By E.J. Kessler

Published July 22, 2005, issue of July 22, 2005.
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Bald Innuendo: One of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s top crowd pleasers, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, is featuring prominently in press reports about the administration leak of the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Fleischer has served as a veritable Bush ambassador to the Jewish community since leaving the administration in 2003. The former White House mouthpiece, who this year published a book about his experiences at Bush’s side, frequently speaks at synagogues and at Jewish communal gatherings. He’s listed on the RJC’s Web site as a member of its board of directors.

Plame is the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who wrote an opinion essay for The New York Times, published July 6, 2003, detailing his 2002 CIA-sponsored trip to Niger, during which he investigated whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium there. The article, which angered the White House, charged that the Bush administration twisted intelligence in its zeal to prove that Saddam Hussein was pursuing nuclear weapons. Last week, news reports disclosed that top Bush adviser Karl Rove was a source for two stories that named Plame as a covert CIA agent and implied that she had recommended her husband for the mission.

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has been trying to determine whether a crime was committed when administration officials tipped off several reporters to Plame’s identity. This week Bush vowed to fire any member of his staff found to have broken the law, appearing to backtrack from an earlier comment that he would dismiss any staffer involved in leaking Plame’s information to columnist Robert Novak.

The Washington Post reported July 19 that “Fleischer, then the White House spokesman, was one of several people who prosecutors believe may have seen the memo.” It further confirmed a Bloomberg News report that “a White House phone log turned over to prosecutors showed that Novak telephoned Fleischer on July 7, 2003.” But, the Post added, “Fleischer has told prosecutors he did not return the columnist’s call.”

Bloomberg News reported July 18 that on a July 7, 2003, Air Force One trip to Africa, “Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, the memo “made clear that information identifying an agent and her role in her husband’s intelligence-gathering mission was sensitive and shouldn’t be shared.”

Fleischer has not commented publicly about the reports, nor have Jewish partisans of either party.

* * *

Middle East Move: Two former business associates of Jack Abramoff, the GOP lobbyist under federal investigation for allegedly bilking Indian tribes, immigrated to Israel last week, The Hill newspaper reported.

Sam Hook and his wife, Shana Tesler, worked with Abramoff at his former law firm, Greenberg Traurig, as lobbyists.

“The relocation comes as a Justice Department task force presses forward with an investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing stemming from Abramoff’s business dealings,” The Hill noted dryly.

The newspaper quoted the couple’s lawyer, Alyza Lewin, as saying that Hook and Tesler — like Abramoff, Orthodox Jews — have been planning to move to Israel “pursuant to longstanding plans that predate any investigation.”

One observer noted that the couple’s move could hamper any investigation into Abramoff’s activities.

“One thing had nothing to do with the other,” Lewin added.

* * *

Israel Initiative: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, a freshman lawmaker who’s one of the Democrats’ rising stars in Congress, is proposing legislation to stop insurance companies from discriminating against policyholders who travel to Israel.

Wasserman Schultz told the Hadassah convention in Washington this week that recently she tried to apply for more life insurance but was rejected when she indicated she might travel to Israel. A member of the House Financial Services Committee, she intends to file the Life Insurance Fairness for Travelers Act, which would prohibit discrimination in life insurance based on future travel, before Congress’s August recess. She’s also sponsoring legislation that would establish each January as “American Jewish History Month.”

* * *

New England Frost: Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, which is at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, named former congressman Martin Frost, the Texas Democrat who was the top 2004 target of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, as one of its resident fellows for the fall semester.

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