The question is finally asked

Reuters correspondent Steve Holland asks Bush and Blair about the Downing Street memo.

By Tim Grieve
Published June 8, 2005 4:59PM (EDT)

All hail, Steve Holland!

Boldly stepping where no other Washington reporter has dared to go, the Reuters correspondent actually asked the president Tuesday about the July 2002 Downing Street memo. At a joint George W. Bush-Tony Blair press briefing, Holland asked: "On Iraq, the so-called Downing Street memo from July 2002 says intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military action. Is this an accurate reflection of what happened? Could both of you respond?"

Blair answered first. Despite the memo's statement to the contrary -- and without offering any explanation for the contradiction -- Blair said, "No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all." He then turned to the memo's conclusion that Bush had already decided to use military force to depose Saddam Hussein. Again without explaining how the memo got it wrong -- assuming, for the sake of argument, that it did -- Blair insisted that he and Bush worked until the very end to find a way to avert war. "As it happened, we weren't able to do that because -- as I think was very clear -- there was no way that Saddam Hussein was ever going to change the way that he worked, or the way that he acted."

Bush took to the microphone next. He said nothing whatsoever about the core charge of the memo -- that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed" around Bush's decision to go to war. He did, however, deny that he had decided to use military force against Saddam Hussein as early as the memo said he did. "There's nothing farther from the truth," Bush said.

Along the way, Bush did what the Bush administration always does: He blamed the messenger. Bush complained that the memo had been "dropped" into the British press in the final days of Blair's re-election campaign: "Well, I -- you know, I read kind of the characterizations of the memo, particularly when they dropped it out in the middle of his race," Bush said. "I'm not sure who 'they dropped it out' is, but -- I'm not suggesting that you all dropped it out there."

Members of the White House press corps laughed, and for good reason: The idea that the White House press corps would have covered the Downing Street memo in any serious way apparently strikes everyone concerned as just hilarious. While Holland's question and the answers of Bush and Blair resulted in some press coverage, the mainstream media has been awfully quiet about the Downing Street memo to date. Why? Jim Cox, USA Today's senior assignment editor for foreign news, offers up an explanation in his paper today that would do George W. Bush proud: "We could not obtain the memo or a copy of it from a reliable source," Cox says. "There was no explicit confirmation of its authenticity from (Blair's office). And it was disclosed four days before the British elections, raising concerns about the timing."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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