Maintaining Focus: Rove and Iraq War Data

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says that the real issue in the Karl Rove controversy is not a leak, but a war, and how America was misled into that war.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Today President Bush steered clear of questions about his chief political adviser, Karl Rove. Rove is under investigation for his role in the naming of CIA Agent Valerie Plame. The president spoke with reporters this morning in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Rove was seated behind him.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation. I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports. We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation, and I will be more than happy to comment further once the investigation is completed.

SIEGEL: NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr is keeping an eye on the Rove affair, and he has this admonition.

DANIEL SCHORR:

Let me remind you that the underlying issue in the Karl Rove controversy is not a leak but a war and how America was misled into that war. In 2002, President Bush, having decided to invade Iraq, was casting about for a casus belli. The weapons of mass destruction theme was not yielding very much, until a dubious Italian intelligence report, partly based on forged documents, it later turned out, provided reason to speculate that Iraq might be trying to buy so-called yellowcake uranium from the African country of Niger. It didn't seem to matter that the CIA advised that the Italian information was fragmentary and lacked detail.

Prodded by Vice President Dick Cheney and in the hope of getting more conclusive information, the CIA sent Joseph Wilson, an old Africa hand, to Niger to investigate. Wilson spent eight days talking to everybody in Niger possibly involved and came back to report no sign of an Iraqi bid for uranium in any way. Niger's uranium was committed to other countries for many years to come.

No news is bad news for an administration gearing up for war. Ignoring Wilson's report, Cheney talked on television about Iraq's nuclear potential. And the president himself, in his 2003 State of the Union address no less, pronounced those fateful 16 words, `The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.'

Wilson declined to maintain a discreet silence. He told various people that the president was at least mistaken; at most, telling an untruth. And, finally, Wilson directly challenged the administration with a New York Times Op-Ed article on July 6th headlined: What I Didn't Find in Africa--and making clear his belief that the president deliberately manipulated intelligence in order to justify an invasion.

Well, one can imagine the fury in the White House. Five days after the appearance of The Times Op-Ed, we now know from the e-mail traffic of Time correspondent Matt Cooper, he advised his bureau chief of a supersecret conversation with Karl Rove, who alerted him to the fact that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and may have recommended him for the Niger assignment. Three days later Bob Novak's column appeared, giving the name of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, and the fact that she was an undercover officer in the CIA. Novak has yet to say, at least in public, whether Rove was his source.

But enough is known to surmise that the leaks of Rove and others deputized by him amounted to an angry act of retaliation against someone who had the temerity to challenge the president of the United States when he was striving to find some plausible reason for invading Iraq. The role of Rove and associates added up to a small incident in a very large scandal: the effort to delude America into thinking it faced a threat dire enough to justify a war. This is Daniel Schorr.

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