By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 16, 2005
A congressional report made public yesterday concluded that President Bush and his inner circle had access to more intelligence and reviewed more sensitive material than what was shared with Congress when it gave Bush the authority to wage war against Iraq.
Democrats said the 14-page report contradicts Bush's contention that lawmakers saw all the evidence before U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, stating that the president and a small number of advisers "have access to a far greater volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information."
The report does not cite examples of intelligence Bush reviewed that differed from what Congress saw. If such information is available, the report's authors do not have access to it. The Bush administration has routinely denied Congress access to documents, saying it would have a chilling effect on deliberations. The report, however, concludes that the Bush administration has been more restrictive than its predecessors in sharing intelligence with Congress.
The White House disputed both charges, noting that Congress often works directly with U.S. intelligence agencies and is privy to an enormous amount of classified information. "In 2004 alone, intelligence agencies provided over 1,000 personal briefings and more than 4,000 intelligence products to the Congress," an administration official said.
The report, done by the Congressional Research Service at the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), comes amid allegations by Democrats that administration officials exaggerated Iraq's weapons capabilities and terrorism ties and then resisted inquiries into the intelligence failures.
Bush has fiercely rejected those claims. "Some of the most irresponsible comments -- about manipulating intelligence -- have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence I saw and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein," he said this week.
Feinstein, who is on the Senate intelligence committee, disagreed. "The report demonstrates that Congress routinely is denied access to intelligence sources, intelligence collection and analysis," she said. The intelligence panel met yesterday to discuss the second phase of its investigation into the administration's handling of prewar assertions. In July 2004, the committee issued the first phase of its bipartisan report, which found the U.S. intelligence community had assembled a flawed and exaggerated assessment of Iraq's weapons capabilities.
The second phase, which examines the White House's role, was agreed to in February 2004 but remains incomplete. Last month, Democrats forced the Senate into a rare closed-door session to extract a promise from Republicans to speed up the inquiry. At the time, committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said the report was nearing completion. But yesterday, committee aides said it is unlikely the report will be done before spring.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a former member of the panel, said the report should not be rushed. But he urged the White House to release more documents to support its claims. "The only way to be is certain is to look at what they saw and what we saw side by side," he said.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.