- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

Senate leaders from both parties heading an inquiry of intelligence information on Iraq yesterday repudiated Sen. John Kerry’s accusation that the Bush administration misled the country into war, and accused him of political posturing.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat and ranking committee member, dismissed the comments as political while appearing on “Fox News Sunday.”

“The senator is running for president,” Mr. Rockefeller said.

“And I think that Pat Roberts and I make a distinction between people who are running for president and therefore need to capture attention, and what we on the Intelligence Committee have to do, which is to get the facts and to get the intelligence, the counterintelligence and then try and decide,” Mr. Rockefeller said.

Mr. Roberts criticized Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, for “beating up on the president [and] the intelligence community” and said “now is not the time to be doing that.”

“As far as John Kerry is concerned … nothing hurts the truth so much as stretching it,” Mr. Roberts said.

Mr. Kerry made the accusations against Mr. Bush while campaigning in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday.

“I will not let [Mr. Bush] off the hook throughout this campaign with respect to America’s credibility and credibility to me, because if he lied, he lied to me personally. I believe I can hold President Bush accountable if they have misled us,” Mr. Kerry said.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, suggested Mr. Kerry’s comments were due to his opposition to the war, but pointed out Mr. Kerry supported President Clinton’s military strikes against Saddam Hussein in 1997 and 1998.

“The whole world recognized that he had the biological and chemical weapons,” Mr. Allen said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, another Democratic contender, followed Mr. Kerry’s lead yesterday with a similar accusation on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We were misled,” Mr. Dean said. “The question is, did the president do that on purpose or was he misled by his own intelligence people?”

The committee began hearings behind closed doors last week and staff members are poring over thousands of pages of classified documents from the CIA. Mr. Roberts said one public hearing may be held, and that the committee expects to issue one public and one classified report of its findings.

Mr. Roberts said he has no evidence that Mr. Bush portrayed speculative estimates to the public as near-certainties.

“I don’t believe that is true. We’ve heard a little bit of politics, I think, from some who have questioned that, but as of this date, I know of no interference on the part of the president or no conclusion that’s not backed up by good intelligence,” Mr. Roberts said.

Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said there are inconsistencies in the information provided by the intelligence community, creating “a huge credibility gap.”

“We now have members of the Central Intelligence Agency that say they were pressured to give information. They felt that the information they were providing was puffed up, exaggerated,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

Mr. Roberts has asked for anyone with information about being intimidated or coerced to come forward.

“They have an obligation to come to the committee,” Mr. Roberts said. “None has come forward to date, although we’ve had a lot of anonymous assertions in the press.”

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