July 17: Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., discusses the investigation of the 16 words in the State of the Union address

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This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, July 17, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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TONY SNOW, GUEST HOST:Joining us now, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., he is the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (search).

Senator Roberts, I want you to help us walk through this controversy about the 16 words in the State of the Union address (search).

SEN. PAT ROBERTS, R-Kan.: I will try.

SNOW: You've been pretty outspoken. You said it shouldn't have been there. But last week on FOX News Sunday, and today, to a certain extent, I had Condi Rice (search) saying well, it was true then, it is true now, British intelligence has reported. Tony Blair (search) still says it's true.

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

SNOW: Is it still conceivable to you that that statement could, in fact, emerge as eventually be vindicated in sum and substance?

ROBERTS: Could. But we're not done with it. We don't know the sources that the British have. We've asked. There's a third and possibly a fourth country that it comes from or was shared. And for the Brits to tell us, they have to get the clearings from the other countries, and/or country. So, it could very well be that you could have that information become public.

And I'm not saying there would be a bill of sales, somebody would wave around and said indeed Niger absolutely furnished Iraq with you know, with uranium. But that could happen. I don't think that's probable, but it's possible.

SNOW: What do you make of administration's argument that to their…the best of their knowledge, it was true, but not worthy of inclusion in the State of the Union address? What does that mean?

ROBERTS: I think it means that factually you could say it's correct, but the inference of it is troubling. Since we informed the British in their unpublished report that we thought it was not credible and that the CIA advice and the National Intelligence Estimate, although it went both ways and that's why I said it was, to some degree, sloppy work. It is not up to the performance level we normally see out of the CIA and that's one of the big problems.

But what you had is a statement that was factually correct, but there was an inference there that could just as well been left out. Didn't need it. There were six other things listed in the speech as to why we were taking military action. And those 16 worlds were sort of superfluous and led to an inference now that's called a so-called "firestorm" that everybody's talking about.

SNOW: All right. Let's talk about your meetings recently with David Kay, who's leading the search team over there.


SNOW: You have characterized evidence presented to you as being the sort of thing that if people saw it, and I want to see if you can correct me on this if I'm wrong. If they saw it or heard it, they'd say absolute proof of weapons of mass destruction. Is it that strongly and clear the case he makes?

ROBERTS: I hope I didn't say absolute proof.

SNOW: Yes.

ROBERTS: But at any rate, you're not Tim Russert, are you? You're not going to show that up on a screen where I said that?

SNOW: No. I figure I'll just let you speak for yourself.

ROBERTS: OK. Thank you.

Basically, what I tried to intimate was that this business of inspecting sites that have been looted is getting us nowhere and we've known that for some time. And if you have people information, people who come to you that can tell you where the WMD was or what the plans were; and just as important, if not more so, document exploitation.

We have reams of material that we're going through that will show that he had a weapons of mass destruction program. Maybe you're not going to find the…what, the missile, or you know, the weapon. But you will find that he had a weapons of mass destruction program and he could reconstitute it very quickly. And that as soon as Dr. Kay has this information, and also General Daden, I think that's going to be very helpful on this whole issue.

SNOW: Is it your sense that Saddam, far from having the ability to deploy chemical and biological weapons immediately, was instead sort of waiting around for U.N. weapons inspectors to leave, so as you put it, he could reconstitute the programs?

ROBERTS: Yes, I think that's the case. I think that is a very likely scenario. And we're going to have Dr. David Kay and we're going to have General Daden on the 31 of this month before the Intelligence Committee to give an updated report on the Iraq survey group. There is 1400 of them there. They're very expert in terms of their expertise and I'm not predicting any breakthrough.

I just think that a very plausible argument can be made if we get to the come document exploitation and really expedite that, then I think the American people can understand that.

SNOW: So in case there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein, but there was a pattern. It was clearly somebody who was going to pursue weapons of mass destruction at some point in the future?

ROBERTS: Well, he did before. It took us six months after the first Gulf War and on a tip, for us to say all of a sudden, we realized that he had his nuclear capability. And it was within one or two years of being completed. We thought it was, what, 8 to 10 years. All of a sudden, we got a tip. We discovered it. And we said, whoa, this is something we really have to consider with our national security. I think something like that may well be the case when Dr. Kay does finish his work and also General Daden.

SNOW: What do you make of all the debate about this presidential speech? It appears that you guys had a fairly contentious hearing yesterday.

ROBERTS: Well, we had the director, we had George Tenet for five hours and that's a long time. That's a long time for anybody to testify. And George…pardon me, Director Tenet was very contrite, he was very forthright and he took full responsibility.

Now we are going to have to go on with this and we are going to conduct a very thorough…we meaning Senator Rockefeller and myself, it is a bipartisan effort. We have 10 full staffers working overtime. Just had another meeting today and we'll take this where it leads us.

We're going to have the inspector general up next week giving us a preliminary report on his investigation of this. We have the House investigation. We have what I call an inquiry. We have the president's Foreign Policy Advisory Board looking into it and Senator Levin has his own investigation in the Armed Services Committee.

Now, that's 4 or 5. I don't think we need No. 6. We will go where this takes us and we'll let the chips fall where they may.

SNOW: Is it conceivable to you…the White House has a very general characterization in the 16 words. Didn't mention Niger, didn't mention yellow cake, didn't mention any of that stuff. Just said trying to procure from an African country.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm.

SNOW: Is there any possibly that another African nation might have also been in the market either for selling or at least being approached by Iraq for the selling of uranium?

ROBERTS: Oh, I don't think there's any question about it. Most of these are very poor countries and some of them had this capability. Although there is the argument made that Iraq had enough uranium that they didn't…you know they didn't need it. But that sort of begs the question, because the IAEA, (search) the International Atomic Energy folks know about that…that uranium stockpile and so they have to maintain that you know for those inspectors.

SNOW: All right. Senator Roberts, thanks. We'll be back.

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