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2003-10-31

The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception

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"Lying has been one of the essential tools of [Bush’s] presidency"–We speak the Nation’s David Corn about his new book The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception on how the president lied about the invasion of Iraq, tax cuts, the environment and September 11th. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript In his first full press conference in four months and just the 10th of his term, President Bush claimed Tuesday that: "The world is more peaceful and more free under my leadership." He repeatedly characterized the resistance within Iraq as orchestrated by terrorists. This despite public opinion polls in Iraq that there is widespread opposition to the U.S. occupation. He said the recent string of bombings in Baghdad represent "the same mentality... that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001."

Today we take a look at a new book by the Nation’s Washington editor David Corn titled: "The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception." David Corn writes:

"Bush’s truth-defying crusade for war did not mark a shift for him. Throughout his campaign for the presidency and his years in the White House, Bush has mugged the truth in many other areas to advance his agenda. Lying has been one of the essential tools of his presidency. To call the forty-third President of the United States a prevaricator is not an exercise of opinion, not an inflammatory talk-radio device. Rather, it is backed up by an all-too-extensive record of self-serving falsifications."

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!, David.

DAVID CORN: Good to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. David is the Washington editor of The Nation magazine. Can you talk about the latest on Joseph Wilson, again, who he was, what happened, and where this so-called investigation stands today?

DAVID CORN: Yes. Listeners might remember that Joe Wilson is a former Ambassador. He was actually the last acting ambassador in Iraq in 1991, and at that point was a supporter of the war, the first Persian Gulf war. Fast forward a decade in February of 2002 when the administration is trying to build a case for war in Iraq, not so publicly at that point. The administration gets wind of a report of allegations that Saddam Hussein has been trying to buy uranium in Niger, a country in Africa. This is important because if he’s doing so, it would be evidence that he was trying to rev up his nuclear weapons program, one of the three weapons of mass destruction development programs that they claimed he had. So, the CIA, knowing that Vice President Cheney was very much interested in this report, decided they would send somebody to Niger, and basically check it out. They asked Joe Wilson, who is now a private citizen to do so. He was well qualified to do this job. He had served in the region as a young FSO, Foreign Service Officer, and he had worked on the Clinton administration in the National Security Council handling African affairs. He had dealt with the leadership of Niger at that point in time. So, he went over there, and there — it wasn’t as if he was supposed to be James Bond or what’s her name in Alias and break into the office and find the secret papers. It was his job to talk to the government officials in charge and people who work in the city, others, business associates, business officials over there and get a sense of how possible it might be for Saddam Hussein to purchase uranium from Niger, on the sly. You know, what are the safeguards, what are the controls. What do they have to get around?

After spending eight days there and talking to people, he came back and said it was unlikely that such a transaction could occur. The ambassador there and a four-star general who had been sent there as well at a different time all reached the same conclusion: it’s unlikely this would happen. Again, he makes his report to the people he works with at the CIA it doesn’t become public. Then in the course of the following year, as Bush ramped up his campaign to get war in Iraq, Joe Wilson emerges as one of the really, I think, key and primary oppositions to that. He goes on the talk shows. He has establishment credentials. He’s really eloquent and blunt and smart former diplomat. He was out there really making a good case against the war. Then after the war, a couple of months afterwards, the controversy developed over the President’s use of this allegation of uranium shopping in Niger in his State of the Union speech in January of 2003, which he used it to say that Saddam Hussein was indeed trying to develop nuclear weapons very quickly. That was one of the reasons why we couldn’t wait and do further inspections and now there was a direct threat, now that there was a U.S. invasion that would turn into an occupation.

