August 20, 2009 MSNBC Rachel Maddow Show
MADDOW: Today, Tom Ridge says he stands by that statement about his own department. But in his new book, Mr. Ridge reveals his own suspicions that the Bush administration did try to use the threat of terror attacks for the political gain of the president and his party.
Of the days immediately prior to the 2004 election when polls showed Bush and Kerry in a virtual dead heat and when a new tape from Bin Laden surfaced, Ridge recalls, quote, "Attorney General Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered, is this about security or politics? Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the president`s approval rating in the days after the raising of the threat level."
Tom Ridge is scheduled to join us on this show on September 1st. I very much look forward to the opportunity to interview him. Until then, his word, his written word taken in context from a pre-released copy of his new book stands as a powerful and credible suggestion that what Keith Olbermann and many others suspected at the time back in 2004 was indeed true.
The Bush administration did manipulate the public`s fear of terrorism quite literally in a day-to-day way in order to stay in power.
Joining us now is Ret. Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. He was chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. Col. Wilkerson, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
RET. COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, UNITED STATES ARMY: Thank you for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: What is your reaction to Tom Ridge`s accusations made in this book? Was the color-coded threat level increased for political reasons?
WILKERSON: The governor has a position from which, if he`s saying that, I have to give his saying it some respect and some credibility.
I also know from my position in the administration having witnessed Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman and others doing what they did as political strategists that much was driven by political interests, domestic political interests, not international relations and national security or other interests, and that oftentimes, we did develop policy that was focused toward domestic issues, political issues, that is, they would give the Republicans an edge when, in fact, that position might contradict national security interests.
So, you know, I don`t know whether the governor is right in what he`s saying or not, but I do know that there is an environment in which what he`s saying could have been true. And let me just say one other thing, this is really amazing to me as a Republican, watching this happen.
We have Treasury Secretary O`Neill`s book. We have Scott McClellan`s book on the other side of the ledger perhaps. We have Doug Feith`s book, although he throws a number of barbs at the State Department. We have Dick Cheney`s book coming out, Donald Rumsfeld`s book coming out.
I have no doubt that if they provoke Colin Powell enough, his book will follow theirs. We have President Bush pushing a book. People like myself, historian, internationalist people who teach this subject matter have already pronounced the Bush administration one of the most incompetent in American history. I think history`s verdict may even be worse than that. It may be the most incompetent.
And here, we have these people in my party wrestling over whether or not there was enough shame to go around in that administration. With all the challenges that this country confronts right now, this is really disturbing.
MADDOW: It seems to me like the very last senior administration official to write the book will have all the blame piled up so high on them that they`ll have to do something quite dramatic about it. All of these books are self-exculpatory in a way.
And the obvious question to what Ridge is alleging here is why he waited until after the election to resign. If he did suspect that the administration was manipulating the American - the fear of terrorism among the American people for political gain and he was grossed out by that, why he didn`t say something publicly so that the American people wouldn`t be needlessly scared.
WILKERSON: That`s a good question. I understand. I haven`t read his book. It doesn`t come out until 1, September - I don`t think. But I didn`t get galleys or anything.
But I saw what is purported to be the exact citation we`re talking about here and it sort of goes something like this, as I recall, "The pressure came to raise the threat level. I wondered, is this politics or security?"
So that`s not that definitive. It is a suggestion, of course, that it might have been politics. And I don`t see how anyone with a brain could have sat for four or five years in the Bush-Cheney administration and not realized that politics drove a lot of the decision-making.
MADDOW: We got a comment on this, a statement from Donald Rumsfeld`s office that I`d love to get your response to. He contacted our office with this quote, "Given those facts, it would seem reasonable for - " sorry.
In the context of there being threats from al-Qaeda in the fall of 2004, the statement said, quote, "Given those facts, it would seem reasonable for senior administration officials to discuss the threat level. Indeed, it would have been irresponsible had that discussion not taken place."
The idea that the threat level is just being discussed, I think, is not what Ridge is alleging. He alleging that what he knew about intelligence and national security matters made him feel like it was not justified to raise the threat level. Was Secretary Ridge in on high-level intelligence discussions?
WILKERSON: Well, that`s another issue, and I think that`s a very valid issue. This happened with more than just the governor. His book supposedly says among other points that he was often cut out of critical decision-making, critical discussions about intelligence issues that involved Tenet, that involved Rumsfeld, that involved Condi Rice, that involved the president, the vice president, but didn`t involve him, National Security Council meetings, he says he was cut out of.
If this is true, then it could have been that the intelligence was different from what his Office of Intelligence Analysis had in Homeland Security. In other words, you had a picture in the CIA, a picture in the FBI, a picture elsewhere in the intelligence community that Ridge simply didn`t know about.
If that`s the case, then the dysfunctionality of the government is still there. It`s not necessarily political, but it`s still there and it`s still very, very much a sign of incompetence.
MADDOW: And makes it harder than ever to understand what the term "homeland security" really means if they`re not in the discussions of threats to the homeland.
WILKERSON: Absolutely. I think if you were to talk to Fran Townsend or you were to talk to Dick Clark or you were to talk even to Cofer Black, you would find out that there were oftentimes when these discussions took place.
And there were principles even and certainly deputies who didn`t know that the discussions were even taking place because generally they took around - took place around one man and that man was the vice president of the United States.
MADDOW: Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, it`s always great to have you on the show, sir. Thanks for your time tonight.
WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Rachel.