July 18: White House Adviser Mary Matalin Explains the Rationale Behind the State of the Union Address

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This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, July 18, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: The White House offered an hour and a half briefing on the president's State of the Union (search) address today, and the intelligence information about Iraqi weapons that went into it; even releasing eight pages of declassified intelligence.

To talk about the facts and the politics of that controversy, we're joined by Mary Matalin, a former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney (search) and a feisty Republican operative.

Feisty is a fair term, isn't it?

MARY MATALIN, WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Thanks. You're pretty sassy yourself.

ANGLE: You obviously take that as a compliment.

MATALIN: I do indeed. Thank you.

ANGLE: Now, the White House released this material today. Eight pages out of a 90-page National Intelligence Estimate that was prepared last October. There are thousands of other pages that back that up. But the White House released eight pages of that. Why do that and why do it now?

MATALIN: Well, because this extraordinary event has overtaken this town, where a sentence in the State of the Union speech is being used to undermine, crazily, the whole rationale for going to war. So, we wanted to show the intelligence that backed up the rational, the intelligence with overwhelming, unequivocal that Saddam was a threat.

So, the threat was only one reason to go and another big reason, which never gets talked about is reforming the region. Our safety and security is based on their freedom and reform. So, this is one thing we wanted to get out to try to stem what's become a feeding frenzy for the press. A silly one, but really fueling some Democratic attacks that are just the result of their being in a presidential primary.

ANGLE: Well we'll talk about that in a minute. But the key issue here is that Democrats are saying somehow the White House took information from the intelligence community and shaped it, stretched it, exaggerated it, did whatever to it to make it sound worse than it was in order to strengthen a case for the war.

And you're saying based on the document, you released this document, obviously in an attempt to show that this is what the intelligence community told us? Is that the idea?

MATALIN: The intelligence community being…this document being prepared by six different agencies. And as you said, backed up by thousands of documents and millions of fragments of information. This is a document that the Congress had access to the intelligence community had access to, as well as briefings. They had the same report last fall when they weren't in the heat of their presidential campaign.

ANGLE: So you mean members of Congress should not be surprised.

MATALIN: Well, if they are that means they didn't read what was prepared for their particular reading…for them to read. But we shouldn't, you know…what we wanted to make on…put on the records to stop this was the unequivocal, high confidence level that Saddam (search) was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program.

ANGLE: Well, in fact, let's look at…we have full screen here of one of the statements from the National Intelligence Estimate that says, "compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad's nuclear weapons program." That's what you're talking about.

MATALIN: Well, that…not only that. Enhancing the chemical weapons program, the biological weapons program, the missiles program; unequivocal, high confidence levels.

ANGLE: Now, there was not high confidence, though, in one thing. And that was the report about buying uranium in Africa. And the persistent question has been how did that reference get into the president's speech, since that was something the CIA (search) made clear they did not have much confidence in?

MATALIN: The CIA did not make clear that that particular reference was objected to. They cleared the speech. We've been through all of this, and the senior ranking administration officials spent, as you said, an hour and a half today walking through how that speech was put together. And for a rhetorical device, we put in there…instead of saying, we know that he has all of this that I've just referred to. We wanted to cite a public document, not a highly classified document, which the British had already made public.

Which by the way, the British still contend is so. And we're not necessarily saying it isn't so. And the history of Iraq, having obtained tons, 500 tons of yellow cake from Africa, suggests that this would be in line with what they would be doing. And the NIE says in here that they had been attempting to acquire what needs to be put into the nuclear device.

ANGLE: Now this controversy has been going on for about two weeks now. Most Republicans on the Hill suggest that the White House was a little slow to jump out in front of it. And even though there are serious questions that everyone raises about intelligence and what led up to the war, the White House has suggested there might be, surprise-surprise, a little politics here in the year before the presidential election. Why so?

MATALIN: Well, it's just stunning. In the face of this, which you don't have time to share the whole report or even all the key findings with your audience. In the face of this information, which the Democrats knew, you have to ask the question, what would they do with this information? And what they've done with that one sentence is called this president a complete phony, having trouble with the truth, they won't say he lied, but they said he deceived.

And on and on and on. And while offering not one single suggestion of what they would do with this information or what they would have done at the point in time when they had this information following 9-11.

ANGLE: OK. Mary Matalin, thank you. Got to go.

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