Copyright© 2004, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
PLEASE CREDIT ANY QUOTES OR EXCERPTS FROM THIS NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."
MEET THE PRESS
GUESTS: KOFI ANNAN
United Nations Secretary-General
Ambassador JOSEPH WILSON
Author, "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity"
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of
the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with:
MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS
Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, May 2, 2004
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the American death toll in Iraq approaches 750; wounded or injured nearing 4,000. Can the United Nations help stabilize Iraq? And how serious are the charges of corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program with Saddam Hussein? Those questions and more for our guest, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.
Then, July 6, 2003, this man appeared on MEET THE PRESS with this charge:
(Videotape, July 6, 2003):
AMB. JOSEPH WILSON: They were using selective use of facts and intelligence to bolster a decision in case it had already been made, a decision that had been made to go to war.
MR. RUSSERT: Eight days later, his wife's identity as a CIA operative was leaked by the Bush administration. He is now back with his new book, "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity." Our guest, Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Kofi Annan and Joe Wilson, exclusively on MEET THE PRESS.
Mr. Secretary-General, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
SEC'Y-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: Thank you very much.
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, your special adviser, Mr. Brahimi, will be heading back to Iraq to try to arrange an orderly transition to the Iraqis on June 30. How much sovereignty will the Iraqis have on June 30?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: I think on June 30, I hope the government will be established and sovereignty will have been transferred to them. I think sovereignty will be, and should be, complete, but perhaps what we are talking about is the powers may be limited, in the sense that it is supposed to be a caretaker government and not to take any decisions that will bind the duly elected government that's supposed to come into existence in January 2005. And, therefore, they may not pass long-term laws, but they--I suspect, their main obligation will be to help establish a new constitution--not only a new constitution, but work towards the elections in 2001. We are prepared to work with them, and we've sent in a team to establish an independent electoral commission, establish a legal framework for elections, work with them on voter registration, and generally planning and preparing for the elections in January 1.
MR. RUSSERT: Will, in effect, the United Nations be taking over the political process from the United States, allow the United States to maintain security, but the United Nations will be the central force in terms of the political process?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: We want to do everything we can to help the Iraqi people regain their sovereignty and build their state and stabilize their situation and live in peace with themselves and their neighbors. And this is why Mr. Brahimi and his team is in, and they are working with the Iraqi people and the CPA to create a new government. I hope the government will be a product of the consultation, the wide consultations that has begun, and Mr. Brahimi is going to go back to work with them. So we would work with them until the government is formed and, thereafter, on the way forward, for the general elections, we will be there working with the Iraqi government and the people.
MR. RUSSERT: In February, this is what you said, "I do not foresee"--a--"U.N. blue"--helmet--"being deployed"--in--"Iraq. However, I do foresee the Security Council deciding to maintain an international multinational"--"force in Iraq even after the hand over to be able to assist with the security and create an environment that will be conducive to reconstruction."
Do you believe that there will still be a United Nations multinational security force in Iraq?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: In the sense that the council will probably authorize a multinational force to remain in Iraq to help create a secure environment. I think it is going to be part of the new resolution that the council will be discussing and approving, which will cover the period after 30 June. Obviously the new government would also be consulted, but there will be a resolution authorizing a multinational force and encouraging governments to come together in a genuine international effort to help stabilize Iraq. And, quite frankly, it's in everybody's interest that we do whatever we can to stabilize Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Would that allow the United States to draw down some of their forces?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: I think it depends. If we are able to attract other governments, other countries that are now not in the theater to deploy troops, that may be possible. But it would depend on how fast and how quickly we are able to get other governments to join and provide troops.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think France, Germany or Russia, who had opposed the war, would be willing to provide troops?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: At this stage, I cannot say that they are ready to do it. But down the line, one never knows.
MR. RUSSERT: You also said this last Wednesday, which received a lot of attention across our country here. "...violent military action by an occupying power against the inhabitants of an occupied country will only make matters worse."
Were you suggesting that the United States' military could not take offensive actions against those who are resisting democracy in Iraq?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: No. Basically what I was saying is that in these kinds of situations, you need to do whatever you can, obviously, to maintain law and order, but you also have to win the hearts and minds of the people. In fact, I think the latter is even more important. And we were looking at two specific situations, the situation in Fallujah and the situation in Najaf. And I felt that if all-out assault was made on either of the two cities with the population watching and the region watching it, it will, in fact, play into the hands of the resistance. And perhaps increase their ranks.
