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Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, calls Republican contender George W. Bush to retract his concession of the presidential election (see 2:30 a.m. - 3:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). “Circumstances have changed dramatically since I first called you,” Gore says. “The state of Florida is too close to call.” Bush says: “Are you saying what I think you’re saying? Let me make sure I understand. You’re calling me back to retract your concession.” Gore responds, “You don’t have to be snippy about it.” Bush informs Gore that his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, has assured him he has already won Florida (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and November 7-8, 2000). Gore replies, “Your younger brother is not the ultimate authority on this.” Instead of giving a concession speech as planned, Gore sends his campaign chairman, former Commerce Secretary William Daley, to speak to the gathering at Nashville’s War Memorial Plaza. “Our campaign continues,” Daley says. New polling data shows that Florida, still projected to go to Bush as the last needed electoral victory, is once again too close to be accurately predicted. Bush calls his cousin John Ellis, who is anchoring Fox News’s election night coverage (see October-November 2000), and says, “Gore unconceded.” Ellis responds, “You’re kidding.” Within the hour, the networks will, for the second time (see 9:30 p.m. November 7, 2000), retract their projection and classify Florida as “too close to call” (see 3:57 a.m. - 4:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans orders aides to be on a 6 a.m. flight to Florida to begin contesting the recounts. Gore aides give similar orders to their personnel. (CNN 12/13/2000; Tapper 3/2001; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008)
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, one of eight co-chairs of the Florida Bush election campaign and the state official ultimately in charge of election procedures, is introduced to the politics of the Florida presidential recount by a ringing telephone. She is awakened at 3:30 a.m. by a call from the Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans, who puts Governor Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, on the line. Governor Bush asks coldly, “Who is Ed Kast, and why is he giving an interview on national television?” Harris is unsure who Kast is for a moment. Kast is the assistant director of elections, whose division reports to her office. He is on television talking about the fine points of Florida election law (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000), when and how manual recounts can be requested, and, most importantly, the driving concept of “voter intent”—if a ballot shows the intent of the voter to cast a vote for a candidate, then that vote will be counted. The governor does not want the media narrative to focus on recounts and voter intent, and has already tasked his general counsel with the job of getting Kast off the air as quickly as possible. (CNN “loses” Kast’s transmission in mid-sentence minutes later.) Democrats have questioned the propriety of having the Florida official with ultimate authority over elections being a state chairman for a presidential campaign before now, and in the coming days, the question will devolve into outright accusations of partisanship and impropriety. Harris has called herself “thrilled and honored” to be part of the Bush campaign, and served as a Bush delegate during the Republican National Convention. During the campaign, she often traveled around Florida representing the ticket. Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) says of Harris: “She is clearly a partisan Republican—and there’s nothing illegal about that. And I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, expecting them to perform their public functions appropriately. But her actions will speak volumes about whether she is qualified. If she does this fairly, fine. But if she acts as an emissary for Bush to steal this election in Florida, she will delegitimize Florida’s vote count.” Harris gives some initial media interviews on November 8, and according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “appear[s] overwhelmed and uninformed.” She does not know what county elections supervisors have been doing, and seems unaware of the chaos surrounding the Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” (see November 9, 2000) and other ballot disputes. The Bush campaign senses trouble and assigns Harris a “minder,” Florida Republican lobbyist Mac Stipanovich, a former campaign advisor for Jeb Bush and a close Bush ally. Stipanovich, the Vanity Fair article will observe, “appealed to Harris’s grandiosity. (Her emails replying to Bush supporters later revealed that she had begun identifying with Queen Esther, who, in the Old Testament, saved the Jews from genocide. ‘My sister and I prayed for full armour this morning,’ she wrote. ‘Queen Esther has been a wonderful role model.’) He told her that nothing less than the course of history rested on her shoulders. ‘You have to bring this election in for a landing,’ he repeated again and again.” Under Stipanovich’s tutelage, Harris quickly learns to stay on message and repeat the given talking points. Stipanovich, who remains out of sight of the media, will later describe his daily routine with Harris to documentary filmmaker Fred Silverman, saying: “I would arrive in the morning through the garage and come up on the elevators, and come in through the cabinet-office door, which is downstairs, and then in the evening when I left, you know, sometimes it’d be late, depending on what was going on, I would go the same way. I would go down the elevators and out through the garage and be driven—driven to my car from the garage, just because there were a lot of people out front on the main floor, and, at least in this small pond, knowledge of my presence would have been provocative, because I have a political background.” (Salon 11/13/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Most importantly to the Bush campaign, Harris is a part of the campaign’s message propagation plan to insist that Bush has indisputably won the Florida election (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000).
