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W.H. disputes Robertson comment

'The president never made such a comment'

Thursday, October 21, 2004 Posted: 1:22 AM EDT(0522 GMT)

President Bush greets supporters Wednesday in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

EAU CLAIRE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- A White House spokesman denied Wednesday that President Bush told Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson that he did not expect casualties from the invasion of Iraq.

"The president never made such a comment," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Senior Bush campaign adviser Karen Hughes, a longtime confidant of the president, said she was "certain" Bush would not have said anything like that to Robertson.

"Perhaps he misunderstood, but I've never heard the president say any such thing," Hughes said on CNN's "Inside Politics."

Robertson, an ardent Bush supporter, told CNN in an interview Tuesday night that he urged the president to prepare the American people for the prospect of casualties before launching the war in March 2003.

Robertson said Bush told him, " 'Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties.' "

More than 1,100 American troops have been killed in Iraq since the invasion, most of them battling an insurgency that followed the overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Sen. John Kerry, Bush's Democratic challenger, quickly seized on Robertson's account.

Kerry's campaign issued a statement Wednesday challenging Bush to say whether the "700 Club" founder and 1988 GOP presidential candidate was telling the truth.

"We believe President Bush should get the benefit of the doubt here," Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry said in a news release.

"But he needs to come forward and answer a very simple question: Is Pat Robertson telling the truth when he said you didn't think there'd be any casualties, or is Pat Robertson lying?"

McClellan said Bush did meet with Robertson in Nashville before the invasion, as Robertson recounted. But McClellan said Bush always has recognized that war "requires sacrifice" and that there would be American casualties.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Robertson restated his "100 percent" support for Bush's re-election and said he began and ended his CNN interview "with my warm endorsement and praise of President Bush." But he did not back away from his comments.

"I emphatically stated that, 'I believe 'the blessing of heaven is upon him,' and I am persuaded that he will win this election and prevail on the war against terror in order to keep America safe from her avowed enemies," Robertson said.

In his CNN interview, the religious leader described Bush on the eve of the invasion as "the most self-assured man I've ever met in my life."

"You remember Mark Twain said, 'He looks like a contented Christian with four aces.' I mean he was just sitting there like, 'I'm on top of the world,' " Robertson said on CNN's "Paula Zahn Now."

"And I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, 'Mr. President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties.' "

He said that's when the president told him he did not expect casualties from the invasion.

In the interview, Robertson also said he wishes Bush would admit to mistakes made.

"I mean, the Lord told me it was going to be A, a disaster, and B, messy," Robertson said. "I warned him about casualties."

Asked why he thought Bush has refused to admit to mistakes on Iraq, Robertson said, "I don't know this politics game. You know, you can never say you were wrong because the opposition grabs onto it: 'See, he admitted he screwed up.' "

Even as Robertson criticized Bush for downplaying the potential dangers of the Iraq war, he heaped praise on Bush, saying he believes the president will win the election.

"Even if he stumbles and messes up -- and he's had his share of stumbles and gaffes -- I just think God's blessing is on him," Robertson said.

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