And that one had to be careful and find a way of defusing the situation short of all-out assault. I'm not implying that there are situations where one need not use force or be firm in maintaining law and order, but you're dealing with situations where you want to work with the Iraqis, you want to limit their resistance, not to increase their ranks by taking actions which will give them empathy and get the population all roused up.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you comfortable with former leaders of Saddam's Iraq royal
Revolutionary Guard, people who, in all likelihood, were involved in a brutal military, maybe even atrocities--are you comfortable with people close to Saddam Hussein now being involved in security?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: I would say that those who have committed crimes and are known to commit crimes--and the Iraqis know their neighbors and know who was in the army, who did what. Those who've committed crimes have no business getting involved. They should be eliminated. But, of course, you had a large number of Iraqis who are members of the Ba'ath Party. Some of them got involved just to get jobs or maintain their jobs, but really were not ideologues. You had people in the army--this was a large army. I don't think all of them committed atrocities. But the leadership, most of the leadership, is gone, and they should--but those who are clean, I think, can be used.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Brahimi, your special adviser, said that his efforts in arriving at a
settlement in Iraq has been hampered by an outside factor. And this is what he said: "There is no doubt that the great poison in the region is this Israeli policy of domination, and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians as well as the perception of all of the population in the region, and beyond, of the injustice of this policy and the equally unjust and thoughtless support...of the United States for this policy." Do you agree with that?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: No. Mr. Brahimi, he has--I have spoken to him since he got back. He has his own views, but on this occasion, what he indicated to me: that as he travels around the region and talks to people in the Islamic world, their perception is that the lack of progress in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has undermined all the efforts in the region. And I think this is something that we've all said: We should try and do whatever we can to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, work with the road map of the quartet to see how we can move the parties towards the ultimate objective of two states living side by side, Israel and Palestine. And, in fact, in my discussions, he said this is really the message he was trying to get across, to indicate that it is undermining other efforts in the region. And, of course, even when the U.S. came up with greater Middle East initiative, we had comments of people saying, "Why don't we resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue first and then move on?" Whether it's legitimate or not, it is a kind of feeling and reaction one gets in the region.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you believe that President Bush's endorsement of Prime Minister Sharon's policy on settlements is helpful to the situation in Iraq?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: We are going to have a quartet meeting on the 4th of May.
MR. RUSSERT: "Quartet" meaning what?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Quartet is a group of four, made up of the United States, the Russian Federation, European Union and the U.N., that I will represent these meetings, to discuss the Middle East situation. And we--it is also the group that came up with the road map, a road map that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have accepted, that we hope will lead us to the creation of two states living in peace and security. And the group will discuss this issue.
I know that there was some reaction to the president's statement indicating that he has compromised some of the long-term issues which must be negotiated between the parties, in particular the issue of refugees. But in the discussions we are going to have--in that same document, there was also a statement--the president's document--that long-term issues must be mutually agreed to by the two parties, and the quartet will be discussing these issues and try and see what we can do to get the parties back on track.
MR. RUSSERT: The fact that Mr. Brahimi uses the word "poison" for the Israelis and
"thoughtless" in terms of the United States, are you concerned that he cannot function as an honest broker in Iraq?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: I think it would be unfortunate if those words were to be used against him and prevent him from doing an effective work in Iraq. He's a very experienced man who has done a lot in many trouble spots, from Haiti to South Africa to Afghanistan recently, Lebanon and now in Iraq. I think in the circumstances that we have and the situation we have in Iraq, I can't think of a better person. One may disagree with the words he used and I'm sure he himself probably would not use those words again, but I think to use his statement to prevent him from playing a constructive role will be a mistake.
MR. RUSSERT: Bob Herbert, a columnist in The New York Times, wrote this in October of 2003: "There's widespread feeling in the U.N. that the policies of the United States—its invasion and occupation of Iraq, its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its frequently contemptuous attitude toward the U.N. in particular and international cooperation in general--have made the Middle East and parts of the rest of the world substantially more dangerous, rather than less."
