The following is a transcribed excerpt from Fox News Sunday, July 20, 2003.
TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: Will public release of once-classified material cool the heated debate in Washington over whether White House officials manipulated evidence to help build the case for war in Iraq?
For more, we turn to the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia.
Senator Rockefeller, I want to open my interview the same way I did last week with Condoleezza Rice, which is, isn't the statement the president made in the State of the Union address, that British intelligence believed that Saddam had been getting uranium from someplace in Africa, isn't that statement true? It was true then, and it's true today?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D-W.VA.): I think generally the evidence is that it was not true. There was a skepticism even before the State of the Union about that possibility. And there's been so much evidence since the State of the Union to say that it really should not have been in there.
SNOW: All right. Let me just show you a quote. The other day, Tony Blair, at a press conference in Washington, asked specifically about his country's intelligence, and here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF THE U.K.: The British intelligence that we have we believe is genuine. We stand by that intelligence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: So again, the president, citing the British. The British still stand by the intelligence. Are the British wrong?
ROCKEFELLER: The British also got a lot of their intelligence from another country. You could say it was Italy, you could say it was France, whatever you want. But I think there had been something of an agreement between those two countries that they were not to deviate from the third country's intelligence.
I mean, it's a -- you can piddle over the fact. I just think there's been so much evidence: the Cincinnati speech, George Tenet directly intervening to say that this should not be in the Cincinnati speech in October, way before the State of the Union.
SNOW: Well, but you look at the National Intelligence Estimate, also published in October by the Central Intelligence Agency, and it said that there was a possibility that Saddam had been trying to obtain uranium from any one of three African nations. It was in the intelligence estimate.
ROCKEFELLER: That's right, with a resounding dissent, which you just used earlier, "very dubious," "highly dubious" on the part of the State Department.
And those things -- you know, it's interesting, those things, the National Intelligence Estimate, they're not that long. I'm not saying that the president or that Condoleezza Rice should have read every word of it. But Condoleezza Rice has intelligence people, she has Iraqi people, she has Iran people, you know, Africa people. I mean, she should have known precisely what was in there, including the caveats.
SNOW: Well, the caveat was one sentence by the State Department. They didn't blow any whistles. They were stuck in a footnote in the back. It was not something at which the INR, as they call it at the State Department, the intelligence arm there, they didn't blow a whistle very loudly about it either.
ROCKEFELLER: No, but on the other hand, George Tenet did when it came to Cincinnati. He said, "Don't put it in, it's wrong." Colin Powell would, you know, put it on the cutting floor of the State Department when he was preparing for his Security Council speech.
SNOW: You received the National Intelligence Estimate back in October, correct?
SNOW: So you'd read it. When the State of the Union address came out, why didn't you say, "Wait a minute, they can't say this. Haven't they read the sentence here by the State Department?"
ROCKEFELLER: I didn't -- I was skeptical about that part of it, as I was skeptical about the Al Qaida-Iraq connection.
But I thought the compelling part, which was in no way nuanced, in no way, you know, massaged at all was the chemical weapons and the biological weapons. And that was the heavy part.
I think people have come to agree that the Niger thing is partly a matter of facts, but it was not the most compelling aspect of what the president told us.
SNOW: All right, in your view, in hindsight, was the war justified?
ROCKEFELLER: Hard to say. I hope we find weapons of mass destruction. There was no question it's better that he's out, although he's not. He's still alive and he controls that country, I think, more than Jerry Bremer was saying. Not through popularity, but through fear of retribution.
I mean, I just came back from the place and people won't talk to you. If you have a room of Americans and there is just one Iraqi, you say something about Saddam Hussein, he just absolutely -- nobody talks. So he's a big factor there.
ROCKEFELLER: Was it justified? I think that's hard to say at this point.
SNOW: It's hard to say, but you voted...
ROCKEFELLER: I voted for the resolution. I voted to give the president the authority, but more importantly to engage him in the United Nations process.
SNOW: All right. So I want to get this straight. At this point, the administration argument is, "Well, wait a minute, we got 300,000 mass graves, surely that is good enough." There was also a long history of Saddam Hussein developing weapons of mass destruction.
