On 60 Minutes last night, George Tenet claims he ran into Pentagon adviser Richard Perle at the White House on the day after 9/11. Tenet says Perle was already urging at attack on Iraq:
“He said to me, ‘Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday, they bear responsibility.’ It’s September the 12th. I’ve got the manifest with me that tell me al Qaeda did this. Nothing in my head that says there is any Iraqi involvement in this in any way shape or form and I remember thinking to myself, as I’m about to go brief the president, ‘What the hell is he talking about?'” Tenet remembers.
Leaping to his fellow neoconservative’s defense, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol challenged Tenet’s account as “an imaginary encounter.” Kristol writes, “Richard Perle was in France on that day, unable to fly back after September 11. In fact Perle did not return to the United State until September 15.”
This morning on the Today Show, Tenet was confronted by Tom Brokaw about this contradiction. Tenet said, “I may have been off by a couple of days. The encounter occurred. The conversation occurred. … So I may have gotten the days wrong, but I know I got the substance of that conversation correct.” Watch it:
Perle has told The Weekly Standard that he “categorically denies” ever having mentioned Iraq to Tenet in the days after 9/11. But Tenet noted that his recollection matches what Perle was saying publicly soon after 9/11 — that Bush should take action against Iraq.
On September 20, 2001, Perle signed a letter — along with 40 fellow participants of the Project for the New American Century — addressed to President Bush that stated the following:
[E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
Another co-signer of that letter? Bill Kristol. Read it here.
UPDATE: Weekly Standard’s blog points to Tenet’s quote from his book:
On the day after 9/11, he [Tenet] adds, he ran into Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and the head of the Defense Policy Board, coming out of the White House. He says Mr. Perle turned to him and said: “Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday. They bear responsibility.”
BROKAW: Let me just clean up something here at the very beginning. You have a very dramatic opening to the book. You have Richard Perle, a well-known neo-conservative, who is an adviser to the Pentagon. You say you see him leaving the White House the day after 9/11 saying Iraq has to bear responsibility for this. What happened yesterday, they have to pay the price.
Overnight, as you know, Richard Perle said, Not possible. I was in France.
TENET: Well, Tom, I know the conversation occurred. I may have been off by a couple of days. The encounter occurred. The conversation occurred. It reflects what he has said publicly soon after 9/11.
So I may have gotten the days wrong, but I know I got the substance of that conversation correct.
BROKAW: And you wanted to leave the impression very strongly that there was a strong core group that came into office determined to go after Iraq.
TENET: Tom, it’s ironic that in the days or weeks after 9/11, Iraq would already be on an agenda item for some people.
BROKAW: And from the CIA point of view, at that point there was no connection whatsoever between Iraq and the attacks of 9/11?
TENET: No, there was none at all.