Memo to the media: McCain's Al Qaeda-Iran gaffe not his first

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Some in the media have echoed the McCain campaign's assertion that he simply "misspoke" when he said at a March 18 press conference that Iranian operatives are "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back." In fact, McCain made the misstatement twice during the press conference, and also made it the day before on Hugh Hewitt's radio show.

In reporting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain's admittedly false claim during March 18 remarks to reporters in Amman, Jordan, that Iranian operatives are "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back," some in the media have echoed the McCain campaign's assertion that he simply "misspoke." For example, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder called it "momentary confusion" and ABC News' Jake Tapper, in a post on his blog Political Punch, wondered, "Jet lag?" In fact, as noted by Think Progress, McCain made the same misstatement to nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt during a March 17 interview, saying, "As you know, there are Al Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they're moving back into Iraq."

Ambinder, in a later blog post, said he "would be remiss if [he] didn't at least mention" that "John McCain, as has been amply documented, has flubbed the Iranian connection to Al Q at least once before."

In addition, as The Washington Post's Cameron W. Barr and Michael D. Shear reported, during the March 18 appearance in Jordan, McCain repeated the misstatement when he was "[p]ressed to elaborate" on it:

Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back."

Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was "common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that's well known. And it's unfortunate." A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate's ear. McCain then said: "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."

The mistake threatened to undermine McCain's argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists.

U.S. officials have reportedly claimed Iran is training Shiite militants; Al Qaeda is a Sunni-dominated organization.

From the March 17 edition of Salem Radio Network's The Hugh Hewitt Show:

HEWITT: Now, Senator, yesterday in Iran, President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's parliamentary party won. His hand is strengthened.

McCAIN: Yeah.

HEWITT: What's the -- what's the concern you have about Iran and about, in particular, Ahmadinejad? Some people want to meet with him. He's not on your agenda this trip.

McCAIN: The day I meet with the president of Iran will be the day after he announces his country no longer is dedicated to the extinction of the state of Israel, the day after they stop exporting these most explosive -- most lethal explosives into Iraq. Just yesterday, up in the Mosul area, they uncovered a cache of weapons, and a lot of it was these Iranian copper, high -- most lethal explosives. As you know, there are Al Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they're moving back into Iraq. I think Americans should be very angry when we know that Iran is exporting weapons into Iraq that kill Americans. And so all I can say is that I think they continue to be a threat.

Ambinder's March 18 blog post at The Atlantic:

Brain [sic] Rogers, a communications deputy over at the McCain HQ in Arlington, sends over a statement about his boss's momentary confusion in Amman, Jordan today:

"In a press conference today, John McCain misspoke and immediately corrected himself by stating that Iran is in fact supporting radical Islamic extremists in Iraq, not Al Qaeda -- as the transcript shows. Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates' judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief."

Here's the transcript:

McCain In Amman, Jordan Today:

McCain: Well, it's common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That's well known and it's unfortunate. So I believe that we are succeeding in Iraq - the situation has dramatically improved, but I also want to emphasize time and again Al Qaeda is on the run, but they are not defeated. We are seeing a major battle take place in Mosul as we speak. The southern part of Iraq has other difficulties as we well know. So I am pleased with the progress, we have a long way to go, and I am deeply concerned about Iranian influence, not only in Iraq, but on nuclear weapons; on sponsorship of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations, and if we leave Iraq it will enhance Iranian influence in the region to the detriment, I think, of every nation in the region.

McCain: I'm sorry; the Iranians are training the extremists, not Al Qaeda. Not Al Qaeda. I'm sorry.

Tapper's March 18 ABCNews.com blog post:

Err Jordan

March 18, 2008 2:22 PM

In Amman, Jordan, today, Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., seemed to step in it when he mistakenly seemed to say that the Sunni terrorists with Al Qaeda are Shiite.

The Washington Post reports McCain said that Iranian operatives were "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back."

Huh?

McCain said it's "common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that's well known. And it's unfortunate."

Watch VIDEO HERE.

One of the McCainettes, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Ind-Conn., whispered in McCain's ear. McCain then said: "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."

Jet lag?

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