As this controversy in June develops, Joe Wilson tells reporters off the record that he had traveled to Niger and reported back to the administration that there was not much to this charge, at least not much reason to believe it was true, unless you had very compelling evidence. The administration keeps dodging the issue saying, you know, we didn’t know anything about any doubts within the bureaucracy of — about this allegation. And Joe got a little insulted, I think, because he put time into this. He said, well, they should have known about my report and there were others who did the same. On July 6, I believe it was, he wrote a piece in The New York Times op-ed page and he also spoke to the Washington Post in essence outing himself as the former diplomat who had gone to Niger and found there was nothing to the charge and accusing the White House of, you know, coming up with the false story, saying that — when they said there was no reason to doubt the allegations, the charge, in essence saying there was plenty of reasons to doubt the charge, including my report, my mission. That certainly did not endear him any further to the administration. But the next day after he did this — after he wrote his piece, the administration at the White House acknowledged that Bush should not have come out and used those 16 words about uranium shopping in Africa during the State of the Union speech. They in essence said, well, Joe Wilson was right, but they couldn’t leave it there.

A week later, July 14, a column appeared, Bob Novak column, in which he was writing about the Niger-gate and Joe Wilson’s role in it. In that column, he identified Joe’s wife, Valerie Plame, that’s her maiden name she actually goes by Valerie Wilson, as a CIA operative working on counter proliferation issues. He cited two senior administration officials as the apparent sources for that piece of information. In essence, the administration or two people within it, outed Joe Wilson’s wife as a CIA officer, and under — you know, destroyed or ruined her CIA career, undermined National Security because anything that she might have worked on would have been compromised, and put in danger maybe not so much her because she’s working here in the United States but anybody that might have had contact with her in other countries in the world would now be under suspicion for cooperating with the CIA as an undercover operative.

As it turns out, I don’t think — I’m not even sure they realized this at this time, the people in the White House or the administration that might have done this, this is against the law. It is against the law for government official with access to classified information to identify a covert officer. It’s called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. As soon as I called the article, the Novak piece, I called Joe Wilson, who I know somewhat and whom I have done stories about, I said, Joe — first jokingly, I didn’t know your wife was a CIA operative. You never told me that. He said, "I still can’t tell you." He was neither confirming nor denying at that point in time. We started talking. I said, you do know there’s this thing called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. He was outraged. He didn’t realize it was a violation of the law.

It’s a serious crime, punishable by up to 50 years in jail or $50,000 fine. It’s a felony. Two days after this, I wrote a piece for The Nation web site, and the magazine. I said hey, this leak is the possible evidence of a crime at the White House. Two months after that, it got very little attention within Washington. Outside of Washington, hundreds of thousands of people read my piece and hundreds of them sent me email and they said it’s outrageous. How come no one’s talking about this? A couple of democratic senators raised the issue a couple of times, but the media didn’t jump on it until mid-September when the CIA finally asked the department of justice to investigate the White House to see if indeed a crime had been committed.

AMY GOODMAN: Now where does this investigation stand, the controversy over the Justice Department investigating because one of the people who Joe Wilson has said heed like to see frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs Karl Rove, and Chris Matthews of MSNBC said that it was Karl Rove who said to him that Valley Plame is fair game. And you have someone investigating car rove and now investigating is John Ashcroft who had Karl Rove working on his campaign and gave him close to three quarters of a million dollars for his Senatorial and Gubernatorial campaigns in Missouri.

DAVID CORN: What we have now is a situation where indeed the Justice Department is investigating. There were a lot of cries, a lot of calls for a special counsel. We can’t have independent counsels anymore, because those have expired. A special counsel would not be picked by a panel of judges but by Ashcroft himself. The point is to pick someone of significant stature whose independence would be obvious and would be distant from the Attorney General. That has not happened. But they insist at the Justice Department, the professionals, the career attorneys are going to conduct the inquiry. As far as we know. They have. They are doing so. They are interviewing people in the White House. They have asked for documents. They have made a few — taken a few steps that I think raise eyebrows, and that they gave the White House 12 hours to sort of prepare their — or — 12 hours extension or time delay in producing document. They signaled to the State Department and Defense Department they were going to make document requests.

