Limbaugh, Patterson made false claims about Clinton's meetings with Tenet and Woolsey

On August 16, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed that President Clinton “met personally with George Tenet [only] twice” during Tenet's “seven years” of service as director of central intelligence (DCI). In his August 18 broadcast, Limbaugh repeated the claim but instead referred to “private” meetings rather than “personal” ones. The assertion that Clinton met with Tenet only twice is untrue, as is Limbaugh's suggestion that Tenet worked at the CIA under Clinton for seven years.

Media Matters for America could find no news reports supporting or refuting Limbaugh's later, narrower suggestion that Clinton met privately with Tenet only twice. Limbaugh in any event seemed to be confusing Tenet with former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, who did say that Clinton had met with him privately only twice.

In reality, Tenet served as Clinton's DCI for three and a half years, beginning July 11, 1997. Using the Nexis database, Media Matters found newspaper reports of at least 15 separate national security meetings involving both Tenet and Clinton. Moreover, a January 13, 1998, Washington Post profile of Tenet noted, “Twice a week, on average, the president calls a meeting on a security or foreign policy issue attended by Tenet or the new deputy director, Lt. Gen. John A. Gordon.”

The basis for Limbaugh's erroneous claim appears to have been a comment made by Woolsey, who served as DCI from 1993 to 1995 and whom Limbaugh apparently confused with Tenet. An October 15, 2001, article in the conservative magazine Insight on the News reported:

Clinton's first CIA chief, R. James Woolsey, tells Insight that Clinton almost never had time for him, seeing him one-on-one only twice in two years, and quips that Monica Lewinsky was with the president more often than he.

On the August 18 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, right-wing radio host and author Air Force Lt. Col. Buzz Patterson (Ret.) also misrepresented Woolsey's claim. Patterson, who has written two books criticizing Clinton and Democrats -- Dereliction of Duty (Regnery, March 2003) and Reckless Disregard (Regnery, July 2004) -- falsely asserted, “In fact, I don't think he ever met with James Woolsey privately a single time.” An off-screen Fox & Friends co-host, either Brian Kilmeade or Kelly Wright, agreed with Patterson's statement, saying, “No.”

On his August 18 show, Limbaugh played an audio clip of Patterson's false Fox & Friends claim. Limbaugh added, “And only twice with George Tenet. Patterson is right, here.” In contrast with his August 16 broadcast, Limbaugh went on to suggest that he was referring to private meetings, although he offered no support for the assertion.

From the August 16 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: According to Clinton, if you go get his farewell speech, the world was perfect as he left office. He had no clue what the hell was about to happen, and it wasn't the FBI or the CIA's fault. They know what was going on. If only Clinton would let them talk to each other about it, then we might have had some idea. How often did Clinton meet with his CIA director? He met with him twice. He met personally with George Tenet twice, folks, when Tenet was named the CIA director, seven years, Clinton met personally with him in the office twice! There was no way Clinton was going find -- he didn't want to know what was going on with these places. This is just, it's comical.

From the August 18 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Another question to Buzz Patterson. Kelly Wright, Fox & Friends: “You talked about the fact that there were so many missed opportunities to get [Osama] bin Laden. President Clinton and his entire staff may have known about these attacks or these plots. So what was the problem? Were they treating it as a law enforcement issue? Were they on a war footing against the terrorism issue? What was it?”

[Audio clip of the August 18 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends]

PATTERSON: That's a great point. It was always treated as a law enforcement issue, even as the threat grew and grew. I think President Clinton really failed to grasp the growing threat, number one. When he treated it, he treated it as a law enforcement issue, number two. I think it's also important to point out the fact that President Clinton met privately with Monica Lewinsky many more times than he met with his CIA director or his FBI director. In fact, I don't think he ever met with James Woolsey --


PATTERSON: -- privately a single time.

[End audio clip]

LIMBAUGH: And only twice with George Tenet. He's right, here. Patterson is right. He [Clinton] had more private meetings with Monica Lewinski. And more cigars with Monica than he had with these guys.