Do you agree with that?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: I think before the war, as you may know, there was intense debate which led to divisions between the major members. Now, we are beginning to try to heal it. And, of course, when you look at the situation in the Middle East and the countries around, the violence has increased. There is more terrorist attacks. We've seen it in Saudi Arabia.
We've seen recently in Syria. There are threats against Jordan. We have a difficult situation in Iraq, and, of course, we've seen terrorist attacks in Europe. Would these have happened without attack on Iraq? Is the attack on Iraq responsible for that? It's difficult to say precisely, but the fact is we do have a very difficult security environment around the world, not just in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you surprised that we have not found weapons of mass destruction?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Before the war, the U.N. inspectors, whom I spoke to quite often, particularly Mr. Blix and Elbaradei, the atomic agency, felt that with all their effort they hadn't come across any systems of weapons of mass destruction and that they needed a bit more time to check if there were, indeed, weapons of mass destruction. There were others who felt that the weapons were there, and they could be--one could get to them and dismantle them. But, of course, we haven't found them, and let me put it this way, I had always said we were waiting for the U.N. inspectors to give us indication whether they were there or not. And until they came to the Security Council with specific indications that there were weapons and they had worked there for many years, of course. The last time around they had only gone in for three and a half months before they were shut down. And at that point, I did not know whether there were weapons of mass destruction or not, but without the certification from them, I couldn't assume that there were weapons of mass destruction.
MR. RUSSERT: But you did say in November of 2002, "Iraq keeps saying they don't have weapons of mass destruction, which nobody believes. ...If you have no weapons of mass destruction, why you have kept the inspectors out for four years?"
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Yeah, I did say that, that they should really open the door. Then the inspectors went in, and when Blix and Elbaradei and the team started working and reporting back what they had found or not found, it was clear that was an American situation and not clear, and in fact, they felt that if they had a few months or a bit more time they may have been able to make more definitive assessment. And in fact, Blix himself said something interesting, that "I have no evidence and the lack of evidence does not mean that they don't have it or they do have it, and we need to pursue our efforts."
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, the president went back to the United Nations and asked that body to support an invasion of Iraq. That resolution did not pass. He said in his speech on September 12, "Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?" When you hear those words now and the fact that the United States is relying on Mr. Brahimi to broker the transfer of power, do you consider the United Nations irrelevant?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: No, I have never considered the United Nations irrelevant. I think it's a unique organization. It's a unique organization with a convenient capacity, an organization that can bring the whole world together. And I think it is only rational and normal that we would tend to member states to work through the United Nations to come together and to pool their efforts to contain and stabilize the situation in Iraq. There are times when we have not succeeded, but we've also done lots of things around the world from Afghanistan to the Balkans and Mozambique and others where we have brought states out of conflict and tried to help them rebuild. And so I'm not surprised that one would be asking the U.N. to play a role in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it'd be helpful if President Bush sat down with the Germans, the French, the Russians and other groups, other countries who oppose the war, to try to arrive at some reconciliation?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: I think we need to do whatever we can to pull in all countries, including those three countries, for us to work together on the stabilization of Iraq. And I know--I've been in contact. It's not that there's no relationship between the three countries and the United States. And I think the contacts and discussions are intensifying. Secretary of State Powell was in Germany recently. And I know the president himself has been on the line with some of these leaders, but it would be extremely helpful to the process if we can really internationalize the efforts in Iraq and bring in everybody.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk about the oil-for-food program, and first, I want to stipulate your office sent me sheets which talked about the humanitarian good those programs did in terms of water, food, electricity, education, but there is a problem with about $10 billion, $5 billion in terms of smuggling, which you have said it's difficult for the United Nations to be held accountable for that because that wasn't your portfolio in terms of stopping.
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: But the area that people are concerned about is the $5 billion that has been skimmed, if you will. This is how William Safire of The New York Times wrote about it:
"Never has there been a financial rip-off of the magnitude of the U.N. oil-for-food scandal. At least $5 billion in kickbacks went from corrupt contractors--mainly French and Russian--into the pockets of Saddam and his thugs. Some went to pay off his protectors in foreign governments and media, and we may soon see how much stuck to the fingers of U.N. bureaucrats as well."
And then Mr. Safire went on to say this: "The spokesman for Kofi Annan confirmed that the secretary general's soft-spoken son, Kojo, was on the payroll of Cotecna Inspections of Switzerland until December 1998. In that very month, the U.N. awarded Cotecna the contract to monitor and authenticate the goods shipped to Iraq."
