That Woodward Magic

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, April 21, 2004; 12:00 PM

How does he do it?

That's one of the questions you hear a lot as Washington conversation continues to be consumed by Bob Woodward's new book about President Bush's march to war in Iraq.

How does Woodward get these tight-lipped Bush administration types (including Bush himself!) to talk to him in the first place -- and then to open up?

The Defense Department on Monday Web-published the transcripts of two on-the-record interviews Woodward conducted with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld late last year, offering up a revealing look at how Woodward works his sources.

But even more revelatory is the fact that someone over there deleted some of the most important bits! Apparently, part of the experience of being interviewed with Woodward is having some regrets afterward.

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post today: "The Pentagon deleted from a public transcript a statement Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made to author Bob Woodward suggesting that the administration gave Saudi Arabia a two-month heads-up that President Bush had decided to invade Iraq. . . .

"Woodward supplied his own transcript showing that Rumsfeld told him on Oct. 23, 2003: 'I remember meeting with the vice president and I think Dick Myers and I met with a foreign dignitary at one point and looked him in the eye and said you can count on this. In other words, at some point we had had enough of a signal from the president that we were able to look a foreign dignitary in the eye and say you can take that to the bank this is going to happen.' "

This is a big deal because one of the most eye-popping scenes in the book takes place in January 2003 in Vice President Cheney's West Wing office, where Rumsfeld and others show Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, a top-secret map showing how the war plan would unfold. "You can count on this," Woodward quotes Rumsfeld as saying, pointing to the map. "You can take that to the bank. This is going to happen."

That's about two months before the White House previously acknowledged it had decided to go to war and, according to Woodward's book, it's even before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell got the word from Bush.

The Post helpfully reprints, from Woodward's transcript of the on-the-record interview, some of the missing bits.

Here are the expurgated versions from the Defense Department Web site, of the September 20 and October 23 interviews.

White House: Generally Pleased

As Allen reports, "fallout from the book's many disclosures continued to dominate conversations throughout Washington" yesterday.

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