Guest blogged by Jon Ponder, Pensito Review.
In Bushworld, you can have it both ways.
Wednesday night, George Bush's spokesperson Dana Perino was forced to acknowledge in an email that Bush had been lying to the American people both about the status of Iran's nuclear capabilities and about when he was informed that Iran's nuclear program had been suspended.
Yesterday, however, when she asked if Bush was "candid" about what he knew and when he knew it, Perino answered, "Yes, he was." Then, as proof of his candor, she launched into this tortured peroration:
When challenged on the fact that her parsing did not square with what Bush actually said, Perino waved off the gap in credibility with this obviously scripted-in-advance bit of tripe:
The emphasis on "truthful" is hers. (And she will trot out the "he could have been more precise" nonsense twice more in the session.)
The White House press corps was refreshingly aggressive in putting Perino through her paces. As the session wore on, she sounded increasingly like her predecessor, Scott McClellan, in a skirt, deploying McClellan's usual tricks --- holding forth at length to answer a simple question and changing the subject whenever possible --- in order to avoid producing a sound bite. On the other hand, she couldn't entirely avoid that fact that Bush lied:
MS. PERINO: Yes, the President was told that there is new information [in August]...
Meanwhile, in the real world, no one --- except increasingly desperate neo-cons and Bush-cult dead-enders --- believes Perino, Bush or Cheney on this matter. What little credibility Bush, and, by extension, the United States, had on Iran among our allies and other stakeholders in the Middle East has evaporated. And rightly so, why should any foreign government put stock in anything the Bush administration has to say now?
Our only hope is that no serious world crisis erupts until the United States changes leadership in 13 months, and, presumably --- hopefully --- a normal president and administration take charge at long last.
A transcript of part of the discussion at the White House press briefing about Bush's false statements on the Iranian intelligence follows:
MS. PERINO: Yes, he was. And I talked to you about that last night, I talked to your colleagues this morning, and I'll reiterate it here. If you look at the rest of that sentence, what the President --- the President was clearly told that there was new information that was coming in, but he wasn't told the details of it. And the President was also told that the intelligence community was going to need to go back and check out to find out if it's true.
What I said is that McConnell told the President, if the new information turns out to be true, what we thought we knew for sure is right: Iran does, in fact, have a covert nuclear weapons program, but it may be suspended. He said that there were many streams of information that were coming in that could be potentially in conflict. They didn't have a lot of confidence in the information yet.
Q But the President said, "He didn't tell me what the information was." But you're now saying he was told that Iran may have halted its nuclear weapons program and also that there may be a new assessment, right?
MS. PERINO: Right, but he doesn't --- he didn't get any of the details of what the information, in terms of what the actual raw intelligence was.
Q He didn't say, he didn't tell me what the information --
MS. PERINO: Okay, look, I can see where you could see that the President could have been more precise in that language, but the President was being truthful.
Q Dana, but listen to what he said: "He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze." Was the President told that there was a possibility that Iran's nuclear program could be suspended? That's what you said he was told.
MS. PERINO: Yes, the President was told that there is new information in the context of raw intelligence, not told the details of what it was, and told that he's going --- they're going to have to go back and do some more checking on it because they didn't have a high degree of confidence in it, and it could potentially be in conflict.
Q But he said he didn't know what the information even was. I can see the details of it, but --
MS. PERINO: Martha. Okay, you could --- I grant you, he could have been more precise in his language. But if you look at the follow-up --- the following sentences of that quote he says --- I have it right here --- he says, that "it would take a while to analyze." "It" --- he's referring to "it" in terms of what the information was. I think that --
Q But he said he didn't know what the information was.
MS. PERINO: He didn't know that there --- he did not know what the specific details were of the raw intelligence that they had found.
Q But he knew it was strong enough information to delay the NIE.
MS. PERINO: No --- well, strong enough information that they said that they needed to check it out, and the President thought that that was an appropriate and responsible thing to do, sure.
Q Let me ask you this: Did anyone from the intelligence community or Mike McConnell, himself, after listening to the President the other day, ask you or anyone in the White House to clarify what the President was told?
MS. PERINO: Absolutely not. No, absolutely not.
Q That was only prompted by a question from the press?
MS. PERINO: Yes, yesterday when there was a question in the gaggle, that Tony Fratto said he didn't have information on, we tracked it down, got some more information, and once I did, as I try to do for you every day, provide you more information.
