President George W Bush’s deputy national security adviser became the second US official to apologise for allowing a tainted intelligence report on Iraq’s nuclear ambitions to find its way into a major speech by Bush before Congress in January.
Stephen Hadley, in a rare on-the-record session with reporters, said that he had received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from agency Director George Tenet last October raising objections to an allegation that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium ore from Africa to use in building nuclear weapons.
As a result, Mr Hadley said the offending passage was cut from a speech on Iraq the President gave in Cincinnati, Ohio last October. But Mr Hadley suggested that details from the memos and phone call had slipped his attention as officials were putting together Mr Bush’s State of the Union address, given before a joint session of Congress in January.
“The high standards the President set were not met,” Mr Hadley said. He said he apologised to the President on Monday.
Mr Tenet previously issued a statement saying that he should have raised objections to the Iraq-Africa-uranium sentence when the CIA reviewed an advance copy of the President’s speech. Mr Hadley is the top aide to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The controversial passage citing a British intelligence report “should have been taken out of the State of the Union”, Mr Hadley said. He said he was taking responsibility on behalf of the White House staff just as Mr Tenet had for the CIA.
“There were a number of people who could have raised a hand” to have the passage removed from the draft of Bush’s January 28 address, Mr Hadley said. “And no one raised a hand.”
White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said that Mr Bush, while perturbed by the developments, “has full confidence in his national security adviser, his deputy national security adviser and the director of central intelligence”.
The Bush administration presented Mr Hadley’s apology on a day when public attention on Iraq was focused on the killing of Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay.
Mr Hadley expressed his regret to Mr Bush in a private session on Monday, offering what amounted to his resignation. The President did not accept it, aides said.
Meanwhile, Democrats used the development to step up their criticism of the President. “First they blamed the Brits. Then CIA Director George Tenet walked the plank. Now the White House is dragging (Hadley) forward to take the fall for the President’s bogus claim,” said Tony Welch, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.