Skip to comments.Sen. John Edwards Fuzzy Memory (The Music Stops and One is Left Standing - my title)
Posted on 05/17/2002 11:25:54 AM PDT by jriemer
Fri, May 17, 2002
FUZZY MEMORY: Edwards is obscure about his knowledge of pre-Sept. 11 alert
By Kevin Begos
JOURNAL WASHINGTON BUREAU
Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and Rep. Richard Burr, R-5th, hold seats on congressional intelligence committees that had pre-Sept. 11 information about the possibility that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network might hijack American airliners.
But the two politicians have very different answers about what they knew, and when.
Asked specifically if he knew in August about the general warning that al-Qaida might be planning to hijack airplanes, Edwards was vague at first. "I don't know. Not that I'm aware of," Edwards, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Winston-Salem Journal.
But Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said yesterday on NBC's Today show that "we were aware of that general warning the president got." Shelby is vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee.
Edwards' story seemed to change as the day progressed.
"We received generic information over a period of time about Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida, the possibility of attacks," he said during one interview.
Later, Edwards said, "I don't specifically remember discussions about hijacking, but I suspect hijacking could have been part of that discussion."
Edwards' fuzzy memory was sharply at odds with Burr's. Burr is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and both committees receive substantially the same briefings.
"The House Intelligence Committee was given the same information," Burr said of the basic outlines President Bush got in early August.
Yesterday evening, a Democratic source said that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee had been able to compare the briefing they were given on Aug. 7 with what Bush was given the previous day, and that the Senate version had significantly less detail.
The different stories from Edwards and Burr mark a shift in the political climate, said Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia.
"What strikes me is that suddenly Sept. 11 has become very partisan," Sabato said. "That's something we had avoided for all these months. And so Edwards and other Democrats are going after Bush with a sledgehammer, whereas the Republican members of Intelligence are trying to support the White House line."
Edwards said that something had gone wrong in the system of handling intelligence, but he dodged a question about his own responsibility.
"There's all this information out there that sent out warning signs," Edwards said of pre-9/11 intelligence. "Some of it was apparently at the FBI, some of it was at the CIA. My point is that there were all these warning signs that somebody should have followed up and taken action on."
Edwards said on Good Morning America that "there should have been bells and whistles going off." Later, asked specifically whether the Senate Intelligence Committee had, in retrospect, failed to respond properly to threats that its members knew of, Edwards didn't answer.
Sabato said that Edwards' silence doesn't make much sense.
"If he's on the Senate Intelligence Committee, then he bears some responsibility, albeit less than Bush. He cannot totally escape the same questions," Sabato said.
Burr tackled the pre-9/11 intelligence issue head-on.
"We had the opportunity, and chose not to change the level of security at airports, or immigration, or anything," Burr said. "We're as much to blame for having not increased airport security - if that's what it took - given that there was a potential threat.
"The fact is, with the information the administration had in hand, our intelligence agencies had in hand, the intelligence committees within Congress had in hand - none of us could predict what happened," Burr said.
"But you know, the tremendous thing about hindsight is we're all perfect," he added.
Burr said that although the House committee had been briefed on a general threat, the situation had to be viewed in context.
"That was not the first warning and/or analytical report that suggested that hijacking, and/or plane-aircraft, was a potential terrorist tool. I think the first goes back to the mid-90s," Burr said.
Such general reports are not the same as a specific warning, he said. "To suggest that was a warning, I think might be a misstatement," Burr said of the hijacking information last August.
Sabato said the bottom line is simple. "The truth is, nobody saw this coming," he said.
Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said that Edwards is on firm ground when he criticizes the way the administration is putting together its Homeland Security defense.
"It seems to me there's a lot of room for improvement," said Hess, who served in the White House during the Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford administrations.
But Hess also pointed out that after Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination, people sifted back through history and found stray bits of evidence, and tried to find blame.
"It is also a staple of all conspiracy theories," Hess said of such discoveries. "And it's the conspiracy theorists who are usually at fault. They always fail to factor in incompetence."
Could it be that someone within the Democratic party is orchestrating a media event that is equally embarassing to President Bush and Senator Edwards. This way, they can attempt to damage the President's appeal and cripple a contender? Edwards did not exactly shine like the Golden Boy like he was supposed to on his last outing on Meet the Press. Perhaps the music has stopped and he does not have a chair...
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WRAL has been reporting this every hour on the news this am as well as Rush talking about it.
Warms my heart to see "Pretty boy Edwards" get yet another piece of bad press.
Yes, mine too! I can think of only a few pols more deserving of it than he is.
I think you give the Dems too much credit: the truth -- in this case, that Edwards also knew about the warnings -- never stands in the way of spin. Clinton told lies on national TV, and got away with it -- why would they think the same tactics won't work now?
John Edwards is a blow-dried Clinton clone.
Don't worry, if this whole "pretty boy senator" thing doesn't pan out, he can always go back to his old job.
His mentor, x42, doesn't have that luxury.
I think that's pretty much a reach to draw that conclusion. After seeing the Democrats flail around for the past 10-12 months, I don't think they are smart enough to pull it off.
"I want to be the most accessible senator that North Carolina has ever had."
Somehow, I don't think being FReeped is the "accessibility" he had in mind!
Senator John Edwards
United States Senate
225 Dirksen Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
tel (202) 224-3154
fax (202) 228-1374
There was NO "warning" in the briefing. The media and democrats are spinning ... On August 6, 2001 the president received a presidential daily briefing that was an analytic report, not a warning briefing. It was an analytic report that talked about bin Laden's historic methods of operation from 1997-1998