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Senators Reluctant to Criticize Bush on Iraqi Weapons - 2003-06-22

Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee say they are not aware of any specific evidence that President George W. Bush intentionally misled the public about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program in the weeks and months leading up to the war on Iraq.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts says that despite the failure of the United States to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he believes President Bush's assessment of Iraq's weapons program was honest and based on the best intelligence the United States possessed at the time.

The senator, who serves as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, spoke on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday. "As of this date, I know of no interference on the part of the president or no conclusion that is not backed up by good intelligence," said Mr. Roberts.

The ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller, was less certain. Speaking on the same program, he said he is troubled by some of President Bush's public statements leading up to the war that have since been dismissed as false, including allegations that Iraq purchased equipment to enrich uranium from Niger. But he added that he has yet to see specific evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Bush administration.

"I do not know of any, but I have always been concerned, on a personal basis, about the whole matter of Niger and the enriched uranium that was said to have been imported into Iraq for nuclear purposes," he said. "But I am not going to conclude from that that the president was deliberately misleading. I have concerns about that, but that is what our inquiry is for [to determine]."

Other Democrats are more outspoken and have called for a formal investigation into whether intelligence was manipulated to justify the war in Iraq.

Senator Roberts was quick to point out that that the Bush administration's assertions prior to the war on Iraq were not made in a vacuum. He said Iraq's activities concerning weapons of mass destruction were well documented. "We have 10 years of intelligence reporting, not just from the United States, but also from the United Nations, from the inspection team, from the Germans and the Russians and even from the Chinese, certainly the British, that he [Saddam Hussein] had the weapons of mass destruction," said Mr. Roberts. "Most of the documents that have been found were old documents, but they may refer to current plans in regard to nuclear activity."

Both senators said the Intelligence Committee faces an enormous task in sifting through myriad documents and reports, and that the probe will be conducted in a bipartisan fashion. Senator Roberts said he anticipates a public hearing will be held, and the full truth about U.S. intelligence on Iraq will be learned. But he added that, in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the U.S. intelligence community has to be more aggressive in passing along even partial information to decision-makers, despite the fact that such incomplete information can be misleading or even prove false.