Steve Hadley Niger Uranium Mumbojumbo update.
At his press briefing today, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley was asked about his meeting on September 9th 2002 with Italian intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari. And his answers were close to non-responsive if you look closely at what he said. Note that, like Scott McClellan earlier in the day, he seemed to go out of his way to deny allegations that no one is actually making — namely, that he himself received the forged dossier on that day (emphasis added) …
Q On September 9th, 2002, you met in Washington with Nicolo Pollari, the head of the Italian Intelligence Agency, SISMI. According to the Italian daily, La Republica, Mr. Pollari came to the meeting to discuss an alleged attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger. Is that claim false?
MR. HADLEY: We’d looked at this issue. We had both looked at our documentary record — I have — we have talked — I’ve searched my own recollection; we have also talked to other people on the NSC staff at the time who might have a recollection of that meeting. I can tell you what that canvassing has unearthed. There was a meeting in Washington on that date. I did attend a meeting with him. It was, so far as we can tell from our records, about less than 15 minutes. It was a courtesy call. Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents being passed. And that’s also my recollection. I have very little recollection of the meeting, but I have no recollection there was any of that discussion, or that there was any passing of documents. Nor does anybody else who may have participated in that meeting. That’s where we are.
Q Can you say what you did discuss with Mr. Pollari?
MR. HADLEY: I told you I have very little recollection of the meeting, and it was in the order of a courtesy call, getting to know a person who is going to be a colleague going forward. And you can tell that from the relative briefness of the meeting. And I think what the Italian authorities have said is very consistent with what I just said.
Now, I know I’m giving these comments pretty tight scrutiny. But consider these points.
First, no one ever said that Hadley got the documents during that meeting. It is a matter of public record that they appeared in Rome a month later and made their way back to Washington via the State Department.
Second, it is also a matter of public record that the Niger/Uranium story was a matter of intense interest and discussion at the White House at precisely that time. Remember, Hadley and colleagues at the NSC were trying to get the claim inserted into the president’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati.
Hadley also knew — then and now — that the foreign intelligence service reports which had started the suspicion about the Niger/Iraq claims had come from Italy — from Pollari’s own agency, SISMI.
Given all that, it strains credulity to believe that we have to make do with ‘searchings of recollections’ or the like. Given the time and the topic, if this came up it would have been a big deal. People would remember. It would have been noted in minutes, etc.
It’s certainly accepted practice for a president’s national security advisor not to discuss what he or she discusses in meetings with foreign intelligence chiefs. Those sorts of exchanges are seldom fair game for public comment. But Hadley is talking. And maybe nothing to do with Niger or Iraq came up at all. But his answers sound supiciously vague.
It is well worth pushing for a clearer, less dodgy answer.