‘Top Line’ — Ridge Regrets Perception of Politics at Homeland Security

By Gorman Gorman

Sep 1, 2009 1:59pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: A new book by former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge has grabbed headlines over an explosive suggestion: That he wondered whether an election-eve push inside the Bush administration to raise the terror threat level was  "about security or politics?" Ridge has since downplayed that aspect of his book, "The Test of Our Times," saying that the system for raising threat levels worked because, in that instance, it was left unchanged. Still, on ABCNews.com's "Top Line," Ridge expanded on another passage in his book by allowing that in at least one instance in 2004, he went too far in giving a Homeland Security announcement a political tinge. "I made a mistake in August of 2004 — you probably remember, [in the] middle of the conventions I lauded President Bush's leadership in the war on terror during a press conference when we were raising the threat level. I lauded the president," Ridge told us. "The press conference was about raising the threat level. By my inclusion of that sentence or two I marginalized the importance of the press conference, the decision that was reached by consensus, and the importance of the intelligence. So as I look back on my career and my service, that's one of those things I regret, and I take responsibility for it because it created that perception. And the perception was wrong, and I was responsible for creating it."

Ridge also urged readers not to go any further than his words in describing the election-eve deliberation about whether to raise the threat level. "It was unlike any other conversation we had given its closeness to the election," Ridge said. "I say in the book, 'is it politics in security?' Don't read anything more into it that's it, pure and simple. And the right decision was made." Ridge, a former GOP governor of Pennsylvania, also said "there's a real good chance" that his old friend Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., could lose in the Democratic primary after abandoning the Republican Party. "The only [Republican] nominee, Pat Toomey, I think has an excellent chance of winning in the fall," Ridge said. He also conceded that "of course" he had moments in the fall campaign where he wished he had become Sen. John McCain's running mate. "As you noticed, our team came in second. So I obviously regret that particularly since I don't think that the change that is being promoted in Washington, DC is exactly where America thought we were going to go, but that's politics," Ridge said. Asked whether he might run for president in 2012, Ridge — who supports abortion rights — responded, "I doubt it."

He added: "I really think one of the challenges we have within our party is to be a little bit more tolerant of differences of opinion. . . . I think it would be a very good idea if we want to be a national party, a formidable force, that we had a higher degree of tolerance of differences of opinion within the party. If we want to be the majority." Watch the full interview with Tom Ridge HERE. Also today, we chatted with Republican strategist Kevin Madden about President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan — and conservative columnist George Will's decision to call for a troop withdrawal. Click HERE to see the interview with Kevin Madden.

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