No Saudi Oil 'Deal,' Woodward Says

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, April 20, 2004; 10:38 AM

The suggestion that the Saudi government and the Bush administration struck a deal to lower U.S. gasoline prices before the 2004 election seemed like one of the more explosive allegations made by Bob Woodward in his new book and media blitz.

But Woodward explained yesterday that he never said there was any secret deal. And he never said the Saudis' plans were explicitly linked to an effort to reelect Bush.

Here are Mike Wallace and Woodward on CBS's "60 Minutes" Sunday night, discussing Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States and a confidant of the Bush family:

"WALLACE: Prince Bandar enjoys easy access to the Oval Office. His family and the Bush family are close. And Woodward told us that Bandar has promised the president that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices in the months before the election to ensure the US economy is strong on Election Day.

"And you also say, 'Bandar wanted Bush to know that the Saudis hoped to fine-tune oil prices to prime the economy in 2004. What was key, Bandar understood, were the economic conditions before a presidential election.'

"Oil prices are at an all-time high.

"Mr. WOODWARD: They're high, and they could go down very quickly. That's the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer or as we get closer to the election, they increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly."

But on CNN's "Larry King Live" last night, Woodward explained that he never suggested that there was any covert deal.

As CNN reports: "The charge that Saudi Arabia made a secret pact with President Bush to lower gasoline prices in time to help him in the November presidential election was denied Monday by the White House, the Saudi ambassador to the United States -- and even by journalist Bob Woodward, who raised the specter of such a quid pro quo in a book released Monday.

"'I don't say there's a secret deal or any collaboration on this,' Woodward told CNN's 'Larry King Live' Monday. 'What I say in the book is that the Saudis . . . hoped to keep oil prices low during the period before the election, because of its impact on the economy. That's what I say.'

"The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who appeared on the program with Woodward, said his characterization of Saudi policy was 'accurate.'"

Here's the transcript of the show.

Woodward's book describes Bandar as hoping "to fine-tune oil prices over 10 months to prime the [U.S.] economy for 2004."


There were some fascinating three-way exchanges on that Larry King show last night. First, about Woodward's assertion that Bandar was told that Bush had decided to go to war before even Secretary of State Colin L. Powell knew.

"KING: We have made the connection. With us on the phone is Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. Who wants to go first? Do you hear Bob OK, Prince?

"WOODWARD: Have you read the book, ambassador?

"BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: No, but I read snippets of it.

"WOODWARD: The parts pertaining to you, and there seems to be some contention about this meeting January 11 in the White House. You know, Don Rumsfeld is on record saying he looked you in the eye and said, 'you can take this to the bank, Ambassador, this is going to happen,' and the 'this' is the war plan. And. . . .

"KING: I'll let him respond to that part. Prince, is that true?

"BIN SULTAN: Larry, number one, Bob Woodward is a first class journalist and reporter. And. . . .

"KING: OK, and number two?

"BIN SULTAN: And number two, I will never contradict Bob Woodward.


"KING: So what's number three?

"BIN SULTAN: And number three is, what he said is accurate. However, there was one sentence that was left out.

"KING: And that is?

"BIN SULTAN: Both Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld told me before the briefing that the president has not made a decision yet, but here is the plan, and then the rest is accurate."

And on the oil price issue:

"KING: Let me get in one more thing, Prince Bandar.

"BIN SULTAN: Yes, sir.

"KING: The story that Mr. Woodward has about the promise to lower the oil prices by the election. Your government has denied has.

"WOODWARD: That's not my story. What I say in the book is that the Saudis, and maybe you looked at this section of the book, Ambassador, that the Saudis hoped to keep oil prices low during the period for -- before the election, because of its impact on the economy. That's what I say.

"BIN SULTAN: I think the way that Bob said it now is accurate. We hoped that the oil prices will stay low, because that's good for America's economy, but more important, it's good for our economy and the international economy, and this is not -- nothing unusual. President Clinton asked us to keep the prices down in the year 2000. In fact, I can go back to 1979, President Carter asked us to keep the prices down to avoid the malaise. So yes, it's in our interests and in America's interests to keep the prices down.

"KING: Do you want President Bush. . . .

"BIN SULTAN: But that was not a deal.

"KING: Do you want President Bush to be reelected?

"BIN SULTAN: We always want any president who is in office to be reelected, Larry, but that is the American choice. This is not our call. This is the American people's call."

Democrats Attack

Lois Romano and Howard Kurtz write in The Washington Post that presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry said yesterday that a Saudi pledge is "disgusting" if true.

And in a letter to Bush, two Democratic congressman write: "In effect, Mr. Woodward is alleging that you have an understanding with the Saudis that the Saudis will manipulate gasoline prices for your political advantage. . . .

