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Al Qaeda and Saddam: Table for Two

White House spokesperson faced another rather contentious press briefing yesterday, as reporters kept picking at the question of a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. It's like they think poking a hole in that story would unravel the administration's justification for sending hundreds of American soldiers to die or something.


Some highlights:

MR. McCLELLAN:Well -- and we never said that there was operational ties involved in attacks on the United States. Let's be very clear about that. The President talked about that just a short time ago.

Q: What are people supposed to conclude, that they're having lunch with each other?

And another:

MR. McCLELLAN: A short time ago in his remarks.

Q:You talk about deep, long-standing ties. What is that supposed to mean?

MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein supported and harbored terrorist groups --

Q:Why don't you just say the commission is wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: All right.

This too:

Q: Scott, how much of a political problem is it for the President leading into a reelection campaign that one rationale after another for going to war in Iraq seems to be vanishing in terms of credibility?


MR. McCLELLAN: One, I disagree with that characterization because I don't accept the premise of your question.


Q: So you don't see any political difficulty in these latest revelations, the fact that there's no weapons of mass destruction?


MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people recognize that we are better off with Saddam Hussein removed from power. I think the American people recognize that the decision the President made was the right one because it was based on making the world a safer and better place, and based on making America more secure. Saddam Hussein was a threat.


Q: That's not true.

And finally:

MR. McCLELLAN:And if you look back at what we said, we said that -- we said all along that Saddam Hussein's regime supported and harbored terrorists, and that there were ties to terrorism -- including al Qaeda. And if you go back and look at what was outlined before the United Nations -- Secretary Powell goes to talk about how there was support for suicide bombers in the Middle East who sought to undermine the peace process, who sought to undermine the road map.


Q: But, Scott, you're trying to make such a technical --


MR. McCLELLAN:Director Tenet --


Q: -- argument, cherry-picking what you want to see.

[snip]


Q: And not only that, this President has said that he thought that Saddam Hussein would like to use al Qaeda as a forward army, as one of his forward armies. The 9/11 Commission is saying, contacts a relationship don't make.


MR. McCLELLAN:David, you're just ignoring the facts. You're not looking at what Director Tenet said. You're not looking at what Secretary Powell said before the United Nations.


Q: Scott, do you really think people buy this?

Well, someone in the White House thinks they will.

June 17, 2004 Press Briefing by Scott McClellan [WhiteHouse.gov]

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