Wash. Post ignored own reporting in repeating Freeh allegation

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

In a December 15 article by staff writers John Solomon and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum about funding for the Clinton Presidential Library, The Washington Post reported: "In an op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal last year, former FBI director Louis J. Freeh said Clinton 'hit up [Saudi Arabia's head of state] Prince Abdullah for a contribution to his library' during a meeting in which Freeh wanted Clinton to ask about the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing." Though the Post acknowledged that former President Clinton disputes this account, the newspaper ignored its own previous reporting in a 2005 article on Freeh's allegation about the Khobar Towers investigation that Freeh was not present at the meeting in question and had no firsthand knowledge of it. Indeed, Freeh acknowledged that "I was not in the room" for the meeting during the October 16, 2005, edition of NBC's Meet the Press. Further, beyond omitting the fact that Freeh was not in the meeting, by describing the meeting as "a meeting in which Freeh wanted Clinton to ask about the ... bombing," the Post affirmatively suggests that Freeh was there. Nor did the Post note that, as Media Matters has previously detailed, Freeh has given contradictory descriptions of the people who supposedly told him about the meeting.

Former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta rebutted Freeh's accusation -- first made in his book My FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton, and Fighting the War on Terror (St. Martin's Press, 2005) and repeated in a June 25, 2006, Wall Street Journal op-ed -- in a June 30, 2006, letter to the Journal:

Mr. Freeh's major claims are that President Clinton failed to press the Saudis for cooperation in investigating the attack; that his National Security Adviser Sandy Berger objected to evidence of Iranian culpability; and that the administration was unwilling to take action against Iran.

These claims (among others) are false, and were roundly refuted when his book was released last fall. Several senior Clinton administration officials, including Mr. Berger, pressed their Saudi counterparts to assist our investigation. And on Sept. 24, 1998, President Clinton delivered a forceful message in the Oval Office to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah that the future of U.S.-Saudi relations depended upon the kingdom's cooperation -- a message that was reinforced in Vice President Gore's own meeting with Prince Abdullah later that day. Five days later, on Sept. 29, the Saudis began to cooperate, leading to the granting of access, the acquisition of information and the eventual indictments of 13 Saudis and a Lebanese national.

Louis Freeh touts a request he made to former President Bush for assistance, and though I am grateful for President Bush's commitment on this, I am convinced the Saudis responded to the sitting president who was not only very tough on the subject, but who had the power to determine the future of the relationship. Mr. Freeh's allegation that the president used the conversation to seek a presidential library contribution is pure bunk. Those who were in the room find this claim to be particularly galling as Mr. Freeh wasn't even present for the meeting.

From the December 15 Washington Post article by Solomon and Birnbaum:

Clinton has been criticized for asking for donations, including from Saudi Arabia, at questionable moments. In an op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal last year, former FBI director Louis J. Freeh said Clinton "hit up [Saudi Arabia's head of state] Prince Abdullah for a contribution to his library" during a meeting in which Freeh wanted Clinton to ask about the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. Clinton has publicly disputed Freeh's account.

From an October 9, 2005, Post article by Howard Kurtz:

Under strong pressure from former president Bill Clinton's advisers, CBS's "60 Minutes" has agreed to read a statement denying an explosive charge being made on tonight's program by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh.

In the statement, Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, challenges Freeh's assertion that Clinton failed to press then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to cooperate with an investigation of the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and used the occasion to ask for a contribution to his presidential library. The Saudis made such a donation last year -- six years after the 1998 meeting.

Berger, who was at the meeting, said: "The president strongly raised the need for Saudi officials to cooperate with us on the investigation into the attack on Khobar Towers at the time when the FBI was attempting to gain access to the suspects. The president did not raise in any fashion the issue of his library."

Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said he told CBS's Mike Wallace that he had supportive accounts from five other former officials who were at the meeting, including those briefed about a private conversation between Clinton and Abdullah. Freeh was not there, and Carson said Wallace told him he had not spoken to the source upon whom Freeh relied for his account.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Jeff Birnbaum, John Solomon
Stories/Interests
Freeh's "My FBI", Propaganda/Noise Machine
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