Many readers have e-mailed me asking about transcripts from the press briefings held in Africa during the month of July 2003 that seem to be missing from the White House web site.
I recall that in March of 2004 Patrick Fitzgerald subpoenaed the telephone logs from Air Force One for calls placed during that trip to Africa as well as a transcript of the July 12, 2003, gaggle which at the time was missing from the White House web site (it has since been restored).
I’ve poked around a bit myself and found the transcript to a July 10, 2003, press briefing that took place in Pretoria, South Africa, and featured Colin Powell and an unnamed “senior administration official”. I found this transcript in the “News” section of the White House web site rather than the “Press Briefing” section where you would expect to find it.
Powell’s July 10 briefing is not earth-shaking, but it did touch on Traitorgate.
Q Mr. Secretary, regarding that erroneous report last January that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium in Niger, does the administration owe Americans and, in fact, the world an apology for making that statement? And should the administration beat Congress to the punch by making a detailed investigation and a detailed explanation of how something so important and so wrong got into a presidential address?
SECRETARY POWELL: I think this is very overwrought and overblown and overdrawn. Intelligence reports flow in from all over. Sometimes they are results of your own intelligence agencies at work. Sometimes you get information from very capable foreign intelligence services. And you get the information, you analyze it. Sometimes it holds up, sometimes it does not hold up. It’s a moving train. And you keep trying to establish what is right and what is wrong. Very often it never comes out quite that clean, but you have to make judgments.
And at the time of the President’s State of the Union address, a judgment was made that that was an appropriate statement for the President to make. There was no effort or attempt on the part of the President, or anyone else in the administration, to mislead or to deceive the American people. The President was presenting what seemed to be a reasonable statement at that time — and it didn’t talk to Niger, it talked specifically about efforts to acquire uranium from nations that had it in Africa.
Subsequently, when we looked at it more thoroughly and when I think it’s, oh, a week or two later, when I made my presentation to the United Nations and we really went through every single thing we knew about all of the various issues with respect to weapons of mass destruction, we did not believe that it was appropriate to use that example anymore. It was not standing the test of time. And so I didn’t use it, and we haven’t used it since.
But to think that somehow we went out of our way to insert this single sentence into the State of the Union address for the purpose of deceiving and misleading the American people is an overdrawn, overblown, overwrought conclusion.