updated 10/2/2006 7:17:24 PM ET 2006-10-02T23:17:24

NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell sat down with journalist and author Bob Woodward on Oct. 2 in Washington. What follows is the complete transcript of their conversation, edited only for readability.

Andrea Mitchell: How is it possible that people involved in the search for weapons of mass destruction were aware -- even before the invasion -- that they was a possibility that there weren't any weapons?

Bob Woodward: My assistant Bill Murphy got the war diary and these are excerpts from the diary kept by Gen. Spider Marks. [He] was the two-star general on the ground in Kuwait -- in charge of finding weapons of mass destruction -- when the invasion came. You see from his contemporaneous diary, he kept saying we're on our ass. It doesn't look like the intelligence is any good. Told all the top generals, "I have doubts. I can't prove to you or I don't believe that there's WMD at any particular site."

Mitchell: Did anyone tell Donald Rumsfeld?

Woodward: Well, what's fascinating -- at the time -- October 15, 2002, five months before the war, Rumsfeld wrote a secret memo saying these are the 29 things that could go wrong in the war. Item 13 was we may not find WMD on the ground. So you have the general on the ground and the Secretary of Defense immersed in doubt and concern. They never talked. They never got the issue on the cable and there was just this belief -- geez, it looks good.

Mitchell: And nobody talked to each about the fact that there might not be weapons of mass destruction which was the reason for invading?  The stated reason for invading?

Woodward: Exactly. When you look at this diary and go through the record and Rumseld's memo, what was happening is they were saying, looking at satellite photos, communication intercepts and so forth.  It's tragic.

Mitchell: Donald Rumsfeld, central character in your book. You describe him as running over Hugh Shelton and other of his commanders. Arrogant.  Was he a take charge guy -- exactly what was needed -- or was he out of control, almost a Captain Queeg character?

Woodward: Well, I stick to the specific incidents and lots of the generals and lots of the people who dealt with him, including people in the Bush White House like Andy Card, Condi Rice and so forth, have their difficulties with him. Rumsfeld is very smart, self confident, sure of himself. The problem I found in the research here is he bleached out in the uniform military anyone who would come in and be strong and independent. So you have a lot of yes men. Or, in the sense, a lot of parrots sitting on his shoulder -- repeating what he says and repeating his view. And -- again, the sadness in all of this is you need strong military leaders. You need people who will go in -- you need the Pattons and the MacArthurs. Yes, they're hard to deal with. But they have a view and they don't fade away and kind of do, "yes, sir."

Mitchell: But was he so wrong when, early on, he said I need to know information in real time? I can't hear it second-hand because I have the responsibility in the chain of command to tell the President of the United States if something's wrong.

Woodward: I think -- and much of this seems right -- that the military that he inherited kind of thought they were in charge and there was not sufficient civilian control of the military. It's a fascinating portrait of somebody going in, trying to fix things and in the process, stepping on so many toes and kicking so many heads that there is this kind of alienation. So people would not come in and say, "come on, look, you're wrong." Now he insists, in fairness, that that happens. I spent two and a half years trying to find an incident and I was unable to.

Mitchell: An incident where somebody would go in and tell him he's wrong and persuade him to have an open mind about something?

Woodward: Yeah. I mean, he changed his mind some. But, I mean, really pushed the limit. We often talk in our business that all good work is done in defiance of management. You have to be tough with management.

Mitchell: So, arguably, Vernon Clark went in and told him what he didn't want to hear and didn't get the job as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Woodward: That's right. This is Admiral Vernon Clark, who was head of the Navy. And it looked like he was on the road to become the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. His predecessor, Hugh Shelton, who was chairman, recommended him to Rumsfeld. Said this is the person who can stand up to Don Rumsfeld.  Interestingly enough, Clark, in interviews with Bush and Cheney, said, "Look, you have to worry about getting rosy scenarios from the military.  You need military officers that are respected for their independence and their strength." And when he talked to Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld didn't want to deal with somebody that tough minded, that independent.

Mitchell: What did your reporting show was the relationship between Condoleezza Rice and Don Rumsfeld?

Woodward: Well, Condi Rice gets along with almost everyone. And she says she gets along with Rumsfeld but it's been hard. I report there were occasions when he would not return her phone calls. He's Secretary of Defense. She's the National Security Advisor at this point. And she complained and the President actually had to go to Rumsfeld. Had to talk to him and say-- "Don, you need to return Condi's phone calls." He did, according to the witnesses I had, in a kind of teasing way. Just think about that. The National Security Advisor is the President's representative, the coordinator, [and she] can't get phone calls returned?

