On Wednesday night's NBC Nightly News, correspondent Andrea Mitchell filed a story in which she turned to Bush administration critic and former National Security Council member Flynt Leverett, "who quit in protest before the war," to contribute a soundbite charging that the Bush administration "had decided to fight back" against Joseph Wilson in response to his criticism of the Iraq invasion. Mitchell also, without challenge, relayed Wilson's contention that his trip to Niger discredited the possibility that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Niger, as she merely passed on that he concluded "it wasn't true." Absent was the argument that Wilson's original report, which mentioned Iraq's attempt to expand trade with Niger, may have actually added credibility to President Bush's State of the Union assertion that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," since Bush's statement said nothing of whether the efforts were successful. Additionally, the British government has continued to stand by its claims.
These arguments were outlined by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, as quoted in an article at CNN.com on July 13, 2003. While defending the British government's assertions that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Niger, Straw "insisted [its dossier] was based on what British officials regarded as 'reliable intelligence' which had not been shared with the United States." Straw explained that "as CNN [has] reported, Ambassador Wilson's report also noted that in 1999 an Iraqi delegation sought the expansion of trade links with Niger -- and that former Niger government officials believed that this was in connection with the procurement of yellowcake." Straw concluded that "uranium is Niger's main export. In other words, this element of Ambassador Wilson's report supports the statement in the government's dossier." (For the complete text)
Below is a full transcript of Andrea Mitchell's report, anchored by Brian Williams, from the Wednesday October 26 NBC Nightly News:
Brian Williams: "And while everyone waits for word on possible indictments here, a reminder tonight of what is at the root of this case: The Bush administration's prewar intelligence assessments. Iraq had weapons, they said, and they posed a threat to the U.S. NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell has more."
Andrea Mitchell: "In the beginning, it was a fight over weapons of mass destruction. Did Saddam Hussein have them? Were they an imminent threat? Administration hardliners voiced no doubt."
Dick Cheney, from Meet the Press, dated September 2002: "He is, in fact, actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons."
Mitchell: "If so, should America go to war? The President sounded convinced."
George W. Bush, dated October 2002: "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
Mitchell: "He deployed his top diplomat to make the case to the U.N.-"
Colin Powell, dated February 2003: "Let me now turn to those deadly weapons programs and describe why they are real and present dangers to the region."
Mitchell: "-and, in the State of the Union speech, accused Iraq of trying to buy uranium from Africa for weapons fuel."
Bush, dated January 2003: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Mitchell: "But the CIA had checked that out a year earlier by sending a secret envoy. His name, Joseph Wilson. His conclusion, it wasn't true. So Wilson began challenging the crucial evidence the White House was using to justify the invasion. Flynt Leverett was working in the National Security Council until he quit in protest just before the war. He says the Bush team had decided to fight back."
Flynt Leverett: "It was imperative to discredit Wilson, to discredit this argument that the WMD case might not be solid."
Mitchell: "Then Wilson went public in the New York Times and on Meet the Press."
Joseph Wilson, Former Ambassador: "They were using the selective use of facts and intelligence to bolster a decision in a case that had already been made, a decision that had been made to go to war."
Mitchell: "Officials point out that Wilson was sometimes inflating his role, and at times mis-stating his findings. Sources say to undermine Wilson, Bush aides told reporters he had been sent to Africa through the influence of his wife, who worked at the CIA. That led to an investigation into whether they broke the law, either through leaks or in their testimony. So the debate over Saddam's weapons has turned into a legal case and the biggest political crisis of the Bush presidency. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, New York."