Some lawmakers seek congressional hearings on Iraqi weapons
No decision yet on such a move
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid mounting questions over pre-war claims by the Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they want congressional hearings to probe whether U.S. intelligence was accurate and whether it was manipulated to provide a rationale for invading the country.
The Bush administration had cited Iraq's harboring and development of such weapons as the key reason for toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein. But more than one month after President Bush declared major combat over in Iraq, no such weapons have been found; many Democrats at home and critics abroad are challenging the administration's justification for taking military action against Iraq.
Administration officials stress that the search continues and that it's possible weapons have been dismantled or spirited away.
Some Democrats, such as Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, a presidential contender, charge the administration hyped the perceived threat from Iraq and others question the accuracy of U.S. intelligence on what kinds of weapons Iraq possessed or was trying to develop.
Several prominent Republicans, even as they voice support for the military action against Iraq, say hearings are warranted. Over the weekend, Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN, "We're going to look at this situation."
But on Tuesday, Warner sounded a more cautious note, saying that he has scheduled no hearings and that the first task is to fully digest the hundreds of pages of documents given to his committee and to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also stressed that no hearings have been scheduled.
One leading Republican -- and a strong supporter of the military action in Iraq -- said hearings are a good idea.
"I think that it's very appropriate for the Congress to have hearings on the whole issue," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, noting that some lawmakers have charged that intelligence information was manipulated to suit the administration's agenda. "Fine, let's have hearings. It's appropriate after every conflict to have hearings. I'm satisfied that Saddam Hussein not only had weapons of mass destruction, but if we had not overthrown him, he would have went back to pursuing the development of weapons of mass destruction."
McCain, interviewed Tuesday, said any hearings should also examine what's ahead for Iraq and the continued U.S. presence there.
But Roberts told CNN that while he is conducting a joint investigation of the Iraq weapons of mass destruction issue with the Senate Armed Services Committee, no hearings have been scheduled.
The decision on whether to hold hearings will come later, he said.
Roberts said he wants to give the new group that is to search WMD in Iraq a chance to do its work. That group, the 1,200-member Iraq Survey Group, is due to begin arriving in Persian Gulf region on June 7.
Roberts said the Bush administration has been extremely forthcoming in providing the staff of the two committees with a stack of classified background documents that support the assertions made in February by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his presentation to the United Nations.
Roberts said he has no concerns about the controversy over pre-war intelligence regarding Iraq's WMD affecting the credibility of future intelligence reports.
Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat and member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that a "very strong case" had been made to lawmakers in classified briefings about WMDs in Iraq. She also pointed to the February presentation by Powell before the U.N. Security Council, when he said that Iraq had sarin, nerve agents and botulinum toxin.
If questions are now being raised about the accuracy of that information, she said, Congress needs to investigate.
"We need to make sure our intelligence is timely, accurate and unbiased going forward," she said. "The U.S. credibility depends on that."
Meanwhile, a U.S. intelligence official said that the CIA plans to give lawmakers intelligence data that Powell used for his U.N. presentation. (Full story) The official said the CIA will cooperate with a request from Warner to provide detailed information on the intelligence that led to the agency's assessment of Iraq's weapons program.
On Monday, Powell said he stood by that presentation. "This wasn't material I was making up; it came from the intelligence community," Powell said.
The Bush administration has said recently discovered trailers in Iraq were mobile facilities to produce biological weapons and back up the claim that Iraq was developing such weapons up until the time of the war.
U.N. weapons inspectors found no evidence of any banned weapons program in Iraq in their last round of inspections before the war, but made little progress in clearing up questions concerning possible weapons of mass destruction, according to a report released Monday.
"The long list of proscribed items unaccounted for and as such resulting in unresolved disarmament issues was neither shortened by the inspections nor by Iraqi declarations and documentation," the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Committee report said.
Several lawmakers said that determining whether U.S. intelligence was accurate as it relates to Iraqis critical to maintaining the United States' stature on the global stage, particularly in light of the fact that world opinion was divided on the merits of the military invasion of Iraq.
"If the intelligence ends up being wrong, we need to get to the bottom of why and also there will be more skepticism in the U.S. and the world," said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, dismissed questions about the weapons.
"The detractors from our successes might want to congratulate Saddam Hussein on his ability to hide them or destroy them," DeLay told reporters. "But there's no doubt in anybody's mind, including people like France and Germany and others, that he had weapons of mass destruction."
He said questions about the matter amounted to "playing politics."
-- Congressional Correspondent Jonathan Karl, Congressional Producers Steve Turnham and Ted Barrett, National Security Producer Pam Benson, Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre, and CNN.Com Producer Sean Loughlin contributed to this report.