US Vice President Joe Biden has offered a new account of the decision to launch the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011 that differed from some of his previous retellings — and from Hillary Clinton’s.
Biden’s remarks come as he considers facing off against Clinton, the former secretary of state in the 2016 presidential race, and they seem to signal that he sees his earlier stance on the raid as a potential liability, CNN reported.
“The President and I, and only two others in the administration, knew about Abbottabad as early as August” 2010, Biden said, indicating that he knew about the intelligence on bin Laden’s location before Clinton did.
“We did not go for almost a year to get him (bin Laden). And major players in the Cabinet did not know about it till January or February (2011),” Biden, 72, said yesterday at an event honoring former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces during a raid in the garrison city of Abbottabad on May 2, 2011.
In Clinton’s account, she learned about the intelligence on bin Laden in March 2011.
Biden said he had privately advised President Barack Obama to raid bin Laden’s compound after initially advising a more cautious approach at a Cabinet meeting.
“We walked out of the room and walked upstairs,” Biden said. “I told him (Obama) my opinion: I thought he should go, but to follow his own instincts.”
The new account is a significant departure from what he said at a Democratic retreat in January 2012, the report said.
“Mr. President, my suggestion is, ‘Don’t go,'” Biden said, according to an ABC News report from that time.
Clinton, 67, has previously also characterised Biden has having been openly skeptical in the Cabinet meeting.
In her 2014 book “Hard Choices,” Clinton writes that she was an immediate supporter while Biden “remained skeptical.”
Biden also offered a reason for the difference between what he said in the Cabinet meeting and his new account of the private conversation with Obama in which he advocated following his instincts.
The vice president now says that he suggested the administration undertake additional drone surveillance on the compound while in that Cabinet meeting, but that he made that recommendation because he didn’t want to undermine the President if he ended up choosing a more cautious approach.
“Imagine if I had said, in front of everyone, don’t go or go and his decision was a different decision,” said Biden. “It undercuts that relationship. So I never, on a difficult issue, never say what I think finally until I go up to the Oval with him alone.”
Biden also said that only two people in the meeting were definitive in their advice to the President, contradicting Clinton’s account of how she supported the mission.
There were “only two people who were definitive and were absolutely certain,” he said, referring to the men who were, respectively, the director of the CIA and the secretary of defense at the time. “Leon Panetta said, ‘Go,’ and Bob Gates — who has already publicly said this — said, ‘Don’t go.’ And others were at 59/41.