During the White House press briefing today, Press Secretary Dana Perino attempted to defend President Bush’s lie about when he first learned that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program.
Recall, Bush originally stated that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell came to him in August “and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was.” But last night, Perino conceded he was told that Iran’s program “may be suspended.”
White House reporters repeatedly confronted Perino about this discrepancy in the press briefing this afternoon. Perino tried to claim that when Bush said he didn’t know what the information was, he actually meant, “he didn’t get any of the details of what — what the information was, in terms of what the actual raw intelligence was.” When reporters pressed her on this, an exasperated Perino said:
OK, look. I can see where you could see that the president could have been more precise in that language. But the president was being truthful.
During the briefing, Perino was also asked about the timeline of when Bush was briefed on the NIE. As ThinkProgress reported earlier this week, The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh said that Bush spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about the NIE on Monday, Nov. 26.
CNN’s Ed Henry asked Perino: “How could he brief Olmert on Monday about a report that he found out about on Wednesday?” Perino responded, “I don’t — I will check. I mean, it’s possible that he knew that there was information coming.”
QUESTION: Dana, on Tuesday at his press conference, when the president was asked about when he learned about Iran’s nuclear program being halted, was he being completely candid?
PERINO: Yes, he was. And I talked to you about that last night. I talked to your colleague this morning. And I’ll reiterate it here. If you look at the rest of that sentence, what the president is — the president was clearly told that there was new information that was coming in, but he wasn’t told the details of it. And the president was also told that the intelligence community was going to need to go back and check out to find out if it’s true.
What I said is that McConnell told the president if the new information turns out to be true, what we thought we knew for sure is right: Iran does, in fact, have a covert nuclear weapons program, but it may be suspended. He said that there were many streams of information that were coming in. They could potentially be in conflict. They didn’t have a lot of confidence in the information yet.
QUESTION: But the president said, quote, He didn’t tell me what the information was. But you’re now saying he was told that Iran may have halted its nuclear weapons program and also that there may be a new assessment, right?
PERINO: Right, but he doesn’t — he didn’t get any of the details of what — what the information was, in terms of what the actual raw intelligence was.
QUESTION: But he didn’t say details. he just said, He didn’t tell me what the…
PERINO: OK, look. I can see where you could see that the president could have been more precise in that language. But the president was being truthful.
QUESTION: But listen to what he said. He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze. Was the president told that there was a possibility that Iran’s nuclear program could be suspended? That’s what you said he was told.
PERINO: Yes. The president was told that there is new information in the context of raw intelligence, not told the details of what it was. And told that he’s going to have — they’re going to have to go back and do some more checking on it because they didn’t have a high degree of confidence in it and it would — could potentially be in conflict.
QUESTION: But he said he didn’t know what the information even was. I can see the details of it, but…
PERINO: I grant you, he could have been more precise in his language.
But if you look at the follow-up — the following sentences of that quote, he says — I have it right here…
PERINO: He says that It would take a while to analyze it. And he’s referring to it in terms of what the information was. I think that…
QUESTION: But he said he didn’t know what the information was.
PERINO: He did not know what the specific details were of the raw intelligence that they had found.
QUESTION: Can you just clarify one more thing? What day was the president actually briefed on the NIE?
PERINO: I don’t know. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Well, because Mr. Hadley left the impression that it was last Wednesday. PERINO: Oh, on the NIE, specifically?
QUESTION: On the NIE.
PERINO: Yes, last Wednesday.
QUESTION: Last Wednesday? OK. But there have been reports that the president briefed Prime Minister Olmert last week, maybe on Monday.
ERINO: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Did he brief Prime Minister Olmert? And how could he brief Olmert on Monday about a report that he found out about on Wednesday? Can you…
PERINO: I don’t — I will check. I mean, it’s possible that he knew that there was information coming; the intelligence community was checking it out…
QUESTION: (inaudible) just find out about it Wednesday, though, like, that this was out there?
PERINO: No, the president knew — no, think about it. Think about it. The president was told by McConnell that the NIE — he knew an NIE was coming. So he knew that NIE was going to have to be delayed, because they had gotten some new information — I’ll get to you in a second — that the NIE was coming, that they had to check things out; they had to do some more due diligence. And then they would come back to the president. So he knew it was coming eventually