During the 2004 campaign, Democrats repeatedly accused the Bush administration and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge of using jumps in the terrorist threat level for political purposes in George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. Those allegations lost some weight when then-Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN) bugged out of the Beltway after supposedly hearing of an impending attack on Washington DC. Now, however, Ridge will release a tell-all book in which he accuses the Bush administration of pressuring him to do exactly what the Democrats alleged:
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was pressured to raise the terror threat level in the run-up to President Bush’s re-election, the former cabinet secretary will claim in a new tell-all book.
Titled “The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege…and How We Can Be Safe Again,” the memoir is intended to rouse Americans from their complacency about security issues, Ridge says. …
Ridge also claims he was never asked to attend a National Security Council meeting, and says he repeatedly warned against appointing Michael Brown to be the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.) Brown resigned after lawmakers and journalists on both sides of the aisle accused him of mismanaging the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Ridge reportedly threatened to resign when this happened. The reports from US News and The Hill suggest that Ridge did not cooperate with the administration in using terror threat levels to manipulate the election, and that it didn’t happen in the end. Assumably, his threat to resign would have forced the White House to back off, since his resignation in the middle of the campaign would have raised a lot of questions, especially after the wide bipartisan support for his nomination to the position. (The Senate confirmed Ridge 94-0 in January 2003.)
Is Ridge telling the truth? There doesn’t seem to be any reason for him to lie about it. Unlike a couple of other Bush-administration figures, Ridge exited the administration with his reputation intact, and didn’t have any public conflicts with the administration that would indicate a feud or axes to grind. As late as this year, the Republican Party tried to get Ridge back into electoral politics by challenging Pat Toomey for the Republican nomination to the Pennsylvania Senate race in 2010. He declined the offer, perhaps understanding that his memoirs would make that run a rather difficult proposition.
None of this means Ridge is telling the whole truth; he may have an opinion about the necessity of raising the threat levels that conflicts with honest evaluations from other national-security staff, for instance, or he may have axes to grind that we haven’t yet seen. We will have to read the book to see the context and evaluate it then. However, if what Ridge says is true, that will be a big stain on both the Bush administration. No White House should be frightening American voters in order to manipulate an election, and the fact that it apparently didn’t happen doesn’t let those off the hook who tried to exploit their positions of trust in that manner.
Update: Ace lays out the best- and medium-case scenarios, and leaves the worst-case scenarios to the Leftosphere — which, as he says, will certainly cover those in depth.