Are you concerned about the appearances of nepotism?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Let me be very clear on this. There's nothing in this. My son, at the age of 22, in 1995, started working for the company as a trainee. And then he was assigned to West Africa where he was working in Nigeria and Ghana on their operations there. He resigned in '97 and was given consultants so that he could help them out when required in the region. And then he resigned that function in '98. He had nothing to do with the oil-for-food program.
And I can assure you, I had nothing to do with the contract that was given to Cotecna and it was all done all above board. It was in accordance with U.N. financial rules and organization, transparent bidding process, and, of course, all these things have been looked into by the independent panel we've set up led by Mr. Volker with Judge Goldstone and Mr. Peer, very three prominent and experienced people, and we want to get to the truth. And I think when it comes out, things will be clear for everybody to see.
MR. RUSSERT: But when you became aware that Cotecna was going to be given this
program to administer, did something register in your head, "My son works for that
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: By then--it did. In fact, when I heard it, we asked the department to look into it, and they came back and said, by that time, they indicated that was done in accordance with the rules and it was above board and there had been no interference and he, by then, was leaving the company anyway.
MR. RUSSERT: Someone also very close to you has alleged involvement in this scandal. This is how The San Diego Union Tribune wrote about it. "What particularly troubles are revelations that several hundred individuals, political entities and companies from more than 45 countries profited from doing illicit business with Saddam, accepting his oil contracts and paying the murderous dictator secret kick-backs. That included, according to Iraqi Oil Minister records, U.N. Assistant Secretary General Benon Sevan, executive director of the oil-for-food program, who received a vouch for 11.5 million barrels of oil through the program, enough to turn a profit as much as $3.5 million."
Now, Mr. Sevan has denied that allegation.
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: But NBC News has obtained this letter that was sent on his stationery on April 14. This is just two weeks ago. "I refer to your e-mail ... regarding a request by `a Governmental Authority' for reports ... relating to the Oil-for-Food Programme. ... While we understand Saybolt's"--that's a company--"desire to be cooperative with bodies looking into the Programme ... we would ask that Saybolt address any further requests for documentation or information concerning these matters to us ..."
So Mr. Sevan, who's being investigated, is telling a company that's also being investigated, "Don't cooperate with government authorities unless you clear it with me." Why is he still involved in the investigation?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Right. No, I wasn't aware of this confess for--Benon has worked with the U.N. for several decades, and I will be surprised if he's guilty of these accusations. But what I think is not important. What is important is that the team led by Mr. Volker gets to the bottom of this.
I'm not sure if it was Benon who signed this--sent this message to Saybolt. But what we have done is we are protecting all the material for the investigation that's been handed over to the Volker Group. And Mr. Volker is very keen to safeguard all the documentation, not on only from the U.N. and the staff, but also some of the agents and contractors for them to cooperate. And so that sort of message may have gone from one of the--either our own internal services in assistance and at the request of the Volker Commission. I do not see why Benon would be involved sending a message like this. And, of course, as I said, this is news to me. And we will have to talk to him about it.
MR. RUSSERT: The commission you have looking into this headed by Paul Volker, former head of the Federal Reserve, does not have subpoena power.
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Does it have the teeth to get to the bottom of this investigation? And would you say this morning that if a United Nations employee does not cooperate with the Volker investigation they will be fired?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Let me say that they have all the authority that they have a right to interview any U.N. staff member, regardless of rank. They have access to all the documentation. They have access to the contractors, agents, and people who did business with the U.N., and if their findings were to conclude that any U.N. staff member had been engaged in this corruption, he or she will be dealt with severely, their privileges and immunities will be lifted so that if necessary they will be brought before the court of law and dealt with in addition to being dismissed.
MR. RUSSERT: What if they don't cooperate with the investigation? Will they be dismissed?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: They will be dismissed because they have to cooperate with the investigation.
MR. RUSSERT: The U.S. Government Accounting Office, the GAO, testified before Congress on Wednesday and said this: that "U.N. Resolution 1483 requested the Secretary General...to transfer to the"--"[Coalition Provisional Authority]"--in Iraq--"all relevant documentation."
