The Smearing Of O'Neil Begins
Treasury Wants Investigation Into 'Secret' Documents
O'Neill Denies Charge Over Book Documents

By Martin Crutsinger
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, embroiled in a dispute with the White House over his harsh criticism of President Bush's leadership style, denied Tuesday that he used classified documents for his new book.
Reacting to an announcement by the Treasury Department that it was launching an inspector general's investigation into how an agency document stamped "secret" wound up being used in his interview Sunday night on the CBS program "60" minutes, O'Neill said, "The truth is, I didn't take any documents at all."
Interviewed on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday, O'Neill said he had asked the Treasury Department's chief legal counsel "to have the documents that are OK for me to have" for use in the book entitled, "The Price of Loyalty."
Asked if he thought the internal Treasury probe was a get-even move by the administration, O'Neill replied, "I don't think so. If I were secretary of the treasury and these circumstances occurred, I would have asked the inspector general to look into it." But O'Neill also said he thinks the questions could have been more readily answered if top Treasury officials had talked to the agency's legal counsel.
"I'm surprised that he didn't call the chief legal counsel," O'Neill said of his successor, Treasury Secretary John Snow.
O'Neill said a cover page for the documents might have suggested they were classified material but said that the legal counsel's office "ssent me a couple CDs, which I never opened." He said he gave them to former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind, the book's author.
"I don't think there is anything that is classified in those 19,000 documents," O'Neill said Tuesday, predicting the Treasury investigation would show that the Treasury employees who collected the materials for him had followed the law.
O'Neill, who was fired by Bush in December 2002, is quoted in the book as saying the president was focused on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq from the start of his administration.
O'Neill also said Tuesday said he did not mean to imply that the administration was wrong to begin contingency planning for a regime change in Iraq but that he was surprised that it was at the top of the agenda at the first Cabinet meeting.
O'Neill in the book also contends the administration's decision-making process was often chaotic and Bush Cabinet meetings made the president look "like a blind man in a room full of deaf people."
O'Neill told the "Today" show he was guilty of using some "vivid" language during his hundreds of hours of interviews with Suskind for the book. "If I could take it back, I would take it back," he said of the blind man quote.
Bush made a strong defense of his Iraq policy on Monday, while some of the Democratic presidential candidates weighed in, saying Bush had misled the American public.
On the nationally broadcast interview Tuesday, O'Neill said, "It was not my intention to be personally critical of the president of anybody else," but to cooperate with Suskind "on a chronicle of 23 months" in government.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark said O'Neill "confirms my worst suspicions about this administration," while Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said, O'Neill showed that the American people "have been misled by this."
All the furor has boosted interest in the book, which was going on sale Tuesday in bookstores nationwide.
O'Neill was the principal source for the book, written by Suskind, who relied not only on extensive interviews with O'Neill but also on 19,000 documents that the former secretary provided him.
For that reason, Suskind said he and O'Neill were striving through the book to provide readers' with as much information as possible about the inner workings of the Bush White House so they could draw their own conclusions.
Now, however, Treasury Department Inspector General Jeffrey Rush has been asked to investigate the use of a document on CBS.
Suskind in the "60 Minutes" interview referred to discussions in the early days of the administration and said, "There are memos. One of them, marked secret, says `Plan for post-Saddam Iraq.'"
CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco said CBS simply "showed a cover sheet that alluded to" a secret document but did not show any actual secret documents during the telecast.
In Mexico on Monday to attend a Summit of the Americas meeting, Bush offered a forceful defense of his decision to go to war against Iraq, saying, "the decision I made is the right one for America" and for the world.
Asked specifically whether O'Neill was correct in saying that planning for the war had begun far ahead of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush said that when he had become president he had inherited a policy of "regime change" from former President Clinton and had decided to adopt it as his own.
Republican supporters of Bush aimed their fire at O'Neill, contending that his comments showed the grudge he held against Bush for the president's decision to fire him for fighting against a new round of tax cuts.
"Mr. O'Neill is now as bitter as he was ineffective when he served as treasury secretary," said Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.
However, O'Neill was defended by Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration and later wrote a controversial book about the experience.
"Cabinet members should be loyal to a president, but they have a larger loyalty to the public," said Reich.
From Associated Press:




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