Bartlett defends Rove's comments
White House aide tells O'Donnell there is nothing to apologize for

Updated: 2:39 p.m. ET June 24, 2005

Two days after making a speech criticizing liberals' response to the 9/11 attacks, presidential advisor Karl Rove is under fire from Democrats.

MSNBC's Chief Washington Correspondent Norah O'Donnell spoke with Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, about that controversy on Friday.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the link above.

Norah O'Donnell: Senate minority leader Harry Reid issued a statement Thursday on Karl Rove's remarks saying: "Karl Rove should immediately and fully apologize for his remarks or he should resign. The lesson of September 11th is not different for conservatives, liberals or moderates."

Is Karl going to apologize?

Dan Bartlett: Well Norah I must say I'm at a loss why some of these top Democrats in the Senate have made these accusations, in fact, if you look at Senators Clinton and Schumer and others, who responded after 9/11, did so in support of President Bush's pursuit of the war on terror.

What Karl Rove was pointing out -- and he was quite specific I might add -- in his speech, was that, a liberal organization, that put out a petition and a statement right after 9/11 saying don't respond militarily, show restraint, that's exactly what he was talking about. For the life of me, I don't understand why these Democrats feel they have to rally behind this liberal organization that was clearly in opposite views of even them and their votes at the time. So I think this a much to do about nothing, a little bit of maybe trying to get the distraction off of Sen. Durbin's apology, but what Karl was saying is a public record, and like I said, I think it's obvious that its odd that they feel they have to defend this liberal organization.

O'Donnell: But Dan, Karl said liberal, not liberal extremist, was he referring to Sen. Clinton and others when he said that they demanded indictments and to offer therapy to the terrorists?

Bartlett: Well Norah, in the next sentence, I believe, right after that, his citation as an example of liberals was he cited He didn't cite certain Democrats he didn't cite Sen. Clinton or others, he said specifically because that is where the citation was issued from, this organization, so like I said, I think there might be some attempts by the Democrats to kind of get the glare off of Sen. Durbin, I just don't understand why they'd want to defend this organization, when in fact they voted to support President Bush and the war on terror.

O'Donnell: Why do you think at this time, when we are fighting the war in Iraq, when there is news this morning that there have been more Marines killed in Iraq, some of them women soldiers, that Democrats and Republicans, the White House and Congress are fighting about 9/11 and not talking about Iraq?

Bartlett: Well I think there's a lot of discussion about Iraq, the generals and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was up on Capitol hill testifying, but if one's thing that great about our country, despite fighting a war, politics will always go on here in Washington, D.C. we see that on a daily basis and I think that's fine. But this president, this administration, and importantly the military, is very focused on the mission at hand in Iraq, we have some tough fighting that's underway, but its very necessary fighting. As you know Norah, President Bush is meeting with the prime minister of Iraq today to talk about the strategy and the way foreword. So this administration, this president is focused, Karl was giving a speech, in which he was pointing out obvious public record and we are remaining focused on winning the war in Iraq, and we will.

O'Donnell: Vice-President Dick Cheney has said that the insurgency is in its 'last throes.'

Bartlett: Right

O'Donnell: Yesterday on Capitol Hill, Gen. Abizaid declined to endorse that statement saying in fact that the number of insurgents was about the same as it was six months ago. Who should the American people believe, the vice-president or Gen. Abizaid?

Bartlett: Well Norah, I know for some when you hear that it might sound like they are conflicting each other, but in fact Vice President Cheney and President Bush get their briefings from John Abizaid, the general who's in charge of the region, as well as Gen. Casey who's in charge there in Baghdad. What they are making is two very different points, and Vice-President Cheney yesterday, and repeatedly, has said we have some very tough fighting in the days ahead.

We face a determined enemy, you're right, foreign terrorists are coming in throughout the world to try and make Iraq a central front on the was on terror, but what Vice President Cheney is pointing out is that, at every step of the way, on the political process, the insurgence have been unable to affect the outcome, they could not affect us handing over sovereignty, they couldn't stop the inner government from being formed and then dramatically in January, they attempted to prevent Iraqis going to the polls and they showed up by a tune of eight and half million people.

Now, what he is saying is that despite these horrific acts of violence, we are winning because we are meeting our objectives, and that is not different from what Gen. Abizaid is saying, he believes we was winning as well, but he is pointing out what the president, and the vice-president and other members of this administration have said, is we have tough fighting, everyday that we lose a life. You're right we're lost the lives of some fine marines today, that we mourn their loss of life, but its critical that their lives are not lost in vain, that we pursue this strategy, that we beat them there because if we don't defeat the terrorists there, we'll be facing them elsewhere in the world, and potentially, here in America.

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