Tuesday :: Jul 22, 2003

Hadley Came Clean After CIA Memos Surfaced

by Steve

Now we know why Stephen Hadley suddenly came clean today: the CIA reminded the White House that they had not one but two memos that proved the Administration was in fact alerted to Agency concerns about the reliability of the African uranium claims months before the SOTU, memos which undermined most of the White House shifting blame jobs of the last two weeks. And memos that showed that Condi Rice has in fact been lying that no one at a senior level in the Administration has known about these concerns until recently.

The existence of such memos is written proof that most of the White House spinning of the last two weeks has been lies, but it also shows that after the Administration’s smackdown of the CIA last Friday, wherein it tried to discredit the testimony of Alan Foley last week at the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Agency “found” the memos over the weekend, which obviously caused problems for the White House to keep up its story. Wow, there is nothing like the threat of being outed by your own spy agency as liars to make you come clean, is there?

As usual, the Post’s Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank got the jump on this story over the New York Times.

The officials made the disclosure hours after they were alerted by the CIA to the existence of a memo sent to Bush's deputy national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, on Oct. 6. The White House said Bush's chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, on Friday night discovered another memo from the CIA, dated Oct. 5, also expressing doubts about the Africa claims.

The information, provided in a briefing by Hadley and Bush communications director Dan Bartlett, significantly alters the explanation previously offered by the White House. The acknowledgment of the memos, which were sent on the eve of a major presidential speech in Cincinnati about Iraq, comes four days after the White House said the CIA objected only to technical specifics of the Africa charge, not its general accuracy.

In fact, the officials acknowledged yesterday, the CIA warned the White House early on that the charge, based on an allegation that Iraq sought 500 tons of uranium in Niger, relied on weak evidence, was not particularly significant and assumed Iraq was pursuing an acquisition that was arguably not possible and of questionable value because Iraq had its own supplies.

Yesterday's disclosures indicate top White House officials knew that the CIA seriously disputed the claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium in Africa long before the claim was included in Bush's January address to the nation. The claim was a major part of the case made by the Bush administration before the Iraq war that Hussein represented a serious threat because of his nuclear ambitions; other pieces of evidence have also been challenged

The Post zeroes in on two key issues: 1) who at the White House kept trying to get the charge into White House speeches when the charge had been undercut by the CIA several times, and 2) Condi Rice has been caught in a lie.

It remains unclear why the Africa uranium claim continued to bubble up in key presidential speeches. White House officials insist they did not push hard for the accusation to be included, and the intelligence community largely dismissed the significance of the matter.

The intelligence reports about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger, Somalia and Congo represented only four paragraphs in the Oct. 2 National Intelligence Estimate, the definitive collection of U.S. intelligence's views on Iraq's weapons programs. Iraq's alleged attempt to obtain uranium was not among the "key judgments" used in the report to support the idea that Hussein was reconstituting his nuclear program. Yet the White House twice sought to include it in a presidential speech.

Yesterday, Bartlett insisted that its inclusion in the State of the Union address was "not at the specific request of anyone" and said that one of the speechwriters had come up with the information after reviewing the Oct. 2 intelligence estimate.

The new information amounted to an on-the-record mea culpa for a White House that had pointed fingers at the CIA for vetting the speech, prompting an earlier acceptance of responsibility by Tenet. But that abruptly changed yesterday after the CIA furnished evidence that it had fought inclusion of the charge.

The disclosures punctured claims made by Rice and others in the last two weeks. Rice and other officials had asserted that nobody in the White House knew of CIA objections, and that the CIA supported the Africa accusation generally, making only technical objections about location and quantity. On Friday, a White House official mischaracterized the CIA's objections, saying repeatedly that Tenet opposed the inclusion in Bush's Oct. 7 speech "because it was single source, not because it was flawed."

Shortly after Friday's briefing, Bartlett and Hadley said yesterday, Gerson discovered the first of two CIA memos to the White House from last October. The CIA memo found, dated Oct. 5 and addressed to Gerson, Hadley and others, objected to a sentence the White House included in a draft of Bush's upcoming speech, saying Hussein's "regime has been caught attempting to purchase" uranium in Africa. The officials did not release the memo but said the uranium information was on Page 3 of a four-page document.

Hadley said the CIA -- the memo was not signed -- said that the amount was in dispute and that it was not clear the material "can be acquired from the source." The CIA also pointed out that Iraq already had its own supply, 500 tons, of the "yellowcake" uranium ore it was accused of seeking.

The second memo, dated Oct. 6 and sent to Hadley and Rice, was brought to the White House's attention yesterday by the CIA, the officials said. In response to another draft of the speech that had already deleted the uranium reference, the memo included fresh CIA objections to the charge, saying there was "weakness in the evidence" and that the attempted purchase "was not particularly significant," Hadley said.

But even the Times points out the shifting stories told by the White House.

Mr. Hadley's account of events today once again shifted the White House explanation of events. Two weeks ago, Ari Fleischer, then the White House press secretary, said the C.I.A.'s concerns about the quality of the intelligence before Mr. Bush's October speech in Cincinnati were resolved by changing the president's language in the State of the Union address.

Today Mr. Hadley said, in fact, that nothing had been resolved. Had he recalled the warnings describing "some weakness in the evidence," the line would have been stricken, he said.

Mr. Hadley's acceptance of the blame seemed likely to fuel the calls for an investigation in Congress. But it also appeared to be part of an effort to end an open feud between the C.I.A. and the White House over who was responsible for the State of the Union imbroglio. Ten days ago the White House fingered the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, who accepted partial blame the next day in a statement that said he had never read the draft of the speech that was sent to him.

Mr. Hadley, a lawyer and veteran of the first Bush administration who has a reputation for fanatical attention to detail, did not say if he had offered to resign when he talked to President Bush earlier today. But Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, said Mr. Bush, who was briefed about the discovery of the memorandums on Monday at his ranch in Texas, "expressed the utmost confidence" in Mr. Hadley and his boss, Condoleezza Rice, whose name was listed as a recipient on one of the C.I.A. warnings.

Perhaps we should email Tim Russert and ask him what he thinks about Condi lying to him? Send a note to Tim at mtp@nbc.com.

Steve :: 11:03 PM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!