Q Dana, can I say --- I mean, Mr. Hadley also left the impression that the President really wasn't given a lot of detail. Isn't it fair that this White House --
MS. PERINO: That's not an impression, that's a fact.
Q --- be more precise --- it's not a fact, given what you said. It is not a fact that he wasn't told the new information, if we're to believe what you said.
MS. PERINO: Martha, what I'm saying is that the President was told that there was new information that had come in. It was regarding the raw intelligence that they had had --- they might --- if we find out that this is true, then we were right that they had a covert nuclear weapons program, but it may be suspended; we've got to check out more information. But the President didn't get the raw detail in terms of the sources and methods --- how did they find this information --
Q But we're not saying he did. We're saying --
MS. PERINO: --- and I'm saying --- Martha, let me finish, please. The President said --- I grant you, and I've said it before, the President could have been more precise in that one specific answer in the press conference. But clearly the President knew that there was information. We've said that there was, the DNI has said there was, the Director of the CIA has said that there was new information that came to him. And this information --- check with the DNI on specifics for who and when --- was also given to the Hill. And so this information was out there, but didn't know the specifics --- he did not know the specifics of it in terms of all the details and all the different checking that had gone forward. He got that briefing last Wednesday.
Q Can I just clarify, is the President briefed every day by Director McConnell, when he gets his daily intelligence briefing?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if it's him every day, but he does get a briefing, sure.
Q But on a regular basis, Director McConnell is in the Oval Office?
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q So are you saying that from August, when the President was tipped off by McConnell, until last week --
MS. PERINO: "Tipped off"? Come on, Ed.
Q No, no, no. He was tipped off --
MS. PERINO: "Tipped off"? He was told that --
Q --- to the fact that the assessment may be changing, in your own words --
MS. PERINO: Correct.
Q --- you said he was told of that.
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q He wasn't told all the details. So from August until last week, the President never asked Director McConnell, hey, how's that going, are we getting any more on Iran? He never asked --
MS. PERINO: I'm not saying that. But if I --
Q Well, so he did ask for --
MS. PERINO: --- I don't know exactly what the President asked in the presidential daily brief. But say that I --- just --- I'm going to do a hypothetical here, which I usually don't do --- but say I had. And the questions from this room would be, "Did the President pressure the intelligence community? Did he meddle in the intelligence?" And the answer is, no.
Look, Ed, this is what --
Q How about just being curious and asking, hey, is there a new assessment; I'm out there talking about World War III.
MS. PERINO: No --- let me clarify that one more time. The President said, if you want to avoid World War III, you will prevent Iran from having the know-how to make a nuclear weapon. What we know right now for sure is that Iran is enriching uranium, which is fissile material, to get a bomb. They are developing ballistic missiles in order to deliver a bomb. And we know something that we didn't know before, which is that they have halted a covert nuclear weapons program. This should not give us comfort.
And what the President is saying is that he is going to stick with the international community, who has agreed with him and said this is a problem. We do not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon. And therefore, we are going to keep the pressure on, because what the NIE also tells us is that it is pressure that made them halt that nuclear weapons program.
Now, there are others who might look at these conclusions and decide, it's time to breathe a sigh of relief and to walk away and to take the pressure off. But that's not where the President and his allies are.
Q Can you just clarify one more thing? What day was the President actually briefed on the NIE?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I don't know.
Q Well, because Mr. Hadley left the impression that it was last Wednesday.
MS. PERINO: Oh, the NIE specifically? Yes, it was last Wednesday.
Q Last Wednesday. Okay. But there have been reports that the President briefed Prime Minister Olmert last week, maybe on Monday. Is that --
Q I just want to widen out for a second, because it seems like we may be getting lost a little bit in the weeds here. While the rhetoric was heating up --- and I don't think there's any dispute that the rhetoric was heating up --
MS. PERINO: I would dispute that.
Q --- the Vice President saying there would be serious consequences, the President talking --- beyond August, in the fall, you don't think the rhetoric was heating up?
MS. PERINO: I do not. I think that's been the characterization of the press.
Q But the President didn't even dispute that the other day.
MS. PERINO: I think that --- look, but the President's policy hasn't changed.
Q I guess my question is, while the President was engaged --- and I think --- I imagine the President would have taken exception to this the other day when he was asked directly, "while the rhetoric was heating up," if he was aware when --- I think what a lot of people are trying to get their arms around here is, was he told at the point there's new information, isn't that some kind of red flag to back off or tone down the rhetoric?
