WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee expects the White House to give the panel access to all materials it sought for its inquiry into prewar information on Iraq. A spokesman for President Bush indicates he shouldn't be so sure.
Both Sen. Pat Roberts (search), R-Kan., and White House spokesman Trent Duffy spoke Sunday of "a spirit of cooperation" regarding the documents. That's where agreement seemed to end.
Roberts said White House aides told committee staff members late Friday of acquiescence, on behalf of the National Security Council, to the committee's demands. The Pentagon also said it would cooperate, Roberts said.
The committee had set a deadline of noon last Friday.
While agreeing on a new spirit in relations with the committee, Duffy, with Bush in Crawford, Texas, said he could offer no concrete promises and refused to confirm Roberts' assertion of agreement on a turnover.
"We've had productive conversations about ways we can work with and assist the committee," Duffy said. "While the committee's jurisdiction does not cover the White House, we want to be helpful and we will continue to talk to and work with the committee in a spirit of cooperation."
The panel's top Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (search) of West Virginia, took issue with that position, which the White House had held previously. The committee's job involves not only "rigorous oversight of the collection and analysis of intelligence, but also the use of intelligence, and that includes all of the U.S. government. That includes policy-making, defense and national security," Rockefeller said on CNN.
The CIA and the State Department turned over large quantities of documents ahead of the committee's Friday deadline, and more material is coming, Roberts said.
But Rockefeller said he wants "to see the documentation before ... I'm satisfied. I want to know that we really have it in hand."
Roberts, speaking from Kansas, commented just after Rockefeller complained that the White House and Defense Department were "being very resistant."
Rockefeller, in Washington, had just finished saying, "We have to have those documents. We're going to get those documents, one way or another," when Roberts was asked if he concurred.
"Well, that's yesterday's story," the chairman said.
Roberts said he had not had the chance to call Rockefeller over the weekend to report the latest development.
After the deadline passed Friday, both senators accused the White House of ignoring the intelligence panel's demand for documents and access to officials for interviews it needed in its work.
The committee is examining the accuracy of intelligence about deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's weapons programs and purported contacts with terrorist groups. That intelligence served as Bush's main arguments for the U.S.-led war.
The administration also is in a battle of wills with an independent commission studying circumstances of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The commission, which has a May 27, 2004, deadline to complete its report, has threatened to issue subpoenas unless the requested documents are provided quickly.