Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief of "The Los Angeles Times" joins in the questioning.
And I'll have a final word on spoilsports -- why I may pass on baseball's All-Star Game this year.
But first, Condoleezza Rice on Face The Nation.
ANNOUNCER: Face The Nation with CBS News Chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.
SCHIEFFER: And the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, is in the studio with us this morning. Joining in the questioning this morning is Doyle McManus of "The Los Angeles Times."
Well, Dr. Rice, you look fine after a very long trip. I think you got back here late last night...
DR. CONDOLEEZZA RICE, National Security Adviser: I did.
SCHIEFFER: ...after an 11-hour flight from Nigeria. Thank you very much for coming.
RICE: Thank you very much.
SCHIEFFER: Very serious questions this morning. As you know, how did this statement 'The British government says it has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,' a statement that turns out to be based on false, forged documents, how did that wind up in the president's State of the Union message?
The CIA director, George Tenet, said yesterday, of course, that he takes the blame for not removing it from the speech. The question I have for you this morning, who put it into the speech?
RICE: Well, let's start at the very beginning, as they say, and the president of the United States -- the notion that the president of the United States took the country to war because he was concerned with one sentence about whether Saddam Hussein sought uranium in Africa is purely ludicrous, and this has gotten to that proportion, that people are saying this statement is why the president took the nation to war.
The president took the nation to war to depose a bloody tyrant who had defied the world for 12 years, who was building a weapons of mass destruction program and had weapons of mass destruction, which he had used in the past, who was a threat to American interest in the Middle East and who, now that he is removed, is giving us an opportunity for a Middle East that might finally be at peace and that will not create an atmosphere in which you have ideologies of hatred spawning people who slam airplanes into the World Trade Center. So we do have to put this in perspective.
The president's State of the Union said something that was accurate. This is what the British government said in its reporting. The British, I might note, still stand by that statement. It was not based, they say, on a single source but on other sources. The statement about Saddam Hussein seeking uranium in Africa is also in the national intelligence estimate.
So it was not out of thin air that this statement came into the president's speech. We use a lot of data points. We give them to writers. They go to speeches, and then we rely on a clearance process.
Now the statements here were based on intelligence. The reason that we have said is that -- the reason that we've said is knowing what we know now, we would not have put it in the president's speech...
RICE: ...is because we don't believe that it rises to the quality of intelligence reporting that we use in presidential speeches. It's not that it's inaccurate. It's not that it's wrong. The British stand by it. We have no reason to believe that they are wrong about that. But we use the clearance process to ask the relevant agencies...
RICE: ...Bob, we asked them, will you stand by this statement? Do you have confidence in this statement? And that's the point which if any agency does not have confidence in a statement, the president is going to make, we don't have the president make that statement.
SCHIEFFER: I appreciate all of that, Dr. Rice. But you say the statement was -- we don't know that it was wrong. The intelligence agencies were saying that they did not have confidence in the statement. We now know, according to government officials, that Mr. Tenet actually went to people and got the statement saying that removed from a speech the president made in October. You're going to say it's different, that that was more specific.
RICE: Bob, it is different. It is different, and it's on a different basis.
SCHIEFFER: But you changed it from being more specific because you didn't...
RICE: It's -- it's...
SCHIEFFER: ...you couldn't...
RICE: It's different and it's on a different basis. And in fact the Cincinnati speech was based on a single report and a single incident. And George Tenet said, `I want that out.' It came out without question.
SCHIEFFER: But who wanted it in the speech? Why was...
RICE: The State of the Union...
SCHIEFFER: ...it so important to put this statement into the speech?
RICE: The State of the Union -- and, in fact, Bob, it's in a long list of other things that relate to Saddam Hussein's nuclear program and his efforts at reconstitution. It is one data point in a long story about acquisition programs, about illegal procurement programs, about keeping scientist networks together. It isn't, in fact, the key element of this argument, and, frankly, we would have been -- it would have been quite odd for us to put something in the president's speech that we knew to be faulty.
SCHIEFFER: But I still go back to the fact, if it was all that you say it is, why was it -- why were people in the government so insistent this was not something that slipped through the crack? This was something that was an object and a subject of serious debate within the administration, about whether or not it was true, and yet people kept insisting and it finally winds up...
RICE: Bob, it kept appearing in various intelligence documents like the National Intelligence Estimate. It appeared in the British statement, the British document, which is, in fact, what is cited in the president's speech. The British document was based not just on a set of documents that we later on in March and April learned to be forgeries, but on other documents that the British had and other sources that the British had. The National Intelligence Estimate didn't talk only about Niger, it talked about other African countries as well. And if you notice, the president's statement says 'in Africa.' It's not specific. It says he sought -- it didn't say he received or he acquired. It's that he sought. And it cites the British document.
