WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (search) insisted Wednesday that she was just kidding when she wondered aloud whether the
Bush administration is holding Usama bin Laden (search) captive, waiting to break him out at the best political moment.
It was a "tongue-in-cheek comment and was not intended in any other way," Albright told Fox News.
But witnesses to Albright's comment said the ambassador did not appear to be joking Tuesday when she suggested President Bush may reveal bin Laden's
capture as an "October surprise" (search) before next November's presidential election.
Albright was in the Fox News studio's green room waiting to appear on an evening program when she made the remark.
"She said, 'Do you suppose that the Bush administration has Usama bin Laden hidden away somewhere and will bring him out before the election?'"
said Fox News analyst and Roll Call executive editor Mort Kondracke. "She was not smiling."
Two makeup artists who prep the guests before their appearances also reported that Albright did not ask her question in a joking manner.
Democrats have long attacked Bush for his conduct in the war on terror, but conspiracy theories are gaining in frequency. Former Vermont Gov. Howard
Dean, a presidential candidate, has several times suggested that Bush was told in advance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks by Saudi Arabia.
After Saddam's capture last weekend, Washington Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott (search) made the charge that Bush staged it to win points at home.
Colleague Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., scolded McDermott for the comment, and the White House said it would not address such charges.
"I don't think I have to dignify every ridiculous comment that's made out there," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist predicted political fallout would follow Saddam's capture. Frist, R-Tenn., said some Democrats would readjust and
adopt new strategies, even to the point of diminishing the significance of Saddam's capture.
Political strategists have added that conspiracy theories do nothing to help the political debate, and warned Democrats to be careful in their
"Maybe [McDermott] is trying to be coproducer with Oliver Stone (search) of his next conspiracy movie," said James Lake, a former adviser to
President Reagan. "It certainly fits into that category and I think -- to go a step further -- I think former Secretary of State Madeline Albright is
walking on very thin ice here to suggest that the president already has Usama bin Laden captured."
"I think it is probably not a good thing to do this," said Elaine Kamarck, former senior campaign adviser to Al Gore. "I remember years ago when we
made one attempt to kill Usama bin Laden by sending that missile into Sudan, all the Republicans said, 'Oh this was Bill Clinton's way of diverting
attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.' That was unfair at that time, and frankly, I think accusations that somehow we have Usama and President
Bush is holding him for political purposes, I think that's unfair at this time."
As for bin Laden's whereabouts, Turkish intelligence officials told the Associated Press that bin Laden recently proposed attacking a military base
used by U.S. troops in Turkey, but tight security around the facility forced the terrorists to go after softer targets instead.
Terrorists then bombed two synagogues, the British consulate office and a British-owned bank in Istanbul. In those attacks, Muslims were killed,
angering the Al Qaeda (search) leaders, according to the Turkish officials.
Bush said in a television interview Tuesday night that the Al Qaeda leader is still on the run, but vowed again that the United States will capture
Fox News' Brit Hume and Kelly Wright contribute
I gotta admit that saddam (first name basis)
looked more like someone being held capltive
than in hiding when they found him.