Democrats Demand Answers on Incorrect Iraq Intelligence

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This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, July 11, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The Democrats are using the uranium claim as ammo in an all-out attack on the president. Joining me now from D.C. is the man behind an Internet ad [critical of the president], DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe (search). And, Terry, that is big question — do you really think this issue is going to work for the Democrats?

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: This isn't an issue about working for Democrats. This is an issue we want answers to, John. Either the president of the United States deliberately lied in his State of the Union speech, or our intelligence agencies are inept. We found out that the State Department knew that these allegations were false. We knew the CIA knew they were false. They had sent a memo to the White House saying they were false. And the president used them...

GIBSON: But the CIA okayed the speech. So, are you calling for the resignation of the CIA director appointed by Bill Clinton?

MCAULIFFE: Well, that's another issue we need to address. First off, Condi Rice said a month ago that they had not [had the State of the Union] cleared with the Central Intelligence Agency. Now she's coming out saying that they had gone over the speech with the Central Intelligence Agency. The president of the United States, John, should be outraged. He calls himself a commander in chief like a CEO running a business. George Bush was made to look like a fool in front of the entire world by going out with incorrect information. He needs to demand an investigation. He ought to find out immediately how this go into his speech and heads should roll for it.

GIBSON: Let's get to where this goes, Terry.


GIBSON: This, ultimately goes to the question of the war. This is the argument the French and the anti-war British have been making for sometime. Now is it the DNC (search) position that the war should not have been fought and Saddam Hussein should be in office?

MCAULIFFE: No, absolutely not. This is a much broader issue, John, were the president of the United States [gives incorrect information] in his State of the Union speech, which is the most vetted speech anyone gives. It goes around and around to many people. Why was there incorrect information in that speech? That is the fundamental issue. We do have nuclear issues with North Korea. We have now serious nuclear issues with Iran. Now, when the president makes statements about those countries as it relates to their nuclear activities, people are going to wonder, is the president telling the truth? It goes to the fundamental issue. We are the main superpower in the world and are we giving out correct information? That's broader than the issue of Iraq.

GIBSON: The complaints about this particular issue are coming from the anti-war Brits. Does the DNC say this was a correct war to fight?

MCAULIFFE: John, this is not coming from the anti-war threat. This is coming from Americans. Now, you know we're going to have hearings. This is bipartisan. This is not a Democratic issue. Republicans have also called for an investigation into how this could have gotten into the president's speech. So this is an issue about the credibility of the United States of America. This is the credibility of the president of the United states, who unfortunately had to give a speech that had incorrect information to the world to justify why we were going to use troops in Iraq.

GIBSON: But Terry ...

MCAULIFFE: That's the much broader issue. It's the credibility of our president. How did it get into the speech? Why hasn't the president demanded answers for it?

GIBSON: You may not have to go as far as some of your Democratic colleagues. But Ed Markey up in Massachusetts is going farther. He wrote a letter to the president saying, "Well, this was not only a mistake that you admitted, Mr. President, but you made other claims about Saddam Hussein and now we want to know if those are true.” You've got Howard Dean calling for resignations, one assumes, including the president. John Kerry attacking the president on these same issues. How is this going to work for Democrats when overall the American people seem to think the war was a good idea, in spite of all of the pain we suffered for it?

MCAULIFFE: Many Americans today think the war was a very good idea. But they also do not think it's a very good idea that the president of the United States went out with incorrect information, targeted Niger with incorrect information that uranium was being purchased. It goes to the credibility of the president. And what we just find absolutely amazing, John, is that this president doesn't seem to care. He is not asking for investigations. Let me tell you, when Bill Clinton gave a State of the Union speech, he knew every line in that speech. It had been vetted many times.

Now we know that the president generally doesn't review a lot of his speeches before he gives them. He gets up and reads them off of the teleprompter, and that's fine. This is a much broader issue. This goes to the credibility of the United States of America.

GIBSON: Agreed — but the credibility of the United States didn't rest on one assertion in that State of the Union speech. There were many others which I believe the president's predecessor had also endorsed in 1998 when he made apocalyptic statements about what Iraq was capable of. The U.N. certainly did. So why obsess on this point when all it seems to do is undermine the effort that was otherwise standing on firm legs?

MCAULIFFE: The reason is, John, is that this White House continually does not tell the truth. On this specific issue, Condi Rice has come out and made inconsistent statements. Dan Bartlett has come out and made inconsistent statements. First they say, as you know, that no one had said that they should not use the sentence. There were no dealings with the Central Intelligence Agency. Now, Condi Rice comes out and says, “I'm sorry, yes, indeed, it was revealed today in the newspapers and on the news last night that they had conversations with the CIA specifically about this sentence.” So they're not telling the truth. There are inconsistencies here. They create their own issues. It's the same issue like on the aircraft carrier.

GIBSON: You are in charge of the DNC.

MCAULIFFE: Yes, sir.

GIBSON: And you've got candidates. Are you worried that your candidates are headed down the road to be George McGovern?

MCAULIFFE: Our candidates are headed down the road. We're going to have a nominee by March 10. But, John, listen, we're going to win the White House back. This is not what we're talking about today. George Bush has been a disaster on the economic policies of this country. You've seen as it relates to the issue of foreign policy, George Bush's numbers have dropped. People are beginning to ask a lot of questions, and legitimate questions. Where is Saddam Hussein? Where is Usama bin Laden? Where are the weapons of mass destruction? All legitimate questions and you should not have your patriotism questioned because you're asking these questions. Where are the answers to these questions?

GIBSON: Terry McAuliffe, we hope that those questions are answered.

MCAULIFFE: You bet, we all do, as Americans, we do, John.

GIBSON: I thank you for coming on. I'll talk to you later.

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