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When the Army decided to fight to the death over the ironclad Crusader, Rumsfeld saw his chance. The Army played into his hands when its deputy congressional liaison, Kenneth A. Steadman, faxed talking points to the Crusader's friends on Capitol Hill, saying that elimination of the long-range artillery gun would endanger G.I.s. Not long after that, Rumsfeld's aides put out the word that the gun was dead and that White was finished. And then, in a truly inspired piece of bureaucratic jujitsu, Rumsfeld sent his Post-it note to White--and held a press conference in which he not only praised the Army boss but brought him before the cameras to confess the error of his ways. Asked if White was now falling in line, Rumsfeld flashed the grin that has made Pentagon briefings more entertaining than Saturday Night Live. He said, "Do you think I would have invited him up to the podium and offered him an opportunity to oppose the President of the United States? Not a chance! Not a chance! My goodness, gracious!" Now Rumsfeld has to fight those in Congress who want to resurrect the howitzer.
Of course, White hadn't just been saved. He had been humiliated. By Friday, folks close to White began hinting that the Army Secretary might leave in a few weeks. If he stays, he is effectively neutered--so Rumsfeld can live with either outcome. Rummy's message to the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps was clear: Don't mess with me. No one at the Pentagon with stars or birds or bars on his or her shoulders missed the semaphore. As a White aide put it, "Secretary White is in awe of Mr. Rumsfeld's political skills." Steadman resigned last week.
White had plenty of problems before the Crusader came along. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that internal Enron documents suggested that White's unit, Energy Services, played a role in the price-fixing scheme involving California electricity. (White denied wrongdoing.) But White's clock was ticking even before that. He has had trouble explaining why he delayed selling Enron stock that he had been ordered to drop. Last spring he made an ill-considered trip to sell real estate in Colorado--on a government plane. All of which just made it easier for Rumsfeld to make an example out of him.