And that only 20 percent of the contracts had been transferred to them. Why?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: First of all, let me say that the GAO, in preparation of this report, had very solid support from the United Nations. We cooperated with them very effectively. I do not know what percentage of documentation we gave them, but we've been quite open with our documentation. In fact, after the war, since the ministries were destroyed, we sent copies of all these documents to the Iraqi Governing Council. And so I cannot get--I don't have the details of what the GAO is talking about. But we are open. We are transparent. Of course, as of now, all these documents are transferred to the group headed by Mr. Volker. And therefore we--to protect the integrity of it and any request for future documentation will have to go to him for them to decide whether they release it or not or it will impede their own investigation.
MR. RUSSERT: Also being discussed, this is a new article by Claudia Rosett in Commentary. The Oil-for-Food Scam: What Did Kofi Annan Know And When Did He Know It? There are suggestions that it's not just skimming but the intent of the program went beyond humanitarian needs. And I want to read this and give you a chance to talk about it. "By 2002, the sixth year of the program, it was no longer credible that the"--United Nations secretary"--could be clueless about Saddam's systematic violations and exploitation of the humanitarian purpose of Oil-for-Food. On May 2"--in 2002--"in a front-page story...the Wall Street Journal documented in detail Saddam's illicit kickbacks and underpriced oil contracts....
"On June 2, Annan approved a newly expanded shopping list by Saddam that the Secretariat dubbed `Oil-for-Food Plus.' This added ten new sectors to be funded by the program, including `labor and social affairs,' `information,' `justice'"--"`sports.' Either the Secretary-General had failed to notice or he did not care that none of these had anything to do with the equitable distribution of relief. By contrast, they had everything to do with the running of Saddam's totalitarian state. `Labor,' `information'"--"`justice,' were the realms of"--the--"Baathist party patronage, propaganda, censorship, secret police, rape rooms"--"mass graves.
As for sports, that was the favorite arena of Saddam's sadistic son Uday, already infamous for torturing Iraqi athletes."
That's a very serious charge that you, in effect, were propping up Saddam Hussein's regime with more than humanitarian assistance, but supporting his son, his son's athletic programs, and a whole lot of other ventures.
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: I think these outrageous allegations, when you look at the program--first of all, we did bring to the Security Council's attention some of these discrepancies. In fact, in the area of oil, it was based on the U.N. inspectors' findings. We went to the council and said, "There's something going on here. There seems to be a scheme to enrich the regime." What the council did was to introduce retroactive pricing to try and beat the system. And I think it did make a difference. We also indicated to them on many occasions pricing differences for the council to act. And also, all these contracts we discussed with the Security Council 661 committee.
And let me say that initially the program started with the $2 billion per year for food and medication. And as you have indicated, the program achieved its core objective of ensuring that the Iraqi people do not starve. And, in fact, it improved the situation for children.
Malnutrition was cut and child mortality was cut, and we reached every home of the 25 million. So the core objective was achieved. But then it became clear that food alone wasn't enough, and we discussed this with the council members. For example, if you're going to bring in medication, you need refrigeration, you need electricity, you need clean water.
What's the point of giving them medication when they're going to get sick by drinking dirty water?
So there were quite a lot of issues linked. And then it got into some of the educational areas, where some kids had been deprived of education. We shouldn't forget that the sanctions were imposed after the 1991 war. The oil-for-food scheme was approved then, but the Saddam Hussein regime did not agree for it to be introduced until '96. It took about five years. And, of course, by then, everybody was concerned that the Iraqi people may suffer. And, therefore, we needed to do something to protect them. In the protracted negotiations with my predecessor, an agreement was reached that the oil-for-food scheme could begin in '66--no...
MR. RUSSERT: '96.
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: '96.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you believe the program may have gone too far in providing aid to Saddam's son, Uday?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: I don't think the intention was to provide aid to Saddam's son. I mean, one has to look at the totality of the program to see what could be--what has been done, and not be selectively--I don't think one even knew that some of these things are going to go to Saddam's son.
MR. RUSSERT: Bottom line: You will support whatever recommendations and findings that Paul Volker and his investigation make?
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Absolutely. Not only would we support every--conclusions and findings they make, but we will take action. And my hope is that until the findings are complete, until the facts are out, we hold judgment and do not take allegations as facts and go on and smear the U.N. and its staff and the secretary-general. We should wait for the facts. Allegations are not facts.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Secretary-General, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views with us this morning.
