Bush’s CIA Briefer: Cheney and Bush Lied about Iraq Nukes

Republicans insist that the Bush-Cheney administration relied on faulty intel instead – because incompetence may be excusable but starting a war based on lies is a war crime
Mike Morell, the CIA officer who briefed George W. Bush on  intelligence, during his appearance on MSNBC's "Hardball"
Mike Morell, the CIA officer who briefed George W. Bush on intelligence, during his appearance on MSNBC’s “Hardball”

Why did George Bush and Dick Cheney invade Iraq? Their foundational rationale for the invasion was to prevent Saddam Hussein from using nuclear weapons they claimed he had. Based on what we know now, of course, those claims were either lies or they were based on faulty intelligence. Republicans are desperate to assert it was the latter — that Bush and Cheney were merely incompetent and relied on bad data — because if the former were true, if Bush and Cheney knowing lied about their rationale for taking the country to war, they were guilty of a massive war crime and, by all rights, should be sitting the Hague today.

Earlier this week, Mike Morell, the CIA officer who served as George Bush’s chief intelligence briefer, confirmed that the claims by Bush, Cheney and others that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons were lies.

Video and transcript follow…

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Tuesday, May 19, Morell, who’s promoting his book on terrorism, “The Great War Of our Time,” was pressured by host Chris Matthews to confirm whether the CIA had provided evidence to back up repeated warnings by Bush, Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice that if the United States did not invade Iraq, the “smoking gun” evidence that Hussein had nuclear weapons would be a “mushroom cloud.”

During the often testy exchange, Morell finally admitted those warnings were lies.

Matthews ran a video segment from NBC’s “Meet the Press” a few days before the invasion in which Cheney asserted that Saddam “has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

“Was that true or not?” Matthews asked.

After attempting to deflect the question. “So we were saying…” said Morell.

“Was that true?” Matthews demanded.

“We were saying…”

“Can you answer that question?” Matthews asked, “Was that true?”

“No,” said Morell, finally, “that`s not true.”

Matthews continued to dig. “So you`re briefing the president on the reasons for war,” he said, a little later, “they`re selling the war using your stuff, saying that you made that case when you didn`t. So they`re using your credibility to make the case for war dishonestly, as you just admitted.”

“Look,” said Morell, “I`m just telling you…”

“Well, you just admitted it!”

“I`m just telling you what we said, Chris…”

“They gave a false presentation of what you said to them,” Matthews said.

Yes, Morell said, the Bush, Cheney and others had lied on “some aspects” of CIA briefiings.

But Matthews pressed the point. The lies were not merely about some banal “aspects” but about the foundation of their pretext for war — that Saddam had a nuclear weapon. “That`s a big deal!” Matthews said.

“Chris,” said Morell, “I`m telling you what we said.”

“Do you agree it`s a big deal they claimed he had a weapon when you knew that he didn`t?” Matthews asked.

“Yeah,” Morell, Bush’s number-one intelligence briefer, finally admitted, “it’s a big deal.”

It’s a big deal because Saddam Hussein’s possession of nuclear weapons trumped a key argument against invasion: the provable fact that he was not behind the 9/11 attacks.

And the lie was a big deal because it led to the deaths of 4,000 U.S. service personnel, tens of thousand of innocent Iraqis, the wasting of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars and the standing up of ISIS today.

Transcript:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

I have to start tonight by clearing the air about the fight we had last night right at the top of the show. This is what I want to make clear.

Put aside every other aspect of the war we fought with Iraq in 2003, focus on one incontestable reality — people at the top of the Bush administration said that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon. They said he not only possessed a nuclear weapon but had the ability to deliver it over vast stretches of territory.

We know, everyone listening to me now, why they made that claim, why they said Saddam had a nuclear weapon, why they had the ability to threaten even the United States with it. That reason was to get this country into war, to get the skeptics, the people on the fence, the people who didn`t trust the Bush people, the neocons and the rest of them, to act.

They knew that a nuclear weapon in the hands of Saddam was something no one could have the nerve to defend, and so they made the claim. They did what it took to make their case for the United States to invade another country on the other side of the world, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and had not attacked us, period.

Why people bought this, why they were willing to buy this claim is a charge against our democracy, I believe. We ought to have leaders, we ought to have opposition leaders with the guts to stand up against this rush to war on unsubstantiated claims, especially when they were so clearly the last word in a deliberate hard sell for a war on which they had long before set their hearts.

I`m joined now by former deputy director of the CIA, Mike Morell. He`s author of a great new book with lots to talk about, “The Great War Of our Time.” As well as Susan Page, a regular here on the program, the Washington bureau chief of “USA Today.”

Well, let me get this straight. First of all, today in Iowa, Hillary Clinton was asked about the 2003 invasion of Iraq which ousted Saddam Hussein, and here`s her response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Given the situation in Iraq, do you think that we`re better off without Saddam Hussein in power?

