Lefty blogger Bob Geiger was on the conference call and has what he says is the verbatim quote. And after having read it … I’m still not sure.

Reid was talking informally about George W. Bush’s refusal to dump Alberto Gonzales and told us what he said to Pace in a private meeting before Bush tossed aside the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff like a rotting fish.

Here’s exactly what Reid said:

“I guess the president, uh, he’s gotten rid of Pace because he could not get him confirmed here in the Senate… Pace is also a yes-man for the president and I told him to his face, I laid it out to him last time he came to see me, I told him what an incompetent man I thought he was.”

[I]n the context in which it was said — and based on Reid’s tendency to speak like the straight-talking, former boxer that he is — it all makes sense. And to those of us not looking for a Matt Drudge-worthy story, it hardly seemed remarkable.

Was he calling Bush incompetent? I.e., “I told him what an incompetent man I thought he was” = “I told Pace what an incompetent man I thought Bush was”? John Bresnahan, who wrote the story for Politico this morning, may have heard the quote and gotten confused about who was meant by that second “he.” I was confused too after the first read-through. In fact, I’m still confused because Geiger prefaces that excerpt by saying:

[T]hose of us who actually participated in the conference call heard the context in which Senator Reid made his comments. What he said about Pace was not said in the spirit of throwing some rhetorical red meat to a bunch of liberal bloggers by gratuitously bashing General Pace — which is certainly what one could infer from The Politicos “reporting” on this story.

And after the excerpt:

[M]ost Americans would probably use much stronger words than “incompetent” to describe the people who have helped Bush conduct this disastrous war and who have, by commission or omission, assisted in misleading the American people about how badly things are going.

Harry Reid talks every day about the thousands of American military dead and the tens of thousands wounded as a result of the Bush administration’s lies and incompetence. What he told us on that call was that he had the character to tell one of the principles in this mess exactly what he thought right to his face.

The boldfaced parts make me think Reid was calling Pace incompetent, which Geiger naturally finds to be A-OK because (a) he agrees with him, as doubtless do most of the nutroots, and (b) he had the guts to say it to Pace’s face, which redeems the insult by removing it from the realm of gossipy backbiting with bloggers. Unlike, say, calling Pace a “yes-man.”

Or maybe Reid did mean Bush and Geiger’s simply saying that the term would apply just as well to Pace.

So which is it? TPM Cafe looked high and low and, curiously, couldn’t find any lefty bloggers who remembered Reid saying anything along these lines. Odd how a dramatic anecdote about the Senate majority leader telling the Chairman of the JCS to his face that he considers either him or the president “incompetent” didn’t register in anyone’s consciousness except Geiger’s. Equally curious is Reid declining the opportunity to angrily deny the Politico story when asked about it at a press conference this afternoon. Read the report; he sounds like a guy who doesn’t remember exactly what he said, but thinks he might very well have said it and figures he’d better leave well enough alone. Note the bit too about him telling Pace “to his face” that he hadn’t done a very good job. That jibes with what Geiger says and makes me think he was talking about Pace during the conference call.

Oh, and he also said of Petraeus’s optimistic comments this morning, it “gives you a feeling that he’s not in touch with what is really going on in Iraq or just trying to make the president feel good.” And then there’s this, which I’m not seeing reported anywhere except Fox at the moment:

Asked if Reid considered Petraeus competent, Reid responded, “Not as far as I’m concerned.”

Do they mean Petraeus or Pace? If the former, it wouldn’t surprise.

Politico will probably have a follow-up on this in a few hours. Standby.

Update: Captain Ed talked to Bresnahan. No follow-up is coming, but they stand by their story.

Tags: Harry Reid