Thursday, March 4, 2004

Two top Senate Republicans are demanding that the Senate investigation into how the Bush administration used intelligence to justify war in Iraq also look at Democrats who had access to the same information.

“We believe it is fair to ask whether those Democrat senators now criticizing the way the public case for war was made, have themselves met the standard to which they seek to hold administration officials on the ‘use’ of intelligence,” wrote Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. The two senators, both members of the Republican leadership team, sent the letter to Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

With the presidential campaign in full swing, it is spilling over into Congress — and members of both parties are using the Senate floor to defend their candidate.

The committee is conducting a review of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs and the way the administration portrayed that intelligence leading up to the war last year. Mr. Kyl and Mr. Santorum said they want it to go further.

Mr. Kyl and Mr. Santorum said all senators had access to some intelligence and members of the Intelligence Committee had access to everything senior administration officials saw: “Specifically, every senator on the Intelligence Committee received in writing the intelligence community’s comprehensive October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate detailing the prewar threat posed by Saddam Hussein, including any reservations or caveats therein.”

Republicans this week, led by Mr. Kyl, discussed prewar intelligence on the Senate floor for two hours and defended the president’s decisions. Mr. Kyl paid particular attention to Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry’s record and statements, showing in 1998 and 2002 his belief that Saddam was continuing to pursue weapons of mass destruction.

But Democrats promised they also will use the Senate to defend the Massachusetts Democrat.

“As the election proceeds toward November, we in the Senate are going to do everything within our power to protect our nominee,” said Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Anything that is said outside this Capitol or inside this Capitol that reflects upon our nominee, we are going to be on this floor defending him.”

The battle continued yesterday as Mr. Kyl demanded that Mr. Kerry apologize to coalition partners who have troops stationed in Iraq for calling their contributions “window dressing,” arguing that countries such as Poland have suffered loss of troops.

“Senator Kerry’s comments inflict needless pain on the many coalition families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of a safe and free Iraq,” Mr. Kyl said.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the committee, did not receive the letter and has not seen it, his spokeswoman said.

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