My only point is that, in retrospect, knowing that some of the documents underneath may have been -- were, indeed, forgeries, and knowing that apparently there were concerns swirling around about this, had we known that at the time, we would not have put it in. Because we have a very high standard for the president's speeches. We don't put any intelligence -- just an intelligence fact in the president's speech, just an intelligence report in the president's speech. We put in the president's speech things that the agencies will stand up and say, 'We have high confidence in that.' That's what we use the clearance process for. And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of Central Intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.
DOYLE McMANUS, "The Los Angeles Times": Well, again...
McMANUS: ...on Bob's question on how this got into the speech, a number of officials at CIA, at the State Department and elsewhere, have said, you know, in that period of time the White House was making its case against Saddam Hussein. It was trying to make the toughest prosecution case it could. And folks who had dissenting voices or uncertainty about this intelligence just felt ground down and worn out and a little bit hesitant to bring their dissents up in the process. Is that part of the problem?
RICE: These are intelligence professionals. And the president and the vice president and I and others always made clear to intelligence professionals and especially to the DCI that there was to be nothing but what the intelligence agencies wanted to tell us. The last thing that we need or want is to have an intelligence agency that's telling you what you want to hear. That's not how this president operates.
And, in fact, if you look at the broad story here -- again, we are talking about one line, one data point. Yes, the director said yesterday it was a mistake to have that one data point in, given what we know. But we are talking about a broad case of nuclear reconstitution that was a key judgment of the National Intelligence Agency Estimate which was what the president relies on, that had lots of data and lots of data points about what Saddam Hussein was trying to do to acquire nuclear weapon, that out of history of a man who was very close to acquiring a nuclear weapon in 1991. So this didn't come out of the blue somehow.
McMANUS: Well, let me ask about the broader case. Because in the same period you were saying, for example, that you had information that Saddam Hussein's forces had weapons of mass destruction ready to disburse to their troops to meet the American forces.
Those weapons haven't turned up. You were saying and others were saying that you were quite confident of links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, and I think a lot of us expected after American forces got into Iraq, that they would begin finding the intelligence to support those contentions. And that was one of their missions. We haven't seen a lot of intelligence to back it up.
Why shouldn't the ordinary citizen look at this picture and say, 'Boy, they were leaning awfully hard in one direction and this nuclear issue does look a little bit like a possible pattern where the goods just aren't there'?
RICE: Doyle, if you go to the question of what we knew when we went to war, that is a separable question from what we will now find in a disciplined process that will require us to look at thousands and thousands of documents, interview many, many scientists and to put together a picture of how Saddam Hussein was concealing his programs; what became of the unaccounted-for nuclear weapons, about which the UN talked in several reports, the unaccounted-for weapons of mass destruction, about which they talked; the reconstitution programs. We will have to put together a full picture of what happened.
But if you go back to what was there at the time, you go back not to 2003, you go back to 1991. You go back to the fact that he had weapons of mass destruction when he was defeated in the Gulf War, that the inspectors found in 1994, '95 that he had a completely clandestine biological weapons program, which he only revealed after his brother-in-law defected.
We find that in 1998 and in 1999, UNSCOM, the UN agency, is saying there are large numbers of unaccounted-for weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical that he will not account for. We're talking about somebody who threw out inspectors in--in 1998. I mean, President Clinton went to war against him in 1998 because of his weapons of mass destruction.
McMANUS: And that is the record.
RICE: There's a very...
McMANUS: And that's...
RICE: ...very big record here.
SCHIEFFER: But nobody disputes that part of it. It's -- we're talking about...
RICE: Well, that's exactly the point.
SCHIEFFER: ...in the months before we went to war.
RICE: But in the...
SCHIEFFER: Everybody knows that he had weapons of mass destruction at one point.
RICE: And I don't think anybody would argue that, in the months before the war, he suddenly didn't have weapons of mass destruction that he had in 1998. It got better somehow between 1998 and 2003? As to the reports that we was dispersing to the field or the likes, yes, there were multiple reports from multiple sources, some of them sources very close, that he was restructuring his forces in a way that allowed chemical use at lower levels, that he had certain red lines that if they were crossed he might use chemical weapons, that he was dispersing equipment to his forces. And, indeed, we found 3,000 chemical suits and atropine injectors, which is an antidote to nerve agent. And the president and the secretary of Defense, of course, had to prepare our troops for that eventuality.
