YELLOWCAKE-GATE….In his State of the Union address in January, George Bush said:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

This was based on some documents showing that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger. However, those documents were crude forgeries, and in any case it now turns out that the CIA had sent Africa expert Joseph Wilson to Niger nearly a year before to investigate these claims. On his return he reported that there was nothing to the allegations:

The ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq ? and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington. Nevertheless, she and I agreed that my time would be best spent interviewing people who had been in government when the deal supposedly took place, which was before her arrival.

I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.

Despite Wilson’s conclusion, the administration’s party line on African uranium has been (a) nobody knew about Wilson’s report, and (b) there was other evidence about uranium purchases anyway.

Today, the White House finally admitted that the “other evidence” was bogus too:

“There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa,” the statement said. “However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.”

In other words, said one senior official, “we couldn’t prove it, and it might in fact be wrong.”

That leaves only the implausible statement that even though Wilson was dispatched to Africa specifically to look into the Niger connection at the instigation of the vice president’s office, in the entire year between then and the State of the Union address not one single senior administration official heard about his conclusions. Wilson doesn’t think much of this possibility:

…there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador’s report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally).

As usual with this administration, this question could be quickly answered by releasing the relevant documents. However, also as usual with this administration, they have refused to do this, based on the usual claims that it might endanger national security.

At this point, though, it’s pretty obvious that national security has nothing to do with it and the only thing that an investigation into the Niger fiasco would endanger is the president’s credibility and his reelection hopes. It’s time for the Washington press corps to wake up and start doing some real reporting.

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