Novak falsely claimed Kerry labeled Iraq "the problem" in war on terrorism in 2001
Less than 24 hours after The Washington Times corrected  its misquote  of remarks by Senator John Kerry from 1997, syndicated columnist and CNN co-host Robert Novak distorted past statements Kerry made on CNN's Larry King Live in 2001. Novak claimed that Kerry told King, "We've got to get Saddam Hussein" and said Kerry called Iraq "the problem" in the war on terrorism. Discussing Kerry's recent criticism  of President George W. Bush on Iraq on the September 26 edition of CNN's The Capital Gang, Novak claimed it "was inconsistent" with statements he made "with Larry King in 2001." In fact, Kerry never told King, "We've got to get Saddam Hussein" or that Hussein was "the problem" in the war on terrorism.
From the September 26 edition of The Capital Gang:
NOVAK: [H]e [Kerry] was inconsistent. You know, he was on with Larry King in 2001. He never mentioned Osama bin Laden. He said, "We've got to get Saddam Hussein. That's the problem." He linked in that program the connection between Larry -- Osama -- between Saddam Hussein and -- and the -- and terrorism.
In two of the three 2001 appearances on Larry King Live in which Kerry discussed Iraq, he explicitly said that while the United States should pressure Saddam Hussein's regime regarding its suspected weapons of mass destruction, concern about Hussein should not distract from the higher priority of rebuilding Afghanistan and fighting the broader war on terrorism.
From the October 17, 2001, edition of Larry King Live:
CALLER: Yes. Senator Kerry, after Afghanistan, should Iraq be next on our agenda?
KERRY: It ought to be on our agenda today, but not as a military priority initially. It should be on our agenda. It should never have left our agenda in the context of the U.N. inspections. I mean, it's always been incomprehensible to me that at one moment Saddam Hussein was this enormous threat who merited our bombing and our no-fly zones, our putting our young people in harm's way, and raising the stakes, if you will, of the confrontation, and then all of a sudden it disappeared.
I think we did all of ourselves a great disservice by allowing that to happen. We must reconstitute the pressure on Saddam Hussein's regime to be inspected and to be held accountable to international standards for proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And we need to build that over a period of time. But not allow that -- and I emphasize this -- that cannot take priority over the operations in Afghanistan today, and it would be a tinderbox with respect to the Muslim world and some of the coalition today if we were to move in a premature fashion.
From the October 24, 2001, edition of Larry King Live:
CALLER: My question is: Because of what's happening, is there any way the U.N. can force Iraq to let them in to check their weapons to see if they have anthrax or any other, you know, chemicals or --
KING: Can the U.N. bring that pressure? Senator Kerry, you want to take it first.
KERRY: The United Nations was engaged in that. We had this entity called UNSCOM which was inspecting -- the Clinton administration, and the United States were the principal enforcers of that effort. Other nations began to weaken in their resolve. Ultimately, we backed off and I regret that.
I think that many of us felt we never should have backed off. We gave Saddam Hussein two years plus during which he has built up a supply. We believe maybe even every one of his 50 palaces contain some of these kinds of weapons. I think when the timing is correct we must reinvigorate the focus on Iraq, but we don't want to confuse it with the target of what we are doing in Afghanistan now, absent an absolute smoking gun about his involvement in September 11.
In the third appearance, Kerry did implicitly link Hussein to the war on terrorism but brought his name up only when King specifically asked about "going on further than Afghanistan." In this context, it makes sense that Kerry "never mentioned Osama bin Laden," since bin Laden was widely believed to be in Afghanistan at the time. Discussing Hussein, Kerry expressed the need to "put enormous pressure on" him, but specifically declined to endorse military action, noting that there was no "smoking gun evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the immediate events of September 11."
From the December 4, 2001, edition of Larry King Live:
KING: What about enhancing this war, Senator Kerry? What are your thoughts on going on further than Afghanistan, all terrorist places --
KERRY: Oh, I think we clearly have to keep the pressure on terrorism globally. This doesn't end with Afghanistan by any imagination. And I think the president has made that clear. I think we [Congress] have made that clear. Terrorism is a global menace. It's a scourge. And it is absolutely vital that we continue, for instance, Saddam Hussein. I think we --
KING: We should go to Iraq?
KERRY: Well, that -- what do you and how you choose to do it, we have a lot of options. Absent smoking gun evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the immediate events of September 11, the president doesn't have the authorization to proceed forward there.
But we clearly are he ought to proceed to put pressure on him with respect to the weapons of mass destruction. I think we should be supporting an opposition. There are other ways for us, clandestinely and otherwise, to put enormous pressure on him and I think we should do it.