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Dems, GOP feud over Iraq memo

GOP senator wants Intelligence Committee staff member fired

There were fireworks on the Senate floor Wednesday as lawmakers clashed over a staff memo about the war in Iraq.
There were fireworks on the Senate floor Wednesday as lawmakers clashed over a staff memo about the war in Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A simmering feud over prewar intelligence on Iraq erupted into open battle on the Senate floor Wednesday, triggered by a Democratic staff memo vowing to expose what it said were the Bush administration's "misleading, if not flagrantly dishonest, methods and motives" in making the case for war.

Angry Republicans accused the Democratic side of playing politics.

"It is a disgusting possibility that members of the Senate would actually try to politicize intelligence, especially at a time of war, even apparently reaching conclusions before investigations have been performed," said Republican Sen. John Kyl of Arizona.

He also issued a written statement urging the dismissal of the unidentified Democratic staff member from the Senate Intelligence Committee who wrote the memo.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, said that while the memo did not reflect official policy, "it clearly reflects staff frustration that the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation has not tackled all of the tough issues."

Democrats and Republicans have been at odds over questions on whether the Bush administration exaggerated the threat from Iraq's Saddam Hussein to justify the war. White House officials have steadfastly denied that suggestion.

The memo suggested a strategy to challenge administration claims about its prewar intelligence.

Democrats, it said, should "pull the majority along as far as we can on issues that may lead to major new disclosures regarding improper or questionable conduct by administration officials. We are having some success in that regard."

It went on to say: "We will identify the most exaggerated claims. We will contrast them with the intelligence estimates that have since been declassified.

"Once we identify solid leads the majority does not want to pursue, we would attract more coverage and have greater credibility in that context than one in which we simply launch an independent investigation based on principled but vague notions regarding the use of intelligence.

"The best time to do so will probably be next year," a presidential election year, the memo said.

"Intelligence issues are clearly secondary to the public's concern regarding the insurgency in Iraq. Yet we have an important role to play in revealing the misleading, if not flagrantly dishonest, methods and motives of senior administration officials who made the case for unilateral and preemptive war," it said in conclusion.

Rockefeller and Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas sent letters to the White House, Pentagon, State Department and CIA last week complaining the agencies were ignoring requests for key documents and interviews.

Over the weekend, Roberts softened his stance on the White House, saying Sunday he felt there was a "spirit of cooperation."

Rockefeller disagreed. "I won't believe it until I see it. I don't think it's in their interest to give us those documents, because I think it's going to show some things that are very troublesome to the American people."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday the administration would work closely with the committee.

"I certainly hope that people are not trying to use this issue, this important issue, for political gain," he said.

Roberts said he was discouraged by the controversy.

"We have learned of an effort to discredit the committee's work, undermine its conclusions -- no matter what those conclusions may be. Our goal is to discover the facts, not to target any individuals or to serve any agenda," he said on the Senate floor.

A side controversy was brewing over how Republicans obtained the memo in the first place.

Pointing out that the Intelligence Committee meeting room is under 24-hour guard, Democrats suggested Republicans stole the memo or fished it from a trash can, then leaked it to the news media.

Some Democratic staffers suggested there should be an investigation.

CNN's Steve Turnham contributed to this report.


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