This Week: Tom Ridge Hedges On Anthrax Investigation

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Former head of the Homeland Security Department, Tom Ridge, appeared on This Week with George Stephanopoulos as a McCain supporter, but his presence there was clearly to remind the American people of the threat of terrorism upon which McCain is basing his entire campaign. It would probably be more effective if Ridge wasn't the one who didn't admit--after his tenure--that the Bush administration played up those color-coded terror alerts more than necessary, but hey, that's just me.

George Stephanopoulos asks Ridge about the recent development in the anthrax case (its very existence proving the "we haven't been hit since 9/11" meme a lie) and whether Bush and Cheney wanted the facts to show that al Qaida was responsible. Funnily enough, though he denies that Bush and Cheney wanted the intelligence manipulated (because they've never done that before), he's not entirely prepared to say that the man now fingered as the source of the anthrax attacks, Dr. Bruce Ivins, is solely guilty, even though the FBI have come out and said that they're comfortable they had the right man and in light of his suicide this week, they're prepared to close the investigation.

Now, I'm not prepared to comment one way or another on Ivins--I'm actually startled to learn that there WAS an anthrax investigation ongoing, so little has been heard about it. I will say that it's curious to me that initial reporting about Ivins from neighbors described him as friendly and unlikely to do something like this and then the reporting took a strange turn with a therapist saying he had expressed interest in mass killings, even going as far as to say he wanted to revenge kill women, although that doesn't explain targeting Tom Daschle and Pat Leahy (nor has anyone suggest a partisan bent on the part of Dr. Ivins).

But above all, the most ironic thing is that this question was asked on an ABC show at all. Steve Benen explains:

If the investigation is officially wrapping up, as it appears to be, and the FBI is confident that the perpetrator is now dead, there's no reason for ABC News to protect sources that deliberately lied as part of a larger initiative to con the public into supporting an unnecessary war in Iraq.


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For that matter, those who helped spread the lie should obviously be held accountable. In this instance, that has to include John McCain, who appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman" on Oct. 18, 2001, before ABC ran with its patently false stories linking the anthrax attacks to Iraq.

Transcripts below the fold

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's also talk before you go about the anthrax is back in the news. You were the director of homeland security for President Bush right after the anthrax attacks. And there's a report in the New York Daily News this morning that suggests that White House officials were pressuring the FBI to pin this attack on Al Qaida. Now it appears that the FBI believes at least that it was Dr. Ivins at Ft. Detrick, Maryland.

I guess two questions. Were White House officials at the time trying to pressure the FBI?

RIDGE: President Bush and Vice President Cheney on many of our meetings were saying, "follow the evidence wherever it takes you and cast a universal net worldwide. Whether it's domestic, whether it's international, whether it's Al Qaida, whether it's not, we need an
answer." That was the pressure.

They weren't looking for -- they were looking for an answer, but they weren't trying to identify one before the investigation was completed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you believe the FBI has found the culprit?

RIDGE: It's difficult. I don't know how far -- I don't know the evidentiary trail. I don't know how deep they dug. So it would be difficult for me to comment. But I know that they were relentless, relentless, both domestically and overseas, both -- with the notion that it could have been a part of a broader terrorist network, but it could also have been the act of a deranged individual or two.

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