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Interview With Journalist Bob Woodward

Aired April 19, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Bob Woodward, author of "Plan of Attack," the explosive new book everybody's talking about. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward inside the how, why and when President Bush and his team went to war in Iraq. He's here for the hour. We'll take your calls. Next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We're in Washington tonight with Bob Woodward Bob Woodward, the assistant managing editor of "The Washington Post," the No. 1 "New York Times" best-selling author. His book is already climbing up the Amazon list, and it's only been out -- when, today?


KING: There is its cover, "Plan of Attack," ranked No. 1 on sales. It's also on the suggested reading lists of both the Bush and the Kerry campaigns.

What does that say to you?

WOODWARD: That maybe I got it right or that it's down the middle or that it's fair. I wanted to respond to what Prince Bandar apparently has said.

KING: Yes, let's -- let's brief...

WOODWARD: Yes. Right.

KING: ... let you get up to date on that. In the book, you said that...

WOODWARD: That on January 11, a Saturday, Cheney and Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, called Bandar in, with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- who, by the way, has said my account is correct, publicly -- and presented the war plan. And Don Rumsfeld is on the record, if you look on the Pentagon Web site, saying that he said, This war plan, you can take it to the bank. It's going to happen."

KING: And Bandar was there.

WOODWARD: And Bandar was there. And Cheney then said, When we start, not if but when we start, Saddam is toast. The president confirmed all of this when I interviewed him four or five months ago, so I don't know why Bandar is now denying what all the others...

KING: And how about...

WOODWARD: ... and the records show. KING: What about the oil price thing?

WOODWARD: What I say in the book is, according to Bandar, the Saudis hoped to control oil prices in the 10 months running up to the election because if they skyrocketed, it would hurt the American economy.

KING: Now, just for the record, White House spokesman Dan Bartlett tells CNN there was no secret deal, no talk of bringing down prices in time for the election. The Saudi government also denies the story, saying the allegation that the kingdom manipulates the price of oil for political purposes or to affect elections is erroneous and has no basis in fact.

WOODWARD: In the book, it's one -- I'm sorry, it's two sentences, and I don't say there is a secret deal or any collaboration on this. I say that Bandar and the Saudis hoped to put prices -- now, I understand there's something on the wire from Bloomberg saying that, in fact, the Saudis have said this, that in the period before the election, they told the president directly that they wanted to keep oil prices low in a range. So...

KING: Well, that's -- that would make Kerry correct, saying they're affecting the campaign.

WOODWARD: Well, I don't know. I mean, Kerry has taken this to the next level. This always gets caught in the political crossfire, and I'm trying to stick with what my reporting showed. And if you looked at it, as the people at "60 Minutes" did, and so forth, you would see how good the sourcing is.

KING: Now, Bob Woodward is with us tonight. This is part one. He will be with us again on Friday night for part two. This is a Woodward week. Hillary Clinton tomorrow night. She's boxed in between. But Bob Woodward will be with us twice, so we know that a lot of comments are going to come during the week, and he'll respond to them, of course, on Friday.

Some things to go over about your methods. When we read -- and you were telling me for a long time about this book and how excited you were about this. You were very excited about this book.

WOODWARD: Well, because I think it's really important to find out how somebody makes this decision. It's the biggest decision a president makes.

KING: When we read of a conversation between two people, let's say, Powell and Rice, and they're the only two people in the meeting, how do you know that conversation?

WOODWARD: Well, Colin Powell in an interview today about this said, "We all talked to Woodward" -- direct quote. And...

KING: So that's out now. Powell...

(CROSSTALK) WOODWARD: That's what he's saying. I'm not going to identify sources, but we now have...

KING: But if he's saying it, you can identify him, Bob.


KING: If he's saying they told him to talk to you and he talked to you...


KING: ... I think it looks like a duck.

KING: Right, but he said, "We all," and I -- you know, I'll let other people surface themselves. I'm not going to do it.

KING: But we know...

WOODWARD: That's what he said.