Prosecutors usually knock on the door. They don’t tell you they’re coming. That’s cause people who are watching closely to wonder how independent and how good the investigation may be. And we could — well, on the situation down the road where they end up without a prosecution. It even could be for good reasons. They may not be able to make the case here and it will still be under a cloud because ultimately, it’s John Ashcroft who is overseeing, you know, in a general sense, the investigation. So, I think we’re going to be continuing to fight over this, or tussle over this in the weeks and months ahead, and I do know — I mean, I saw Joe Wilson yesterday. He keeps saying repeatedly, and I think it’s a good position for him to take, he expects the professionals, the FBI agents and the career lawyers at the Justice Department to do their job and he thinks they indeed might.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have Murray Wass writing in the Village Voice that the FBI and the Justice Department have broadened their investigation to say that they will investigate who leaked the identity of the CIA officer Valerie Plame to include subsequent Bush administration efforts to discredit her and her diplomat husband according to two administration officials familiar with the probe. Of particular interest, the two sources said, were contacts between White House officials and the Republican National Committee during the burgeoning scandal. Probers are interested in how the Bush administration and party officials strategized to stymie negative press and counter public criticism by former ambassador Joseph Wilson of the leak of his wife’s status as CIA officer.

DAVID CORN: Well, it’s quite clear. It’s quite clear that the White House and the RNC, which is one and the same as is usually the case with administrations. You can could say that about the Clinton administration and the DNC, got together when Joe Wilson was causing them trouble and decided, you know, we have to fight back. We have to have some political hit jobs here. And they came out with all sorts of things saying that he was a Democratic operative. He had given money to John Kerry. He also gave money to George Bush’s primary campaign in 2000. I think he regrets that now. He wanted to write a book. He was trying to cash in on this. They were throwing all sorts of junk at him to discredit him, when it was immaterial to the issue of whether the White House leaked anything about his wife.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about Sam Dash, the —

DAVID CORN: Well, that’s the first time that I have heard the argument made this might violate the Patriot Act. I’d have to go back and look at it as well. Sam’s a good lawyer. If the standard is that it’s done to intimidate the civilian population that may be sort of a high standard to prove when — when actually the intention might have been to just do in Joe Wilson. You might have a hard time equating that with intimidating the civilian population. May be able to make the case it was done to intimidate others from speaking out against the administration. But, you know, as you know, Amy, whenever you get into laws that rise or fall on the notion of intent, it’s very difficult to make such cases legally.

AMY GOODMAN: David, I want to get to the lies of the Bush Administration, but one last point I think you raised very interesting in the leak W.M.D.’s and the Dems is how the press works. That the press made a very big deal of this months after Novak outed — or got administration officials quoted saying that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative, but that the media looks for the debate between the Republicans and the Democrats, and without the Democrats going further on this now, the media has almost let it die.

DAVID CORN: The media needs something to cover in order to — in order to cover something. They’re most comfortable here in Washington covering conflict between the Republicans and Democrats. Sometimes it can be Republican on Republican violence or D on D violence, the Democrats. So, when word leaks out there’s an investigation, it’s a big deal. They cover it to a large degree. Then it sort of become as routine investigation in that you don’t have press conferences about what’s going on. The White House has done a very smart job of not looking worried about this. There have been no stories about people hiring lawyers or anxiety and paranoia at the White House.

AMY GOODMAN: Karl Rove goes along scott-free now?

DAVID CORN: Right now there’s an investigation, and, you know, I share Joe Wilson’s hope that the lawyers and the FBI agents are taking it seriously. I do know — I do know this is without a doubt that at the CIA, there is this tremendous level of anger that has not subsided. They are livid at this. They are looking for justice. They’re looking — you know, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure coming from that direction.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Boston Globe is saying that the White House, Bush, might invoke executive privilege in terms of handing information over to the Justice Department.

DAVID CORN: That would get covered. That would make it a story again. The White House is trying to keep this off the front pages. They do that, and that becomes the issue. What are you hiding, Mr. President. The press will have a field day with that, for at least a few days, and then it dies down and they need something else to cover.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking David Corn. He has written a book, The Lies of George W. Bush. We’ll be back with him in a minute. . . [music] . . . Liar, Liar, here on this holiday edition of Democracy Now!. I’m Amy Goodman. As we talk to David Corn, his new book is The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. He starts in his introduction of saying, "George w. Bush is a liar. He has lied large and small. He has lied directly and by omission. He has miss stated facts knowingly. He has broken promises, been unfaithful to political vows. In his campaign for the presidency and first years in the White House, he has mugged the truth. Not merely in honest error, but deliberately, consistently and repeatedly to advance his career and agenda." Can you quickly go through some of the most egregious lies that you think George Bush has uttered.

