Russert misled on Iraq intelligence, statements by Bush and Cheney on Iraq/9-11 link

››› ››› JOE BROWN

During an interview with Al Franken, Tim Russert objected to Franken's assertion that "[President] Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney did explicitly link Iraq to 9-11 on several occasions, especially when speaking to the naïve Russert." In fact, Cheney twice directly linked Iraq to the 9-11 attacks while appearing on Russert's NBC program Meet the Press. Additionally, while Bush "never brought ... up" the purported Iraqi link to 9-11 during a 2004 Meet the Press interview, neither did Russert, who could have asked Bush to explain a letter he sent to Congress shortly after the start of the Iraq war, in which he explicitly linked Iraq to 9-11.

During an interview with liberal radio host and author Al Franken on the April 1 edition of CNBC's Tim Russert, Russert objected to Franken's assertion -- articulated in his book The Truth (with jokes) (Dutton Adult, 2005) -- that "[President] Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney did explicitly link Iraq to 9-11 on several occasions, especially when speaking to the naïve Russert." Russert said Franken was being "very selective" in pointing to statements by Cheney linking Iraq and 9-11; in fact, Cheney twice directly linked Iraq to the 9-11 attacks while appearing on Russert's NBC program Meet the Press. Russert also asserted that Bush "never brought ... up" the purported Iraqi link to 9-11 during a 2004 Meet the Press interview -- but neither did Russert, who could have asked Bush to explain a letter he sent to Congress shortly after the start of the Iraq war, in which he explicitly linked Iraq to 9-11.

Russert's claim that Cheney never "explicitly linked" Iraq to 9-11 on Meet the Press is simply false. Although Russert argued that "five times I asked Cheney, 'Is there any direct linkage [between Iraq and 9-11]?'" and Cheney declined to assert such a linkage, Cheney did link Iraq to 9-11 during two appearances on Russert's NBC program, as Media Matters for America previously noted. When Franken noted one of the two instances, Russert maintained that what Cheney said was "not explicit," and that if Cheney ever did explicitly link Iraq to 9-11, it was "[n]ot to me." On that December 9, 2001, program, Russert asked Cheney if he "still believe[s] there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11," and the vice president responded falsely that it was "pretty well confirmed" that an Iraqi intelligence officer met with September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta shortly before the attacks.

Later in the interview, Franken identified the second instance in which Cheney explicitly linked Iraq to 9-11 on Meet the Press. On the September 14, 2003, edition of the NBC program, Cheney repeated his claim that Iraq and 9-11 are linked, saying: "If we're successful in Iraq ... we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9-11." But even with that example, Russert took issue with Franken's citation of Cheney's remarks because of other Meet the Press appearances in which Cheney admitted that he did not have foolproof evidence of an Iraqi link to 9-11.

Additionally, Russert asserted that Bush "never brought ... up" the purported Iraqi link to 9-11 during his lone February 8, 2004, interview on Meet the Press, and later accused Franken of "tak[ing] a shot and say[ing], Bush and Cheney were explicit" in linking Iraq to 9-11, but that "Bush was never explicit."

It is not clear whether Russert meant that Bush was "never explicit" in linking Iraq and 9-11 at all, or whether he meant that Bush was "never explicit" in linking Iraq to 9-11 in his Meet the Press interview. Although it is true that Bush did not explicitly link Iraq an 9-11 during his Meet the Press interview, he did explicitly link Iraq to 9-11 in a March 21, 2003, letter to the speaker of the House of Representatives and president pro tempore of the Senate, as Media Matters previously noted. In the letter, Bush stated that "the use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." Although this letter was publicly available nearly a year before Russert's Meet the Press interview with Bush, and Russert -- as he acknowledged in the Franken interview -- had previously asked Cheney whether Iraq was linked to 9-11 or Al Qaeda on Meet the Press (on September 16, 2001, and March 24, 2002), Russert did not take the opportunity to ask Bush about the letter. Franken cited the letter during his discussion with Russert, but Russert called Franken's citation of Bush's remarks "very selective."

Further, Russert's selective focus on Bush and Cheney's Meet the Press appearances overlooks numerous occasions (documented by Media Matters here) on which members of the Bush administration linked Iraq to the Al Qaeda organization, which carried out the 9-11 attacks. In its final report, the 9-11 Commission found, among other things, that Iraq was not involved in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, nor did it have any "collaborative relationship" with Al Qaeda, as the Bush administration had repeatedly asserted and implied.

From the April 1 edition of CNBC's Tim Russert:

RUSSERT: The name of the book is The Truth, and you had some fun with me in here.

FRANKEN: Yes.

RUSSERT: I'm going to ask you, if you've made a mistake, you'll correct it.

FRANKEN: Yes, absolutely.

RUSSERT: All right.

FRANKEN: In the paperback.

RUSSERT: OK. That's fine. That's fair enough.

FRANKEN: Yeah, yeah.

RUSSERT: So, it says here, page 48: "So Bush and Cheney did explicitly link Iraq to 9-11 on several occasions, especially when speaking to the naï -- to the naïve Russert." OK?

FRANKEN: Yes.

RUSSERT: You will not find anywhere George Bush linking Iraq to September 11th speaking to me. Guaranteed.

FRANKEN: What precedes it?

RUSSERT: That's the -- that's the paragraph.

FRANKEN: That was -- seems to be a conclusion of something. I mean, you know, I --

RUSSERT: "Bush made it official in his letter to Congress," but -- but I interviewed him once. Never -- never brought it up.

