Former White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer on Ex-CIA Director Tenet's New Book

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," April 30, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Former CIA Director George Tenet is raising the ire of conservatives nationwide with the release of his memoir, "At the Center of the Storm." Now, in his book, Tenet spreads the responsibility of 9/11 around the Bush administration, laying blame at the feet of then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, among others. But there are already problems with the story that Tenet is telling.

In the book — and on "60 Minutes" this past weekend — he says he met Pentagon adviser Richard Perle in the White House on September the 12th, 2001, and that Perle said that the Iraqi will have to pay for 9/11. Here's the problem: Perle says he wasn't even in the country on September the 12th, that he was stuck in France and didn't return until September the 15th. So Tenet's conversation with him couldn't have happened the way he describes it.

Joining us now, former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer. How are you doing?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good morning or good evening, how are you?

HANNITY: Oh, come on, you're glad you don't have to deal with this everyday?

FLEISCHER: Oh, only on days that end in "Y," I'm happy about that.

HANNITY: No, it's tough. And, by the way, and a special shoutout — I spoke to my buddyTony Snow today, and his prognosis is much better than what some initial reports had said, so...

FLEISCHER: That's exactly right, and he's glad to be back in that job.

HANNITY: Yes, I know it's a tough job. All right, that alone about Richard Perle, that he was there on September the 12th, and he wasn't there, but he said definitively he was, he's getting $2 million or so, according to reports, to write this book. Are you suspicious?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, I think the real issue when it came to should we go after Iraq on September 12th, was what the president decided which was the answer was no. The president is the one who said Iraq didn't have anything to do with 9/11. We're going to focus on Afghanistan. That all evolved later, much later. So I don't even think it matters whether it was said or not said.

It sounds to me, based on what Richard Perle said, it's a factual mistake. But, you know, I think George Tenet is an honorable man. He's written an interesting book. There are parts of it that I differ with. There are parts of it I'm going to probably agree with, when I read it all.

HANNITY: But, you know, but is it disloyal to go out and blame as harshly as he is — when it was really — he was in charge of intelligence. He was there during the Clinton years in the lead-up to 9/11, one of the biggest intelligence failures in our country's history.

FLEISCHER: Sean, what I've seen so far is the book was rather favorable toward President Bush. Director Tenet had a very good relationship with President Bush, and he agreed with much of President Bush's judgments and decisions. Director Tenet and Secretary Rice, then-National Security Adviser Rise, clashed often. And I think you're getting a heavy dose of that in this book. Condi Rice says she's going to write a book, too, now, so I think you're going to expect it in reverse in a couple of years.

HANNITY: Is there something wrong when officials — they're serving the president, they're sitting in on private meetings, they get big sums of money — only if they say things that are controversial? Is there a problem, in your mind, with that, especially somebody in such a sensitive position?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, there was a day when people would write their books and save them until after presidents left office, which allowed them to be little bit more loose with what the truth was — or loose with what they wanted to say — because they weren't hurting somebody who currently sat in the office who gave them a job. But I think, again, with Director Tenet's book, there's a lot in there that actually is the truth about President Bush, that shows what a strong person he was, and how he did do a good job leading us right after 9/11. There are other parts that are very controversial and that are very critical of others in the administration, including the vice president.

HANNITY: What about the "slam-dunk" question?

FLEISCHER: Right. Well, I think he did the right thing airing the controversy about it. To me, having been there at the time, the issue wasn't what he said at the very end about slam dunk. That was icing on the cake. The point was the CIA described the cake months and months earlier and they said Saddam has biological, Saddam has chemical. Whether he used the words "slam dunk" or not, it didn't matter...


FLEISCHER: ... he has chemical. That's what led to going to war.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Welcome back to our show.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Alan.

OLMES: You wrote a book while the president is still in office. You had a book out.

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

COLMES: You want until...

FLEISCHER: That's correct, but I also didn't take shots at people in the manner that that book does.

COLMES: In terms of Richard Perle, though...


FLEISCHER: ... different in the culture. People write their books earlier.

COLMES: George Tenet is saying he just got the date wrong. But let me show you what Richard Perle said on September 20th, just a week or so after September 11th. He said, "Even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack" — we'll put it up on the screen — "any strategy at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

So even if he got the date wrong, that's what Richard Perle was saying right after September 11th.

FLEISCHER: Whatever Richard Perle said, Richard Perle said. My point is, President Bush disagreed with Richard Perle. President Bush made the decision we're going to focus on Afghanistan. He was with others who were encouraging him to go after Iraq. He rejected that.

COLMES: But let me show what you the president said, both on September 25th of '02 and in his State of the Union in January of '03. Let's play that:


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda.



You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the War on Terror.


COLMES: So he did make that link. And he claimed he never made the link, but he did...


FLEISCHER: But he didn't say we would go after Iraq on the basis of that right after 9/11. But George Tenet also in the CIA did say — and it's in the 9/11 report — that there are relationships between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Saddam wasn't responsible for 9/11...

COLMES: No operational links, said the 9/11 Commission.

FLEISCHER: No operational links, but there were relationships. The president always said that, do we want, in the post-9/11 world, to let those relationships blossom into something operational? That's the issue that the president said.

COLMES: All right, but in the cuts we just played you, he clearly implied those links, in an effort to sell the war to the American people.

FLEISCHER: Well, that's because you left off the cutting room floor here what he also said, which was, after 9/11, do you ever want to allow those relationships to turn into a collaborative relationship?

COLMES: But he indicated there was a relationship at the time that 9/11 happened, and there was no operational links in almost every report that's come out.

FLEISCHER: You have to listen to the words. There was a relationship. It wasn't operational. Relationships can turn operational and I'm glad Saddam is gone, because he's not exactly the type of guy I would want to trust to say he won't have any contact with Al Qaeda.

COLMES: But he said you can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. I mean, that clearly turned out not to be true.

FLEISCHER: In terms of the threat to the United States, you bet. That's right.

COLMES: What, Saddam was the same threat to the United States that Al Qaeda was?

FLEISCHER: Saddam was a threat to the United States. Al Qaeda was a threat.

COLMES: The same kind of a threat Al Qaeda is? And when has that ever been proven? What threat was proven that Saddam Hussein was...

FLEISCHER: Only the fact that he attacked two countries. He kept attacking our Air Force in the no-fly zones. He kept attacking our Navy. He kept killing all these people.

COLMES: There was absolutely no threat proven to the United States by Saddam Hussein.

FLEISCHER: Well, that's because you weren't a pilot flying in the no-fly zone?

COLMES: Was he a threat to our homeland?

FLEISCHER: You better believe that he was.

COLMES: To the homeland of the United States?

FLEISCHER: I think, if you go after Americans...

COLMES: Did he have long-range missiles where he could actually attack us?

FLEISCHER: If you go after American troops abroad, you're going after the United States, as Ronald Reagan showed, where Colonel Gadhafi killed a United States soldier in Germany at a disco.

COLMES: No operational link, and no threat to the homeland.

FLEISCHER: Ronald Reagan bombed Libya, and we are all better off because of that peace through strength policy, which George Bush pursues, too.

HANNITY: You had Helen Thomas. I have Alan Colmes.

COLMES: And I make him better for it.

FLEISCHER: I feel sorry for you both.

HANNITY: All right. Thank you.

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