KING: ... Bush talked to you.

WOODWARD: Bush, on the record, for hours.

KING: Rumsfeld talked to you.

WOODWARD: Yes, on the record, for hours.

KING: Powell says he talked to you.


KING: Rice must have talked to you.

WOODWARD: You know, let them say. Let them answer. You got the secretary of state now on record, in a period when this is highly politicized and charged, saying, "We all talked to Woodward."

KING: And back to the original question. Two people having a conversation. You write about it. Does that mean one of them told you about the conversation?

WOODWARD: That's right, or there might have been records or notes, or somebody who was in the conversation went to their deputy immediately afterwards and said, You won't believe the meeting I just had.


KING: If the deputy told you, is that second-hand?

WOODWARD: It is second-hand, and then I would go to the two people in the conversation and say, Did this happen, and try get confirmation. In all of these issues about when the president decided and what was going on -- I went through with the president on this meeting with Powell, for instance, and now the White House is kind of saying, Well, the president really didn't decide to go to war. The president told me, and if the White House would let me play the tapes of the interview, you would hear the president say, as we go over this meeting for 10 minutes, he'd say, You got it about right. And the president would say, I said to Colin Powell, time to put your war uniform on. It was a decision meeting.

Now, Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, is quoted in the book and named as the person who said, Well, yes, there was this decision, but it was not irrevocable, that could you call it back. You know, it's like getting married. You go to the altar and it's not until you say, "I do." And it was not irrevocable, but they told Bandar, the president told Rumsfeld and Cheney and Powell, that he'd decided, and he also told Condi Rice.

KING: Now, we also have Powell on tape, disputing the suggestion about Bandar being informed of the war before him. Let's show that to you now.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The question that has arisen seems to be that Prince Bandar received a briefing on the plan, and there's some suggestion that I hadn't. Of course, I had. I was intimately familiar with the plan, and I was aware that Prince Bandar was being briefed on the plan.


WOODWARD: But see, the book repeatedly says -- and Powell, in one of his interviews said Woodward's book says he was briefed on the plan. The issue is not the plan. The issue is the decision.

KING: To go.

WOODWARD: To go. And when Don Rumsfeld says -- looks Bandar in the eye and says, You can take this to the bank, this is going to happen, and they have the top secret war plan, and then the president confirms all of this, and Cheney says, When we go -- I don't know. I mean, if you laid it all out, you would see how carefully it's done and that this is a serious account of what happened.

Now, we're in a political season and there's a lot of crossfire, a lot of people worried about their own hides, a lot of people worried about their future or the impact of the truth, and so people run for ambiguous cover, and you know, welcome to Washington.

KING: Why do you think Powell was late in the knowing?

WOODWARD: He was -- in terms of the decision? Well, it was only two days later.

KING: Yes, but he's secretary of state.

WOODWARD: Yes, that's right. But they felt that they had to tell Bandar at that point because they needed Saudi support. KING: They didn't ask Powell for his input? They just told him?

WOODWARD: This was -- as the president told me -- he said, This 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.

KING: The book is "Plan of Attack." The author is Bob Woodward. The publisher is Simon & Schuster. We'll be right back.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war.


KING: We're back with Bob Woodward. When you're given access, extraordinary access, like the president gives you, do you think he expects it to be favorable?

WOODWARD: No. There are no deals. And there are no restrictions on questions. In fact, in a practical sense, there was no time limit.

KING: Do you tend to be favorable, since the president is giving you extraordinary time, just human being favorable?

WOODWARD: I want him to have his say, but there are other people involved in this. And clearly, this whole issue of when he decided to go to war is a sensitive point with the White House because it turns out, in March, before the war, the president publicly said in one of his jumbled sentences, "I have not made up our mind on military action," definitely conveying the impression that he had not yet decided, when he, in fact, had told people he had.

KING: Does this confirm O'Neill's reports that Bush was committed to this early on?

WOODWARD: No, it actually does not.

KING: Does not?

