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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Ambassador Wilson Says Bush Administration Trying to Smear Him

Aired July 17, 2003 - 19:04   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A former U.S. diplomat who investigated Africa's suspected link to Iraq's nuclear weapons program now says he is the victim of a Bush administration smear campaign.
Administration officials say former ambassador Joseph Wilson's report on Niger last year supported the now discredited claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa.

Wilson says that is not true. He spoke exclusively to "TIME" magazine today. He accuses the administration of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

Here to sort things out for us is "TIME" magazine national editor Richard Single. Richard, thanks for being with us.

RICHARD SINGLE, "TIME" EDITOR: Thanks.

COOPER: First of all, for those who haven't been following this closely who is Ambassador Joe Wilson?

SINGLE: Joe Wilson was an ambassador to Gambone before he was actually in Baghdad under George Bush the elder. And in March of 2002, he was dispatched to Niger to investigate these claims that Niger was maybe selling Iraq uranium oxide, better known as yellow cake.

COOPER: Now there's some discrepancy over who said what and what his report actually said. Condoleezza Rice has sort of distanced his importance, saying a lot of people in the administration frankly didn't even know he was going over there. He says there is a smear campaign. Is there?

SINGLE: Well, he wrote an op-ed piece in "The New York Times" where he said the Bush administration claims about what was going on in Niger were crazy. So I mean I think, of course, the administration is going to be a little bit angry about that, that he, you know, comes out and writes that.

So we don't even know by the way, who actually sent him over to Niger to investigate this.

COOPER: How is that possible?

SINGLE: Well, nobody's taking credit for it. You know, a lot of people thought maybe it was Vice President Cheney. Cheney had expressed interest in this possible allegation when he heard it in one of his intelligence reports, but Cheney's office said they didn't know anything about the trip. The CIA says they don't really know anything about the trip. The NSC says they don't really know much about it.

The other little wrinkle is that Joe Wilson's wife works for the CIA, so people thought maybe that had something to do with it.

COOPER: But he spoke to "TIME" about that today...

SINGLE: Yes, and he denies that. He said that's absurd, that's crazy.

COOPER: So where is this thing going to go?

SINGLE: Well, you know, Tony Blair, as you saw in the piece before, I mean, Tony Blair points out what a lot of people don't know or even forgotten, which is that Iraq bought 250 tons of uranium or, you know, yellow cake from Niger in the 1980s.

I mean, it's not that strange that this might happen again. It's not that crazy that there might have been some connection.

COOPER: All right. We'll continue to follow it. Richard Single, thanks very much.

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