O'Neill Interview May Spark Probe

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Treasury Department is seeking an investigation into whether a classified document might have been shown during a television show in which former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill spoke out against the Bush administration.

Treasury spokesman Rob Nichols said Monday that the department has asked the Office of Inspector General to look into the matter. The request came one day after U.S. network CBS's television show "60 Minutes" aired a segment featuring the blunt-talking O'Neill and the new book he is promoting, "The Price of Loyalty."

"They showed a document that had a classification term on it, so we referred this today to the Office of Inspector General," Nichols said. "I'll be even more clear -- the document as shown on '60 Minutes' that said 'secret.'"

O'Neill is described as a principal source for the new book, written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind. In addition to interviews with O'Neill, Suskind drew on 19,000 documents O'Neill provided. Suskind also interviewed others close to President George W. Bush for the book.

On "60 Minutes," CBS journalist Lesley Stahl said O'Neill had gotten briefing materials involving Iraq. Suskind said: "There are memos. One of them, marked secret, says 'Plan for post-Saddam Iraq.'" A spokesman for "60 Minutes" said a cover sheet of the briefing materials was shown. "We don't have a secret document. We didn't show a secret document. We merely showed a cover sheet that alluded to such a document," said CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco.

David Rosenthal, executive vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster, the book's publisher, said: "We stand behind the book. Ron Suskind has acted responsibly and properly in the writing of this book."

Nichols declined to comment on whether the cover sheet of the document shown was part of the 19,000 documents Treasury supplied to O'Neill.

Nevertheless, Nichols said he believed the documents included such things as press releases, testimony and correspondence in and out of the secretary's office. "The nature of the request did not include classified information," Nichols said.

O'Neill contends the United States began laying the groundwork for an invasion of Iraq just days after the president took office in January 2001 -- more than two years before the start of the war that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Asked about that claim, Bush responded Monday: "Like the previous administration, we were for regime change. And in the initial stage of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with Desert Badger or flyovers and fly-betweens and looks. And so we were fashioning policy along those lines. And then, all of a sudden, September the 11th hit."

At the State Department, deputy spokesman Adam Ereli defended the Bush administration's record. He said Bush did not begin his White House tenure determined to go to war with Hussein, but "gave Saddam Hussein an honest opportunity to turn things around and he just didn't do it."

O'Neill is quoted in the book as saying that President Bush was so disengaged during Cabinet meetings that he was like a "blind man in a roomful of deaf people."