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Rice: 'Slam dunk' comment didn't lead to war

Story Highlights

• U.S. didn't decide to invade Iraq because of "slam dunk" comment, Rice says
• Tenet: "As if you needed me to say 'slam dunk' to convince you to go to war"
• National Security Council "did not do its job," Tenet says in his new book
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday said the administration did not use former CIA Director George Tenet's "slam dunk" comment as the reason to invade Iraq, disputing his complaints.

"We all thought that the intelligence case was strong." Rice said, speaking to CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," just hours before an interview with Tenet was set to air on CBS News' "60 Minutes."

The "slam dunk" issue arose last September, the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Vice President Dick Cheney told NBC's "Meet the Press" that before the U.S.-led invasion, President Bush asked Tenet how good the case was against Saddam Hussein involving weapons of mass destruction.

"It's a slam dunk, Mr. President," Tenet responded.

Former Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin, now CNN's national security adviser, was at that 2002 meeting. "What he meant was that it's a slam dunk that we can put more information into the mix to make it clearer why analysts believe there are WMD in Iraq," McLaughlin said.

In his new book, "At the Center of the Storm," Tenet writes that the remark was taken out of context.

"As if you needed me to say 'slam dunk' to convince you to go to war with Iraq," he writes.

Tenet: I became campaign talk

In his interview with CBS, he adds, "And you listen to that and they never let it go. I mean, I became campaign talk. I was a talking point. 'Look at the idiot (who) told us and we decided to go to war.' Well, let's not be so disingenuous. ... Let's everybody just get up and tell the truth. Tell the American people what really happened."

When asked whether Tenet deserves an apology, Rice did not respond, but said there "was an intelligence problem worldwide. ... So there's no blame here of anyone."

"I certainly don't blame George for the slam dunk comment having the sense that that was the reason we went to war," she told CNN.

Tenet's book says the National Security Council "did not do its job," and reviews in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times have said Rice comes across as a poor leader.

Rice: Some things went wrong

"Look, not everything went right," Rice said. "This is a very difficult circumstance. There were some things that went right and some things that went wrong. And you know what? We will have a chance to look at that in history. And I will have a chance to reflect on that when I have a chance to write my book."

Rice reiterated her plan not to testify before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which last week subpoenaed her to discuss her role in the administration's use of unsubstantiated reports that said Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Niger.

Rice said she has already spoken publicly about the issue and has sent committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman "hundreds of papers of documentation, including numerous letters that answer exactly the concerns and questions that he had."

Rice added that her reasons for not wanting to testify go beyond personal ones.

"There is a constitutional issue that the White House ...we are concerned about, which is that this was in my role as a White House staff aide to the president. There is a separation of powers."

Former CIA Director George Tenet says his "slam dunk" comment was taken out of context, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice disputes his assertion.


Did the Bush administration mischaracterize ex-CIA Director George Tenet's "slam dunk" comment?
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