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September 16, 2009 10:01 PM UTC

Bennet's Office Bungles Terrorism Alert Report

  • 51 Comments
  • by: Colorado Pols

Not good news for team Michael Bennet, as the Denver Post reports:

As news broke of a possible terrorist cell in Denver, Colorado’s lawmakers worked furiously to reassure the public that they knew what was going on and that the situation was under control.

But Sen. Michael Bennet’s office appeared to be largely in the dark.

That’s according to a confidential string of e-mails inadvertently sent to the media that show Bennet’s staff desperately trying to find out information from law enforcement officials while openly worrying how the media might play the fact that he was out of the loop.

An e-mail chain accidently attached to a two-paragraph news release offered a glimpse of the upheaval that breaking news can create in official corridors…

We received this press release yesterday evening. Our first thought was, “why is it so long?” Then we scrolled down, and read this back-and-forth between Sen. Michael Bennet’s staff as our eyes slowly widened. We didn’t anything last night because, frankly, we weren’t sure if this inadvertent leak contained classified or otherwise privileged information. But with or without that added complication, the narration of Bennet’s staff’s singleminded focus on favorable press coverage during a major terrorist investigation — and discussions as though it were just a “missed opportunity” — is really, really bad.

As the thinking of his staff unwinds in e-mails and proposed talking points, much of their conversation focuses on whether the lawmaker will appear uninformed compared with colleagues.

Bennet’s staff suggested that he tell reporters he had been “in close contact” with the FBI since that morning, when he was apparently still waiting for an FBI briefing late in the afternoon.

Bennet’s staff also openly fretted that he would be upstaged by his Democratic colleague, Sen. Mark Udall, who had been briefed by the FBI and had spoken to reporters.

“Bummed we missed this – I was under the impression we were being asked not to talk – looks like everyone else did and will lieky (sic) get the press. Lesson learned for next time,” Sarah Hughes, Bennet’s deputy chief of staff, wrote in one missive.

Two things to keep in mind: first, earned media is the primary concern of every Senator’s communications staff. It’s not like Bennet (or any other politician, for that matter) is really involved with a freshly-breaking terrorism investigation, their job is mostly to keep out of the way and to reassure the public. Second, some of the frustration expressed by Bennet’s staff is understandable–as a member of the Homeland Security Committee, it sounds like the FBI could have done a better job keeping him in the loop.

Even so, we doubt anyone really wondered about what Bennet’s response was yesterday. It’s not like anyone, us included, was thinking, “Hey, what does Michael Bennet think about all this?” When Sen. Mark Udall eventually issued a statement, we just assumed he was the person being briefed initially because he is Colorado’s Senior Senator. Bennet’s staff didn’t need to pretend that he was being consulted about this, because nobody was asking. And NOBODY would have known that Bennet wasn’t informed unless his staff told them.

But the larger point is that we should not even be having this conversation at all. Inadvertently copying the whole staff email reply chain about this kind of event into a press release is totally inexcusable. In fact, thank goodness the FBI was too busy to brief them, or the disclosure might have been much worse. There are things you can screw up this badly and draw a gaffe pass, national security is not one of them.

Comments

51 thoughts on “Bennet’s Office Bungles Terrorism Alert Report

  1. It’s absolutely inexcusable. The optics alone are cause to let whoever did this go.

    Reminds me of when John McCain’s campaign CC’d the entire media list as to his talking points and strategy regarding suspending his campaign. At least that was just a stupid political mistake with no other overtones.

    This is exactly what Bennet didn’t need on the first day of his primary opponent’s campaign.

            1. Bennet said he wouldn’t draw a line in the sand over the public option. Since that statement, he has gotten stronger, but how hard he is “fighting for the public option” may be in the eye of the beholder. The test for me is this: if it takes reconciliation to get the public option, and there are zero R votes, is Bennet willing to make that fight? As far as I know, he has not made that commitment.

              1. Denver Post 9/9/09:

                Q: An additional question for senators: Are there any circumstances under which you would you support a reconciliation vote on a public option?

                A: Bennet: Over the months, I have supported efforts to forge a bipartisan approach to health care reform. I would strongly prefer that we pass such legislation with support from both sides of the aisle and will continue to work in that manner until the vote. However, as a last resort, I would support a reconciliation vote on a health care reform package that includes a public option if that package is paid for, preserves choice, minimizes skyrocketing health care costs, and eliminates insurance company practices denying coverage for preexisting conditions or dropping coverage for a person because they are sick.

                These are all things that nearly all Democrats agree should be in the bill. I don’t think his preconditions for voting on a reconciliation bill are outlandish by any means. The only thing I could see people having a problem with is what he meant by “paid for”, from his other statements on it, I’d say he means that it’s not subsidized by taxpayer dollars, and is instead funded by people paying premiums like any other private insurance.

                Michael Bennet is on our side when it comes to health care. That is just a fact. I’d say it’s safe to say that he is indeed “fighting for the public option.”

