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NBC's Curry: Does Obama Afghanistan Visit 'Blunt' GOP Criticism?

Talking to NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams about President Obama's surprise trip to Afghanistan on Wednesday's Today, co-host Ann Curry hoped the move would quiet Republicans: "Meantime, by using the commander-in-chief mantel to make this visit, to extend an arm and hand to our troops, does he blunt any of the Republican criticism that he is...politicizing, essentially, a military victory?"

Curry was of course referring to the Obama campaign team using the anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden to attack Mitt Romney. In response to Curry's DNC-approved framing of the trip, Williams proclaimed: "Presidents do get to use the machinery of the presidency to make their points. Nine years ago last night we saw the carrier landing and 'Mission Accomplished'...that's something George W. Bush got to do. And the White House is framing this...the way they want it framed."

While Williams used Bush's "Mission Accomplished" moment to justify Obama's victory lap Wednesday morning, on Tuesday's Nightly News he seemed to suggest that the mission was still not accomplished: "...nine years ago tonight was the 'Mission Accomplished' speech, the carrier landing by President Bush off the coast of California. And here we are now after this long, long conflict in Afghanistan."

On Today, Curry teed up Williams to tout his upcoming Rock Center special on the killing of Bin Laden:

Meantime, on Rock Center tonight you're going to give us essentially a minute by minute sort of account of what happened...and it's interesting because you discovered at what lengths everyone inside that national security team and the President went to keep this thing a secret. And in fact, the President talked about having to leave the White House Correspondents' Dinner the night before early without telling his wife....He didn't tell Michelle. Secretary Clinton didn't tell her husband.

Williams replied: "It was the definition of a close hold. President Obama had no one whose counsel he could seek. Couldn't tell the former presidents. No one could tell anybody."

Here is a full transcript of Williams' May 2 Today show appearance:

7:05AM ET

ANN CURRY: NBC's Brian Williams now joins us. Brian, good morning.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Ann.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "The Light of A New Day"; President Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan]

CURRY: First, let's talk about this surprise visit by the President. I mean, this long-term partnership he announced locks us in until 2024, even after the war officially ends in 2014, so what are the practical implications of this?

WILLIAMS: Well, good news/bad news. I mean, we talk about a long-term partnership and how that'll be viewed. I have friends in the military, some of them over there in country who will tell you the number one risk to the lives of American servicemen and women right now is the Afghan people. Their soldiers and security forces. It was mostly to defend against leaks on that side that this trip was considered such a "close hold," in government parlance, such a secret. So this is going to continue to be fraught, fraught territory for us, a war that long ago exceeded World War II in length for this country.

CURRY: Meantime, by using the commander-in-chief mantel to make this visit, to extend an arm and hand to our troops, does he blunt any of the Republican criticism that he is taking some sort of –  using – making – politicizing, essentially, a military victory?

WILLIAMS: Well, he either blunts it or increases it. Presidents do get to use the machinery of the presidency to make their points. Nine years ago last night we saw the carrier landing and "Mission Accomplished" off the coast of southern California, that's something George W. Bush got to do. And the White House is framing this one-year anniversary of the death of Bin Laden the way they want it framed. The Republicans are counterpunching on that. And the people get to decide.

CURRY: Meantime, on Rock Center tonight you're going to give us essentially a minute by minute sort of account of what happened on the night that Osama Bin Laden was killed, and it's interesting because you discovered at what lengths everyone inside that national security team and the President went to keep this thing a secret. And in fact, the President talked about having to leave the White House Correspondents' Dinner the night before early without telling his wife. Let's take a listen to what he had to say.

WILLIAMS: And the First Lady, she's at dinner?

BARACK OBAMA: She's at dinner and I let her know, you know, that I'm probably going to miss dinner because I've got a few other things going on tonight. It turns out we had a fairly important thing to announce.

CURRY: He didn't tell Michelle. Secretary Clinton didn't tell her husband.

WILLIAMS: No. It was the definition of a close hold. President Obama had no one whose counsel he could seek. Couldn't tell the former presidents. No one could tell anybody. Because if they missed that launch window, Ann, of the moonless night, clear weather, they might have had to have waited another six months. You've got 50 lives on the line. 50 calls you'd have to make to these families. And by the way, we're standing there in the corner of the Situation Room, where he was seated in that small chair, which is just below him. We set it just the way it was. No television cameras have ever been allowed inside the White House Situation Room and that is just part of this hour we have on television.

CURRY: One of the most fascinating tidbits that you discovered was about how he described meeting the Seal Team 6 guys, that they have gray hair like he does, they could be walking down the street, they look like they work at Home Depot, he said. Is that – is that correct?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. He actually said, "gray hair like you and me," and I meant to thank him for that. But that's true. And he said they would surprise you. Of course, as I reminded the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there's one American walking around among us who knows he's the one who took the shot that ended the life of Osama Bin Laden. And they insist the team did it. That's what they're all about. That's how they operate. They also operate like this, we'll never know their names to thank them. They're just out there.

CURRY: It's a matter of honor. Brian Williams, thank you so much.

WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me.

CURRY: We're really looking forward to seeing this. And you can catch Rock Center with Brian Williams, Inside the Situation Room, tonight at 9/8 Central Time right here on NBC.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: It's going to be a good one.

-- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.