WOODWARD: What it -- what it shows is that before 9/11 -- remember, Bush and Cheney, et al, came into office and we were engaged in a low-grade undeclared war with Iraq. We were bombing Iraq, often daily, and they were sensitive to this. They had lots of meetings. They came up with what was called the "liberation strategy," but it was more long-term. It was not a military invasion plan that was developed after 9/11. So there was a focus on it, but it was a reasonable focus. And people have said, Well, it seemed to be an obsession. I think it was an obsession with some people and became much more so after 9/11, but what they were doing, I think, if Gore had been in the White House, might have done the same thing, to review this ongoing war.

KING: Let's touch some bases here. The Cheney-Powell conflict, is that real?

WOODWARD: Yes, indeed, it's real.

KING: Weren't they once close?

WOODWARD: They were never, in fact, that close.

KING: Not in the first war, they weren't?

WOODWARD: No. In the Gulf war...


WOODWARD: I mean, they worked together, and as Colin Powell wrote in his memoirs, they never spent a social hour together. And the day Cheney left as secretary of defense -- remember, Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs and was right under Cheney. He went in to say good-bye to Cheney, and Cheney was not there. And in his memoirs, Powell said that he was hurt that there'd been no good-byes. So they were never really close. But what's happened here, there are two world views. Powell is the diplomat. He is the reluctant warrior. He is the cautious person. And Cheney is much more hard- line, believes that with someone like Saddam Hussein, you can't play pattycake, diplomacy doesn't work, you're going to get jerked around and you have to knock him in the head.

KING: But did not Powell send more troops to get them out of Kuwait than Rumsfeld-Cheney sent to go into Iraq?

WOODWARD: Yes, that's true. That's true, but...

KING: So reluctant, but certainly, Powell went head first, didn't he?

WOODWARD: Well, Powell's theory -- the Powell doctrine, which emerged from the first Gulf war, was simply that we will send overwhelming force to get the job done, and that's what they did.

KING: What do you make of this "He said, she said" going on now?

WOODWARD: Well, look, it's political...

KING: I think he said this. I wasn't -- I was there. I think we was there. He wasn't there.


KING: It's a Jackie Mason routine.

WOODWARD: Well, but there's not much of it. They picked on a couple of things that seemed to be sensitive points, and that's fine. I've talked to the White House, talked to Dan Bartlett about this, said, Well, we look at this way, you know, and so forth. And I said, Look, my reporting says if you go to this page of the transcript with the president, he confirmed this, and so forth. And a lot of this is politics. I think what's interesting -- to me, anyway -- about this book is not the politics but what it shows about Bush and the administration.

KING: And it shows?

WOODWARD: Well, 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. There was no congressional -- there was a congressional vote to say, You can do -- use the military in Iraq as you deem necessary and appropriate. They gave him a blank check. The president's the commander-in-chief, rested totally on his shoulders. So as you see him going through this process of 16 months, getting conflicting advice, getting intelligence reports, assessing the threat, living with the haunting fear of, My God, another 9/11 might become -- might come at any moment...

KING: What was his reaction at the time you talked to him about no wmds?

WOODWARD: It was interesting. I -- this is five months ago. I said, OK, you've found no weapons of mass destruction, and one of my bosses at "The Post" said, The question is, did you deceive us or were you deceived? And I got two very emphatic, No. No.

KING: On both?

WOODWARD: On both.

KING: Well, what does that -- someone had to be wrong.

WOODWARD: And we went 'round and 'round about this. And I said, Why -- you know, You -- after 9/11, your strength was being the voice of realism, going to the country and saying, This is an awful thing that's happened, these terrorist attacks. We're going to go after them. We're going to fight them. It's going to be a long war. It's going to be a difficult war. And now you haven't found weapons of mass destruction, and you're kind of pretending you have. Well, we found programs and we found hints, when everyone was saying you had them. And he finally -- I said, You know, why not just say it? And then he said, OK, true, true, true. And then he was worried I was going to run down to "The Washington Post" and write a story that would say, President says no weapons found. I told him I would not, that it would be in the context of the book. You know, it's a problem with this war...

