What didn't the president know (and when didn't he know it)?

The White House won't say what Bush was told about Iran's (halted) nuclear weapons program.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 5, 2007 7:24PM (EST)

What's worse -- the idea that George W. Bush continued to ratchet up his rhetoric on Iran after he was told in August or September that Iran may have halted its nuclear weapon program, or the idea that Bush was told then only that there was some kind of "new information" on Iran and didn't bother asking what that information might be?

The conclusion the White House seems to have reached: Both are bad, so we'll just leave you guessing.

From today's White House press briefing:

Reporter: Just to clarify one point from the press conference yesterday, the president ... said that he was told by [Director of National Intelligence Mike] McConnell, just generally, that there had been some new intelligence and that people were taking another look at it. Did the president at that point ask any follow-up? Did Mr. McConnell offer any comments that, in fact, there might have to be a serious reevaluation of the whole intelligence?

Tony Fratto: What Director McConnell said is that we're going to go back and do rigorous analysis of this intelligence, and when we can be certain of it, we're going to come back and talk to you -- and that's what they did ... I've seen criticism that the president should have either changed his rhetoric or asked more. What he asked of his intelligence community was to tell him what was right when you know it's right, and that's what they did ...

Reporter: In that conversation did McConnell tell him that our previous intelligence could be all wrong? How -- (inaudible) -- was he about that?

Fratto: I don't have anything on that ...

Reporter: I just want to follow up ... Was there any indication from McConnell of the nature of the intelligence in the meeting in August?

Fratto: I can't give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the president.

One thing we do know for sure: The president now knows that the new National Intelligence Estimate expresses a high degree of confidence that Iran halted its nuclear program in 2003. One other thing we know: As he vowed Tuesday, Bush isn't going to let the collective judgment of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies get in the way of what he wants to do. "The Iranians have a strategic choice to make," the president said today in Nebraska. "They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities, and fully accept the long-standing offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation."

Tim Grieve

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

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

George W. Bush Iran Middle East War Room