So heres the story

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So here’s the story with the disputed quotes from Sam Tanenhaus’ article on Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in Vanity Fair. As noted here a couple days ago, the Tanenhaus article says that Wolfowitz is “confident” that Saddam played some role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and that he had “entertained” the notion that Saddam had played some role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing as well. (Tanenhaus sources Wolfowitz’s ideas about Oklahoma City to a “longtime friend” of the Deputy Secretary.)

In the portion of his article that discusses his interview, Tanenhaus quotes Wolfowitz on the 1993 bombing and then notes that Wolfowitz declined to comment on Saddam’s possible involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing.

The only problem is that none of this exchange appears in the interview transcript the Pentagon later posted on its website.

So what’s the score? Did Wolfowitz say this stuff or didn’t he?

It turns out that the dispute centers not on what was said but on whether it was on the record.

Vanity Fair and Tanenhaus said that these statements were all on the record. Certain portions of the interview were off the record, they say, but this wasn’t one of them.

Wolfowitz’s office disagrees. As he did yesterday, Wolfowitz spokesman Jeff Davis told me that the “transcript is complete and accurate, minus introductory pleasantries and off-the-record comments.”

Davis confirmed that the issue of the 1993 bombings was discussed during an off-the-record portion of the interview and that Wolfowitz declined to discuss the Oklahoma City bombing issue when Tanenhaus brought it up. In other words, there isn’t much dispute about what was said, just whether the two were on-the-record.

Tanenhaus is a pro. So it seemed to me that there must have been some miscommunication or misunderstanding on one or both sides about when they were off and on the record. So I asked Davis precisely what had been said that made it clear they’d gone off the record. In the complete transcript, Davis told me, “it was clearly caveated that that particular discussion [of the 1993 and 1995 bombings] is off the record.”

When I asked Davis if I could see a copy of the transcript and the caveats he mentioned, he declined, citing the wish to maintain the confidentiality of the Deputy Secretary’s off-the-record comments. (I’d have preferred to see it myself; but Davis’ point isn’t unreasonable.)

Now, obviously I wasn’t present for the interview and I haven’t seen the unedited transcript. So make your own judgments. But that’s my best effort to get to the bottom of this little mystery.

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