KING: Did have you a feeling of wanting to, as a reporter?

WOODWARD: I did, but I promised him that I would not, and I kept that promise.

KING: We'll take a break and be back with more. Your calls will be included tonight. And we'll have part two on Friday night, Hillary Clinton tomorrow. Back with Bob Woodward. The book is "Plan of Attack." Don't go away.


KING: What's the sense, Bob Woodward, of the man, the man you saw a couple of years ago and the man you saw now?

WOODWARD: That's an important question. Not on fire about this decision, but absolutely convinced that the war was necessary, essential, that this was a threat. He said he believes this country and he have a duty to free people, to liberate people. And you know, that's his world view. He's going to seize this opportunity to achieve these big goals.

He -- as the military -- one of the themes in this book is you see the development of the military plan, and it's changing and there are all kinds of elements. It's a very intriguing study of the planning process. It got better and more efficient, and so he realized that it became -- it looked like it was going to be an easier war, and I think that had an impact in this decision.

KING: Would you call -- I know I spent over an hour with him the...

WOODWARD: Yes, on what?

KING: Talking baseball.


KING: I got a book out, "Why I Love Baseball."


KING: Took over the book to him, was very nice, and we -- he's an -- extraordinary baseball knowledge, extraordinary, and extraordinary passion for the game.


KING: Does he have passion for the office?

WOODWARD: Sure. Sure, he does. And he's the one who thought this story should be told and...

KING: He wanted this done?

WOODWARD: Yes, he wanted it. And I think there was a kind of on again-off again reaction to it, to what I was doing as the war went on.

KING: Do you think they expected a more favorable book?

WOODWARD: Well, you know, I think they expected a more favorable war. They expected to find weapons of mass destruction, and they expected, as one of the exiles told President Bush and Vice President Cheney, that they would be greeted with sweets and flowers. Now, Cheney, I think, bought that. Interestingly enough, in that meeting, which is recounted in the book, the president was skeptical about that. Well, how do you know that we're going to be greeted like that? Who do you talk to? Is there Internet? Is there phone service?

KING: We questioned them a lot on it.

WOODWARD: He questioned them a lot on it.

KING: Help me with this $700 million spent without the Congress knowing, and today, the Pentagon, I think, admitted $200 million was spent. How did they do this without our elected officials knowing?

WOODWARD: There's a lot of money they were given...

KING: For Afghanistan.

WOODWARD: For Afghanistan, but Tommy Franks is the commander, central commander...

KING: And he can move it around?

WOODWARD: Well, he had the war in Afghanistan and the planning in Iraq. And I went through this with White House people in some detail, and the president again confirmed that they -- he approved this $700 million and that it was from the Afghan appropriation. And there were people in the White House who felt, you know, Let's not disturb Congress with this.

KING: But some in Congress today are calling for an investigation of that.


KING: Should they?

WOODWARD: It's always better to know. And the issue of spending money in preparing for a war, under the Constitution, they shouldn't spend money unless Congress appropriates it. It's that simple.

KING: Now, some of the people involved -- Karl Rove. Does he play a big role in this story?

WOODWARD: Not in deciding to -- to go to war. But he is the political guru, as we know. And there's a fascinating time, again, when the president has decided on going to war, January, 2003, after he's told Condi Rice it's going to be war, Karl Rove is down in Crawford and he brings the secret briefing. This is the plan for the 2004 presidential election, and this is how we're going to win. And he goes into their little ranch house there, the Bushes', and Laura Bush is lying on the couch pretending to read a book. Rove is convinced she's paying full attention to the campaign plan because that's her life, too.

And Rove lays out the themes -- the persona of Bush in one of -- the first one is "strong leader." And they go through this, and then Rove says, We're going to start some fund-raising early 2003. And Bush says, Nope, not so fast. We have a war coming and no fund- raising for some time.

