Okay, I have to confess. I came up a little short on the Niger-uranium exchange Ari Fleischer had this morning in the gaggle. I was going to come up with something clever to say about it or point out the merciless spinning. But it’s so incomprehensible I couldn’t manage it. So I’m just going to reproduce a portion of the transcript in its entirety.
Now keep in mind that one of the things the White House has said about the Niger-uranium issue is that even though the Niger documents were bogus, the White House had other evidence to support the president’s claim. In other words, White House intelligence that was so top secret that it apparently couldn’t be shared with the CIA either then or even now. In any case, let’s go to the tape …
Q: Can you give us the White House account of Ambassador Wilson’s account of what happened when he went to Niger and investigated the suggestions that Niger was passing yellow cake to Iraq? I’m sure you saw the piece yesterday in The New York Times.
FLEISCHER: Well, there is zero, nada, nothing new here. Ambassador Wilson, other than the fact that now people know his name, has said all this before. But the fact of the matter is in his statements about the Vice President — the Vice President’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The Vice President’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts — press reports accounted for it.
So this was something that the CIA undertook as part of their regular review of events, where they sent him. But they sent him on their own volition, and the Vice President’s office did not request it. Now, we’ve long acknowledged — and this is old news, we’ve said this repeatedly — that the information on yellow cake did, indeed, turn out to be incorrect.
[Here there were questions unrelated to the Niger-uranium issue – tpm ed. note]
Q: I just want to take you back to your answer before, when you said you have long acknowledged that the information on yellow cake turned out to be incorrect. If I remember right, you only acknowledged the Niger part of it as being incorrect — I think what the —
FLEISCHER: That’s correct.
Q: I think what the President said during his State of the Union was he —
FLEISCHER: When I refer to yellow cake I refer to Niger. The question was on the context of Ambassador Wilson’s mission.
Q: So are you saying the President’s broader reference to Africa, which included other countries that were named in the NIE, were those also incorrect?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President’s statement in the State of the Union was much broader than the Niger question.
Q: Is the President’s statement correct?
FLEISCHER: I’m referring specifically to the Niger piece when I say that.
Q: Do you hold that the President — when you look at the totality of the sentence that the President uttered that day on the subject, are you confident that he was correct?
FLEISCHER: Yes, I see nothing that goes broader that would indicate that there was no basis to the President’s broader statement. But specifically on the yellow cake, the yellow cake for Niger, we’ve acknowledged that that information did turn out to be a forgery.
Q: The President’s statement was accurate?
FLEISCHER: We see nothing that would dissuade us from the President’s broader statement.
Q: Ari, that means that, indeed, you all believe that Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain uranium from an African nation; is that correct?
FLEISCHER: What the President said in his statement was that according to a British report they were trying to obtain uranium. When I answered the question it was, again, specifically about the Niger piece involving yellow cake.
Q: So you believe the British report that he was trying to obtain uranium from an African nation is true?
FLEISCHER: I’m sorry?
Q: If you’re hanging on the British report, you believe that that British report was true, you have no reason to believe —
FLEISCHER: I’m sorry, I see what David is asking. Let me back up on that and explain the President’s statement again, or the answer to it.
The President’s statement was based on the predicate of the yellow cake from Niger. The President made a broad statement. So given the fact that the report on the yellow cake did not turn out to be accurate, that is reflective of the President’s broader statement, David. So, yes, the President’ broader statement was based and predicated on the yellow cake from Niger.
Q: So it was wrong?
FLEISCHER: That’s what we’ve acknowledged with the information on —
Q: The President’s statement at the State of the Union was incorrect?
FLEISCHER: Because it was based on the yellow cake from Niger.
Q: Well, wait a minute, but the explanation we’ve gotten before was it was based on Niger and the other African nations that have been named in the national intelligence —
FLEISCHER: But, again, the information on — the President did not have that information prior to his giving the State of the Union.
Q: Which gets to the crux of what Ambassador Wilson is now alleging — that he provided this information to the State Department and the CIA 11 months before the State of the Union and he is amazed that it, nonetheless, made it into the State of the Union address. He believes that that information was deliberately ignored by the White House. Your response to that?
FLEISCHER: And that’s way, again, he’s making the statement that — he is saying that surely the Vice President must have known, or the White House must have known. And that’s not the case, prior to the State of the Union.
Q: He’s saying that surely people at the decision-making level within the NSC would have known the information which he — passed on to both the State Department and the CIA.
FLEISCHER: And the information about the yellow cake and Niger was not specifically known prior to the State of the Union by the White House.
Q: What does that say about communications?
FLEISCHER: We’ve acknowledged that the information turned out to be bogus involving the report on the yellow cake. That is not new. You can go back. You can look it up. Dr. Rice has said it repeatedly. I’ve said it repeatedly. It’s been said from this podium on the record, in several instances. It’s been said to many of you in this room, specifically.
Q: But, Ari, even if you said that the Niger thing was wrong, the next line has usually been that the President’s statement was deliberately broader than Niger, it referred to all of Africa. The national intelligence estimate discusses other countries in Africa that there were attempts to purchase yellow cake from, or other sources of uranium —
FLEISCHER: Let me do this, David. On your specific question I’m going to come back and post the specific answer on the broader statement on the speech.
When it’s ‘posted’ we’ll let you know.