Condoleeza Rice Gets Testy When Lawrence O'Donnell Asks Her Tough Questions About Faulty Intelligence To Justify Iraq Invasion

It what turned out to be a very contentious interview, the Last Word's Lawrence O'Donnell pressed former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice about the Bush administration's use of faulty intelligence to invade Iraq. Rice was defensive and got

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In what turned out to be a very contentious interview, the Last Word's Lawrence O'Donnell pressed former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice about the Bush administration's use of faulty intelligence to invade Iraq. Rice was defensive and got angry with O'Donnell for his line of questioning and was still defending their excuses for the invasion.

It got sticky pretty early:

O'DONNELL: As we look back and reflect on September 11th today, I want to quote something that President Bush said about September 11th, the lesson of September 11th. He said this repeatedly. It became boilerplate in the speeches.

"September 11th taught us a lesson I will never forget and America must never forget -- America must confront threats before they fully materialize. My administration looked at the facts and the history and looked at the intelligence in Iraq and we saw a threat."

He's clearly saying that September 11th is the reason he looked at Iraq differently and saw a threat there.

RICE: Yes.

Are you surprised by that?

O'DONNELL: Yes. Because --

RICE: After September --

O'DONNELL: -- because Iraq had --

RICE: -- after September 11th --

O'DONNELL: -- nothing to do with --

RICE: -- after --

O'DONNELL: ---.

RICE: -- after, of course you look at threats differently. Your country has just been attacked. You know that you cannot allow threats to materialize.

Do you know how many times I've been asked --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: But there was nothing in the --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- threat that Iraq --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: Lawrence --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- presented --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- Lawrence --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- that was in any way related to us --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: Lawrence, we can end this --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- and.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- interview right now if you don't want me to finish my --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- my point.

Thank you.

If one looks at what happened to us on, we didn't connect the dots. There was a threat materializing that we didn't respond to. Saddam Hussein had been a threat from the time that he invaded Iran in the late 1980s, through the 1991, when, in fact, he went into Kuwait, dragging us into war.

We thought he had reconstituted his weapons of mass destruction. And in a context in which terrorism and weapons of mass destruction was a nexus that we could not allow, we decided that this was a threat that had to be dealt with.

O'DONNELL: Forty thousand casualties later, in Iraq, 4,400 military -- American military deaths in Iraq later, would you say that is the single biggest miscalculation that the Bush administration made, that Osama -- that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and must be stopped by those military men who went in there and found no weapons of mass destruction?

RICE: Sadda -- Saddam Hussein was threat. He had used weapons of mass destruction. This was not --

O'DONNELL: But we now know he wasn't a threat --

RICE: Lawrence, are we going to do this with my answers or with --

O'DONNELL: Go ahead.

RICE: -- your commentary?

It's about time someone subjected one of these Bushies to an interview where they were pushed the way Rice was here. This is the way any of them should be treated any time they're allowed on the air. I'm tired of watching them all come back on the television to revise history without even being questioned on their lies on Iraq and WMD's, much less challenged when they lie on the air as Rice did here.

Rachel Maddow came on the air a few minutes early to discuss the interview with O'Donnell.

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Full transcript below:

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: -- thank you for joining me.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Nice to be with you.

O'DONNELL: On Sunday night, you put out a statement about the killing of Osama bin Laden and you said the demise of Osama bin Laden was a tremendous victory for the American people, "justice has been done and we are all indebted to the American military and intelligence community for their skill and dedication. I am overwhelmed with pride in America and in those who protect us. We are all united tonight in gratitude and love for our country. God bless America."

Why didn't you congratulate or thank the president of the United States, who made this the CIA's number one priority?

RICE: Well, first of all, I said -- I have congratulated President Obama several times, if you look back at the many statements that I've made. And I felt that this was a moment to acknowledge the American people, a moment to acknowledge what we've been through as a country. And since President Obama is the president who protects us, I think he's covered by that statement.

O'DONNELL: The -- do you think the president's visit to Ground Zero today was appropriate?

And is that something you would have advised President Bush to do if you had gotten Osama bin Laden?

