WASHINGTON - After two years of silence on his role in the Iraq war, former CIA Director George J. Tenet is using a new book and a series of television appearances to accuse the White House of making him a scapegoat and of ignoring CIA warnings that Iraq was sinking into chaos.
In an 60 Minutes interview taped to air Sunday on CBS, Tenet said President Bush had made up his mind to invade Iraq long before the CIA director made his infamous Oval Office remark that the case against Saddam Hussein's government was a "slam dunk."
Tenet was even more forceful in his criticism of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying they had destroyed his reputation by repeatedly using the "slam dunk" line to blame him for the decision to go to war.
"It's the most despicable thing that ever happened to me," Tenet said, according to a portion of the 60 Minutes transcript released yesterday by CBS.
Speaking about the December 2002 meeting in which he sought to assure Bush that the evidence against Iraq was solid, Tenet said: "I'll never believe that what happened that day informed the president's view or belief of the legitimacy or the timing of this war. Never."
Tenet's comments represent a new and potentially damaging source of fire in a battle among Bush administration officials over blame for the war. Tenet had previously been seen even by many supporters as excessively loyal to the Bush White House, which gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom when he left the CIA in 2004.
Tenet's 576-page book, At the Center of the Storm, is scheduled for public release Monday. Publisher HarperCollins has not released advance copies. But former CIA officials said it made a compelling case that Cheney and other administration hawks pressured the CIA to find nonexistent links between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
Tenet insisted to 60 Minutes that by "slam dunk," he did not mean the evidence that Iraq had banned weapons was unequivocal, only that he believed the government could make a compelling case to the public.