Condi Rice Tells Lawrence O'Donnell 'You Have a Bad Habit With Your Guests - You Never Let Them Answer a Question'

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on Thursday had a highly-contentious interview with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"The Last Word" host repeatedly interrupted his guest leading her to say after one such incident, "Lawrence, you have a bad habit with your guests. You never let them answer a question" (video follows with transcript and commentary):

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: More now with my interview of former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. As I’ve shown you already this week, President Bush took his focus off Osama bin Laden only five months after 9/11.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Deep in my heart, I know the man’s on the run, if he’s alive at all. And I -- you know, who knows if he’s hiding in some cave or not? I don’t know where he is. Nor -- you know, I just don’t spend that much time on him. I truly am not that concerned about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: The Bush focus shifted to Iraq. And as we all now know, mistakes were made, huge mistakes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: As we look back and reflect on September 11th today, I want to quote something that President Bush said about September 11th, the lesson of September 11th. He said this repeatedly. It became boilerplate in the speeches. "September 11th taught us a lesson I will never forget, and America must never forget. America must confront threats before they fully materialize. My administration looked at the facts and the history, and looked at the intelligence in Iraq and we saw a threat." He’s clearly saying that September 11th is the reason he looked at Iraq differently, and saw a threat there.

RICE: Yeah. Are you surprised by that?

O’DONNELL: Yes.

RICE: After September 11th --

O’DONNELL: Yes, because Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th.

RICE: After September 11th, of course you look at threats differently. Your country has just been attacked. You know that you cannot allow threats to materialize. Do you know how many times I have been asked --

O’DONNELL: There was nothing in the threat that Iraq presented that was in any way related to us and September 11th.

RICE: Lawrence, we can end this interview right now if you don’t want me to finish my point.

As you'll see, this wasn't the last time Rice scolded O'Donnell for interrupting her:

O’DONNELL: Go ahead.

RICE: If one looks at what happened to us on September 11th, we didn’t connect the dots. There was a threat materializing that we didn’t respond to. Saddam Hussein had been a threat from the time that he invaded Iran in the late 1980s through the 1991, when in fact he went into Kuwait, dragging us into war. We thought he had reconstituted his weapons of mass destruction.

And in a context in which terrorism and weapons of mass destruction was a nexus that we could not allow, we decided that this was a threat that had to be dealt with.

O’DONNELL: Forty thousand casualties later in Iraq, 4,400 military -- American military deaths in Iraq later, would you say that is the single biggest miscalculation that the Bush administration made, that Osama -- that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and must be stopped by those military men who went in there and found no weapons of mass destruction?

RICE: Saddam Hussein was a threat. He had used weapons of mass destruction.

O’DONNELL: But we now know he wasn’t a threat.

RICE: Lawrence, are we going to do this with my answers or with your commentary?

O’DONNELL: Go ahead.

RICE: We had not focused on the fact -- you have not focused on the fact that Saddam Hussein had been a threat to the United States of America, to the Middle East, since he invaded Iran. Now we made the wrong call then and supported him against Iran. He then became a more monstrous threat. After 1991, shooting at our aircraft in the no fly zone that was supposed to be keeping his air force on the ground, trying to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction, breaking out of the sanctions through the scandalous Oil for Food Program.

Yes, he was a threat. With or without mature weapons of mass destruction, he was a threat. And nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice. Of course the lives lost will never be brought back.

But an Iraq that is not a threat to invade its neighbors, not to a threat to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction, Not a threat to pay Palestinian terrorist as suicide bombers, That’s going to be a better Iraq and a better Middle East.

And so, in fact, I think that what we did in Iraq will be demonstrated by history to be an important part -- an important pillar of a new Middle East.

O’DONNELL: Well, I think history demonstrates that Iraq represented absolutely no threat to the United States whatsoever.

