In his January 2003 State of the Union address, as part of his effort to make the case for invading Iraq, President Bush infamously declared that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” The White House was later forced to repudiate the statement after former Ambassador Joseph Wilson blew the whistle on the claim.
As part of an investigation into pre-war intelligence claims, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence asked the White House to provide examples of times that the CIA had cleared such uranium references for use in speeches. On January 6, 2004, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales sent a letter to Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) on behalf of Condoleezza Rice that claimed the CIA had “orally cleared” the uranium claim for two of Bush’s speeches.
But in a new memo, House Oversight Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) says that he has found evidence contradicting Gonzales’ assertions:
The information the Oversight Committee has received casts serious doubt on the veracity of the representations that Mr. Gonzales made on behalf of Dr. Rice. Contrary to Mr. Gonzales’s assertions, the Committee has received evidence that the CIA objected to the uranium claim in both speeches, resulting in its deletion from the President’s remarks.
During an interview with the Committee, John Gibson, who served as Director of Speechwriting for Foreign Policy at the National Security Council (NSC), stated that he tried to insert the uranium claim into this speech at the request of Michael Gerson, chief White House speechwriter, and Robert Joseph, the Senior Director for Proliferation Strategy, Counterproliferation, and Homeland Defense at the NSC. According to Mr. Gibson, the CIA rejected the uranium claim because it was “not sufficiently reliable to include it in the speech.” Mr. Gibson stated that the CIA “didn’t give that blessing,” the “CIA was not willing to clear that language,” and “[a]t the end of the day, they did not clear it.”
When National Security Council staff refused to take the uranium claim out of Bush’s Sept. 26, 2002 speech, Jami Miscik, the Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA, called Rice personally to request it be removed:
According to Ms. Miscik, the CIA’s reasons for rejecting the uranium claim “had been conveyed to the NSC counterparts” before the call, and Dr. Rice was “getting on the phone call with that information.” Ms. Miscik told Dr. Rice personally that the CIA was “recommending that it be taken out.” She also said “[i]t turned out to be a relatively short phone call” because “we both knew what the issues were and therefore were able to get to a very easy resolution of it.”
According to Waxman, Rice refused to testify to the Committee about the pre-war claims, so he is unable to say “how she would explain the seeming contradictions between her statements and those of Mr. Gonzales on her behalf and the statements made to the Committee bv senior CIA and NSC officials.”