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Friday, February 6

Bush trying to steer Iraq probe, Democrats say

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - President Bush capped a week of trying to defuse the controversy over flawed prewar intelligence on Iraq Friday by appointing an independent panel to examine the issue and a broad spectrum of other potential national security problems.

In announcing seven of the nine panel members, Bush said he was ``determined to make sure that American intelligence is as accurate as possible for every challenge in the future.''

Bush is certain to placate Democrats with the diverse and experienced group he's chosen so far.

Co-chairing the investigation will be Virginia's former Democratic governor and senator, Chuck Robb, and Republican Laurence Silberman, a former judge and Carter administration ambassador. It also includes Bush's one-time political foe Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

But it's not the names Democrats have problems with.

It's the scope of the probe, and its completion date of March 31, 2005 - well after the presidential election.

In choosing the panel, setting its calendar and proscribing its parameters - rather than letting someone outside the White House do it - Bush has raised fears he is trying to control the potentially damaging scrutiny of what went wrong with his prewar analysis of Iraq.

Bush opposed the idea of an independent commission for months but acquiesced after David Kay, the former top weapons hunter in Iraq, told lawmakers that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein probably didn't have the stockpiles of mass-destruction weapons that were central to Bush's justification for war.

``The president is not allowing (the commission) to look into the growing number of questions millions of Americans are asking about the administration's statements and actions before the Iraq war,'' said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

The new probe follows an internal congressional investigation now wrapping up that Democrats claim was too narrowly focused. That investigation could only examine flaws in the prewar intelligence but not the administration's use of the information and the way it crafted its public case for going to war.

Some lawmakers and analysts, including former CIA expert Ken Pollack, believe there is evidence that the Bush administration might have exaggerated the threat Iraq posed by "cherry-picking" the intelligence it needed to support the war and ignoring the caveats.

CIA Director George Tenet recently defended his agency's intelligence on Iraq, admitting gaps and mistakes but saying he never characterized Iraq as an "imminent threat." Bush called Iraq a ``grave and gathering'' threat.

Democrats fear the new independent panel will be barred from investigating senior White House officials.

Bush said the independent commission will be instructed to look into the intelligence on Iraq before and after the war. But at no time did he say it would be permitted to examine how senior administration officials used it.

``By focusing entirely on the performance of the intelligence community and by not addressing the use of intelligence by administration officials, the panel would effectively ignore the process that led us to war,'' said Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., who had been calling for an independent probe since summer.

There is also concern that by opening the probe to include intelligence on North Korea, Libya, Iran and other potential threats, Bush is attempting to bury Iraq in a broad discussion of global intelligence.

``The commission is tasked to look at so many other areas that it will not be able to adequately focus on the paramount issue of the analysis, production and use of prewar intelligence on Iraq,'' said Michigan's Carl Levin, senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

(Contributing: Jon Frandsen, GNS)