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Inquiries Examine Bush's Justification for Iraq War
Published on Monday, March 22, 2004 by Knight-Ridder
Inquiries Examine Bush's Justification for Iraq War
by Cam Simpson

WASHINGTON - In the halls of Congress and just down the street at a federal courthouse off Pennsylvania Avenue, the Bush administration faces a string of inquiries tied to the still-elusive weapons of mass destruction used as the primary justification for the invasion of Iraq.

All but one of those probes focus on how the administration could have been so wrong, given the failure to locate any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq in the year since the war began.

The other probe is a criminal grand jury investigation stemming from the leak of a covert CIA officer's identity after her husband embarrassed the White House over a piece of intelligence on Iraq trumpeted by President Bush in his State of the Union address last year. The White House was forced to retract the claim.

On Capitol Hill, the House and Senate intelligence committees have been scrutinizing prewar intelligence that the Bush administration said indicated Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Both probes began about eight months ago. But they gained renewed attention and urgency after the CIA's chief weapons hunter, David Kay, resigned his post in January, saying he did not believe banned stockpiles existed before the invasion. Perhaps just as important to both probes, Kay also said he believed prewar intelligence on Iraq was probably "all wrong."

The House investigation may not be finished until after the presidential election in November, sparing Bush further potential political damage on an issue that polls show is affecting his credibility.

And the House committee's focus is fairly limited and straightforward: Why did America's intelligence agencies make crucial and apparently mistaken judgments about Hussein's capabilities, judgments used to justify a pre-emptive attack?

An early version of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report could be wrapped up in weeks. Like the House probe, the Senate's investigation centers on the intelligence used to build the foundation for war. But after months of wrangling between Republicans and Democrats on the normally bipartisan panel, its mission has been stretched to include whether administration officials overstated the threat beyond the judgments reached among intelligence professionals.

In addition to those investigations, Bush earlier this year gave in to pressure from Democrats and created a special commission to study the prewar intelligence, as well as intelligence on other weapons issues. The panel won't finish until after the election.

CIA Director George Tenet, who has admitted mistakes on Iraq intelligence but defends his agency, hired a former senior CIA official to lead an investigation into the assessments. And Democrats on two other Capitol Hill panels are conducting informal inquiries of their own, though they will probably draw little attention.

The Bush administration may not suffer the same fate as the Clinton White House, where scandals were prevalent, in part because the GOP controlled Congress and its committees. But the most potentially damaging inquiry for the White House is out of the hands of elected politicians.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, was appointed as a special counsel in January to investigate the White House leak case and has convened a grand jury in Washington. He is investigating whether anyone broke the law in unveiling the identity of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA officer who worked on weapons of mass destruction issues, to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists last summer.

Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson, the former U.S. ambassador who made a special trip to Africa to investigate claims that Hussein attempted to purchase uranium. The leak came after The New York Times published an opinion-page article by Wilson in which he attacked the uranium report, which Bush cited in his speech. Within days of Wilson's disclosures, the White House was forced to retract that portion of the address.

Newsday, whose journalists have been the focus of some inquiries in the case, reported earlier this month that Fitzgerald's grand jury has subpoenaed the records of Air Force One telephone calls made a week before Plame's name was published in Novak's column.

The newspaper, which is owned by Tribune Co., also said the grand jury subpoenaed records related to the group assembled at the White House in August 2002 to develop a strategy to publicize the threat posed by Hussein.

© Copyright 2004 Knight-Ridder


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