Condi Ignores Doubts on the 16 Words

Given that Henry Waxman has been threatening to subpoena Condi to answer precisely the same question that Robert Wexler asked today yesterday, I would guess that Condi has practiced her answer. And, unfortunately, the ability to filibuster is one of Condi’s greatest skills–Condi frankly got the best of Wexler here (and sadly, Wexler didn’t ask her the doozy question–why she approved the 16 words in the SOTU after Tenet had warned her strongly against the Niger claim in October 2002).

If you look at this whole exchange, Condi gets away with defending her integrity in several ways:

  • By eliding the difference between consensus judgments and challenges to it (in other words, Condi successfully ducked Wexler’s question about burying those challenges)
  • By shifting from the decisions she made about intelligence to the decisions others did
  • By ignoring the whole question of leaks to the press (Scooter Libby testified that Condi was the chief leaker in the A1 Cut-Out strategy, for example, which suggests Condi repeatedly leaked insta-declassified information to people like Judy Miller so it would become the dominant story)

But I’m particularly interested in Condi’s successful efforts to still–almost five years after the Valerie Wilson leak–pawn the blame off on the CIA:

RICE: Congressman, I am sorry, I sat through the briefings for the Congress and for the Senate, done by the intelligence community. We were there to provide policy advice, but either George Tenet or John McLaughlin or others gave those briefings.

And, Congressman, the American people were told what their intelligence community as a whole believed to be the assessment concerning Iraq’s programs.

Condi suggests that if Congress and the American people got bad information, it’s George Tenet’s and John McLaughlin’s fault.

Which is why–in addition to asking Condi why she approved the 16 words in the SOTU–Wexler didn’t bring up this briefing:

On October 2, 2002, the Deputy DCI testified before the SSCI. Senator Jon Kyl asked the Deputy DCI whether he had read the British white paper and whether he disagreed with anything in the report. The Deputy DCI testified that "the one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We’ve looked at those reports and we don’t think they are very credible. It doesn’t diminish our conviction that he’s going for nuclear weapons, but I think they reached a little bit on that one point. Otherwise I think it’s very solid."

The British White Paper, of course, was the source for the 16 words in the SOTU. And John McLaughlin–who Condi says never presented any challenges to the Iraq intelligence–sure challenged precisely the intelligence that formed the basis for the 16 words.

19 replies
  1. bobschacht says:

    I’ve seen Condi do this before. They ought to have a special rule for Condi: When Condi filibusters an answer, automatically extend the congressperson’s time to answer questions AND the length of the hearing. In other words, if she filibusters, she does it on her own time, and not the Congressperson’s time. If she wants to stay an extra hour or two, so be it.

    Stop rewarding her bad behavior.

    Bob in HI

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      I saw that clip, and had a different interpretation.

      Condi’s not respected internationally; she’s a thin-skinned prima donna, she’s defensive, and she’s in way over her head. (Show of hands for anyone who hasn’t seen this movie before…? There’s always an unpleasant end, where the prima donna melts down. Ick.)

      She makes herself less relevant every time she opens her mouth.
      She’ll deny her failures to her dying breath; let’s move on.

      • jerikoll says:

        Good point.

        It is a deep very dry well and nothing will come of it, so move on.

        There is too much hope invested in this oversight business. It doesn’t seem to work very well.

  2. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Condi dances well she is a perfectionist so throw her game off. Don’t ask her questions about the topic that she is prepared for. Instead tell her off about something off topic before the interview starts but after she is sworn in.
    Something like why did her State Dept turn over DNA evidence to KBR in a rape case where KBR employees are the suspects?
    Has anyone been punished yet for this? Why not?
    I don’t expect her to answer but a tactic like this will upset Condi because she worries about her image. Once she is facing embarrassment on National TV and a KO worse person in the world clip.
    Her confidence will be shattered.