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I know that there have been a lot of questions about Iraq posed to candidates over the last weeks. I`ve made it very clear that I made a mistake, plain and simple. And I — I have written about it in my book.

I`ve talked about it in the past. And you know, what we now see is a very different and very dangerous situation. The United States is doing what it can, but ultimately, this has to be a struggle that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people are determined to win for themselves.

END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Her answer there varied only slightly from what she did write in the book, “Hard Choices.” Quote — in the book — “Many senators came to wish they voted against the resolution.” That was the war resolution. “I was one of them. I wasn`t alone in getting it wrong, but I still got it wrong plain and simple.”

Well, let`s go to Mike on this. I think one question last — why did Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats vote for the Iraq war?

MICHAEL MORELL, FMR. DEPUTY CIA DIR.: So what I tried to do in the book —

MATTHEWS: Is that a question you`re going to answer or not answer?

MORELL: No, I`m not going to answer.

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, you`re going to pick the question like Hillary does?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m glad you`re straight about that.

MORELL: OK. Because in the book, what I try to do is not say whether it was the right thing or the wrong thing to do —

MATTHEWS: No, I`m not asking (INAUDIBLE) right thing — why did they go along with the case that was made?

MORELL: Because the context of the times — the context of the times, which I talk about in the book, was — was the United States of America had just been attacked, 3,000 —

MATTHEWS: Not by Iraq!

MORELL: Wait, wait, wait, wait! Three thousand people had just been killed, OK?

MATTHEWS: But not because of Iraq!

MORELL: Chris — Chris, you going to let me answer?

MATTHEWS: No, but it — I have to challenge —

MORELL: Hang on. Hang on.

MATTHEWS: — you on each point because you`re building a case that`s irrelevant. Go ahead.

MORELL: Hang on. The intelligence community —

MATTHEWS: Yes?

MORELL: — was telling the president of the United States —

MATTHEWS: Right.

MORELL: — that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction —

MATTHEWS: Now, let`s talk English. Did they tell him — and you were there — that Saddam had a nuclear weapon, which is what Cheney and the rest were saying?

MORELL: No, here`s what we said —

MATTHEWS: Did — did — no. Cheney said nuclear weapon.

MORELL: Chris, here`s what we said. Here`s what we said. We said he has chemical weapons. We said he has a biological weapon production capability.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

MORELL: And we said he is reconstituting his nuclear weapons program.

MATTHEWS: No, that`s not what Dick Cheney said.

MORELL: I`m telling you what we said —

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re briefing these guys to no effect, then! You`re telling them one thing, and they tell the country what sells their war.

MORELL: Chris, I am telling you what we told —

MATTHEWS: Was Cheney telling the truth?

MORELL: — the American people.

MATTHEWS: Was Cheney telling the truth?

MORELL: I — you`ve got to tell me exactly what they said, and I can tell you whether —

MATTHEWS: Just before the invasion in March of 2003, former vice president Dick Cheney said that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know he`s been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: “He has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” Was that true or not?

MORELL: So we were saying —

MATTHEWS: Was that true?

MORELL: We were saying —

MATTHEWS: Can you answer that question? Was that true?

MORELL: No, that`s not true.

MATTHEWS: Well, why did you let him get away with it?

MORELL: Look, my job — my job, Chris, is to —

MATTHEWS: You`re the briefer of the president on intelligence. You`re the top person to go in and tell him what`s going on. You see Cheney make this charge he`s got a nuclear bomb, and then they make subsequent charges he knows how to deliver it, he had the capability, and nobody raced (ph) in and said, No, that`s not what they told him!

MORELL: Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, wasn`t my job, right? My job —

MATTHEWS: To tell the truth.

MORELL: My job — no, as the briefer — as the briefer —

MATTHEWS: OK. Go ahead.

MORELL: As the briefer, my job is to carry CIA`s best information and best analysis to the president of the United States and make sure he understands it, right? My job is to not watch what they`re saying on TV and say —

MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s a joke?

MORELL: What?

MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s a joke that Cheney said — (INAUDIBLE)

MORELL: That`s not my job. That`s not my job.

MATTHEWS: Did you know he did that?

MORELL: No! I wasn`t paying attention. I was studying what was on my desk every morning!

MATTHEWS: So you`re briefing the president on the reasons for war, they`re selling the war using your stuff, saying that you made that case when you didn`t. So they`re using your credibility to make the case for war dishonestly, as you just admitted.

MORELL: Look, I`m just telling you —

MATTHEWS: Well, you just admitted it!

MORELL: I`m just telling you what we said, Chris —

MATTHEWS: They gave a false presentation of what you said to them.

MORELL: On some aspects. On some aspects.

MATTHEWS: That he has a nuclear weapon!

MORELL: I`m telling you what we said.

MATTHEWS: That`s a big deal!

MORELL: Chris, I`m telling you what we said.

MATTHEWS: Do you agree, it`s a big deal they claimed he had a weapon when you knew that he didn`t?

MORRELL: Yeah, it’s a big deal.

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