Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Russert failed to correct Mehlman's claim that 9-11 Commission, Senate report "totally discredited" Downing Street Memo

Russert failed to correct Mehlman's claim that 9-11 Commission, Senate report "totally discredited" Downing Street Memo

On the June 5 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, moderator Tim Russert questioned but failed to correct Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman's claim that the "findings" of the Downing Street Memo, a secret British intelligence memo suggesting that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to support its case for war in Iraq, "have been totally discredited by everyone who's looked at it," including the 9-11 Commission and the Senate.

In fact, neither the 9-11 Commission nor the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence addressed the Bush administration's use of pre-war intelligence.

In the same appearance, Russert also failed to correct Mehlman when he made the misleading claim that the Bush administration "is the first administration ever that has funded with federal dollars embryonic stem cell research. In fact, Bush's stem cell policy replaced a less restrictive set of rules issued by the Clinton administration, though those rules had yet to take effect.

When Russert raised the issue of the Downing Street Memo's contention that, in the Bush administration's push for war in Iraq, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," Mehlman replied: "Tim, that report has been discredited by everyone else who's looked at it since then. Whether it's the 9-11 Commission, whether it's the Senate, whoever's looked at this has said there was no effort to change the intelligence at all." When Russert noted "I don't believe that the authenticity of this report has been discredited," Mehlman reiterated: "I believe that the findings of the report, the fact that the intelligence was somehow fixed, have been totally discredited by everyone who's looked at it."

The Senate Intelligence committee's report examined the creation of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was the intelligence community's most comprehensive and authoritative statement about Iraq. But the committee decided at the outset not to investigate the Bush administration's use of intelligence, including public statements by administration officials, in the first phase of its investigation.

Though the committee initially planned to conduct the second phase of its investigation following the 2004 election, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) indicated in March that the committee's investigation into whether the administration misrepresented intelligence judgments in its public statements would be indefinitely postponed, because of administration officials' insistence that "they believed the intelligence, and the intelligence was wrong." "[W]e sort of came to a crossroads, and that is basically on the back burner," Roberts said.

The 9-11 Commission report said even less about the Bush administration's use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. The 567-page report focuses entirely on issues surrounding the September 11 terrorist attacks, addresses Iraq only in the context of Al Qaeda and September 11, and does not assess the accuracy or honesty of the Bush's public statements about the Iraqi threat.

Other official reports have similarly avoided the question of whether the Bush administration politicized intelligence. The Robb-Silberman commission's report on intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction noted: "[W]e were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community." The Duelfer report presented the results of the Iraq Survey Group's hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq following the invasion but did not compare these findings either with Bush's prewar statements to the public or with the prewar assessments of the intelligence community.

The British inquiry into prewar assessments of Iraq's weapons program, known as the Butler report, determined that Bush's 2003 State of the Union address claim that the "British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" was "well-founded," but did not examine the administration's other uses of intelligence. But despite the report's findings, Bush's statement clearly contradicted the judgments of the U.S. intelligence community: in a statement released in July 2003, then-CIA Director George Tenet said agency officials "differed with the British dossier on the reliability of the uranium reporting."

Beyond the Downing Street Memo, other evidence indicates that the Bush administration misused intelligence. For example, as Media Matters for America has documented, accounts by Bush administration and U.N. intelligence officials and consultants, documented by CBS News, the Associated Press, and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, indicate that the administration and CIA were aware at the time that much of the information provided in former Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5, 2003, speech to the United Nations Security Council was suspect.