Where to begin… First of all, James is treating Cheney’s “own account” as proof he arrived at the PEOC “shortly before 10:00 a.m.” Which account is he referring to? It couldn’t be this recent one from the same speech James is referencing. That account says, “when radar caught sight of an airliner heading toward the White House at 500 miles an hour. That was Flight 77” [...] “With the plane still inbound, Secret Service agents came into my office and said we had to leave, now. A few moments later I found myself in a fortified White House command post somewhere down below.”
Flight 93 never came within 50, 30, or 10 miles of Washington D.C. so the plane the “young man” was referring to according to Mineta was, in fact, Flight 77.
Anyway… as James points out, shoot-down orders weren’t issued by Cheney until 10:18. If Cheney was in the bunker before the Pentagon was hit, and the conversation between the “young man” and Cheney that Mineta referenced took place at 9:25, then what orders were they? Why did the “young man” question them by asking “do the orders still stand?” Why was that “young man” never named? Why was he never brought before the 9/11 Commission to testify? If the conversation that took place between the “young man” and Cheney took place at 9:25, and referenced already given orders, than those orders were given before 9:25.
What orders were they? - Jon
—By James Ridgeway
Sun May 24, 2009 9:43 PM PST
Say what you will about Dick Cheney, at least he’s consistent. While he was in office, the Vice President made a practice of exploiting the fear and loss wrought by the 9/11 attacks to advance his own political agenda—and he’s still doing it now. During his speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, according to Dana Milbank’s calculations in the Washington Post, “Cheney used the word ‘attack’ 19 times, ‘danger’ and ‘threat’ six times apiece, and 9/11 an impressive 27 times.” Read the rest of this entry »
Hat tip to simuvac who caught this here (no, he wasn’t the source for Dr. Scott). - Jon
May 22, 2009
Peter Dale Scott
Here is an excerpt from the text of what Cheney said at the American Enterprise Institute on May 21, 2009:
“For me, one of the defining experiences was the morning of 9/11 itself. As you might recall, I was in my office in that first hour, when radar caught sight of an airliner heading toward the White House at 500 miles an hour. That was Flight 77, the one that ended up hitting the Pentagon. With the plane still inbound, Secret Service agents came into my office and said we had to leave, now. A few moments later I found myself in a fortified White House command post somewhere down below.
There in the bunker came the reports and images that so many Americans remember from that day - word of the crash in Pennsylvania, the final phone calls from hijacked planes, the final horror for those who jumped to their death to escape burning alive. In the years since, I’ve heard occasional speculation that I’m a different man after 9/11. I wouldn’t say that. But I’ll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.”
The first radar sighting of a plane approaching Washington was at 9:21 AM. In other words Cheney has confirmed his first account (and ours) that he was taken from his office earlier than 9:36 AM (as claimed in the 9/11 Report, p. 39), and first arrived in the bunker much earlier than “shortly before 10:00; perhaps at 9:58″ (9/11 Report, p. 40, citing Cheney interview with Newsweek, November 19, 2001). There were of course no images to watch for some time from the crash in Pennsylvania, as opposed to the Pentagon.
What Cheney said yesterday adds nothing to his first account on September 16, 2001, but clearly discredits his second conflicting account for Newsweek two months later. (Cf. Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11, 197-98, 200-01).
Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment about Mr. Cheney’s speech. Neurotic. Paranoid. False to fact and false to reason. Forever self-rationalizing. His inner rage at his own impotence and failure dripping from every word and as irrational, as separated from the real world, as dishonest, as insane, as any terrorist.
The former vice president has today humiliated himself beyond redemption.
The delusional claims he has made this day could be proved by documentation and first-hand testimony to be the literal truth, and still he himself would be wrong, because the America he sought to impose upon the world and upon its own citizens, the dark hateful place of Dick Cheney’s own soul, the place he to this hour defends and to this day prefers, is a repudiation of all that our ancestors, all that for which our brave troops of 200 years ago and two minutes ago, have sacrificed and fought.
I do have to congratulate you, Sir. No man living or dead could have passed the buck more often than you did in 35 minutes this morning. It’s not your fault we water-boarded people, you said. It isn’t torture, you said, even though it is based on 111 years of American military prosecutions. It was in the Constitution that you could do it, even if our laws told you, you could not. It was in
It produced invaluable information, you said, even though the first-hand witnesses, the interrogators of these beasts, said the information preceded the torture and ended when it began. It was authorized, you said, by careful legal opinion, even though the legal opinions were dictated by you and your cronies, and, oh by the way, the torture began before the legal opinions were even written. It was authorized, you said, and you imply even if it really wasn’t, it was done to “only detainees of the highest intelligence value.”
It was more necessary, you said, because of the revelation of another program by the real villains, the New York Times, even though that revelation was possible because the program was detailed on the front page of the website of a defense department sub-contractor. It was all the fault of your predecessors, you said, who tried to treat terror as a “law enforcement problem,” before you came to office and rode to the rescue… after you totally ignored terrorism for the first 20 percent of your first term and the worst attack on this nation in its history unfolded on your watch.
“9/11 caused everyone to take a serious second look at threats that had been gathering for awhile,” you said today, “and enemies whose plans were getting bolder and more sophisticated.” Gee, thanks for being motivated, by the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans, to go so far as to “take a serious second look.” And thank you, Sir, for admitting, obviously inadvertently, that you did not take a serious first look in the seven months and 23 days between your inauguration and 9/11.
For that attack, Sir, you are culpable, morally, ethically. At best you were guilty of malfeasance and eternally-lasting stupidity. At worst, Sir, in the deaths of 9/11, you are negligent. The circular logic, and the self-righteous sophistry, falls from a copy of Mr. Cheney’s speech like bugs from a book on a moldy shelf. He still believes in “dictators like Saddam Hussein with known ties to Mideast terrorists.” He still assumes everyone we captured is guilty without charge or trial, but that to prosecute law-breaking by government officials is “to have an incoming administration criminalize the policy decisions of its predecessors.”
And most sleazy of all, while calling the CIA torturers “honorable,” he insists the grunts at Abu Ghraib were “a few sadistic prison guards (who) abused inmates in violation of American law, military regulations, and simple decency” even though — and maybe he doesn’t know we know this — even though there is documentary proof that those guards were acting on orders originating in the office of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.
It is, in short, madness.Madness, Sir. Mr. Cheney, your speech was almost entirely about you. There are only five or six other people even mentioned, and only two quoted at any length. And why would you have quoted, as you did, the man who said this. “I know that this program saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney continued his unprecedented attack on a young presidential administration Wednesday.
Even though Cheney’s predecessor, former Vice President Al Gore, waited a few years before hitting the Bush Administration, the media made sure to remind viewers that such instances were rare, and many hinted that he was wrong to do so, despite waiting. Meanwhile, Cheney, whose popularity ranks lower than most politicians past and present and who may conceivably face future charges for his role in countless alleged illegal acts and decisions, continues to garner tons of attention from the press.
Cheney’s speech at the American Enterprise Institute entitled “Keeping America Safe” - which began after President Obama’s speech ended though it was scheduled before - is garnering live coverage on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel.
At Washington Independent, David Weigel reports that the speech will refer to 9/11 25 times. The former administration faced a lot of criticism from the left for pulling the “9/11 card” out anytime it found itself in a jam.
Weigel writes, “Cheney talks about the run-up to 9/11, the events of 9/11, where he was on 9/11 (’I’ll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities’), the aftermath of 9/11 (’We could count on almost universal support back then, because everyone understood the environment we were in’), the temporary patriotism of the media (’After 9/11, the Times had spent months publishing the pictures and the stories of everyone killed by al-Qaeda on 9/11?), the threat of a ‘9/11 with nuclear weapons,’ and how the administration prevented another 9/11. In all, he mentions ‘September 11? or ‘9/11? 25 times.”
In the years since, I’ve heard occasional speculation that I’m a different man after 9/11. I wouldn’t say that. But I’ll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.
The key to any strategy is accurate intelligence, and skilled professionals to get that information in time to use it. In seeking to guard this nation against the threat of catastrophic violence, our Administration gave intelligence officers the tools and lawful authority they needed to gain vital information. We didn’t invent that authority. It is drawn from Article Two of the Constitution. And it was given specificity by the Congress after 9/11, in a Joint Resolution authorizing “all necessary and appropriate force” to protect the American people.
Our government prevented attacks and saved lives through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which let us intercept calls and track contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and persons inside the United States. The program was top secret, and for good reason, until the editors of the New York Times got it and put it on the front page. After 9/11, the Times had spent months publishing the pictures and the stories of everyone killed by al-Qaeda on 9/11. Now here was that same newspaper publishing secrets in a way that could only help al-Qaeda. It impressed the Pulitzer committee, but it damn sure didn’t serve the interests of our country, or the safety of our people.
In the years after 9/11, our government also understood that the safety of the country required collecting information known only to the worst of the terrorists. And in a few cases, that information could be gained only through tough interrogations.
In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.
Our successors in office have their own views on all of these matters.
By presidential decision, last month we saw the selective release of documents relating to enhanced interrogations. This is held up as a bold exercise in open government, honoring the public’s right to know. We’re informed, as well, that there was much agonizing over this decision.
Yet somehow, when the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth. The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release. For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers.
Over on the left wing of the president’s party, there appears to be little curiosity in finding out what was learned from the terrorists. The kind of answers they’re after would be heard before a so-called “Truth Commission.” Some are even demanding that those who recommended and approved the interrogations be prosecuted, in effect treating political disagreements as a punishable offense, and political opponents as criminals. It’s hard to imagine a worse precedent, filled with more possibilities for trouble and abuse, than to have an incoming administration criminalize the policy decisions of its predecessors.
Apart from doing a serious injustice to intelligence operators and lawyers who deserve far better for their devoted service, the danger here is a loss of focus on national security, and what it requires. I would advise the administration to think very carefully about the course ahead. All the zeal that has been directed at interrogations is utterly misplaced. And staying on that path will only lead our government further away from its duty to protect the American people.
Maybe you’ve heard that when we captured KSM, he said he would talk as soon as he got to New York City and saw his lawyer. But like many critics of interrogations, he clearly misunderstood the business at hand. American personnel were not there to commence an elaborate legal proceeding, but to extract information from him before al-Qaeda could strike again and kill more of our people.
In public discussion of these matters, there has been a strange and sometimes willful attempt to conflate what happened at Abu Ghraib prison with the top secret program of enhanced interrogations. At Abu Ghraib, a few sadistic prison guards abused inmates in violation of American law, military regulations, and simple decency. For the harm they did, to Iraqi prisoners and to America’s cause, they deserved and received Army justice. And it takes a deeply unfair cast of mind to equate the disgraces of Abu Ghraib with the lawful, skillful, and entirely honorable work of CIA personnel trained to deal with a few malevolent men.
I might add that people who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about “values.” Intelligence officers of the United States were not trying to rough up some terrorists simply to avenge the dead of 9/11. We know the difference in this country between justice and vengeance. Intelligence officers were not trying to get terrorists to confess to past killings; they were trying to prevent future killings. From the beginning of the program, there was only one focused and all-important purpose. We sought, and we in fact obtained, specific information on terrorist plans.
Those are the basic facts on enhanced interrogations. And to call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives, and to cast terrorists and murderers as innocent victims. What’s more, to completely rule out enhanced interrogation methods in the future is unwise in the extreme. It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness, and would make the American people less safe.
I was reminded of this, which must be my favorite clip of all time, something John Stewart deserves a medal for, and something Ray McGovern deserves a statue for. Take note of Rumsfeld’s “positive” twist at the end. Something John calls him out on. - Jon
Well, I think that the most important, the most compelling, was 9/11 itself, and what that entailed, what we had to deal with, the way in which that changed the nation and set the agenda for what we’ve had to deal with as an administration.
WALLACE: Can I add, sir, (ph) that’s also your lowest moment?
CHENEY: Sure. Yes.
Chris Wallace actually had to remind him that it was a low point.
Cheney, you are a bastard, and you belong in prison.
