Sadly, No has a transcript of the 60 Minutes interview. Some excerpts:
CLARKE: Well Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq and we all said, ‘No no, al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan.’ Rumsfeld said, ‘There aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.’ I said, ‘Well there are lots of good targets in lots of places but Iraq had nothing to with it.’
LESLIE STAHL: You wrote you thought he was joking.
CLARKE: Initially I thought when he said there aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan, I thought he was joking.
STAHL: Now what was your reaction to all this Iraq talk? What did you tell everybody?
CLARKE: What I said was, you know, invading Iraq or bombing Iraq after we’re attacked by somebody else, it’s akin to, what if Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor instead of going to war with Japan said, “Let’s invade Mexico.” It’s very analagous.
* * *
CLARKE: I said, ‘Mr. President. We’ve done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There’s no connection.’ He came back at me and said, “Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there’s a connection.’ And in a very intimidating way. I mean, that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report.
STAHL: In other words, you did go back and look.
CLARKE: We went back again and we looked.
STAHL: You did. And was it a serious look? Did you really … ?
CLARKE: It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and down to FBI and said, ‘Will you sign this report?’ They all cleared the report and we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, ‘Wrong answer.’ …
STAHL: Did the President see it?
CLARKE: I have no idea to this day if the President saw it because after we did it again it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, Leslie, I don’t think the people around the President show him memos like that. I don’t think he sees memos that he wouldn’t like the answer [to].
And I agree with Billmon this is a sublime exchange:
STAHL: Don’t you think he handled himself and hit all the right notes after 9/11, showed strength, got us through it, you don’t give him credit for that?
CLARKE: He gave a really good speech right after 9/11.
(Billmon also has a good backgrounder on Clarke here.
Meanwhile, Fightin’ Joe Lieberman counsels caution and moderation:
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said yesterday he doesn’t believe Clarke’s charge that the Bush administration was focused more on Iraq than al-Qaida during the days after the terror attacks.
“I see no basis for it,” Lieberman said on Fox News Sunday. “I think we’ve got to be careful to speak facts and not rhetoric.”