Now, Rove is not advising him on the tactics or the strategy, is not in on the war planning meetings, but the theme of what Bush is running on, as a strong leader, if you look at all the ads, and so forth, that's in essence what it's about.

KING: Condoleezza Rice says she hasn't read the book yet. She's looking forward to reading it. She appeared, I think, on "Face the Nation" yesterday. Let's see a clip of Condoleezza Rice yesterday and have Bob respond.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president and I were out in Texas, and in a sense, part of the relationship between a national security adviser and a president is that the president, in a sense, kind of thinks out loud, if I could put it that way. And the president was getting somewhat frustrated with the way that the inspections were going. We talked a lot about how Saddam Hussein was starting to fool the world again, as he'd done over the last 12 years, opening up places that he knew had already been cleaned up and not allowing scientists to be interviewed. And he said, No, I think we probably are going to have to go to war. We're going to have to go to war. And it was not a decision to go to war.


KING: Is that a difference from what you wrote?

WOODWARD: We're going to have to go to war. And then he tells Rove the same thing, and then he tells Rumsfeld, and then he finally tells Powell. You know, is this a decision? Sure, it's a decision. You can't decide to go to war in 24 hours. You have to plan. You have to get ready. You have to tell people that this is coming. But Andy Card's right. It's not irrevocable. The president could close the book and say, No war, guys.

WOODWARD: Did someone have to tell him to tell Powell?

WOODWARD: Condi Rice in the interview with the president. Condi Rice -- in fact, the president raises the issue. He says, Ms. Rice, or Dr. Rice said I needed to talk to Powell, when I started asking about that meeting. And then she said, I said to the president, you better talk to Colin about this. The worry was they'd told Bandar, who's friends with Powell, and they better get the secretary of state in there. There's no -- you know, somebody can try to cloud this up with ambiguity. There's none.

KING: How does Colin come off to you?

WOODWARD: Kind of tortured, very concerned, rightly, about war and the consequences of war.

KING: Is he unhappy?

WOODWARD: I don't think unhappy. I think -- he served. He's one of -- he's the only one, really, in that inner circle who saw combat. And I mean, this is really important. He knows what it's like to be out in that foxhole. He knows what hell it is, what the danger is, what it -- what war is, in its utter ugliness. And that's why he was the reluctant warrior always. And then he saw that the president was heading toward war. He tried to persuade him on diplomacy. They did diplomacy for a while. And he took the position -- Powell did, which is explained in the book -- that you kind of come to a fork in the road, and the fork -- the president decides, not the secretary of state, unless the secretary of state is invited in to give an opinion, and he was not.

KING: We'll take a break. We'll include some of your phone calls. Be back right after this.


BUSH: Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly, yet our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.



KING: We're back with Bob Woodward. You'll be seeing a lot of him on this program again Friday night, he'll be with us through the conventions as well and election night, we hope to see him here as one of our prime analysts. It's always a great pleasure to welcome him to this program. I know you count this as a second home. Always happy to see you.

WOODWARD: Thank you.

KING: Mr. Woodward, before we get some calls, George Tenet, what do you make of him, survives through Clinton and Bush.

WOODWARD: He does, and there is an intelligence mistake here about weapons of mass destruction based on what we know at this point, but Tenet revitalized the CIA. He fixed the CIA after years of having no human sources really, having the situation where we were not training the case officers, the CIA people, and he's boosted morale, and what we did in Afghanistan, the victory in that war, at least so far, really started out as a CIA effort.

KING: But he said it was a slam dunk.

WOODWARD: That we had the case, that we had weapons of mass destruction. The CIA intelligence report said that. They believed that. The president believed that. Condi Rice said she believed it. Quite frankly, I believed it. I wasn't looking at all the intelligence. I had some signs that there was skepticism and some of it was skimpy. They made the classic mistake of not putting the doubt up front in saying, look, we think he has it. We judge he has it, but we don't have iron-clad evidence, and if they'd said that, the dynamic might have changed.

