The Rev. Pat Robertson said President Bush dismissed his warning that the United States would suffer heavy casualties in Iraq and told the television evangelist just before the beginning of the war that "we're not going to have any casualties."
Robertson related the conversation during an interview with CNN late Tuesday. He said he spoke to Bush before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and urged him to prepare the nation for heavy casualties. While Bush's response was a mistake, Robertson said, God has blessed the president anyhow.
Sen. John F. Kerry's campaign pounced on the remarks yesterday.
"We believe President Bush should get the benefit of the doubt here, but he needs to come forward and answer a very simple question," Kerry adviser Mike McCurry said in a statement. "Is Pat Robertson telling the truth when he said you didn't think there'd be any casualties, or is Pat Robertson lying?"
White House political adviser Karl Rove told reporters that Bush never said he did not expect casualties. "I was right there," Rove said of the president's conversation with Robertson.
In a statement yesterday, Robertson did not back away from his comments about Bush and said, "I emphatically stated that I believe 'the blessing of heaven is upon him,' and I am persuaded that he will win this election and prevail on the war against terror."
Robertson, who made a bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 1988, has repeatedly suggested on his "700 Club" cable television show that he believes God favors Bush's reelection. But he denied in Tuesday's interview with CNN's Paula Zahn that he has tried to instruct Christians on how to vote.
"I just said, I think God's blessing him, and I think it's one of those things that, even if he stumbles and messes up -- and he's had his share of goofs and gaffes -- I just think God's blessing is on him. And you remember, I think the Chinese used to say, you know, it's the blessing of heaven on the emperor. And I think the blessing of heaven is on Bush. It's just the way it is," Robertson said.
Asked about Bush's mistakes, the evangelist recalled: "I met with him down in Nashville before the Gulf war started. And he was the most self-assured man I ever met in my life." Borrowing a line from Mark Twain, Robertson said Bush looked "like a contented Christian with four aces."
"He was just sitting there, like, I'm on top of the world, and I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, 'Mr. President, you better prepare the American people for casualties,' " Robertson said.
"Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties," Robertson quoted Bush as saying. " 'Well,' I said, 'it's the way it's going to be. . . . The Lord told me it was going to be, A, a disaster and, B, messy.' "