The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday sent angry letters to top officials in the Bush administration, demanding access to records and witnesses as part of the panel’s inquiry into the prewar intelligence on Iraq.
The move suggests that the committee is sharpening its investigative focus on the White House, something the administration and key Republican lawmakers had sought to avoid.
The letters were sent to national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, and criticized their agencies for failing to deliver documents and testimony lawmakers said they had requested months ago. The officials were given until noon today to respond, although the letters do not spell out specific consequences.
The letters were signed by Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the ranking members of the committee, and came a day after the lawmakers sent a blistering missive making similar demands of CIA Director George J. Tenet.
The series of pointed communications is the latest indication of the growing tension -- if not outright hostility -- between the Senate panel and the targets of its broadening inquiry into whether prewar assertions of illicit Iraqi weapons programs were unfounded or hyped.
The committee is preparing a lengthy report that is expected to be highly critical of the CIA. But until Thursday, it was not clear that the probe would take such an aggressive posture in gathering evidence from other agencies and the inner national-security circles of the White House.
“By co-signing these letters, Roberts has done what he has spent the last two months saying he wouldn’t -- extending this into the White House,” said one congressional source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The letter to Rice notes that the committee has “made numerous requests for documents which we have not yet been provided, and we have sought to interview a member of your staff without success.” Committee staffers declined to discuss the specific information being sought from the National Security Council, or to name the official mentioned in the letter.
But two congressional sources noted that one area of the inquiry was focused on finding out how an unfounded assertion that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa made it into President Bush’s State of the Union address this year.
The letter to Rumsfeld expressed annoyance that committee members were still waiting for responses to written questions submitted in July to Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith. Feith was a central player in Iraq policy planning and oversaw an office that did a separate analysis of Iraq’s alleged ties to Al Qaeda -- a connection that has not been substantiated.
The missive to Powell also complains that the committee is waiting for answers to “numerous requests” for documents and interviews with State Department officials. The investigation is said to be examining aspects of Powell’s presentation on Iraq to the United Nations in February, as well as the activities of John R. Bolton, undersecretary of State for arms control and international security. Bolton has acknowledged going outside regular channels to get raw intelligence from the CIA and other agencies.
Administration officials said they were cooperating with the committee. “We’ve turned over a large quantity of documents already,” a State Department official said. “I think we’ll have to get together and see what’s still outstanding. We take their work seriously.”