The political fallout from Richard Clarke’s 60 Minutes interview should, if there is any justice in the world, be swift and devastating. Clarke came across as someone very well-informed on terrorism in general and al Qaeda in particular. His story is consistent with Paul O’Neil’s: from day one, before 9/11, the administration ignored warnings about terrorism and instead focused on the strategic initiatives of the prior Bush administration, Iraq and Nuclear Missile Defense. Clarke:
Frankly,” he said, “I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We’ll never know.”
And, based on Clarke’s telling, the administration’s Iraq focus didn’t shift after the attacks:
“The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, ‘I want you to find whether Iraq did this.’ Now he never said, ‘Make it up.’ But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.
“I said, ‘Mr. President. We’ve done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There’s no connection.’
“He came back at me and said, “Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there’s a connection.’ And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report.”
Clarke continued, “It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, ‘Will you sign this report?’ They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, ‘Wrong answer. … Do it again.’
“I have no idea, to this day, if the president saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don’t think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don’t think he sees memos that he doesn’t– wouldn’t like the answer.”
Worse for the administration, the person chosen to rebut Clarke’s charges, Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, was entirely unconvincing — vacillating and issuing non-denial denials. For example,
Hadley asserts Clarke is “just wrong” in saying the administration didn’t go to battle stations.
As for the alleged pressure from Mr. Bush to find an Iraq-9/11 link, Hadley says, “We cannot find evidence that this conversation between Mr. Clarke and the president ever occurred.”
When told by Stahl that 60 Minutes has two sources who tell us independently of Clarke that the encounter happened, including “an actual witness,” Hadley responded, “Look, I stand on what I said.”