updated 11/2/2005 4:14:22 PM ET 2005-11-02T21:14:22

The White House sought to deflect politically charged questions Wednesday about President Bush’s use of prewar intelligence in Iraq, saying Democrats, too, had concluded Saddam Hussein was a threat.

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“If Democrats want to talk about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed and the intelligence, they might want to start with looking at the previous administration and their own statements that they’ve made,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

He said the Clinton administration and fellow Democrats “used the intelligence to come to the same conclusion that Saddam Hussein and his regime were a threat.”

McClellan made his comments one day after Senate Democrats sprung a surprise, forcing a rare closed-door session to dramatize their charge that Bush relied on faulty intelligence in the run-up to war and congressional Republicans have failed to sufficiently investigate.

“They have repeatedly chosen to protect the Republican administration rather than get to the bottom of what happened and why,” Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Tuesday in demanding that the Senate chamber be emptied of everyone but members and a few staffers.

Bringing focus back on Iraq
The move allowed Democrats to refocus attention on the Iraq war at a time when Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court has taken the spotlight. It also heightened an already tense relationship between the two political parties in the Senate.

Image: Reid, Schumer, Durbin
Pablo Martinez Monsivais  /  AP
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., center, called a rare closed Senate session Tuesday to order further investigation into prewar intelligence.

Taken off guard, Republicans angrily called the Democratic move a political stunt but agreed two hours later to have a bipartisan group review how the Senate Intelligence Committee is coming along in its investigation of prewar intelligence.

“The United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership,” said Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

Democrats sought assurances that Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., would complete the second phase of an investigation of the administration’s prewar intelligence — as he said he was doing anyway.

A six-member task force — three members from each party — was appointed to review the Intelligence Committee’s work and report to their respective leaders by Nov. 14.

Roberts’ committee produced a 511-page report in 2004 on flaws in an Iraq intelligence estimate assembled by the country’s top analysts in October 2002, and he promised a second phase would look at issues that couldn’t be finished in the first year of work.

Committee head says report was on its way
The committee has worked on the second phase of the review, Roberts said, but it has not finished. He blamed Democrats for the delays and said his staff had informed Democratic counterparts on Monday that the committee hoped to complete the second phase next week.

“Now we have this ... stunt 24 hours after their staff was informed that we were moving to closure next week,” a clearly angry Roberts told reporters. “If that’s not politics, I’m not standing here.”

For their part, Reid and Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, claimed that Republicans have repeatedly rebuffed Democratic pleas for a thorough investigation.

When Reid made his move at mid-afternoon, the public was ordered out of the chamber, the lights were dimmed, the TV cameras were turned off and the doors were closed.

Under Senate rules, no vote is required when a member demands a secret session.

Some Democrats have accused the White House of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the threat posed by Iraq.

Implications of Libby indictment
Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was indicted last Friday for lying during an investigation that touched on the war — a probe of the leak of the identity of a CIA official married to a critic of the administration’s Iraq policy.

“The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions,” Reid said.

Libby resigned from his White House post after being indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury.

It was the first time in more than two decades the chamber has been forced into a closed session without bipartisan agreement. The last closed session was in 1999 to consider the impeachment of President Clinton.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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