WASHINGTON – A Democratic congressman on Monday demanded to know whether the Bush administration transferred $700 million to Iraq war planning efforts out of counterterrorism (search) funds without informing Capitol Hill. The Pentagon said it didn't happen.
A senior Defense Department budget official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon used a smaller amount of post-Sept. 11 counterterrorism money on projects that would aid the war on Iraq, but the spending had a wider purpose - it also improved the military's capability to fight terrorists everywhere.
At issue is whether counterterrorism money was spent inappropriately on any preparations for a possible conflict in Iraq, and whether Congress was informed of the Bush administration's changes in spending plans.
Questions were raised because a new book by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward (search) says President Bush "approved 30 projects that would eventually cost $700 million" by the end of July 2002 in preparation for the war, and that some of that money came from appropriations for the war on terrorism.
The book says Congress "had no real knowledge or involvement."
The passages led Rep. David Obey (search), D-Wis., to say "the administration owes Congress a full, detailed and immediate accounting."
Congress gave the president "unprecedented flexibility with the assurance that they would keep Congress plugged into what they were doing," said Obey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
The Pentagon provided its account Monday.
In July 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks (search) sent the Pentagon $750 million in requests for improvements, projects and supplies that would help him carry out a war on Iraq, the Pentagon budget official said.
The Pentagon reviewed the request and funded $178 million that it believed it could justify spending from counterterrorism spending bills approved after the Sept. 11 attacks. Those bills gave the administration vast spending authority, but some question whether preparations for a possible war with Iraq would fall under that.
The $178 million went for fuel and rations, improvements to military communications networks and improvements to Franks' headquarters in Florida, the budget official said. Pentagon officials said all of these were important to Franks' command regardless of events in Iraq. Franks, as chief of U.S. Central Command (search), also had authority over the war in Afghanistan.
Because the rest was Iraq-specific, the remainder of Franks' request was discarded until after Oct. 11, 2002, when Congress gave President Bush authority to use force in Iraq. By late October, the military began spending some $800 million on war preparations. Pentagon officials weren't immediately certain Monday where that money came from.
Pentagon and Bush administration officials maintain that they provided Congress with all the information they were required to, including informing lawmakers of $63 million in military construction projects in October.
"It is our understanding that Congress was kept informed," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "The post-Sept. 11 emergency spending allowed for broad discretion to use those funds in our efforts in the war on terrorism."
Obey said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress rejected the administration's request for "a total blank check - unlimited funding for an unlimited time."
Obey said that he and Republican committee chairman Bill Young pushed through the $40 billion emergency appropriations (search) bill, giving the executive branch wide-ranging authority on how to use it.
"If this is all true, it is ironic that the president was surreptitiously authorizing expenditures to begin a plan for war at the very same time he was resisting bipartisan congressional efforts to provide desperately needed funds for homeland security," Obey said.
If the allegation is accurate, "it is clear that once again the administration has declined to cooperate with those who are trying to cooperate with them," said Obey.
In a statement supportive of the Bush administration, Young said that since Sept. 11, Congress has provided the Pentagon with over $159 billion in supplemental funds with "unprecedented flexibility" to spend it.
John Scofield, Young's spokesman, said, "We were generally aware that there were some infrastructure activities in the region prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom (search)."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, said the reports that the Bush administration may have improperly diverted money to prepare for war in Iraq "are consistent with other examples of the administration's failure to deal openly with Congress."