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Controversy over State of the Union claim intensifies

By Wolf Blitzer
CNN

Bush
President Bush at the Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel in Entebbe, Uganda, on Friday.

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Washington (CNN) -- Did President Bush go too far in making the case for war against Iraq? It's a controversy that's clearly not going away. Indeed, it seems to be getting more intense every day.

President Bush, in Africa, once again today spoke about Iraq -- urging everyone to focus on the big picture even as his critics back home focus on one controversial sentence in his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in January:

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

Today, he went on the defensive, telling reporters, "I gave my speech to the nation and it was cleared by the intelligence services. And it was a speech that detailed to the American people the dangers posed by the Saddam Hussein regime. And my government took the appropriate response to those dangers. And as a result, the world is going to be more secure, and more peaceful."

His national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, got into specifics -- telling reporters aboard Air Force One on a flight to Uganda:

"The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety...I can tell you if the Director of Central Intelligence had said, 'Take this out of the speech,' then it would have been gone, without question."

When asked by reporters, Rice denied she was blaming the CIA for allowing the president to utter those words -- insisting the mistake resulted from what she called "a clearance process."

"We've said now," she continued, "we wouldn't have put it in the speech if we had known what we know now."

But that explanation is not good enough for Democratic critics on Capitol Hill.

"The credibility of the president is on the line. And I believe that he should move forward as quickly as possible to call for a full investigation. We should be able to point to those people fully responsible for putting that misleading language in the State of the Union address. They should be held accountable, and they should be dismissed," asserts Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

And even some Republicans want more answers.

"We need to have an investigation. Find out who is responsible for it and fire them," Arizona Sen. John McCain told CNN today.

Former White House official David Gergen, who served under several Republican and Democratic presidents, wonders if CIA Director George Tenet will pay for the price for the mistake.

"Yes, it absolutely suggests that," Gergen said today. "It sounds to me... as if they had a negotiation between the agency and the NSC over what they were going to say, that the CIA objected strenuously to the idea of asserting it on the basis of U.S. intelligence, and when the NSC came back and said, let's blame it on them, let's attribute it to the British, the CIA, well, on that basis, on part of our negotiation, we withdraw our formal objection. And Condi Rice is saying, he didn't object, therefore, we didn't take it out."


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