YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

Bush's Prewar Funding Is Criticized

Critics say money was shifted from the war in Afghanistan to Iraq preparations without consent from Congress.

April 20, 2004|Richard Simon and Peter Wallsten | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Charges that the Bush administration had diverted $700 million to prepare for a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq without informing Congress drew criticism Monday from congressional Democrats, while Republicans contended that Congress had given the administration "unprecedented flexibility" in spending after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the administration "owes Congress a full, detailed and immediate accounting."

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Alamo), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called for an investigation, calling it "deeply irresponsible of the White House to secretly reprogram funds allocated by Congress."

The staffs of Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees scrambled to examine records to determine whether the administration had shifted money that had been allocated for the war in Afghanistan, whether it was required to notify Congress and, if so, whether it did.

A new book by Bob Woodward, an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, says that in the summer of 2002, the Bush administration diverted money allocated for the war in Afghanistan for "preparatory tasks" in the Persian Gulf region, such as upgrading airfields in Kuwait.

"Congress, which is supposed to control the purse strings, had no real knowledge or involvement, had not even been notified the Pentagon wanted to reprogram money," Woodward wrote in "Plan of Attack."

"It is our understanding that Congress was kept informed," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters Monday, adding that the White House had asked the Pentagon comptroller and the Office of Management and Budget to document what had happened.

Emergency spending legislation passed after the Sept. 11 attacks gave the administration "broad discretion" in the use of funding, he said.

The Pentagon said Monday that in July 2002, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, then the head of U.S. Central Command, requested $750 million for "Iraq contingency" funding.

According to a Defense Department budget official who requested anonymity, the Pentagon reviewed the request and funded $178 million for projects -- such as fuel, rations and improvements to military communications -- that it believed it could justify using the post-Sept. 11 counter-terrorism spending legislation.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Trent Duffy said in an interview Monday that the "significant buildup" at the time in the Persian Gulf region was not necessarily in preparation for an invasion. He said the administration wanted to be ready to aid weapons inspectors.

The rest of Franks' request, which had to do specifically with Iraq war plans, was not funded until after Oct. 11, 2002, when Bush received congressional authority to use force in Iraq, the Pentagon budget official said. By late October, the military began spending $800 million on war preparations.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said through a spokesman that his recollection was the same as that of national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, who told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that Franks was in charge of "an entire region" and could therefore make financial decisions in a broad context.

Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Congress in most cases has allowed the Defense Department to allocate post-Sept. 11 funding with "unprecedented flexibility because of the dynamic combat environment and an unconventional terrorist threat." He said the lack of specifics made it difficult for him to respond to the allegations in Woodward's book.

Congressional Democrats said they plan to ask Defense Department officials for an explanation during hearings this week on Bush's Iraq policy. The controversy has emerged as continuing insurgency and U.S. military deaths in Iraq have presented Bush with new challenges to holding onto public support for the war as he faces reelection in November.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said the charges "make clear that Congress must be very careful in how much discretion it gives the administration over the use of funds in Afghanistan or Iraq. Congress needs to be more vigorous in its oversight of all aspects of the Iraq war."


Associated Press contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles