Iraq Intel Rhetoric Escalating on Capitol Hill

Published November 09, 2005

| FoxNews.com

The pitched battle over pre-Iraq war intelligence, leaks and the call for more investigations continued Tuesday on Capitol Hill, with congressional Democrats raising the bar by blaming Vice President Dick Cheney for just about everything but the weather and maybe even that.

"There's a dark cloud hanging over the White House. It's really a storm cloud," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters.

Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Jim Angle.

Reid charged the vice president with being in the middle of administration efforts to exaggerate pre-war intelligence. Though he cited no evidence, he also alleged the vice president was behind the leaking of national security secrets and pointed to former Cheney Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was indicted for misleading the grand jury over his conversations with reporters about the wife of ambassador Joe Wilson, who worked for the CIA.

On top of it all, Democrats are demanding that the president promise not to pardon anyone found guilty in the CIA leak case.

"Being a high official in the White House should not entitle you to a get-out-of-jail-free card, plain and simple," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Libby maintains his innocence and has yet to be tried. Asked Tuesday about the issue of pardons, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan would not discuss it.

"I'm not going to speculate about any matters relating to it. This is something that is just beginning," he said.

Reid seemed to go even further Tuesday than he has in recent attacks, presenting as fact the idea that official comments about pre-war intelligence were fabricated by officials.

"Yellowcake, secret training of terrorists by the Iraqis, secret meetings in Europe, weapons of mass destruction was all manipulated, made up," he said.

Reid didn't offer any explanations why prominent Democrats, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller, ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made the same arguments as the administration before the war.

"I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the threat posed to America by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction is so serious that despite the risks — and we should not minimize the risks— we must authorize the president to take the necessary steps to deal with that threat," Rockefeller said in October 2002.

The idea that Saddam Hussein was flirting with Al Qaeda goes back years. CIA Director George Tenet told Congress of it. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., the former first lady, mentioned it during the debate over going to war.

Even Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who Democrats applaud for indicting Libby, told the Sept. 11 commission that during his investigation of the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, he found evidence that Al Qaeda and Iraq had been talking to one another.

Late Tuesday, Steve Schmidt, a counselor to the vice president, offered a blistering response to Reid, saying "Harry Reid's attack is unconscionable, personal and malicious." Schmidt also called it "beneath the office of the Democratic leader."

Senior White House officials and Republican strategists say over the course of the next few days, they will pursue a unified counter-attack against what they call "Democratic hypocrisy" regarding intelligence and the war in Iraq.

Sources say the Republican National Committee, key members of Congress and the White House plan to place particular emphasis on Democrats who voted for the war and/or participated in any one of the four investigations relating to Iraqi intelligence that have now been released. None of those reports concluded that the Bush administration intentionally twisted intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

FOX News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.

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