President Bush could make the controversy over the now-infamous 16 words of his State of the Union address go away by telling Americans whether the speech's justification for war was exaggerated, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Sunday.
"It's just a question of was it right, or was it wrong?" Sen. Jay Rockefeller said.
He said the question is not whether Mr. Bush tried to mislead by using suspect British government information that Iraq sought to buy uranium in Africa, and that Democrats should not personalize or politicize the argument.
"Intelligence is the basis now of war-fighting," Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said during a broadcast interview. Because of that, he said, "it's very important to intelligence to say that facts really do matter, they count, they have to be accurate."
Speaking up for the Bush administration, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said on the same program that the decision to include the sentence "was made by the speechwriters and by the folks in the White House" using various intelligence sources that were thought reliable. If it wasn't, he said, much of the blame falls on former President Clinton.
"You know, intelligence is not an exact science," said Hastert, R-Ill. Before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "we had a hard time just figuring out what was going, because our foreign intelligence was decimated. The human intelligence was decimated in 10 years before" by Clinton's proclivity not to use human rights violators and other shady individuals as intelligence operatives.
"We've spent the last four years, or 3½ years, trying to build up credible intelligence sources so we can get people to get the human intelligence that we need," Hastert said.
White House officials have admitted that the Iraqi uranium-shopping report should not have appeared in the Jan. 28 speech and have issued varying versions of why it was. Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, has said no top officials in the White House knew of a report by a CIA emissary that said the report appeared to be bogus.
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., a candidate for next year's presidential nomination, said the intelligence that was available should have made Bush realize the information in the uranium report was suspect. One source was Vice President Dick Cheney, he said.
"The vice president is the one who went to the CIA on several occasions. He asked specifically for additional information on the Niger-Iraq connection. The United States sent an experienced ambassador, who came back after a full review with a report that these were fabricated documents," Graham said.
"You cannot tell me that the vice president didn't receive the same report that the CIA received, and that the vice president didn't communicate that report to the president or national security advisers to the president."
Rockefeller's misgivings about the administration's handling of prewar intelligence are so strong that he now says it's "hard to say" whether the invasion he voted for was justified. "I hope we find weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Iraq's purported stockpiles of such arms and Saddam's willingness to use them were the principal reasons Mr. Bush gave in the spring for pressing with such urgency for military action. None were used to counter the U.S.-led force's blitz to Baghdad, and none has been found since.
The CIA sent David Kay, a former weapons inspector for the United Nations, to Iraq a month ago to investigate. Rockefeller was asked about Kay's signals to Rockefeller's intelligence committee and elsewhere of progress.
"The case he made to us was really more of, `There are programs of the making of weapons of mass destruction.' Now, the State of the Union was more about, `They have them,"' Rockefeller said.
"If you have programs, little bits and pieces, that does not necessarily make an imminent threat."