"Mr. President, we request that you fully explain the understanding that you or your Administration reached with the Saudis to boost oil production and disclose any promises that have been made to the Saudis on behalf of the U.S. Additionally, we request that you explain what steps you are taking today to address excessive gasoline prices, and why your Administration has not pressed the Saudis to increase their production prior to this year's driving season."

Woodward on Cheney

Today's installment of The Washington Post's excerpts from Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," describes how single-minded and effective Vice President Cheney was about going to war in Iraq.

Woodward describes Cheney himself talking about it at a dinner party. "After Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney said, the president understood what had to be done. He had to do Afghanistan first, sequence the attacks, but after Afghanistan -- 'soon thereafter' -- the president knew he had to do Iraq. Cheney said he was confident after Sept. 11 that it would come out okay."

Woodward on Powell

By contrast, today's excerpt depicts Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as arguing unsuccessfully against war.

"'You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,' he told the president. 'You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You'll own it all.' Privately, Powell and Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it." . . .

Via Woodward, here are Powell's hints to reading Cheney in a meeting:

"At meetings of the principals, in Powell's view, Cheney improved on his technique of not betraying his position by insisting he either didn't have one, or could change his mind in 30 minutes. Powell finally decoded the technique. He concluded that he had to listen carefully because Cheney's disavowals generally turned out to be positions about which Cheney was not going to change his mind."

Woodward will be Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET answering questions.

Powell Responds

Powell gave two interviews yesterday, to the Associated Press and Sean Hannity.

Dan Morgan writes in The Washington Post that "Powell said he was committed from the start to President Bush's war plan if diplomacy failed and that he was well informed about Bush's strategy. . . .

"During the interview with the AP, Powell acknowledged for the first time that he and others had talked to Woodward, a Washington Post assistant managing editor, as 'part of our instructions from the White House.'"

"Regarding the assertion in the book that Bandar got earlier intelligence briefings on the war preparations than he did, Powell told the AP: 'I was intimately familiar with the plan, and I was aware that Prince Bandar was being briefed.'"

Here is video from Powell's interview with AP, and the full text and the AP story by Barry Schweid.

Powell also spoke with Sean Hannity. "I'm not in the doghouse with anybody that counts," he said. Here's the text.

Pottery Barn Responds

Lloyd Grove, gossip columnist for the New York Daily News, reports that Pottery Barn spokeswoman Leigh Oshirak says that "you break it, you own it" is "certainly not our policy in any of our 174 Pottery Barn retail outlets in North America. In fact, there is no policy regarding this whatsoever."

White House Responds

Sure there are a few denials emerging from the White House here and there, but overall, reports David Gregory of NBC News, "The White House talking points went out today with a simple message: Embrace the book."

Gregory notes that the book is now listed on the Bush-Cheney Web site's suggested reading list.

And, he also points out, the Defense Department Web-published the full text of Woodward's two interviews with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on Oct. 23 and Sept. 20.

The Funds Diversion Issue

Richard W. Stevenson and Carl Hulse write in the New York Times about one of those other controversies: "The Bush administration on Monday denied a report in a new book that it secretly diverted money intended for the effort to prevent terrorism in 2002 to prepare for an invasion of Iraq."

At issue is $700 million in expenditures in Kuwait in 2002, about which lawmakers were kept in the dark.

Poll Watch

Richard Morin and Dan Balz of The Washington Post write about the new Washington Post/ABC News poll, which is full of good news for Bush -- largely because it's full of bad news for Kerry.

"By 49 percent to 44 percent, Bush was viewed as better able to deal with the country's biggest problems. Five weeks ago, those numbers were reversed. By comfortable margins, voters saw Bush as stronger than Kerry on key national security issues."

Bush's approval rating is holding at 51 percent and Iraq and the war on terrorism have surged in importance among voters. So why is Bush gaining on Kerry? "The survey found that the public's perceptions of Kerry as a person and as a candidate have dipped significantly in the past five weeks."

The survey also found that concerns about the economy have eased slightly in the face of recent positive economic news.

Dig through the poll data here, look for trends, and check out this approval ratings chart.

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "President Bush has maintained his lead over Democrat John Kerry in the USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll despite two weeks dominated by a deteriorating security situation in Iraq and criticism of his administration's handling of the terrorism threat before the Sept. 11 attacks."

His approval rating is steady at 52 percent, Gallup says.

Here are those complete poll results.

Patriot Acting

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush said Monday that he considers it vital to national security for Congress to pass a permanent version of the USA Patriot Act, which has been criticized by some liberals and conservatives as giving the federal government too much power in the name of fighting terrorism. . . .

"Presidents usually stay out of state primary fights, but Bush made an unusual appearance Monday evening at a Pittsburgh fundraiser for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a 24-year Senate veteran who faces a competitive Republican primary April 27 against conservative Rep. Pat Toomey."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Specter needs the president to support him in his toughest primary challenge since his election in 1980. And Mr. Bush needs Mr. Specter to ensure that he has a veteran Republican in place to try to help him win a critical swing state in November."

