Monday, November 30, 2009

Harmless handshake?

Michael Isikoff at Newsweek breaks the story of Cathy Hargraves, who resigned from the White House social office after being told her primary function of coordinating the guest list for state dinners was no longer needed.  From Isikoff's post:
The White House staff member whose job was to supervise the guest list for state dinners and clear invitees into the events says she was stripped of most of her responsibilities earlier this year, prompting her to resign last June.

The account of Cathy Hargraves, who formerly served as White House "assistant for arrangements," raises new questions about whether changes that she says were made by President Obama's social secretary, Desiree Rogers, may have contributed to the security lapses that permitted Virginia socialites Michaele and Tareq Salahi to crash the state dinner for India's prime minister last week and get themselves photographed with the president.

Hargraves tells Declassified in an exclusive interview that although she had originally been hired as a White House political appointee in 2001, she landed a new position on the White House residence staff in 2006 and was specifically detailed to the social office to work on state dinners.

Her job duties included overseeing the invitations for guests at state dinners and keeping track of RSVPs, she says. On the evening of state dinners, she says, she physically stood at the East Gate portico entrance and greeted each of the guests as they arrived, checking their names off a computerized printout of those who had been invited.

But when she met with Rogers last February and went over her job responsibilities, she says, the new social secretary told her, "We don't feel we have a need for that anymore." Rogers's explanation, according to Hargraves: "In these economic times, I don't think we're going to have very many lavish expensive dinners. It wouldn't look very good."
At the White House press briefing today, April Ryan of American Urban Radio hammered Robert Gibbs about Isikoff's revelation.  Here is the relevant video from today's presser.  Ms. Ryan's effective inquisition begins around 1:53, but the knock out punch comes at the 5:00 mark:

To paraphrase Ms. Ryan, what would have happened if these people were trying to harm the president?  In his trademark inartful dodger mode, Gibbs replied, "I appreciate the opportunity to indulge in a grand hypothetical."

I am reminded of the season finale of the second season of 24 when President Palmer was felled (for a torturous three year hiatus) by a toxic handshake from the beautiful, but evil, Mandy.  Perhaps Gibbs gave Ms. Ryan's question the brushoff because it wasn't serious.  After all 24 is just a television show, and lethal handshakes are only plot devices of adventure fiction, like James Bond's nearly lethal lemon-twist martini in Casino Royale.

But not so fast.  Let's think back to some real life history.  Prior to the Orange Revolution and his eventual election to the Ukrainian presidency, Victor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin during a visit to Kiev.  It was later determined that Yushchenko's serum dioxin level was 50,000 times normal, and that the source poison was so pure, that it was definitely made in a laboratory.  Miraculously, President Yushchenko survived this attempt on his life, and serves as the Ukraine head of state today.

The delivery mechanism of that toxin has never been discovered, or if it has, it has never been revealed to the public.  It could have been his food, or drink, or a careful handshake.  But one thing is certain.  Someone in close proximity to Yushchenko wanted him dead.  That's no grand hypothetical.

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