WASHINGTON – In congressional testimony last week,
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld swore repeatedly
that he’d just “days” earlier learned that the uranium
charge President Bush made against Iraq six months ago
was bogus.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

Since then, he’s had to correct the record twice,
finally admitting he knew the allegation was false as
early as March – less than two months after Bush’s
now-controversial State of the Union speech and just
before the Iraq war started.

“When did you know that the reports about uranium
coming out of Africa were bogus?” asked Sen. Mark
Pryor, D.-Ark., at Wednesday’s Senate Armed Services
Committee hearing on “lessons learned” in Iraq.

“Oh, within recent days, since the information started
becoming available,” Rumsfeld replied.

“So right after the [State of the Union] speech, you
didn’t know that?” Pryor pressed.

“I’ve just answered the question,” Rumsfeld snapped.

Asked about it again, the defense secretary insisted:
“Do I recall hearing anything or reading anything like
that? The answer is as I’ve given it – no.”

But in a Sunday interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press”
host Tim Russert, Rumsfeld backpedaled from his

Russert: “When Sen. Pryor asked you when did you know
that reports about uranium coming out of Africa were
bogus, you said, ‘Oh, within recent days.'”

Rumsfeld: “I should have said within recent weeks,
meaning when ElBaradei came out” with the revelation
that the allegation was baseless.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the United Nation’s
International Atomic Energy Agency, told the U.N.
Security Council on March 7 that documents allegedly
showing Iraqi officials shopping two years ago for
uranium in Africa were forgeries. Bush used them in
his January speech to suggest Iraq had an active
nuclear-weapons program.

The documents had been given to U.N. inspectors by
British authorities. They were also reviewed by U.S.

The faked evidence has been described as a series of
letters between Iraqi agents and officials in the
central African nation of Niger. Officials easily
detected the counterfeiting through crude errors, such
the inclusion of names and titles that didn’t match up
with the officials who held office at the time the
letters claimed to have been written.

Both Rumsfeld and Bush’s National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice say they have never actually seen the
documents in the British dossier.

In another Sunday show, ABC’s “This Week,” which aired
later that morning, Rumsfeld further revised his story
to say he learned “months,” not weeks, ago of the
false charge.

Rumsfeld insists he hasn’t repeated the allegation
since learning it was false in March.

At the same time, however, he never tried to publicly
correct the record.

In fact, the White House, for its part, waited until
July 7 to correct the president’s statement – and
only after a British parliamentary commission
challenged the allegation. The White House quietly
acknowledged the error in a prepared statement.

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