SEC'Y-GEN. ANNAN: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, Ambassador Joe Wilson says he thinks he knows who revealed his wife's CIA identity. He is next, coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his new book, "The Politics of Truth," after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Ambassador Wilson, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
AMB. WILSON: Thanks, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to bring our viewers back to some recent history here and put this all in context. This is what started this whole discussion with you, the president's State of the Union message January 28, 2003.
(Videotape, State of the Union Address, January 28, 2003):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
MR. RUSSERT: You saw the president say that and thought what?
AMB. WILSON: I thought, well, he must not have been talking about Niger because he would know better if he was. I then called the Department of State and talked to the Bureau of African Affairs, who had not seen the State of the Union address, but their interpretation was that he was probably speaking about another African country, which was fine for me, so long as he wasn't talking about Niger.
MR. RUSSERT: Then on June 8, Dr. Rice, the national security adviser, appeared on MEET THE PRESS, and I asked her about how those words wound up in the president's State of the Union address, and she said this:
(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, June 8, 2003):
DR. CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery.
MR. RUSSERT: When you saw that?
AMB. WILSON: Well, I knew that she had fundamentally misstated the facts. In fact, she had lied about it. I had gone out and I had undertaken this study. I had come back and said that this was not feasible. There was already lots of suspicion about the documentation, and in fact, as it's been borne out, when the vice president was on this show and you had asked him if he had asked the question about going to Niger, he had said, "Well, I asked the CIA briefer about these reports, and he had come back and told me within a couple of days that there was nothing to them." That was a year before the State of the Union address. This government knew that there was nothing to these allegations.
MR. RUSSERT: George Tenet in a statement said that a Niger official did say to you there may have been discussions about a potential business dealings and maybe that could have been a suggestion of uranium.
AMB. WILSON: That's right. And, of course, as I put in the book, there was a meeting on the margins of an OAU summit between a senior Niger official and an Iraqi official who turns out to be the former minister of information, Baghdad Bob. At that meeting, uranium was not discussed. It would be a tragedy to think that we went to war over a conversation in which uranium was not discussed because the Niger official was sufficiently sophisticated to think that perhaps he might have wanted to discuss uranium at some later date.
MR. RUSSERT: The president spoke to the nation in January, Dr. Rice was on this program June 8. On July 6, you appeared on MEET THE PRESS. You wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times and said this: "I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
And then eight days after your appearance on MEET THE PRESS and that New York Times piece, Robert Novak wrote a syndicated column and this is what it said: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me his wife suggested sending Wilson to Niger."
When you saw that, your reaction?
AMB. WILSON: Well, I was furious. He had contacted--actually, he had spoken to a
stranger who happened to know me on July 8, and I outline that conversation in the book.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me do that, because this is important. This is just two days after your appearance on MEET THE PRESS. Two days, this is "Tuesday afternoon, July 8, six days before Novak's article about Valerie and me, a friend showed up at my office with a strange and disturbing tale. He had been walking down Pennsylvania Avenue towards my office, near the White House, when he came upon Novak. He asked Novak if he could walk a block or two with him as they were headed in the same direction. Novak acquiesced. Striking up a conversation, my friend, without revealing that he knew me, asked Novak about the uranium controversy. `It was a minor problem,' Novak replied, and opined that the administration should have dealt with it weeks before. My friend then asked Novak what he thought about me. Novak answered, `Wilson's an (expletive).' The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She's a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him.' At that point, my friend and Novak went their separate ways. My friend headed straight for my office a couple of blocks away. Once he related this unsettling story to me, I asked him to immediately write down the details of the conversation and afterwards ushered him out of my office."
AMB. WILSON: This was before Novak had any confirmation because he talked to me a couple of days later seeking a confirmation of my wife's employment. The odds of his running into somebody on Pennsylvania Avenue who knew he, since I don't know a lot of people in Washington, are remote. The question I have in all of this is how many other people was Novak--how many other strangers on the streets of Washington, D.C., was Novak sharing this information with before he even had enough to permit him to go to print?
MR. RUSSERT: Why does your friend accost Mr. Novak? Do you know?
