Good god, there’s yet ANOTHER memo

Philippe Sands was on Hardball last night. He’s the U.K. law professor who originally broke the news on the memo recording the January 31, 2003 Bush/Blair meeting at the White House.

His book, “Lawless World,” isn’t available in the U.S. yet. And I was genuinely surprised when Sands said it also mentions ANOTHER memo:

…one other aspect that I’ve described in my book, “Lawless World” that hasn’t emerged so much in “The New York Times” is another memo, which records a conversation between Colin Powell and his counterpart in the United Kingdom, Jack Straw, which makes it clear that in Colin Powell’s eyes if there wasn’t enough evidence for a second security council resolution, then there wasn’t enough evidence to justify the U.S. going in alone.

This immediately reminded me of a story the Guardian published on May 31, 2003. The story claimed a transcript of a conversation between Colin Powell and his U.K. counterpart Jack Straw was circulating in NATO circles. Supposedly they spoke briefly before Powell’s address at the U.N., and both had deep concerns about the Iraq intelligence:

Mr Powell told the foreign secretary he hoped the facts, when they came out, would not “explode in their faces.”

This seems plausible on its face. Remember that Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief aide, has said:

I recall vividly the Secretary of State walking into my office. And he said, looking out the window, just musing. He said, “I wonder what we’ll do if we put half a million troops on the ground in Iraq and comb the country from one end to the other and don’t find a single weapon of mass destruction.”

However, right after the story came out, the Guardian issued this correction:

In our front page lead on May 31 headlined “Straw, Powell had serious doubts over their Iraqi weapons claims,” we said that the foreign secretary Jack Straw and his US counterpart Colin Powell had met on February 5. Mr Straw has now made it clear that no such meeting took place. The Guardian accepts that and apologises for suggesting it did.

I’ve wondered ever since what was going on here. Was the transcript real, or fake? Did the Guardian ever actually see it? Why did the Guardian phrase the correction in such a peculiar way, while leaving the story on its site? Note they don’t apologize for the story as a whole; just for claiming Straw “met with Powell at the Waldorf Hotel in New York shortly before Mr Powell addressed the United Nations.” Does this indicate the transcript was real, but Straw met with Powell elsewhere, or at a different time, or they spoke by phone?

Now, of course, I wonder: is this what Philippe Sands was talking about yesterday? It seems plausible.

On the other hand, Powell and Straw would have been more likely to discuss a second resolution in late February or March.

In any case, this is an important subject that deserves further coverage. Certainly the memo Sands refers to should receive attention. And the origins of the Guardian story should be cleared up. If any of this is real and is ever published, it would likely be extremely unpleasant for everyone concerned.

(The entire Hardball transcript is posted here.)