Here's the text of Bush's remarks in Hershey, Pa.

Today's Calendar

Pete Yost writes on the Associated Press wire: "For the second day in a row, the president on Tuesday is making a strong public defense of the Patriot Act, this time in Buffalo, N.Y., the site of criminal cases against the Lackawanna Six. The six Yemeni-Americans pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism by briefly attending al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan.

"Also for the second straight day, Bush was pairing the Patriot Act pitch with a fund raiser. Tuesday afternoon in New York City, he was headlining a money event for the Republican Party's get-out-the-vote effort."

Cheney will deliver remarks to the annual National Right to Life Committee Educational Trust Fund dinner in Washington.

Thinking About History

In one of the more quoted passages from Woodward's book, Woodward asks Bush in an interview how history would judge the war. Bush replies: "History. We don't know. We'll all be dead."

But somebody at the White House is apparently thinking about history.

George Lardner Jr. writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush has announced his intention to name historian Allen Weinstein to become the ninth archivist of the United States, replacing John W. Carlin, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1995."

So what's the fuss? Well, the announcement "has produced widespread protests from historians and archivists who see election-year politics behind the appointment of a new head of the National Archives and Records Administration. Critics see the nomination of Weinstein as a defensive maneuver by the Bush White House to help prevent the disclosure of sensitive papers in case Bush loses the election this fall. Some of his father's records could be ripe for release next January."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Felicia R. Lee write in the New York Times that Weinstein, "taking the rare step of speaking to a reporter while his nomination is pending, describ[ed] himself as a registered Democrat and sa[id], 'I am not in anybody's pocket, and I am committed to maximum access.'"

Tom Brune of Newsday first wrote about the nomination on Saturday.

Snubbed by a King

Steven R. Weisman writes in the New York Times: "King Abdullah of Jordan dealt a rebuff to President Bush on Monday, abruptly putting off his visit to Washington scheduled for later this week. Jordanian officials said the visit had become impossible in light of Mr. Bush's recent support for Israel's territorial claims in the West Bank."

Scolding a Spaniard

Terence Hunt of the Associated Press writes: ""One day after taking office, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero picked up the telephone to call Bush -- and got an irate president on the line. . . . "Bush suggested that Spain's abrupt withdrawal of troops from Iraq would give 'false comfort to terrorists.'"

Cheney Censored in China

Joseph Kahn writes in the New York Times: "Before his high-profile visit to China last week, Vice President Dick Cheney insisted that Beijing leaders allow him to speak, live and uncensored, to the Chinese people.

"After weeks of intense negotiations, Mr. Cheney was granted that measure of openness, but not one millimeter more."

Among the steps the Chinese did take to censor Cheney: "The authorities promptly provided leading Web sites with a 'full text' of the vice president's remarks, including his answers to questions after the speech, that struck out references to political freedom, Taiwan, North Korea and other issues that propaganda officials considered sensitive."

Here is the genuine full text, from the White House Web site.

Oval Office Announcement

Robin Wright writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush yesterday nominated John D. Negroponte, the top U.S. diplomat at the United Nations, to be the new American ambassador to Iraq. . . .

"During an Oval Office announcement, President Bush called Negroponte an envoy with 'enormous experience and skill' who has done a 'really good job' of representing American interests in spreading 'freedom and peace' around the world."

Here's the text of Bush's remarks.

Pool Follies

Print pool reporter Bob Deans of Cox newspapers reported to his colleagues: "The pool was told before the event that Bush would not take questions and he didn't. As the pool waited outside the Oval before the event, a playful Bush briefly poked his head out the door and said to the pool 'No thank you, he's not here,' then ducked back into the Oval Office without further explanation."

Silent Running

In his White House Notebook column for The Washington Post, Dana Milbank writes today about how the best source on the president's activities is often someplace other than the White House.

"Agence France-Presse White House correspondent Olivier Knox has proposed a slogan for the Bush team: 'When we have something to announce, another country will announce it.'"

Married to Her Job?

Deborah Schoeneman in New York Magazine's Intelligencer column describes a tale making the rounds about national security adviser Condoleezza Rice: "At a recent dinner party hosted by New York Times D.C. bureau chief Philip Taubman and his wife, Times reporter Felicity Barringer, and attended by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Maureen Dowd, Steven Weisman, and Elisabeth Bumiller, Rice was reportedly overheard saying, 'As I was telling my husb -- ' and then stopping herself abruptly, before saying, 'As I was telling President Bush.' Jaws dropped, but a guest says the slip by the unmarried politician, who spends weekends with the president and his wife, seemed more psychologically telling than incriminating."

© 2004