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General News    H2'ed 6/16/08

McClellan Testimony May Shed Light On Niger Forgeries

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Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s testimony later this before the House Judiciary Committee promises to reignite the debate over the “16 words” in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address that claimed Iraq tried to purchase 500 tons of yellowcake uranium from Niger.

Aides to several senior Democrats on the committee are poring over former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s book, What Happened: Inside The Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, as well as news reports and documents released publicly by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel appointed to investigate the leak of Plame’s identity.

Right-wing columnist Robert Novak blew Plame’s cover on July 14, 2003, in an article suggesting that Plame had helped arrange her husband’s trip to Africa as some kind of junket.

The aides, who requested anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss details of next week’s hearing, have been drafting detailed questions for McClellan about the behind-the-scenes conversations that took place between Vice President Dick Cheney, former White House political adviser Karl Rove, Cheney’s former Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Stephen Hadley, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, and President Bush, surrounding accusations raised in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its immediate aftermath that the administration knew the Niger intelligence was false.

The committee wants McClellan, who was deputy press secretary at the time the administration was forced in July 2003 to admit the uranium allegations should not have been included in President Bush’s State of the Union address, to elaborate on Bush, Cheney, Hadley and Rice’s role in the campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson, a diplomat who had served in Iraq and Africa, was selected by the CIA’s non-proliferation office, where Plame worked, to travel to Niger in early 2002 to examine the Iraq-yellowcake allegations. Wilson returned to the United States and reported to CIA officials that the claims appeared to have no merit, a finding that matched with inquiries from other U.S. officials.

Two weeks ago, Congressman Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey a letter that indicated Vice President Dick Cheney may have authorized his former deputy to leak Plame’s identity.

"In his interview with the FBI, Mr. Libby stated that it was ‘possible’ that Vice President Cheney instructed him to disseminate information about Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson's wife to the press. This is a significant revelation and, if true, a serious matter. It cannot be responsibly investigated without access to the Vice President's FBI interview," Waxman wrote.

Waxman's office would not release copies of the Libby-Rove transcripts or describe the contents in any detail. Fitzgerald's investigative interviews with Bush and Cheney -- asking how much knowledge the President and Vice President had about the Plame leak -- have not been disclosed.

But the committee wants to know if McClellan can offer insight into the vice president’s role as well as answers about why the administration continued to peddle the Niger story after the documents the intelligence was based upon were exposed as forgeries,

Democratic lawmakers have been trying to determine if Bush administration officials knew the Niger intelligence was bogus and if they allowed President Bush to cite it in his State of the Union address despite warnings of its veracity.

Last year, Waxman issued a subpoena for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice demanding that she explain her role in the matter and whether she had prior knowledge that Niger intelligence was fabricated. Rice has said that she could not recall receiving any oral or written warnings from the CIA about Iraq's interest in uranium from Niger as being unreliable. Rice penned an op-ed January 23, 2003, claiming Iraq was actively trying "to get uranium from abroad."

Rice ignored Waxman’s subpoena and the congressman had decided not to litigate the issue.

Now, by securing McClellan’s testimony, assuming the White House does not assert a last minute claim of executive privilege, some Democratic lawmakers are hoping they will be able to fill in some holes in the narrative related to the Niger story and determine what the administration knew and when they knew it.

The “16 words,” "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," was cited by President Bush on Jan. 28, 2003 and has widely been viewed as convincing the public and Congress to support a preemptive strike against Iraq.

The White House has never provided a full accounting of how the intelligence, despite warnings from several government agencies that it was unreliable, made its way from Italy to Washington and into President’s Bush’s State of the Union address.

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of Truthout.org and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, http://www.pubrecord.org. He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
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