I've been the subject of some stories that say, 'Well, you know, you should have connected the dots that 19 men were going to drive airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th.' I can tell you, very few dots for that; thousands of dots about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and the threat that they posed going back over three administrations, the first Bush administration, the Clinton administration. Sources from the British, from the Australians, from other European services, and his own record of concealment and what the UN had found.
Had the president of the United States not drawn the conclusion that this man, given his history and his propensity to attack his neighbors and to be a problem in this volatile region was not a problem for the United States, he would not have been doing his duty. And I think we have to remember why we went to war in Iraq.
The president said to the American people after 9/11, 'We are going to have to fight the war on terrorism on the offense.' My colleague Tom Ridge and colleague John Gordon do everything they can, every day, to try and defend and hearten the United States. But we all know, and the president said on September 20, 2001, `We're going to have to take this battle to them.' And in removing Saddam Hussein, we have removed from this very volatile region a source of instability in a region that has got to change if it is not to remain a region that brings about ideologies of hatred, that cause people to slam...
SCHIEFFER: But, Dr. Rice, if we...
RICE: ...airplanes into American buildings.
SCHIEFFER: If we could kind of get back to the subject at hand, did the vice president's office review this speech? Did they agree with this statement?
RICE: Well, of course the vice president's office reviewed the speech. The vice president reviewed the speech.
SCHIEFFER: Wasn't it...
RICE: All of the principals reviewed the speech. That's the purpose of sending it to them.
SCHIEFFER: Did your staff insist that this be put into the speech? Is that how it got there?
RICE: Bob, there's no question of insistence. What happens is that a lot of data about Saddam Hussein and his massive programs and his efforts to acquire various kinds of weapons of mass destruction are compiled from a lot of sources: from the national intelligence estimate, from declassified sources, from unclassified sources, from the British White Paper. A text is created. That text is then sent out to everybody for review. And the question that is asked of the agencies is: Do you stand by, for the president, not the accuracy of this...
SCHIEFFER: But is there...
RICE: ...for somebody else, but for the president?
SCHIEFFER: Then is it all right for you to you say it but not for the president to say it?
RICE: Well, no.
SCHIEFFER: Are there two levels here?
RICE: No, for the president, though, we do have a very high standard which is that it is the most solid evidence, that people have confidence in it, and that what the president is telling the American people particularly...
RICE: ...the American people in the State of the Union is...
SCHIEFFER: I'm going to ask you...
RICE: ...absolutely solid. And I just want to say, Bob, 'cause there's been a lot of misreporting about this. We've never said that the British report was wrong. And I've seen many stories about how this was inaccurate or incorrect and we knew that. The British still stand by this report. They stand by it because they have sources that we did not have, and we would not put something in the president's speech that we couldn't look at all the sourcing.
SCHIEFFER: Do you...
RICE: That's why the agency says now that it should not have been in the speech.
SCHIEFFER: Do you still stand by what you said last month and that is that -- you said in June, I believe it was, on two television shows that the intelligence community did not know there were serious questions about this report?
RICE: Well, the intelligence...
SCHIEFFER: Is that still accurate?
RICE: About the British report?
SCHIEFFER: No, just that you said that there are intelligence agencies at that time didn't know.
RICE: What I knew at the time is that no one had told us that there were concerns about the British reporting. Apparently, there were. They were apparently communicated to the British. The British said, 'We have other sources,' and we now know that. I have to assume that in our clearance process, if there are concerns about something that the president is going to say, that they will be communicated to us.
SCHIEFFER: Is Tenet going to resign? There are reports today that he is considering that.
RICE: The president said yesterday when he was in Nigeria that he has confidence in George Tenet, he has confidence in the men and women of the CIA and that we've all got a lot of work to do. A mistake -- this was a mistake, right? The clearance process should have picked up that this did not rise to the very high level -- even if it was accurate which it was, that it was not something that the agency, when asked, would say, 'Oh, yes, we have confidence in that.' And that's the standard. Do you have confidence in this for the president of the United States to say it? It was a mistake about a single sentence, a single data point, and I frankly think it has been overblown. George Tenet is serving the president very well.
McMANUS: Well, in view of not only that mistake but the accounts from other officials that they didn't have confidence in other parts of the intelligence process, should there be a broader investigation and a tougher investigation of how good the information was?
RICE: Well, I don't know what you're referring to, Doyle. The national intelligence estimate has key judgments in it, key judgments about reconstitution, key judgments about his possession of biological and chemical weapons, key judgments about his efforts to conceal. And those judgments are a coordinated product of the intelligence community. And, yes, there were dissents of some intelligence agencies. INR, for instance, dissented to certain portions of this...
