WASHINGTON – The war of words hadn't died down in Congress on Wednesday, as one Democratic representative fought back a Republican counterattack against Sen. Ted Kennedy (search), who last week accused the Bush administration of lying about the threat from Iraq.
Rep. John Conyers (search), D-Mich., said Wednesday that Republicans should apologize for taking Kennedy to task for remarks he made in an interview with the Associated Press.
In the interview, Kennedy said that the Bush administration had made up the threat from Iraq for political points and bribed international leaders to go along with the Iraq war.
"The White House should immediately apologize to Senator Kennedy for calling his legitimate criticism of the rush to war 'uncivil,'" Conyers said. His statement was accompanied by an Australian news report of a British television special aired this week that quoted Bush administration officials in 2001 saying Iraq's Saddam Hussein was not a threat.
"This report demonstrates that there are serious, unanswered questions about whether this administration has been straight with the American people," Conyers said. "We deserve a full accounting on this matter, the resignation of officials who perpetuated the myth of Saddam being connected to 9/11, and the president himself should at long last take responsibility for these deceptions."
Last week, Kennedy said Republicans had created the threat from Iraq to win elections.
"There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that [the war] was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud."
The Massachusetts Democrat went a step further in that same interview, accusing the Bush administration of bribing foreign leaders, and suggesting that of the nearly $4 billion being spent each month on military operations, about $1.5 billion is not accounted for and is being used covertly.
"My belief is this money is being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops," he said.
On Tuesday, Republicans responded to the accusations with a steady stream of criticism saying Kennedy was out of line and off the mark.
"This is a serious charge and it deserves a serious response," said Sen. Bob Bennett (search), R-Utah.
"Sometimes members of Congress with very narrow, parochial vision ... don't necessarily do what's best for the world," said Sen. Rick Santorum (search), R-Pa.
The comments also made President Bush bristle. In an exclusive interview with Fox News, the president called Kennedy's remarks "uncivil."
"I mean, Senator Kennedy, who I respect, and with whom I have worked, should not have said we were trying to bribe foreign nations. I mean, my regret is -- I don't mind people trying to pick apart my policies, and that's fine and that's fair game. I don't think we're serving our nation well by allowing the discourse to become so uncivil that people say -- use words that they shouldn't be using," Bush said in an interview that aired Monday night.
"To say this is a plot cooked up in Texas ... [is irresponsible]," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said on Tuesday. "I don't think there should ever be a slur on another state when we're talking foreign policy."
"These comments are obviously for political gain and are as disgusting as they are false," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas told reporters Tuesday. "Unfortunately, Kennedy's brand of hate speech has become mainstream in the Democratic Party -- is so incoherent and hateful that frankly, I think they belong on the [Jerry] Springer show rather than C-SPAN."
Asked by Fox News if he had evidence of his charge, Kennedy said Tuesday: "Just yesterday the administration announced a $8.5 billion loan to Turkey, and under the conditions of which they are going to be supportive of our troops in Iraq. Now you can say it's an incentive, you can say it's coercion, you can say bribery -- you choose the word."
When Kennedy returned to the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon, he continued to blast the administration, but did not speak directly to his earlier charges.
Still, some Democrats tried to distance themselves from the situation, saying Americans should know what's going on behind-the-scenes in Iraq.
"Americans want to know what's happening in Iraq ... not in Massachusetts ... they want to know what the policy is," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.
"We ought to have the opportunity to have open, candid exchange of views ... without challenging the motives, patriotism or the very right of every senator to express," him or herself, said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. "There has to be open dialogue about the extraordinary issues facing us with respect to Iraq."
"I think it's patriotic to ask those questions," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Bennett said if Kennedy has some accusations to make, then he ought to put up or shut up when it comes to providing the evidence.
"If the charge made by the senior senator from Massachusetts is accurate, then the president is deserving of a serious rebuke. If, in fact, the charge is not accurate, the senior senator from Massachusetts is deserving of a serious rebuke," he said.
Fox News' Brian Wilson, Julie Asher, Jim Mills and Liza Porteus contributed to this report.