Friday, December 19, 2008

Alleged Gonzales Lie

Matthew Yglesias gives a slightly unclear explanation of Waxman's latest memo.

On page 51 of the Senate intelligence committee's Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, we read the following:

In a response to questions form Committee staff, the White House said that on September 24, 2002, NSC staff contacted the CIA to clear another statement for use by the President. The statement said, "we also have intelligence that Iraq has sought large amounts of uranium and uranium oxide, known as yellowcake, from Africa. Yellowcake is an essential ingredient of the process to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." The CIA cleared the language, but suggested that "of the process" be changed to "in the process." The President did not use the cleared language publicly.

According to Waxman, the White House statement was false; the CIA refused to clear the language. The false statement appeared a letter written in reponse to a request for information that the intelligence committee sent to Condoleezza Rice. The writer of the letter was Alberto Gonzales, who was White House Counsel at the time.

Waxman tells us that Gonzales also claimed, falsely, that the CIA had cleared language intended for use in a speech by Bush to the United Nations. (See page 49 of the Intelligence Committee report.)

I don't know whether Gonzales lied or was misled, which is why I include the word "alleged" in the title. If I felt that Gonzales's reputation hung on the distinction, I probably wouldn't use the word "lie" at all without spending some time trying to figure out whether it applied. But as I see it, Gonzales has so thoroughly discredited himself that his reputation can't get any worse.

Taking into account Waxman's corrections to the record, here is the timeline in a nutshell:

  • On Sept. 11, 2002, the CIA rejected language saying that Iraq was attempting to obtain yellowcake.
  • On Sept. 24, 2002, the White House again requested that the CIA approve language stating that Iraq was attempting to obtain yellowcake, and again the CIA rejected the claim.
  • On Oct. 6, 2002, the White House then included the claim in a draft of the Cincinnati speech (see Intelligence Committee report page 55), and the CIA rejected it again.
  • On January 27, 2003, the CIA received a draft of the State of the Union message (see page 64), but it is not clear who if anyone at the CIA read it. The next day, Bush delivered the State of the Union message containing the infamous 16 words.