Condoleezza Rice Hits Back At Donald Trump, Says George W. Bush 'Not Guilty' For 9/11 Attacks

Condoleezza Rice slams Donald Trump's comments pointing a finger at former President George W. Bush for failing to prevent 9/11.
Condoleezza Rice slams Donald Trump's comments pointing a finger at former President George W. Bush for failing to prevent 9/11.
Ben Margot/AP

LONDON -- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has hit back at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for suggesting former President George W. Bush was to blame for 9/11.

In an Oct. 16 appearance on Bloomberg TV Trump pointed a finger at Bush for failing to prevent the terrorist attacks.

"When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time," Trump said. "He was president, OK? ... Blame him, or don't blame him, but he was president. The World Trade Center came down during his reign."

Rice said on Thursday: "I think Americans are not guilty for 9/11, I think President Bush is not guilty for 9/11."

She made the comments when The Huffington Post asked for her response to Trump's remarks during a Q&A following a speech she gave at the Chatham House foreign affairs think-tank in London.

"All Mr. Trump has to do is read the 9/11 report," she said. "It is incredibly exhaustive about what caused the problem. It is incredibly exhaustive about the challenges of intelligence when we had a very firm barrier between intelligence coming from the outside and intelligence that we could gather inside."

Rice, who was National Security Adviser at the time of the attacks, did, however, say she personally would "plead guilty" to not having imagined terrorists would use passenger aircraft as weapons.

"Yes, maybe there was a lack of imagination to imagine a group of terrorists were going to hijack airplanes and not drive them to the ground and demand a ransom, but use them as missiles against our cities," she said of her time in the White House before the attacks. "I plead guilty to a lack of imagining exactly that."

But she defended Bush: "The idea the president of the United States was warned that Al-Qaeda was going to attack the United States and did nothing about it. Really? Do you think any president of the United States, if he had even an inkling there was going to be an attack, they wouldn’t have moved heaven and earth to try to stop it?" she said.

"The fact is there was chatter, in July and August, about terrorist activity. It was just that, chatter," Rice added. "And most of the chatter we thought, and the CIA thought, was about a possible attack in Jordan or in Saudi Arabia or abroad. The U.S. had no systems in place for homeland defense. We hadn’t been attacked on our territory since the war of 1812.

"And so the president of the United States would have done anything to stop it. He didn't know enough. He didn’t have good enough intelligence to stop it."

Rice challenged Trump and other presidential candidates on Thursday to set out their future plans.

"I think the real issue here is not revisiting the past but I would ask any presidential candidate, 'How are you going to prevent it from happening again? What are you going to do about those [U.S. passports holders] from ISIS who are going to come home? What are you going to do about the tensions about homeland, homegrown terrorism? Do you believe that big data has to be used by the intelligence agencies to track terrorists or not?'

"Before people start revisiting the past, [people] who want to be president, they ought to address how they are going to do it in the future, because the one thing that I will proudly say is after the horrors of 9/11, it didn’t happen again on President Bush’s watch."

Rice also warned Republican presidential candidates not to embrace isolationism and "yield" the world to other powers. The former secretary of state told the audience in London that the West should not withdraw from the world and that Republican presidential candidates needed to recognize this.

"The isolationist argument hasn’t actually done very well in the U.S. in this recent campaign. A lot of people [thought], for instance, Senator Paul would go out with a strong isolationist message. He found himself weaving back to 'Well there are some things we will have to take on,'" she said.

"The fact is you have to say to people that great powers who want to shape the environment can't get tired," Rice continued. "It's not as if when you step back and don’t want to shape the environment, the environment will just be benign. Others will shape it, and they will shape it in a way that is antithetical to both our interest and our values."