WASHINGTON—Busy dealing with important paperwork and other vice presidential duties in recent weeks, Dick Cheney was forced to put off until the last minute a cherished annual tradition: gift-shopping for his favorite holiday, 9/11.
“I looked at the calendar yesterday, and I couldn’t believe my eyes—9/11 is almost here!” a rosy-cheeked Cheney said upon returning to the White House Sunday with two giant bags overflowing with gift-wrapped boxes and big red bows. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
I’ve transcribed some of the pages having to do with Cheney from Phil Shenon’s book, “The Commission“. The back cover says, “How Vice President Cheney tried to pressure the Commission to change its assessment of his actions on 9/11, and how he may have tried to cover up his role.”
Daschle would be out of his job as majority leader in January, when the new Republicans would be sworn in. The GOP already controlled the House. Daschle figured that with Republicans in full control on Capitol Hill, Congress would be out of the business of oversight, especially when it came to September 11 and the performance of the Bush White House in dealing with the threat of al-Qaeda before and after the attacks.
It had become clearer and clearer to Daschle and other Democrats–and to the Washington press corps and even some Republicans–that the White House was hiding something, perhaps many things, about what Bush knew about al-Qaeda threats before 9/11.
To Daschle, that explained why Bush and Cheney had taken such a personal role in the campaign to try to block any outside review of September 11, especially the creation of the commission. Daschle had heard through Trent Lott, his Republican counterpart, that Karl Rove and the White House political office had orchestrated the behind-the-scenes effort to block legislation to create the commission. “It’s all Rove,” Lott told Daschle.
In January 2002, before Congress had scheduled its first public hearings on pre-9/11 intelligence failures, Cheney called Daschle personally to complain about any public airing of the issues. Cheney’s tone with Daschle was polite but threatening. Daschle, who was being interviewed by a Newsweek reporter when the vice president’s call came through, was smart enough to allow the reporter to remain in the office to listen to Daschle’s end of the conversation. Daschle wanted a witness.
The vice president urged Daschle to shut down any additional public hearings on 9/11, warning him that a public discussion of intelligence errors before the attacks would do damage to the struggle to capture bin Laden and destroy al-Qaeda–and would do political damage to the Democrats as well.
“Mr. Majority Leader, this would be a very dangerous and time-consuming diversion for those of us who are on the front lines of our response today,” Cheney said. “We just can’t be tied down with the problems that this would present for us. We’ve got our hands full.” Daschle remembered the tone as vintage Cheney” “muffled, kind of under the breath, quiet, measure, very deliberate.”
If the Democrats went forward anyway, Cheney said, the White House would portray the Democrats–by daring to investigate what went wrong on 9/11–as undermining the war against terror. That was a potent political threat at a time, four months after the attacks, when Bush was riding as high in opinion polls as he ever would Democrats were facing a difficult midterm election in November 2002 as a result.
“I respectfully disagree with your position, Mr. Vice President,” Daschle replied. “It is imperative that we try to find out what happened on September 11 and why.”
To Dashle, it was preposterous for the White House to argue that 9/11 should go uninvestigated. He knew that modern American history offered plenty of support for an independent investigation. From Pearl Harbor to the Kennendy assassination to the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, “there’s been a review of what happened after every tragedy this nation has experience,” Daschle said.
In January 2003, Graham and the other members of the committee were still the focus of a criminal investigation by the FBI into whether someone on the panel had leaked classified information. A report on CNN on June 19, 2002, revealed the wording of messages sent among al-Qaeda sympathizers in the days and hours before 9/11. The messages (”Tomorrow is zero day,” “The match is tomorrow”) were intercepted by the National Security Agency but not translated from the original Arabic until after the attacks. The CNN report aired only hours after the messages were shared with Graham’s Committee.
The leaks resulted in a fierce White House protest. Vice President Cheney called Graham at home.
“What the hell is going on, Bob?” Cheney asked. “We have tried to be as cooperative as possible, but we cannot tolerate this leakage to the press. If this continues, we will terminate our assistance to the committee.” Graham thought Cheney’s warning “disingenuous and pompous,” but he felt compelled to call in the FBI. Without some sort of leak investigation, Graham thought, the White House would follow through on Cheney’s threat and shut down all cooperation.
The feelings of relief were not universally held in the White House. Dick Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, were outraged by the commission’s timeline on Cheney’s actions on September 11–and the clear suggestion that Cheney had issued an unconstitutional shoot-down order that morning without Bush’s knowledge or approval.
Kean learned about Cheney’s outrage a few days before the report’s release when he was pulled aside for a phone call. It was Cheney, who made it clear he was angry. He was demanding that the sections be rewritten to remove the insinuation.
“Governor, this is not true, just not fair”, Cheney told Kean, according to other commissioners who later heard Kean describe the call. Cheney said he thought it was startling that the commission did not accept the word of the president of the United States and the vice-president. “The president told you, I have told you, that the president issued the order. I was following his directions.”
The truth, Kean knew, was that the staff did not believe what Bush and Cheney were saying. Kean ended the call by promising the vice president that he would ask the staff to give the material about the shoot-down another review before publication. But no major changes were made.
To the surprise of some of the commissioners and the staff, there was no similar protest from Cheney or anyone else in the White House over the commission’s conclusion that there was no significant alliance between al-Qaeda and Iraq. After the earlier blowup with Cheney over Iraq, the staff had gone back and reviewed everything the commission had in its files about the ties between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. At the end of it, the staff was more convinced than ever that there had been no serious collaboration between the terrorists and the Iraqis, no matter how much the administration wanted to cling to the idea to justify the war.
Someone asked me about why George Bush and Dick Cheney weren’t under oath in front of the 9/11 Commission. I don’t know if you remember or not, but at the time, the media pundits were heavy on the idea that President’s don’t testify under oath. This is just one example of that, but I remember vividly a lot of people saying it. The person referenced on this page contradicts himself when he says, “Presidents do not go under oath” followed by “the one exception in recent years was Bill Clinton.” He also says that Ronald Reagan did not testify under oath, however, according to the New York Times, that was not the case. “At one point, Mr. Reagan acknowledged the accuracy of one of his written answers provided under oath to the independent prosecutor for use before the Federal grand jury investigating the Iran-contra affair.” [New York Times, 2/24/1990] - Jon
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney met with the 9/11 Commission in a closed-door session at the White House on Thursday. Jim Lehrer discusses the historical significance of their meeting with presidential historians Michael Beschloss and Richard Norton Smith.
JIM LEHRER: The 9/11 commission at the White House. After meeting with the commissioners in the Oval Office President Bush spoke to reporters in the Rose Garden.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The vice president and I just finished a good conversation with the 9/11 commission. It was wide-ranging, it was important. It was just a good discussion, and I really appreciated the members.
I want to thank the chairman and vice chairman for bringing the commission here and giving us a chance to share views on different subjects, and they had a lot of good questions. And I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I took the time. This is an important commission, and it’s important that they asked the questions they asked so that they can help make recommendations necessary to better protect our homeland. But it was a… I enjoyed it. Let me ask… answer a couple of questions.
REPORTER: Mr. President, what topic did the commissioners want to spend most of the time on? And were there any subjects that you didn’t answer or were advised by your counsel not to answer?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No, I was never advised by my counsel not to answer anything. I answered every question they asked. I really… it’s probably best that I not go into the details of the conversation, and let them incorporate into their report.
There was a lot of interest… a lot of interest in about how to better protect America . In other words, they’re very interested in the recommendations that they’re going to lay out, and I’m interested in those as well. It was a very cordial conversation. I was impressed by the questions. And it was, I think it helped them understand how I think, and how I run the White House, and how we deal with threats. John.
REPORTER: Mr. President, as you know, a lot of critics suggested that you wanted to appear jointly with the vice president so that you two could keep your stories straight or something.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah.
REPORTER: Could you tell us what you think of the value of appearing together and how you would answer those critics?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah, first of all, look, I mean, if we had something to hide, we wouldn’t have met with them in the first place. I came away good about the session, because I wanted them to know, you know, how I set strategy, how we run the White House, how we deal with threats.
The vice president answered a lot of their questions, answered all their questions. And I think it was important for them to see our body language as well, how we work together.
