambassadors with senior adviser Karl Rove that named Democratic incumbents targeted for defeat in 2008 and a "general political briefing" at Peace Corps headquarters after the 2002 midterm elections.
The briefings, mostly run by Rove's deputies at the White House political affairs office, began in early 2001 and included detailed analyses for senior officials of the political landscape surrounding critical congressional and gubernatorial races, according to documents obtained by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Spokesmen for the State Department, the Peace Corps and USAID said that only political appointees were invited to the briefings and that attendance was not compulsory. They also said that no specific actions were subsequently taken to boost political campaigns.
"We believe that these briefings were entirely appropriate," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "They conformed with all the applicable regulations."
The ambassadors included in the Rove briefing were Eduardo Aguirre Jr. of Spain, James P. Cain of Denmark, Alfred Hoffman Jr. of Portugal, Ronald Spogli of Italy, Craig Stapleton of France and Robert Tuttle of Britain. Gregory Slayton, the consul general to Bermuda, also attended.
In total, the seven diplomats donated more than $1.6 million to Republican causes from 2000 through 2006, according to a Center for Responsive Politics report on large Bush donors who were named ambassadors. The State Department, in a letter to Biden, said that Cain -- one of Bush's top fundraisers in North Carolina -- requested the meeting with Rove and did not notify department officials in advance.
The briefings struck some former ambassadors as highly unusual.
"That just didn't happen. Frankly, I am shocked to hear it," said former senator James Sasser (D-Tenn.), who served as President Bill Clinton's ambassador to China in the late 1990s. "I'm one who strongly believes that politics ought to end at the water's edge."
The Peace Corps briefing occurred in 2003 with about 15 political appointees, said Amanda Beck, a spokeswoman for the agency. The central mission of the Peace Corps is sending volunteers into Third World nations to help with development.
Beck, who said she attended the March 2003 "recap" of the 2002 elections, said the appointees who attended the briefing "did it on our free time during the day." She added: "It was a courtesy to political appointees," offered by the White House, and "there was no suggestion of getting involved in anything" campaign related. Read more.