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Pentagon disputes claim that memo gave Obama cover in case of bin Laden raid failure

The Pentagon pushed back Tuesday on assertions that Leon Panetta, while CIA director, drafted a memo before the raid on Usama bin Laden's compound that was “highly lawyered” to safeguard President Obama from public backlash if the operation failed.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby and three top Panetta aides told Fox News that's not true. That was after former Attorney General Michael Mukasey claimed earlier that a memo had given cover to Obama. 

The memo in question is apparently the April 2011 hand-written memo from Panetta to Naval Special Operations Cmdr. Adm. Bill McRaven -- the letter was first obtained by Time magazine, and later confirmed by Fox News. It instructed McRaven to execute the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, only according to the “risk profile” presented to Obama and to relay additional risk-related information to the president before proceeding.

“The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands,” the memo states.

Kirby said no memo would have "given cover to the president." He further said that if Mukasey was referring to that April 2011 memo, that "was written for no other purpose than to record for posterity sake the decision the president has made. It was not delivered to anyone. It was put in a file for the historical record." 

Mukasey did not back down from his claim. 

“You better believe if anything else had been encountered and the mission had failed, then the blame would have fallen on McRaven,” Mukasey, appointed attorney general in 2007 under the George W. Bush administration, told Fox News on Monday night. “That’s what that is about.”

The raid was successfully carried out May 2, 2011, when a SEAL team stormed the compound and killed bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader.

Mukasey first made the suggestion in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed.

He also told Fox News that more will come “tumbling out about that escapade. But so far, that memo is enough.”

He added that one definition of a great leader is “somebody who takes less credit than he should and takes more blame than he should. And that’s not what we’ve got now.”

Former CIA officer  Mike Baker also told Fox News on Tuesday that such a memo was “to be expected” and is “standard operating procedure” nowadays in Washington.

Obama's defenders, though, have described the president's decision to green-light the raid as a courageous one -- and suggested he was prepared to take responsibility for failure. Former Democratic President Bill Clinton recently did a video for the Obama re-election campaign in which he said the president OK'd the raid though he "knew what would happen."

"The downside would have been horrible for him," Clinton said.