Karl Rove Hits Back at Scott McClellan's Claims in New Book

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This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," May 29, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Now for the top story tonight: a man frequently mentioned in McClellan's book is former Bush adviser and current FOX News analyst Karl Rove, and he joins us now from Washington.

All right. You've had a couple of days since you were on "Hannity & Colmes" on Monday or Tuesday, whenever it was. And now you've had a couple of days to reflect. And I have the book now, and I'm going through the book, and I'm just not seeing the headline here. I'm not obtuse. I may be dense. I may not be smart enough to get it, but I'm just seeing the same old stuff with real no specific backup for it. How do you see it?

Click here to watch Karl Rove respond to Scott McClellan's claims.

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISER: Well, I think you're right. That's the biggest thing about this book that troubles me is that he makes these wide sweeping assertions and then provides no evidence. And you talked in the "Talking Points Memo" about probably the most important one, which is the assertion that the president went into Iraq by misleading the American people with a propaganda effort with deception, you know, shading the truth.

You know, you quoted or referred to Blair and Clinton. If I could have a few seconds to add a few more quotes here. Here's Hillary Clinton in September — excuse me, October of 2002: "Intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical, biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program."

Here's Vice President Al Gore in September of 2002: "We know that Saddam has stored nuclear supplies, secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."

Here's John Kerry in October of 2002: "I will be voting to give the president the authority to use force if necessary to disarm Saddam because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands s a real and grave threat to our security."

And finally, Senator Ted Kennedy: "We have known that for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction." September of 2002.

And then Nancy Pelosi: "Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology, which a threat to countries in the region. And he's made a mockery of the weapons inspection process."

Everybody in the West, every major intelligence agency in the world thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. So the suggestion, which Scott provides no evidence for, that somehow or another the information or the material or the intelligence was dummied up in 2002 is simply incorrect. And as I say, he makes a sweeping assertion and then provides no evidence.

O'REILLY: All right. Now I got to ask you this though. But he goes a little bit further and he says that, look, there were indications that some of the intel that the president had and all the other people you cited had was weak and that there were dissenters. And we know that some U.N., you know, Hans Blix and some other U.N. weapons inspectors weren't — they were saying, hold it, you know, we need more time. We shouldn't go in now. So I think that's a valid point, is it not, that maybe you guys were too enthusiastic and rushed into it too quickly?

ROVE: Yes. Nobody is enthusiastic about the prospect of war because somebody's going to die. And if you're president of the United States, you know that when you send people into harm's way, ultimately one person bears responsibility for having put them in harm's way, and that's you.

Look, Scott was the deputy press secretary for domestic affairs. His range was energy and education and Medicare and Medicaid at the time of 2002, the run-up to the war. I wasn't in a lot of those meetings, but I was in enough of those meetings to tell you that there was a lot of concern about intelligence. And if something was thought to not be completely provable and verifiable, it was set aside. And the attempt was to look at all the information and to question it and ask for its credibility and its pedigree and make a decision as to whether or not that was sufficient to make a decision or not.

O'REILLY: OK. The thing that convinced me was George Tenet looking me in the eye. And whether you like Tenet or not, and obviously he made huge mistakes, I mean, I don't think the man was lying. And the other thing that convinced me was British intelligence and the captured documents in Iraq...

ROVE: Right.

O'REILLY: ...that actually said Saddam Hussein told his own generals, for his own reasons, wanted to create paranoia and things like that, that he did have WMDs.

ROVE: Well, we know that in the moments before Baghdad falls, literally the hours before Baghdad falls, his commanders are talking to each other, saying when are we going to get...

O'REILLY: Yes, where are the weapons of mass destruction? Let's go get them.

ROVE: We're going to be able to use them.

O'REILLY: Right.

ROVE: And look, we know now why he — why this happened. He wanted the world to think that he had these weapons because it made him look strong in the neighborhood and big at home. And he also — we now have two reports, the Duefler report and the Kay report, which both say after the fact that he was spending vast sums of money to keep together the experts and the dual-use facilities so that when the West lost interest in this, and the U.N. sanctions failed...

O'REILLY: He could reconstitute. OK.

ROVE: He could reconstitute easily.

O'REILLY: All right. I think it's safe to say the overwhelming evidence is in the court that it was a mistake. It was a justifiable mistake because of Saddam Hussein's — the way he handled the situation. I don't — I think that most fair-minded people would agree.

ROVE: I'm not certain. Yes.

O'REILLY: But here's the key question.

ROVE: The intelligence was mistaken. I think it is a good thing that Saddam Hussein is gone.

O'REILLY: OK. But that's another debate for another day. Scott McClellan has to know some of what we just discussed. He has to know it, all right? Has to. So did he sell out for money? Is Ari Fleischer right when Fleischer told me on the radio that he spoke to Scott McClellan, still does, and McClellan told him, "My publisher wanted to gin this negative, and we went back in to make it more negative because there wasn't an audience for a President Bush positive book"? There isn't. But there is for negatives. And then we allowed ourselves with NBC, the most left-wing network, to sell our books. Do you think it was just a commercial mercenary move?

