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Cabinet controversy continues

From the Wolf Blitzer Reports staff in Washington:


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Paul O'Neill admits he'd do some things differently if he were interviewing for a book again. But he says he did not make the mistake of giving classified documents to the author of a new book about O'Neill and President Bush.

"Honestly I don't think there's anything that's classified in those 19,000 documents," the former treasury secretary said on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday.

Those 19,000 documents were used by author Ron Suskind for his book "The Price of Loyalty."

In it, and in subsequent interviews, O'Neill alleges the president and his aides sought to overthrow former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from the earliest days of the administration.

The Treasury Department said Monday it had asked its inspector general to determine if there should be an investigation into whether any classified material was improperly released to O'Neill.

"What they will discover is that the general council -- the chief legal officer of the Treasury Department -- went through all those documents and sent me things under the law ... He is not supposed to send me anything that isn't un-classified," said O'Neill.

In other words: Nothing's classified in those papers. And if there is anything classified, O'Neill says, "Don't blame me."

His interviews -- in the book, in Time magazine, on CBS's "60 Minutes" and on the "Today" show -- are causing a capital-sized slugfest that the president's adversaries are eager to exploit.

"For him to come out and write these things about the president being aloof, that he wanted to go into Iraq from day one, not engage in economic issues -- you know, I think the American public are gonna be very concerned. So of course it's something we're gonna talk about," says Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Tuesday, it was the president's deputies who took up the fight against O'Neill's claims.

"I don't know what meetings he could've been in. The policy of this government toward Iraq has been regime change, since 1998," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at a briefing.

Secretary Rumsfeld confirmed he'd spoken twice with O'Neill about the book. But Rumsfeld denied reports that he asked O'Neill not to continue his involvement in the project.

O'Neill is doing his own damage control. He now says he'd take back some unflattering comments he made about the president's leadership style specifically, his description in the book of Mr. Bush and his cabinet as quote, "a blind man surrounded by deaf people."

As for the possibility of an investigation by the department he once led, Paul O'Neill says, "If I were Secretary of the Treasury I would have done the same."


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