RICE: Well, I have not seen the visit, but it's totally appropriate for the president of the United States to -- to go to Ground Zero and to commemorate the lives of those lost there and to say to the first responders, I understand you went to fire stations, thank you for what you did at that time.

When President Bush went to Ground Zero and said that people would hear from us, he did so on behalf of the United States of America, not on behalf of his administration. And I think today, President Obama went to Ground Zero on behalf of the American people, not his administration.

O'DONNELL: Have you had a chance to speak to President Bush since (INAUDIBLE)?

RICE: Yes, I have. Yes.

O'DONNELL: And what is his reaction to all of this?

RICE: He's gratified by it because this has been a long struggle. It closes a chapter, if not the full book, on al Qaeda, but it closes an important chapter.

O'DONNELL: Did he tell you why he decided not to come to Ground Zero?

RICE: I talked to him before this invitation came up. But President Bush has stayed largely out of sight. And this is a moment for President Obama to be with the American people. President Bush was there on September 14th, when he stood at Ground Zero and -- and called the nation to action and put a lot of in place -- a lot of things in place that would ultimately lead to this day.

O'DONNELL: As we look back and reflect on September 11th today, I want to quote something that President Bush said about September 11th, the lesson of September 11th. He said this repeatedly. It became boilerplate in the speeches.

"September 11th taught us a lesson I will never forget and America must never forget -- America must confront threats before they fully materialize. My administration looked at the facts and the history and looked at the intelligence in Iraq and we saw a threat."

He's clearly saying that September 11th is the reason he looked at Iraq differently and saw a threat there.

RICE: Yes.

Are you surprised by that?

O'DONNELL: Yes. Because --

RICE: After September --

O'DONNELL: -- because Iraq had --

RICE: -- after September 11th --

O'DONNELL: -- nothing to do with --

RICE: -- after --

O'DONNELL: ---.

RICE: -- after, of course you look at threats differently. Your country has just been attacked. You know that you cannot allow threats to materialize.

Do you know how many times I've been asked --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: But there was nothing in the --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- threat that Iraq --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: Lawrence --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- presented --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- Lawrence --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- that was in any way related to us --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: Lawrence, we can end this --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- and.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- interview right now if you don't want me to finish my --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- my point.

Thank you.

If one looks at what happened to us on, we didn't connect the dots. There was a threat materializing that we didn't respond to. Saddam Hussein had been a threat from the time that he invaded Iran in the late 1980s, through the 1991, when, in fact, he went into Kuwait, dragging us into war.

We thought he had reconstituted his weapons of mass destruction. And in a context in which terrorism and weapons of mass destruction was a nexus that we could not allow, we decided that this was a threat that had to be dealt with.

O'DONNELL: Forty thousand casualties later, in Iraq, 4,400 military -- American military deaths in Iraq later, would you say that is the single biggest miscalculation that the Bush administration made, that Osama -- that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and must be stopped by those military men who went in there and found no weapons of mass destruction?

RICE: Sadda -- Saddam Hussein was threat. He had used weapons of mass destruction. This was not --

O'DONNELL: But we now know he wasn't a threat --

RICE: Lawrence, are we going to do this with my answers or with --

O'DONNELL: Go ahead.

RICE: -- your commentary?

We have not focused on the fact -- you have not focused on the fact that Saddam Hussein had been a threat to the United States of America, to the Middle East, since he invaded Iran. Now, we made the wrong call then and we supported him against Iran.

He then became a more monstrous threat. After 1991, shooting at our aircraft in the no fly zone that was supposed to be keeping his air force on the ground; trying to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction; breaking out of the sanctions through the scandalous Oil for Food Program.

Yes, he was a threat. With or without mature weapons of mass destruction, he was a threat. And nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice. Of course, the lives lost will never be brought back. But in Iraq, that is not a threat to invade its neighbors, not a threat to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction, not a threat to pin -- to (INAUDIBLE) Palestinian terrorists as suicide bombers.

There's going to be a better Iraq and a better Middle East.

And so, in fact, I think that what we did in Iraq will be demonstrated by history to be an important part, an important pillar of a new Middle East.

