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MSNBC host Chris Matthews and New York Times columnist David Brooks both repeated false claims about former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's account of his February 2002 trip to investigate whether Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Niger. On the July 24 edition of the syndicated Chris Matthews Show, both Matthews and Brooks falsely accused Wilson of claiming that Vice President Dick Cheney had sent him; Wilson, in fact, never made such a claim. Brooks also wrongly asserted that Wilson had claimed to have definitively proven that there was no connection between Iraq and Niger, a conclusion Brooks said the Senate Intelligence Committee and the British Butler report had found to be "murky" rather than clear-cut. Wilson, however, stated only that he had personally found no evidence for an Iraqi attempt to acquire uranium from Niger. Moreover, rather than being "murky" on the issue, the Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that intelligence assessments that Iraq had sought to obtain uranium from Africa were unsupportable after October 2002, while the Butler report offered no new evidence to support the weakly sourced assertion that when President Bush made that claim in his January 2003 State of the Union speech, his statement was "well-founded."
Discussing the leak of the identity of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as an undercover CIA operative, Matthews said that he wanted to "give the White House case," adding that "I think I understand it because I think I know some of the facts." He then said that the White House attacked Wilson because Wilson had promoted a "story" in his July 6 New York Times op-ed and in an appearance the same day on NBC's Meet the Press that "the vice president of the United States knew there was no nuclear component to the reason to go to war because he sent this guy to Niger, to Africa." Brooks echoed this claim when he listed Wilson's supposed inaccuracies. "We know he said the vice president sent him on the trip and reviewed the data. The Senate Intelligence said that was wrong."
In fact, Wilson didn't claim that Cheney had sent him to Niger in either his Times op-ed or his July 6 appearance on Meet the Press, as Media Matters for America noted when Brooks previously accused him of doing so. Wilson wrote in his Times op-ed that CIA officials, not the vice president, asked him if he would go to Niger; discussing his op-ed on Meet the Press, Wilson said that the "the question [of Iraq seeking uranium from Niger] was asked of the CIA by the office of the vice president." And, contrary to Brooks' assertion, the Senate Intelligence Committee's report supports Wilson's actual claim that the CIA sent him to Niger in response to questions from the vice president's office.
Brooks also falsely asserted that Wilson claimed to have definitively disproved the possibility that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger, and that the Senate Intelligence Committee and the British Butler report had found such a connection was "at least murky." But Wilson never claimed that he definitively disproved such a connection. Instead, he limited his conclusions to what he knew personally. Wilson wrote in his Times op-ed that in response to Bush's assertion during his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa, he "reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them."
Brooks also misstated the Senate Intelligence Committee's conclusions about the veracity of the administration's claims regarding Niger-uranium connection. Far from being "murky," as Brooks claimed, the report backs Wilson's personal conclusion that the facts did not support Bush's State of the Union claim. The committee wrote: "Until October 2002 when the Intelligence Community obtained the forged foreign language documents on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, it was reasonable for analysts to assess that Iraq may have been seeking uranium from Africa based on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reporting and other available intelligence."
The Butler report provided no new evidence to support Bush's claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection. Instead, the British report relied on unnamed "intelligence assessments at the time." Moreover, senior U.S. intelligence officials told "Senate committees" in September and October 2002 that the CIA disagreed with the British regarding the uranium claim's reliability.
By contrast, the CIA's Iraq Survey Group (ISG) found that there was no evidence that Iraq sought to obtain uranium after 1991. Based on interviews with top Iraqi officials after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, the ISG's September 2004 report, known as the Duelfer report, concluded:
ISG has not found evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad after 1991 or renewed indigenous production of such material -- activities that we believe would have constituted an Iraqi effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program. ... So far, ISG has found only one offer of uranium to Baghdad since 1991 -- an approach Iraq appears to have turned down.
From the July 24 broadcast of the syndicated Chris Matthews Show:
MATTHEWS: Let me give the White House case; I think I understand it because I think I know some of the facts. On a Sunday, we showed the timeline at the beginning of the program, July 6 two years ago, a guy goes on The New York Times, he goes on Meet the Press and he splashes this story that the vice president of the United States knew there was no nuclear component to the reason to go to war because he sent this guy to Niger, to Africa. He comes back, reports back to the vice president there's nothing to it. It's an empty well here. So the vice president has to defend himself. He obviously meets with his people, his people -- if he's not in the room or he is in the room, they put together a plan. The plan is to discredit this guy Joe Wilson. Is that legitimate politics or what?
BROOKS: We know the guy was inaccurate on a couple of things. We know he said his wife had nothing to do with the trip, which was wrong. We know he said the vice president sent him on the trip and reviewed the data, the Senate Intelligence said that was wrong. He said, his trip said there was definitely no connection between Niger and Iraq, and the Butler report and the Senate intelligence report said that it's at least murky. So, you know, he launched an attack, there was a lot of ambiguity to his attack. They're fighting back with ambiguity.