FRANKEN: OK, well, then I will correct it, but let me - -let me --

RUSSERT: OK, and I al --

FRANKEN: -- let me see the book. Can I see where --

RUSSERT: Sure, sure, sure. But also let me -- on Cheney, and this is -- this is -- this is interesting, because I think it's -- I think it's what Democrats and Republicans do.

FRANKEN: Mm-hmm.

RUSSERT: It's very selective.

FRANKEN: Yeah.

RUSSERT: The -- I interviewed Cheney the -- three days -- five days after September 11th. Let me just go through it, I'll give you a chance. Here it is. "Do you have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraqis to this operation?" Cheney: "No." Straight-out no.

FRANKEN: Right.

RUSSERT: OK? The next time I interviewed him, because I was intrigued by this --

FRANKEN: Mm-hmm.

RUSSERT: -- I said, "The last time we were on you said no. What can you -- you know now there's been evidence of this meeting with the -- the -- in Prague of the -- of the agents."

FRANKEN: And he said it was --

RUSSERT: "What -- what we now --"

FRANKEN: Pretty well confirmed, right?

RUSSERT: "-- has developed since you and I talked was a report, it's been pretty well confirmed that he went to Prague, but what transpired there, we simply don't know at this point. But that's clearly an avenue we want to pursue." There's no linkage between --

FRANKEN: And he said -- first of all he said --

RUSSERT: Let me--let me just --

FRANKEN: -- it was pretty well confirmed --

RUSSERT: Let me just --

FRANKEN: We all know what this is about, though.

RUSSERT: Let me just finish.

FRANKEN: This is about Mohamed Atta meeting with Iraqi security --

RUSSERT: I know, this has been a --

FRANKEN: -- going to Prague.

RUSSERT: But again, this is explicitly linking. "With respect to the connections to Al Qaeda, we haven't been able to pin down any connection." That's March 24th [2002], because I asked him again.

FRANKEN: Right.

RUSSERT: I said, peop -- the American public believes this, and -- and I want to know specifically. Then I played the tape again on September 8th, 2002, where you said no. "Has anything changed?" "I'm not here to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for September 11th. I can't say that. On the other hand," we did the interview and he goes through and talks about -- about --

FRANKEN: On the other hand --

RUSSERT: But it's not -- it's not -- again, it's not explicit. And so --

FRANKEN: The explicit link is saying --

RUSSERT: So here -- here's -- here's -- here's what I want to say, and then I'll give you a chance to talk about this. It's interesting to me.

FRANKEN: Mm-hmm.

RUSSERT: Then we come -- come back to this particular comment. "Saddam has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11th, 2001." Now, is that linkage?

FRANKEN: No, I'm not saying that he -- when pressed or at times didn't admit that he didn't have proof, because he didn't have proof, but he said that it has been pretty well confirmed that Mohamed Atta went to Prague. Now, that -- that was all about this whole thing The Weekly Standard was running, and you know this, that Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence, case closed. Remember, that's what The Weekly Standard said.

RUSSERT: But that's not what Cheney or Bush said to me.

FRANKEN: And what about Bush, Cheney saying --

RUSSERT: And just so you know, the last person I read who said this --

MFRANKEN: Yeah.

RUSSERT: Hillary Clinton.

FRANKEN: Who said what?

RUSSERT: The last quote I just read. Hillary Clinton said, "Saddam Hussein has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11th." Now, that's not explicit linkage, but it --

FRANKEN: It's close.

RUSSERT: It's close. It's very similar --

FRANKEN: Yeah, she shouldn't have said that.

RUSSERT: But it's quite striking.

[...]

FRANKEN: What I'm saying is, he also said that, and I'll bet you it's right before that part of the thing in the book --

RUSSERT: In the book?

FRANKEN: -- I -- didn't he say that we are getting them right at the nexus of where 9-11 came from?

RUSSERT: Did Bush say that?

FRANKEN: No. Cheney did.

RUSSERT: Not to me.

FRANKEN: Well, let me see what I said right before it.

RUSSERT: All right. All right. We're going to get a correction in the paperback. I'm -- I'm fine by this. This is fun.

FRANKEN: Especially the -- on several occasions -- especially -- OK, "Cheney told the wide-eyed"--"Cheney told the wide-eyed Russert what success in Iraq would mean. 'We will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9-11.' " How come when you were going through your own transcripts you didn't find that? And that's what led into this, Tim.

RUSSERT: No, no, no.

FRANKEN: J'accuse. J'accuse.

RUSSERT: Quite.

FRANKEN: Look, that's what -- and I said Bush made it official in his letter to Congress on the eve of the war, he concluded that attacking Iraq was quote, "consistent with the United States and other countries" -- and admittedly this isn't on your show -- consis --

RUSSERT: J'accuse! J'accuse.

FRANKEN: J'accuse. J'accuse.

RUSSERT: The fact -- the fact is, it's very selective.

FRANKEN: But you were equally selective.

RUSSERT: Five -- five times I asked Cheney, "Is there any direct linkage?" Why wouldn't you say that?

FRANKEN: But -- but wait a minute.

RUSSERT: Instead you take a shot and say, Bush and Cheney were explicit. Bush was never explicit, and five times Russert was explicit with Cheney.

FRANKEN: But here he's absolutely explicit here. Listen to this again, everybody. Where's the camera?

RUSSERT: All right, we're going to -- we're going to take a break. We're going to take a break. We'll be right back. We'll be right back.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
CNBC
Person
Tim Russert
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