The presidential campaign team of Vice President Al Gore asks for a hand count of presidential ballots in four Florida counties, as allowed under Florida Election Code 102.166. Gore’s recount request covers four Florida Democratic strongholds: Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Volusia. Between them, the four counties recorded about 1.8 million votes cast. All four counties seem to have serious issues surrounding their vote totals (see November 7, 2000 and Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000).
Florida Has No Legal Provision for Statewide Recounts This Early - The Gore decision to ask for the specific recounts in four counties is necessary, as Florida state law has no provision for a statewide recount request at this stage: a candidate has 72 hours after an election to request manual recounts on a county-by-county basis, and such requests must be based on perceived errors. Otherwise the candidate must wait until the election is formally certified and then make a request for a statewide recount—a request the Gore team felt certain would be refused by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who is also the co-chair for the Florida Bush campaign (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After).
Accusations of 'Cherry-Picking' - However, the Bush team uses the Gore request of “selective recounts” to launch a press narrative that Gore wants to “cherry-pick” counties for recounts that he thinks will give him an advantage, regardless of Gore’s claims that he wants “all votes counted.” As Vanity Fair will observe in 2004: “Proper as this was by Florida election law, the Democrats’ strategy gave [Bush lawyer James] Baker the sound bite he’d been seeking: Gore was just cherry-picking Democratic strongholds. It was a charge the Bush team wielded to devastating effect in the media, stunning the Gore team, which thought its strategy would be viewed as modest and fair.” The Gore campaign, shocked by what it perceives as the patent unfairness of the Bush response and by the media’s apparent acceptance of it, responds poorly, giving the Bush campaign the opportunity to set the narrative. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008)
Bush Threatens More Recounts - The Bush campaign threatens to demand recounts in Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico if Gore does not withdraw his challenges in Florida. (Authentic History 7/31/2011)
Swapping Accusations - Former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour accuses the Democrats of “trying to to take the election of the president out of the election process, which is controlled by voters, and put it in the court process, which is controlled by lawyers.” Former Representative Bill Paxon (R-FL) accuses the Gore campaign of using “legal action to undermine this vote. They know that their chances to win are slim to none.” Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans says, “Vice President Gore’s campaign didn’t like the outcome of Election Day, and it seems they’re worried that they won’t like the official recount result either.” Gore’s campaign chairman William Daley says of the Bush campaign, “I believe that their actions to try to presumptively crown themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition (see November 9, 2000), run the risk of dividing the American people and creating a sense of confusion.” Gore spokesman Chris Kehane tells a CNN audience: “This is a nation of laws, we ought to respect our laws. But we think that our victory is going to be sweet. We think we have won the popular vote. That’s pretty clear. And we believe we are going to win the popular vote within the state of Florida and thereby win the electoral vote as well.” Gore himself “pledge[s]” to honor the results of the election should the recounts show that Bush is the legitimate winner, saying that the recount “must be resolved in a way that satisfied the public and honors the office of the presidency.” (National Journal 11/9/2000; Berke 11/9/2000)
The NSA asks Qwest, a major US telecommunications firm and a cutting-edge provider of high-tech wireless and Internet connectivity, to reveal information about its customers and their phone calls. Qwest’s CEO, Joe Nacchio, refuses after meeting with NSA officials and deciding that the program is illegal without court orders (see February 27, 2001). The NSA refuses to seek court authorization for its wiretaps and electronic surveillance. The NSA will renew its request from Qwest after the 9/11 attacks, and will also ask the firm to help it track suspected terrorists. Other telecommunications firms such as Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth, will comply with the NSA’s requests (see February 2001 and Beyond).
Fears of a 'Digital Pearl Harbor' - According to a former White House official, the NSA’s primary purpose before 9/11 is to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government agents trying to hack into the government’s computer information systems, particularly those within the Defense Department. Government officials fear a “digital Pearl Harbor” if hackers were ever to seize control of those systems or other key US infrastructures. The former official will say in 2007 that the NSA’s proposal to Qwest is, “Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?” Echelon is the NSA’s enormous signals intelligence (SIGINT) network used by the agency and its counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Britain. Qwest is constructing a high-speed network for phone and Internet traffic, and the NSA wants Qwest to keep records of its customers’ transactions for it. The NSA, another source will say, wants to analyze call, e-mail, and other transmissions’ traffic patters for signs of suspicious activity. The White House official will say that telecom firms such as Qwest “have an enormous amount of intelligence-gathering” capability. They don’t have to target individual customers to “look for wacky behavior,” or “groups communicating with each other in strange patterns.” Such information could augment intelligence that the NSA and other agencies were gathering from other sources, and enable the NSA to collect the information it wants without violating laws prohibiting it and other intelligence agencies from directly gathering data on US citizens.
