On June 21, FOX News Channel co-host Sean Hannity repeated the false claim that former President Bill Clinton refused an offer from Sudan to turn over Osama bin Laden to the United States in 1996, even though the 9-11 Commission found no "reliable evidence to support" the claim that Sudan made such an offer. This false claim originated in a 2002 article by the right-wing news site NewsMax.com that distorted a 2002 statement by Clinton. Lanny J. Davis, former White House special counsel to Clinton, pointed out that Hannity was lying, but Hannity persisted.
From the June 21 edition of FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: Here's what bothers me. Is Bill Clinton gave a speech and he said "I couldn't take him [Osama bin Laden] for legal reasons, so I tried to get Saudi Arabia to take him but it was too hot a potato." He admitted to the Sudan offer.
DAVIS: No. That's a lie.
HANNITY: He offered it. It's not a lie. I have the tape, Lanny.
DAVIS: It is.
HANNITY: Lanny, I have the tape of the speech.
DAVIS: And I've heard tape. You've played it for me. He never refused, never refused to take Osama bin Laden.
HANNITY: How can he offer -- "I asked Saudi Arabia to take him but it was too hot a potato" -- how can he offer bin Laden to them if he doesn't have him?
The truth is that Clinton never offered Osama bin Laden to Saudi Arabia. Hannity distorted a remark Clinton made in a speech to the Long Island Association's annual luncheon on February 15, 2002, in which Clinton said that he "pleaded with the Saudis" to accept Sudan's offer to hand bin Laden to Saudi Arabia. Sudan never offered bin Laden to the United States. Hannity's mention of "the tape" is a reference to a video of this speech. NewsMax.com obtained a video of the speech in 2002 and began hyping the supposed Clinton "admission" (see transcript and listen to the audio). In fact, Clinton did not "admit" to the Sudan offer in that speech or anywhere else. Here's the relevant portion of Clinton's remarks to the Long Island Association:
CLINTON: So we tried to be quite aggressive with them [Al Qaeda]. We got -- well, Mr. bin Laden used to live in Sudan. He was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991, then he went to Sudan. And we'd been hearing that the Sudanese wanted America to start dealing with them again. They released him. At the time, 1996, he had committed no crime against America, so I did not bring him here because we had no basis on which to hold him, though we knew he wanted to commit crimes against America. So I pleaded with the Saudis to take him, 'cause they could have. But they thought it was a hot potato and they didn't and that's how he wound up in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, during his June 20 interview on 60 Minutes with CBS anchor Dan Rather, Clinton categorically denied that such an offer was made: "'There was a story which is factually inaccurate that the Sudanese offered bin Laden to us,' says Mr. Clinton. 'As far as I know, there is not a shred of evidence of that.'"
No one involved in the 1996 negotiations apart from former officials of Sudan -- a country that the U.S. State Department has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism every year since 1993 -- has verified the claim that Sudan offered bin Laden to the United States. In light of this lack of evidence, the 9-11 Commission "Staff Statement No. 5," issued in March, rejected the Sudanese claim:
Former Sudanese officials claim that Sudan offered to expel Bin Ladin to the United States. Clinton administration officials deny ever receiving such an offer. We have not found any reliable evidence to support the Sudanese claim.
Sudan did offer to expel Bin Ladin to Saudi Arabia and asked the Saudis to pardon him. U.S. officials became aware of these secret discussions, certainly by March 1996. The evidence suggests that the Saudi government wanted Bin Ladin expelled from Sudan, but would not agree to pardon him. The Saudis did not want Bin Ladin back in their country at all.
Nonetheless, Hannity picked up the claim in his book, Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism (released in February by ReganBooks), and he repeats it regularly on Hannity & Colmes (cf. 12/19/03, 3/23/04, 3/26/04, 4/19/04).