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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

White House Releases Part of Classified Intelligence Estimate

Aired July 18, 2003 - 19:26   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The White House today released highly classified information in an attempt to bolster President Bush's remarks about Iraq in his State of the Union speech. The newly released information comes from a U.S. intelligence report that cited and I quote, "compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein was seeking enriched uranium." White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux joins us now with more on the information just released today -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, publicly President Bush was in Texas, he was promoting his physical fitness program. But behind the scenes quietly here at the White House, a senior administration official was trying to make this prewar intelligence flap go away.

The White House declassified a small portion of the National Intelligence Estimate, eight of the 90 pages. It is a report from the six intelligence agencies that was used to shape President Bush's State of the Union address. It was also used to bolster his case for the war and the claim that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Africa.

From that intelligence estimate, it says that: "A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of pure uranium, probably yellow cake, to Iraq." Goes on to say -- "Reports indicate Iraq also sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo."

But this is important. The report also acknowledged that -- "We cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium and/or yellowcake from these sources."

Now, you know that Secretary Powell in his presentation before the United Nations just seven days after President Bush's State of the Union address did not include this claim, this Africa uranium claim, because the State Department's own intelligence arm could -- did not find it credible. What is important is that the State Department in a footnote in this National Intelligence Estimate actually stated so, and it said, "the activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. The claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious."

Now, the senior administration official said that the president was not aware of this dissent from the State Department within the report, but he was confident that all of the intelligence, solid intelligence, backed up his case for going to war -- Anderson.

COOPER: Suzanne, I understand there's a new poll out about approval ratings. What do the numbers show?

MALVEAUX: It actually shows that President Bush's approval rating has dropped recently. This the latest CNN-"TIME" poll shows that in February, the approval rating was 54 percent. March, 62 percent. May, 63 percent, and now it is at 55 percent. Of course, the administration keeping a close eye on this.

And the big question is, whether or not this flap is going to -- these questions are going to continue with this investigation. The White House said, of course, it would cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee's hearings, but at the same time that White House officials would not be testifying -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thanks.

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