Joe Conason's Journal

While there may not be a prosecutable crime in the Niger yellowcake deception, there is undoubtedly an ongoing coverup.

By Salon Staff
Published July 14, 2003 7:52PM (EDT)

Condi's con, Dick's deception
Despite George Tenet's humiliation at the hands of his dishonorable boss (and the boss's dishonorable minions), nobody is satisfied with the official White House excuses for the Niger yellowcake deception. That stewing dissatisfaction includes the administration's own top officials, whose story has shifted back and forth so many times that they can scarcely keep track of their own prevarications. They have yet to fashion a plausible narrative of their own actions.

A week ago, the administration admitted -- only six months too late -- that the Niger story was unsupported by facts. Then came the interoffice fracas over who was to blame, with Condi Rice shirking her own responsibility and placing it on Tenet. And now that Tenet has accepted that burden, even while pointing back at the White House in his official statement, Rice and Donald Rumsfeld insist that the story was "indeed accurate" and "technically correct" -- because the president attributed the false tale to British intelligence in his State of the Union address.

What is the purpose of all this murky jive? First, the strategy aims to remove the onus of misleadership from the president, who has been avoiding responsibility all his life. Second, the aim is to protect Dick Cheney, true author of both the Iraq war policy and the deceptive propaganda that promoted war, including the dubious information in the State of the Union. (The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity are urging Bush to fire the vice president for his role in this fiasco.) And third, the drawing and quartering of Tenet is intended to halt the momentum building behind an investigation of those highly consequential lies -- or as Rumsfeld huffed yesterday on ABC's "This Week": "End of story."

Fortunately, neither the secretary of defense nor any other government official gives that kind of order in this country, at least not yet. With American troops dying literally every day in Iraq, this story is far from ended. The pliant attitude of the press appears to be changing; suddenly, more journalists are objecting to the bully tactics and blatant lies.

While there may not be a prosecutable crime in the yellowcake deception, there is undoubtedly an ongoing coverup. That this deception is permitted to continue unchallenged by the Senate, whose Republican leaders have colluded in the framing of Tenet, disgraces what was once a proudly independent Legislature. It is not too much to say that with every day that passes without serious public investigation of this scandal, the Senate is failing its constitutional purpose.

[1:30 p.m. PDT, July 14, 2003]

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