Four days into the trip, on an early morning flight to Uganda, Condi Rice visited the small press cabin in the back of Air Force One, where I was in the pool of reporters that flies on the president's plane. We expected more of the same fancy footwork from earlier in the week about who was to blame for the 16 words. We didn't get it. Condi blamed the CIA. This was new. The Bush administration didn't usually point fingers that openly. (We later learned that Dr. Rice had called Tenet that morning to let him know she was going to ruin his day.)
Moments later, we landed in Entebbe, Uganda. We drove past the abandoned Air France jet still marooned at the airport more than 30 years after the famous 1976 Israeli raid. We thought that would be the biggest drama of our short four-hour visit. Though the travel pool was going to be allowed in to see the start of President Bush's meeting with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, we were told Bush wouldn't take a question, as he sometimes does in such situations. But moments before the meeting, we were told that Bush had changed his mind and would take a question. He knew that he would be asked about the faulty info and had a line prepared. "I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services," Bush said.
This was news. The president was known for his loyalty to subordinates, but here he was throwing his CIA director, George Tenet, under a bus. This wasn't just a personal departure by the president. It was the ultimate blow in the bureaucratic battle between the CIA and his White House.
We pool reporters were hustled away from the dignitaries into a cramped holding room where they kept us until the larger press contingent arrived for the president's public remarks. They'd set up phone lines and I tried to dial out the news. Given the local technology, it took a while. When I finally made it through, I realized it was 8 a.m. in the States *. I left a rambling message on my bureau chief's voicemail, which he would pick up several hours later and relay in an e-mail to my colleagues working on the story: "John reports that they've dimed out Tenet."
Click here for Part 2 to find out what government officials told me about Wilson's trip and why Patrick Fitzgerald's account of my conversations is wrong.
Correction, Feb. 8, 2006: The article originally and incorrectly stated that it was 5 a.m. in Washington when Bush finished his remarks. It was 8 a.m.