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The Downing Street Memo Story Won't Die

Mehlman referred specifically to the Senate Intelligence Committee's July 2004 report on pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction which concluded that the Bush administration's findings were "overstated" and "not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting." The report attributed the mistakes to "group think" in the intelligence community, not to pressure from the administration officials.

The Post's Walter Pincus reported on the memo in a May 13 story, noting that Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) had written a letter to President Bush, signed by 88 congressional Democrats, demanding an explanation.

A week later, The Times of London reported on the Conyers letter and quoted the Michigan congressman as saying, "I deplore the fact that our media have been so reticent on the question of whether there was a secret planning of a war for which neither the Congress nor the American people had given permission."

"We have The Sunday Times to thank for this very important activity. It reminds me of Watergate, which started off as a tiny little incident reported in The Washington Post. I think that the interest of many citizens is picking up," Conyers said.

So is journalistic interest. Over the weekend, Charles Hanley, a special correspondent for the Associated Press, linked The Times's Downing Street memo to U.N. Ambassador nominee John Bolton's effort to get a U.N. weapons inspector fired.

"Bolton flew to Europe in 2002 to confront the head of a global arms-control agency and demand he resign, then orchestrated the firing of the unwilling diplomat in a move a U.N. tribunal has since judged unlawful, according to officials involved, " Hanley said in a story published this weekend by The Guardian in London and carried by Canadian TV.

The dismissal, Hanley says, was part of the Bush administration effort to control intelligence findings on Iraq.

Jose Bustani, the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), "had to go" according to one of Bolton's aides, because he was trying to send chemical weapons inspectors to Baghdad. The course of action favored by Bustani might "have helped defuse the crisis over alleged Iraqi weapons and undermined a U.S. rationale for war," Hanley wrote.

Bustani was relieved of his position in April 2002 at an OPCW meeting attended by only one third of the group's member nations, according to the AP report.

"The Iraq connection to the OPCW affair comes as fresh evidence surfaces that the Bush administration was intent from early on to pursue military and not diplomatic action against Saddam Hussein's regime," Hanley wrote. He cited the Times's original Downing Street memo story, which reported that Blair told Bush that Britain would support a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq at a meeting in Crawford, Tex., in mid-April 2002.

"Two weeks later, Bustani was ousted, with British help," Hanley wrote.

Far from being a dud, the Downing Street Memo may generate more stories to come.

Sehrish Shaban and Mary Specht provided research for this column.

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