I was most curious this morning to see Wolf Blitzer’s interview with Condi Rice since she is the point at which all the arrows are now pointing, even if it’s taken the press a few days to pick up on that fact. Frankly, it wasn’t pretty — certainly not on the level of substance, but not even on the level of presentation. All of the commentators this morning were coming around to the realization that the real question is less whether Tenet’s CIA didn’t push hard enough to keep bogus information out of the president’s speech as why others were pushing so hard to keep it in.
And the ‘others’ — at least in an immediate sense — were staffers in Rice’s NSC.
Rice’s efforts to work her way out of this tight knot of logic — especially the new revelation that George Tenet personally told her deputy, Stephen Hadley, to keep the uranium canard out of a speech in October — were, to put it mildly, pathetic. The fact that the CIA Director had to intervene personally with the Deputy National Security Advisor to get the bogus information out of an earlier speech raises the obvious question: just how many times did the Agency have to warn the White House off the bogus uranium claim before they got the message and stopped trying to put it into the president’s mouth?
Rice’s efforts to answer these questions fell back on the same shambling claims that new information was becoming available between one incident and the next (if anything the opposite was true) or the endless repetition of her talking points that “it is sixteen words and it has become an enormously overblown issue.” Here presentation was incoherent, contradictory and filled with several more extremely misleading statements.
One in particular jumped out at me. I don’t have the transcript of her remarks yet. But she said, essentially, that Joseph Wilson’s report was comprised of official denials from Nigerien government officials and the suggestion that a private businessman acting as an intermediary for the Iraqis had made an overture to one of those officials about possible uranium sales.
I know on what I can only call extremely good authority that that is a woeful and wilful misrepresentation of what Wilson reported back to the CIA. That’s just not what he told them. (See this earlier post for more details.) Has Rice still not tried to get a hold of Wilson’s CIA debriefing?
I don’t think anyone is saying that Wilson is some reincarnation of Bill Donovan or a real-life James Bond, that he knows everything or that his judgments are utterly beyond question. He went to the country; he investigated the matter; he reported back his judgment. I’ve seen no reason or evidence to believe his reasoning was wrong in any way. But anyone can make a mistake or miss something. Thus one could say, well, Wilson’s reasoning was wrong for reasons A, B and C and therefore I disregarded it. If Rice has a beef with his argument, she should lay it out. Or if the CIA failed to pass on to her the relevant parts of his report, she should say that. Or if she has solid evidence that Iraq was trying to buy Uranium from another African country, she should say that. But she isn’t doing that. She’s simply saying he said X when in fact he said Y. She is, to use the vocabulary we used back in the 20th century, lying. Like the lawyers say: if the facts are on your side, bang on the facts. If the law is on your side, bang on the law. If neither the facts nor the law is on your side, bang on the table.
Rice is banging on the table.