HARDBALL 7:00 PM EST
June 20, 2005 Monday
David Shuster, David Gregory
GUESTS: David Kay, James Woolsey, Michael Smith, Mike Allen, Terence Samuel, Barbara Boxer, George Allen
The Democrats have blocked a vote on John Bolton, the president`s embattled nominee to be U.S. ambassador. Might the president consider a recess appointment now? What is fact and what is fiction in terms of the so-called Downing Street memo?
DAVID GREGORY, GUEST HOST: Tonight, the Democrats have done it again. They have blocked a vote on John Bolton, the president`s embattled nominee to be U.S. ambassador. Might the president consider a recess appointment now?
And separating fact from fiction on the Downing Street memo. We are going to talk to the reporter who broke the story.
I`m David Gregory, live tonight from the White House. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Hi, everybody. I`m David Gregory, in for Chris Matthews tonight and reporting from the White House. We will get more on our special report on the Downing Street memo a little bit later on....
...When we come back, a HARDBALL special report, the Downing Street memo and the question, did the United States and Britain manipulate intelligence to effect regime change in Iraq? We`re going to talk to the British reporter who broke that story.
You`re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
GREGORY: Welcome to this HARDBALL special report, the Downing Street memo. I`m David Gregory, in for Chris Matthews tonight.
For two years, opponents of the Iraq war have been arguing the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to bolster its case for the invasion. Last month, a confidential British memo was leaked that cited weak intelligence and suggested officials there devised a plan to justify the war. To, some the Downing Street memo is a smoking gun. To others, it`s old news.
But what exactly is in the memo and what does it mean?
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster begins our coverage with this report.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It`s a memo based on a briefing given to British Prime Minister Tony Blair eight months before the invasion of Iraq. At the time, U.S. force says had already taken control in Afghanistan. CIA Director George Tenet and his British counterpart, Richard Dearlove, had just met in Washington. And President Bush was ratcheting up the rhetoric about Saddam Hussein.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America will not leave the safety of our people and the future of peace in the hands of a few evil and destructive men.
SHUSTER: The memo, labeled secret and strictly personal, U.K. eyes only, summarizes a meeting between Dearlove, as known as C, and Blair -- quote -- "C. reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime`s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."
Another part of the memo refer refers to the prospective offer by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw -- quote -- It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet not decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the U.N. weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force. " Last month, five days before Tony Blair`s election, the Downing Street memo was obtained by British reporter Michael Smith and the headlines were sensational. Critics of the war said the documents proved that Blair and President Bush were bent on an invasion of Iraq months before they appeared to be seeking solutions at the United Nations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
SHUSTER: Blair survived his reelection, but since then the memo has been picking up steam among anti-war activists in the United States. They are convinced the line intelligence facts are being fixed is a smoking gun that explains prewar claims like this.
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Now, our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent.
SHUSTER: The problem with the memo, however, is that it doesn`t offer any specifics or cite an admission from any U.S. decision-maker. Furthermore, the basic argument that the Bush administration was hell-bent on war with Iraq is one that has been made before.
Former Treasury Secretary Paul O`Neill wrote in his book, "The Price of Loyalty," that getting rid of Saddam was at the top of President Bush`s agenda in his very first Cabinet meeting. In the wake of 9/11, counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke wrote that President Bush pressured him to come up with evidence linking 9/11 to Iraq.
And Bob Woodward in his book "Plan of Attack" reported, the administration was focused on invading Iraq long before President Bush went to the United Nations.
(on camera): At the White House recently, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair denied that any facts about Iraq were fixed and the leaders pointed out that the allegation about a rush to war is undercut by the fact the U.S. went to the United Nations.
Still, the question is, does this mean Blair`s own intelligence chief got it wrong during that meeting on Downing Street or that the Bush administration was determined to go to war and simply used the U.N. as cover?
I`m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
GREGORY: Michael Smith broke the story of the highly confidential Downing Street memo for "The Sunday Times of London" just days before British Prime Minister Tony Blair was reelected. And he joins us now from London.
Michael Smith, welcome and thanks for being here.
MICHAEL SMITH, "SUNDAY TIMES OF LONDON": That`s all right.
GREGORY: Let me begin with new information that`s come out about the Downing Street memo and your notes, your own reporting on this. It`s come out that you destroyed some of your initial notes that supported the memo. Is that the case and why have you done that?
SMITH: We -- I haven`t destroyed any notes.
What happened was that, when I first received the first six batch -- sorry -- when I first received the batch of six documents back in September of last year, when I was working on "The Daily Telegraph," I was under very strict orders from the lawyers as to how I should handle that. I had to photocopy the documents, send the originals back to whoever had sent them to me. That meant that the photocopy paper that the actual documents were now on was our property at "The Daily Telegraph" and therefore couldn`t be taken away from us on that basis.
And then the lawyers, not me, the lawyers, insisted that a secretary typed up on a typewriter the actual text of the documents. And then, on the evening, as we went to press on the story, we actually shredded the photocopies of the documents. And the reason for that is that the source who had given them to us could have been identified by the particular copy of that document that they had by an elimination process. And we were anxious to protect the source.
GREGORY: But the bottom line is, the British government has never said the memo is not real or the content is wrong?
SMITH: No, they haven`t, no. And all the embarrassment it`s given them, they would rush immediately to say, this is rubbish, this is not a true document.
SMITH: And, indeed, everyone saw Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush at the White House press briefing, where Mr. Blair responded to that.
SMITH: And, you know, Mr. Blair didn`t say it`s false. He said that he didn`t agree with something that was said in here by the head of MI6. But he didn`t say the document didn`t exist. He said it was an old document and things had moved on after that document.
GREGORY: Michael, let me get to the heart of it, because this is a great opportunity to actually speak to you. And you know about the debate about the memo`s significance, other memos, in terms of what we are actually learning. What the Downing Street memo prove?
SMITH: The Downing Street memo shows that the British government -- that the key players within the British War Cabinet -- and you have to think of those people that were attending that meeting as the equivalent of the National Security Council.
So, you have got -- you have got people -- you have got the equivalent, Blair obviously being equivalent of President Bush. You also have the British equivalent of Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Myers. All those people are there. And they`re all making decisions and they`re all saying, well, this is what`s going on. And they are all expressing concern over the situation in America, A, that is pretty much certain we are going go to war.
They seem determined to go to war. The head of MI6, who has just returned from Washington, where he`s, of course, had talks with George Tenet, the CIA director, says that the intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.
GREGORY: And if I could just interrupt there, because that`s the key point.
GREGORY: Is it your central contention that what we learn from this memo is that the decision was made to go to war and then they would figure out how to sell it to allies and to the American people, to the British people, after that?
SMITH: Yes, and not just how to sell it to the British and American people, but also, of course, how to make it legal, because, for the British, it was very important that it became legal.
And you see a bit of discussion there about how we make it legal. And Jack Straw talks about getting a U.N. ultimatum, not as both Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair have repeatedly said, and indeed said back in their meeting the other day in the press briefing in Washington, in order to try avert war, but actually to try to get an excuse for war.
SMITH: A legal justification for going to war.
GREGORY: But if the memo appears to expose a rush to war, both Prime Minister Blair and President Bush, when they met here in Washington recently, have said, look, after this memo comes out, we initiate this diplomatic process in the United Nations. So, it`s quite the contrary.
We may have had views about how things were going. We may have had views about the fact that Saddam Hussein was flouting the will of the world for 12 years and all those Security Council resolutions, but we decided still to go back to the United Nations after this memo. Is that a rush to war?
SMITH: Yes, it is, because -- well, it`s not a rush in the sense that they are taking their time to get there, but they`re taking more time than the American government wants to take.
They are taking more time than Dick Cheney wants to take. They are taking more time than Mr. Bush wants to take. But they are taking that time, as I said. And it`s not just the Downing Street memo. You have to read the briefing paper that is also up on "The Sunday Times" Web site, the briefing paper, "Iraq: Conditions For Military Action," which is produced two days before that meeting by the Cabinet office, by the British Cabinet office, in order to brief those ministers, in order to brief the people at that meeting.
That is talking entirely about trying to get a U.N. ultimatum in order to justify, in order give the military justification. Now, what that -- that paper is very -- is actually more crucial, if I can say so, than the Downing Street memo, because what it actually says it this.
First of all, it says very clearly and in these terms, not -- is not me making this up. It`s what it actually says is the document, is that the prime minister agreed, when he went to the Crawford summit in April 2002, he agreed to back military action to achieve regime change. Now, that, actually, at that stage, was something illegal for the British prime minister to agree.
But, by extension, of course, if Mr. Blair agreed it, he`s agreeing it with Mr. Bush. It then says in that document it is necessary to create the conditions to make military action legal, because regime change per se is illegal under international law.
GREGORY: All right, Michael Smith, we have to leave it there. Thank you very much for coming on the program.
When our HARDBALL special report returns, former weapons inspector David Kay and former CIA Director James Woolsey will join us.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
GREGORY: Coming up, former CIA Director James Woolsey, plus former Iraq weapons inspector David Kay.
HARDBALL`s special report, the Downing Street memo, returns right after this.
GREGORY: Welcome back to this HARDBALL special report, the Downing Street memo.
David Kay led the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq for the CIA. And James Woolsey served as director of the CIA from 1993 to 1995. He is now vice president of Booz Allen & Hamilton consulting firm.
Welcome to both of you.
JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Thank you.
GREGORY: David, let me start with you.
The Downing Street memo. You were involved in all of this in terms of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, ultimately the case that was made in terms of intelligence and Saddam Hussein. Does the memo ring true to you?
DAVID KAY, FORMER CHIEF U.S. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, it rings true in the sense that, by June of 2002, everyone who had any ear in Washington realized military options was coming to the fore.
The one thing that is not clear as to what the memo means, and that is the Senate, but the intelligence and the facts were being fit to the policy.
GREGORY: Were being fixed to the policy.
KAY: Fixed to the policy, that`s right, fixed.
Now, in the normal American sense of the word, to me, that`s books are cooked. Certainly, if you are using, as the director of CIA did, basketball analogies, slam dunk, fixing the game is cooking the books.
KAY: Now, it is possible. There is another English meaning for that, so it`s unclear as to what it does mean.
GREGORY: You thought there were weapons of mass destruction when you began the Iraq Survey Group?
KAY: I thought the weapons -- there were weapons. The intelligence product indicated that there were weapons.
GREGORY: James Woolsey, is not the issue here, when we talk about fixing the intelligence to meet the policy, that the case, as the memo asserts, was thin on Saddam Hussein and whether he possessed chemical, biological, even nuclear weapons?
WOOLSEY: I think that`s not what fixing means in these circumstances. I think people are not listening to British usage. I don`t think they`re talking about cooking the books.
I do think that there seemed a lot of indications at the time that there were chemical and bacteriological, at least, agent in Iraq. And, indeed, one of the fascinating things in David`s report was that captured Iraqi generals after the war were each saying, you know, my unit didn`t have chemical weapons, but the unit to my right and unit to my left I know did.
We call that red-on-red cover and description. Saddam apparently was deceiving some of his own generals. So, you know, I think people ought to back off a bit on this notion that we knew exactly what the situation was and the books were being cooked. I don`t think there is really any basis for that kind of allegation.
GREGORY: But, David, is there a basis for some skepticism about how strong the case was at that point in time and, as the case is made in the memo, look, we know a lot more about Libya or North Korea`s WMD program than we do Saddam Hussein`s.
And yet, we were proceeding on a track at that point, in July 2002, where we were building up forces there. Prime Minister Blair and President Bush were meeting in Crawford to discuss the inevitable war that could result, having dealt with Saddam for a number of years.
KAY: Well, David, what comes through in the memo is, the British were extremely skeptical and worried about the decision to go to war. And they viewed the case as thin, although you have to say, the one thing that comes through in that is -- and Jack Straw made the point very well -- after 9/11, what has changed is not the scope of Iraq`s threat, but the willingness and skepticism of the international regime, particularly the American and the British one, to tolerate someone like Saddam Hussein with the possibility of having weapons of mass destruction.
So, it was the change of 9/11.
GREGORY: So, there`s a lower threshold. There`s a lower burden of proof that was operating at that time after 9/11.
WOOLSEY: I don`t think it was a lower burden.
I think the one thing that is really badly wrong in the British memo is the idea that it would be difficult to go to war based on U.N. security resolution 1205 of three years previously. Saddam had -- at that point, had violated that either 15 or 16 times. And Security Council resolutions are not like tomatoes. If you leave them out, they don`t go rotten.
WOOLSEY: I mean, there was no obligation, I think, than for us to do anything other really than enforce the Security Council resolution that he had violated time and time and time again. So, I disagree with the British attorney general`s statement, as quoted in that report, that there -- would have been difficult to go to war on the basis of the previous resolution. I don`t just think that is true at all.
GREGORY: Prime Minister Blair and President Bush made the point that, for those who thought that they had made a decision to go to war at that point in time, they still did pursue a diplomatic track later on.
But as it relates to the intelligence at the time, David Kay, why didn`t George Tenet stand up and say, you know what, Mr. President; there are some reservations out here; your own State Department has reservations about how quickly Saddam could get a nuclear weapon; maybe we ought to slow down a little bit here?
KAY: Well, I think you need to ask George Tenet that.
The one thing that comes through in the two commissions, both the Robb-Silberman, one of the -- most recently, and the 9/11 Commission, is that the quality of the intelligence analysis, when you look back on it, was pretty bad, was all wrong, as the Robb-Silberman commission refers to it.
