CRAWFORD, Texas White House lawyers have told President Bush he would not need congressional approval to attack Saddam Hussein's Iraq, although advisers say political considerations could prompt the president to seek a nod from lawmakers anyway.
Two senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said White House counsel Al Gonzales advised Bush earlier this month that the Constitution gives the president authority to wage war without explicit authority from Congress.
"Any decision the president may make on a hypothetical congressional vote will be guided by more than one factor," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who declined to confirm that Bush had received an opinion from Gonzales on the matter.
"The president will consider a variety of legal, policy and historical issues if a vote were to become a relevant matter. He intends to consult with Congress because Congress has an important role to play."
Despite the go-ahead from his legal advisers, administration officials said the president has not ruled out seeking lawmakers' approval if he decides to attack Iraq.
The officials noted that Bush's father was told in advance of the 1991 war that he did not need congressional authority to act, but nonetheless sought Congress' blessing for his action.
One of the officials said Gonzales also concluded the current president has authority to act against Saddam under the congressional resolution that authorized his father's actions in the 1991 Gulf War. Saddam has not complied with the terms that ended that war, the official said.
Furthermore, the official said Bush was told he also could act against Iraq on the strength of the Sept. 14 congressional resolution approving military action against terrorism.
Both of the officials said Bush had not decided whether to use military force against Saddam.
Still, the existence of a legal opinion along with earlier reports that the Pentagon is drafting attack plans reflect the seriousness of preparations within the highest reaches of government to pave way for war against Iraq if Bush so chooses.
The legal advice became public Sunday as Republicans sounded a mixed message for Bush about whether, when and how to use military action to remove Saddam from power.
The Bush administration's policy is that Saddam is trying to develop weapons of mass destruction and is refusing to allow international inspectors to find and destroy them, as Iraq agreed to do after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas said Sunday the decision to act is the commander in chief's, but he expects Bush to consult with Congress first.
"The president says he's going to consult with the Congress, and he has. The president has taken the advice of many of us in Congress; he wants input from Congress," DeLay said. "He has said he's going to come to Congress when he decides what needs to be done and when it needs to be done, and I expect him to do that."
While saying Bush properly "is trying to keep the (anti-Iraq) coalition together," DeLay rejected a suggestion by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III that Bush first get a resolution of support from the U.N. Security Council.
The president answers only to the American people through Congress, DeLay said.
Baker, secretary of state to President Bush's father, wrote in Sunday's New York Times that a Security Council resolution was necessary as political cover for any U.S. military action.
"The only realistic way to effect regime change in Iraq is through the application of military force," Baker wrote.
But he added: "Although the United States could certainly succeed, we should try our best not to have to go it alone, and the president should reject the advice of those who counsel doing so. The costs in all areas will be much greater, as will the political risks."
Lawrence Eagleburger, who succeeded Baker in 1992, the final year of former President Bush's administration, is among several old-line Republicans advocating caution.
"I think there are any number of complex questions that simply haven't been examined," Eagleburger said on "CNN Late Edition." "And if it's wimpish to say that ... until we know at least with some confidence that we must act now, then I say we need to be very careful about going forward.
"I'm simply saying I think this is much more complex than (DeLay) and his chest-thumpers think it is."
© 2002 The Associated Press