— Karl Rove fired back Tuesday against the critics who are saying his book about his years as President George W. Bush’s senior adviser is a collection of distortions and lies, particularly as it relates to the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and the Valerie Plame affair.
Rove sat down with TODAY’s Matt Lauer in New York to discuss the criticisms of the book. Lauer began the interview by noting that Dana Milbank of The Washington Post called the book “500 pages of you rewriting history.”
Reading from Milbank’s review of “Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight,” Lauer quoted, “That business about President George W. Bush misleading the nation about Iraq? Didn’t happen ... Condoning torture? Wrong!”
“Let’s stop right there. He said one sentence. I devoted an entire chapter to showing that Bush did not lie about Iraq,” Rove fired back. “He may be able to dismiss it in one snarky line, but I have the facts in here.”
Where were the WMD?
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush cited intelligence showing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and was willing to use them against the United States and its allies. Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, used the intelligence developed by the CIA to defend the invasion to the United Nations and the world.
Invading forces never found WMD in Iraq, and it is now generally agreed that the intelligence was faulty. Critics of Bush and Rove have said the president ignored information suggesting that Hussein had no WMD, and Rove writes in his book that without the WMD, there would have been no invasion and no war.
Rove said the critics ignore that there was general agreement at the time that Hussein had the weapons.
“The intelligence was worldwide agreed that he had WMD,” Rove told Lauer. “In fact, I quote Democrats. There were 110 Democrats who voted for the Iraq war resolution. Sixty-seven of those Democrats, including John Kerry, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, on the floor of the Congress, said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”
Lauer said that there were dissenting voices that did not make either Powell’s presentation or Bush’s speeches.
“There was a consensus,” Rove said. “It doesn’t imply that everybody agreed. It implies that the preponderance of evidence and the majority of agreement was that there was WMD. This is a bipartisan agreement. It was Al Gore and Bill Clinton as well as Republicans who said he had WMD.”
Lauer pressed Rove on the issue, saying that Bush’s staunchest ally, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, wrote in a 2002 memo that the case for Hussein having WMD was thin.
“Well, he agreed with the decision,” Rove said. “It was a worldwide consensus. You can go back and rewrite history. But at that moment, we as a nation were faced with the belief that he had WMD, that he was a threat to the stability of the region, and in the aftermath of 9/11, the calculus changed.”
In the book, Rove admits to making a major mistake on Iraq, but he says the mistake was not being more forceful in countering Democratic attacks after it became clear there were no WMD in Iraq.
In July 2003, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who voted against the invasion, accused Bush of lying about WMD. Rove said within the next two days, five major Democrats, including Sens. John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, repeated the charge.
“When you have five major Democrats pick up the same line in two days which they know is incorrect, it is a political attack aimed at the heart of the administration, and we should have responded stronger than we did,” Rove said.
Plame and Katrina
The man described as “Bush’s brain” was similarly defiant about his role in the Valerie Plame affair, in which Plame, a covert CIA agent, had her cover blown by columnist Robert Novak. Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was found guilty of perjury for lying about his conversation with Novak that led to the outing. Bush then pardoned Libby.
Rove was investigated for perjury, but the FBI ultimately decided he did not lie about his involvement, which Rove said was an offhand comment about Plame during a long phone conversation with Novak. After being under investigation for two years, Rove said he wept when he learned he had been exonerated.
The other major issue that many feel ended the Bush administration’s credibility was its much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005. On the way back from an appearance in Denver, the president flew over New Orleans in Air Force One but did not stop at that time. A photograph of Bush looking out a window of the plane at the devastation became an iconic picture that critics said underlined the administration’s indifference to the disaster.
Rove said the mistake wasn’t in flying over New Orleans. A day after the disaster was no time to stop there, he said.
“Let’s put it in context. The president of the United States, if he had dropped into New Orleans that morning, would have discombobulated recovery efforts. They would have had to close down the airspace. We should have gone to Baton Rouge, which is where the governor was and where the emergency disaster center was.”
Rove insisted, as the White House did at the time, that it wasn’t clear how desperate the situation was. He blamed local and state officials in Louisiana for the failure to communicate and said the federal government lacked “real-time information” on what was going on in New Orleans. Critics have said all he had to do was turn on the television to see how desperate the situation was.
“The media did not have real-time information. The media led people to believe there were snipers,” Rove said, which kept rescuers out of some neighborhoods. “You didn’t know about the suffering at the convention center until the government did. But the government should have known about it earlier. That’s one of the big reforms to come out of Katrina.”
Others have written that Bush’s botched Katrina response was the “final nail in the coffin” of the administration.
False, said Rove: “I don’t think the Bush administration was by any means dead.”