KING: Wasn't the intelligence coming from people anti-Hussein in Iraq in the regime who maybe wanted to look good?

WOODWARD: I think there's some of that, but the basic stuff was coming from national security agency intercepts, some human spies, and satellite photos, and so forth. It was through the CIA. George Tenet has said, I was the president's intelligence officer, and he was. This was CIA intelligence, but to -- Tenet made a mistake. The CIA made a mistake. The administration made a mistake, based on what we know now, but you know, there is a revitalization of the CIA that took place under Tenet.

KING: We've asked about Cheney-Powell, Rumsfeld-Powell. How do they get along.

WOODWARD: Not as well as they should. It's a working relationship. In the book, one of the things that has not been picked up much is that Powell concluded that Rumsfeld has rubber gloves. He does not leave his fingerprints on recommendations. He does not take a stand. He will ask questions. For instance, before the war started, he called in all of his generals and chief people, and said, how long do you think the war will be, and they said, oh, no, we're not going to answer. We know you shouldn't predict.

That's a felony for Rumsfeld. He said, no, no, I really want to know. So they gave the number of days and it went from 7 days to 30 days. Then they said, OK, what's your prediction? He said, oh, no, I'm not giving a prediction. That's Rumsfeld. Rubber gloves, careful. I describe him as the war technocrat here. He's the one presenting the plan in the improvements and what they call the iterations of it.

KING: Bush-Powell?

WOODWARD: They're -- like I reported in "Bush at War," there's some tension and competition. They say Powell and his deputy, Rich Armitage, say that Powell's an ice box when the White House doesn't like what he's done, or is not embracing him in the way I think he would like to be embraced.

KING: Do you think he's in trouble today?

WOODWARD: I doubt it, and again, I report in the book that -- and I think this is important at the end of all of this, Powell concluded the president wanted to not throw anyone over the side, didn't want anyone to quit before the election. It's kind of circle the wagon.

KING: Do you think Powell would stay for a second term?

WOODWARD: Not a chance.

KING: Hart -- not a chance? WOODWARD: You didn't get Prince Bandar on the phone?

KING: I think they've been working on it. We may have him in a minute. Hartford, Connecticut, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Woodward, in your book, "Bush at War," President Bush said he didn't owe his cabinet any explanations for what he does, because he's the commander. Do you think Bush's rigid attitude sometimes intimidated his advisers to be less open and candid when trying to advise him?

WOODWARD: It is. In "Bush at War," the president is quoted saying exactly what she said, but he is referring to what Bush said, "I have to provoke a discussion among these people, and I do not -- I want them to express their views, but I don't have to give an explanation of mine, at the point where they're having a provocative conversations.

KING: Cleveland, Ohio for Bob Woodward, hello.

CALLER: Yes, I'd like to ask Mr. Woodward about in the "60 Minutes" interview, you asked George Bush if he had talked to his father about going to war and he said, no, he had asked a higher father, and then you've referred to his mission to free people around the world, and this kind of sounds like a Messianic complex to me. I just wonder how big a role religion plays in this White House, and do you find it at all unsettling?

WOODWARD: Well, clearly religion plays a big role in Bush's life, and he did say, when I asked about his father, he said, in terms of finding strength, I appeal to a higher father, meaning God, and when he ordered war, he prayed, and he prayed that he be a good messenger of God's will. Now, I think this is kind of standard Christian doctrine, and I don't see it as a mission. I see we have a president who is very religious.

KING: Are you surprised he did not talk to his father?

WOODWARD: I am. I am. I mean, I said to him, I said, the one man on earth who has held this office, who is still alive, who actually went to war with the same person, didn't you sit down and say, dad, what do you think, how should I assess this? What are the things that I should consider, and he said, no.

KING: We'll take a break and be back with more of Bob Woodward, more phone calls. Don't go away.


KING: We have made the connection. With us on the phone is Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. Who wants to go first? Do you hear Bob OK, Prince?

WOODWARD: Have you read the book, ambassador?

BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: No, but I read snippets of it.

WOODWARD: The parts pertaining to you, and there seems to be some contention about this meeting January 11 in the White House. You know, Don Rumsfeld is on record saying he looked you in the eye and said, "you can take this to the bank, Ambassador, this is going to happen," and the "this" is the war plan. And...

KING: I'll let him respond to that part. Prince, is that true?

BIN SULTAN: Larry, number one, Bob Woodward is a first class journalist and reporter. And ...

KING: OK, and number two?

BIN SULTAN: And number two, I will never contradict Bob Woodward.


KING: So what's number three?

BIN SULTAN: And number three is, what he said is accurate. However, there was one sentence that was left out.

KING: And that is?

BIN SULTAN: Both Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld told me before the briefing that the president has not made a decision yet, but here is the plan, and then the rest is accurate.

WOODWARD: Then why would they say, "You can take this to the bank, it's going to happen," and then, as I understand it, the vice president said, "when this starts Saddam is toast." Is that correct?

BIN SULTAN: This is absolutely correct, but underlined when, because my response was last time we tried this, we left Saddam in place, and I don't think anybody in the Middle East would like to try this again if Saddam would stay in place, and that's the rest of the story. So what Bob said was accurate, except that I was informed that the president has not made a decision yet.

WOODWARD: But then why would they have the meeting to contradict what you're saying, Ambassador? And you have not read the transcripts of my interview with the president, and the president said to you that the message they sent to you was his message. This is, you know, as everyone knew, there was extensive planning going on for war. Why would they have this meeting to tell you a maybe? Doesn't make sense.

BIN SULTAN: Because the whole aspect is that the president, if I make the decision, this plan, you can take it also to the bank, like what's his name, Rumsfeld, said.

Remember, Bob, I was briefed by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and by General Powell about Plan 1001, and at that time, we were not sure if the Americans...

WOODWARD: This was for the first Gulf War.

BIN SULTAN: ... were going to go to war or not.

WOODWARD: Right. And -- but they didn't tell you, "You can take this to the bank, this is going to happen." I, you know, if we were to get out the...

KING: Let's ask it this way. Prince Bandar, after that meeting, did you think they were going to war?

BIN SULTAN: I was -- to be honest with you, not sure, but I was -- my gut feeling was telling me that if Saddam Hussein does not respond the right way, yes, they were going to go to war, but I can -- must emphasize that this is January. Between January and March, everybody emphasized to me that they want to go to the U.N. They want to try all other venues. But if Saddam does not respond positively, then they have to be ready. I think this president was thinking, "I cannot bluff," and President Johnson always, I was told, said, "Don't tell a fellow to go to hell unless you intend to send him there," and I think President Bush was intending to send Saddam to hell if he does not respond.

KING: Let me get in one more thing, Prince Bandar.

BIN SULTAN: Yes, sir.

KING: The story that Mr. Woodward has about the promise to lower the oil prices by the election. Your government has denied has.

WOODWARD: That's not my story. What I say in the book is that the Saudis, and maybe you looked at this section of the book, Ambassador, that the Saudis hoped to keep oil prices low during the period for -- before the election, because of its impact on the economy. That's what I say.

BIN SULTAN: I think the way that Bob said it now is accurate. We hoped that the oil prices will stay low, because that's good for America's economy, but more important, it's good for our economy and the international economy, and this is not -- nothing unusual. President Clinton asked us to keep the prices down in the year 2000. In fact, I can go back to 1979, President Carter asked us to keep the prices down to avoid the malaise. So yes, it's in our interests and in America's interests to keep the prices down.

KING: Do you want President Bush...

BIN SULTAN: But that was not a deal.

KING: Do you want President Bush to be reelected?

BIN SULTAN: We always want any president who is in office to be reelected, Larry, but that is the American choice. This is not our call. This is the American people's call.

