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During a segment with John Mercurio, senior editor of National Journal's The Hotline, on the October 30 edition of CNN's American Morning, co-host Miles O'Brien claimed that he received "a lot of emails over the weekend from the 'grassy knoll' set, and they're saying essentially that somehow the White House is going to try to engineer it so that the verdict on the Saddam Hussein trial will occur on the eve of the election, or the Sunday before, and perhaps tilt the election one way or another." O'Brien further dismissed such speculation as "the conspiracy-theory component" of the story and asked Mercurio simply to comment on the potential political effect of the verdict, the announcement of which was reportedly rescheduled from October 16 to November 5 -- two days before the midterm elections. While it cannot be said one way or the other whether the Bush administration had a hand in changing the timing of the verdict's announcement, O'Brien, in mocking such considerations as a "conspiracy theory" from "the 'grassy knoll' set," completely disregarded the facts that might lend credence to such speculation -- the Bush administration's high degree of influence over the Iraqi tribunal trying Saddam, and the administration's history of manipulating the timing of actions related to national security for political advantage.
Reuters reported on October 29 that the chief prosecutor in the case against Saddam announced that the verdict could be further delayed an additional two weeks, claiming that the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal -- the court established specifically to try Saddam and members of his former regime -- "was still working on the judgment." Reuters also noted that U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad "denied Washington had any say over the timing of the verdict or the court's decisions, saying the American role was limited to logistics and security."
From the October 30 edition of CNN's American Morning:
O'BRIEN: All right, I got a lot of emails over the weekend from the "grassy knoll" set, and they're saying essentially that somehow the White House is going to try to engineer it so that the verdict on the Saddam Hussein trial will occur on the eve of the election, or the Sunday before, and perhaps tilt the election one way or another.
Taking aside the conspiracy-theory component of this --
O'BRIEN: -- if there was that kind of news a couple of days before the election, would it change the numbers, you think?
MERCURIO: Oh, I think it could have a significant impact on the election, on the American election, absolutely. Look, this would help -- this would lend relatively credible and concrete evidence to the Bush administration and to the Republican argument that there is progress in Iraq.
I think around the country it's sort of a unanimous -- there's a unanimous -- or unanimous decision on the part of the American voters that Saddam Hussein deserves to be convicted and found guilty. So I think if he is on the eve of the election, Republicans will be able to say, look, we're making progress, stay with us -- not stay the course, but stay with us in Iraq, and we'll see further progress in the years ahead.
On the other hand, there will be an uptick in violence. But I think Americans at this point are a little bit inured to the violence, unfortunately, going on in Iraq.
O'BRIEN: John Mercurio, we'll stay the course with you every Monday at this time.
CNN also aired segments on the October 29 editions of Sunday Morning and Reliable Sources noting that Saddam's lawyer alleged that the verdict announcement had been timed to coincide with the midterm elections. As Media Matters for America noted, neither segment noted administration history.