AMB. WILSON: Well, I think anybody who is a familiar face on television is frequently spoken to on the sidewalks. It happens even to me, and I'm not nearly as familiar as Mr. Novak.
MR. RUSSERT: Again, this was only two days after July 6 MEET THE PRESS and New York Times, but now you say something else in your book and this is it: "After my appearance on CNN in early March 2003, when I first asserted that the U.S. government knew more about the Niger uranium matter than it was letting on, I am told by a source close to the House Judiciary Committee that the Office of the Vice President--either the vice president himself or, more likely, his chief of staff, Lewis (`Scooter') Libby, chaired a meeting at which a decision was made to a `workup' on me. As I understand it, this meant they were going to take a closer look at who I was and what my agenda might be. The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an `[expletive] playboy' who went on a boondoggle `arranged by his CIA wife'--and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot."
You're saying that in March the White House started talking about you and your "CIA wife"?
AMB. WILSON: That's my understanding from not just that one particular source but corroborated by other sources and offered actually by other sources from different walks of life, that after I appeared on CNN and said I thought the government knew more about this Niger business than was letting on, there was this meeting at which it was decided to run an intelligence collection operation against me, which led to the learning of my wife's identity and her employment.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, you've asked Bob Novak to reveal his sources. Would you reveal your sources?
AMB. WILSON: Actually, I haven't asked Bob Novak to reveal his sources. And I think you can understand after you interviewed Mr. Woodward last week that when 75 people speak to Mr. Woodward with the authorization of the president and only two of them want to be identified, you can imagine that those who have other information but are fearful of what the White House might do, they also do not want to be identified. And I say that because, of course, I mention in the book that there are also reports from journalists back to me that they're fearful of writing these stories. One journalist said because he was afraid he would end up in Guantanamo, which is basically I think a metaphor for their being cut off. Another one said that, of course, they had two children in private schools and a mortgage. Now, I've since heard from other journalists that even the most mildly critical articles about this administration yield top-level phone calls back to their editors including phone calls from Mr. Libby himself to their editors.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, you also said that Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, was at one of these meetings on the workup. He said that is absolutely, totally false.
AMB. WILSON: Yeah, and it may be false. I was just reporting what I'd heard from a
number of different sources. The fact to the matter is this could all be cleared up rather quickly if somebody were to step forward and say, "This is how it happened." The fact that they're not suggests that they're stonewalling. The president of the United States has said, "I want to get to the bottom of this." There are only, as I put out in my book, a few people who live at that nexus between national security policy and politics. The president said he wants to get to the bottom of it. Either he's not in control of his staff or he's not serious or his senior staff is simply insubordinate and is stonewalling and covering up.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about some of the people that you suspect right after this. More of Ambassador Joe Wilson.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back talking to Ambassador Joe Wilson. His book, "Politics of Truth." Here's the book. "According to my sources, between March 2003 and the appearance of my article in July"--in The Times--"the workup on me that turned up the information on Valerie was shared with Karl Rove, who then circulated it in administration and neoconservative circles."
So you're saying as early as March the information about your wife being a CIA operative was being distributed by the White House?
AMB. JOSEPH WILSON: That's the information I have. That also would explain how Mr. Novak got information so quickly, how to--a decision was made for two people to call six journalists and leak the information within a couple of days. And it also explains how Cliff May, who wrote for the National Review online, suggested in a matter of days after my article appeared and a leak appeared, that it was widely known in Washington that my wife worked for the CIA. It was not widely known. None of my friends, for example, knew it. So it's hard to believe that it was widely known unless somebody else put that story out.
MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned Mr. Rove's name. You also say this on page 442, "The man attacking my integrity and reputation - and, I believe, quite possibly the person who exposed my wife's identity - was the same Scooter Libby"--in Vice President Cheney's office. Then you go on to say, "The other name that has most often been repeated to me in connection with the inquiry and disclosure into my background and Valerie's is that of Elliott Abrams, who gained infamy in the Iran-Contra scandal during the first Bush administration."
But then you say this: "In fact, seniors advisers close to the president may well have been clever enough to have used others to do the actual leading, in order to keep their fingerprints off the crime."
So you don't know who did it, even though you're naming names.