O'DONNELL: Well, I think history demonstrates that Iraq presented absolutely no threat to the United States whatsoever. And --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: Well, what would be -- that would be a surprise --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: OK --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- to the 16 Security Council resolutions that called him a threat to international peace and security --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: Using information which was not --

RICE: That would be a surprise.

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- not true.

RICE: That would be a surprise. No, no, no. That was on the basis of his invasion of Kuwait and the weapons of mass destruction that were found there in 1991. The weapons inspectors who could not do their jobs and so left in 1998, the attack by President Clinton in 1998 to try to bomb those sites, it would be a surprise to the Kurds, who he gassed and the Iran -- the Iranians who he gassed and the people in the south of his country who he gassed. It would be a surprise to the CIA, that considered him a massive threat to the -- to international peace and security.

O'DONNELL: If he was a threat --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: So --

O'DONNELL: -- to Kuwait --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- was a threat to the Kurds.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: Well, you know --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: I do not think he was a threat --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- Lawrence --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- to New Yorkers.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- Lawrence --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: Do you --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- then you have --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- think he was a threat to New Yorkers?

RICE: Lawrence, you -- you obviously have a very different view than the U.N. Security Council. You obviously have a very different view --

O'DONNELL: Do you think he was the same threat to New Yorkers --

RICE: You obviously have a very different --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- that Osama bin Laden was?

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- you obviously have a very different view than those people who were flying the no fly zone, like the soldier who's in my class at Stanford who was shot at by Saddam Hussein.

So you may not view him as a threat. Most people in the world did.

O'DONNELL: Most of the world didn't, which is why we couldn't assemble the coalition that we would have liked to assemble to go in there.

RICE: How -- Lawrence, let me ask you, how many --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: Let's --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: No, no. I have a question for you.

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: Let's get to the rhetoric --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: No, I have a question for you.

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- which ran up to this --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: I have a question for you.

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- war.

RICE: How many countries fought --

O'DONNELL: Do you --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- in the coalition?

O'DONNELL: And we -- we don't have enough time to repeat all the history.

RICE: No, no, no. You -- you just made a charge.

O'DONNELL: I would like to review --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: Lawrence --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- your --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- you've just made a charge so --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- your feelings about things you said ramping up to the war --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: No, not until --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- the threat of a mushroom cloud --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: We're not going there --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- from Saddam Hussein. You now know was completely false.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: You know what --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: Do you regret saying that?

RICE: Do you know what?

O'DONNELL: Would you take that back if you could?

RICE: You know what, you've just made a false statement. You said we couldn't assemble a coalition.

How many countries fought in the coalition in Iraq --

O'DONNELL: Actually?

And had casualties?

RICE: How many countries --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: Actually fought?

RICE: Yes.

How many?

O'DONNELL: Maybe a half a dozen actually fought.

RICE: Oh, I see. So the Georgians who went there and the Japanese who went there --

O'DONNELL: Actually had soldiers --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- and others --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- firing weapons on the ground?

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- this was a bipartisan coalition. The people who -- the British and the Australians and the Poles and all of those who -- and the Canadians -- all those who ultimately were in Iraq, these were not part of the coalition.

O'DONNELL: Yes, they were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

RICE: Yes.

O'DONNELL: Now --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: So --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- now about the mushroom cloud --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- your statement was just false.

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- that you were completely wrong about --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: Do you --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- would you say that was possibly the single worst misstatement by a national security adviser publicly?

RICE: I said that we could not afford to have it be a mushroom cloud --

O'DONNELL: But where did --

RICE: -- that told us --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- you think that mushroom cloud would be --

RICE: Lawrence, you have a bad habit with your guests. You never let them answer a question.

O'DONNELL: Go ahead.

RICE: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Where would the mushroom cloud be?

RICE: The question was, had Saddam Hussein actually resuscitated his nuclear weapons or was he trying to?

And if you look at the intelligence reporting at the time, it said that he could possibly reconstitute that nuclear capability within a year with foreign assistance and that he was trying to do it.

