(AP) The Secret Service used “profoundly bad judgment” in seeking to question a Los Angeles Times cartoonist over a political cartoon depicting a man pointing a gun at President Bush, a senior House Republican said Tuesday.
Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the Secret Service owed Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Michael Ramirez an apology “and the public is owed an explanation both of how this happened and why it will not happen again.”
The use of “federal power to attempt to influence the work of an editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times,” Cox said in a letter to U.S. Secret Service Director Ralph Basham, “reflects profoundly bad judgment.”
The Times, in an article in its Tuesday edition, said a Secret Service agent visited the paper’s Los Angeles office for what he said was a routine inquiry following the publication on Sunday of Ramirez’ cartoon. The agent talked to a Times attorney but was told he could not speak to Ramirez.
The Secret Service is responsible for looking into any perceived threats against the president.
The cartoon is a takeoff of a chilling 1968 photograph from the Vietnam War showing Vietnamese police Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a man he said was a Viet Cong in the right temple on a Saigon street.
In the cartoon, the man pointing the gun at a caricature of the president has “politics” written across his back, and there’s a sign on the street scene in the back reading “Iraq.”
The Times quoted Ramirez as saying he was not advocating violence against Bush but trying to show that the president is the target of political assassination because of the flap over faulty intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program mentioned in his State of the Union address.
“The published work on its face was well within the ample bounds of any federal law which the Secret Service is charged with enforcing,” Cox said.
Secret Service spokesman John Gill said the service “is responsive to requests from members of Congress, and we will be responsive to Chairman Cox’s request.”