RICE: Well, that would be a surprise to the 16 Security Council Resolutions that called him a threat to international peacekeeping. That would be a surprise -- no, no, no, that was on the basis of his invasion of Kuwait and the weapons of mass destruction that were found there in 1991.

The weapons inspectors who could not do their jobs and so left in 1998. The attack by President Clinton in 1998 to try to bomb those sites. It would be a surprise to the Kurds who he gassed, And the Iranians who he gassed, and the people in the south of his country who he gassed.

It would be a surprise to the CIA that considered him a massive threat to international peace and security.

O’DONNELL: I think he was a threat Kuwait. I think he was a threat to the Kurds. But I do not think he was a threat to New Yorkers. Do you think he was a threat to New Yorkers?

RICE: Lawrence, you obviously have a very different view than the U.N. Security Council. You obviously have a very --

O’DONNELL: Do you think he was the same threat to New Yorkers that Osama bin Laden was?

RICE: You obviously have a different view than those people who were flying the no-fly zones, like the soldier who is in my class at Stanford who was shot at by Saddam Hussein. So you may not view him as a threat. But most of the world did.

O’DONNELL: Most of the world didn’t, which is why we couldn’t assemble the coalition that we would have liked to, to go in there.

Ah yes - the liberal media meme that Bush had no coalition and instead went in alone. O'Donnell made this absurd claim to the wrong person:

RICE: Lawrence, I have a question for you.

(CROSS TALK)

RICE: No, I have a question for you. How many countries fought in the coalition?

O’DONNELL: We don’t have enough time to review all that history.

Don't you love it? Rice asks O'Donnell a direct question concerning a false statement he just made, and his response to a former Secretary of State is, "We don’t have enough time to review all that history." And this is what passes as journalism on MSNBC today:

RICE: You just made a charge.

(CROSS TALK)

O’DONNELL: -- your feelings about things you said ramping up to the war --

RICE: No, not until --

O’DONNELL: -- the threat of a mushroom cloud from Saddam Hussein you now know was completely false. Do you regret saying that? Would you take that back if you could?

RICE: You have just made a false statement. You said that we couldn’t assemble a coalition. How many countries fought in the coalition in Iraq?

O’DONNELL: Actually fought and had casualties? Actually fought?

RICE: Yeah, how many.

O’DONNELL: Maybe half a dozen actually fought.

RICE: I see. So the Georgians who went there and the Japanese who went there and others --

O’DONNELL: Actually had soldiers firing weapons on the ground?

RICE: This was not part of the coalition. The people who -- the British and the Australians and the Poles and all of those -- the Canadians, all of those who were ultimately in Iraq, these were not part of the coalition?

O’DONNELL: Yes, they were.

RICE: Yeah. So your statement was just false.

O’DONNELL: Now, about the mushroom cloud that you were completely wrong about, would you say that was possibly the single worst misstatement by a national security adviser publicly?

RICE: I said that we could not afford to have it be a mushroom cloud that told us --

O’DONNELL: Where did you think that mushroom cloud would be?

RICE: Lawrence, you have a bad habit with your guests. You never let them answer a question.

O’DONNELL: Go ahead. Where would the mushroom cloud be?

RICE: Thank you. The question was had Saddam Hussein actually reconstituted his nuclear weapons or was he trying to? And if you look at the intelligence reporting at the time, it said that he could possibly reconstitute that nuclear capability within a year with foreign assistance, and that he was trying to do it. What I said --

O’DONNELL: But all that was wrong. He couldn’t have reconstituted anything in a year. We know -- why recite things that we know were wrong and have been proven wrong?

RICE: Because what you know today can affect what you do tomorrow. But what you know today cannot affect what you did yesterday. So at the time, we didn’t know that he had not reconstituted. The intelligence said that he was reconstituting, that he was reconstituting his nuclear program.
He had reconstituted his biological and chemical program. He was shooting at our aircraft. He was a threat to international peace and security. He had been sanctioned by the U.N. 17 times on that course. He was a threat.