O'DONNELL: But we knew --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: What I said --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- that was wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- what I said --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: He couldn't have resuscitated --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: Well --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- anything in a year. We know --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- cite things that we know were wrong and have been proven wrong?

RICE: Because what you know today can affect what you do tomorrow, but what you know today cannot affect what you did yesterday.

O'DONNELL: If you --

RICE: So at the time, we didn't know that he had not resuscitated. The intelligence said he was reconstituting, that he was reconstituting his nuclear program. He had resuscitated his biological and chemical program. He was shooting at our aircraft. He was a threat to international peace and security. He'd been sanctioned by the U.N. 17 times on that course.

He was a threat.

O'DONNELL: The (INAUDIBLE) that you said were used exclusively -- exclusively for nuclear weapons obviously were not. They were the kind of tubes that were used for rockets. That kind of that when you say that intelligence indicated that, but your White House was using intelligence incorrectly. You were misstating what the intelligence actually was.

RICE: Lawrence, we can do this one way or another, all right?

You can let me answer your questions or you can --

O'DONNELL: Talk about the (INAUDIBLE) --

RICE: -- or you can make rhetorical statements.

O'DONNELL: Let's talk about the aluminum tubes that you were so wrong about. That is -- that's a -- that's one of those things you like to use as an indication of what the intelligence was telling you, but the White House was misinterpreting the intelligence --

RICE: No.

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- to reach its own conclusions --

RICE: No, no, no.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- this was not the White House misinterpreting anything. The director of the CIA briefed the Congress that those aluminum tubes were most likely for nuclear capability --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- and a --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: You said exclusively.

RICE: We believed that the nuclear tubes -- that the tubes, given Saddam Hussein's history, given the long trail of what he was trying to acquire, were for nuclear weapons. Now, you're right, the intelligence turned out to have been wrong. But, you know, you don't get to get up in the morning and say, you know, my intelligence might be wrong. You have to act on the intelligence that you have.

And that's the intelligence that we had at the time.

O'DONNELL: When you look at what we now are calling the Arab Spring and you look at these uprisings against these dictators in the region, would it have been better, now, knowing what we all know now, would it have been better to wait and let history catch up with Saddam Hussein in Iraq?

Would we --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: But Saddam --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- do you think we might have --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- Saddam Hussein --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- a similar --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- we --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: -- uprising in Iraq today?

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: -- Saddam Hussein was a threat and we dealt with the threat. We didn't go to Iraq to bring democracy anymore than dealing with Adolph Hitler was to bring democracy to Germany. But once there, we felt that we had to help the Iraqi people get to democracy.

And it's simply ill-informed and ahistorical to suggest that a dictator as brutal as Saddam Hussein would have allowed an Arab uprising in his country.

You're looking at a dictator in Syria who put down an uprising. You're looking at a dictator in Libya who has tried to put down an uprising.

And if you want to talk about humanitarian disaster, why did we go into Libya?

Because he was about to mow down his own people. He was going to eliminate his own people. He was going to commit genocide against his own people.

Saddam Hussein committed chemical warfare against his own people. And I'd really like to have an answer from those who say it was a good thing to intervene in a humanitarian way in Libya because Gadhafi was killing massive numbers of civilians. Saddam Hussein put 400,000 people in mass graves. He used chemical weapons against Kurds and Shia. If that wasn't a humanitarian reason to intervene, quite apart from the security reasons, I really think people have a lot of explaining to do.

O'DONNELL: But you would grant the style of intervention in Libya and Iraq is totally different.

RICE: Well, yes, because Libya and Moammar Gadhafi are, thankfully, not Saddam Hussein. But if you think for one minute that you were going to be able to take Saddam Hussein down by mass protests in the streets, then you're clearly ill-informed.

O'DONNELL: We'll never know.

Dr. Rice, thank you --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: No, you're right, we'll never know. But I -- I would have to say, anybody who thinks that that's going to happen would have to be pretty ill-informed.

O'DONNELL: That will be the last word.

RICE: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Dr. Rice, thank you very, very much for (INAUDIBLE).

RICE: You're quite welcome.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

RICE: Thanks.

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