EAU CLAIRE, Wis. - Democrats trying to portray President Bush as too headstrong when he decided to invade Iraq got help this week from an unlikely source: evangelist and Bush supporter Pat Robertson.
Appearing on Paula Zahn Now on CNN Tuesday night, Robertson recalled a private meeting with Bush in Nashville, Tenn., before the Iraq war began. He said the president asserted that there would be no war casualties.
"I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, `Mr. President, you better prepare the American people for casualties,'" he told Zahn. But Bush said "`Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties.'"
More than 1,100 U.S. troops have died in the war, and thousands more have been injured.
During the meeting, Bush "was the most self-assured man I ever met in my life," Robertson said. "You remember, Mark Twain said, `He looks like a contented Christian with four aces.' He was just sitting there, like, `I'm on top of the world.'"
Robertson's comments put the president's campaign in the awkward position of denying comments from one of his most prominent supporters.
"I think he must have either misunderstood, misheard, or been confused about what the conversation was, because I've never heard the president say anything of the sort," said Karen Hughes, a senior Bush adviser.
Said White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "Of course the president never made such a comment."
Bush strategist Karl Rove told reporters that he was in the room for the Feb. 10, 2003, meeting, and that Robertson was incorrect in his recollection.
The Christian broadcaster issued a statement confirming his support for Bush, but did not withdraw his comments.
Robertson's remarks sparked a stern reaction yesterday from the campaign of Democrat John F. Kerry, which has criticized Bush for his refusal to acknowledge having made mistakes.
"We believe President Bush should get the benefit of the doubt here, but he needs to come forward and answer a very simple question: Is Pat Robertson telling the truth when he said you didn't think there'd be any casualties, or is Pat Robertson lying?" said Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry.
Robertson, who is founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of its The 700 Club, talked about his 2003 meeting with Bush as part of a larger conversation about how he believes "God's blessing" is on the president, despite Bush's "goofs and gaffes."
Robertson has made similar comments in the past. On June 22, he said on the MSNBC program Hardball that "I warned the president. I only met with him once. I said, `You better prepare the American people for some serious casualties.' And he said, `Oh, no, our troops are, you know, so well protected, we don't have to worry about that.'"
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.