Conspiracy theories continued to sprout among Democrats yesterday in the wake of the capture of Saddam Hussein. Some Democrats expressed alarm that the party was drifting out of the “mainstream.”
Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state in the Clinton administration, in a conversation with Morton Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call and a Fox News Channel political analyst, suggested that Osama bin Laden has been captured by U.S. forces and will soon be produced to the public.
“Do you suppose,” she asked, “that the Bush administration has Osama bin Laden hidden away somewhere and will bring him out before the election?”
Mrs. Albright said last night she was kidding. “She was not smiling when she said this,” Mr. Kondracke said.
The disclosure of Mrs. Albright’s remark followed by a day the charge by Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington that the Bush administration could have captured Saddam “long ago if they wanted,” but held off until Mr. Bush could use it as a boost in his approval ratings.
“There’s too much by happenstance for it to be just a coincidental thing,” he said.
Earlier, Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, the presumed leader of the Democratic presidential candidates, spoke of “a theory,” which he later said he didn’t believe, that President Bush had prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks and did not take steps to prevent them.
Mrs. Albright tried late yesterday to dampen the controversy over her remarks. “Last night, in the makeup room at Fox News,” she said, “I made a tongue-in-cheek comment to Mort Kondracke concerning Osama bin Laden.
“To my amazement, Mr. Kondracke immediately went on the air to repeat this comment, which was made to a person I thought was a friend and smart enough to know the difference between a serious statement and one that was not,” she said.
“My only regret is that the powder puffs were on Mort’s face and not in his ears,” she said.
Mr. Kondracke said yesterday there were others in the room “and they didn’t think it was a joke. But if Ms. Albright said she was joking, then I take her at her word.”
Joe Cerell, a Democratic campaign consultant who has worked in every presidential campaign since 1956, said the comments — even if in jest — do not help the party. “You’d better know what you’re talking about, you’d better have some evidence, or it’s counterproductive,” Mr. Cerell said. “The more outrageous the comments are, the greater the chance that it’s going to turn into a headline.”
Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state for Presidents Nixon and Ford, called Mrs. Albright’s comment “absolutely ridiculous” and said it exposes a kind of “paranoia” that has engulfed the Democratic Party.