I knew Richard Clarke surely had unkind things to say about the performance of the Bush administration before and shortly after 9/11 when his book came out, and I knew he also wanted to sell a book. But Clarke--who served under four consecutive Presidents and basically managed the country immediately after the attacks--on CBS laid out three devastatingly specific conversations with three senior administrative figures, each of which, in Clarke's mind, left no doubt that Iraq was to be the focus, not al-Qaeda. The three conversations:
Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.' Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'
"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!' And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."
Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said to Stahl. "And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.
"Initially, I thought when he said, 'There aren't enough targets in-- in Afghanistan,' I thought he was joking...Clarke says he and CIA Director George Tenet told that to Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
and the most mysterious and big-time conversation:
"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."
I imagine this story is weighing down the left end of the blogosphere seesaw tonight, so I won't say much now. I just wanted to highlight what I thought was the key evidence (alleged evidence) from Lesley Stahl's report. Kerry had a pretty bad week, but there's a perfect storm of books and hearings and investigations coming down the pike this summer, and I think Bush is going to be on the defensive for a good portion of it.