POLITICS
03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving: What Didn't President Bush Know And When Didn't He Not Know It?

White House Press Secretary has been away from the press room for a few days - probably detoxing - but now that she's back, she might want to find a quiet place to lay down for awhile. Why? National Intelligence Estimates, C.I.A. torture videos, and a President who's once again managed to find himself needing to find some middle ground between either knowing about these matters and simply not caring, or not knowing about these matters because no one really respects him enough to keep him informed. Since only about 25% of Americans approve of a President who is either a liar or a non-entity, the turd-polishing falls to Dana.

Yesterday, as she faced questions on the Iran NIE, Perino struggled to form complete sentences. A choice exchange:

MS. PERINO: Okay, look, I can see where you could see that the President could have been more precise in that language, but the President was being truthful.

Q Dana, but listen to what he said: "He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze." Was the President told that there was a possibility that Iran's nuclear program could be suspended? That's what you said he was told.

MS. PERINO: Yes, the President was told that there is new information in the context of raw intelligence, not told the details of what it was, and told that he's going -- they're going to have to go back and do some more checking on it because they didn't have a high degree of confidence in it, and it could potentially be in conflict.

Q But he said he didn't know what the information even was. I can see the details of it, but --

MS. PERINO: Martha. Okay, you could -- I grant you, he could have been more precise in his language. But if you look at the follow-up -- the following sentences of that quote he says -- I have it right here -- he says, that "it would take a while to analyze." "It" -- he's referring to "it" in terms of what the information was. I think that --

Q But he said he didn't know what the information was.

MS. PERINO: He didn't know that there -- he did not know what the specific details were of the raw intelligence that they had found.

Q But he knew it was strong enough information to delay the NIE.

MS. PERINO: No -- well, strong enough information that they said that they needed to check it out, and the President thought that that was an appropriate and responsible thing to do, sure.

The painful exchange continued on, and the testy Perino tried to button it all up thusly: "What we know right now for sure is that Iran is enriching uranium, which is fissile material, to get a bomb. They are developing ballistic missiles in order to deliver a bomb. And we know something that we didn't know before, which is that they have halted a covert nuclear weapons program. This should not give us comfort." And, yes, I know--that does not make a lick of sense. That's when the conversation turned to dates.

Q Well, because Mr. Hadley left the impression that it was last Wednesday.

MS. PERINO: Oh, the NIE specifically? Yes, it was last Wednesday.

Q Last Wednesday. Okay. But there have been reports that the President briefed Prime Minister Olmert last week, maybe on Monday. Is that --

MS. PERINO: I don't know.

Q Did he brief Prime Minister Olmert? And how could he brief Olmert on Monday about a report that he found out about on Wednesday? Can you --

MS. PERINO: I don't -- I will check. I mean, it's possible that he knew that there was information coming, the intelligence community was checking it out --

Q -- he didn't just find out about it Wednesday. This was out there.

MS. PERINO: The President knew -- no, Ed, think about it. Think about it. The President was told by McConnell that the NIE -- he knew an NIE was coming. He knew that NIE was going to have to be delayed because they had gotten some new information, and -- Jim, I'll get to you in a second -- that the NIE was coming, but they had to check things out, they had to do some more due diligence, and then they would come back to the President. So he knew it was coming eventually. So I don't think there's anything --

Q But you can clarify which day it is later?

MS. PERINO: I don't know if I can.

Humiliating, isn't it? Well, the good news is, yesterday's experience gave Perino ample practice for her performance today, when she took up the issue of the C.I.A. torture videos. Back with similar questions on timing and notification and whether or not the President has anything to actually do all day other than just sitting around waiting for Ellen DeGeneres to call, the press corps found themselves rebuffed by a Perino at her death-proof best. No more uncertainty over dates, no more speculating on the president's mindset, no more improvising. In the robotic manner we're all used to, Perino repeated: the President didn't know until "yesterday morning," she wasn't going to "going to characterize his reaction," and, as always, "...they're gathering facts...it's best that I not comment."

Welcome home, Dana!

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