IMAGE: Secretary of State Colin Powell
J. Scott Applewhite  /  AP
Secretary of State Colin Powell challenged Bob Woodward’s interpretation of events, acknowledging that he spoke with Woodward but denying that he was left out of the loop.
NBC News and news services
updated 4/20/2004 3:42:52 PM ET 2004-04-20T19:42:52

Journalist Bob Woodward was on the defensive Tuesday, rebutting denials by Bush administration officials and the Saudi ambassador about who knew what and when they knew it when it came to planning the war against Iraq.

Woodward sparked the controversy in his book “Plan of Attack,” in which he claims that Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was said to be cool to the idea of war, was left out of the loop when President Bush made the decision to invade Iraq. Woodward writes that the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was told of the plan two days before Powell was.

Woodward, an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, claims that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney told Bandar of the decision in a meeting on Jan. 11, 2003, using phrases such as “you can take it to the bank ... this is going to happen” and “He [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] is toast.”

Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show for a second day, Woodward said “people do not want to acknowledge” that the president told some about the war ahead of others. “Now people are changing their story or giving it a different emphasis,” he added.

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Woodward himself got testy, telling “Today” host Matt Lauer, “Wait just a second, calm down please,” when Lauer reiterated reaction that Woodward’s book left the impression that Powell was “frozen out of the war plan.”

“I never said that,” Woodward responded, adding that Powell, for one, “is disputing things that I don’t say.”

Video: Rumsfeld weighs in

During an interview with The Associated Press, Powell acknowledged for the first time that he and others had talked to Woodward as “part of our instructions from the White House.”

“It was an opportunity to help him write a history, a contemporary history of this period,” he said. “It was no secret that all of us were encouraged to talk to Mr. Woodward. In my case, it was just a couple of phone calls.”

However, Woodward said on “Today” that he spoke with Powell on six occasions, providing dates of the telephone interviews.

President Bush also spoke with Woodward for more than three hours and instructed his top advisers to cooperate, but the final product was not something everyone agrees on. Below are responses to some of the assertions in the book.

Colin Powell
“The question that has arisen seems to be that Prince Bandar received a briefing on the plan, with some suggestion that I hadn’t,” Powell told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “Of course I had. I was intimately familiar with the plan, and I was aware that Prince Bandar was being briefed on the plan.”

But Woodward said Monday on CNN’s “Larry King Live” that while Powell might have known of the plan, he was not told of the decision to implement it until after the meeting Jan. 11 with Bandar.

Powell, in radio comments Monday, also said he knew he would support a war if he failed to find a diplomatic solution at the United Nations. “I knew that it might happen, and I knew that when he [Bush] took that second road, I’d be with him for the whole way. I don’t quit on long patrols,” Powell said.

“I believe it was the right decision at the time [to go to war], and I believe it is the right decision now,” he added.

Prince Bandar
Bandar called in to “Larry King Live” on Monday to take issue with Woodward, saying Cheney and Rumsfeld had told him only that war was possible.

“What he [Woodward] said is accurate. However, there was one sentence that was left out,” Bandar said. “Most of it was accurate except that I was informed that the president had not made a decision yet.”

After Bandar’s telephone call, Woodward commented: “Going back to Nixon, I’ve heard all of them. ... This goes in the hall of fame of dodges and fishy explanations. I think it should get an Academy Award. ... Congratulations, Bandar.”

Woodward, on “Today,” described Bandar as having acknowledged that Woodward’s account was “fully accurate.”

Bandar also said he made no pledge that Saudi Arabia would try to increase production of crude oil before the U.S. presidential election to curb rising gasoline prices. He suggested that any conversations he had about oil prices with Bush were similar to discussions he had had with past U.S. presidents.

“Oil prices and Saudi Arabia and American politics are intertwined. I wish we can influence the oil price situation, but we cannot,” said Bandar, who has been the Saudi envoy to the United States for 20 years and is part of the Saudi royal family, which has had a close relationship with the Bush family for years.

Video: Woodward sets the stage

The Saudi government echoed that on Tuesday. “The allegation that the kingdom is manipulating the price of oil for political purposes or to affect elections is erroneous and has no basis in fact,” said a statement issued in Riyadh by a top Saudi foreign policy adviser, Adel al-Jubeir.

“Over the past 30 years, the kingdom has sought to ensure adequate supplies of crude at moderate price levels that are acceptable to both producers and consumers. This policy is consistent and independent of who is in power within consuming countries, including the U.S.,” al-Jubeir added.

Woodward emphasized on “Today” that “no such assertion is made that there was a deal” and suggested that he thought reaction to that excerpt was overblown.

Condoleezza Rice
Rice, the president’s national security adviser, disputed the assertion in Woodward’s book that Bush decided in early January 2003 to invade Iraq, three months before official accounts say the decision was made.

The statement is “simply not, not right,” Rice said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Rice did not deny the private conversation between her and Bush just after New Year’s Day in which Woodward said the decision was made, but she said Woodward had misinterpreted what was said.

In such sessions, she said, Bush “kind of thinks out loud.”

“He said: ‘No, I think we probably are going to have to go to war. We’re going to have to go to war.’ And it was not a decision to go to war,” Rice said. “That decision he made in March, when he finally decided to do that.”

She said Woodward also misread another comment attributed to her, that because Rumsfeld knew of the “go” decision and Powell did not, perhaps Bush should tell Powell.

She said the Powell misunderstanding grew from her comment to Bush: “‘If you’re beginning to think that the diplomacy is not working, it’s probably time to have a conversation with the secretary of state.’

“I’m sure he would have, in any case,” she said.

Rice said she meant that Bush should ask Powell “his sense of how the diplomacy was going” and that Bush had thought diplomacy would not succeed.

Paul Wolfowitz
Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy in the Defense Department, denied Tuesday that the administration plotted and secretly financed preparations for the war in Iraq long before the U.S.-led invasion last year.

“The notion that the invasion of Iraq has been on my agenda since 1991 [after the first Gulf War] is simply wrong,” Wolfowitz, a primary architect of the war, told Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wolfowitz denied the Pentagon had secretly diverted $700 million to planning for Iraq in the summer of 2002, telling senators that hundreds of millions of dollars were not moved to such preparations until after Congress voted in October of 2002 to authorize the use of force “if necessary” in Iraq.

Kerry weighs in
Woodward’s book has also become election fodder.

The presumed Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, referred to the allegations on oil production Monday. “If it is true that gas supplies and prices in America are tied to the American election, tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people,” Kerry said.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan would not respond to the book but said Bandar had always reflected Saudi policy of trying to keep world oil prices stable so as not to affect economic growth. At recent talks at the White House, McClellan said, Bandar “committed to making sure prices remained in a range of, I believe, $22 to $28 per barrel of oil and that they don’t want to do anything that would harm our consumers or harm our economy.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asked Bush on Monday to send Bandar home. “I urge you to take immediate action to safeguard the integrity of the American electoral process by deporting Prince Bandar and canceling his diplomatic visa,” Schumer said in a letter to Bush.

MSNBC.com’s Miguel Llanos, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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