Having already missed a couple of opportunities to ask President Bush about the Downing Street Memo, the media must use the “meeting and working dinner” between Blair and Bush this Tuesday to question Bush about the memo. It will be the first public appearance between the two leaders since the minutes taken of a July 2002 meeting between Blair and his high-level staff were revealed, in which British officials said the “intelligence and facts were being fixed around [Bush's] policy” of attacking Iraq. Recall that Blair’s government has already said it does not dispute the claims of the memo. The White House has so far slyly-avoided responding to the memo directly.
In a preview of the talking points we might expect from Bush once he’s asked the question, Ken Mehlman this weekend told Tim Russert, “I believe that the findings of the report, the fact that the intelligence was somehow fixed have been totally discredited by everyone who’s looked at it.” Mehlman cited the 9-11 Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee as backing for his claim.
As previously reported on this blog , the Senate Intelligence Committee has yet to undertake its review of whether Bush officials knowingly manipulated their public statements about the threat of Iraq.
As for the 9-11 Commission, it was never charged with investigating the Iraq pre-war intelligence claims made by the Bush Administration. Responding to questions about the commission’s mandate, the vice chairman of the commission, Lee Hamilton, said:
“I really do not see how you can reasonably read that statute and the legislative history that preceded it and say that the commission should be looking at the war in Iraq. We were to focus our attention on 9/11 and those events, and not the war on Iraq.”
Contrary to Mehlman’s claims, the revelations in the Downing Street Memo have not been discredited. It’s not enough for President Bush to dispute the veracity of the report by suggesting that others have disputed it. We need to know whether he himself disputes the claim that his comments on the intelligence about Iraq were knowingly hyped prior to the war in order to justify an attack. He knows better than anyone else, and he should answer it for himself.