Cheney biographer Hayes' pattern of falsely defending the Bush administration's Iraq policy

On the July 23 broadcast of NBC's Today, co-host Matt Lauer interviewed Weekly Standard writer Stephen F. Hayes, author of the forthcoming biography Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President. Lauer noted that Vice President Dick Cheney “does not like to do a lot of interviews, does not like to talk about himself, does not like to share personal feelings, and yet he sat down for 30 hours of interviews with you.” Lauer continued: “You've admitted you were somewhat sympathetic to the vice president going in. So, do you think he felt this was his best chance to get this written the way he'd want it written?” Hayes replied: “I think that's probably true.” To claim that Hayes, however, is “somewhat sympathetic to the vice president” drastically understates the steadfast support Hayes has shown Cheney and the Bush administration on foreign policy, and particularly on the Iraq war -- support based on falsehoods and distortions and that has been touted by Cheney himself.

Most recently, Hayes appeared on the July 22 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, where he claimed that the July 17 release of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the terrorist threat to the United States “strengthens the basic case that the administration has been making that Al Qaeda remains a serious threat.” According to Hayes:

HAYES: Yeah, it's very interesting. I think one of the things we saw this week, and this, this speaks directly to what the vice president told me, is with this -- the release of this NIE we saw a shift in thinking. I think for a long time administration critics had begun to make the argument that really this Al Qaeda threat is overblown, that they misled us into the war in Iraq, they're misleading us about the seriousness of the threat from Al Qaeda. And I think what the NIE does, even though in some ways it's, it's very critical of the administration, is it strengthens the basic case that the administration has been making that Al Qaeda remains a serious threat.

As blogger Steve Benen noted at Talking Points Memo, however, Hayes was making a straw-man argument:

Where are these mysterious White House “critics” who've been arguing that the al Qaeda threat is “overblown”? Seriously, name some prominent Bush detractors who have argued this, in Hayes' words, “for a long time.” I'm relatively clued into Democratic talking points and I can't recall any Democrat or left-leaning political figure ever making this argument in any forum, in any context. Hayes appears to have simply made it up in the hopes of making the NIE appear more favorable for his White House allies.

Which segues to the other problem: the NIE doesn't strengthen the Bush's gang's “basic case” at all. The White House has said, repeatedly, that thanks to the president's leadership, we've destroyed al Qaeda's leadership and have the terrorist network on the run. The NIE, in stark contrast, shows the opposite and vindicates what White House critics have been arguing for years. While the president's policies have been failing in Iraq, al Qaeda is rebuilding, recruiting, and refilling its coffers -- in large part because of the president's failed policies in Iraq.

Indeed, as The New York Times reported on July 17: “The intelligence report, the most formal assessment since the 9-11 attacks about the terrorist threat facing the United States, concludes that the United States is losing ground on a number of fronts in the fight against Al Qaeda, and describes the terrorist organization as having significantly strengthened over the past two years.” While Meet the Press host Tim Russert noted that this most recent NIE “seems to contradict last year's intelligence estimate ... that al-Qaeda's ability had been diminished,” he offered no challenge to Hayes' claim that the NIE supports the administration's case against that of “administration critics.”

Hayes' comments on Meet the Press are just the most recent example of his false and misleading claims in defense of the Bush administration's Iraq policy:

