updated 9/12/2004 10:55:26 PM ET 2004-09-13T02:55:26

Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards on Sunday accused President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney of misleading Americans by implying a link between deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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“Today, Secretary of State (Colin) Powell made clear that there is no connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks on September the 11th,” Edwards said before an AFL-CIO rally. “From this day forward, this administration should never suggest that there is.”

The North Carolina senator was referring to Powell’s comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in which the Republican reiterated a statement made by Bush last September that the administration has no evidence that Saddam was involved in the attacks.

“We know that there had been connections and there had been exchanges between al-Qaida and the Saddam Hussein regime. And those have been pursued and looked at,” Powell said. “But I have seen nothing that makes a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and that awful regime and what happened on 9/11.”

Steve Schmidt, a Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman, said Powell’s comments are consistent with those made by Bush, Cheney and the bipartisan commission that investigated the attacks.

“This attack by John Edwards is typically baseless and flailing and there is no contradiction,” Schmidt said. “The reason for the attack is that John Kerry took his eighth distinct position on the war in Iraq this week and their position has receded into complete incoherence.” Video: On the offense

Bush said last Sept. 17 that “there’s no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaida ties.” But at the same time the president said, “We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th.”

At the time, Bush also denied that there was an attempt by Cheney or others in the administration to try to confuse people about any link between Saddam and Sept. 11.

The president’s remarks last year were in response to questions about a Cheney appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” three days earlier in which the vice president said “I don’t know” when asked whether Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

However, the Kerry-Edwards campaign argued on Sunday that Cheney suggested such a link as recently as last week.

Speaking at a town-hall meeting in Cincinnati, Cheney recounted the invasion of Afghanistan after the attacks, in which the United States punished the Taliban for harboring al-Qaida. Then he said, “In Iraq, we had a similar situation.”

'Safe harbor'
Saddam “provided safe harbor and sanctuary for terrorists for years,” including al-Qaida, Cheney said.

Edwards said: “Vice President Cheney should not say the kind of things he said Friday and the president should not mislead the American people by implying there’s connection between September the 11th and the attacks of September 11th and Saddam Hussein.”

The Sept. 11 commission cited contacts between Saddam’s regime and al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, but said there was no “collaborative operational relationship” and said Iraq was not involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes.

Earlier on the start of a five-day, cross-country campaign swing, Edwards viewed the flood damage Hurricane Frances caused in his home state, a Republican-leaning one the Democratic ticket hopes to win on Nov. 2.

“This is in no way a political issue,” Edwards told congregants at First Baptist Church of Canton, which is leading cleanup efforts. “We will do everything we can to help the businesses that have been hit” and fight for federal assistance for families who are “struggling and suffering.”

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