ThinkProgress has posted a copy of this morning’s White House gaggle. And it contains this passage about the Berlusconi/Niger story …
Q After his meeting with the President on Monday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was asked whether the Italian government had provided the United States with intelligence on alleged Iraqi purchases of uranium, or from Niger. Berlusconi replied, âBush, himself, confirmed to me that the U.S.A. did not have any information from Italian agencies.â Does the White House stand by that statement?
MR. McCLELLAN: Stand by what â say the statement again.
Q Berlusconi replied â he replied in Italian, this is a translation, âBush, himself, confirmed to me that the U.S.A. did not have any information from Italian agencies.â
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that question yesterday. I responded to that. Youâve got to go back and look at exactly what I said.
Q So your answer is, âyesâ?
MR. McCLELLAN: Iâm sorry? I addressed that question yesterday. I responded to it.
Q So the answer is, âyesâ?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, if youâre talking about â because there have been some Italian reports about a meeting that took place here at the White House, and I pointed out yesterday that there were no documents provided relating to Niger and uranium at that meeting, much less â
Q Not just â
MR. McCLELLAN: â much less was it even discussed.
Q â no, not just at the meeting â
MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of going back to the issue of Niger and uranium, I mean, we briefed on that and we talked about the basis for the statement in the remarks. And it was based on the National Intelligence Estimates and the British intelligence.
This is sort of maddening since the same thing happened yesterday. Reporters ask whether the president is really claiming that the US didn’t get any of its Iraq/Niger intelligence from Italy — a claim that is certainly false. Then McClellan chooses to answer a completely different question. McClellan answers by referring to their vague response to reports that then-Deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley discussed the Niger-uranium story with Italian intel chief Nicolo Pollari at a meeting in Washington in September 2002.
That September meeting is another part of the puzzle. But these are two completely different questions. But this funny business has allowed McClellan to duck answering the question for two days running.