And, certainly, one would have thought the managers of the intelligence community would have realized that and would have spoken up, instead of saying, it`s a slam dunk, Mr. President, when the president himself expressed skepticism about the evidence.
We are going to come back and pick up on this point and the larger point about the memo, which is, was a decision made to take out Saddam long before the case was made to bring him out?
We are going to continue with David Kay and James Woolsey right after this.
And don`t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
GREGORY: We are back on HARDBALL talking about the Downing Street memo and the war in Iraq. I am joined by David Kay and James Woolsey to talk about this.
David, you made the point as we`ve been talking about this that what you do learn in the Downing Street memo is that the Brits were saying, the British government was saying, hey, wait a minute. We are concerned about aspects of this policy. The case may be a little bit thin and we are certainly concerned about the consequences of going to war.
KAY: That`s right.
If you look at the memos in toto, most of their skepticism was actually with regard to what happens after the victory. They had a great deal of prescience compared to most American policy-makers now of realizing that winning a war, winning a victory against the Iraqi military was not the real question. It was how you restructured a regime once you had replaced a regime and got something going in Iraq.
GREGORY: James Woolsey, isn`t this significant as a point of reflection here on how the war was organized and the postwar period was planned?
WOOLSEY: Well, I think David`s right. The Brits do express concern about the fact that, in Washington, there doesn`t seem to be a lot of thinking going on about postwar. And that has turned out to be the big problem.
But the main thrust of this memo is the rationale for the war.
WOOLSEY: And what it`s about, really, it`s at the time when the Brits were insisting that we go back and try to get the inspectors in. And for Saddam to refuse the inspectors or hinder them in some way would be the new casus belli. The Americans were persuaded of that by the British. They needed the British badly. That is what this is all about.
But, in legal terms, I don`t think that the Americans were wrong.
GREGORY: Isn`t the bigger point here about this memo the -- what comes across is that the Bush administration made a decision to take Saddam out as early as 2002, maybe when they first got into office and, as time wore on, particularly after 9/11, they said, now let`s talk about how we can make a case to do this, and the rationale being -- and held by Vice President Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and others, to say, we need to change the dynamic in the region, and this is a war we can win; this is a guy we can take out? Yes?
KAY: I don`t think that`s what it says.
Really, the memo is quite frank in saying, if 9/11 hadn`t occurred, Iraq would not have been a central issue. And I think what the memo is really saying is, 9/11 changed the dynamics, our ability and willingness to take risk in the world. And Saddam was right up front.
WOOLSEY: And look at the timing.
At the time the memo was written, the Americans were planning to go to war in the middle of the winter. Certainly, they are going to be making a decision effectively based on the past violations of the Security Council resolution by the summer. What the Brits persuaded them do was to slip it and delay and go back to the U.N. one more time. So, it delayed until the spring.
But, if you are planning on going to war in the middle of the winter, you are certainly going to have to be making a decision around summertime. You can`t go to war in a matter of a few weeks.
GREGORY: David Kay, do you think there more revelations to come?
KAY: Well, there may be, although I think, in fact, this is really a tempest in a teapot, by and large.
What`s important in Iraq is what`s happening on the ground today, is the failure to establish security, the failure to establish an orderly government that`s inclusive, growing corruption in the region, and an injection of terrorism into the heart of the region, which may exist with a weak government if we in fact withdraw by next year.
GREGORY: And now you have got the vice president saying that the insurgency may be in its last throes. Is that an example of the problem that British officials were raising in the Downing Street memo, which is that Washington is not thinking enough about the postwar period?
WOOLSEY: He may be right, but it`s probably a bit better to understate what your situation is, how good it is, and then continually achieve a bit better.
I think that the situation in the Mideast would have been considerably worse if we had left Saddam in power. Thousands, tens of thousands of people would have been murdered. The rape rooms would have continued. Saddam`s influence over the rest of the region would have continued. And when people compare the situation we have now to something else, they don`t get it -- to compare it to an ideal situation in which Saddam became a philosopher king.
KAY: That never would have occurred.
GREGORY: Thirty seconds left.
David Kay, does this experience and does this memo make it harder, with even that lower threshold, to do something similar in the future for a future American president?
KAY: I hope not.
I think -- in fact, every fact has got to -- every situation has got to be judged on American security and what is best in terms of our national security. What may make it much worse is the difficulty of achieving stability and security in Iraq.
GREGORY: David Kay, James Woolsey, thanks very much.
Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now, it`s time for "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN."
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