Friday, July 16, 2004

Republicans are calling a Kerry presidential adviser who insisted the president misled the country about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program “a liar” after intelligence reports released the past week showed his contentions were false.

Former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV caused a media splash a year ago by saying his investigation turned up no proof that Iraq tried to acquire nuclear materials from Niger.

But that contention was debunked by official intelligence reports issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the British government. Both reports said Iraq had tried to acquire uranium “yellowcake” for its illicit weapons program in the late 1990s, as President Bush said in his 2003 State of the Union address.

“For more than a year, Joe Wilson led Democrats to make allegations against the president that have now been proven false,” said Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Senator Kerry embraced and repeated these false charges and continues to post them on his campaign Web site.”

Matthew Yglesias, an Internet journalist and Kerry supporter who gave Mr. Wilson’s claims much attention, said the revelations in the intelligence reports “doesn’t take any wind out” of criticism of Mr. Bush.

“The main way in which the [intelligence reports] undermines Wilson’s credibility is simply by saying that he didn’t play a very large role in helping the intelligence community debunk the Niger claim, it doesn’t say the Niger claim was correct,” he said.

“The bottom line is that American intelligence says the president shouldn’t have said that,” he said.

Neither Mr. Wilson nor the publisher of his book “The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity,” did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Mr. Wilson accused the White House of revealing the name of his wife as a CIA operative in retaliation for his criticism of Mr. Bush and the war.

A Justice Department investigation is under way to determine who leaked Valerie Plame’s name to columnist Robert Novak. Mr. Novak wrote a column claiming that Mrs. Plame recommended to CIA supervisors that her husband be dispatched on a trip to Niger to debunk “this crazy report” about Saddam’s regime attempting to procure uranium.

Mr. Wilson maintains that his wife “had nothing to do” with recommending him for the trip, but the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report cites a memo written by his wife that suggests Mr. Wilson could use his “good relations” in Niger to investigate the matter.

Mr. Wilson wrote in the New York Times last year that he spent “eight days sipping sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people,” and concluded Mr. Bush had twisted the facts “to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”

Prominent Democratic senators — including John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — had pointed to Mr. Wilson’s claims that called the president’s veracity into question.

Asked if the president felt vindicated by the intelligence reports’ debunking of Mr. Wilson, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said “I think the reports speak for themselves.”

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