Powell's End Run?

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This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, September 4, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: As you well know, the White House has resisted going to the U.N. for help in Iraq for months. The Washington Post reports that Colin Powell (search) and the military brass did an end run around Donald Rumsfeld (search) to get the president's approval. Powell denies it. So does Rumsfeld with some very colorful language.

Earlier, I asked Washington Post White House correspondent Dana Millbank, did Powell bypass Rumsfeld in a sales pitch to the president? That's today's big question.


DANA MILLBANK, WASHINGTON POST: I don't think we can use such barnyard epithets on the air, John, but it has been relayed to me from some of my colleagues that he had some issues with this and Secretary Powell had some issues with this. This was a report that was -- my byline was on it as well as that of Tom Ricks, our Pentagon correspondent, was done with several other colleagues at the Post. And it's to be expected that if it did not paint a flattering portrait of Secretary Rumsfeld's role until this and if it made it look like Secretary Powell was doing a lot of sort of behind-the-scenes dealing, that that might not be a flattering portrait for either of them. So it is understandable that they would take some issue with the report overall. But our numerous sources that were reporting say it's right on.

GIBSON: Secretary Powell did say something about it and we have that sound bite.


POWELL: I read that story in The Washington Post, where allegedly the chiefs and I were conspiring to get around the system and to press the president. The story can't be characterized as inaccurate because it is absolute fiction. Total fiction.


GIBSON: Now he's essentially denying that Rumsfeld was purposely left out of the loop, one would assume, because Rumsfeld would be knocking this Powell initiative down. Was Rumsfeld kept in the dark?

MILLBANK: Well, you have to be careful about what Secretary Powell is saying. What he is denying is something that we didn't actually assert, that there was some sort of a conspiracy that he was involved and with regular conversations by phone with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That is not something that we asserted in the story. We didn't try to get into the question of who is deliberately left in and out, but we made clear that on apparently separate, possibly related, but apparently separate paths, the joint chiefs of staff and the State Department were reaching the same conclusion and working in their own ways to reach an understanding that we would go to the U.N. for some more support, which is a policy that Secretary Rumsfeld and many of the civilians in the Pentagon did not support. So, it came together this way. We're certainly not suggesting some sort of conspiracy theory. So if that's what they're denying, they're denying something that was not asserted.

GIBSON: I guess, were you asserting in your report that there was an effort by Powell, to talk to the uniformed service chiefs in advance of talking to Rumsfeld, to get a consensus among the military people, leaving out the civilian leadership at the Pentagon, and coordinate that with the State Department and come up with a plan that essentially did leave Rumsfeld out of the picture.

MILLBANK: Well, no doubt Secretary Powell was involved in meetings in which he would be aware that that's where the joint chiefs were going with this. What we've outlined in the article is it began with Central Command Chief John Abizaid in a conversation with General Myers back in late July. General Myers then relayed this to the president down on the ranch in Crawford. On a parallel track at this same time, the State Department, seeing the deteriorating events in Iraq, were trying to bring out their own effort to revive this, seeing the bombings of the U.N. and others as an opportunity, if you will, to revive their long-standing desire to involve the United Nations. Certainly, each was aware of the other's positions and the combination of those two things seemed to outweigh the long standing belief by Secretary Rumsfeld and others that things were going smoothly and there was no need to go to the United Nations.

GIBSON: And lastly, the proposal that Powell is making to the United Nations does seem to answer some of the demands from the French and the Germans. Isn't it logical now that the administration would expect those European nations to accept this and join in?

MILLBANK: It is logical they would expect it, although if you talk to a lot of the conservatives, the hardliners are saying, you know, they were probably just calling a bluff there. In fact, they were just hiding behind the United Nations because they didn't want to participate anyway. It will be very interesting to see, assuming the resolution gets through, whether people actually cough up money and cough up troops. But I suppose at least now we'll get to fine out what the truth is.

GIBSON: Dana Millbank, Washington Post, big story today. Dana, thank you very much.

MILLBANK: Thank you, John.

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