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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Controversy Remains Over Pre-War Buildup

Aired July 14, 2003 - 19:03   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Now on to the controversy swirling over what the president claimed as the U.S. moved towards war with Iraq. You know what we're talking about.
President Bush and the White House have been trying to make this dustup go away. That seems unlikely, given that Democrats have been pushing the idea that the president misled the American people.

Mr. Bush says the decision to move on Iraq had strong support, despite a misstatement in the State of the Union address about an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Africa. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the intelligence I get is darn good intelligence. And the speeches I have given were backed by good intelligence. And I am absolutely convinced today, like I was convinced when I gave the speeches, that Saddam Hussein developed a program of weapons of mass destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, Chris Burns joins us from the White House.

Chris, the story obviously has been developing now for a couple of weeks. The White House seems to have basically launched a counterattack.

What is their strategy?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this counterattack, Ari Fleischer on his swan song day as press spokesman here at the White House, launched into the critics who say the information in the State of the Union speech was fallacious.

Ari Fleischer is suggesting that, well, perhaps it's not -- the source is not very strong on it, but no one can say it is entirely wrong that Saddam Hussein was trying to reconstitute his program of weapons of mass destruction, namely the -- his nuclear weapons program.

He called the critics engaging in a revisionist notion, a bunch of bull, a media frenzy. Whether or not that line, those 16 words in the State of the Union speech were true, that President Bush moved on the intelligence he had he removed the threat of -- a threat that in the post 9/11 world was a real threat, according to the White House -- Anderson. COOPER: Well, Chris, certainly it seemed like, I mean, basically we had George Tenet coming forward on Friday, accepting a certain level of blame for this, a lot of people appeared on the talk shows on Sunday.

Did the White House hope this thing would go away by later today?

BURNS: Well, absolutely. And over the weekend they were suggesting, President Bush saying over the weekend that it's case closed. He thinks the thing is over.

And obviously, Democrats on Capitol Hill are not letting that die as easily as President Bush would like to see it die, that that criticism does continue. We're seeing ads on TV again on that.

So it's going to be very difficult for him to shake that and really, the bottom line is as long as weapons of mass destruction or their programs aren't found in Iraq, it's going to be very hard to fight off that criticism.

COOPER: All right, Chris Burns live at the White House, thanks.

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