I guess I have to give Dan Bartlett some measure of credit. He seems to have removed all the squishiness from the story of how that Niger-uranium malarkey got into the State of the Union address.
Read these clips from this article in Thursday’s Post …
White House officials said the uranium claim was included in the president’s Jan. 28 address only after the wording had been approved by the CIA, Pentagon and State Department. In his remarks, Bush declared, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
Bartlett said the passage was included in drafts of the speech for at least 10 days before Bush delivered it. Bartlett said he knew of no objections to including the charge or debate over the wording.
“We wouldn’t lead with something that we thought could be refuted,” Bartlett said. “There was no debate or questions with regard to that line when it was signed off on. This was not a last-minute addition.”
A senior administration official said that numerous officials at the CIA had the chance to object to the line about Hussein’s quest for uranium. “If [CIA Director George J.] Tenet had called up and said, ‘Take it out,’ we would have taken it out,” the official said. “When it was signed off on at highest level, it was not brought into question by those who would know or those who were tasked to know at the agency.”
The official said the claim was tied to British officials because they had included it in a government intelligence dossier last September. “When given a choice, why not cite a public document?” the official said.
Up until now the line has been that this was some sort of snafu. People at the CIA or State may have known the Niger story was bogus. But the word hadn’t filtered up to the White House. Or the speech didn’t get shown to the people who knew the details. As Ken Pollack noted in this portion of TPM’s interview with him posted on Wednesday, this is what they have been telling him.
But now the story is quite different. It was in the speech for at least ten days prior to its delivery. And the appropriate people from all the key national security agencies and departments signed off on it.
Bartlett’s drawn the line pretty clearly, leaving only two real possibilities. Either the speech was intentionally deceptive or folks at the State Department and the CIA were guilty of some mixture of gross negligence and incompetence. The ‘senior administration official’ quoted in the second passage doesn’t even want to leave it that ambiguous. It’s George Tenet’s fault, he says.
Who falls on his sword here?