O’DONNELL: The aluminum tubes that you said were used exclusively -- exclusively for nuclear weapons obviously were not. They were the kind of tubes that were used for rockets. That kind of -- when you say that intelligence indicated that, your White house was using intelligence incorrectly. You were misstating what the intelligence actually was.

RICE: Lawrence, we can do this one way or another, OK? You can let me answer your questions, or you can make rhetorical statements.

O’DONNELL: Let’s talk about the aluminum tubes that you were so wrong about. That’s one of the things you like to use as an indication of what the intelligence was telling you. But the White House was misinterpreting the intelligence.

RICE: No, no, no. This was not the White House misinterpreting anything. The director of the CIA briefed the Congress that those aluminum tubes were most likely for nuclear capability.

O’DONNELL: You said exclusively.

RICE: We believed that the nuclear -- that the tubes, given Saddam Hussein’s history, given the long trail of what he was trying to acquire, were for nuclear weapons.

Now, you’re right. The intelligence turned out to have been wrong. But, you know, you don’t get to get up in the morning and say, you know, my intelligence might be wrong. You have to act on the intelligence that you have. And that’s the intelligence that we had at the time.

O’DONNELL: When you look at what we now are calling the Arab spring and you look at these uprisings against the dictators in the region, would have been better now -- knowing what we all know now, would it have been better to have waited and let history catch up with Saddam Hussein in Iraq? Do you think we might have a similar uprising in Iraq today?

RICE: Saddam Hussein was a threat, and we dealt with the threat. We didn’t go to Iraq to bring democracy any more than dealing with Adolph Hitler was to bring democracy to Germany. But once there, we felt that we had to help the Iraqi people to get to democracy.

And it’s simply ill-informed and ahistorical to suggest that a dictator as brutal as Saddam Hussein would have allowed an Arab uprising in his country.
You’re looking at a dictator in Syria put down an uprising. You’re looking at a dictator in Libya who has tried to put down an uprising. If you want to talk about a humanitarian disaster, why did we go into Libya? Because he was about to mow down his own people. He was going to eliminate his own people.
He was going to commit genocide against his own people. Saddam Hussein committed chemical warfare against his own people. And I’d really like to have an answer from those who say it was a good thing to intervene humanitarian way in Libya, because Gadhafi was killing massive numbers of civilians.
Saddam Hussein put 400,000 people in mass graves. He used chemical weapons against Kurds and Shia. If that wasn’t a humanitarian reason to intervene, quite apart from the security reasons, I really think people have a lot of explaining to do.

O’DONNELL: But you would grant the style of intervention in Libya and Iraq is totally different.

RICE: Well, yes, because Libya and Moammar Gadhafi are thankfully not Saddam Hussein. But if you think for one minute that you are going to be able to take Saddam Hussein down by mass protests in the streets, then you’re clearly ill informed.

O’DONNELL: We’ll never know.

RICE: You’re right. We’ll never know. But I would have to say that anybody who thinks that that’s going to happen would have to be pretty ill-informed.

O’DONNELL: That will be THE LAST WORD. Dr. Rice, thank you very, very for your time.

RICE: You’re quite welcome.

What's really funny is after the interview was aired, O'Donnell brought on fellow MSNBCer Rachel Maddow to analyze what had transpired:

MADDOW: And the case that she is making about Iraq could have been made against any country in the world. When she's talking about things that Saddam Hussein did years before that invasion as to people in his own country and neighboring countries justifying something that she insisted we do in 2003 -- I mean, then why didn't we invade North Korea? Why didn't we invade Sudan? Why didn't we invade anywhere else in the world?

We did it to settle a score, because after Osama bin Laden attacked this country, her administration, her included, decided to remake the world in an image that they thought was more politically convenient. They still haven't learned the lesson that that was wrong. And you laid that more bald today in that interview than anything else I've ever seen.

This is what folks at MSNBC call "leaning forward."

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Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.