Powell: We were instructed to talk to Woodward
President's campaign site calls book 'suggested reading'
Author Bob Woodward, on "Larry King Live," said President Bush is "the one who thought this story should be told."
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell and other administration officials Monday disputed some points raised in journalist Bob Woodward's provocative new inside account of the march to war in Iraq -- a book that nevertheless appears to have earned the White House seal of approval.
In an interview Monday in which he disputed suggestions by Woodward that he was out of the loop and dragooned into supporting President Bush on the war, Powell confirmed that the White House had told administration officials to cooperate with Woodward's "Plan of Attack."
"We all talked to Woodward. It was part of our instructions from the White House," Powell said. "It was an opportunity to help him write a contemporary history of this period."
Unlike the hostile treatment accorded recent tell-all tomes from former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and counterterrorism adviser Richard Clark, Woodward's book received a generally positive reception at the White House. The president's campaign Web site even listed the book as "suggested reading," providing a direct link to order a copy from Amazon.com.
Debate continues over timing of war decision
Bush was one of 75 people interviewed by Woodward, who reported that the president ordered up secret plans for an invasion of Iraq in November 2001 and made the decision to go to war on his own, without soliciting the opinions of his vice president or secretaries of defense or state.
"It is, in a sense, the story of his presidency. This is the decision he made, he made it all alone. There was no committee vote," Woodward told CNN's "Larry King Live" on Monday. "He's the one who thought this story should be told."
But just when Bush made the fateful decision to go to war is one part of the book that is being disputed by the White House. Woodward said Bush made up his mind that war would be necessary in early January 2003 and then began telling his top advisers.
Both national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card have said that the final decision to launch military action did not come until March, after Powell went to the U.N. Security Council in early February to make the administration's case for military action.
Woodward said he agrees with Card that the decision to go to war was not absolutely final until it became irrevocable as the March 19 invasion approached. But he told King that the source for his assertion that the actual decision was made earlier was the president himself.
Woodward said Bush told him that when he met in the Oval Office with Powell on January 13, 2003, it was "not a meeting to have a discussion. This was a meeting to tell Colin Powell that a decision had been made and that the president wanted his support."
He also said that when Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met on January 11 with Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan to go over war plans, they made it clear to Bandar that they planned to depose Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, with Cheney telling the prince that once the war started, Saddam would be "toast."
However, both Powell and Prince Bandar insisted Monday that they did not come away from their respective meetings with the impression that Bush had made a final decision to go to war.
Bandar, who joined Woodward on "Larry King Live," said Woodward accurately reported that both Cheney and Rumsfeld told him that if war came, Saddam would not survive. But the ambassador said both men "told me before the meeting that the president had not made a decision."
Earlier, Bandar told CNN's "Paula Zahn Now" that he found out about the decision to launch military action the night before the invasion began.
Powell also said that during his January 13 meeting with the president, Bush "did not convey to me" that he had made a final decision to invade Iraq.
"He sent me back to do my diplomatic work," Powell said.
Pentagon says war funds properly spent
In another matter related to the book, the Pentagon Monday was forced to explain Woodward's charge that in the summer of 2002, Bush approved spending $700 million to prepare for war in Iraq -- money that was diverted from an appropriation for the war in Afghanistan -- without telling Congress.
Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan
Woodward suggested the diversion might have been illegal. But after reviewing the expenditures Monday, Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the money was properly spent on projects to support the global war on terrorism that were "not specific" to war planning.
The Pentagon carefully reviewed a request from the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Tommy Franks, for $750 million in "improvements" he wanted as part of the contingency planning for possible war with Iraq, officials said.
A senior budget official said "nothing Iraq specific" was authorized and that $178 million in funds were reprogrammed to cover fuel, additional humanitarian rations and improvements to CentCom's forward operating headquarters in Qatar. Those expenditures were "fully consistent" with the requirements of the supplemental funds provided by Congress in 2001 and 2002, the official said.
The rest of projects in CentCom's request -- which actually cost about $800 million -- were not approved until after October 25, when Congress had voted to authorize the war, the official said.
While some Democrats in Congress called for a full accounting, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett disputed Woodward's contention that the money might have been illegally diverted.
"The letter of the law was followed in this case, as we have in every case spending taxpayers' dollars," he told CNN's "Inside Politics."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said earlier in the day that both the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget would review the expenditures, but he noted that "in emergency spending there is broad discretion in how those funds could be used in the war on terrorism. And Iraq is part of the war on terrorism."
McClellan also said that the White House was "confident" that members of Congress were "fully informed of all expenditures."
In his book, Woodward suggested that Powell was kept out of the loop in decision-making before the war and only reluctantly went along with a policy he strongly opposed.
Powell on going to war: "My support was willing, and it was complete."
But the secretary of state told reporters Monday that "when the president decided that we had to go down the road of military action, it was a road I knew was there all along, and I was as committed as anyone else to see the end of this [Iraqi] regime."
"My support was willing, and it was complete," Powell said, although he also conceded that he "will always plead guilty to being cautious about matters having to do with war and peace."
Powell also took issue with the impression left by Woodward's characterization of the meetings on January 11 between Cheney, Rumsfeld and Prince Bandar, during which they discussed war plans, and his own meeting with Bush two days later in which the president is quoted as telling Powell, "I really think I'm going to have to do this."
Powell said the idea that Bandar was given information that was not being shared with the secretary of state is incorrect.
"I was included in all of the military planning preparations. I was briefed on a regular basis," said Powell, a retired Army general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I was intimately familiar with the plan. I was aware that Prince Bandar was being briefed on the plan."
But Woodward insisted that while Powell may have indeed seen the war plans, Bandar learned of Bush's decision from Cheney and Rumsfeld before Powell learned about it from Bush.
"The issue is not the plan. The issue is the decision," Woodward told King, adding that Rice urged Bush to tell Powell quickly because of concerns the secretary might first hear the news from Bandar.
Powell says relationship with Cheney 'excellent'
Powell also disputed Woodward's contention that he and Cheney were so estranged by their differences over the war that they barely speak, insisting that his relationship with the vice president is "excellent."
"When the vice president and I are alone, it's Colin and Dick," he said.
But Woodward insisted his characterization of the friction between the two men is correct.
"Powell is the diplomat. He is the reluctant warrior. He is the cautious person, and Cheney is much more hard-lined, believes that with someone like Saddam Hussein, you can't play patty-cake, diplomacy doesn't work," he said.
CNN's Jamie McIntyre, John King and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.