                  1. But you know, I find political blogging is a lot easier when you use things like facts, and logic, and the sequential order of events, and quotes, and links, and reality.

                    1. Logic? What is that, some kind of hocus pocus with pixie dust?

                      Gimme some good old gut feeling any day. My gut’s never steered me wrong.

                1. I had not seen that statement. The “paid for” scares me about all the Dems’ talk, but I now agree that Bennet is strong on the “fighting for the public option.” Thanks for providing the quote.

                  1. I’ve been wanting to post that quote for over a week now. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.

                    Also, I really do think that Bennet meant that it would be paid for with premiums and not subsidized by the government.

      1. http://www.dailykos.com/story/


        In Colorado, Ritter appointed an unknown person with zero elective experience, potentially endangering a seat that will likely be aggressive challenged by Republicans. Given the circumstances, a primary challenge was almost inevitable. Democrats should have the ability to chose their nominee, not the governor, and we want someone who is electorally tested heading into the general election. If Bennet survives the primary, great for him. He will have learned how to put a field organization together, crafted a message, practiced in a debate or three, and ultimately emerge a stronger candidate against whatever neanderthal the GOP puts up.

        1. Do you not consider it the least bit disingenuous that Markos continues to trumpet that Romanoff’s announcement “forced” Bennet to become supportive of a public option? It’s absolutely ridiculous that he continues to parrot this–especially when you yourself agreed that it’s not the case.

          And I could give two craps about how Markos feels about the race. His meddling is no better than any DSCC “meddling”.

          Although, since you posted it, I have a few thoughts:

          “…we want someone who is electorally tested heading into the general election.”

          First of all, for Markos to say “we” want anything, is like me saying “we want better representation coming from Montana”. If Markos wants to have a say on who gets elected in Colorado, then he should move here and register to vote.

          Second, it proves that Kos has absolutely no freaking clue who Andrew Romanoff is, and how much experience he has with tough elections–his record in tough elections is 0-1. When he ran for his HoR race, it was pretty much a guaranteed walk for him. He admitted it, and he used it to his advantage when he was a Rep. and a House Speaker by helping the House Majority Project and other Dems who were in tougher races than him. That’s not to say Bennet has any experience with running a campaign yet, but it’s hardly a rational, logical reason for a primary campaign.

          If you keep putting these links up, I’m going to keep ripping them apart. If I wanted to know how Markos felt, I’d visit Daily Kos.

          1. you better go over to the other diary and jump down Ardent’s throat.

            http://coloradopols.com/showCo

            Daily Kos Steps up

            Will Andrew force Bennet to be a better progressive? As The Liberal World Turns!

            and i think this statement below is a very fair and reasonable argument.

            If Bennet survives the primary, great for him. He will have learned how to put a field organization together, crafted a message, practiced in a debate or three, and ultimately emerge a stronger candidate against whatever neanderthal the GOP puts up

            .

            Besides, we will need a primary to get our message out.

            Bennet is in a tough spot, but it goes with the territory.

            Kos is covering the story because people want to know about it.

            just like here.

            same for huffpo.

            Ritter screwed the pooch on this and now it is plain for everyone to see.

            and i am sorry Romanoff doesn’t want to challenge Ritter – maybe another dem will.

            1. Are you saying that the pre hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy that they’re subscribing to over there regarding Bennet’s PO support is something other than intentionally changing the facts to fir their theories about primaries?

            2. Mentioning a primary is not “weighing in” on this story.

              This is a different story. It has some of the same characters as the other story, but it’s not the same story.

              I know it’s hard to follow more than one topic at a time, but please do try to keep up.

          2. We must be on the same wavelength.  

            I have peeked over at KOS from time to time but anything that dosen’t pass the litmus test gets shouted down fast. No room for other ideas.

            I even peeked over at their post about this particluar issue and there was one post that (Ken) “Salazar is an embarrasment”, and that was all.  What ?  Care to explain or buttress it with any facts ? Too conservadem for the elite at Kos ?  Well fucking run for Senate then, or AT THE MINIMUM, explain why you think so. Total echo chamber.

            So fuck Daily Kos.

    1. I agree. And despite what gertie and some others have said, this is not what staff does. Staff does that stuff when the boss is making an appearance at the local dog pound or when he’s making a floor speech about the new preschool he got an earmark for.

      This is about terrorism and national security. This is not a photo op. Imagine how they would feel if they were whoring for press and an attack were actually carried out.

      Crisis situations are not the time for getting your boss in the best light, they are a time for reassuring the public that the crisis is being handled.

      In the absence of an FBI briefing, the best comment would have been no comment, and to refer the press to the FBI.

      Some heads need to roll. Punishment needs to be meted out. If not firings, demotions or forced, unpaid vacations. Those people are clearly not thinking straight.

      And I say this as a person who, with great respect for Andrew Romanoff, thinks Bennet has been a pretty darn good Senator and deserves to have his contract renewed in 2010. In order to make that possible, I think he needs to clean this up, or it will be used as a reflection of his priorities (even though he inherited most of these people from Salazar).