AMB. WILSON: Well, I have--I'm naming names. What I'm doing is I'm sharing with the people outside the Beltway what is broadly spoken about here within Washington. I sat at the intersection of this information for several months, where people were getting information and passing it to me. I sifted through all of that. I attempted to ensure that it was not circular reporting, that I had sourcing from this that was two different sources from different walks of life indeed. The names of Abrams and Libby and Rove have all appeared in public. However, this ties it all together. Again, I go back to what I said earlier, there are only a few people who sit at the nexus. If the president really wanted to get to the bottom of this, he could simply call them in and ask them, and he should, because what they did is what his father called the most insidious of treachery. He called them insidious traitors.
MR. RUSSERT: The White House has denied that Karl Rove, Elliott Abrams, Scooter Libby, had anything to do with this, and they say you have a political agenda. This was on reference, August 21, 2003, a speech you gave in Washington state. Let's play it and come back and talk about it:
(Videotape, August 21, 2003):
AMB. WILSON: I don't think we're going to let this drop. At the end of the day, it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.
And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.
MR. RUSSERT: "Frog-marched out in handcuffs"; "Trust me, when I use that name, I
measure my words."
AMB. WILSON: As I say in the literally first paragraph of the book, Karl Rove, a week after the Novak article appeared, called Chris Matthews of NBC and said, "Wilson's wife is fair game," that it was OK to go after somebody's spouse because you disagreed with what her husband said. And now remember, when you talk about partisan, what I did was my civic duty to hold my government to account for what it had said, a pattern of deception to the Congress of the United States and the American people, including these 16 words in the State of the Union address. I did not put those 16 words in the State of the Union address. Indeed, had the president heeded the report that I and others had submitted, had the vice president heeded what the CIA briefer had told him, had the national security adviser and her deputy remembered the two memoranda and the telephone call relating to this particular subject, that line might not have been in the president's State of the Union address. Either they were derelict or they were deceptive.
But the partisanship that goes into this was the attack on myself and on my family. This country is created with checks and balances guaranteed to, one, hold the government accountable for its actions and for its words, and two, to give citizens and the press certain privileges and rights to take on the government and challenge the government on what it says and does. For this government to have attacked me personally and then to have done what they did to my wife is, frankly, un-American.
MR. RUSSERT: When Rove made the alleged phone call, it was after your wife's identity as a CIA agent had been made. Is there any crime in saying that your wife was fair game?
AMB. WILSON: I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know whether there was a crime. I've seen what Sam Dash has written and I've seen what others have written with respect to the Patriot Act, not just the Intelligence Identities Act. What I have said--that I thought that this was a good place to start the investigation, irrespective of whether or not Mr. Rove or, indeed, anybody else can be convicted of a crime. The fact that they had to open an investigation is an indication that the national security of this country was betrayed by some people who the former George Bush, former President George Bush, called the most insidious of traitors.
Now, with respect to Rove, let me just also say the idea that you take it upon yourself to drag an innocent family member into the public square to administer a beating is just simply unacceptable. And this sort of political shenanigans has no place when we are discussing serious issues of national security, in which now we have over 700 American soldiers dead and $150 billion spent in a war that is--as one Republican told me the other night, "We are on the verge of a strategic catastrophe."
MR. RUSSERT: A supporter of the president will point out that in The Daily Iowan in December of '03 you called Dick Cheney "a lying SOB" to an audience, and that you are an active participant in the campaign of John Kerry, and that that's your political agenda:
Attack the vice president by calling him those names, talk about Karl Rove in handcuffs; that you're a partisan Democrat supporting Kerry.
AMB. WILSON: Well, with respect to the vice president, that may be the gentlest and kindest thing I've had to say to him, about him, in recent months. And I think the record is clear, and you can go back to his speech in August. You can go back to his many statements about the reconstruction of nuclear weapons, again, well after he was told by his own CIA that there was nothing to this. There was a pattern of deception and lying to the Congress of the United States that got us into this terrible war. Again, with respect to my partisan activities or the fact that I support John Kerry, I am an American. This is a democracy. I am perfectly entitled to hold my political opinions and I'm perfectly entitled to share them. This president said on this show that he wanted this election to be a referendum on his first term. And well it should be. And I intend to enrich that political debate with what I know to the fullest extent possible.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Joe Wilson. The book is "Politics of Truth." We thank you for sharing your views.
AMB. WILSON: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back, right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints