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White House to Turn Over Iraq Data, Senator Says

The Pentagon also will comply, panel chairman says. Bush aide refuses to confirm statement.

November 03, 2003|Elizabeth Shogren and Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said Sunday that the White House and the Pentagon had agreed to turn over documents and provide access to witnesses concerning the intelligence available to the Bush administration before it launched the war on Iraq.

"Every document we want will be made available," Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."

However, a White House spokesman refused to confirm the senator's statement. "We have had productive conversations about ways we can work with and assist the committee," Deputy Press Secretary Trent Duffy told reporters in Crawford, Texas. "While the committee's jurisdiction does not cover the White House, we want to be helpful, and we will continue to talk to and work with the committee in a spirit of cooperation."

Attempts to reach Roberts to clarify the apparent contradiction between his comments and those of the White House spokesman were unsuccessful.

Roberts and Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the panel, sent angry letters Thursday to top Bush administration officials, demanding access to the information as part of the committee's inquiry into prewar intelligence on Iraq. They complained that their repeated requests for documents and interviews had been ignored.

Rockefeller, who appeared with Roberts on CNN, had not been told of any White House agreement to provide more information until Roberts mentioned it on the program.

"I want to see the documentation ... before I'm satisfied," Rockefeller said. "I want to know that we really have it in hand."

The information, if provided by the administration, could give insights into whether President Bush and others in his administration -- in an effort to encourage support for an invasion of Iraq -- exaggerated concerns that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was pursuing an illicit program to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Before the war, the administration asserted that Iraq possessed biological and chemical weapons and that Hussein had restarted a nuclear weapons program. Although U.S. forces have occupied Iraq for nearly six months, no such weapons have been discovered.

Roberts said a top White House official told his staff late Friday that "in a spirit of cooperation ... the White House will provide us with the documents and the interviews that we want."

Roberts did not specify what documents would be provided or which officials would be made available for interviews.

Rockefeller said the Senate panel had received most of the documents it had sought from the CIA and about two-thirds of those requested from the State Department. But so far, he noted, the White House and the Pentagon had not been as cooperative.

"The National Security Council is being very resistant, as is the Department of Defense," Rockefeller said on CNN, just before Roberts announced that the administration had pledged to provide the rest of the information sought by the committee.

The panel is particularly interested in what the CIA told the president about Iraq's nuclear program, including its alleged efforts to acquire uranium from Niger, according to a source close to the committee. Unfounded assertions about those supposed efforts to purchase uranium made it into the president's State of the Union address in January, two months before the war began.

The panel particularly wants access to the president's "daily briefs" -- the highly classified reports, delivered every morning, that summarize the most critical international developments and any new intelligence.

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Shogren reported from Washington and Chen from Crawford, Texas.

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