- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

The White House yesterday scoffed at charges that President Bush deliberately used suspect intelligence to hype Iraq’s nuclear capabilities, calling the claims from prominent Democrats “a bunch of bull.”

“This revisionist notion that somehow this is now the core of why we went to war, a central issue in why we went to war, a fundamental underpinning of the president’s decisions, is a bunch of bull,” a testy Ari Fleischer said on his last day as chief White House spokesman.

“That’s absolute, total nonsense. The president said something that was based on the information that was available to date. In hindsight, we have said that it should not have risen to the president’s level. And that’s exactly what we have reported to the American people,” he said.

“As far as the president is concerned, he’s moved on. I think the bottom has been gotten to,” the spokesman said.

Mr. Bush, asked again about a sentence in his State of the Union address that cited a now-debunked British intelligence report that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa, said the quality of U.S. intelligence he received was “darn good.”

“When all is said and done, the people of the United States will realize that Saddam Hussein had a weapons program,” the president said. “I think the intelligence I get is darn good intelligence, and the speeches I have given are backed by good intelligence.”

After meeting with CIA Director George J. Tenet, Mr. Bush said of the CIA: “When they looked at the speech, it was cleared. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have put it in the speech. I’m not interested in talking about intelligence unless it’s cleared by the CIA. And as Director Tenet said, it was cleared by the CIA.”

Several top Democrats — including two seeking the presidency in 2004 — have accused Mr. Bush of knowingly citing erroneous intelligence. They have demanded an investigation into the president’s statement that “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” which he made in his January State of the Union speech.

Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, said the suggestion that no one in the White House was aware of the weakness of the intelligence claim before the speech “stretches belief.”

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, challenged the White House assertion that the matter is concluded, saying there remain “enormous questions still about the overall intelligence given to the Congress, the quality of that intelligence and even about the politics.”

Mr. Bush said yesterday: “When I gave the speech, the line was relevant.”

Although the White House last week said the statement rested partly on discredited information of Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium “yellowcake” from Niger and should not have been included in the presidential address, Britain has stood by the statement, based on other intelligence.

White House officials — including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld — said on Sunday that while the statement should not have been included in the address, the charge that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from an African nation may well be true.

“The British stand by their statement,” Miss Rice said Sunday. “They have told us that despite the fact that we had apparently some concerns about that report, that they had other sources, and that they stand by the statement.”

Mr. Fleischer yesterday dismissed the notion that the White House was trying to have it both ways: acknowledging that the statement should not have been included in the address, but asserting that the underlying charge has not been proven false.

He said it would be “erroneous for anybody to report that the information about whether or not Iraq sought uranium from Africa was wrong.”

“No one can accurately tell you that it was wrong. That is not known,” he said.

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