DAVID CORN: Now I’ll tell you how I really feel. I covered him from the campaign on into the war. I think probably the most serious lies, are deceptions or misleading statements concerning the war. You have covered that a lot on the show. But one that sort of has come, I think, into greater clarity in the last couple of weeks is on March 17 when he gave his famous "get out of Dodge" speech to Saddam Hussein, you have 48 hours to leave Iraq or I’m coming to get you. He said intelligence gathered by the government leaves no doubt, those are his words, leaves no doubt it that Saddam Hussein continues to possess and conceal weapons of mass destruction. At the time a lot of us argued that the — there was no good evidence to believe that.

It could well be true, but there was no evidence to back up such a claim, but he was referring to intelligence leaving no doubt. Since then, we have the House Intelligence Committee run by a Republican named Paul Degoss. He used to be in the CIA himself. We have the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, a Republican, we have Richard Care, a former Deputy CIA Director who is doing an internal review of pre-war intelligence of the CIA and we have David Kay, the Chief Weapons Inspector working for the CIA and the Pentagon in Iraq. All have said that the pre-war intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were circumstantial, fragmentary, inferential and full of doubt. David Kay’s exact quote was the pre-war intelligence on Iraq was bounded by large uncertainties, and had to be heavily caveated. Caveated is one of the bureaucratic words for saying it was full of doubt. So, how do you compare all of these statements after the fact, all of these assessments with Bush’s assertion to the American public and to the world at large that the intelligence left no doubt? It’s clearly indicating that either he misread the intelligence or misled the public, but it was the essence of his argument and it was not based on the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: It looks like right now, the administration is trying to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of George Tenet, of Central Intelligence.

DAVID CORN: They’re trying to do that. Pat Roberts a few days ago came out and said he was going to produce a report saying that the CIA had produced shoddy intelligence, but he was refusing to allow the investigation to go to where the democrats wanted it to go, and look at how the administration used — I would add, presented that intelligence.

So, I mean, there are a lot of things that we can talk about in terms of the war in which bush made statements that were not true, particularly about nuclear weapons. I thought the Niger-gate business was only a small piece of it, not even the most important piece. My book covers the tax cuts, stem cells, global warming, defense spending, social security.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about global warming.

DAVID CORN: You might remember when he came into office there was a bit of a hullabaloo because he said he was not in favor of the Kyoto accords. He got flak for that. Bush promised that he would come up with the plan that would reduce the greenhouse gases that was different from the Kyoto plan. It took him a year to put it together and this was after he first denied that there was even a scientific consensus that global warming was real. For months he and Ari Fleischer kept saying there was no consensus. He agreed there was finally. He had a plan. He said, my plan is to reduce emissions and I have a plan that’s going to address global warming. What was his plan? His plan was that he had to cut the growth rate of global warming emissions.

Now, that’s pretty significant. Under his plan, the rate of global warming, greenhouse gas emissions could continue to go up as long as it increased less than the growth rate in the U. S. economy. So, we just heard yesterday that the economy grew by 7.2% in the past quarter. Under the bush plan, global warming gases could go up by 7.1%. So, there are a couple of things that are important to know. To begin with, he said that he would have a plan that would reduce emissions. That obviously doesn’t reduce emissions. He said that he would have a plan that would address global warming, adding more greenhouse gases to the environment doesn’t address global warming. It exacerbates global warming. The other nations of the world that want to see the Kyoto Accords are basically cutting emotions below 1990 levels. Cutting below 1990. Under the Bush plan, he is raising levels above the 2000 levels, which are higher than the 1990’s. So, it’s a complete lie to say it addresses or reduces the threat here.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to David Corn. What about the vacuuming of websites? Both the White House — the white house website now that we See that after George Bush on May 1 announced the ending of major combat operations or combat operations, they have changed that headline now, now that more soldiers have died after than before and also the EPA website, taking out references to global warming.

