While media outlets such as USA Today and CNN interpreted the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee's recently released report (long pdf) on prewar intelligence on Iraq as a scathing indictment of the CIA, FOX News Channel host Bill O'Reilly depicted it as a vindication of President George W. Bush. On his July 12 show, O'Reilly claimed that "the Senate committee says he [Bush] didn't lie" about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The truth is that the committee report does not address the accuracy of Bush's public statements at all.
O'Reilly also claimed that the report definitively refutes accusations that the Bush administration pressured CIA analysts to produce more alarming assessments of the Iraqi threat, even though the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee explicitly said he believes the administration did pressure analysts, and he joined the committee's other Democrats in issuing a dissenting statement saying so.
From O'Reilly's opening monologue on July 12 edition of FOX News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: President Bush, who's being accused of many things, [and] some of them [are] flat-out untrue. For example, the Senate Intelligence Committee "did not find any evidence that the Bush administration attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgment" on WMDs in Iraq -- so reads conclusion 83 of the Senate report.
Thus, all the bomb-throwers who accuse Mr. Bush of lying about WMDs have been dishonorable. They were wrong and had no proof to begin with. They are guilty of a slander, a dishonorable act.
But conclusion 83 has nothing to do with the question of Bush's honesty. In fact, the Senate committee has yet to investigate the issue of Bush's public statements at all. The focus of the 521-page report (long pdf) is the CIA's 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. The 30-page summary (pdf) of its conclusions doesn't mention Bush's name. That's because, as MSNBC reported, the committee decided at the outset not to investigate the Bush administration's use of intelligence in the first phase of its investigation -- to the consternation of many Democrats.
Yet even if it were definitively proven that the Bush administration did not pressure intelligence officers, as O'Reilly asserted, it might still be the case that Bush and other senior officials in his administration misrepresented the intelligence in public statements, as many critics have charged.
The question of administration pressure is far from settled. While O'Reilly treated conclusion 83 as the final word on the issue, he ignored remarks by the committee's ranking Democrat, Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), contradicting that conclusion. In the July 9 press conference announcing the release of the report, Rockefeller said that although he had voted to approve the overall report, he disagrees with that particular conclusion and believes the report does not properly address the question of administration pressure:
ROCKEFELLER: Nobody would have ever guessed that there would have been a unanimous vote on the report and to report the report to the Senate, but it was there. That's not to say that there aren't areas of disagreement; there are, especially on the question of whether the administration pressured the intelligence community to reach predetermined, in my judgment, conclusions.
Rockefeller went on to provide compelling evidence that in fact the CIA did feel pressure from the Bush administration. Read the full text of his remarks, including the evidence of administration pressure, here.