Joe Biden offers different take on bin Laden raid amid ’16 speculation

Vice President Joe Biden participates in a tribute to former Vice President Walter Mondale, Tuesday, October 20, 2015, at George Washington University in Washington
Vice President Joe Biden participates in a tribute to former Vice President Walter Mondale, Tuesday, October 20, 2015, at George Washington University in Washington AP

Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday he had not opposed the mission that ultimately killed Osama bin Laden, offering a revised version of his role in the administration’s deliberations leading up to the 2011 operation.

The revisit comes as speculation mounts that Biden is considering a third run for the White House and may be looking to shape his legacy.

Speaking at an event honoring former Vice President Walter Mondale, Biden offered a different version of events than he has previously, including in 2012 when he was said to have stated that he advised Obama against launching the audacious raid.

His remarks on Tuesday came as he and Mondale discussed keeping disagreements with the presidents they served private.

Biden recounted for Mondale that at a Cabinet Room meeting before the mission that only two members of Obama’s Cabinet expressed "definitive" views on the risky raid: CIA Director Leon Panetta, who was in favor, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who cautioned "don’t go." (He did not mention Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, and has said that she supported the raid.)

Biden said many of the others offered divided opinions and he said he offered Obama a third option, making another run with a drone to see if it was truly bin Laden living at the Pakistan compound. He said he didn’t endorse the option, but didn’t want to offer a “go” position if that was not what Obama backed.

But after the meeting, Biden said he gave Obama his opinion "that I thought he should go, but to follow his own instincts.” He added, “It would have been a mistake to say in front of everyone, ‘Don’t go or go,’ and his decision was a different decision. It undercuts that relationship.”

“I never on a difficult issue, never say what I think, finally, until I go up in the Oval with him alone,” Biden said.

The remarks counter what Biden said in 2012 when he told a Democratic retreat that he had advised Obama against launching the mission. But they put Biden at the center of one of Obama’s biggest accomplishments.

Former White House chief of staff William Daley, who was present in the Situation Room when the Abbottabad raid was discussed, told The New York Times that the meeting had happened as Biden most recently described it. He told the newspaper that Clinton had favored the raid and that Biden had suggested another flight.

In her 2014 biography, “Hard Choices,” Clinton wrote that she respected Biden and Gates’ worries about the risk of a raid but that she “came to the conclusion that the intelligence was convincing and that the risks were outweighed by the benefits of success.”

In a 2012 presidential debate with Mitt Romney, Obama also noted that Biden had advised him against the raid, but the White House on Tuesday declined to detail any of the conversations.

Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he’d leave the “dissection . . . to those who were actually there.”

Biden’s remarks come as speculation mounts over a potential Biden candidacy and he made a few remarks that political observers were studying for clues. The former Delaware senator boasted that Obama often sent him to Capitol Hill to settle disputes, adding that he doesn’t believe his "chief enemy is the Republican party.” Clinton at the Democratic debate last week jokingly listed “Republicans” as one of her enemies.

Biden, who said that Obama offered him a choice between the job of vice president or secretary of state, also boasted that he was often sent in to talk to foreign leaders.

“I will get sent to go to speak with Putin or speak to Erdogan or go speak to whomever and it's because the secretary of state – and we've had two great secretaries of state – but when I go they know that I'm speaking for the president," said Biden, adding that he has “close personal relationships” with a number of world leaders.

Finally, Biden said that he’d traveled 1.1 million miles on behalf of Obama – beating the nearly 1 million miles that Clinton has said she logged as secretary of state.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark