By Mary Curtius
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 25, 2004
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Al Gore on Thursday accused President
Bush of lying about connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and warned
that Bush's accumulation of power since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
threatened the foundations of American democracy.
In a hard-hitting speech delivered to an enthusiastic audience at Georgetown University Law School, Gore accused Bush of increasing his own power at the expense of the other branches of government and individuals' civil liberties.
The greatest danger to the United States, said the man who narrowly lost the 2000 presidential election, is not terrorism but the possibility that Americans "will acquiesce in the slow and steady accumulation of too much power in the hands of one person."
Gore's comments came amid a political firestorm over a report from the special commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks — and the way the media have characterized the report.
The commission's staff determined that t he Iraqi regime had contacts, but not a "collaborative relationship," with Al Qaeda, and many news organizations contended that the finding undercut one of the administration's key rationales for invading Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney, in turn, denounced the media as mischaracterizing the report and the administration's position.
But in remarks sure to fuel the controversy, Gore accused Cheney and Bush of deliberately misleading the public about the connections between Al Qaeda and Hussein. "If Iraq had nothing to do with the attack or the organization that attacked us, then that means the president took us to war when he didn't have to," Gore said.
The president, he added, "is now intentionally misleading the American people by continuing to aggressively and brazenly assert a linkage between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."
Responding to Gore's speech in a conference call with reporters, Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said that "what we're up against is [presumed Democratic nom inee] John Kerry's coalition of the wild-eyed." He added: "Today, Al Gore delivered another gravely false attack on the president."
Gore was sarcastic but controlled as he delivered his remarks, in sharp contrast to his demeanor last month, when his attack on the administration's Iraq policy provoked criticism from some Democrats as well as Republicans.
In that speech, he seemed to lose control as he angrily demanded that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George J. Tenet and other officials resign over their "twisted values and atrocious policies" in Iraq. Tenet subsequently resigned, citing personal reasons.
Before Gore's remarks Thursday, the Republican National Committee issued a news release accusing him of having "anger management" issues. The release cited disapproving commentaries offered by conservative columnists and other political analysts after Gore's remarks last month.
Although Gore kept his voice low and his delivery measured Thursday, the words were no less harsh.
The president, Gore said, plays on Americans' fear of global terrorism to justify "his reinterpretation of the Constitution in ways that increase his personal power at the expense of Congress, the courts and every individual citizen."
Gore reserved his most scathing remarks for what he called the "curious question of why Bush continues" to claim that "there was a working cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda."
Citing the Sept. 11 commission staff's findings that no meaningful relationship existed, Gore described the president and the vice president as either lying or incompetent.
"If they genuinely believe that, that makes them unfit in battle with Al Qaeda. If they believe these flimsy scraps [of evidence], then who would want them in charge?" he asked to laughter and applause from the audience of several hundred people.
"They dare not admit the truth, lest they look like complete fools for launching our country into a reckless, discretionary war against a nation that posed no immediate threat to us whatsoever," Gore said. "Whenever a chief executive spends prodigious amounts of energy convincing people of lies, he damages the fabric of democracy and the belief in the fundamental integrity of our self-government."