ROVE: Well, I'm not going to comment on what his ultimate motive might have been. But if you go to the preface of his book, he talks about how his editor helped him re-examine all of these things. And as you say, he told Ari that in the last three or four or five months, his editor helped him "tweak it."

But you know, look, again, these are sweeping statements that are common on the left of American politics and out on the blogosphere. And Scott regurgitates them and regurgitates them without any supporting evidence. Where is the incident? Where is the color? Where is the example of, for example, of creating propaganda to go to war?


ROVE: He doesn't provided it in the pages of this book.

O'REILLY: I haven't found it. And I have to say — and if I found it, I would absolutely have it out there.

Now when we come back, Mr. Rove, I've got to put you on the hot seat with Katrina because he makes an accusation against you, Scott McClellan does about that and about the Valerie Plame situation. We'll have more with Mr. Rove in a moment.


O'REILLY: Continuing now with FOX News analyst Karl Rove, who was criticized in Scott McClellan's new book.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN: By the last 10 months or so of my time at the White House, I grew increasingly disillusioned by things. When the first revelation came out that what I had been told by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, that they were in no way involved in the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity, which we now know is not true, when — and despite the fact that I went to the podium and said these people assured me they were not involved.


O'REILLY: All right. What say you, Mr. Rove?

Click here to watch Karl Rove talk about the CIA leak case.

ROVE: Well, as we now know, the identity of Valerie Plame was leaked to Robert Novak by Richard Armitage. What I told Scott was I didn't know her name, didn't reveal her name, didn't reveal — didn't know what she did at the CIA, and that I wasn't the source for the leak. And we now know Richard Armitage was the source.

Imagine what would have happened if Richard Armitage has come forward and said, you know what? I did it. I talked to Robert Novak and gave her the background and gave her the name. And this would have all gone away. You'll notice when it came out that Richard Armitage was the source of the leak, the media rapidly lost attention.

O'REILLY: Just explain to the audience who Richard Armitage is.

ROVE: He was the No. 2 guy at the State Department. And he, in a conversation with Robert Novak told, talked about Wilson.

O'REILLY: OK. Isn't it true though that the White House and yourself were furious with Ambassador Wilson, Valerie Plame's husband, and you guys were angry and that Scooter Libby did eventually mislead the grand jury, which he was convicted of doing?

ROVE: Yes. Look, the White House had a right to go out and correct the record with regard to what Ambassador Wilson said. I would remind you what he said. He said that he implied that he was sent to Africa as a result of a request from the vice president, which is not true. He said that he came back with a report that was seen by the White House, which on July 11 of 2003, the CIA showed a statement saying his report was never forwarded to the White House because of concerns about the quality of the work. He also said that he came back with definitive proof that the Iranians — excuse me, the Iraqis had never attempted to acquire yellowcake from Niger. We now know that that is absolutely incorrect. We know that not only did he not disprove it, he came back with additional information about a previously unknown attempt by the Iraqis to send a trade delegation to Niger. The Niger government said, you know, all we've got is uranium cake. That's the only thing we sell is uranium. So we better not accept a delegation from Iraq because it would be in violation of the international sanctions.

O'REILLY: But why drag Valerie Plame into it?

ROVE: Well, look, it was, again, I repeat, it was Richard Armitage who talked with Robert Novak about it. I can't say much about this because there's a civil lawsuit ongoing. But the public record is that my contribution to this was to say to Robert Novak...

O'REILLY: So you never — you yourself never talked about Valerie Plame to anybody?

ROVE: When Robert Novak tells me about a conversation about what he knows about Valerie Plame, I say to him, from my recollection, I say I've heard that, too. From his recollection, it was, so you've heard that, too. And that was the extent of the conversation.

O'REILLY: OK, but you yourself never talked about Valerie Plame to anybody?

ROVE: No. In fact, the only other conversation I have about this before Robert Novak's column emerges is a conversation with Matt Cooper on the Friday after the Sunday of Wilson's column, in which I discourage him from talking about writing about Wilson. He's thinking about writing a story. And from his own notes, it's clear I'm saying to him don't get ahead on this. It's not worthy of your attention.


ROVE: I'm trying to discourage him from...

O'REILLY: I have no reason to disbelieve you. And I just want to get it on the record...

ROVE: Yes.

O'REILLY: ...but McClellan's making a big deal. And obviously, the left-wing media is running wild with this. I mean, they couldn't be happier at NBC. This is like the best day they've had over there in 10 years.

ROVE: Well, and again look, I hate to be a little cynical about this, but again, you know, for about five months, I had news organizations camped out in front of my house when they thought I did it and that something bad was going to happen to me. When it came out that nothing bad was going to happen to me and that the person who had leaked the name to Robert Novak was Richard Armitage, all of a sudden, those news crews went away.

