This afternoon, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley held a press briefing on the new National Intelligence Estimate, which concludes that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. As ThinkProgress has documented, Bush administration officials — despite knowing of the NIE — have been ratcheting up their rhetoric on Iran in the past couple of months.
The central question in today’s briefing for Hadley was whether White House officials intentionally disregarded the intelligence community’s findings in order to bang the war drums against Iran. Reporters repeatedly pressed Hadley on the specific date when the White House learned about the NIE’s findings. Yet incredibly, he refused to give a “precise answer,” instead stating that it was within the “last few months.” From the briefing:
QUESTION: Steve, what is the first time the president was given the inkling that something? I’m not clear on this. Was it months ago, when the first information started to become available to intelligence agencies? [...]
HADLEY: [W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October — August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.
On at least five different occasions, Hadley said the White House learned of the NIE sometime in the “last few months.” Watch a compilation:
The issue is whether the President himself lied to the public about Iran’s intentions, despite knowing that Iran was even “less determined to develop nuclear weapons.” In October, Bush told a reporter that Iran was trying to “build a nuclear weapon“:
Q But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?
THE PRESIDENT: I think so long — until they suspend and/or make it clear that they — that their statements aren’t real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. [...]
So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.
So to recap: Sometime in the “last few months,” Bush learned that Iran is “less determined to develop nuclear weapons.” Yet as late as October, Bush was still claiming that Iran “wants to build a nuclear weapon.” What did Bush know and when did he know it?