White House Accuses Woodward of Bias

ByEd O'keefe

Oct. 1, 2006 — -- President Bush counselor Dan Bartlett accused Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward of bias in "State of Denial", the third book in Woodward's series about the Bush administration's execution of the war in Iraq, in an appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

"I was really stuck by the fact that the central thesis of this book, the claim that the president was in a state of denial, that he was misleading the America people about what was happening in Iraq," Bartlett told ABC News. "Quite frankly, is not backed up with the own facts in his book."

Woodward, who gained fame for his reporting during the Watergate scandal, previously penned "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack", both of which were produced with the cooperation of the Bush White House. Neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney, however, sat down for an interview with Woodward for "State of Denial".

"On this project, it was unfortunate that we felt he had already formed some conclusions even before the interviewing began," Bartlett claimed. "I didn't say that he wasn't an honest reporter," the counselor continued, adding that after interviews with other key members of the Bush administration, "There was just a sense that, despite spending hours with him, their points weren't getting across."

One of the book's most explosive charges involves the pursuit of Osama bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attacks. In "State of Denial", Woodward describes an urgent, unscheduled meeting that took place on July 10, 2001, between then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, then-CIA Director George Tenet, and Cofer Black, a counterterrorism chief within the State Department.

In that passage, Woodward describes Tenet and Black. "They both felt they were not getting through to Rice. She was polite, but they felt the brush-off. A coherent plan for covert action against bin Laden was in the pipeline, but it would take some time."

Bartlett refuted the claim, saying he had spoken with Secretary Rice about Woodward's assertion. The told ABC News "That's Secretary Rice's view, that that type of urgent request to go after Bin Laden, as the book alleges, in her mind, didn't happen."

Bartlett also called Woodward's description of the encounter a "grossly inaccurate characterization of the meeting they had," contending that that period of time, due to its relevance before the 9/11 Commission, has been "some of the most investigated eight months of any presidency."

On the larger charge involving the president's handling of the war in Iraq, Bartlett again protested, charging that Bush "doesn't connect his own dots."

Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., appeared exclusively on "This Week", refuting the claim.

"They have been mischaracterizing this war for two years," Murtha said. "What Bob Woodward said doesn't surprise me a bit."

Murtha, a Vietnam veteran who has called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, reiterated his call for Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, but Bartlett continued to voice support for the president's backing of the often-embattled defense secretary.

Bartlett told chief Washington anchor George Stephanopoulos "the President has full confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld. He's doing an enormously difficult job."

"We're fighting for the soul of America," Murtha urged. "We have to redeploy out of Iraq; let them settle it themselves."

The president has labeled the tactic "cut and run" in the lead-up to the 2006 midterm elections. Bartlett did not repeat those labels and deflected any criticism of the president while still acknowledging to ABC News that "this has been a difficult war."

Bartlett also brushed off questions involving two scandals — growing concern about lobbyist Jack Abramoff's contacts with the White House, and the sudden resignation of Rep. Mark Foley, R-Florida — which could also impact this year's elections, critical to the president's ability to govern in the final years of his second term.

On reports that Abramoff had repeated contacts with White House officials despite previous claims to the contrary by the administration, Bartlett insisted, "He didn't get anything from this administration," calling any attempt to link the president or his staff to the disgraced lobbyist "a fishing expedition".

Bartlett also commented on Foley's resignation after exclusive reports from ABC News reported sexually explicit messages the Republican congressman reportedly exchanged with a teenage boy who had previously worked as a House page.

"The president was not aware of this," he told ABC News. "It was a shocking revelation."

Bartlett did not think an investigation outside the House Ethics Committee was required.

Congressman Murtha agreed, saying, "This is something that can be done internally, but it has to be done very quickly."

Murtha, who has suggested a run for House majority leader if the Democrats win control of the House chamber in November, added of his Republican colleagues in the current leadership, "I don't know what they said but they look like they tried to cover it up."

To view George Stephanopoulos' entire interview with Dan Bartlett, counselor to President Bush, and Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., check out "This Week's" Web page at www.abcnews.com.

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