Despite adamant denials by both the White House and the CIA, journalist Ron Suskind Wednesday stood by his allegation that the Bush administration concocted a fake letter purporting to show a link between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al-Qaida as a justification for the Iraq war. “It's all on the record,” Suskind told Meredith Vieira on TODAY.
Two former CIA officers denied that they or the spy agency faked an Iraqi intelligence document, as they are quoted as saying in Suskind’s book “The Way of the World,” published Tuesday. “I never received direction from George Tenet (CIA director at the time) or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document … as outlined in Mr. Suskind’s book,” said Robert Richer, the CIA’s former deputy director of clandestine operations.
Richer also said he talked Tuesday to John Maguire, who led the CIA’s Iraq Operations Group at the time and who gave Richer “permission to state the following on his behalf: I never received any instruction from then Chief/NE Rob Richer or any other officer in my chain of command instructing me to fabricate such a letter. Further, I have no knowledge to the origins of the letter and as to how it circulated in Iraq,” the statement said.
Suskind alleges the White House concocted the letter, meant to come from Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, director of Iraqi intelligence under Hussein, in fall 2003 to bolster its case for the invasion that year as it was becoming clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Confronted with the denials by Vieira on TODAY Wednesday, Suskind said: “It’s one of these instances where you’ve got a few people whose testimony could mean impeachment, ostensibly, of the President. There’s enormous pressure on both men.
“Look, I’m sympathetic to them: They’re good guys,” Suskind added. “I’ve spent a lot of time with them. Their interviews are taped.”
“Are you concerned if they don’t come forward and stand by your story, that no one’s going to buy anything in this book?” Vieira pressed.
“I’m actually not concerned, and there are a variety of reasons,” Suskind replied. “One, they talked to me length, hour after hour, about not just what occurred, but the feelings about what occurred, what day it was, all of that. All of that is on the record, in the book ... it’s all on-the-record comments.
“Secondly is that Maguire, certainly, who is a key part of this, is happy about much that he’s heard in the book. It’s just parts of it — especially the contentious part about, well, information that might lead to impeachment — he had that misrepresented to him. He’ll read the book today and he’ll see that it’s pretty much the way he figured it was.”
‘Absurd’In “The Way of the World,” Suskind writes: “The White House had concocted a fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001. It said that 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq thus showing, finally, that there was an operational link between Saddam and al-Qaida, something the vice president’s office had been pressing CIA to prove since 9/11 as a justification to invade Iraq. There is no link.”
Suskind said the letter’s existence had been reported before, and that it had been treated as if it were genuine.Denying the report, White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said, “The notion that the White House directed anyone to forge a letter from Habbush to Saddam Hussein is absurd.” Fratto and former CIA Director George Tenet also rejected Suskind’s allegation that the U.S. had credible intelligence, before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, that Saddam did not possess weapons of mass destruction.
“It’s a dynamic situation,” Suskind said of the flurry of reactions and denials. “There's only so much a journalist can do. We need to have people under oath, with threat of perjury. That’s the way we’re going to get to the bottom of something this contentious and portentous.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.