Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resurrected a favorite soundbite he once used to gloss over the glaring lack of evidence that Iraq was supplying weapons to terrorists in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of that country to voice his support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
In a Thursday morning interview on MSNBC, Rumsfeld said throwing his support behind Trump, a “known unknown,” is better than the alternative.
“On the Democrat side we’ve got a known known,” he said with a Cheshire Cat-like grin as the interviewer joined in to laugh. “On the Republican side, we’ve got a known unknown. And the known known isn’t believable, has a record of not being believable. You can’t lead then, people aren’t going to follow.”
“Now, do you agree with the known unknown on the other side? No! But I’ve never agreed with everybody,” he continued.
The network’s reporter asked Rumsfeld how he can square the vast “unknown” qualities about Trump with his public statements, like saying the world would be better off if Saddam Hussein—who George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Rumsfeld himself desperately wanted out—was still in power.
“Do I wish that I agree with the way—what someone running for president thought and the way they expressed themselves—I would prefer that,” he said. “In this case, I don’t.”
The exchange was a callback to Rumsfeld’s infamous line from a February 2002 Defense Department news conference (the press-savvy, ex-Aspartame huckster has used it to describe Trump before, too).
Asked whether there was evidence to support the claim that Saddam had or was looking to arm terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld responded:
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.
At the time, the remarks were written off as a gaffe. In retrospect, the line would become one exhibit of the Bush administration’s efforts to obfuscate the fatally flawed intelligence that led the U.S. into war in the Middle East.
Trump has repeatedly said on the campaign trail that he opposed the Iraq War before the invasion, despite evidence to the contrary.