What did Harry Reid really say?

Fox says he has confirmed that he called Gen. Peter Pace "incompetent." Not exactly.

Topics: War Room, Harry Reid,

When Tony Snow opened today’s White House press briefing by blasting Harry Reid for calling Gen. Peter Pace “incompetent” and making disparaging comments about Gen. David Petraeus, he acknowledged that he didn’t actually know whether Reid had said what he was knocking him for saying. Snow, who routinely dodges questions by saying he won’t deal with speculation, hypotheticals or unconfirmed reports, said he was commenting on Reid’s statements — regardless whether he actually made them — because “I just think it’s appropriate to comment on it.”

So did Reid actually say that Pace is “incompetent”? That’s what the Politico’s John Bresnahan says Reid said in a conference call with liberal bloggers earlier this week. But five of the bloggers who were on the call tell Talking Points Memo’s Greg Sargent that they don’t remember hearing Reid use the I-word with respect to Pace. And several of them say — credibly enough — that if he had used it, you would have read about it first on one of their blogs and not in a blind-sourced story on the Politico.

So what about Reid himself? Fox News is reporting that Reid “confirmed Thursday that he told liberal bloggers last week that he thinks outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace is ‘incompetent.’” The Fox report seems to be based on a press conference Reid held with other Democratic senators this afternoon. But we’ve just read the transcript from that press conference, and we’d be hard pressed to call anything in it a “confirmation” that Reid actually said what the Politico says he said. Reid may not have denied that he called Pace incompetent, but he certainly didn’t confirm it, either.

The relevant excerpt:

Reporter: Mr. Leader … did you, in fact, call Peter Pace incompetent? And, if so …



Reid: Well, first of all, with Gen. Pace, there’s a long line of people who have indicated in various ways that Gen. Pace was not the person to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. That’s why the name was pulled. Peter Pace, I talked to him in my conference room, just him and I, and I told him how I felt, that he had not done a very good job in speaking out for some obvious things that weren’t going right in Iraq. I told him that to his face.

Now, with Gen. Petraeus, which you didn’t ask the question, but I will answer it, I have high regard for Gen. Petraeus. When I was in Iraq, he was responsible for training the Iraqi troops. He told us it was going great. As we’ve looked back, it didn’t go so well. He is a highly decorated veteran. I was a little disappointed, to say the least, today reading USA Today newspaper where he’s saying things are going fine, kids are playing soccer. And I don’t know what other examples he gave.

The truth is, you look at another newspaper and look at a different page of USA Today, the bloodiest three months of the war has been since the surge took place. So I am waiting to see if Gen. Petraeus can be a little more candid with us. What took place in USA Today is not being very candid …

Reporter: Did you say anything yesterday of a critical nature similar to what you said about General Pace?

Reid: No, I said basically what I said today, just here. Pace — as I said, you have to stand in line for people to criticize Pace. But Petraeus — I’ve told you how I feel about Petraeus …

Reporter: Sir, is he incompetent?

Reid: Who?

Reporter: General Petraeus?

Reid: Not as far as I’m concerned.

Reporter: Just to clarify, but you did say that you believe General Pace is [inaudible] …

Reid: I believe that Gen. Pace would not be — if he had come forward to be reappointed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, it wouldn’t have happened, and I’m not going to get into what I said or didn’t say. There is a long list of people, including Sens. Levin and Reed and others who have talked about Gen. Pace long before I did. I think we should just drop it. The fact is, he’s not going to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, for which I’m happy.

Update: Blogger Bob Geiger was on the call with Reid and says his tape recording of it shows Reid saying the following: “I guess the president, uh, he’s gotten rid of Pace because he could not get him confirmed here in the Senate. . . Pace is also a yes-man for the president and I told him to his face, I laid it out to him last time he came to see me, I told him what an incompetent man I thought he was.”

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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