WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee is considering expanding the scope of its investigation of intelligence failures in Iraq to include the White House's use of the information in making its case for war, according to congressional sources familiar with the probe.
If the expansion is approved at a full meeting of the panel scheduled for today, it would mark a reversal for the White House and Republican congressional leaders, who have fought to limit the inquiry to the performance of the CIA and other spy agencies.
The possibility of expanding the inquiry gained new life this week amid signs that one or more of the committee's Republican members now may be inclined to support long-standing Democratic demands for an examination of the White House's role, the congressional sources said.
Key members of the panel were engaged in lengthy negotiations on the issue in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Among those involved was Sen. Charles Hagel (R-Neb.), who several sources said was considering whether to back an expanded probe.
Mike Buttry, a spokesman for Hagel, confirmed that the senator participated in Wednesday's meeting and said the topic was "about where do we go from here with the intelligence committee report." But he declined to say whether Hagel supported expanding the investigation.
Because Republicans control the committee, Democrats would need to attract GOP support to expand the scope of the probe. An aide to a Democrat on the committee said other negotiations also were underway, and described the talks as intense. "There are groups all over the place meeting, and deals being brokered right and left," the aide said.
But congressional sources in both parties stressed that no deal had been struck.
Other participants in the meeting Wednesday were committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Vice Chairman John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-WVa and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Spokeswomen for Roberts and Levin did not return calls seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Rockefeller declined to comment.
The committee announced the start of the inquiry in June. It has spent several months poring over thousands of intelligence documents and conducting dozens of interviews in preparing a report that is said to be sharply critical of the CIA and other agencies for their assessments that Iraq had stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons. No such stockpiles have been found.
Roberts and other Republicans repeatedly have resisted calls to examine whether the Bush administration exaggerated the Iraqi threat or pressured intelligence analysts to take positions supporting the administration's views. But a series of recent developments has put new pressure on Roberts and others to give ground.
David Kay, who recently resigned as the leader of the U.S. weapons search team in Iraq, said last week that he supported an investigation of the administration's use of intelligence. Kay testified before Congress that intelligence on Iraq was "wrong" and that he didn't believe Baghdad had weapons stockpiles when the United States invaded last year.
CIA Director George J. Tenet added to the White House's troubles last week when he defended the agency's performance, saying it never portrayed Iraq as an imminent threat.
President Bush and others in his administration repeatedly cast Iraq as a "grave and gathering" danger to the United States.
Seeking to end the controversy, Bush last week appointed an independent commission to assess intelligence.
But Democrats have criticized the panel's makeup and complained that it wouldn't examine the administration's use of intelligence.