REPORTER: Can you say with any confidence that there are no al-Qaida operatives active in the country today?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No, I can’t say that.
REPORTER: Did the commission ask you about that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No, they didn’t, but I’m not going to get into anymore details about what they asked me. I told you I wasn’t going to get into details about what they asked me, and I just fell into your trap.
But no let me talk about vulnerabilities, and then I got to get back to work. We are still vulnerable to attack. And the reason why is al-Qaida still exists. Al-Qaida is dangerous, al-Qaida hates us.
But people need to know we’re working. We ,the government, at all levels, are working long hours to protect America. We’re doing the best we can. The best way to secure America , however, is to stay on the offensive and bring those people to justice before they harm America again.
Thursday’s meeting in an historical context
JIM LEHRER: And now to presidential historians, Michael Beschloss, and Richard Norton Smith, who’s director of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield , Illinois. Richard, words like extraordinary and historic were thrown around today to describe what President Bush and Vice President Cheney did today in testifying before the commission. Do those words apply?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: I think they do, Jim. For once the word historic is not an overstatement of what transpired today. Presidents have met with commissions in the White House in the past, but usually they have been commissions of their own creation. Lyndon Johnson, of course, created the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy, and he met with the commissioners in a very informal and certainly not in anyway confrontational setting. Certainly he was not under oath. That is one precedent.
Ronald Reagan created the Tower Commission in an attempt or belated attempt to get out in front of the congressional investigation of Iran-Contra and Judge Walsh, the special prosecutor. Reagan named three members, including Senator John Tower, Edmund Muskie and Brent Scowcroft. He met with those members.
Again, it was an informal, not under oath, and interestingly, the commission established its own credibility and bolstered the administration’s credibility when it came out with a report that was quite critical of Reagan’s management style.
JIM LEHRER: Then there was Pearl Harbor , was there not, Michael?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: There was. Richard is giving Johnson more credit than he deserves.
JIM LEHRER: I was going to ask you about that.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Johnson actually refused to meet with the Warren Commission. He wrote them a letter. One reason was something I think is germane here — he was worried if he met with members of the Michael BeschlossWarren Commission, he might be caught saying something that later on turned out not to be true or allowed someone to somehow say that Johnson had not behaved well at the time of the Kennedy assassination.
]JIM LEHRER: So he did not meet with the commission?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: He did not.
JIM LEHRER: Sorry about that Richard.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: He wrote a letter. What can I do? We’ll have to have jeopardy another time. That’s why this is so unusual. The Pearl Harbor Commission that was appointed during world war II, while the war was still on, Roosevelt did not meet with them.
He felt to meet with a commission as a commander-in-chief, he might say things that would harm the war effort. No one really questioned. That this is not a free-floating anxiety because when Reagan did meet with the Tower Commission on Iran-Contra, he gave two different versions about when he approved the sale of missiles to Iran. Had that been a more confrontational commission, Reagan could have been in very hot water.
The impact of the meeting in an election year
JIM LEHRER: They didn’t really hammer him about it. They pointed it out in their report, but they didn’t really hammer him, did they?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: That’s right. Can you imagine in the atmosphere of 2004 with a president running for reelection in a white-hot political atmosphere, the same thing probably wouldn’t happen this year.
JIM LEHRER: Richard, much has been made… you do stand corrected, right, and you’re sorry you said that…
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: You know what, now you know why they call history argument without end. I’ll tell you what, If you look at the Warren Commission, among their 562 witnesses, they claimed Lyndon Johnson. If that’s not good enough — I talked to President Ford, who was the last surviving member who claims at least that there was a decidedly informal session, whatever you want to call it.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think, Richard, it depends on what the meaning of the word “witness” is.
JIM LEHRER: OK, Richard, much has been made over the fact that neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney were under oath, as were all other witnesses before this commission. Should that be a big deal? How do you interpret that?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: I know to the public it seems like maybe it ought to be a big deal, but the fact is that this is a legislatively created investigative body, and just as presidents do not testify before Congress, again with the exception of Gerald Ford who voluntarily went up to the Hill to talk about the Nixon pardon, but the fact is there is a wall around the presidency.
