Collective amnesia: Matthews, Klein and Sullivan gush over Rice, forgetting history of misleading and false statements

Chris Matthews and Time columnists Andrew Sullivan and Joe Klein heaped praise on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, never mentioning that Rice, in her current capacity and previously as national security adviser, repeatedly made false or misleading statements about the administration's use of intelligence in advance of the Iraq war and pre-9-11 intelligence.

On the June 25 broadcast of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, host Chris Matthews and Time columnists Andrew Sullivan and Joe Klein repeatedly praised Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Matthews touted Rice's “true diplomacy” and credited her with causing the White House to appear "[l]ess confrontational abroad, [and] more realistic in public, more confident, certainly, in its politics." Klein agreed that “it's her time,” after calling Rice “one of” the “heroes” in the administration, while Sullivan touted Rice's “act of leadership” in “challenging” the Southern Baptist Convention to “be more tolerant and civil in their discussions on issues like gay marriage.” During the entire discussion, not one of the pundits mentioned that Rice, in her current capacity and previously as national security adviser, repeatedly made false or misleading statements about the administration's use of intelligence in advance of the Iraq war and pre-9-11 intelligence.

Media Matters for America and others have documented Rice's history of making false and misleading statements during media interviews and public speeches about the Bush administration's policies. At the time of Rice's 2004 nomination to succeed Colin L. Powell as secretary of state, Media Matters noted that several media outlets produced numerous reviews and assessments of Rice's record as national security adviser during Bush's first term, but they generally omitted mention of Rice's numerous apparently false statements, even when the reviews were conducted by outlets that originally broke the news of the statements in question. In The New York Times' investigation of the intelligence regarding Iraq's purchase of aluminum tubes, the paper reported on October 3, 2004, that Rice had misrepresented the state of intelligence on the tubes. Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the White House and parts of the intelligence community had promoted the purchase as crucial evidence that then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had restarted his nuclear weapons program:

The tubes were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs,” Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on Sept. 8, 2002. “We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.

The Center for American Progress published an analysis of a dozen false claims Rice has made regarding the administration's pre-9-11 counterterrorism intelligence, the purported link between Iraq and 9-11 during the buildup to war, and the administration's response to the 9-11 attacks, including:

CLAIM: “I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.” -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 5/16/02

FACT: On August 6, 2001, the President personally “received a one-and-a-half page briefing advising him that Osama bin Laden was capable of a major strike against the US, and that the plot could include the hijacking of an American airplane.” In July 2001, the Administration was also told that terrorists had explored using airplanes as missiles. [Source: NBC, 9/10/02; LA Times, 9/27/01]


CLAIM: “The president launched an aggressive response after 9/11.” -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: “In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows. The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks.” [Source: Washington Post, 3/22/04]


CLAIM: “It's not as if anybody believes that Saddam Hussein was without weapons of mass destruction.” -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/18/04

FACT: The Bush Administration's top weapons inspector David Kay “resigned his post in January, saying he did not believe banned stockpiles existed before the invasion” and has urged the Bush Administration to “come clean” about misleading America about the WMD threat. [Source: Chicago Tribune, 3/24/04; UK Guardian, 3/3/04]

Further, as Media Matters noted, on the December 18, 2005, broadcast of NBC News' Meet the Press, Rice repeatedly deflected questions from host Tim Russert about the administration's legal justification for the conduct of its warrantless domestic surveillance program, reportedly authorized by Bush shortly after 9-11. As Russert noted, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “is very clear that a person is guilty of an offense unless they get a court order before seeking to wiretap an American citizen.” During the interview, Rice asserted that in authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to perform domestic electronic eavesdropping without a warrant, "[t]he president is acting under his constitutional authority, under statutory authority." Rice did not elaborate on this constitutional and statutory authority and instead told Russert three times: “I'm not a lawyer.” Though Russert pointed out that Rice was then serving as national security adviser, and Rice acknowledged she was aware of the program at the time it was authorized, Rice was claiming to be unable to explain the administration's purported legal basis for undertaking the domestic surveillance. Russert failed to ask if Rice sought assurances of the legality of undertaking the domestic surveillance, whether she sought from lawyers advising the White House specific citations of legal authority to undertake this surveillance, and if she did not, why not.

