TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2004
TORN AND RESTORED: The untorn document has now appeared, raising more questions than it answers. What does this new, untorn document mean? Well wait until the facts become clear. Meanwhile, Calpundit shows you the new, untorn doc. Bob Fertik explains where it came from. And time passes slowly down here in the capital! In todays Post, Lois Romano summarizes what was known oh, lets say, a week ago. And Richard Cohen understates the time frame described by Romano. Meanwhile, the crowning irony: Romano finally describes the torn documentone day after the doc is restored! But give them credittheyve only had four years to get this stuff sorted out.
THE LAST BULLDOG DIES: Has anyone seen a missing bulldoga bulldog so widely described by the press? That runaway bulldog, of course, is Tim Russert, missing on Sundays Meet the Press (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/04). Admiring pundits have long praised Tim for the fearsome way he tears into prey. But when Meet the Press went to the Oval last weekend, that fearsome bulldog was Missing In Action. Does anyone know where hes gone?
Was that really the dog sitting opposite Bush? Consider the way Russert dealt with the matter of intelligence on Iraq.
Did Bush get faulty intelligence about Iraqi WMD? Did the Administration misstate the intelligence they received? In the wake of David Kays recent statements, no topic was hotter when Russert met Bush. But how hard did Russert push on this topic? Alas! The famous bulldog crawled off and died. About ten minutes into the session, Russert asked Bush about the claim that the Admin had exaggerated the intelligence:
RUSSERT: Mr. President, the director of the CIA said that his briefings had qualifiers and caveats. But when you spoke to the country, you said, There is no doubt. When Vice President Cheney spoke to the country, he said Theres no doubt. Secretary Powell, No doubt. Secretary Rumsfeld, No doubt, we know where the weapons are. You said, The Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency. Saddam Hussein is a threat that we must deal with as quickly as possible. You gave the clear sense this was an immediate threat that must be dealt with.The meaning of Russerts presentation was clearthe Bush Admin overstated the intelligence. No topic was more central as Tim and George met. But as Bush began to reply, he shifted the subject, and a bulldog ran down the wrong trail:
BUSH: I think, if I might, remind you that in my language, I call it a grave and gathering threat. But I dont want to get in the word contest, but what I do want to share with you is my sentiment at the time. There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America. No doubt.There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger, Bush said. But that, of course, wasnt what hed been asked. But no matter: Another long, rambling answer ensued, in which Bush simply skipped Russerts question. Lets read the exchange in full:
BUSH: I think, if I might, remind you that in my language, I call it a grave and gathering threat. But I dont want to get in the word contest, but what I do want to share with you is my sentiment at the time. There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America. No doubt.As we asked yesterday about Russerts first question, so we ask today about this: Is anything in that rambling answer responsive to Russerts actual question? Bush was asked if he and his aides overstated the certainty of the intelligence. But Bush didnt answerand Russert moved on, just as we saw him do yesterday. A few minutes later, he returned to this topic, but only to graze it in passing:
RUSSERT: There is a sense in the country that the intelligence that was given was ambiguous, and that you took it, and molded it, and shaped it, your opponents have said hyped it, and rushed to war.That is a perfectly valid concern. But neither here, nor anywhere else, was Bush asked to respond to the original question. Did Bush and his aides overstate the intelligence? The question was askedand avoided by Bush. Toothlessly, Russert moved on.
So where was that bulldogthat fearsome inquisitor whom Tom Shales politely described in the Post? That dog disappeared when this topic arose. And needless to say, Russert never asked about the most egregious examples of alleged exaggeration. For example, did Condi Rice (and others) misstate the intel on aluminum tubes, trying to create the impression that Saddam was chasing nukes very hard? Eight months ago, Judis and Ackerman laid out the problem in The New Republic (links below):
JUDIS AND ACKERMAN (6/30/03): The administration used the [first] anniversary of September 11, 2001, to launch its public campaign for a congressional resolution endorsing war, with or without U.N. support, against Saddam. The opening salvo came on the Sunday before the anniversary in the form of a leak to Judith Miller and Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times regarding the aluminum tubes. Miller and Gordon reported that, according to administration officials, Iraq had been trying to buy tubes specifically designed as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. That same day, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice appeared on the political talk shows to trumpet the discovery of the tubes and the Iraqi nuclear threat. Explained Rice, There will always be some uncertainty about how quickly [Saddam] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we dont want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. Rumsfeld added, Imagine a September eleventh with weapons of mass destruction. Its not three thousandits tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.Was Rices statement just a lie? Dont expect Russert to ask, even in a nicely couched way. Indeed, he didnt even dare ask his guest to respond to his first, general question.
Readers, could Bush have said anything that would have provoked a follow-up question from Russert this day? Repetitive answers rambled on, in response to vague, repetitive questions. Groaning misstatements of fact were allowed; odd remarks went unnoticed, unchallenged. Russert, politely, served as stenographer. So has anyone seen that famous bulldogthe one to whom the press throws its bones? The bulldog was fearsome with Dean and with Gore. Does anyone know where hes hiding?
TOMORROW: Was there anything Bush could have said that would have provoked a follow-up?
WHAT CONDI SAID: On September 8, 2002, Rice appeared on CNNs Late Edition. Here is the statement Judis and Ackermans analyst called just a lie:
WOLF BLITZER: Based on what you know right now, how close is Saddam Husseins governmenthow close is that government to developing a nuclear capability?Only suited for nuclear weapons programs? Based on the state of the intel at the time Rice spoke, this looks like the kind of screaming overstatement to which Russert referred in his key question. But a bulldog was AWOL from the Oval last weekend. Bush changed the subject when Russert askedand the bulldog simply let him move on.