Mitchell: What happened when Andy Card tried to get Rumsfeld to send the National Guard to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina?

Woodward: Andy Card talked to the president and said, "Yes, I want these units sent to New Orleans. This is what we're going to do." And when Card presented that information directly to Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld said, "Well, I don't work for you. I work for the president.  He's going to have to tell me himself."

Mitchell: He didn't take a directive from the Chief of Staff to send the National Guard that were so needed in New Orleans because it hadn't come from George W. Bush?

Woodward: That's right. Because Rumsfeld said the chain of command — and he's right about this — is the president to Rumsfeld to the commanders in the field. But he wouldn't do it. And then Card just kind of threw up his hands and then, later, Bush said to him, "Hey, I thought you were going to take care of that." He called Don and — Card just said, "Well, apparently, he wanted to hear it from you." Because Rumsfeld had called the president directly.

Mitchell: To make sure that it, in fact, needed to be done.  Whatever.

Woodward: Whatever. I mean, that's what — you know, that's the strength of Rumsfeld and it's also probably his weakness. It's this dominance, this  sense of it's got to be my way.

Mitchell: Andy Card tried at least three times over the course of 18 months to get the president to, quote, replace Rumsfeld.

Woodward: That's correct.

Mitchell: What happened?

Woodward: You know, Card was getting word from Republicans and Democrats, people on The Hill, others on the White House staff how difficult it was to deal with Rumsfeld. And he proposed -- I think -- he had in his "hit-by-the-bus book," which was the list of replacements for top jobs, 11 people. But he specifically recommended Jim Baker, the former Secretary of State, former Treasury Secretary and a Bush senior political mentor.  Said directly to Bush: "My quiet counsel is put Baker in there. Put a diplomat in that position."

Mitchell: And what happened?

Woodward: The president said, "Interesting." People talked to Cheney, including the president, including Card and the answer was no.

Mitchell: So Andy Card's talked with us. And he did not dispute any of the quotations in the book. But he says you got the context wrong. That the context was that he was, over a course of months, talking about all cabinet and staff changes.

Woodward: I call it a campaign. I talked to Card since the book has come out and he has repeated what he said to you. He disputes not a single quote. And it's not so much the context. Said, "Well, it wasn't a campaign."  And I said, "Look, three times you go to the president and make specific recommendations. You have at least two conversations with the first lady about this, who's upset and concerned. You encourage chief speech writer, Michael Gerson to go to the president and recommend that he replace Rumsfeld with Joe Lieberman, a senator from Connecticut. Now that's a campaign in my view. And two others I talked to who were involved in this -- it was a campaign. It was a deep worry that Rumsfeld is hurting the president, hurting the war effort and that there's such a break down in real communications with the uniformed military. This is so serious that there are four-star generals on active duty who confirmed to me quotes about telling senators that Rumsfeld has emasculated the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mitchell: The first lady's office said it never happened.

Woodward: Well, now you've got Andy Card saying that it did happen.

Mitchell: He doesn't confirm that Laura Bush said to him, "Oh, well, he doesn't agree with me, but..." the quote from Laura Bush in the book. He won't confirm those actual quotes.

Woodward: Well, I talked to Andy Card yesterday. And there were quotes of the transcripts of the interviews and he said yes. And, again, the White House has mischaracterized what's in the book. Because they said Woodward claims that the first lady wants Rumsfeld removed. The book does not say that. The book says she voiced concerns she was upset about to Card. Now, I mean, you live in this town like I do. I mean, everyone has been talking about Rumsfeld for years. The idea that the First Lady might have some concern and worry can't possibly be surprising to anyone.

Mitchell: Well, perhaps surprising because this first lady has so studiously avoided getting mixed into the policy issues and personnel issues. This isn't Nancy Reagan. And what you portray in the book, in this incident, is very much like what Nancy Reagan did with Ron Reagan.

Woodward: Well, Laura Bush, the first librarian, very smart woman. And she knows the importance of the Iraq war to the country and the world and to her husband. And to the families and people, you know, close to the 147,000 troops we have over there. She hasn't gotten her head in it to saying it. And I find it not at all surprising. And I suspect when the history books come out down the road that there will be much discussion and concern about this. I mean, there's no way you could be married to somebody and not realize, as I report in the book, the president feels a lot of anguish about the people who are wounded and die in the Iraq war.