  2. Write ever email with the thought that it could end up in the hands of everyone. Because sooner or later someone does do this. It’s dumb, it shouldn’t happen, but people are imperfect. (At Microsoft one person emailed the entire Desktop Applications Division – dad@microsoft.com a long personal email.)

    I don’t think it’s bad. You read it and it sounds like they’re doing a decent job and they held off issuing any press release because they thought the FBI didn’t want anything said. Very comendable.

    As to their being concerned about “everyone wants to know” – hey press people do think the world revolves around every issue that pops up. That’s their world.

    1. The press staffers do think reporters in the home state are eagerly awaiting every comment. In most cases, nobody much cares. If it’s something a reporter really needs, he’ll call the press office.

      You’re right that it’s their world. In addition, staffs see themselves as being in competition with other staffs in the state’s delegation. This is good because it makes them pay attention. But goof-ups happen, and we just saw one.

      1. I hope this is not true, but Bennet’s quick rise has give some pause.  Bennet has been able to avoid looking like a self serving climber in Colorado, but this incident points to another version of the Bennet story. The “make me look good” over the “what is good for the country and people of Colorado” theme may be the tread that unravels the Bennet myth.

        1. This is the way staffs act. It doesn’t matter who the boss is…they keep their own score based on how many mentions they can get the boss in home state media and whether they beat other staff so the punch.

          You can bet Udall’s staff was similarly engaged.

  3. I haven’t seen the release but somebody told me there was more information disclosed than just kvetching about press. Anybody know about this? Perhaps if you do you can’t talk about it…

  4. Senate staff tries to get boss good press.  Shocking!  Really, just shocking!   The way it was sent out was embarassing and a big mistake, but that’s about the extent of it.

  5. …but this is what happens when a complete political amateur whose claim to fame is taking a bad school system and making it worse is appointed to the United States Senate.  Romanoff wouldn’t have fallen pray to something so basic.

    Ryan Frazier and Ken Buck are political amateurs too in the grand scheme, but at least if they make it to the Senate they will have learned from their experience on the campaign trail how to prevent things like this from happening.

    1. John McCain has run how many campaigns for Senate and President? And he had some of the most experienced staffers in the GOP working for his campaign and he still made the same mistake.

      In the end, unless it happens again, this will blow over.

      Side note though: aren’t Republicans supposed to be against career politicians? It sounds like you’re saying being a career politician is a good thing.

      1. …the power gets to virtually everyone in both parties eventually and they all become career politicians.

        And I didn’t say it was a big deal what Bennet/his staff did, I just said it wouldn’t have happened if he had the experience of ONE campaign.

        I also agree it will blow over–as well I think it should.  It’s not a substantive issue.

        1. John McCain has run at least half a dozen campaigns, and in the most important one he ever ran, he let the exact same thing happen. It’s a rookie mistake, but veterans sometimes commit those types of mistakes as well.

          1. …private conversation among staffers saying he had no clue what was going on and that their main concern was their own press as opposed to the American people.  They’re very different things.  I agree, any mistake could befall virtually any politician–it’s really hard to micromanage, especially with a staff as large as a Senator has.

            My main point was to suggest that your chances of having fewer/no mistakes improves by picking Andrew Romanoff.  Rasmussen also seems to think he is the better (although still not great) choice:  http://www.rasmussenreports.co

  6. Once again Michael Bennet being the opportunistic politician full of bullshit shows what he stands for and it isn’t the good citizens of Colorado rather how he looks to the press.  You have to love how he just keeps his mouth stuffed with his foot.  Good show Bennet!

  7. Where are Ritter and Bennet?  Why aren’t they calling on the USA to investigate ACORN?

    Could it be because ACORN-CO is HQ’d really-really-really close to their campaign HQs?

    Nah, their cleaner then that.

      1. and with the reaction the Senate, Cuomo, etc… had to the illegal acts you can bet they’ll make a complete examination of all HUD records, FannieMae apps, etc….

        You know there are non profit accounting and audit specialists.

        1. when the equally thorough audit of Blackwater (now Xe) goes public. Because there’s a lot more money involved and the actual ties to once-ruling Republicans run deeper.

          You know there are corporate accounting and audit specialists.

  8. Seriously. Number one rule in press relations is DON’T LIE. Here we have a communications person suggesting Senator Bennet release a statement THAT ISN’T TRUE. Unless somehow “not being briefed” counts as “in close contact,” but I’m pretty good at spin and I can’t figure a way out of that one.

    Someone should be fired for suggesting the Senator lie to his constituents. I’m not blaming Bennet on this one, but that staffer needs to go. We’re the good guys. We tell the truth better than the other side lies. No fib, however small, should ever be tolerated.

    1. The staffer could have been prepping a statement that would be ready to go once Bennet had been briefed, since by all accounts it appeared the FBI was telling Schumer and Udall the same, generic thing. But yeah, the question you raise is pointed.

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