MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, you said to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette November 16, 2005, "The vice president, I believe, flat lied. The president didn't lie. He misled."
Vice President Cheney on Monday was responding to you and others, and this is what he said. Let's watch it and come back.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: What is not legitimate, and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible, is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence. Some of the most irresponsible comments have come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence materials. They are known to have a high opinion of their own analytical capabilities. And they were free to reach their own judgments based upon the evidence. They concluded, as the president and I had concluded, and as the previous administration had concluded, that Saddam Hussein was a threat.
MR. RUSSERT: "Dishonest and reprehensible."
SEN. BIDEN: Let me ask you, Tim, a rhetorical question. He sat on your program in the fall before the war and said, "Saddam Hussein has reconstituted his nuclear weapons." I simultaneously said, "There is simply no evidence to sustain that. None. Zero. None." I said it then, I said it again, I say it now. I demand anyone put forward for me, classified or in any other form, any evidence to sustain the assertion the vice president of the United States made that Saddam Hussein said to Tim Russert he, Saddam, has reconstituted his nuclear weapons. That is a flat misrepresentation of the facts.
MR. RUSSERT: And, in fact, he did say exactly that March 16, 2003. Later that year, September 14, he said he "misspoke"...
SEN. BIDEN: Well, there it is.
MR. RUSSERT: ...that he meant nuclear capability.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, even nuclear capability, you--we did not have access to the same stuff that the president gets every morning, as John will acknowledge. We didn't realize that--how discredited the sources were that were being quoted to us about the reconstitution of a nuclear capability. There was no evidence of that. Look, you had phrases like "mushroom cloud," "much graver threat than grave threat," "mortal threat," "the threat is urgent," "grave and gathering danger," "urgent threat," "immediate threat," "serious and growing threat," "real threat," "significant threat." These are all phrases these guys used.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Warner, take the aluminum tubes that the administration talked about in terms of...
SEN. WARNER: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...being used for nuclear weapon development. The State Department was very, very clear about that; the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Department of Energy. And in the National Intelligence Estimate there was a caveat which said, "We don't believe these tubes could be used for anything like that." Do you believe, in all honesty, that the administration took the very best spin on intelligence they could get in order to help buttress or support the case for war?
SEN. WARNER: You know, I've known the president quite well. I knew his father well. I actually knew his grandfather, met him. You remember, he served on the...
SEN. BIDEN: I only know the father and the...
SEN. WARNER: Well, anyway, the grandfather served on the Armed Services Committee as a senator. That's a family that's been known for its integrity and public service for generations. Our president would not intentionally take any facts and try and mislead the American public, in my judgment. What was before all leaders of the world at that time were facts that gave rise to the--Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction and some potential for nuclear weapons. When we went in, in '91, we underestimated how far he had proceeded in his programs. Now, we recognize he didn't have them but he certainly had the infrastructure to which he was going to direct moneys, if he ever got it, to go back into the business of weapons of mass destruction, had not this invasion taken place.
SEN. BIDEN: Tim, I'm not talking about the president. Let's get that straight. I'm talking about Cheney when I said they lied. Let's--let...
MR. RUSSERT: You said the president misled.
SEN. BIDEN: Yeah, misled. Now, here, let me be precise. Aluminum tubes--remember that whole issue? Casey said the tubes were "irrefutable evidence" of their nuclear policy. Rice said they were "really only suited for nuclear weapons programs." And Bush said there was "no doubt" about this. In fact, the Energy Department expert said, as you pointed out, the tube--they were not for nuclear. The Intelligence Research Bureau agreed and said, "no compelling case that Iraq's currently pursuing an integrated, comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons." This is in 10/02. Now, this is evidence they had at the time. Yet they used words like "The weapons program is irrefutable."
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, when you read the National Intelligence Estimate, at least the summary of it, it had a caveat in there from the State Department and the Department of Energy saying they did not believe the...
SEN. BIDEN: After the fact, Tim. Look, look...
MR. RUSSERT: This was made available to senators before the vote. Only six read it.
SEN. BIDEN: No, no, no, no, no, no. That's true, that was before the vote.
MR. RUSSERT: But you saw...
SEN. BIDEN: That was before the vote.
MR. RUSSERT: You saw that information and you still voted for the war.
SEN. BIDEN: But remember--no, remember what I voted for was for the president to be able to go to war, if, if--I've got the resolution here--if, in fact, it was to enforce the existing breaches that existed in the U.N. resolution and if he could show there were weapons of mass destruction.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the Democrats and you were diligent enough in reading that National Intelligence Estimate and all the caveats and calling the president to task as to whether or not he was being candid about the intelligence and his interpretation?
SEN. BIDEN: Yes. And if I--I'll leave with you because there's no time here all the statements I made at the time laying out my doubts about their assertions. But remember what the resolution said, Tim, it didn't say "go to war." It said, "Mr. President, if you can show these things, then you can use force."
The reason we gave the president the authority was to unite the world in keeping Saddam in a box, not freeing him up from the sanctions, which was the alternative, as you remember at the time. We have selective memories. That was the alternative. It wasn't the status quo, anti, or war, it was whether or not we were going to keep him in a box.
MR. RUSSERT: Was it a vote for war?
SEN. WARNER: It was a clear authority that the Congress would support the president if he made certain findings. And I'm confident the president proceeded to make those findings on the best intelligence available. And I think it's fortunate that within our government there are different interpretations by the several departments and agencies responsible for analysis.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, before we go, Washington Post, November 10, "Senator Joe Biden's written a letter to a potential donor with the statement, `I'm running.'" Running for what?
SEN. BIDEN: I'm running to stay in this program with John Warner. If I can raise the money, if there's someone out there besides me who thinks I should be president, then I'm going to run for president. If not, I'm not going to run for president. I've been as candid with you as I can, Tim, and that's where it is. And I'm out seeing whether or not I can raise the money. It's a lot of money. I don't know whether I can do that and we'll know by--you know, in the next six months or so whether I can be in the game. If not, I'm going to stick with John and be his truth squad.
MR. RUSSERT: But as of now your letter says "I'm running."
SEN. BIDEN: Well, yeah. I am. I'm going out to see if I can do it.
SEN. WARNER: Well, look at the program this morning. What better evidence than that, right?
SEN. BIDEN: That's right. I got it--you've got it.
SEN. WARNER: How about it?
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. John Warner...
SEN. WARNER: To be continued, you bet.
MR. RUSSERT: ...Joe Biden. We'll be right back.
Coming next, a war of words over the war in Iraq continues in our roundtable, with David Gregory of NBC News, David Broder of The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and Judy Woodruff, coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.