DAVID CORN: One thing I had to do with the book is when I was writing it, I talked to the doctor of the famous novelist that wrote Iraq Time and other great books. He said, what are you going to do with this book, put it out as a three-ring binder? Some of the lies and half truths keep coming. More information comes out about statements that he made previously that show that they were wrong. I have had to create a website to keep track of all of this stuff as they change things on the website as they continue to try to justify the war, as we find out that the EPA under White House pressure lied about the air quality in New York City after 9-11. I know that you have done shows on that. If I may, I’d love to give the website address.

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

DAVID CORN: It’s www.bushlies.com. That’s bushlies.com. I think that, you know, we know about the whole mission accomplished banner business that happened a few days back. But I think it’s important to know that if you look at that press conference that Bush gave, that wasn’t even the only untrue statement that he said. There were a couple of other things that were pretty big whoppers. He continues to say that he had good and solid intelligence on Iraq before the war, not even the CIA’s own review says that, but he keeps saying that over and over again to justify his decision. He said at one point that he was the first President to advocate a Palestinian state. No, actually, Bill Clinton did that before he left office. I think more importantly, he was asked about the donor’s conference that occurred last week about Iraq in which they managed to squeeze $13 billion out of other countries. Yeah, that’s the $20 — you add that to the $20 billion that the U.S. is kicking in, that comes up to $33 billion. That’s still $20 billion short of what’s estimated to be the price tab for Iraq reconstruction. Asked about that gap and shortfall, Bush said, that’s okay, we’re going to use the Iraq oil revenues to cover that.

For the last few weeks, Paul Bremer, the head of the occupation there, a man hired by Bush to do this and who has come back here a few times to talk to Bush about what’s going on has said over and over again that in the near future, the revenues produced by the Iraq oil industry will just about cover the costs of the Iraq oil industry, so there won’t be any extra revenues. So, why is he telling the public that he can get $23 billion from a fund that won’t exist? So, there’s just this tremendous pattern which is why I call it mastering the politics of deception, the subtitle of the book, because you see it again and again and again.

AMY GOODMAN: David Corn, you write about white collar crime. What are Bush lies there?

DAVID CORN: The most obvious one is when he was asked about Ken Lay, The CEO Chief. This was in early 2002 as the Enron scandal was breaking. He was questioned by some reporters before he had a meeting about Enron with his economic advisers. He said, "I didn’t get to know Ken Lay until after the 1994 election." That was the most transparent lie because it was easy to prove it wasn’t so.

The 1994 election Bush said, "He supported my opponent." Well, yes, indeed, in 1994 he gave Ann Richards $12,000, but he gave George Bush three or four times that amount. And Enron itself gave Bush a lot more money, and in interviews that Ken Lay had done before becoming a scandalous figure, he often talked about how close he was to George Bush Sr. and George W. Bush and how he got to know George w. Bush very well in the 1980’s, and in a story that I broke about a year-and-a-half ago, I found that in 1986, 1987, Bush’s oil company at the time, Spectrum 7 was in an oil deal partnership with Enron. Now that, didn’t prove that Bush and Ken Lay knew each other and were working together at that point in time, but given the fact that Ken Lay was close to his dad, given the fact that Ken Lay loved to have political connections, I find it inconceivable that he could — that his company could be in the business deal with the son of a Vice President, and that Ken Lay wouldn’t know that and wouldn’t have had contact with Bush. In any event, that was one of those sort of silly lies that people tell that — that was easy to disprove. Then he also — there were also a lot of lies and untrue statements or misleading statements about his own business career that came out.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the main ones there, just leading up to him becoming Governor and then President?

DAVID CORN: Well, I think that — if you want to talk about his business career, one of sort of the untruths — it’s not a lie, but a misleading statement that he said was that there was a controversy that happened that came out of the Enron controversy about whether he had engaged in insider stock dealing when he was a director of this company called Harkin Oil, Harkin Energy in the 1990’s.