Can you come up with a case that would explain why Saddam Hussein would not have had weapons of mass destruction, and that he would have destroyed weapons of mass destruction and still held the U.N. at bay as he did?
ROCKEFELLER: It's hard -- it's easier for me to do it now. It was very hard for me to do it at the time of the president's speech, because, as I say, he was unequivocal, there was no nuancing, it was just a direct statement, he has weapons of mass destruction, particularly the chemical and biological, and that those -- if he was not going to use those directly on us, which it turned out he did not, or if they were intended mostly for Iranians, through past history and present fears, that still he could have passed it off to terrorists or other groups with whom he had connections.
SNOW: You mentioned you were just over there. David Kay, former weapons inspector, is now leading a search team there, and apparently he's been making representations that he's sitting on a treasure trove. He's mentioned this to Tom Brokaw. He's also mentioned it, I believe, to you.
Do you believe that there's still the evidence there of weapons of mass destruction, and that ultimately that case will be made in a way that we can all understand and support?
ROCKEFELLER: I hope so, Tony, but I've got to get technical. He made -- the case he made to us was really more of, there are programs of the making of weapons of mass destruction.
Now, the State of the Union was more about, they have them. It was like missiles, canisters, ready to fire, 45 minutes they'll be in Great Britain, that's all it takes.
If you have programs, little bits and pieces, that does not necessarily make an imminent threat.
SNOW: All right. So you've got programs. Do you believe the president or anybody in this administration were deliberately trying to mislead you and the American people?
ROCKEFELLER: I hope not. And I think that's -- but I think it is important to say, rather than say, was he trying to mislead, or trying to personalize it or politicize it, it's very important to intelligence to say that facts really do matter, they count, they have to be accurate. Intelligence is the basis now of war-fighting.
SNOW: But is it not speculative? When Bill Clinton bombed an aspirin factory in the Sudan, I don't remember his coming forward with any evidence. Did he ever provide evidence then?
ROCKEFELLER: No, but, you see, that's the point I just made. I'm not trying to say that the president has to do mea culpa. I am saying that he should take some responsibility. I don't care how he takes it. Maybe it's through Condoleezza Rice, maybe it's through somebody else...
SNOW: In other words, by firing somebody?
ROCKEFELLER: I don't think it has to come to that.
You know, the American people trust their leadership, but not -- you know, they want to be told the truth, and they need to be told the truth. And intelligence in warfare and what we're going through now with terrorism, after 9/11, they really have to be told the truth.
SNOW: Do you think that some of your Democratic colleagues are trying to exploit this for political means? You just talked about politics. Do you think some of your colleagues are guilty of it too?
ROCKEFELLER: I listened to Speaker Hastert, and, you know, I think it's important to stay away from that, Tony. I think one of the most important things about all of this is that it's not a matter of politics.
On the Intelligence Committee, there's a lot of bipartisanship. It really -- it resounds, especially recently. And it's just a question of, was it right, or was it wrong?
SNOW: All right. North Koreans, how big a threat?
ROCKEFELLER: I think the North Koreans are a huge threat, and I've said that all along, even after the president's State of the Union speech. I think they're the biggest threat going. They have certainly one now, we've discovered maybe they have two. They're ready to use them. They have nothing to lose.
I think we have to do the multilateral talking. But I know Asians very well. I've spent a lot of time in Asia. I lived there, went to school there. And it's -- they like to be talked to one on one. The, you know, direct-talk aspects...
SNOW: So you would like to see direct U.S.-North Korean talks...
ROCKEFELLER: But to be within a context of the multilateral, so you could have the Japanese, the Chinese, the South Koreans, the North Koreans, the Americans, but then the Americans and the North Koreans could sort of go off on a little walk in the woods, so to speak. That's happened before, and I think with the North Koreans they want that.
Remember in April, when Secretary Kelly went over there, they said, yes, we've got these things, we've got plutonium, but we want to negotiate so that we don't have to do it.
SNOW: All right. Senator Jay Rockefeller, thanks for joining us.