WASHINGTON - Republicans in Congress on Wednesday rebuffed calls by Democrats for a full-blown investigation into whether the Bush administration misread or inflated the threats posed by Iraq before going to war.
But they agreed to hold oversight hearings and review documents on U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
I'm not sure whether they really want to get to the crux of what really happened.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia
The Bush administration justified the invasion of Iraq largely on the imminent threat it said such weapons posed, but since the war none has been found.
Senior Republicans dismissed as political gamesmanship demands by some Democrats for a full-scale probe into whether the United States was misled into going to war.
"There seems to be a campaign afoot by some to criticize the intelligence community and the president for connecting the dots, for putting together a picture that seemed all too obvious," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, of Kansas.
The Republican chairmen of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee joined Roberts in rejecting calls for an investigation.
Concerns have mounted in Congress and worldwide over why the weapons of mass destruction that President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other countries said posed an imminent threat have not been found.
The White House has stood by its position that Iraq was pursuing banned weapons, but officials have begun to talk of finding weapons "programs" or "capabilities" instead of the weapons themselves.
Some Democrats say the administration appears to have "hyped" the intelligence, drawing the most dire conclusions from the available information in a push for war to oust President Saddam Hussein.
Democrats on the two Senate committees that oversee intelligence operations called for a formal joint investigation of the administration's case on Iraq's weapons and alleged links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
"We've got to make sure that the CIA does not embellish or distort in any way the intelligence information in order to advance a policy of any administration," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, called the Republicans' plan for oversight hearings "entirely inadequate and slow-paced."
"I'm not sure whether they really want to get to the crux of what really happened," he said, adding that he would keep pressing for a broad inquiry.
But Roberts said he was seeking all relevant documents from the administration and would proceed "in a very deliberate and bipartisan manner" starting with a closed hearing next week.
With media reports of unnamed officials saying they felt pressured to slant intelligence, Roberts said he has "yet to hear from any intelligence official expressing such concerns" and urged anyone in that position to tell the committee.
Senate Armed Serives Committee Chairman John Warner of Virginia said the evidence he has seen "does not rise to give the presumption that anyone in this administration has hyped or cooked or embellished such evidence to a particular purpose."
© 2003 Reuters Ltd