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White House Situation Room Mystery Continues

9:19 PM, Mar 23, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Today, THE WEEKLY STANDARD asked White House to confirm the details of the Washington Post's report that Rahm Emanuel hosted a meeting with group of veterans' group leaders in the White House Situation Room. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor replied via email that he didn't know where Emanuel hosted the meeting but said "it wouldn't be unusual" to hold it in the Situation Room, which Vietor described as "a series of conference rooms that are used for a variety of meetings."

Asked to confirm Democratic congressional candidate Scott Murphy's claim that he met with top White House political operatives in the Situation Room, Vietor replied, "I don't know Mr. Murphy so I won't be able to track down his schedule for you, but again, the situation room is a number of conference rooms, which are used for meetings."

So, does the White House keep a record of which outsiders meet in the Situation Room, and would it be acceptable to meet a congressional candidate to discuss his campaign in this venue? To these questions, Vietor replied: "I just don't have anything else to add to this one."

While the Obama White House appears comfortable hosting political meetings in the Situation Room, a former Bush administration official told me this evening that such meetings would have been considered inappropriate during previous administrations. While the Bush White House occasionally used the Situation Room for internal senior staff meetings, the official said, it "never" hosted "outside people for non-national security purposes, that I'm aware of. It would have seemed very strange if someone had suggested doing that."

So what explains the Obama White House's decision to hold political meetings in an area traditionally reserved for matters of state? One possibility, the official said, is that Obama staffers are "just misusing the Situation Room" in "an effort to impress an outside party. ... That, to me, is just totally inappropriate, especially if it's for political purposes."

The official also said that "a more charitable interpretation, though not necessarily one that excuses it, is that they're just packing people into the West Wing, and they just don't have much office space and realize [the Situation Room] is an underutilized meeting space, which it is."

"That may be an explanation, but it's not an excuse," the official said. "It suggests a lack of respect for the serious work that has historically taken place there."