NBC's Lauer Begs Colin Powell to 'Throw His Weight Behind' Obama Again

On Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer pleaded with former Secretary of State Colin Powell to again endorse Barack Obama for president: "...it sounds like you're on his [Obama's] team still, four years later....why hesitate at this stage of the game here? I mean, it's basically Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney. Why not just come out right now and throw your weight behind somebody?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

At the top of the show, fellow co-host Ann Curry excitedly teased the upcoming interview: "Four years ago, one of the country's most prominent Republicans threw his support behind Democrat Barack Obama. Will he endorse him again?"

Early in the segment, Lauer teed up Powell to praise Obama: "You endorsed Barack Obama back in 2008. You called him a transformational figure who represented generational change. Did you get from President Obama the kind of generational change, was he the transformational figure, or has he been, that you counted on?"

Powell proclaimed:

I think he has been. Not completely. There are some things that he has done that I wish he had not done. For example, leave Guantanamo open. I would have closed that rapidly. He tried, he was stopped by Congress. He stabilized the financial system. He brought about a stability in the economy. He fixed the auto industry. I think he took us out, not completely out, but he took us out of the most difficult problem we were facing at that time, which was an economy that was collapsing. And it's improving, but not fast enough. So his number one – his number one goal for the rest of this year, as it should have been for the whole four years, is to get the economy running again.

Lauer happily concluded: "If I'm Barack Obama, I'm sitting here listening to you say all these things, I think that sounds like a pretty good campaign endorsement."

However, Powell didn't cooperate with Lauer's eager assertion: "I ought to listen to what the President says and what the President's been doing. But you know, I also have to listen to what the other fellows say. I've known Mitt Romney for many years, good man."

After Lauer insisted Powell "throw his weight behind somebody," Powell replied: "I don't want to throw my weight behind somebody....I'm still listening to what the Republicans are saying they're going to do to fix the fiscal problems we have, to get the economy moving. And I think I owe that to the Republican Party..."

Having failed to get the headline he was after, Lauer moved on to Powell's new book, "It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership." Specifically Lauer seized on Powell's recollections in the memoir about the lead up to the Iraq war:

In your book you talk about that famous appearance you made before the United Nations during the buildup to the war in Iraq and you write that the office of then-Vice President Dick Cheney tried to select the intelligence you'd use in that appearance. You describe the case presented to you as a disaster and incoherent. You even said that Vice President Cheney urged you to use assertions that linked Iraq and 9/11, which had been discredited months earlier. Did the Vice President knowingly try to mislead the American people and leaders around the world prior to the war in Iraq?

Lauer was likely disappointed by Powell's response: "Prior to the war in Iraq, I have no reason to believe that. We all were operating off the same basic intelligence. And it wasn't anything new that was put together for the U.N. speech. The Vice President kept pushing, kept encouraging us to look at everything."


Here is a full transcript of the May 22 interview:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

ANN CURRY: The General. Four years ago, one of the country's most prominent Republicans threw his support behind Democrat Barack Obama. Will he endorse him again? We're going to ask him as he joins us to talk about politics, leadership and his time in the public eye.

7:07AM ET SEGMENT:

MATT LAUER: General Colin Powell, who served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush, made some headlines four years ago when he endorsed Barack Obama for president. He's out with a brand-new book called, "It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership." General, it's always nice to see you. Welcome back to the show.

COLIN POWELL: Thank you, Matt. Good to be back.

LAUER: Let's talk about Afghanistan. Chuck [Todd] just talked about it. Here's what you said on Meet the Press two years ago. Quote, "We all hoped in 2001 that we could put in place in Afghanistan a government under President Karzai that would be able to control the country, make sure al Qaeda didn't come back and make sure the Taliban wasn't resurrecting. It didn't work out." You said that two years ago. 700 Americans or so have lost their lives in that country since then. We still aren't out of there. Was it worth the sacrifice?

POWELL: I think it was worth the sacrifice to give the Afghan people a chance to create a government that was representative of all of the Afghan people and to bring some stability to the country. Now, a few years later, the Afghans are showing that they have more and more capacity. Their forces have been built up, military and police forces. And you know, we can only do so much and go so far. They have to be in charge of their country.

LAUER: Do you think we'll leave behind a stable country that will accomplish the things you talked about?

POWELL: That is what remains to be seen. I'm not totally satisfied, in fact I'm not hardly satisfied with the nature of the regime, the corruption that exists and a lot of the other problems that exist. But at the same time, you have to draw the line at some point. And I think the decision that's been made over the weekend that we would stop active combat operations at the end of next year, and then stay in place and finally withdraw in 2014, but leave behind whatever is necessary to give the Afghans the support they need, and whatever capacities they need, they don't now have.