From the June 25 broadcast of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show:

MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Power shift: Lately, we've seen a different Bush White House -- less confrontational abroad, more realistic in public, more confident, certainly, in its politics. Could this have something to do with Condoleezza Rice, one of the president's closest advisers? She's taken the lead on Iran, pushing for a diplomatic initiative. And she's focused on getting U.S. efforts in Iraq on a more hopeful track. Now she's taking the show on the road, taking the administration's case to the voters. Here's Condoleezza Rice addressing the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] last week.

[begin video clip]

RICE: When possible, we're bringing terrorists to justice. And when necessary, we're bringing justice to the terrorists.


[end video clip]

MATTHEWS: Elisabeth, that's powerful stuff. She looks like a million bucks, she's out there dressed to the nines, talking to a Southern conservative group, and she's wowing them. What's this about?

ELISABETH BUMILLER (New York Times reporter): Well, she's -- I would say she's keeping her options open. She's also emerged as the -- as the senior voice on foreign policy in this administration, and you were saying earlier about, you know, “Is she pushing the president on Iran?” Well, yes, she is. I mean, but what has happened is we have a different secretary of state. We also have a different situation. So, she's pushing him. So are -- so is Angela Merkel from Germany, so is Tony Blair, so is the E.U. They're pushing the president, and they basically have no other way to go with Iran but to negotiate.

MATTHEWS: But, Joe, going down to the Southern Baptist Convention. Millions of people watch that stuff, or listen to that stuff on the radio. It reached a huge constituency in the Bible Belt, mostly Bush people. Is this -- is she playing a key role in bringing back that conservative base the president has lost over the war?

KLEIN: I don't know. Do you think she has Ted Sorenson as her speech writer? It was a Sorensonian phrase there. I think that she's stepping out a little, and in an administration that needs heroes, she is certainly one of them in this -- in this term. I think part of it is the facts on the ground. You know, you had the macho guys going to war in the first term. That's turned out to be a real disaster. And now is the time for diplomacy, and she has done a really good job staffing the State Department with professional diplomats. They're looking at the world in a really rational way. And it's her time.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Kelly, about her changing role. She was almost like [former Secretary of State Henry A.] Kissinger, she went from National Security over to the State Department. Has she gone from being a staffer of Bush -- a tutor, actually -- to now being a full-blown colleague? Is she a first among equals on the Cabinet now?

KELLY O'DONNELL (NBC News White House correspondent): Absolutely. In fact, I think she is almost at a level that goes to family status. She spends considerable personal time with the first family. She's often at Camp David, she's often at [Bush's ranch near] Crawford [Texas]. She is someone that is in the inner circle, in a very elite group, in a way that, I think, gives her access to the president in a way that very few people have. And she is smart enough to know that that kind of proximity gives her enormous power.

MATTHEWS: Let's get talk --

SULLIVAN: And Bush is smart enough to know that Condi helps him -- not with African-Americans, particularly, but with moderate suburbanites who are concerned about the image of [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld's foreign policy, which has, I think, been proved to be disastrous.

MATTHEWS: And people who are impressed with credentials -- with someone who has studied in a field --

SULLIVAN: But also, at the SBC, she said -- she didn't -- she also challenged them to be more tolerant and civil in their discussions on issues like gay marriage. She didn't -- she actually addressed them in ways that they wouldn't necessarily like.


SULLIVAN: And that was an act of leadership that appeals to the middle.

KLEIN: She actually --

MATTHEWS: I love the way that we've become so familiar with an organization like the SBC -- the Southern Baptist Convention. God, I didn't know you were close in those pews.


KLEIN: She also actually helps him out in the world. You know, I've been talking --

MATTHEWS: In the real world? Outside the country?

BUMILLER: The global world.

KLEIN: In the rest of the world. I've been talking to people in the Middle East, diplomats, who say for the first time, she's asking us what we think, and that is a valuable thing for the Bush administration.

MATTHEWS: Right, true diplomacy.