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Can I say how  impressed I am by Colin Powell’s willingness to throw Dick Cheney under the bus to save George Bush, even as he admit he knew all along that the claims about Iraqi attempts to obtain Niger uranium were bunk?  As Robert Sheer reports:

I queried Powell at a reception following a talk he gave in Los Angeles on Monday. Pointing out that the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate showed that his State Department had gotten it right on the nonexistent Iraq nuclear threat, I asked why did the president ignore that wisdom in his stated case for the invasion?

"The CIA was pushing the aluminum tube argument heavily and Cheney went with that instead of what our guys wrote," Powell said. And the Niger reference in Bush’s State of the Union speech? "That was a big mistake," he said. "It should never have been in the speech. I didn’t need Wilson to tell me that there wasn’t a Niger connection. He didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. I never believed it."

When I pressed further as to why the president played up the Iraq nuclear threat, Powell said it wasn’t the president: "That was all Cheney." A convenient response for a Bush family loyalist, perhaps, but it begs the question of how the president came to be a captive of his vice president’s fantasies.

Powell didn’t need Joe Wilson to tell him there wasn’t a Niger connection?  Well the rest of us sure did.  Joe Wilson didn’t make the difficult decision to write his July 6, 2003 NYT editorial entitled "What I Didn’t Find in Africa" because Colin Powell was letting this be known to the public.

As the NYT recently reported about the July 8 meeting between Scooter Libby and Judith Miller:

But a week earlier, in an interview in his State Department office, Mr. Powell told three other reporters for The Times that intelligence agencies had essentially rejected that contention, and were "no longer carrying it as a credible item" by early 2003, when he was preparing to make the case against Iraq at the United Nations.

Obviously he was not saying this for attribution because I think I would have remembered a NYT headline reading "Secretary of State Calls Bullshit on BushCo."

Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer’s excellent article in the Washington Post last weekend probably didn’t get the attention it deserved, overshadowed as it was by Fred Hiatt’s editorial misdemeanors.  But it contained this bit:

Tenet interceded to keep the claim out of a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, but by Dec. 19 it reappeared in a State Department "fact sheet." After that, the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council, the senior coordinating body for the 15 agencies that then constituted the U.S. intelligence community. Did Iraq and Niger discuss a uranium sale, or not? If they had, the Pentagon would need to reconsider its ties with Niger.

The council’s reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.

Everyone in the administration knew as of January, 2003 that the claim was hogwash.  George Bush knew the truth when he authorized Scooter Libby to leak classified information to mislead Judy Miller into believing it was true.  It took Joe Wilson’s editorial to force George Tenet to finally admit, on July 11, that the eleven words should never have been included in Bush’s speech.  

I can’t believe I’m sitting here defending Dick Cheney but Colin Powell’s attempts to portray himself as some sort of truth teller, and George Bush as having been misled, are extremely disingenuous.  Powell needs to be telling us why he didn’t have the courage to say what needed to be said, what Joe Wilson finally did.