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Sources: Tenet says he never read final draft of Bush speech

Sources say CIA Director George Tenet told a Senate panel that he never read a final draft of the State of the Union address.
Sources say CIA Director George Tenet told a Senate panel that he never read a final draft of the State of the Union address.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- CIA Director George Tenet has acknowledged to a Senate committee that he never read the final draft of President Bush's State of the Union address, sources told CNN.

The Senate Intelligence Committee held the closed hearing Wednesday amid growing criticism of Bush's speech of January 28, which came just weeks before the start of the war in Iraq.

At the center of the controversy is an allegation in the address that the British government had learned Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Africa. Uranium can be used in a nuclear weapons program.

An intelligence report saying Saddam Hussein had tried to obtain uranium from Niger turned out to be false.

Citing U.S. doubts about the report's accuracy, Tenet said last week he should not have allowed Bush's speech to retain the reference.

Some Democrats have used the issue to question whether the Bush administration tried to win support for the Iraq war by using questionable intelligence.

The CIA chief testified Wednesday that some deputies had seen the draft of the speech before Bush's address, according to sources who attended the hearing.

In five hours of testimony, Tenet also talked extensively about who the CIA talked to at the National Security Council about the questionable intelligence report, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Tenet left the hearing without commenting to reporters.

After the hearing, the committee's two top senators vowed to find out what happened.

Chairman: 'Mistakes made'

"I think there were mistakes made all up along the chain," committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said. "We will take this where it leads us."

He said the committee may call other members of the Bush administration to testify.

Committee Vice Chairman Sen. John "Jay" Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, said: "I think that responsibility has to be taken by a lot more than George Tenet.

"I think we have to face up to that. I think there are others in the administration who knew something about this."

Roberts said Tenet described the matter as a "serious error." He said Tenet told the committee that "had he been aware of the information, he would have taken it out and that he bears the primary responsibility."

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, another member of the Senate committee, said Tenet fielded every question "submitted to him in a professional manner."

"He doesn't back off from tough questions," Chambliss said.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, also a panel member, said, "He basically said, 'Look, mistakes were made, and I take responsibility for those mistakes.' "

But Bayh said the committee must "get to the bottom of how did this happen," and that the "credibility of our country, the credibility of our president" is at stake.

The House Intelligence Committee is expected to hold a public hearing next week on intelligence matters related to Iraq.

In March, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog group, dismissed as forgeries documents that said Iraq had tried to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger.

This month former Ambassador Joseph Wilson said the CIA sent him to Niger to check out the uranium allegations. He said he reported back that the claims were bogus -- nearly a year before the State of the Union address.

Also this month, the White House released a statement acknowledging: "We now know that documents alleging a transaction between Iraq and Niger had been forged.

"The other reporting that suggested Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Africa is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that such attempts were in fact made," the statement said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintains that his government had separate sources for the alleged Iraqi resumption of uranium trade with Niger and that it did not rely on the forged documents.

Correspondents Dana Bash and Jonathan Karl and Producer Pam Benson contributed to this report.


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