LAUER: But you endorsed Barack Obama back in 2008. You called him a transformational figure who represented generational change. Did you get from President Obama the kind of generational change, was he the transformational figure, or has he been, that you counted on?

POWELL: I think he has been. Not completely. There are some things that he has done that I wish he had not done. For example, leave Guantanamo open. I would have closed that rapidly. He tried, he was stopped by Congress. He stabilized the financial system. He brought about a stability in the economy. He fixed the auto industry. I think he took us out, not completely out, but he took us out of the most difficult problem we were facing at that time, which was an economy that was collapsing. And it's improving, but not fast enough. So his number one – his number one goal for the rest of this year, as it should have been for the whole four years, is to get the economy running again.

LAUER: If I'm Barack Obama, I'm sitting here listening to you say all these things, I think that sounds like a pretty good campaign endorsement. That it sounds like you're on his team still, four years later.

POWELL: Oh, he knows better. He knows that I always keep my powder dry, as we say in the military. I feel, as a private citizen, I ought to listen to what the President says and what the President's been doing. But you know, I also have to listen to what the other fellows say. I've known Mitt Romney for many years, good man. And it's not just a matter of weather you support Obama or Romney, it's who they have coming in with them, what policies do they-

LAUER: Yeah, but why hesitate at this stage of the game here? I mean, it's basically Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney. Why not just come out right now and throw your weight behind somebody?

POWELL: Because I don't want to throw my weight behind somebody. The beautiful part of being a private citizen is you can decide when you want to throw your weight, if you want to throw your weight. I'm still listening to what the Republicans are saying they're going to do to fix the fiscal problems we have, to get the economy moving. And I think I owe that to the Republican Party, I owe that. And I also think it is the right way to go about it. Too often in this country we simply stick with, you know, whatever you said last year is it, even if it doesn't, you know, work out or make sense. So I like to listen to everybody, examine everything, and then in due course make a judgment and vote the way I think is the correct way to vote is.

LAUER: In your book you talk about that famous appearance you made before the United Nations during the buildup to the war in Iraq and you write that the office of then-Vice President Dick Cheney tried to select the intelligence you'd use in that appearance. You describe the case presented to you as a disaster and incoherent. You even said that Vice President Cheney urged you to use assertions that linked Iraq and 9/11, which had been discredited months earlier. Did the Vice President knowingly try to mislead the American people and leaders around the world prior to the war in Iraq?

POWELL: Prior to the war in Iraq, I have no reason to believe that. We all were operating off the same basic intelligence. And it wasn't anything new that was put together for the U.N. speech. The Vice President kept pushing, kept encouraging us to look at everything. And he probably felt more strongly about-

LAUER: At everything or selective intelligence?

POWELL: Everything. Everything. And select – well, selected is part of everything. And he felt strongly about some particular issues – say the linkage between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein and how al Qaeda might have played in that – and he kept pressing to see if there was anything there. But at the end of the day, there was nothing there. And I did not use it, because there was nothing there. You have to remember that this was a National Intelligence Estimate that was used by the President long before my speech, that Congress used that National Intelligence Estimate three months before my speech. And the decision to go to war had already been made before my speech.

LAUER: In the book you also say people want leaders who have moral and physical courage, who always do the right thing when asked and will risk their careers in doing so. You've also written about that appearance before the United Nations, and you referred to it as one of your most momentous failures. That will earn a prominent paragraph in your obituary. So did you live up to, at that moment, your own definition of leadership and what people want in this country?

POWELL: When I was asked to make that presentation, I was given four days to get ready for it. I did everything I could, by going out to the CIA with an entire team of people and going through all the intelligence they had. And being assured that they had multiple sources for everything that I would be saying at the U.N. Every word in that presentation was certified by the CIA and the intelligence community. The director of the CIA sat right behind me when I presented it. He was up most of the night before, verifying it.

It just turned out that subsequently, a lot of it was right, but the guts of it, the existence of weapons of mass destruction, in existence in Iraq, were not there. It was not there. The sources were bad. Now the good part of this is that Saddam Hussein is gone. That terrible regime has been eliminated. And the Iraqi people now have the chance of a better life with a new regime and we don't have to worry about whether they have weapons of mass destruction or not anymore. Saddam Hussein is not there to terrorize his people.

LAUER: General Colin Powell. General, it's always nice to have you stop by the studio. We appreciate it.

POWELL: My pleasure.

LAUER: I want to tell people that the book is now in bookstores.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC