Powell attacks Cheney book's "cheap shots"

WASHINGTON - JUNE 15: U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (L) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (R) attend a meeting in the Oval Office with U.S. President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House June 15, 2004 in Washington, DC. Bush and Karzai met to discuss the war on terrorism. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Former Vice President Dick Cheney's memoir, "In My Time," goes on sale tomorrow. But it is already generating plenty of controversy.

Cheney himself said that the book - a memoir full of material from White House meetings - will have "heads exploding all over Washington."

CBS News political correspondent Jan Crawford said that in Washington the book is one of one of the most eagerly anticipated books of the century. "Cheney never has been known to pull punches; he certainly hasn't in this book," Crawford said on "The Early Show." "He basically is having it out with almost every official in the administration, including the president himself. So already I think what you're starting to see is now some of those administration officials are really starting to push back."

If not exactly exploding, the head of former Secretary of State Colin Powell was steaming yesterday, according to CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer.

Powell, a guest on "Face the Nation," launched a counterattack against Cheney, accusing the former vice president of "cheap shots" unburdened by facts and likening his huckstering of the memoir to that of a supermarket tabloid.

"I'll tell you, if there is any one single thing in this book that Colin Powell likes about it, he didn't get around to mentioning it to me during that interview," Schieffer said on "The Early Show." "I mean, he slammed the vice president. He challenged his assertions. In some places he challenged his facts. He said the book was full of cheap shots. He even slammed the way that the former vice president has been promoting the book."

On "Face the Nation" Powell described Cheney's book as "essentially a rehash of events of seven or eight years ago ... "

"What really sort of got my attention was the way in which he characterized it, 'It's going to cause heads to explode.' That's quite a visual. And in fact it's the kind of headline I would expect to come out of a gossip columnist or the kind of headline you might see the supermarket tabloids write. It's not the kind of headline you expect from the former vice president of the United States of America.

"Mr. Cheney has had a long and distinguished career, and I hope in his book that's what he'll focus on, not these cheap shots he's taking at me and other members of the administration who served to the best of our ability for President Bush."

Powell then attacked Cheney's characterization of him and his role in the Bush White House:

"He says that I went out of my way not to present my positions to the president but to take them outside of the administration. That's nonsense. The president knows that I told him what I thought about every issue of the day. Mr. Cheney may forget that I'm the one who said to President Bush, 'If you break it, you own it, and you have got to understand that if we have to go to war in Iraq we have to be prepared for the whole war, not just the first phase.' And Mr. Cheney and many of his colleagues did not prepare for what happened after the fall of Baghdad.

"And I persuaded the president to take the case to the United Nations to see if it could be solved without war, and if it couldn't be solved without war, we would have people aligned with us. Mr. Cheney went out immediately after the president made that decision and undercut it by giving two speeches to two veterans groups that essentially said he didn't believe it would work.

"That's not the way you support a president.

"Then he also says that, you know, I was not supportive of the president's positions. Well, who went to the United Nations and, regrettably, with a lot of false information? It was me. It wasn't Mr. Cheney. I supported the president. I supported the president's decisions, I gave the president my best advice. It was clear by 2004 that the team was not functioning as a team.

"He's taken the shame shots at Condi [Rice] with an almost condescending tone: She 'tearfully' did this and that. And he's taken the same shots at George Tenet, and he has also in some ways indicated he didn't always approve of what President Bush was deciding.

"And there's nothing wrong with saying he disagreed, but it's not necessary to take these kinds of barbs and then try to pump a book up by saying heads will be exploding. That's even, that's even on the headline section of the Nixon Foundation to sell the book. I think it's a bit too far. I think Dick overshot the runway. "

Schieffer himself said he was surprised by the tone of this book. "Dick Cheney is a tough customer, and he always has been. But even I was a little taken aback by how blunt and direct he was. And in many cases he states these things that he lays out in the book, but he doesn't always, you know, follow them up with facts.

"I mean, Colin Powell had steam coming out of his ears yesterday when he was talking about this to me. I have never seen him - he was truly, I think, offended about what he read in this book."

During a recent broadcast interview, Cheney - no slouch when it came to keeping government actions secret - was asked if revealing this information was disloyal to his former boss, and replied he did not see why President Bush should feel betrayed for divulging their private conversations.

"People write books after they've been in administrations, and they have different motivations for doing it," Schieffer said. "I think that Cheney wanted to present his version of history. And that is just what we've gotten here, is his version of history. It's very hard to attribute motives to anybody why they do such things, but I think he wanted us to have his side of it."

Schieffer said he believed reaction to the book will likely break down along party lines: "The Cheney camp will have one view of this, and the so-called moderates in the Bush administration will probably have another view.

Schieffer also said he did not think Cheney would take back the hyperbole used to sell "In My Times," or anything else in the book, either.

"One thing about Dick Cheney is, when he says something it's because, I have always - and I've known him back since he was, you know, a staff member for President Ford back in the Ford administration - he says things because he means them, and he means what he says. No, I don't think he'll take it back."

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.