Joseph Wilson on Wolf Blitzer

Thanks to a pointer from the MinuteMan, here’s the transcript of the segment of the Wolf Blitzer program featuring Ambassador Joseph Wilson. There’s not much new here — Wilson seems to be back in equivocation mode about his wife’s job status — but the tone of Wilson’s remarks don’t lend much support to the attempts on the right to paint him as some sort of wild-eyed Baath sympathizer. The silence on this story from the mainstream print media grows more and more deafening.

CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER (*)

Aired August 3, 2003 – 12:00 ET

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: President Bush speaking those now famous or infamous 16 words about Iraq’s alleged nuclear program in his State of the Union Address in January.

Welcome back to “LATE EDITION.”

We’re joined now by the man who went to Africa to personally investigate whether Iraq attempted to purchase uranium, the former U.S. acting ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to “LATE EDITION.”

I want to get to that whole issue in just a moment, but listen to what David Kay, who is now working for the CIA, the former U.N. weapons inspector, says about the search for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DAVID KAY, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: There is solid evidence being produced. We do not intend to expose this evidence until we have full confidence that it is solid proof of what we’re proposed to take — to talk about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I think he’s being very cautious now, given some of the missteps in the past. But do you have confidence in David Kay, that they know what they’re doing?

JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER U.S. ACTING AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Oh, absolutely, and I’ve had confidence in — that we would find weapons of mass destruction, weapons of mass destruction programs from the very beginning of the run-up to the war in Iraq.

687, the initial U.N. resolution dealing with weapons of mass destruction, demanded compliance, and it had as its objective disarmament. We had not yet achieved disarmament, so it was perfectly appropriate to continue to try and gather together the international consensus to disarm Saddam and his programs.

I think we’ll find chemical weapons. I think we’ll find biological precursors that may or may not have been weaponized. And I think we will find a continuing interest of — on nuclear weapons. The question really is whether it met the threshold test of imminent threat to our own national security or even the test of grave and gathering danger.

BLITZER: And you believe, going into the war, that that threshold had not been met?

WILSON: No, not at all. I believe that we had to be aggressive in disarming and that the posture we had to take had to include the credible threat of force. And in order for that threat of force to be credible, we had to be prepared to use it.

What I disagreed with was the other agendas that were in play that led us to invade, conquer and now occupy Iraq.

BLITZER: But did they exaggerate the threat?

WILSON: Well, in my particular piece of this, the Niger piece, I think it’s very clear that this rumor kept popping back up…

BLITZER: That they were seeking uranium — enriched uranium from Africa.

WILSON: Right…

BLITZER: Which they have sought in the past. Which they have sought in the past.

WILSON: Which they had sought in the ’80s, and all that was well documented. And there was, in fact, a delegation that went from Baghdad to Niamey in 1999. That visit was well documented in U.S. reporting as well.

BLITZER: I know you were sent to go on this mission long before the State of the Union Address. When Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, was on this program a few weeks ago, on July 13th, I asked her about your mission. Listen to this exchange I had with her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I didn’t know Joe Wilson was going to Niger. And if you look in Director Tenet’s statement, it says that counter-proliferation experts, on their own initiative, sent Joe Wilson. So, I don’t know…

BLITZER: Who sent him?

RICE: Well, it was certainly not at a level that had anything to do with the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that true?

WILSON: Well, look, it’s absolutely true that neither the vice president nor Dr. Rice nor even George Tenet knew that I was traveling to Niger.

What they did, what the office of the vice president did, and, in fact, I believe now from Mr. Libby’s statement, it was probably the vice president himself…

BLITZER: Scooter Libby is the chief of staff for the vice president.

WILSON: Scooter Libby.

They asked essentially that we follow up on this report — that the agency follow up on the report. So it was a question that went to the CIA briefer from the Office of the Vice President. The CIA, at the operational level, made a determination that the best way to answer this serious question was to send somebody out there who knew something about both the uranium business and those Niger officials that were in office at the time these reported documents were executed.

BLITZER: I want you to elaborate on what you said, I believe, in Time magazine, that this was a smear job against you, this entire post-mortem that’s been coming up since then, including your wife, who works at the CIA exposing her, for example. What did you mean by that?

WILSON: Well, first of all, with respect to my wife, I don’t answer any questions. And anything that I say with respect to that, the allegations about her are all hypothetical. I would not confirm or deny her place of employment. To do so would be, if she were, a breach of national security; and if she were not, at a minimum, what they have done is they have forced her to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions from neighbors and friends and whatnot.

But what I said to Time magazine and to others is that these attacks on me, which were really very minor — Cliff May saying that I told the truth because I was a Democrat. I went out to Iraq because I was an American patriot and my government asked me to go out.

But the idea seemed to me, in going after me and then later making these allegations about my wife, was clearly designed to keep others from stepping forward.

If you recall, there were any number of analysts who were quoted anonymously as saying that the vice president had seemed to pressure them in his many trips out to the CIA. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but you can be sure that a GS-14 or 15 with a couple of kids in college, when he sees the allegations that came from senior administration officials about my family are in the public domain, you can be sure that he’s going to be worried about what might happen if he were to step forward.

BLITZER: And you still want an investigation to find out if laws were broken in releasing this information, for example, about your wife?

WILSON: Well, yes, and hypothetically speaking, about my wife. If in fact she is as Mr. Novak alleged in his…

BLITZER: Bob Novak.

WILSON: … Bob Novak, the journalist, alleged in his article, then the two senior administration officials, who leaked that information are libel or vulnerable to investigation under a 1982 law dealing with the identification of American agents.

BLITZER: How close in your estimate — and you’re an expert on this — is the U.S. to finding Saddam Hussein? WILSON: It’s a hit and miss thing. If Saddam is actually out in Mosul with the western tribes, as was asserted this morning, then he might be more exposed. If he’s in a neighborhood in Baghdad, I think it’s a little bit more difficult to find him, because the neighborhoods he’s going to frequent are full of fervent Baathist supporters, and it’s hard for U.S. troops to get in there unnoticed; it’s hard to spring a surprise.

BLITZER: If they found Saddam Hussein, captured him or killed him, would be it over then? Would everything, sort of, fall into place and Ambassador Bremer could have, sort of, easy ride to get democracy, elections, a new Iraqi regime in place?

WILSON: Well, I actually think having found Qusay and Uday was better in driving the wooden stake through the heart of the idea that there would be a Hussein dynasty that would reemerge.

I think as the two senators said earlier, that Saddam is largely a spent force. Killing him will kill the tyrant, and that will be a good thing.

That said, I think that what we face here is we face the fact that we defeated the Sunni tribe, and the Sunni tribe would like to come back and reassert itself in power or at a minimum will want to defend itself against both U.S. occupation forces and what they fear is going to be a Shia attempt to assert their power over the country.

So I don’t think over the medium and long term this is over by a long shot.

BLITZER: We want to have you back and talk about Liberia. You’re an expert on Africa too. But we don’t have time, unfortunately for that today.

Ambassador Joe Wilson, thanks for joining us.

WILSON: Good to be with you, Wolf. Thanks.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com