Presidents do not go under oath. I’ve already mentioned Ronald Reagan. You know, the one exception in recent years was Bill Clinton. The Supreme Court breached that wall just a little bit in a decision I suspect they probably regret. We saw the virtual paralysis of the presidency for two years. Not because of anything President Clinton did as president, but because of the Paula Jones and related cases. So the founding fathers had something called…
JIM LEHRER: Let’s explain that. He was testifying in a deposition in the Paula Jones’ case. He raised his hand and testified under oath, correct?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: That’s right. He also testified in Little Rock in the Whitewater case, but the fact is the separation of powers precludes a president from being sued for any action, official action, and for testifying under oath for any action of his as president.
How history will record Thursday’s meeting
JIM LEHRER: Michael, the other thing people have been making a big to-do about, the president was asked about it again this afternoon, was the fact that he appeared with the vice president. He didn’t - some of the Democrats were saying, my goodness, he could sit down for hours with Bob Woodward alone, but he couldn’t go before the 9/11 Commission alone. How do you read that?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, I think that is the one part of this that was historic. You didn’t have a president and vice president before, and I would bet you, I don’t know it to be the case, but that the Bush people knew very much what happened in the Reagan case. Reagan appearing alone, managed to get himself caught up in this thing, what date did he really approve sales of missiles to Iran.
And I think they felt there was double trouble here because if George W. Bush gave one rendition of one element of this thing and Dick Cheney gave another, in this very political atmosphere this year, I think they felt there was a very great risk of that happening unless the two were there together agreeing on their story.
JIM LEHRER: Now, they’re not - to both of you here now, there was no written record made, no transcription is going to be made available, there was no recording made of what the two gentlemen said, and yet what they said, I guess, is going to be included in the report. How do they do that, Richard? How do they include what they said without saying what they said?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Simple. Bob Woodward, or the other Bob Woodwards in the media. I mean, people ask me all the time about this administration being overly secretive in its Iraq policy. And I tell them, just take a look at the bestseller list. If they’re trying to keep secrets, they’re not doing a very good job of it.
The fact is this is a different climate from say when the Roberts Commission was looking into Pearl Harbor or earlier presidential commissions or congressional commissions. There’s a 24/7 news cycle. There are all kinds of people out there, people on the commission who are already quite openly discussing what happened and providing a virtual transcript. So I don’t think a lot of secrets will remain.
JIM LEHRER: How does the commission handle it in their report, Michael?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: They’re going to have no takers who will presumably have little quotes from what the two men said. That’s very much on the Reagan precedent because at the time when the question arose, does Reagan get taped when he testifies in private before the Tower Commission, they said, it’s interesting, the president is above being taped or having a transcript made, so they had rather exact note takers, and that’s the way that we found out later on what Reagan said to them.
JIM LEHRER: So when this report comes out toward the end of July and there are references made to what President Bush and Vice President Cheney said today, we will see some direct quotes?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Probably or it might be the president told the commission that blah, blah, blah, something like that, but on the central issues, there won’t be any doubt.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with, that Richard, that’s how it will be handled?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Absolutely. In addition, this is a commission that’s undoubtedly generating an enormous written record.
All of those records will be preserved. That’s what makes historians like me and Michael salivate, because at some point we’ll be able to get into all of those.
JIM LEHRER: So at some time we’ll know exactly what they both said, is that what you’re saying?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Exactly, with the added advantage of the perspective that comes with time to put whatever they said into some kind of context.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Richard, Michael, thank you both.
Hannah Allam and Laith Hammoudi
Updated 03/18/08 - 6:56 PM
Amid tears and wails, mourners in the southern city of Najaf on Tuesday began burying victims from a suicide bombing that killed nearly 50 worshipers and injured dozens of others just before evening prayers Monday in nearby Karbala.
In Baghdad, a long-anticipated Iraqi national reconciliation conference began with great fanfare, then quickly dissolved into the usual sectarian and political stalemates that have marred several similar gatherings in recent years.
But Vice President Dick Cheney gave an upbeat view of conditions in Iraq as he concluded his unannounced trip to mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion. Cheney also defended the toppling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as part of the struggle against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Read the rest of this entry »