Today in the White House briefing room, I asked Scott McClellan this question:
Scott, last week you said that claims in the leaked Downing Street memo that intelligence was being fixed to support the Iraq War as early as July 2002 are “flat-out wrong.” According to the memo, which was dated July 23, 2002, and whose authenticity has not been disputed by the British Government, both Foreign Minister Jack Straw and British Intelligence Chief Sir Richard Dearlove said that the President had already made up his mind to invade Iraq. Dearlove added that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” Do you think these two very senior officials of our closest ally were ‘flat-out wrong?’ And if so, how could they have been so misinformed after their conversations with George Tenet and Condoleezza Rice?
Let me correct you on the — let me correct you on the characterization of the quote you attributed to me. I’m referring to some of the allegations that were made referring to a report. In terms of the intelligence, the — if anyone wants to know how the intelligence was used by the administration, all they have to do is go back and look at all the public comments over the course of the lead-up to the war in Iraq, and that’s all very public information. Everybody who was there could see how we used that intelligence.
And in terms of the intelligence, it was wrong, and we are taking steps to correct that and make sure that in the future we have the best possible intelligence, because it’s critical in this post-September 11th age, that the executive branch has the best intelligence possible.
Note that Scott is now saying that what was “flat-out wrong” was not the claims in the memo, but claims made about the memo. My source for the “flat-out wrong” statement was this May 17 article from CNN, which reported the first on-the-record White House response, made the previous day during a presidential trip to West Virginia, to the release of the memo. A transcript of Scott’s May 16 statement is not available, so I can’t say for sure exactly what the context was, but the CNN article certainly suggests that Scott was objecting to Dearlove’s assertion that intelligence was being “fixed” to support an invasion.
The second official response from the White House relating to the memo occurred on May 17, according to this New York Times article dated the 19th. It quotes McClellan as telling reporters that there is “no need” for the White House to respond to the May 5 letter written to the White House by eighty-nine House Democrats, asking President Bush whether the statements in the memo accurately represent the administration’s thinking at the time.
Now, apparently, we know that they did.