He made $500,000 or $600,000 that he used to pay off a loan for the Texas Rangers which is what made him a multimillionaire. In any event, at the time he sold his stock, the stock price was artificially high because his company had engaged in a sham transaction that was very similar to what Enron would later do in terms of selling things to itself. The question became whether Bush had been aware of the sham transaction at the time. The SEC later forced the company to sort of redo the books because of this deal. He was asked about this by reporters, and he said, um, rather than answering the question, yes or no, whether he knew about it, now knew about this phony deal, he said, You have to just go look at the board of directors’ minutes and you can see for yourself if I knew about this. Reporters went and discovered that the board of director’s minutes were confidential. Then they went to the White House and said, well, they’re confidential. Will you at least ask Harkin to release the significant board of director’s minutes? The White House, speaking for Bush, of course, said, no, we will not. So, when Bush was out there in a press conference saying, go look at the board of director’s minutes, you can clear this up on your own, it was a deceptive statement, because they were not available to the reporters or the public, and he would do nothing to make them available.

AMY GOODMAN: Stem cell research.

DAVID CORN: This is a good one. Some people — a lot of people think this is one of their favorite lies. I talk about this a lot on the radio. Listeners might recall that the first prime time speech the President gave was an August 9, 2001. He had had this — Clinton had left him a hard decision to make, whether there should be federal funding of stem cell research. Social conservatives, abortion foes, Catholic Church leadership, all oppose stem cell research, because stem cells are taken out of what’s called blastocysts.

They’re the collection of cells formed five days after sperm fertilizes an egg. You take the cells out of the blastocysts and they can become any one of the cells in the human body and thus, they give researchers a tremendous tool to use in trying to find cures and treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and other terrible diseases.

The social conservatives are against stem cell research, you had people like Orrin Hatch, conservative Republican, Nancy Reagan, whose husband obviously suffers from Alzheimer’s, Andrew Card, White House chief of staff, Tommy Thompson, head of HHS, and patient advocacy groups like Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeves in favor of it.

For Bush, the question was what do I do? He was between a rock and a hard place. He gave this speech and came up with what he said was this wonderful compromise. That is that you — that he would have federal funding of stem — federal funding of stem cell research that uses stem cell lines already developed. So, you don’t have to kill any more embryos to develop the lines, and you wouldn’t have any federal funding that would encourage the development of other stem cell lines.

So, the social conservatives would be happy about that. And he said that because there were 60 — 6-0, 60 stem cell lines already in existence, that that was enough to at this point in time have a robust, effective research program. 60 was key. Some scientists said you actually needed 100. Some said 60 might be enough. If you had fewer than that, then you could not really say that you were getting the right results and having the right effective research. So, you needed that number 60.

As soon as Bush makes the speech, biochemical experts around the world and country at Harvard and Stanford, the experts in the field come out and say, 60? We didn’t know there were 60? We thought there were more like a dozen. Then the media starts picking up on this and the Washington Post’s Rick Weiss, a wonderful science reporter there three weeks later does a story in which he goes around to the institutes and research universities that have the lines that were cited by the Bush administration, and finds out that they don’t really exist. The Goaderberg incident in Sweden was listed by the administration by having 19 stem cell lines. Turns out they had maybe — maybe three. They weren’t sure whether the lines were actually turn into bona fide stem cell lines. The best guessed estimate at the — after just a little review of this is that there are 11, maybe even six stem cell lines. That’s not enough to have a robust effort.

So, in actuality, Bush’s policy has created a ban — a block against stem cell research. And it’s possible that when he made his speech, he didn’t know that maybe he looked at the numbers. The numbers were given to him and he believed 60. But after it came out from undeniable witnesses and evidence that there were much fewer than 60 and not enough to support a research program, his administration, Tommy Thompson and Ari Fleischer again and again and again insisted, they kept insisting that there were 60 and there were enough. If he made a mistake initially, they turned the mistake into a lie by hanging onto the figure.

Two years later, they put out a report saying, you know what? We think there’s 11 now.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to David Corn, who has written a book, The Lies of George W. Bush. We will be back with him and Carol Aye and look at the tax issues that could affect wealthy corporations. Stay with us . . . [music]


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