KING: OK, I think we've cleared up... WOODWARD: Could I just, I'm sorry to go back on this, but Prince Bandar, why would the president tell me on the record two days later that he called Colin Powell in and said he had decided on war? This was a 12-minute meeting. I went through this for some time with the president, and then the president would ask Powell, "will you be with me?" And Powell said, "I will be with you. I will support a war," and then the president said to former General Powell, now Secretary of State Powell, "time to put your war uniform on."

I know that Powell left that meeting saying, he's going to do it. He had made that decision, and you look at what Rumsfeld has said and others, and as you may be aware, there might be tape recordings that would show that the version I have is the accurate one. What's going on here?

BIN SULTAN: Bob, I believe Secretary Powell/General Powell's response does not surprise me. He's a very loyal soldier and a statesman. And I believe he puts a lot of weight on loyalty, and he disdains disloyalty. Therefore, I believe if your account is accurate, which I have no reason to discount it, that general -- Secretary Powell told the president his views. Once the commander in chief made his mind up, General Powell -- Secretary Powell decided it's right to support the commander-in-chief.

KING: I got to get a break.

BIN SULTAN: That is the only thing I can say about this.

KING: Thank you, Prince Bandar, thank you for responding to our call. That's Prince Bandar, the ambassador from Saudi Arabia.

We'll be back with Bob Woodward right after this.


KING: Just for the record, the prince called in. We did not call him, the Prince Bandar. Bandar called in to speak to you.


WOODWARD: ... years going back to Nixon. I've heard all of them. This goes in the hall of fame. This does, because what he says is yes your account of the meeting saying you can take it to the bank is accurate, but we had a discussion before saying the president hasn't decided. I mean, why would you have that discussion before, and then go through the charade of a meeting saying oh, can you count on this and you can take it to the bank, and he's going to be toast?

I mean, that goes in the hall of fame of dodges and fishy explanations. I think it should get an Academy Award.

KING: You think your confirmation is the president.

WOODWARD: Well, I know the president confirms it. And as I suggested to him, there are all kinds of interviews and with the tape recorder on the table, I did, with people about NEVILLE: is, and I have no doubt. I mean, as you're saying, you don't go to somebody and say, "I'm going to tell you you can take it to the bank, but I really mean maybe," and then go in and say, "can you take it to the bank, and he's going to be toast." It goes in the hall of fame. Congratulation, Bandar.

KING: Bob will be back with us Friday. What's -- many things must have surprised you.

What surprised you the most?

WOODWARD: Well, the real surprise is how hard the aftermath has been, and the killing of our soldiers, and Marines. And that is an agony for the country, and for the president, and for everyone. It is, from what I see, and the reports I read in my own newspaper, it is almost like road warrior there. It has become chaotic, and you see those people, and there's a lot of hate and a lot of violence, and, you know what, it's a jam. I have Richard Armitage, Powell's deputy saying this is a jam and that is an understatement.

KING: How volatile for this election?

WOODWARD: Very volatile.

KING: Worst you've seen?

WOODWARD: You don't know what's going to happen. But this is, if you push or try push toward the question of who is George Bush, this decision to undertake this war is the most defining characteristic of him. Everyone I've interviewed agrees he was passionate, he was hands-on, he was committed, and the problem is, he may have been wrong.

KING: History is going to know that. We don't.

WOODWARD: And as the president said, "We don't know. We'll all be dead."

KING: Great line. Thanks, Bob. See you again Friday.

Woodward returns form part two. We've just scratched the surface. "Plan of Attack" is published by Simon and Schuster. The book is everywhere and as we said when we went on, it is already no. 1 on ordering through the Internet. I'll be back in a minute and tell you about tomorrow night. Don't go away.


KING: She wrote the no. 1 best seller in 2003. She's Hillary Clinton. And she's our guest tomorrow night. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. That's a good follow-up to what probably will be the no. 1 book of 2004 "Plan of Attack" by Robert Woodward who returns to this program on Friday.

And On Thursday he'll guest with my friend Aaron Brown who is with now in New York to host "NEWSNIGHT."


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