CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux reported that White House press secretary Scott McClellan had said "very clearly" during an April 12 briefing that President Bush did not see a May 27, 2003, intelligence report that contradicted his declaration two days later that the United States had discovered biological weapons labs in Iraq. In fact, McClellan said no such thing during the briefing.
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On the April 12 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux reported that White House press secretary Scott McClellan had earlier that day said "very clearly" that President Bush did not see a May 27, 2003, intelligence report that contradicted his declaration two days later that the United States had discovered biological weapons labs in Iraq. In fact, McClellan said no such thing during the April 12 briefing. To the contrary, he told reporters, "I'm looking into that matter."
On May 29, 2003, in an interview on Polish television, Bush asserted that U.S. forces had found two mobile labs in Iraq intended to build biological weapons. "We have found the weapons of mass destruction," he declared. But as The Washington Post reported on April 12, weapons experts dispatched on a Pentagon-sponsored mission to Iraq to examine the trailers had transmitted a report to Washington, D.C., on May 27, 2003, in which they unanimously concluded that the purported labs were "almost certainly designed and built for the generation of hydrogen" -- not the production of biological weapons.
In the April 12 press briefing, McClellan was asked whether Bush was aware of the experts' contradictory findings when he made his May 29, 2003, statement. McClellan declared repeatedly that Bush's statement had been based on a white paper published on May 28, 2003, by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which asserted that the agencies were "confident" that the labs were used for "mobile biological weapons production." But on the specific issue of whether Bush had seen the May 27 field report prior to his May 29 declaration, McClellan responded, "I'm looking into that matter":
McCLELLAN: And in terms of your specific question in terms of if and when the White House became aware of this particular issue, I'm looking into that matter. I've asked the -- the White House has asked at CIA and the DIA to go and look into that issue. But it's not the point. The Washington Post even acknowledges in their article that the intelligence community continued to stand by that position for quite some period of time.
Salon.com's "War Room" further reported that during a press gaggle earlier on April 12, McClellan had been strenuously questioned on the matter but repeatedly avoided answering it directly.
Nonetheless, in her report on this story, Malveaux falsely claimed that McClellan had said "very clearly that the president did not get that intelligence until much, much later." Immediately after making this claim, she played a clip of McClellan in which he merely said that the president's May 29 remarks were "were based on joint assessments of the CIA and DIA."
From the April 12 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
MALVEAUX: At issue: a May 29, 2003, statement that he made on Polish television. Let's take a listen.
BUSH [video clip]: We have found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell sat up in front of the world and said Iraq has got laboratories -- mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions. And we've so far discovered two.
MALVEAUX: Now, the evidence he's talking about, two trailers that were found in northern Iraq that U.S. intelligence claimed at the time were mobile weapons factories. The White House saying that the president -- the administration getting that information from the CIA and DIA. We have since learned from the government's own Iraq Survey Group that that was not the case, that that was not true. They weren't biological weapons labs.
Well, The Washington Post reporting today that there was a Pentagon-sponsored mission that came to that conclusion -- that they were not weapons facilities here, and that that is something they made known in a classified report in Washington two days before President Bush made that declaration. But today, Scott McClellan saying very clearly that the president did not get that intelligence until much, much later.
McCLELLAN [video clip]: The president's statements were based on joint assessment of the CIA and DIA that were publicly released the day before. So this was publicly provided to the American people. It's what the White House had.
MALVEAUX: And of course, Heidi [Collins, CNN anchor], the significance of this debate -- it certainly comes at a time when polls are showing that the president has lost some points when it comes to trustworthiness and credibility.