Mitchell: One other dispute involves General Abizaid. You report that in Doha, he and the president, possibly some of his old buddies from the military expressed concerns about Rumsfeld. Said that Rumsfeld has lost credibility -- war credibility. And that we need to get the F out of Baghdad. He said that never happened.

Woodward: And that somebody talked to General Abizaid about that directly.  I think he's talking through a spokesman.

Mitchell: His spokesman in Doha?

Woodward: Yes. I'm sure somebody will ask him about it. I talked to people who were there. And again, it's not surprising. This is last year. And it turned out the issue about credibility had to do with who was going to enunciate the strategy for the war in Iraq. And it turned out that it was Condi Rice and the president. Not Don Rumsfeld. And it turned out when Condi Rice and the president said our strategy in Iraq is clear -- hold and build -- that we'll clear areas, build them up and hold territory in Iraq – Rumsfeld was very upset. In fact, called Andy Card and said take that out of the speech. Take it out. So they can't even agree on the strategy. It does surprise me that the commander on the ground would confide to friends that on the issue of the strategy, Rumsfeld had no credibility. That the administration, in a practical sense, would not lose sight of that. Essentially said that because it's the Secretary of State and the president who announced it -- not Rumsfeld.

Mitchell: So you have no doubts about the quotations from General Abizaid?

Woodward: I have no doubts about the reporting of those quotes.

Mitchell: The White House, as you know, has sent out sort of a fact sheet, of five myths about the Woodward book. You make one intelligence assessments in May 24th, conflicting the president's Chicago speech two days earlier. Do you want to leave us there in a bubble?

Woodward: I will, certainly. I mean, what they say is the president said in Chicago it's going to be hard. But the president also said in Chicago that the terrorists are in retreat. And the secret intelligence reports contradict that. And those reports say it's getting worse. Now, there's the difference between something getting worse and the feeling that they are in retreat -- the terrorists. So the contradiction is there on the record.

Mitchell: What about their dispute of your claim that the administration ignored Paul Bremer's recommendation for more troops?

Woodward: I don't say that in the book. I present what Bremer said and what Bob Blackwell said to Condi Rice and Steve Hadley, who was the Deputy National Security Advisor at the time. There were news reports that picked up on that. And then overstated, but that's not stated in the book.

Mitchell: Let's get to July 10, 2001. It's a critical meeting between George Tenet and Cofer Black when officials go to the White House and surprise Condi Rice to try to get her attention. Give her very little notice that they're coming over to brief her on their concerns about al-Qaida. That there is an attack that's imminent, that something's out there. They don't know where, they don't know when. And you report, I think you quote Cofer Black in saying we had to practically hold a gun to her head.

Woodward: He said, specifically, after the meeting, we did everything but pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head. He felt it was strategic warning. And as I report in the book, she felt, well, what do you do? There aren't specific details.

Mitchell: This particular meeting, Tenet apparently thought that she did pay attention. Was it your conclusion that she, maybe, blew them off?

Woodward: Well, I mean, they didn't accelerate their plan. And, again, as I report, they had a covert action plan in the works. What Tenet and Cofer Black were saying is, "We have to do something now. Right now."

Mitchell: Is there any evidence they did anything?

Woodward: Well, they had findings drafted, and so forth. And there was actually one ready. Finding being the presidential order to go get Bin Laden or kill him was sitting on the president's desk on September 10, 2001. So they did...

Mitchell: September 10th.

Woodward: The day before 9/11.

Mitchell: So, in your reporting, how did Condoleezza Rice react to the warning that she was given?

Woodward: It's a fair question, and there are dual perspectives on this.  They wanted action now. She was working on something. A plan. They said it was, you know, soon. There'd been lots of noise in the intelligence system. But as Cofer Black said, "Some of this is voodoo. Can't really put your finger on it, so you don't know what you've got." They were alarmed. She felt they were working quite rapidly. Now we will find out more about this meeting now that we've learned about it.

Mitchell: The 9/11 Commission never even mentioned it.

Woodward: That's correct.

Mitchell: In their public record.

Woodward: I note that in the book.

Mitchell: Even though, as we've now learned, they were briefed on it.

Woodward: I did not know that.

Mitchell: Condoleezza Rice, she said today, "It's incomprehensible that if I had been given that kind of warning that I would not have responded."

Woodward: You know, all the participants will be able to speak. I did a lot of reporting on this. I've been working on 9/11 since 9/11, for five years. And got to know lots of people involved in this. And I suspect there's more to this.

