View Full Version : Bill Clinton on Bush uranium line: 'Everybody makes mistakes'

07-23-03, 04:32 AM
Former president accepts explanation on State of the Union
Wednesday, July 23, 2003 Posted: 2:48 AM EDT (0648 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House, attacked by critics for a now-retracted line about Iraq seeking uranium from Africa in President Bush's State of the Union address, has gotten some surprising support from former President Bill Clinton.

"I thought the White House did the right thing in just saying 'we probably shouldn't have said that,'" Clinton told CNN's Larry King in a phone interview Tuesday evening.

"You know, everybody makes mistakes when they are president. You can't make as many calls as you have to make without messing up. The thing we ought to be focused on is what is the right thing to do now."

Clinton had called King to honor his guest, former Sen. Bob Dole, on Dole's 80th birthday.

Earlier Tuesday, Bush's No. 2 national security aide took partial responsibility for allowing the inclusion of the dubious claim in the State of the Union address.

The admission by Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley marked the first time the White House had taken any blame in the matter. An administration official told CNN that Hadley offered his resignation, but Bush didn't accept it.

Until now, the Bush administration has said it was the CIA that permitted the shaky intelligence to get in the speech, and CIA Director George Tenet has publicly taken full responsibility, although he never read the final draft of the speech before Bush delivered it.

Democrats seized on Tuesday's admission, with Howard Dean -- one of the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls -- calling on Hadley and any other administration officials involved in the flap to step down.

"I call on those who misled the president to resign immediately. It is unacceptable for anyone who misled the president on an issue as significant as a rationale for war to continue to retain a post in government," Dean said in a written statement.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Tony Welch said: "First they blamed the Brits. Then, CIA Director George Tenet walked the plank. Now, the Bush White House is dragging former Cheney aide and deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley forward to take the fall for the president's bogus claim in this year's State of the Union address."

Welch added: "Apparently, at the Bush White House, the buck stops everywhere but the president's desk."

And Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the matter, said, "This investigation is not over simply because some, two people, have said they were responsible."

Hadley gave his admission to reporters at an off-camera briefing during a moment when the nation's attention was focused on a decidedly different Iraqi story: the deaths of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, in a firefight with U.S. troops.

Stephen Hadley
Hadley, who was responsible for vetting Bush's State of the Union address, said he should have deleted the reference to Iraq's attempts to buy uranium because the CIA had warned him months earlier -- in two memos and a phone call from Tenet himself -- that the claim was weak.

Those warnings were made to him before a speech the president gave in Cincinnati in early October, and he said he failed to recall them three months later.

The controversial passage, he said, "should have been taken out of the State of the Union."

"The high standards the president set were not met," Hadley said.

He said he had spoken with the president about the matter and that Bush expressed confidence in him and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Tenet has said the line in Bush's address was technically accurate because it cited British intelligence, although he said the CIA's own investigation of those same allegations had led the agency to decide that the evidence was inconclusive. Britain stands by its claims.

The claim "did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches," Tenet said. "I am responsible for the approval process in my agency."

"These 16 words should never have been included in the test written for the president," Tenet said.

Clinton: Biological, chemical stocks unaccounted for in Iraq
Former President Clinton also said Tuesday night that at the end of his term, there was "a substantial amount of biological and chemical material unaccounted for " in Iraq.

"At the end of the first Gulf War, we knew what [Saddam] had. We knew what was destroyed in all the inspection processes, and that was a lot. And then we bombed with the British for four days in 1998. We might have gotten it all; we might have gotten half of it; we might have gotten none of it.

"But we didn't know. So I thought it was prudent for the president to go to the U.N. and for the U.N. to say, 'You got to let these inspectors in, and this time if you don't cooperate the penalty could be regime change, not just continued sanctions.'"

Clinton also told King: "People can quarrel with whether we should have more troops in Afghanistan or internationalize Iraq or whatever, but it is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks of biological and chemical weapons."