- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

Republicans, caught flat-footed as Democrats mounted an organized attack on President Bush for prewar intelligence disputes, this week began to mount a more aggressive counteroffensive.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, yesterday accused the Democrats of hypocrisy for giving the “Keystone Kops” of the United Nations up to 12 years to find Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, yet being “unwilling to give the United States military up to 10 weeks to search while simultaneously hunting Ba’ath Party loyalists and restoring order.”

“In their zeal to score political points, they’ve sacrificed the national interest on the altar of partisan politics,” Mr. McConnell said. “They are making accusations that are grossly offensive against the president and those of us who believed the liberation of Iraq was the right thing to do.”

Before Mr. McConnell’s comments, Democrats came one after another to the front of the Senate chamber to accuse the White House of manipulating some of the intelligence that led to the war in Iraq.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, has been among the most persistent critics, focusing on a line in the president’s State of the Union address.

Mr. Bush said British intelligence had determined that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire uranium from Africa to accelerate a nuclear weapons program. CIA Director George J. Tenet said he should have told Mr. Bush to exclude that line from his speech because it could not be confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies.

But British Prime Minister Tony Blair said at a White House press conference yesterday that he believes the intelligence is genuine.

“We stand by that intelligence,” Mr. Blair said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Durbin said he learned Wednesday in a closed hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence there was at least one White House staffer who was dead set “on misleading the American people” and who applied pressure to include the line about uranium.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan called Mr. Durbin’s assertion nonsense.

“Senator Durbin is putting words in someone else’s mouth and trying to characterize it in a way that I think is just nonsense,” Mr. McClellan said, noting that Mr. Durbin voted against using force to depose Saddam Hussein.

“I think you have to look at the reason why he was making those comments. I mean, maybe he’s going back, trying to justify his own vote against taking action, against addressing the threats that we face,” Mr. McClellan said.

The White House has been more assertive in defending itself this week after initially being slow to address the Democrats’ criticism.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay took the offensive at his regular briefing Tuesday, accusing Democrats of trying to “energize their Bush-hating base.”

“When you listen to the rhetoric, you start to wonder which side won,” Mr. DeLay said. “They didn’t want to fight in the first place, and they have spewed more rhetoric at President Bush than they ever did at Saddam Hussein.”

Greg Crist, spokesman for the House Republican Conference, said the conference has been ramping up its efforts to defend the president on Iraq since late last month. He said they placed 21 House members on TV talk shows last week alone, the most since the beginning of the year.

And he said they are sending out Republicans such as Intelligence Committee member Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York, and Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut, a former CIA analyst. He contrasted that with the Democrats who have been criticizing the effort — mainly those seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

“It’s campaign season. All you have to look to are the folk who are leveling these charges. The ones who are getting the most air time are the ones running for president,” Mr. Crist said.

Mr. Crist said the conference will be sending Republicans home for the August recess armed with materials to help them keep the Iraqi mission in perspective, including a list of the individuals among the 55 most wanted that have been captured, with quotes from officials such as National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and a reminder of the Democrats who have also said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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