WASHINGTON — Congress should conduct an official inquiry to determine whether President Bush intentionally misled the nation about the reasons for toppling Saddam Hussein, a senior House Democrat suggested Thursday.
New York Rep. Charles Rangel was among Democratic House members who participated in a forum to air demands that the White House provide more information about what led to the decision to go to war in Iraq.
"Quite frankly, evidence that appears to be building up points to whether or not the president has deliberately misled Congress to make the most important decision a president has to make, going to war," said Rangel, senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. John Conyers and other Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee organized the forum to investigate implications in a British document known as the "Downing Street memo." The memo says the Bush administration believed that war was inevitable and was determined to use intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the ouster of Saddam.
Conyers pointed to statements by Bush in the run-up to invasion that war would be a last resort. "The veracity of those statements has — to put it mildly — come into question," he said.
Ruing lack of debate
In the opening hours of the forum, witnesses spoke mainly about their views on the decision to go to war and not the memo, which the Bush administration has dismissed.
"We are having this discussion today because we failed to have it three years ago when we went to war," former Ambassador Joseph Wilson said.
"It used to be said that democracies were difficult to mobilize for war precisely because of the debate required," Wilson said, going on to say the lack of debate in this case allowed the war to happen.
Wilson wrote a 2003 newspaper opinion piece criticizing the Bush administration's claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. After the piece appeared someone in the Bush administration leaked the identity of Wilson's wife as a CIA operative, exposing her cover.
Wilson has said he believes the leak was retaliation for his critical comments. The Justice Department is investigating.
Facts ‘fixed’ to support policy?
The Downing Street memo states the "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," recounting a July 23, 2002, meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his national security team. The meeting took place just after British officials returned from Washington.
Other political news of note
IRS official Lerner placed on leave
Lois Lerner, the IRS official who oversees the agency’s division in charge of tax-exempt organizations, has been placed on administrative leave, a source told NBC News on Thursday.
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U.S. officials and Blair deny the assertion about intelligence and facts being "fixed," a comment that the memo attributes to the chief of British intelligence at the time.
"This is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday.
The London Sunday Times disclosed the contents of the memo May 1. It also reported on an eight-page briefing paper prepared for Blair that concluded the U.S. military had given "little thought" to the aftermath of a war in Iraq.
The briefing paper of July 21, 2002, said that a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise and that "as already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."
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