(Note: I’ve bumped this up on the page due to the update at the bottom of the entry.)
WASHINGTON CIA Director George Tenet told members of Congress a White House official insisted that President Bush’s State of the Union address include an assertion about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear intentions that had not been verified, a Senate Intelligence Committee member said Thursday.
Sen. Dick Durbin, who was present for a 4 1/2-hour appearance by Tenet behind closed doors with Intelligence Committee members Wednesday, said Tenet named the official. But the Illinois Democrat said that person’s identity could not be revealed because of the confidentiality of the proceedings.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan was quick to dispute Durbin’s account. “That characterization is nonsense. It’s not surprising, coming from someone who was in a rather small minority in Congress who did not support the action we took,” McClellan told reporters.
Durbin, appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” said that Tenet “certainly told us who the person was who was insistent on putting this language in which the CIA knew to be incredible, this language about the uranium shipment from Africa.”
“And there was this negotiation between the White House and the CIA about just how far you could go and be close to the truth and unfortunately those sixteen words were included in the most important speech the president delivers in any given year,” Durbin added.
More. Seems unlikely that Durbin would make this up out of whole cloth, though I suppose it is, as Tony Blair might say, “not beyond the bounds of possibility.”
What we need now is for somebody to leak a name…
UPDATE: Looks like the name was leaked.
Durbin said that during the closed-door hearing, Tenet told the lawmakers that a White House official insisted the State of the Union address include the assertion about Saddam’s nuclear intentions. Durbin said that person’s identity could not be revealed because of the confidentiality of the proceedings, but sources, who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity, said that Tenet “reluctantly” identified the official as National Security Council member Robert Joseph. One source said that the revelation led to a series of questions about Joseph’s role.
I’m not sure if Tenet’s reluctant revelation is new as of this NBC report (dated today), but NSC Special Assistant to the President Robert Joseph (who is apparently the staffer who reports to Condoleeza Rice on nuclear proliferation) was reported as denying that he said any such thing as early as July 13. If the denial does pre-date Tenet’s allegation and I repeat, as a lone blogger just trying to piece together news stories, I don’t know if it does perhaps it was pre-emptive.
At the very least, ladies and gentlemen, I think we have another candidate for “fall guy.”
As Drudge would say, “Developing…”
One more update: The NBC evening news is reporting that the White House may use executive privilege to keep Joseph from testifying before the intelligence committee. Not that they have anything to hide, mind you.