Ill Will from NSA - Nacchio’s refusal to go along with the NSA’s request garners it some ill will among the US intelligence community, the former White House official will say. Nacchio will contend that because of his refusal, the NSA denied Qwest a lucrative government contract. A former high-level intelligence official will add that other telecom companies had little problem agreeing to the NSA’s requests. Nacchio believes that the NSA’s request is illegal under the Telecommunications Act without court orders; the former White House official will acknowledge that it might violate the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. After 9/11, that law will be amended by the USA Patriot Act to give the government more room to monitor US citizens.
Qwest, Other Telecom Firms Cooperative with Other Agencies - Qwest is apparently less reluctant to share other information with the Pentagon. Qwest began sharing its technology and information as far back as 1997 (see 1997). In May 2001, Commerce Secretary Don Evans will tell the Senate Appropriations Committee that his department helped persuade Qwest to “share proprietory information with the Defense Department to evaluate the vulnerability of its network.” Qwest, which serves the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions of the country, covers the areas that house some of the military’s most important command-and-control facilities, including the US Strategic Command. In the 1990s, Qwest began actively pursuing contracts with the Defense Department to build more modern, private, secure networks for defense and intelligence agencies. (Harris 11/2/2007)
Meetings with Bush Officials - In court documents filed in 2006 to challenge his prosecution for insider trading and, in heavily redacted form, released to the public in 2007, Nacchio will indicate that telecom executives met frequently with Bush administration officials before 9/11, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. Many telecom firms are working closely with the government to develop highly classified operations, including joint networks to which the government will have unfettered access. The future director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, works with telecom firms to expand the cooperation between the telecom industry and the federal government. (Greenwald 10/15/2007)
Enron’s power plant in Dabhol, India, is shut down. The failure of the $3 billion plant, Enron’s largest investment, contributes to Enron’s bankruptcy in December. Earlier in the year, India stopped paying its bill for the energy from the plant, because energy from the plant cost three times the usual rates. (Dugger 3/20/2001) Enron had hoped to feed the plant with cheap Central Asian gas, but this hope was dashed when a gas pipeline through Afghanistan was not completed. The larger part of the plant is still only 90 percent complete when construction stops around this time. (Dugger 3/20/2001) Enron executives meet with Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans about its troubled Dabhol power plant during this year (Stevenson 2/21/2002) , and Vice President Cheney lobbies the leader of India’s main opposition party about the plant this month. (Stevenson 2/21/2002)
Authorities fail to evacuate Secretary of Commerce Don Evans from his office at the Commerce Department in Washington, DC, in line with “Continuity of Government” (COG) plans and so Evans eventually decides to go home of his own accord. (Arkin 2013, pp. 173-174) The COG plan was apparently activated by White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke shortly after 9:45 a.m. (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 8) Whereas, earlier in the day, “executive agents and protective details all across the government had been operating in precautionary mode,” military expert and author William Arkin will later describe, “now everything was official, mandatory, and automatic.” And yet no one comes to move Evans to an alternate location, even though he is 10th in line for the presidency. The commerce secretary therefore stays in his office all morning, waiting for someone to contact him and tell him what to do. (Arkin 2013, pp. 173-174; Arkin and Windrem 9/11/2016) Furthermore, while other government departments are evacuated, no one takes the initiative to evacuate the Commerce Department, where 5,000 people work (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Draper 2007, pp. 143) Apparently, “those in charge had completely forgotten about [Evans] and his department,” Arkin will comment. Eventually, Evans arranges for an aide to drive him to his home in McLean, Virginia, where he spends the rest of the day watching television. Arkin will criticize authorities for their failure to move Evans to an alternate location, writing, “After almost 50 years of preparations and practice, after constructing an elaborate and foolproof edifice, the executive agents had overlooked a major branch of the executive office, or were too busy—or had their own plans.” (Arkin 2013, pp. 174; Arkin and Windrem 9/11/2016)
As part of a White House media campaign to promote “good news” from Iraq (see Mid-October 2003), Commerce Secretary Donald Evans goes on a brief visit to selected areas in Baghdad and comes back to Washington with stories of the “thousands” of new businesses that have cropped up since the “liberation” of that country. Asked for an example, Evans cites two boys’ roadside soft drink stand. (Hanley 10/17/2003)
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