O'REILLY: Why do you think...

ROVE: And I never heard...

O'REILLY: No, they're not going to do that. They don't like you.

ROVE: …of Richard Armitage's lawn.

O'REILLY: You know, they don't like you. They don't like the president. They don't like anything about you.

ROVE: I'm shocked. I'm shocked.

O'REILLY: Why do you think Libby misled the grand jury? Why would he do that?

ROVE: Well, look, I don't know. All I know is that that whole process was one that was tough and difficult. And you know, what they eventually got him on was a he said, she said, he said, he said thing, not upon the act itself. I mean...

O'REILLY: Well, it was a misleading statement that he made to the federal grand jury.

All right. I'm going to hold Mr. Rove over because I want to talk about this Katrina thing, which is the other thing that McClellan drags you into. And I talked to Dan Bartlett about it on the radio today. It's pretty interesting. So we're going to hold Mr. Rove over for a third segment.


O'REILLY: All right. We continue now with Karl Rove and the McClellan book.

Now, the assertion that he, Scott McClellan, and the presidential counsel Dan Bartlett argued against you, Karl Rove, in the Hurricane Katrina flyover with the president, when the president flew over from the air, looking at people in the water. McClellan says that was a disaster. I didn't want to do it, but Rove made us do it. And what say you?

ROVE: Well, look, there were three options. One was, which everyone I think agreed was a bad option, was in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, they have the president land as he flew back to Washington, D.C., from Texas, land in New Orleans, discombobulate everything, close down the airspace just as there were trying to get everything in to handle immediate needs and rescue and recovery and saving people's lives.

So we had two other options. One was to fly the plane north of New Orleans to Washington, D.C., and another option was to have it fly over.

Now neither one of them are particularly attractive. It may be a close call. If you fly over, you have the picture of the president watching, and you have the commentary that we saw.

If you have the president fly from Texas to Washington, D.C., and pass north of Louisiana and north of New Orleans, then you've got the president turning a blind eye and not even bothering to fly over...

O'REILLY: Right.

ROVE: ...to see what it's at. So either way, it's a bad call.

Now I remember Dan Bartlett arguing. I'm not certain I remember Scott McClellan arguing.

O'REILLY: OK. Now what I would have done in hindsight, Monday morning quarterbacking is No. 1, I wouldn't have gone to San Diego, which the president did, to talk to troops. It was very worthy for him to do it.

ROVE: Yes.

O'REILLY: But with people dying and all of that, that would have...

ROVE: We were already out in California. We were already out in California because...

O'REILLY: I would have landed in Baton Rouge, because if you remember, because we here were doing this, Baton Rouge was command and control...

ROVE: Right.

O'REILLY: See, that's where I would have put the president in command and control in Baton Rouge just basically to show the American people that we're on it. Because you got hammered. You know you got hammered with the flyover.

ROVE: Yes, we did. We did. And look, look, and again, it's good — go to Baton Rouge was a, would have been a possibility. But again, you're going to discombobulate everything there just as people are paying attention to doing their jobs.

O'REILLY: I got it.

ROVE: And particularly remember, Baton Rouge is a staging area. There were literally thousands of personnel and probably tens of thousands of personnel and National Guardsmen staged in the Baton Rouge area who are now then pulsing, surging into New Orleans on that...

O'REILLY: I got it. It's a symbolic gesture, but I think you — it would have been perceived better than what happened. I could be wrong.

Now, "a heck of a job, Brownie." Did you know that was coming because that was another disaster for...

ROVE: Well, remember this though. Go look at all of the footage. The president is standing there with FEMA Director Brown and the governors of Florida, Louisiana — Florida, Alabama and Mississippi are standing there with him. And each one of them goes out of their way to compliment Brown on what a great job FEMA has done in meeting the needs of those three states. Now what is the president going to do there? Accept their compliments and not say a word about Brown? Maybe it's unfortunate language to have said, you know, "Brownie." But go back and take a look at all of the footage, and you will see that he has just had all kinds of accolades heaped on him for his performance and FEMA's performance in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.

O'REILLY: All right. So he did a good job in the ancillary areas, Mississippi and Alabama and Florida. But in New Orleans, obviously, it was chaos.

ROVE: Everything got overwhelmed.

O'REILLY: OK. Mr. Rove, it's a fascinating history. And I have to say, whether I agree with you or not, I mean, your perspective should be heard. And now people have a good balance. They can believe...

ROVE: There we go. Wait until my book comes out next year.

O'REILLY: Just don't compete with me, Mr. Rove, OK? My book's coming out in September. Back yours up. All right, thanks very much.

ROVE: Thanks.

O'REILLY: And we'll see you on Tuesday for the election returns. Thank you.

ROVE: You bet.

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