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As Senate Democrats pressured Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) to complete an investigation into whether the Bush administration misused intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News correspondent Major Garrett falsely claimed that various government reports had already done so. In fact, "phase two" of the Senate Intelligence Committee report would mark the first assessment of whether proponents of the war exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime.
On the November 1 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Garrett reported that the already-completed "phase one" of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation "determined by a 17-0 vote that there was no effort to politicize or manipulate pre-war Iraq intelligence." Similarly, on the next day's broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh falsely claimed that the Robb-Silberman report on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq "cleared anybody of intelligence manipulation." Then, in a November 3 editorial (subscription required), the Journal cited three government reports -- "phase one" of the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the Robb-Silberman report, and the Butler report on British intelligence -- as well as the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the CIA leak case as evidence that "everyone who has looked into the question of whether the Bush administration lied about intelligence, distorted intelligence, or pressured intelligence agencies to produce assessments that would support a supposedly pre-baked decision to invade Iraq has come up with the same answer: No, no, no and no."
In fact, there has been no official investigation into whether the Bush administration "lied about intelligence [or] distorted intelligence ... to produce assessments that would support a supposedly pre-baked decision to invade Iraq."
The first phase of the Senate Intelligence report determined, by the unanimous 17-0 vote that Garrett referenced, that intelligence assessments were not tainted by "pressure" that analysts received from policymakers, but it did not investigate whether the Bush administration misused that intelligence. The committee postponed analysis of the latter, more volatile question until after the 2004 presidential election, pledging to include it in phase two of the report. The Robb-Silberman report similarly excluded examination of the use of intelligence, noting: "[W]e were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community."
While the Journal asserted that the Butler report "found no evidence of 'deliberate distortion,' " that phrase related to the report's finding that the "original intelligence material" was "correctly reported" in assessments by the British Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), not in statements by the Bush administration. While the Butler report did conclude that Bush's 2003 State of the Union address claim that "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" was "well-founded," it produced no new evidence in support of its conclusion, and instead relied upon anonymous "intelligence assessments at the time." Further, in July 2003, then-CIA director George J. Tenet issued a statement that the claim "should never have been included in the text written for the President."
In addition to the three government reports, the Journal also cited CIA leak special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's own remarks in an October 28 press conference to suggest that Fitzgerald investigated the issue of how the Bush administration used intelligence before the war, quoting Fitzgerald's comment that the indictment of Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is "not about the propriety of the war." But contrary to the Journal's suggestion, the indictment's omission of any reference to the Bush administration's use of intelligence was not an indication that Fitzgerald investigated the issue and exonerated the administration, but rather that the investigation did not concern -- and that the indictment did not address -- "the propriety of the war." Further, in asserting that the Libby indictment would not be about the circumstances that led the U.S. into war, Fitzgerald noted that many questions about those circumstances remain unanswered:
FITZGERALD: This indictment is not about the war. This indictment's not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel.
The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate, and this is focused on a narrow transaction.
And I think anyone's who's concerned about the war and has feelings for or against shouldn't look to this criminal process for any answers or resolution of that.
From the November 3 Journal editorial titled "The Clare Luce Democrats":
We are now seeing the spectacle of Bush-hating Democrats adopting a similar slander [to Clare Boothe Luce's accusations against former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt] against the current President regarding the Iraq War. The indictment by Patrick Fitzgerald of Vice Presidential aide I. Lewis Libby has become their latest opening to promote this fiction, notwithstanding the mountains of contrary evidence. To wit:
- In July 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan 500-page report that found numerous failures of intelligence gathering and analysis. As for the Bush Administration's role, "The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," (our emphasis).
- The Butler Report, published by the British in July 2004, similarly found no evidence of "deliberate distortion," although it too found much to criticize in the quality of prewar intelligence.
- The March 2005 Robb-Silberman report on WMD intelligence was equally categorical, finding "no evidence of political pressure to influence the Intelligence Community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs. ... analysts universally asserted that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments. We conclude that it was the paucity of intelligence and poor analytical tradecraft, rather than political pressure, that produced the inaccurate pre-war intelligence assessments."
- Finally, last Friday, there was Mr. Fitzgerald: "This indictment's not about the propriety of the war, and people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who are -- have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel."
In short, everyone who has looked into the question of whether the Bush administration lied about intelligence, distorted intelligence, or pressured intelligence agencies to produce assessments that would support a supposedly pre-baked decision to invade Iraq has come up with the same answer: No, no, no and no.
From the November 2 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: Now, correct me if I'm wrong, has the 9-11 Commission not already investigated this? Didn't the 9-11 Commission already conclude that there was no attempt to lie and make things up about the pre-war intel? There is another commission I know for sure has found the same thing, and I've got this all here in the stack.
I think I misspoke earlier when I said that the 9-11 Commission looked into this and cleared anybody of intelligence manipulation. That was not the right commission; it was the Silberman-Robb Commission, and their report came out in March of this year, and I've got the basic summary of it somewhere here, and we'll get that in due course.
From the November 1 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
GARRETT: Democrats accused Republicans of needlessly delaying something called "phase two" of the Senate investigation into the possible White House manipulation of pre-war Iraq intelligence.
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D-WV): If there is any subject or any matter which seems to get close to the doings of the administration, that being particularly the White House, then, all of a sudden, an iron curtain comes down.
GARRETT: Phase one of the Senate investigation determined by a 17-0 vote that there was no effort to politicize or manipulate pre-war Iraq intelligence. Also, the Republican Intelligence Committee chairman said "phase two" of the Iraq probe was already under way.
ROBERTS: It seemed to be a little convenient for all of a sudden to go into a closed session of the Senate and call for a full Senate investigation of phase two when the committee is already doing its work. And I think that that basically is an unfortunate stunt.