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On the July 31 edition of the syndicated Chris Matthews Show, Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward baselessly claimed that former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's 2002 confidential report on the purported sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq contradicted his July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed, in which Wilson claimed it was unlikely such a transaction occurred. Wilson's report is still classified, but from what the Senate Intelligence Committee has disclosed about it, there appears to be no contradiction between the report and Wilson's op-ed.
Woodward responded to host Chris Matthews's assertion that Wilson's 2002 report "was murky, if not positive, that there was some kind of deal," by claiming that "there were reasonable grounds to discredit" Wilson, and alleged that "he had said something in his reports a year before that contradicted what he wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times."
Wilson's report*, however, conforms to his Times op-ed. The report itself is classified, though its contents are described in the 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee's "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Pre-War Intelligence Assessments on Iraq."
In his op-ed, Wilson wrote of the reported sale of Nigerian yellowcake uranium to Iraq that "[i]t did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place." In support of his conclusion, Wilson wrote:
Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger's uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there's simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.
Wilson's language closely echoes the Intelligence Committee's description of his report:
The intelligence report also said that Niger's former Minister for Energy and Mines, Mai Manga, stated that there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980's.
The intelligence report described how the structure of Niger's uranium mines would make it difficult, if not impossible, for Niger to sell uranium to rogue nations, and noted that Nigerien officials denied knowledge of any deals to sell uranium to any rogue states, but did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium."
From the July 31 edition of The Chris Matthews Show:
MATTHEWS: In fact, the vice president first raised the question with the CIA during his regular briefing as to whether there was anything to this Italian story that there was an arms deal -- a nuclear deal to get uranium, yellowcake, from the government of Niger, because he wanted to find such evidence, and as you were talking earlier, you pointed out that initial report from Joe Wilson was murky, if not positive, that there was some kind of deal.
WOODWARD: Exactly. I mean, here is the problem with this. We talk about -- these words get thrown around: the effort to "trash" Joe Wilson, a "campaign." I kind of like [New York Times reporter] Elisabeth's [Bumiller] word: to "discredit" him. And there were reasonable grounds to discredit Wilson. In other words, he had said something in his reports a year before that contradicted what he wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times. So that means somebody was not fact-checking the op-ed piece in The New York Times.
* Wilson himself did not actually file a written report on his trip to Niger, but instead was debriefed by CIA officials who in turn drafted the report.