Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday offered a revised version of his role in the discussions leading up to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Appearing at an event honoring the legacy of Vice President Walter Mondale, Biden recalled cautioning President Barack Obama about the 2011 raid during a meeting with his top advisers. But Biden said he later told the president in private he should go ahead.
“There was a third option, which I didn’t really think we should do,” Biden said. “I said, ‘Well, I think we should make one more pass with another [drone] to see if it is [bin Laden].’ And the reason I did that is I didn’t want to take a position to go, if that was not what [Obama] was going to go.”
He added: “So as we walked out of the room, and walked upstairs, I told him my opinion. I thought he should go, but to follow his instincts.”
The comments come as Biden teeters on the edge of a potential 2016 run against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who, according to most accounts, was a proponent of the raid on bin Laden’s compound.
As Clinton has recalled, she urged Obama to go ahead with the raid, while Biden remained hesitant.
“I respected [Biden’s] concerns about the risk of a raid,” Clinton wrote in her memoir “Hard Choices.”
“But I came to the conclusion that the intelligence was convincing and that the risks were outweighed by the benefits of success.”
- White House photo/Pete Souza
Biden, however, said only two cabinet members were absolutely convinced about whether to raid the compound: Leon Panetta, then the CIA director, and Robert Gates, then the secretary of defense.
“Everybody went around the room, and there were only two people who were definitive, and were absolute,” Biden said. “Leon Panetta said, ‘Go.’ And Bob Gates, who has already publicly said this, said, ‘Don’t go.’ Others were 59, 41, some ended up saying go, but it was such a close call.
“And I joked and I said, ‘You all sound like 17 Larry Summers: ‘On the one hand, on the other hand.'”
Many accounts of the deliberations within the Obama administration on the raid have reported that Biden was highly skeptical about the raid. Biden has also recounted the discussions in public, saying in 2012 that he advised Obama against the raid when asked during the meeting.
“He said, ‘Joe, what do you think?'” Biden said, recounting Obama’s swing around the table. “And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is, don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.'”