Weekly Standard 's Hayes offered distortions -- old and new -- in his continued attacks on Wilson

In his October 25 Daily Standard online column, Weekly Standard senior writer Stephen F. Hayes resumed his attacks on former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. For his renewed assault on Wilson, Hayes revisited a number of the falsehoods and distortions included in his previous article -- a lengthy piece in the October 24 edition of The Weekly Standard, that was debunked by Media Matters for America -- and presented some new falsehoods and distortions regarding the outing of Wilson's wife, the formerly undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Wilson, a former diplomat specializing in Africa, was sent by the CIA to Niger in 2002 to investigate a reported sale of yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Wilson concluded there was little evidence to support such a claim and reported his findings to the CIA. After President Bush referenced the alleged Niger-Iraq uranium transaction in his 2003 State of the Union address as justification for the impending invasion of Iraq, Wilson publicly announced his findings in a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed. In a column published eight days later, nationally syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak identified Plame as “an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.” Novak wrote: “Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger.” The White House allegedly attempted to discredit Wilson by suggesting that Plame recommended him for the mission. Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is investigating whether any laws were violated in connection with the leak of Plame's identity.

In his Daily Standard column, Hayes criticized an October 25 Washington Post article for reporting that “Wilson's central assertion -- disputing President Bush's 2003 State of the Union claim that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Niger -- has been validated by postwar weapons inspections.” According to Hayes:

First, it is far from clear that Bush's claim has been invalidated by postwar inspections. Weapons inspections in 2003 and 2004 have little bearing on whether Iraq sought uranium in 1999. And the British review of prewar intelligence (known as the Butler report) concluded that the claim was -- and remains -- solid. Even Wilson's own reporting about a 1999 meeting between Nigerien government officials and an Iraqi delegation seemed to corroborate earlier reports, dating back to October 2001, that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger.

Yet Hayes ignored the fact that White House officials and the CIA acknowledged that Bush's now-infamous “16 words” from his 2003 State of the Union address -- “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” -- should not have been included in the address. Additionally, the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq" (pdf) concluded that the available intelligence did not support this claim after October 2002. On July 22, 2003, then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley acknowledged: “I should have asked that the 16 words be taken out” [New York Times, 7/23/03]. On July 11, 2003, then-CIA director George Tenet stated publicly: “These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Moreover, the Senate Intelligence Committee's report concluded: “Until October 2002 when the Intelligence Community obtained the forged foreign language documents on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, it was reasonable for analysts to assess that Iraq may have been seeking uranium from Africa based on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reporting and other available intelligence.” While the Butler report (pdf) did conclude that Bush's statement was “well-founded,” it provided no new evidence supporting an Iraq-Niger transaction but instead relied on unnamed “intelligence assessments at the time.”

Hayes, in claiming that “Wilson's own reporting about a 1999 meeting between Nigerien government officials and an Iraqi delegation seemed to corroborate earlier reports ... that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger,” failed to note that this was just the CIA's interpretation of Wilson's findings. The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) held the opposing view that Wilson's findings confirmed their belief that Niger was unwilling and unable to supply uranium to Iraq. The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that INR's assessment was correct. Also, as he did in his previous article, Hayes presented only half of Wilson's key findings -- omitting a portion that bolstered INR's interpretation. He again made no mention of Wilson's meeting with Niger's former minister of mines (as described in the Senate Intelligence Committee report), who claimed that there had been no unauthorized uranium sales and that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to arrange such a sale given the tight controls of a French mining consortium that controls Niger's uranium industry.

Hayes went on to criticize the October 25 Post article for presenting “as an ambiguity” the disputed claim that Plame suggested Wilson for the trip. According to Hayes, there is no ambiguity:

By the CIA's own account, Mrs. Wilson was “involved” in sending her husband to Niger. So his [Wilson's] denial is, again, false. Furthermore, the Senate Intelligence Committee report makes clear that Mrs. Wilson was instrumental in facilitating her husband's trip to Niger. She suggested him for the job, even writing a memo to her superiors detailing his qualifications for the mission. She introduced him at the subsequent meeting about the trip. And, upon his return, she was present for his debriefing, which was conducted by two CIA officials in their home.

Contrary to Hayes's assertion, the Senate Intelligence Committee report does not “make clear that Mrs. Wilson was instrumental in facilitating her husband's trip to Niger.” As Media Matters noted the last time Hayes made this false claim, the committee drew no official conclusion regarding Plame's involvement in the origins of Wilson's mission. Hayes's assertion that Plame “introduced [Wilson] at the subsequent meeting about the trip” has reportedly been disputed by the CIA, which has claimed that the CIA agent whom an INR memo recorded as describing Plame's role at the 2002 meeting could not have attended it. Additionally, Hayes's allegation that Plame “was present for his debriefing” is misleading at best. Wilson was debriefed by the CIA at his home in Washington, DC; the Senate Intelligence Committee report noted that “although his wife was there, according to the reports officer, she acted as a hostess and did not participate in the debrief.”

Finally, Hayes falsely suggested that Wilson lied when claiming, “I never said the vice president sent me or ordered me sent.” Hayes contrasted this statement with a May 6, 2003, op-ed by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, in which Kristof wrote: “I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger.” Of this passage, Hayes wrote: “Was this Wilson? We cannot be certain. But both Kristof and Wilson have acknowledged that he was a primary source for the piece.” But even if Kristof was referring to Wilson, the statements are not contradictory. Kristof noted that Wilson “was dispatched to Niger”; but Kristof did not claim that Cheney's office had dispatched Wilson. As Media Matters for America noted [anchor at “Wilson said that Cheney”], Wilson has never claimed Cheney's office sent him to Niger; instead, Wilson has maintained that he was dispatched by the CIA, which was responding to a request from Cheney's office to investigate the purported uranium transaction.