CNN host Wolf Blitzer noted that President Bush mentioned the 9-11 attacks in his June 28 speech on the war in Iraq, but he left out a key fact: Even Bush has acknowledged that there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9-11. NBC News made a similar omission in its coverage following Bush's speech.
On the June 29 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, Blitzer showed a clip of an interview with Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC), who claimed that "the evidence is very clear" that Saddam was involved in 9-11 but that he couldn't provide specific evidence because only congressmen "get access to it." Blitzer then asked R. Nicholas Burns, deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs: "Have you seen evidence there, Mr. Secretary, of a direct link between Saddam Hussein and those who perpetrated 9-11?" Burns did not respond directly but hinted that such a link did exist. "Wolf, I would just refer to you what the president said last night. He did refer to 9-11," he said. Blitzer did not inform viewers that both Bush and the 9-11 commission have contradicted the claim that Saddam was involved in the 9-11 attacks.
Blitzer's treatment of Burns contrasts with CNN anchor Carol Costello's interview of Hayes earlier in the day. Blitzer showed the clip of Hayes's claim, but not Costello's response, in which she insisted, "There's no evidence of that."
Here's Blitzer interview with Burns, including the clip of Hayes, from the June 29 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports:
BLITZER: Let's get to the president's speech last night. Reaction mixed. A lot of the critics still very critical. Listen to what the editorial writers of The New York Times wrote today. They said, "We did not expect Mr. Bush would apologize for the misinformation that helped lead us into this war or for the catastrophic mistakes his team made in running the military operation. But we had hoped he would resist the temptation to raise the bloody flag of 9-11 over and over again to justify a war in a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks."
Was that appropriate for the president to repeatedly make the connection?
BURNS: Wolf, I think so. I think the president had a responsibility last evening, and he took it, to assure the American people that we were right to go in a little over two years ago, that there is a plan in place that's going to allow the United States to do what it said it would do, and that's protect the Iraqi people and give them time to build the political capacity to run their own affairs, train their army.
And the president looked forward last night. The great majority of that speech was looking forward as to how we can emerge in our friendship with the Iraqis victorious. And victory would be the Iraqis stand up, they take control of their own country, they have a democracy, they have a constitution.
And despite all of the violence of the last several weeks and months, there is a reason to believe that the Iraqis are pointed forward themselves with some degree of optimism about the future.
BLITZER: One congressman from North Carolina, Robin Hayes, earlier this morning here on CNN told our Carol Costello that there was a connection between 9-11 and Saddam Hussein. Listen precisely to what Robin Hayes said.
HAYES [clip]: We get access to it. Unfortunately, others don't. But the evidence is very clear.
BLITZER: Have you seen evidence there, Mr. Secretary, of a direct link between Saddam Hussein and those who perpetrated 9-11?
BURNS: Wolf, I would just refer to you what the president said last night. He did refer to 9-11. He also referred to the fact that our most important national objective now is to help the Iraqis, is to help them militarily, is to give them political support.
And I was in Brussels, Europe, last week with Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice. And there was a tremendous amount of support from the international community for Iraq itself. So I think it's more important to concentrate on the future, on what we can do in 2005 to help that government.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the future, specifically NATO. You're the former U.S. ambassador to NATO.
Here's the rest of Costello's interview with Hayes, including the portion that Blitzer did not excerpt, from the June 29 edition of CNN Live at Daybreak:
COSTELLO: President Bush said in his speech we're there to fight terrorists. But he failed to explain how a war to remove a dictator bent on using nuclear weapons has turned into a fight against Muslim militants. Doesn't he owe us an explanation?
HAYES: He gave us a very good explanation of what the war is about. It's winning the war against terror and people that would kill us, innocent women and children. This is about a military action against ruthless, brutal killers who have no conscience whatsoever.
COSTELLO: Well, we understand that.
HAYES: It's about destroying us.
COSTELLO: But that's not what it started out, when the United States invaded Iraq. It's changed, hasn't it?
HAYES: I don't think it's changed at all. It's very clear that terrorists are connected to what Saddam Hussein was all about. And that again faces up to the most severe threat going forward --
COSTELLO: But there is no --
HAYES: We have to do a good job explaining --
COSTELLO:-- evidence that Saddam Hussein was connected in any way to Al Qaeda.
HAYES: Ma'am, I'm sorry, but you're mistaken. There's evidence everywhere. We get access to it, unfortunately others don't. But the evidence is very clear.
COSTELLO: What evidence is there?
HAYES: The connection between individuals who were connected to Saddam Hussein, folks who worked for him, we've seen it time and time again. But the issue is: Where are we now? Nobody disputes 9-11. They would do that again if not prevented. Preventing 9-11 wherever it might happen in America, winning the war overseas, not bringing it here to our shores, is the issue in that regard.
COSTELLO: Well, are you saying that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9-11?
HAYES: I'm saying that Saddam Hussein -- and I think you're losing track of what we're trying to talk about here -- Saddam Hussein and people like him were very much involved in 9-11. Did he make the phone call and say --
COSTELLO: There's no evidence of that.
HAYES: Well, I'm sorry, you haven't looked in the right places.
COSTELLO: I must not have, because I know of no evidence connecting Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda. And, also, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And many people writing to us this morning wanted the president to explain those things.
HAYES: Well, we would be glad to explain it. I'd love to talk to those people face-to-face because hundreds of thousands of Kurds were gassed and killed, biological weapons were used. Fortunately, nuclear weapons weren't there. That's one smoking gun we didn't find. But it's very clear he would have used it if he could. The terrorists that remain would clearly use nuclear, biological, chemical, any other kind of weapon to destroy you, me and our families.