A senior State Department official has told members of Congress there was no effort by the Bush administration to manipulate information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify U.S-led military action.
Testimony by John Bolton, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, came amid mounting questions on Capitol Hill about the administration's basis for going to war in Iraq.
Mr. Bolton appeared at a hearing of the House International Relations Committee prepared for some tough questions, and he got them.
One lawmaker, Massachusetts Congressman William Delahunt, recalled a previous appearance by Mr. Bolton in January, before the Iraq war, during which he stated that Iraq had stocks of weapons.
And New York Congressman Eliot Engel said he was dismayed by media reports quoting unidentified officials about alleged pressure by the Pentagon on CIA and other analysts to shape their intelligence findings to favor military action.
"I voted to support President Bush in Iraq, but I'm deeply concerned about reports that the administration twisted the arms of our intelligence analysts to produce an analysis which agreed with the policies you wanted to pursue," Rep. Engel said. "If the books were cooked to help push the American people into supporting the war in Iraq, it is very, very troubling."
Mr. Bolton responded by saying that concern about Saddam Hussein's pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons went back at least a decade. And he had this response to media reports, saying, "I personally never asked anybody in the intelligence community to change a single thing they presented. And I am not aware of any other official in this administration who did that."
Mr. Bolton went on to challenge, what he called "the anonymous critics" to present their criticisms in public, adding that he has no problem with investigations by Congress or others. "I think it is critical that we are completely honest among ourselves about what we found, and where our intelligence succeeded and where it didn't. And I have no fear that at the end of those processes, we will see that the concerns that, not just the administration, but overwhelming majorities of Congress, had about Iraq's WMD programs, will be justified," he said.
Congressional skepticism has increased in recent weeks amid comments by such senior officials as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz appearing to downplay previous administration certainty about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Bolton says he is confident that as American efforts in Iraq continue, including interviews with Iraqis who worked in weapons programs, that more information will emerge.
That's not enough for many lawmakers. Steps are underway in the Senate and the House to examine the question more closely.
One House member and Democratic presidential hopeful, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, is using a special procedure known as a "resolution of inquiry" to force the White House to provide Congress with all information it had on Iraq's weapons prior to the war.