  3. wkwf says:

    I don’t know why congresspersons don’t make their questions more specific, designed to not need more than a “yes”/”no”. At least, you get the opportunity to cut off any rambling, intentionally or otherwise. Instead, by directly questioning someone’s integrity and asking such an open question, you basically give up your time listening to feigned righteous indignation.

    • ThingsComeUndone says:

      Good point I thought Congress was full of lawyers trained in asking questions, and I would presume logic and public speaking. Plus they need to coordinate their questions and make better use of their time.
      If Condi stonewalls one congressperson until their time is up then the next Congressperson should ask the same question and remind her that any stalling is Contempt and County Jail time with Crackheads (no special treatment) until she answers.

      • bmaz says:

        And to wkwf @9 – Many are lawyers, but that certainly doesn’t mean they have any knowledge or ability to question a witness. Effective examination, whether cross or direct, is an art form and a skill that, really, only a small subset of lawyers possess. Even most trial lawyers, that are in court all the time (maybe 5% of all lawyers, maybe less), are not really more than adequate at the skill of examination. But there are simple and basic rules and tactics that these critters ought to at least learn if they are going to yap at these hearings. One, as noted above, is to not ask such open ended and broad questions; they are easy to kill off by the disingenuous witness and are easy to prepare for. Never open with your zinger; you want to bleed them into the critical question, hopefully after putting them in a posture where they have admitted the knowns and have no choice but to address the critical element. Always have followup questions ready; preferably with options to cover alternative paths that may be thrown at you. Many of these idiots I have seen couldn’t effectively get a kid to admit he likes candy.

        • Tominator says:

          Good points. I’m a trial lawyer. I live in court. I’ve done a lot of trials and consider myself an above average litigator and an excellent cross examiner. I have literally made mincemeat out of witnesses.

          The most basic cross technique to expose a liar is to FIRST PIN THEM DOWN. You must pin them before you can nail them. Wexler missed this critical step.

          Non laywers, hell, most lawyers overlook this step. Once pinned, you can then hit them with their lies. Done properly, it doesn’t matter what they say, anyone can see the lie.

          So w/Condi, you start with: You said x, y, z… (all lies)

          Yet, at this time, you had already read a,b, c, which all cast doubt on x, y, z, ….

          So why did you then say X, y, z, when YOU, PERSONALLY HAD INFORMATION//KNEW THAT THEY WERE FALSE?

          See how it’s done?

          But the very first, and most critical step, is the pin.

          See this:

          A skilled cross-examiner recognizes instantly when an expert witness is equivocating, exploiting ambiguity, escaping into vagueness, trying to baffle and confuse, or simply doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. It is the cross-examiner’s job to pin the witness down, to ensure that the terms are well-defined and used in a consistent, logical manner. The energy and resourcefulness some experts devote to evading clarity and the anguish when all escape routes are cut off was vividly captured by a trial lawyer, who compared the process to a hunter who finally trees an evasive quarry.

  4. JohnForde says:

    “Dr Rice, please explain to this committee how is it that the entire intelligence resources of the U.S. government studied the text of the Niger documents for eleven months and reached no conclusion, yet amateurs proved these documents to be forgeries in under an hour?”

  5. JohnLopresti says:

    The first administration going back to SHersh’s stovepipe article remains an interesting phase in Rice’s nsc chrysalis among the principals in the executive branch perhaps transiting a threshold with Tenet’s mea. There was an interesting interview with another person who addressed the first term administration’s cumbersome policies from a different perspective on the spectrum Hersh described, but the excerpt takes close reading, as many of the issues remain confidential, especially because of the convolution of Anatolian policy. I wonder if CRice will author a memoire which emphasizes the first term more than the second term.

  6. wkwf says:

    She kept using the phrase “key judgments”, as if nothing else in the document mattered. Is that all she read in the document? The executive summary? Being the key advisor on national security, all she did was relay the key judgments to her boss? Wouldn’t that be serious dereliction of duty? I suppose it’s OK for all of them, though. It’s not like they were going to do something serious… just start a war, that’s all.

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