MS. PERINO: Just remember --- but think about it in terms of he's told there's new information confirming what we thought to be the case, that they were pursuing a nuclear weapon and they had actually a nuclear weapons program previously undisclosed --- to this day, undisclosed.
Q So the question is --- it's a question of interpretation --- if they have halted their program, does that confirm what you believe, or is that new information that they've halted their program? You're saying it just confirms what we've been saying all along. So what he was told really was --- that wasn't any new change in information or perspective, or anything?
MS. PERINO: Two things are new, which is they had a covert nuclear weapons program that we didn't know before, and that they had halted it because of international pressure. Those are the two things that are new.
Q So anyone's takeaway is that they had a program --- Iran had a program, and they haven't had it since 2003, they haven't had a program in four years --- if that's somebody's takeaway from the news this week, that is, what, a very limited view?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would --- well, now we know that they have a covert nuclear weapons program. That's something they hadn't known before. But we also know at the same time that they are enriching uranium, which is in order to get fissile material. And the second thing is that they continue to test and develop more ballistic missiles in order to deliver a weapon.
We also --- read through the NIE --- the other thing it says is they aren't sure whether the civilian programs that I just --- the two that I mentioned --- aren't being passed to another covert nuclear weapons program that we don't know about, which is why the President and his international allies --- the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan --- have said, keep the pressure on, we do not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
They have a path to negotiate, and that path has been open to them. All they have to do is suspend and to talk about it.
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q Did he brief Prime Minister Olmert? And how could he brief Olmert on Monday about a report that he found out about on Wednesday? Can you --
MS. PERINO: I don't --- I will check. I mean, it's possible that he knew that there was information coming, the intelligence community was checking it out --
Q --- he didn't just find out about it Wednesday. This was out there.
MS. PERINO: The President knew --- no, Ed, think about it. Think about it. The President was told by McConnell that the NIE --- he knew an NIE was coming. He knew that NIE was going to have to be delayed because they had gotten some new information, and --- Jim, I'll get to you in a second --- that the NIE was coming, but they had to check things out, they had to do some more due diligence, and then they would come back to the President. So he knew it was coming eventually. So I don't think there's anything --
Q But you can clarify which day it is later?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if I can. I know that the --- in the backgrounder that the DHI's office did, they said circa August.
Q The New York Times today --
MS. PERINO: I don't know --- why do you guys ask me questions, and then I start answering, and you ask me a question on top of it? What's your last question?
Q The New York Times today is saying that there was a meeting in the Situation Room two weeks ago about this NIE, and the Vice President was there, but not the President. Is that true?
MS. PERINO: I don't know, but it wouldn't be --- that wouldn't strike me as unusual.
Q Okay, but then, it wouldn't filter up to the President if the Vice President knew about the contents of the NIE two weeks ago? It wouldn't filter to the President until last week? He wouldn't know about the details?
MS. PERINO: I don't know, I'll check for you. But that would --- it would not strike me as unusual that people are getting...
Okay, I'm going to go to the back row. Go ahead. Not back row, second row. James Rosen, making a guest appearance.
Q Thank you very much. I want to follow up, Dana, on two subjects that have been coming through so far: Iran and the NIE. The most senior of the four senior intelligence officials who briefed reporters in downtown Washington on the day of the release of the unclassified judgments of the NIE --
MS. PERINO: Yes?
Q --- stated on that occasion that it was his belief --- that it remained his belief --- that it is Iran's, quote, "latent goal" to build a nuclear weapon. Does the President share that view?
MS. PERINO: The President is very concerned that because of the activities that we know they're undertaking right now, which is the enriching of uranium and developing the ballistic missiles, and now knowing that they have a covert nuclear weapons program that they had halted in 2003, the President believes it's appropriate that we keep the pressure on, and he is joined by his allies in that regard.
Q Does he believe that it is Iran's latent goal to build a nuclear weapon?
MS. PERINO: I think --- I would have to ask him the specific question. I think that we are concerned enough about these activities to think that there could be a nuclear program in the future. It's also a great concern to think that a civilian --- a program that is masked as something that is civilian could be passing secrets on to a military operation.
Q Dana, two questions --- if I can clarify something you said earlier. You said they're enriching uranium, which is fissile material to get a bomb.
MS. PERINO: Which can --- I'm sorry, which can lead to fissile material to get a bomb.
Q Okay. You're not saying at the moment they are currently enriching uranium to the degree necessary to have weapons-grade uranium?
MS. PERINO: We don't know.