By Todd Johnston
also posted on DailyKos
Friday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told ePluribus Media that his office had never requested a 30-day security clearance for James D. Guckert, aka “Jeff Gannon,” directly contradicting a statement made earlier that day by the U.S. Secret Service.
The Secret Service’s “30-day access list program,” used by the White House press office, would have allowed Guckert to visit the briefing room for a 30-day period without undergoing daily criminal-history checks.
At 2 p.m. EDT on Friday, in a phone interview with ePMedia, Secret Service spokesperson Reginald Hudson stated that the pattern of “appointments” submitted on Guckert’s behalf “looked like an access list” request, adding that the press office uses access lists “quite a bit.”
But at 6 p.m., White House spokesperson David Almacy called ePMedia to say that “Scott McClellan himself” told him Guckert was “never on an access list.”
Almacy, at ePMedia’s request, had been trying to determine the definition of a “day pass” — press office jargon not formally recognized by the Secret Service — and whether Guckert had been on any “lists” that would grant him extended access. McClellan apparently stepped in to answer the second question personally.
The 30-day access list, according to Almacy, is “only used for people awaiting a `hard pass.'” He went on to explain that once someone is cleared for a “hard pass” but hasn’t received it yet, it “doesn’t make sense” to keep running daily background checks.
“Hard pass” is reasonable shorthand for “permanent White House Press Pass,” as they are called by the Secret Service. But the now-commonly reported “day pass” is a fallacy.
The Secret Service is far more punctilious than the frequently overstimulated White House press office. Indeed, in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), reported by John Byrne of Raw Story, the Secret Service was quite specific:
There are three ways of being allowed access to the White House Briefing Room: 1) as a permanent White House Press Pass holder; 2) as a temporary appointment; 3) on an access list.
Three ways. Not two. Not two and a half. Three. And no “day passes.”
Strictly speaking, Guckert received temporary appointments, a well-defined Secret Service designation. Having been denied a permanent press pass in February 2004 because he was working for G.O.P. lobbyists, he thus needed an appointment to attend every briefing.
But it takes two to make an appointment. Guckert also required a sponsor, a “staffer” to submit the request to the Secret Service. A request for access to the White House complex is not a trivial event, even for McClellan’s office:
Furthermore, for additional appointments:
And again, no doubt, day after day after day, ad infinitum. This is the U.S. Secret Service, after all.
The “30-day access list program” prevents this avoidable waste of time, manpower and money by granting 30 temporary appointments, with a single criminal-history check per recipient per month. The program makes sense: As Almacy pointed out, the access list is only for bona fide journalists awaiting permanent passes.
But here is where Scott McClellan has seemingly managed to paint himself into a corner of an oval office.
Every day from December 20, 2004, through January 31, 2005 — 43 consecutive days including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day — a member of McClellan’s staff requested a temporary appointment for James Dale Guckert to visit the White House.
And these 43 requests represent only the 60-day period prior to the FOIA request. Appointment requests older than that are archived at the Executive Office of the President and are no longer the purview of the Secret Service.
McClellan’s office requested an appointment for Guckert every day in January, as well as December 20th through the 31st, press event or not. Before December 20th, he appears on White House access entry and exit logs an additional eight times. It is a reasonable speculation that Guckert was cleared for all of December as well.
If McClellan’s claim is correct, and he was not handing out press passes to Guckert 30 at a time, the alternative seems all the more autocratic. With a deficit approaching $8 trillion, the White House would be hard pressed to justify excessively burdening Secret Service resources, now a branch of Homeland Security, simply to install a friendly face at daily gaggles.
But McClellan has now stated exactly that.
Did his office actually make the U.S. Secret Service run a criminal history check on the same man 43 days in a row?
Did the Secret Service dutifully locate the same record of tax evasion and the same pictures of Guckert, naked and urinating, every day for 43 straight days?
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Year’s Day? On Thanksgiving?
For his part, Guckert only showed up for seven of those 43 appointments. It was the holidays, after all.
Reviewing their own records Friday afternoon, the Secret Service spoke confidently. The pattern was apparently so obvious that even the most tight-lipped law-enforcement agency in the world was willing to offer a rare moment of speculation.
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck….
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