'Today' Whacks Bush with Powell Charges

There's nothing like a Republican turning on his President to get liberal reporters tongues wagging. On this morning's Today, co-host Meredith Vieira along with Tim Russert and Andrea Mitchell repeatedly whacked President Bush over the head with Colin Powell's criticism from his Meet the Press appearance.

In the 7am half-hour of the program, the Vieira first teased the segment this way:

Vieira: "President Bush's former Secretary of State Colin Powell is speaking out for the first time in a long time and his former boss cannot be happy about what he is saying."

Then Mitchell opened her report with Powell's laundry-list of complaints:

Mitchell: "Well breaking a long silence with Tim Russert on Meet the Press, Colin Powell expressed regret about the justification for the Iraq war, doubt about the surge and hinted at abandoning the Republican Party in the 2008 election."

Throughout the story Mitchell set up the points of contention, from the surge strategy to pre-war intelligence, and then played the corresponding Powell soundbite. Then Mitchell eagerly concluded the piece surmising that the "life-long Republican" could abandon the GOP: "Powell did not rule out serving in a future cabinet and he acknowledged giving advice to a Democrat, Barack Obama. In fact this life-long Republican said he would support the best candidate, hinting it could well be a Democrat or even an independent, Meredith."

After the Mitchell set-up piece Vieira brought on Russert to underscore Powell's charges:

Mitchell: "As Powell said to you yesterday, had he known in February 2003, that there were no weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in Iraq there would've been no case to invade the country. So do you think that now he regrets the role that he played in that decision?"

The following is the entire Mitchell set-up piece followed by Vieira's interview with Russert:

Meredith Vieira: "President Bush's former Secretary of State Colin Powell is speaking out for the first time in a long time and his former boss cannot be happy about what he is saying. NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell is here with the details. Andrea, good morning to you."

[On screen headline: "Breaking His Silence, Powell Blasts Bush War Policies."]

Andrea Mitchell: "Good morning Meredith. Well breaking a long silence with Tim Russert on Meet the Press, Colin Powell expressed regret about the justification for the Iraq war, doubt about the surge and hinted at abandoning the Republican Party in the 2008 election. In a rare, broad-ranging interview, Colin Powell spoke bluntly on Meet the Press about all aspects of the war and the administration's latest strategy to win it."

Colin Powell: "The military surge, our part of the surge under General Patraeus, the only thing it can do is put a heavier lid on this boiling pot of civil war stew. And it's one thing to send over 30,000 additional troops, but if the other two legs, Iraqi political reconciliation and the build-up of Iraqi forces are not synchronized with that, then it's questionable as to how well it's going to be able to do."

Mitchell: "Powell does not think last week's Pentagon shake-up, removing Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, will fix what's wrong."

Powell: "You can move the deck chairs around and you can bring in new people and you can change the organizational arrangements but ultimately the President has the responsibility."

Mitchell: "Powell was equally critical about pre-war claims that Iraq would be a cakewalk."

Dick Cheney: "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

Powell: "We were liberators for a moment and then we simply did not handle the aftermath. We didn't realize we were in an insurgency and we, we didn't have enough troops on the ground."

Mitchell: "But as Secretary of State, Powell played a key role, selling the war with flawed evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."

Powell from February 5th, 2003: "My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources."

Powell: "If we knew today or knew then what we know today, that there were no weapons of mass destruction I would have had nothing to take to the United Nations."

Tim Russert: "Did you ever think of resigning?"

Powell: "No. The information was faulty but it wasn't faulty because people in the intelligence community were lying or trying to deceive. It was faulty because intelligence sometimes can be faulty."

Mitchell: "Powell disagrees with the President's current refusal to deal with Iran and Syria."

Powell: "I think it is short-sighted not to talk to Syria and Iran and everybody else in the region."

Mitchell: "And as for Guantanamo?"

Powell: "If it was up to me I would close Guantanamo, not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I'd close it!"

Mitchell: "Powell did not rule out serving in a future cabinet and he acknowledged giving advice to a Democrat, Barack Obama. In fact this life-long Republican said he would support the best candidate, hinting it could well be a Democrat or even an independent, Meredith."

Meredith Vieira: "Andrea Mitchell, thank you. NBC's Washington bureau chief and moderator of Meet the Press, Tim Russert, conducted that interview with Colin Powell. Tim, good morning to you."

Tim Russert: "Good morning Meredith."

Vieira: "As Powell said to you yesterday, had he known in February 2003, that there were no weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in Iraq there would've been no case to invade the country. So do you think that now he regrets the role that he played in that decision?"

Russert: "Well he has called it a blot on his career but I thought his comments yesterday were important and candid. President Bush, Vice President Cheney said that they would have gone forward with the war because Saddam Hussein is a bad man and had human rights violations and had the capacity to, perhaps, manufacture weapons of mass destruction, even in the absence of not finding WMD. A much different answer from General Powell, yesterday."

Vieira: "He also was very critical of the Bush administration for mishandling the aftermath of that invasion and for not talking directly to Iran and Syria. Why do you think he is speaking out now?"

Russert: "Well these are critical times and we are at a juncture now, Meredith, where people have to make some very serious and fundamental, decisive decisions about Iraq. It's kind of ironic that practically every Republican candidate running for President, this year, has stepped forward and said, they too, believe the war has been mismanaged. They may differ on speaking to Iran and Syria but there seems to be a consensus about the mismanagement of the war and until the public understands that there's an acknowledgment of mistakes I think it's difficult to unify the country behind a solution to the problem in Iraq."

Vieira: "And how much responsibility, do you think, that Colin Powell believes the President, personally bears, in the state of, of the situation right now in Iraq?"

Russert: "Well the President made the decision to go to war, there's no doubt about it. He did mention yesterday that in August of '02 there was a meeting with the President and Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell talked about the downsides of the war. Some of the things the CIA had suggested in terms of sectarian violence and potential anarchy. But in the end it's the commander-in-chief who makes that decision. Harry Truman had it right, 'The buck stops here.' George Bush bet his presidency on the war in Iraq."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.