WASHINGTON – President Bush carried his battle over the build-up to the war in Iraq across the Pacific Thursday, blasting Democrats for claiming the White House distorted pre-war intelligence.
"I think people ought to be allowed to ask questions," Bush said Thursday from South Korea, where he met with President Roh Moo-hyun. "It is irresponsible to say that I deliberately misled the American people when it came to the very same intelligence they looked at, and came to the — many of them came to the same conclusion I did."
Democrats, including West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, say the White House controlled the intelligence it saw and didn't tell Congress how weak it was in some cases or that other intelligence contradicted it.
But the president has maintained that lawmakers who voted in favor of using force to oust Saddam Hussein from power saw the same intelligence he did, intelligence that showed that the former Iraqi president did in fact possess weapons of mass destruction. His aides say the Democrats' claim that he exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam to build support for the war in Iraq crossed a line and can't be allowed to stand.
Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday the accusation is "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."
"Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein," Cheney told the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, a conservative policy group.
"I agree with the vice president," Bush said Thursday in Asia.
Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said the GOP counteroffensive against the Democrats' claims will continue.
"There's a bright line there that the Democrats have crossed. They have no facts on their side," Bartlett said while traveling with the president.
He said the administration to push back "will be sustained" because "in the last couple of weeks it has reached a critical mass and we felt it was important to respond."
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada on Thursday blasted the remarks by Bush and Cheney.
"Instead of giving our troops a plan for success or answering the serious questions of the American people, they've decided to start up the [Karl] Rove/Cheney attack machine in an effort to restore their diminishing credibility and raise their sinking poll numbers," Reid said. "We need a commander in chief, not a campaigner in chief. We need leadership from the White House, not more white-washing of the very serious issues confronting us in Iraq."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, noted that the intelligence Bush and lawmakers had was the same that brought President Clinton to advocate regime change back in 1998. Saddam since then continued to appear to hide things from U.N. weapons inspectors and defy U.N. resolutions.
"There were all the signs of danger there and I think it would have been irresponsible not to act," Cornyn told FOX News.
Meanwhile, Rep. John Murtha, an influential House Democrat who voted for the Iraq war, called Thursday for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
"This is the immediate redeployment of American forces because they have become the target," said the Pennsylvania lawmaker, usually one of Congress' most hawkish Democrats. At times during his remarks to reporters, the decorated Vietnam War veteran was choking back tears.
"It is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering, the future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region," said Murtha, who is the top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
But not everyone agrees with that move.
"We have to remember — there's no easy way out," former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told FOX News. "We are going to magnify the terror danger that got us involved in the first place" if U.S. troops pull out of Iraq too early, he added.
The coalition should wait until the Iraqi elections are held on Dec. 15 and give the new government time to get organized before any drastic troop movement is contemplated, Kissinger added.
"We do need to get out of Iraq but not until we've stabilized the country and allowed this fragile democracy that's just beginning to bloom to grow into a vital stabilizing force," Cornyn told FOX News.
Sen. Jeff Binghaman, D-N.M., who voted against the congressional resolution giving the president authority to use military force to oust Saddam because he said the administration didn't make the case for it, agreed that simply pulling troops out now is not the way to go.
"I think it would not be responsible for us just to pull our troops out at this point," he told FOX News. "I do think it's appropriate we begin to hold the administration accountable, to tell us how they're going to get us out of Iraq, and give us a timetable and begin meeting certain conditions."
Pushing back against the push-back, the Democrat's 2004 presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said Cheney "continues to mislead America about how we got into Iraqi and what must be done to complete the still unaccomplished mission."
Bush has made two speeches in recent days that painted Democrats as hypocrites for criticizing the Iraq war after earlier supporting the idea that Saddam should go.
Although critical of some administration tactics in prosecuting the war, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday that "I think it's a lie to say that the president lied to the American people" about prewar intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.
The Republican National Committee has posted on its Web site a video montage of prominent Democrats — including several 2008 presidential hopefuls — who, before the war, publicly said Saddam did in fact have weapons of mass destruction and he posed a danger to the world.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld singled out a number of Democrats, including President Clinton and his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who had depicted Saddam as a threat because of weapons of mass destruction.
Following up on that theme, Cheney said Wednesday that "these are elected officials who had access to the intelligence, and were free to draw their own conclusions. They arrived at the same judgment about Iraq's capabilities and intentions that was made by this administration and by the previous administration."
He said there was "broad-based, bipartisan agreement" that Saddam was a threat, had violated U.N. Security Council resolution and had banned weapons.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.