Brit Hume mischaracterized a Washington Post report as asserting that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's 2002 report had debunked allegations that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger. Hume then attempted to refute the Post's purported assertion -- which the article did not make. Hume baselessly claimed, contrary to the CIA's report on Wilson's findings, that Wilson told the CIA he interpreted talk of a meeting about "commercial relations" between the then-Nigerien prime minister and Iraqis as being about uranium.
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During the "Grapevine" segment on the January 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Brit Hume criticized "mainstream media outlets" for their reporting on the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Hume falsely attacked a January 30 Washington Post article as a purported example of media reports that "continue to say" that President Bush's claim in the 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa "was contradicted by the findings" reported by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV "following his CIA mission to Niger ... to investigate the matter" in 2002. But the Post did not report that Wilson's findings contradicted Bush's claim. The Post reported that the reports prompting Wilson's mission -- that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger -- were "ultimately proved false." The article did not ascribe this to Wilson's findings.
Having set up the straw man -- that the Post reported that Wilson's findings proved Bush's claim wrong -- Hume then purported to debunk it:
HUME: But Wilson's report to the CIA actually confirmed that the former prime minister of Niger had met with Iraqis to discuss what was called "commercial relations," which Wilson interpreted as meaning sales of yellowcake uranium.
But according to a March 8, 2002, report by a CIA agent describing Wilson's findings, it was a former Nigerien prime minister who had interpreted "commercial relations" to mean sales of uranium -- not Wilson. The report said that the former prime minister of Niger, Ibrahim Mayaki, had "interpreted" an offer to meet with Iraqis on "expanding commercial relations" to mean that "Iraq wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales." From the report, which was declassified as evidence in the Libby trial:
2. Former Nigerien prime minister Ibrahim ((Mayaki)), who was Niger's foreign minister from 1996-1997 and Niger's prime minister from 1997-1999 and who maintained close ties to the current Nigerien government, stated he was unaware of any contracts being signed between Niger and rogue states for the sale of yellowcake during his tenure as both foreign minister and prime minister. Mayaki however, did relate that in June 1999 Barka ((Tefridj)), a Nigerien/Algerian businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. Although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the United Nations (UN) sanctions against Iraq and the fact that he opposed doing business with Iraq. Mayaki said that he interpreted the phrase "expanding commercial relations" to mean that Iraq wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. Mayaki said he understood rogue states would like to exploit Niger's resources, specifically uranium, but he believed the Nigerien government's regard for the United States (U.S.) as a close ally would prevent sales to these states from taking place despite Niger's economic woes. Mayaki claimed that if there had been any contracts for yellowcake between Niger and any rogue state during his tenure, he would have seen the contract.
As Media Matters for America has noted, according to the July 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee report about prewar intelligence on Iraq, Wilson said that Mayaki never confirmed the meaning of "expanding commercial relations":
In an interview with Committee staff, the former ambassador [Wilson] was able to provide more information about the meeting between former Prime Minister Mayaki and the Iraqi delegation. The former ambassador said that Mayaki did meet with the Iraqi delegation but never discussed what was meant by "expanding commercial relations." The former ambassador said that because Mayaki was wary of discussing any trade issues with a country under United Nations (UN) sanctions, he made a successful effort to steer the conversation away from a discussion of trade with the Iraqi delegation. [Page 44]
Furthermore, contrary to Hume's claim, the Post article did not assert that Wilson's findings contradicted reports that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. In fact, the article simply stated that reports "that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material in Niger" were "ultimately proved false." From the January 30 Post article:
Though a series of government officials have told the jury that Libby eagerly sought information about a prominent critic of the Iraq war, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, Fleischer was the first witness to say Libby then passed on what he learned: that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer who had sent him on a trip to Africa. Wilson's mission there was to explore reports, ultimately proved false, that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material in Niger.
That statement is fully supported. The "reports" that Wilson was sent to check out were based on forgeries, and the CIA Iraq Survey Group's (ISG) 2004 final report on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction stated that:
- "ISG has not found evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad after 1991 or renewed indigenous production of such material -- activities that we believe would have constituted an Iraqi effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program."
- "Regarding specific allegations of uranium pursuits from Niger, [Ja'far Diya'] Ja'far [head of Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear weapons program] claims that after 1998 Iraq had only two contacts with Niamey [the capital of Niger] -- neither of which involved uranium.
- "So far, ISG has found only one offer of uranium to Baghdad since 1991 -- an approach Iraq appears to have turned down." The approach was, according to the report, from a Ugandan businessman offering to sell uranium, supposedly from the Congo.
From the January 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: Mainstream news outlets covering the Scooter Libby trial continue to say that President Bush's contention that Iraq had tried to buy weapons-grade uranium in Africa was contradicted by the findings of Joe Wilson following his CIA mission to Niger, down in Africa, to investigate the matter. The Washington Post today said, quote, "Wilson's mission there was to explore reports, ultimately proved false, that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material in Niger."
But Wilson's report to the CIA actually confirmed that the former prime minister of Niger had met with Iraqis to discuss what was called "commercial relations," which Wilson interpreted as meaning sales of yellowcake uranium. Wilson told the CIA he had found no evidence of a successful deal, but not that there had been no attempts to broker a deal. Wilson later wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times which, to say the least, differed from his CIA report.