WASHINGTON – Democrats say they are outraged by reports that the White House used inaccurate information in President Bush's State of the Union (search) address to justify war with Iraq.
The issue has become political in Washington, D.C., and Democrats have seized on the recent information to question the president's entire case for going to war against Saddam Hussein's regime, even though the misstatement deals with just one element about Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
Earlier this week, the White House conceded that documents showing Iraq's attempt to purchase "yellow cake" uranium (search) from the Western African nation of Niger (search) were likely forged. The president attributed the information to British intelligence when he included it in his January speech.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Friday that CIA Director George Tenet vetted the entire address and removed any reference to "yellow cake" or the specific country of Niger.
Rice said Tenet cleared the line in which Bush said that Iraq's attempt to acquire weapons-grade uranium posed a real threat to U.S. security.
She added: "If the CIA — the director of central intelligence — had said 'Take this out of the speech,' it would have been gone," Rice said. "We have a high standard for the president's speeches."
The controversy has overshadowed the president's five-day trip to Africa, where he is trying to focus on AIDS and trade with five of the continent's most stable democracies.
Friday, while visiting Uganda, which has dropped its HIV new case rate by 80 percent, the president took one question from a reporter in the traveling White House press pool. The query focused on whether the president was angry about the inaccuracy and whether or not anyone in the White House would be held accountable.
"I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services," Bush said. "And it was a speech that detailed to the American people the dangers posed by the Saddam Hussein regime. And my government took the appropriate response to those dangers. And as a result, the world is going to be more secure and more peaceful."
But the mistake has opened the way for Democrats to complain about the president's foreign policy.
"We cannot and should not play fast and loose with our intelligence information," said White House hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman. "This breaks the basic bond of trust we must have with our leaders in times of war and terrorism."
“The continued finger-pointing, charge-countercharge, and bureaucratic warfare within the administration do nothing to make this country safer and will simply further erode the confidence of the American public and our allies around the world," said another Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.
Lieberman, Kerry and other congressional Democrats say a much more aggressive Capitol Hill inquiry into the president's speech should take place, and administration officials should be asked more aggressive questions about what's happening in Iraq after war.
They say the president and the administration did not have a suitable post-war strategy and that is being proved everyday on the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.
In reaction to the retraction, the Democratic National Committee and two liberal groups opposed to the war in Iraq have also produced television ads.
Win Without War (search) and Moveon.org's (search) ad plays foreboding music while an announcer says: "George Bush told us Iraq was a nuclear threat. He said they were trying to purchase uranium, that they were rebuilding their nuclear facilities. So we went to war. Now there's evidence we were misled and almost everyday Americans are dying in Iraq. We need the truth not a cover-up. Log onto Misleader.org today."
Neither the ad nor the one produced by the DNC have been televised. Currently, they are Internet ads only. The organizations say they will be up and on television next week and are asking supporters to send in donations to bankroll the ad runs.
Republicans say this is clearly an issue for the White House to deal with, but some context is in order. A lot of the intelligence around the world provided alarming descriptions of attempts by Saddam Hussein to obtain enriched uranium, a key component of any kind of nuclear weapon.
Republicans also say the world was troubled and reasonably so, not only by Iraq's previous use of weapons of mass destruction, but also its ongoing pursuit of them. They add that the one piece of bad intelligence does not in any way mean the president was wrong to raise the issue seriously or to try to go to war to protect Americans.
"There were many reasons to take out Saddam Hussein's regime," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. "He was a terrorist, he poses a threat to the stability of the region, he was acquiring chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities. We have seen massive graves of skulls where he has massacred people. And I think that to say that the entire operation was based on one line in a speech is ludicrous. This is presidential politics at its basest."
Democrats, however, say that every line in a presidential speech matters, particularly when it is in the State of the Union -- and the subject is war.
"We definitely have some intelligence issues, and I don't agree that this is much ado about nothing," Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., told Fox News. "I do agree that it is not the sole basis for having gone into Iraq, and doesn't really change that equation but we should be troubled by intelligence failures like this."
Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.