LAS VEGAS—Forgive Harry Reid if he feels like he’s been hit with friendly fire.
The Senate Majority Leader says he’s dismayed at the treatment he received in Robert Gates’ new book “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.” In several of the seven mentions of Reid in the 618-page book, Gates paints an unflattering, even belittling portrait of the Senate veteran who once suggested the former Secretary of Defense would make a good vice presidential running mate for future President Obama. In an interview Tuesday at Vdara resort on the Strip, Reid said he was particularly galled by Gates’ dismissal of the senator’s request that he consider asking the Department of Defense to focus some of its substantial medical research capability on improving treatment for those who suffer from digestive and irritable bowel disease.
But it was the publication of what Reid calls a confidential conversation that’s causing the senator indigestion.
“I’m terribly disappointed in Gates,” Reid says. “Obviously he did this to make money, and that’s too bad. He was in a position of trust.”
Gates, who served as dense secretary from 2006-2011, on page 262 describes a brief phone conversation in June 2008 with Reid as “a most bizarre episode” that occurred during a time of rampant media speculation about Obama’s possible running mate.
“He told me that he was the one who had talked Obama into running for president (a lot of people were claiming that) but there was no candidate for vice president,” Gates writes. “Reid said he was thinking about me and that was the reason for the call. It took a lot of willpower for me to keep from bursting out laughing.”
Reid briefly queried Gates about his public stance on abortion, his political affiliation, and even his academic status, according to the book.
“He wanted us to keep all this very private between us. ‘Possibly nothing will come of it,’ he said. I couldn’t figure out if he was serious, if it was just idle flattery, or if he was delusional. It was so weird, I never told anybody, in part because I didn’t think they’d believe me.”
People will believe him now. What Reid says he finds harder to believe is Gates’ sharing of what they had agreed to consider a confidential conversation.
“The other thing he criticizes me about, and there could be more, but I had a confidential conversation with him,” Reid says. “Why in the world would a guy violate a confidence like this? Does he think it embarrasses me? It doesn’t embarrass me. It should embarrass him. I’m terribly disappointed in this man who so unethically discussing confidential meetings.”
When Gates played for a laugh Reid’s request for increased funding for irritable bowel research, he might have made an enemy. Gates paints Reid as a lightweight more interested in Nevada issues than the defense of the nation.
“With all the major issues we had to deal with, my personal contacts with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were often in response to his calls about Air Force objections to construction of a windmill farm in Nevada because of the impact on their radars,” he writes on page 88. “He also once contacted me to urge that Defense invest in research on irritable bowel syndrome. With two ongoing wars and all our budget and other issues, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
It’s a subject the Nevada senator takes seriously. Reid’s wife Landra in 1988 underwent surgery at UCLA Medical Center for what the senator’s office at the time called a “gastrointestinal disorder.” According to press reports, the hard-driving Reid took off two weeks from the Senate to be at his wife’s side.
In 2003, Reid sponsored the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Act. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, irritable bowel and related disorders effect approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population.
“He criticized me for calling him and saying the Defense Department should do something to study digestive bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome,” Reid says. “Remember, the Department of the Defense spends millions and millions every year doing medical research. These two maladies that he makes fun of, millions of people, millions of people are effected by these diseases. I’m sorry that he’s so insensitive.… I thought a lot more of him than that.”