Mitchell: Jay Garner. Jay Garner comes back. He's removed from his post, leading the Iraq occupation. And he is replaced by Paul Bremer. And he goes to see Rumsfeld. And what does he tell Rumsfeld?

Woodward: This is June 18, 2003. Now think of this, three months into the war. The insurgency really had not taken hold. And he said to Rumsfeld, head-to-head, "We've made three tragic mistakes. Not just mistakes, but tragic mistakes. "They are disbanding the Iraqi army," which as I report in the book, is contrary to what the briefings to Bush were. They were going to keep the Iraqi army for border patrol and other things. The second tragic mistake was getting rid of members of the Baath party who were in the government to such a level that you kicked the top 50,000 people out of the Iraqi government. And the third was disbanding this interim governing counsel that Garner had set up to put an Iraqi face on the occupation. Bremer came in and said, "We're sovereign," and those people went home. And Rumsfeld's response was, you know, kind of, "Really? Three tragic mistakes? And Garner pressed and outlined his case. And then Bremer said something that really was important. "It's not too late. We can reverse those decisions." And Rumsfeld said, "Well, they're already made. It's too late."

Mitchell: It's too late. And this was 2003.

Woodward: Summer of 2003. And the history now shows, you know, maybe it wasn't too late.

Mitchell: Garner then goes to the Oval Office and doesn't tell the president any of his concerns.

Woodward: That's correct. And they have kind of a, you know, nice chat and tell war stories. And Garner tells the president how popular he -- President Bush -- is in Iraq. And I quizzed Garner on this at length. Because it was baffling to me that somebody could tell the secretary of defense three tragic mistakes, and go meet with the president and not just find a way to say, "I just told Secretary Rumsfeld we made three tragic mistakes." Garner's argument -- and this is part of the problem with the military, and the retired military, and people who just don't get in other people's faces -- was, "Well, I told Rumsfeld. And if I told the president everyone would kind of think I was, you know, they should have removed me sooner." And it's all a case, and we now look at Jay Garner and his tenure, and he had the right ideas.

Mitchell: In fact, what did he tell the president before the war? And just how many troops were needed and how they should proceed?

Woodward: Yeah, I have here a document which I'll be happy to give you.  It says, "To the president. NSC, talking points for an NSC presentation.  28 February, 2003." And I have the notes -- and this is in the book -- of what happened at this meeting. And Garner told them, very plainly -- "You've assigned me nine tasks. Four of the hard ones I can't do." He had 200 people working for him. And no one commented. No one asked any questions.

Mitchell: He said he needed more people.

Woodward: Yeah, well, he did say he needed more people. But he said the task of stabilizing Iraq, the task of finding WMD, he couldn't do. He didn't have enough people. Now this is three weeks before the war. No one asks anything, no one does anything.

Mitchell: The president didn't ask at that meeting?

Woodward: He did not. What the president said is, "Kick ass Jay."

Mitchell: Kick ass.

Woodward: Kick ass.

Mitchell: Not, "We can't give you the troops," or, "Should we give you more troops?"  Or, "What do you want me to do about it"?

Woodward: And he asked him about, "Where'd you get that accent?"  And Garner said he was from Florida. And his father was a rancher. And then Bush made some comment at the end about, "Well, if the governor," in other words, his brother, "gives you any trouble, let me know." No substantive interaction about this massive undertaking. I was so surprised at the account, the authoritative account I had, that I, earlier this year, took the notes and gave them to Dan Bartlett.

Mitchell: At the White House.

Woodward: At the White House. Went to his office and said, "This is what I understand happened." And I never heard from Dan Bartlett again.

Mitchell: Do you think that's why they decided to shut down?

Woodward: I think it's one of the reasons, and they said I had a preconception. I had information. I guess they didn't like the information.

Mitchell: You interviewed the president before, and Dick Cheney, but not for this book.

Woodward: That's correct.

Mitchell: Why, do you think?

Woodward: I'm not going to ascribe motives. It's up to them whether they want to talk. I made it clear I would be happy to talk. I made it very clear. Took notes. I had took, you know, hours going over these things with people. And they decided not to deal with it. Now, look, I think that the book shows it's not a pretty picture.

Mitchell: Did Colin Powell resign willingly? Or was he, in effect, fired by Andy Card on behalf of the president?

Woodward: Well, it was very clear in the interchanges between Card and Powell that they wanted his letter of resignation. Now Powell had said he was going to leave. He made it pretty clear. But then there was some ambiguity. And I recount a very sad interchange between Card and Powell about, you know, it's over. The president has decided. And, in fact, Andy Card had to call Powell to get the letter because they were very anxious.  The president was very anxious to nominate Condi Rice.

Mitchell: They needed that vacancy?

Woodward: Well, the president had made a decision. I recount how, right after the election at Camp David, he met with Rice and said, "I want you to be secretary of state." She said, "You need a new national security team." And he said to her, "Don't tell me what I need."

Mitchell: Don't tell me what I need.

Woodward: That's correct.

Mitchell: She was the national security advisor.

Woodward: That's right.

Mitchell: You have a series of documents, classified documents, other documents, indicating a disconnect between public claims about the progress of the war and the insurgency and what was really going on. Do you think that this disparity is a deliberate cover-up? A misleading of the American people? What do you think is going on there?

Woodward: I think it's a reflection of George Bush, as he has said, is a war president. "This is a hard war," as he said. The leader needs to be optimistic and confident. And so when the bad news comes in, on many occasions, which I report in the book -- they say the opposite -- in public. And, you know, I'm a reporter on the sidelines. But I find it always better to tell the truth. And I think a president or any leader is better when he or she is the voice of realism.

Mitchell: Is this a case where they're not telling him the truth, or that he is going along with putting a gloss on things?

Woodward: He knows how bad it is.

Mitchell: And says otherwise.

Woodward: And he's the optimistic, confident leader. You know, I was surprised, quite frankly, at the radical disparity between the bad news and the proclaimed optimism.

Mitchell: You've described him very differently in Bush at War.

Woodward: Well, that was after 9/11. I mean, even John Kerry, in the president debate, said he did a good job after 9/11. And so that's what I described.

Mitchell: Because critics would say that you've seen his polls go down.  He's now more vulnerable. He's an easier target. Now you're writing a book that would be, you know, satisfying his political critics. For now, the majority of the American people are upset about this war.

Woodward: This is what I found. And I can't write a book about events that haven't occurred. And 9/11, I wrote a book about that. General response to what President Bush did about 9/11 was that he was strong and forceful. I talked to him at the time about how he was the voice of realism. The decision to go to war in Iraq, which is the second book — Plan of Attack — that really ends in March 2003. And that is a decision that two thirds of the Congress — you know, Democrats and Republicans, supported. John Kerry and many of the Democrats thought there were weapons of mass destruction.

Mitchell: And things changed.

Woodward: Things changed. And I acknowledge that. I found out things in this reporting, like the July 10, 2001, meeting, which I did not know about until I worked on this book. You know, you always wish you knew the full story, and I certainly don't even come close.

Mitchell: What do you think is most surprising? What that you learned has most surprised or even shocked you?

Woodward: Well, I think what's surprising is what surprised the Bush administration and the Pentagon and the CIA. And that is an insurgency which is so violent, so well coordinated, you know, organized, lethal-- and persistent. What surprised me is, if I may take one other example of this state of denial -- November 11, 2003. This is many months after the war, but the CIA guy, Rob Richer,the head of the Near East division in the CIA.It's one of the big important jobs in the CIA. He goes to brief President Bush and the National Security Council. And he says there's an insurgency. And Rumsfeld immediately challenges him and says, "I, you know, I don't agree with that." Or, "I don't know that." And the CIA man, very cleverly, says, "Well, here's the Pentagon definition of an insurgency." And it had the characteristics of this popular support. They strike whenever they want.  And it's extensive. And you then look at the classified reports and realize, my God, at this time there were 1,000 attacks a month. That's 30 a day. More than 30 a day. That's, you know, that's one every hour. One attack every hour. Now, when this is presented to Rumsfeld and President Bush, President Bush says, "No, I don't think we're not – I don't think we're there. I don't want to read about it in the New York Times."

Mitchell: They're more concerned about what's coming out publicly? And about public support and the politics, perhaps, than what's happening on the ground?

Woodward: Again, I'm not going to ascribe motives. The president said, "I don't think we're there. But I don't want any of my cabinet people saying there's an insurgency. I don't want the New York Times to find out." Wish he had mentioned the Washington Post. But, clearly, there's an insurgency.  there's an attack going on every hour in Iraq. In five years we haven't had one attack, terrorist attack, in this country. Not one. Imagine if there was one going on every hour. You know, what would you call it? You can't say this is business as usual. So the resistance to dealing with the reality here [is a] serious management problem. And that's why the book is called State of Denial.

Mitchell: Thank you very much, Bob.


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