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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill charges in a new book that President Bush entered office in January 2001 intent on invading Iraq and was in search of a way to go about it.
O'Neill, who was fired in December 2002 as part of a shake-up of Bush's economic team, has become the first major Bush administration insider to launch an attack on the president.
More Wire Service Stories Breaking News Business Entertainment Politics Science Sports Technology World He likened Bush at Cabinet meetings to "a blind man in a room full of deaf people," according to excerpts from a CBS interview to promote a book by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind, "The Price of Loyalty."
To go to war, Bush used the argument that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had to be stopped in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world. The weapons have never been found.
"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," O'Neill said in the "60 Minutes" interview scheduled to air on Sunday. "For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap."
CBS released excerpts from the interview on Friday and Saturday.
The former treasury secretary and other White House insiders gave Suskind documents that in the first three months of 2001 revealed the Bush administration was examining military options for removing Saddam Hussein, CBS said.
"There are memos," Suskind told CBS. "One of them marked 'secret' says 'Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq."'
Another Pentagon document entitled "Foreign suitors for Iraqi Oil Field Contracts" talks about contractors from 40 countries and which ones have interest in Iraq, Suskind said.
BENT ON WAR
O'Neill was also quoted in the book as saying the president was determined to find a reason to go to war and he was surprised that nobody on the National Security Council questioned why Iraq should be invaded.
"It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it," said O'Neill. "The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this."'
White House spokesman Scott McClellan rejected O'Neill's remarks.
"We appreciate his service. While we're not in the business of doing book reviews, it appears that the world according to Mr. O'Neill is more about trying to justify his own opinions than looking at the reality of the results we are achieving on behalf of the American people," McClellan said Saturday.
Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean accused Bush of using questionable pretenses to justify war with Iraq.
"The country deserves to know -- and the president needs to answer -- why the American people were presented with misleading or manufactured intelligence as to why going to war with Iraq was necessary. Secretary O'Neill's comments only underscore the continuing importance that these outstanding questions be answered," Dean said in a statement.
O'Neill also said the president did not ask him a single question during their first one-on-one meeting, which lasted an hour. The president's lack of engagement left his advisers with "little more than hunches about what the president might think," O'Neil told "60 Minutes."
Suskind's book, whose full title is "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill," uses interviews with O'Neill, dozens of White House insiders and 19,000 documents provided by O'Neill.
O'Neill, who was fired due to disagreements over tax cuts, spent a difficult two years in Washington, joining the Bush administration with a background as a no-nonsense corporate executive.
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