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Published: Wednesday, 8/18/2004

Katherine the storyteller

THE woman who was at the epicenter of the disputed 2000 presidential election in Florida got carried away with her political loyalties again.

You remember Katherine Harris. As secretary of state, she brushed off widespread voting irregularities to help Gov. Jeb Bush claim the Sunshine State and the White House for his older brother.

Her political allegiance paid off. Ms. Harris is now part of the Republican majority in Congress. But her partisan blinders were firmly in place as she campaigned clumsily for the election of George W. Bush.

Apparently trying to reinforce the image of a forceful and effective administration under Mr. Bush, Ms. Harris spoke publicly about a terrorist plot that didn t exist and classified intelligence that wasn t.

Echoing a Bush campaign theme that the President has made the country safer, she boasted that a vigilant government had thwarted more than 100 potential terrorist plots. The Florida lawmaker decided to ratchet up the fear factor by telling supporters at a Bush rally that terrorist plots had been uncovered and foiled in the heartland.

Ms. Harris held the crowd with a story she heard about a plot in Carmel, Ind., to blow up its power grid. She repeated the story to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune with more details, describing a man of Middle Eastern heritage who had been arrested at a home where hundreds of pounds of explosives were found.

He had plans to blow up the area s entire power grid, declared Ms. Harris, according to the newspaper.

All of which was news to police in Carmel, who disputed Ms. Harris tale, saying no one was aware of any plans to blow up the power grid in the northern Indianapolis suburb. The congresswoman turned apologetic when confronted with the facts.

I regret that I had no knowledge of the sensitive nature of this situation and any undue concern this may have caused, she said.

But more undue concern was caused by Ms. Harris standing by her disclosures of the administration s success in thwarting potential terrorist threats over the last three years. Actually, it s been more than 100, the congresswoman is quoted as saying, It s classified obviously not classified to me but things I can t go into details about.

Never mind that disclosing classified information is against the law and members of Congress take an oath not to reveal such secret information.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Harris quickly insisted her boss was misquoted and stressed the information the lawmaker revealed about thwarted terrorist plots came from administration statements and not classified venues.

Four years after the Florida fiasco, a little bit of Katherine Harris still goes a long way.

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