Cheney Lashes Out at Critics of Iraq Intelligence
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
The Bush administration is going on the offensive trying to counter a growing public perception that White House officials were not entirely honest about the reasons for going to war in Iraq. Last night, Vice President Dick Cheney told a conservative group in Washington what he thinks of those who question whether the White House manipulated prewar intelligence.
Vice President DICK CHENEY: That the president of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.
BRAND: President Bush, who's traveling in Asia, said today he supports Cheney's comments. Joining us to discuss the White House counterattacks is John Dickerson. He's chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate.
And, John, we're assuming this is a coordinated campaign by the White House, although I suppose it's possible that independently senior administration officials just happen to be saying the same thing at the same time.
JOHN DICKERSON (Slate): It is a coordinated campaign. They do nothing without coordination, and it's--particularly on this very important topic. The White House is pushing back in a very systematic way. They started with the national security adviser, then the president made remarks on Veterans Day along these lines and now Cheney is continuing the drumbeat. What's interesting is Cheney has been called into this role before as the heavy, and it used to be a role only he played, letting the president kind of be the fence-mender and try to be bipartisan. In this case, Cheney's batting at least third in the lineup here, and that gives us a sense of how broad the push-back is. But it also perhaps says something about Vice President Cheney, whose political fortunes are quite bad and who doesn't have the heft he once had in terms of public opinion.
BRAND: Now one of the talking points that they've been using is that Democrats who voted in favor of the war and are now expressing doubts had access to the same intelligence that the White House had. Is that true?
DICKERSON: It's not true, and what the White House is trying to do is say, `This is what the debate is really about,' and then choose the facts. And the facts they choose are ones that members of the House and Senate did have and that previous administrations had, but it's not the full set of facts. And the full set of facts including those facts that ran counter to the argument the White House was making--that full set of facts and caveats is not available to all the members of Congress.
BRAND: Something else that the president is saying. He said in his Veterans Day speech that critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs. Is that true?
DICKERSON: It is true in one sense. The Rob Silverman report did say there was no pressure from the White House to have the intelligence manipulated. Now what it does not--and specifically stayed away from is whether the White House, when they got the intelligence, were then selective about talking about it publicly or chose to interpret and embrace only the information that helped them make their existing case. The commission was silent on those questions.
BRAND: And finally today, a longtime hawk, former Vietnam War veteran who initially supported the war, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania--he's a Democrat, but today, he called for an immediate withdrawal of troops. How significant is that?
DICKERSON: It's mildly significant, but really in the political atmosphere we're in now, if you're a Democrat calling for an immediate troop withdrawal, it's not likely to move the White House. I think the real thing to look for is when there's a Republican who calls for the same thing.
BRAND: Opinion and analysis from John Dickerson. He's chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate. And you can find a `Who said what when' WMD time line at npr.org.