POLITICS
03/28/2008 02:46 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Kerry: Clinton's Not Reading Iraq NIE Not A Big Deal

Over the past few days, Sen. Barack Obama has hit back against attacks on his national security credentials in part by noting that, when it came time to vote on the Iraq war, Sen. Hillary Clinton did not even read the National Intelligence Estimate.

"I don't know what all that experience got her," Obama said, "because I have enough experience to know that if you have a National Intelligence Estimate, and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says, 'You should read this, this is why I'm voting against the war,' that you should probably read it."

On Monday, however, one of Obama's chief surrogates suggested that not reading the NIE really wasn't that big a deal.

In a conference call with reporters, Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, offered a mild defense of Clinton from accusations that, by not reading the intelligence estimate, she did not properly prepare for her vote on Iraq.

"It really depends frankly on what the total exposure to the intelligence is," said Kerry. "You don't have to read the NIE, honestly, if you've been briefed, if you sat in on hearings, if you have some familiarity with the topic."

Clinton has said she was thoroughly briefed on the National Intelligence Estimate despite not having read it herself. Kerry, meanwhile, read the summary of the report and got much of his intelligence straight from senior administration officials.

On Monday, the Massachusetts Democrat declined to take what he deemed a chance to score political points against Clinton over the NIE.

"It really depends on the total picture and I'm not familiar with the total picture of what her due diligence was in this regard," he said. "It is helpful [to read the NIE] but it doesn't really tell you the whole picture. I think Chet would agree with me on that.

That would be Congressman Chet Edwards, an Obama supporter also on the call.

"Absolutely," Edwards replied.