Published April 22, 2004
WASHINGTON – Bob Woodward (search) has been all over the news since he released his book this week on the run-up to the Iraq war, but so far everyone involved in the story says Woodward's flair for drama may have gotten in the way of the facts.
"I was present whenever these plans were presented. I worked on them, I was consulted on them, they were presented to the National Security Council. I was present whenever these plans were presented. So first, to suggest that a plan was presented to Prince Bandar that I was not familiar with is just flat wrong," Powell told reporters. "No decision was communicated [ahead of time] to Prince Bandar on the president's decision to go to war."
Powell pointed out that Woodward's book makes several references to the fact that Powell was involved in the briefings prior to war in Iraq, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that regarding the war in Iraq, Powell "was involved all throughout the entire course of it."
The Bush administration cooperated fully with Woodward as he was writing his new book, "Plan of Attack." President Bush spoke with Woodward on the record for hours and many other principal administration officials met with the journalist and author, including Powell.
Overall, the book paints a picture of an engaged president — asking tough, focused questions of his Cabinet and staff — even questioning CIA director George Tenet about the quality of pre-war intelligence.
That said, Woodward's tome has created several controversies. For one, Woodward wrote that Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney (search) were at odds with each other over the Iraq issue. In fact, he writes that they barely spoke to one another. But Powell said he and Cheney have a good friendship.
"It's excellent. As Mr. Woodward notes, in one point of the book — and this may sound a little improper — but when the vice president and I are alone, it's Colin and Dick," Powell said.
The government of Saudi Arabia also denied claims, laid out in Woodward's book, that the oil-rich kingdom had struck a political deal with President Bush to boost oil production and thus lower prices immediately before the November presidential elections.
Democrats pounced on the two lines in the book as evidence that the Bush White House and the Saudis cut a secret deal to impact the coming election.
"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 on Monday.
The veteran reporter, most famous for breaking the Watergate (search) scandal, subsequently denied making any allegation. A careful read of his book reveals the true comment.
"According to Prince Bandar, the Saudis hoped to fine-tune oil prices over 10 months to prime the economy for 2004. What was key, Bandar knew, were the economic conditions before a presidential election, not at the moment of election," the book reads.
The White House said it has no plans to manipulate oil prices in coordination with oil-producing nations. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush keeps in touch with those nations, and met with Prince Bandar at the White House in April, but that's the extent of discussion.
"We've made our views very clear, that oil prices should be determined by market forces," McClellan said.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (search), of which Saudi Arabia is a leading member, announced at the end of March that it would cut its crude oil production target by 4 percent. That decision was expected to push prices higher — and U.S. motorists already have been paying the highest prices in recent years for gasoline.
Bandar said there is no plan to increase oil production.
"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 top Saudi foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir (search) in a statement issued in Riyadh.
"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, without referring to Woodward's book.
Bush and Bandar are said to have a warm relationship, but the book makes no mention of deals or negotiations. Woodward has since said that his reporting has been misinterpreted by Democrats, and Prince Bandar denied in a television interview on Monday night that a deal was in the making.
"We hoped that the oil prices will stay low, because that's good for America's economy," he told a cable television interviewer.
"This is nothing unusual. President Clinton asked us to keep the prices down in the year 2000," he added.
Another controversial item in the Woodward book is a statement that the president authorized shifting $700 million from Afghanistan to be used for the Iraq war. Such a move would have violated the budgetary authority granted the administration by the Congress.
"Congress, which is supposed to control the purse strings, had no real knowledge or involvement, had not even been notified that the Pentagon wanted to re-program money," the book reads.
A senior budget official at the Pentagon said Woodward was misguided in his statement. In July of 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command (search), requested $750 million for "contingency planning" for possible Iraq operations.
The Pentagon official said the request was reviewed and $178 million was provided under conditions applied for counterterrorism spending authorized after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The rest was not provided until after October 2002, when Congress gave Bush permission to use force in Iraq.
Democrats jumped on the allegations.
"It's disconcerting to say the least that somehow they would just move these funds without any consultation," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Tuesday.
Senior officials testified Tuesday that the money was appropriately taken from anti-terrorism accounts.
"We were careful in making sure we applied money to the broader war on terrorism that the Congress had authorized, and we specifically withheld funding for those projects that were specifically Iraq-related until after the joint resolution passed the Congress," said Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Indications since the accusation show that Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and other key players on Capitol Hill were being kept informed of any money movements related to the War on Terror.
The Associated Press and Fox News' Kelly Wright contributed to this report.