  • In an article for the May 8, 2006, issue of The Weekly Standard, Hayes attacked a 2003 New York Times article that he claimed falsely suggested that the “Bush administration selectively used intelligence to make its case” connecting Iraq to Al Qaeda as a justification for the invasion of Iraq and that “nonpolitical intelligence professionals were simply setting the record straight.” According to Hayes, “the whole thrust” of the Times article was “contradicted” by a line allegedly from the very intelligence report that the Times cited in making its argument that read: "[Captured terrorist] Abu Zubaydah explained that [Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's] personal goal of destroying the U.S. is so strong that to achieve this end he would work with whomever could help him, so long as al Qaeda's independence was not threatened." However, as Media Matters for America documented, this line in no way contradicts the suggestion that the Bush administration selectively cited intelligence in linking Iraq to Al Qaeda as a justification for war, nor does it lend support to the idea of an operational relationship between bin Laden and former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
  • On the December 9, 2005, edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Hayes defended Cheney's claim during a December 9, 2001, Meet the Press interview that 9-11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague, by saying, “If you look at the front page of The New York Times in the days surrounding the vice president's claim, The New York Times was reporting the same thing.” But as Media Matters noted, even after the Times and numerous other news outlets subsequently reported in May 2002 the FBI and CIA's finding that "no evidence" existed to substantiate the claim, Cheney continued to raise the possibility of such a meeting.
  • On the November 11, 2005, edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Hayes responded to a declassified 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document that questioned the reliability of claims made by captured Al Qaeda operative Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi that Al Qaeda had received chemical and biological weapons training from Iraq. Hayes claimed that Democrats using this document to criticize administration's attempts to link Al Qaeda and Iraq were “cherry-picking,” and that “there were actually more than a dozen reports about Iraq having trained Al Qaeda.” In fact, as Media Matters noted, news reports at the time indicated that al-Libi was the principal source for the administration's claims of a connection.
  • In an article for the October 24, 2005, issue of The Weekly Standard, Hayes selectively cited the Senate Intelligence Committee's "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq" in order to falsely claim that “virtually everything” former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV said about his trip to Niger to investigate reports that Iraq had sought uranium from that African nation “was false.” Hayes also attempted to dismiss allegations that the outing of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative was part of a White House effort to discredit or strike back at Wilson by claiming that "[s]everal reporters known to have spoken with Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, the senior White House officials apparently at the center of the current investigation, have testified that they did not learn of Plame's identity or status from either person." At the time, however, Time reporter Matt Cooper had already acknowledged that it was “through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA,” and then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller had written just days earlier that she testified that her June 23, 2003, meeting with Libby “was the first time I had been told that Mr. Wilson's wife might work for the C.I.A.”

    Hayes resumed his attacks on Wilson in an October 25, 2005, Daily Standard online article in which he rehashed several of the false claims he had made in his previous piece. Hayes also asserted that Bush's claims about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger had not been “invalidated,” despite the fact that the administration had already acknowledged that the “16 words” from the 2003 State of the Union address -- “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” -- should not have been included in the speech. Moreover, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that after October 2002, the available intelligence did not support the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa.

  • In an article for the September 5, 2005, edition of The Weekly Standard, Hayes attacked the report of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission for relegating to two footnotes a January 2000 meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, between two of the 9-11 hijackers and a man named Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi, described in the report as an Iraqi national. Hayes asserted that the commission had failed to fully explore that meeting in its report given Azzawi's “mysterious contribution to the 9/11 plot.” Hayes further wrote that former 9-11 Commission member John F. Lehman “told me that Shakir's many connections to al Qaeda and Saddam's regime suggested something more than random chance.” However, the Senate Intelligence Committee's September 8 report concluded that “Shakir was not affiliated with al-Qa'ida and had no connections to the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service].”
  • As Media Matters has noted, in an article in The Weekly Standard's November 24, 2003, issue, Hayes attributed to “a top secret U.S. government memorandum” -- which Hayes identified as a memorandum produced by former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith -- the conclusion that Saddam and bin Laden “had an operational relationship.” Hayes described the memo by saying that "[m]uch of the evidence is detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources." In a January 9, 2004, interview with Denver's Rocky Mountain News, Cheney cited Hayes' article, claiming that "[i]t goes through and lays out in some detail, based on an assessment that was done by the Department of Defense and was forwarded to the Senate Intelligence Committee some weeks ago." Cheney added: “That's your best source of information.”

    However, following the publication of Hayes' article, the Pentagon released a statement asserting that "[n]ews reports" about the memo “are inaccurate.” It stated that the portion of the memo to which the Hayes article referred “was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it drew no conclusions.” Further, during a February 11, 2007, interview on Fox News Sunday, Feith stated: “Nobody in my office said there was an operational relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda.”