Under strong pressure from former president Bill Clinton's advisers, CBS's "60 Minutes" has agreed to read a statement denying an explosive charge being made on tonight's program by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh.
In the statement, Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, challenges Freeh's assertion that Clinton failed to press then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to cooperate with an investigation of the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and used the occasion to ask for a contribution to his presidential library. The Saudis made such a donation last year -- six years after the 1998 meeting.
Berger, who was at the meeting, said: "The president strongly raised the need for Saudi officials to cooperate with us on the investigation into the attack on Khobar Towers at the time when the FBI was attempting to gain access to the suspects. The president did not raise in any fashion the issue of his library."
Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said he told CBS's Mike Wallace that he had supportive accounts from five other former officials who were at the meeting, including those briefed about a private conversation between Clinton and Abdullah. Freeh was not there, and Carson said Wallace told him he had not spoken to the source upon whom Freeh relied for his account.
Said CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco: "We will continue to report on this segment until it is broadcast on Sunday night, at which time our audience will find it to be both fair to the former president and factually accurate."
The behind-the-scenes accusations come amid sniping between the Clinton camp and Freeh, who chastises the former president over terrorism and numerous scandals in a book, "My FBI," due out next week. Although Clinton gave Dan Rather and "60 Minutes" the first interview about his autobiography last year, his aides are furious with the program, with some saying CBS has learned little from its botched report about President Bush's National Guard record.
"The fair journalistic question is why they didn't call and get comments for their story from people who were in the room, such as Sandy Berger, and why they took until Friday afternoon to get that done," said Lanny J. Davis, a former White House lawyer, who tried to persuade "60 Minutes" producer Jeff Fager to allow him or another Clinton spokesman to appear on tonight's segment.
Carson, who called the Freeh book "a total work of fiction," said Clinton aides were not aware that CBS would report Freeh's charge about the Abdullah meeting until a Washington Post article Friday.
"From the very beginning, '60 Minutes' was clear that the only response they would take to this story was from President Clinton. . . . They could not have been more vague about the actual allegations," Carson said.