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Inside Politics

O'Neill book author: No classified material included

Ron Suskind
Ron Suskind

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The author of a new book that has put former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill at the center of a swirling controversy said Wednesday none of the documents he used in his research were classified.

The Treasury Department has launched an inquiry to determine whether a full-blown investigation should be conducted to determine whether classified documents were given to Ron Suskind, the author of "The Price of Loyalty," in which O'Neill suggests the White House focused on Iraq in the earliest days of the administration.

"I can say emphatically that there's no classified documents that I have found in the trove of 19,000 documents. Whether or not they do an investigation or not is their business," Suskind said on CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports."

"There are documents of extraordinary public interest that are extremely pertinent to the functions of our government, but nothing marked classified."

"What's interesting about it is that the Treasury Department created the discs and gave them to Paul O'Neill to give to me. I mean essentially these are documents given to us by the U.S. government. If they want to do an investigation, they might well do one within -- I suppose -- the Treasury Department."

He said he has not been contacted by the Treasury Department about the inquiry, which was sought after Treasury lawyers saw documents in a "60 Minutes," one of which was marked "secret."

Suskind said that document was merely the cover letter -- and that the ensuing classified material was not contained in the material given to him.

"That's the cover sheet of a pile of documents that were cleaned off the electronic disc. We don't have the underlying documents," he said.

He added that the cover sheet shows categories for a February 1, 2001, National Security Council meeting, including one topic called "Executive summary: Political-military plan for post-Saddam Iraq crisis."

"I think what we know now based on the documents, as well as testimony by O'Neill and others, is that the military planning for the overthrow of Saddam begins in the first few weeks of the administration," Suskind said.

The book has created massive controversy in the often-partisan Beltway, with the administration and GOP denouncing its contents and top Democrats seizing on it as proof the president and his top aides deceived the public about the war with Iraq.

In the CNN interview, Suskind elaborated on another aspect of the book that has fueled the heated debate: a quote from O'Neill calling Bush a "blind man in a room full of deaf people." O'Neill said Tuesday he wishes he could take that comment back.

Suskind said O'Neill made the controversial remark after "many, many" discussions with the former Treasury secretary who repeatedly said Bush did not seem very engaged in face-to-face meetings.

"After a few months of Paul describing meetings, large and small, intimate one-on-ones in this way, I said, 'Paul, you can't be serious that the president does not react to his Secretary of the Treasury and others at all.'

"And he said almost out of frustration: 'Ron, the only way I can explain it is that in meetings large and small, the president is like a blind man in a room full of deaf people. There is no discernible connection.' It was almost out of a kind of frustration."

He said he has "sympathy for Paul" because he now feels "that this one quote is so vivid and blinding, it's eclipsed the many, many other quotes in the book." (Full story)

FBI Director Robert Mueller Wednesday took issue with O'Neill's characterization of the president.

"I have meetings with President Bush every morning, and I can tell you he is engaged," Mueller told print reporters. "He probes, he asks questions, understands and is interested in what has been done the last 24 hours to be certain the country is secure."


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