SCHIEFFER: The State Department intelligence office.
RICE: ...the State Department intelligence. But there is a coordinated product. It's a disciplined process and that's why there's a disciplined process. And so even if there are dissents out there, the president relies on the disciplined process that the director of Central Intelligence wants.
McMANUS: So no need for a tougher investigation?
RICE: I -- my own view is the cognizant intelligence committees are looking at this, they're looking at the whole range, as well we should now, of what was known before we went to war and how we knew it. That is perfectly logical, but we have to keep this in the context of 12 years, three administrations, multiple sources and a bloody dictator who was known to have had weapons of mass destruction, known to have used them and, therefore, a threat that the president of the United States decided to take care of.
SCHIEFFER: Dr. Rice, some very tough questions this morning. Thank you for being with us.
RICE: Thank you very much.
SCHIEFFER: We appreciate it.
RICE: Thank you.
SCHIEFFER: Back with a couple of comments in a minute.
SCHIEFFER: And we're back now with Doyle McManus of "The Los Angeles Times." We heard a very tough national security adviser give a very tough defense in all of this. She contends it's one sentence in a long speech, that it really, in a sense, doesn't matter that much because the case was already so strong, Doyle. And in a funny way, that's kind of my point in all this. They did have a good case. Why did somebody in the government, and clearly someone did insist, and keep insisting, that this be part of the presentation?
McMANUS: Well, Bob, we know that Vice President Cheney was particularly interested in the issue of nuclear weapons programs. We know that there were different people in the government who had particular interests in different parts of it.
I think the broader picture is this issue isn't going to go away, not because the case wasn't there. There was a case, as you say, but because the administration was leaning so hard in the direction of making a prosecution case, that some of the evidence is turning out to be shaky.
SCHIEFFER: It's kind of like we sometimes say in the news business. First rule for young reporters, you don't embroider it, a good story, when you have one. It'll tell itself. And it appears to me, anyway, that someone had a good case but thought, 'Well, we'll just try to make it a little bit stronger.'
McMANUS: Well, the other thing that's going on here clearly is that on leaning cases in the gray areas, they were disposed, understandably, to decide those against Saddam Hussein. As Dr. Rice said, where did the weapons of mass destruction go? They had to be there somewhere. Well, that's right. That was a reasonable assumption at the time. The problem now in the light of day afterwards is 'Where are the weapons of mass destruction?'
SCHIEFFER: Do you think there's been damage to U.S. credibility that will hurt the United States?
McMANUS: I do think there has, Bob. I think it's certainly the case overseas. I think you can see it in the polls at home, that now a majority of Americans say they are no longer sure that that evidence is serious, and that's why even Condoleezza Rice agrees that this is a serious question that Congress has to investigate and look at across the board.
SCHIEFFER: You know, one thing that strikes me -- you saw the rhetoric of the Democratic candidates change significantly. It's almost as if they see this as an opening to attack the president now directly, and I think that's a problem he's going to have to continue to deal with.
McMANUS: I think that's right. Candidates like John Kerry of Massachusetts, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, supported the war. There were a lot of liberal Democrats who didn't like that. This gives them a way to criticize the war effort.
SCHIEFFER: Back with a final thought in just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: Finally today, the baseball All-Star Game is coming up, but I probably won't watch.
Baseball is really the only sport I ever cared about, the only one I have followed closely. And it took some doing for baseball to run me off as a fan. But baseball is about to do it. You see, I've about had it with spoiled athletes. And when Barry Bonds, the greatest home run hitter in the game, announced he wouldn't compete in the home run hitting contest before the All-Star Game because, his words, "I'm a grown man, and I don't have to," I thought, 'Well, I'm a grown man, too. Why should I tune in for that kind of arrogance, let alone go to a ballpark and pay to see it when I can get it free just dealing with so many government officials and young congressional aides?'
And then there was this inexplicable scene. A major-league ballplayer who thought it amusing to hit one of these costumed mascots with a bat. This is for real. The 19-year-old woman inside the costume escaped with just a skinned knee. But how could you take a kid to a ball game and explain that? I won't be trying.
The good news is, I have found another game to get my sports fix: women's golf. As we learned from Annika Sorenstam and then last weekend when Hilary Lunke won the Women's Open, one of the best golf tournaments ever, ask anyone who saw it, these women can really play.
And that just reminded me that is what makes sports so much fun, watching people do very difficult things. For sure, it's a lot more fun than watching spoiled brats act like idiots and getting paid for it with our money.
That's it for us. We'll see you next week right here on Face The Nation.