President George W. Bush’s highly-publicized admission of “regrets” and “moment of candor” during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair this past week was actually a scripted response to a planted question with a British journalist.
Capitol Hill Blue has learned that the question was among a list of “proposed questions” given to British reporters by Blair and that both the British Prime Minister and President Bush knew the question was coming and had prepared responses.
Newsweek correspondent Richard Wolffe says it was obvious to the press corps assembled for the press conference that Bush knew the question was coming and had a response ready.
“Of course, it was very rehearsed, everything from the mannerisms you saw, the upwards glance up at the ceiling for inspiration,” Wolffe says. “And for me, the big giveaway was at the end of that answer-I don’t know if you could see it on camera, but the president flashed a big grin to those of us sitting in the front rows. It didn’t seem that he was quite as contrite as his performance.”
According to multiple sources, Blair planted the question with British reporters leaving England and informed the White House. Both Blair and Bush had scripted responses to the question and it was pre-determined that the question would be recognized so he could ask the question.
“It was a setup from start to finish,” says a member of the press crew that covers Blair on a regular basis. “We knew the question was coming and we knew Blair had a response ready. As for Bush, we didn’t know if he had been briefed but we suspected he had.”
Two sources within the White House confirm Bush knew the question was coming and was ready with his scripted response.
Blair set the tone with this comment in the closing moments:
“You guys, come on, I want you to — the British delegation, ask a few serious questions.”
The setup came in the second question:
Mr. President, you spoke about missteps and mistakes in Iraq. Could I ask both of you which missteps and mistakes of your own you most regret?
Bush was ready:
Sounds like kind of a familiar refrain here — saying “bring it on,” kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner — you know, “wanted dead or alive,” that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted, and so I learned from that. And I think the biggest mistake that’s happened so far, at least from our country’s involvement in Iraq is Abu Ghraib. We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time. And it’s — unlike Iraq, however, under Saddam, the people who committed those acts were brought to justice. They’ve been given a fair trial and tried and convicted.
Wolffe says Bush has to go the regret route because his other trite phrases just don’t work any more.
“I don’t think those cliches actually work so much anymore,” he says.