WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush did not manipulate pre-war intelligence about Iraq, a top White House aide said on Sunday, as the administration pursued its campaign against critics who say the president misled the country.
National security adviser Stephen Hadley told CNN's "Late Edition" that Bush relied on the same intelligence that his predecessor Bill Clinton saw and that 77 of 100 senators used in 2002 to back Bush on the use of force in Iraq.
"I think the point that we need to emphasize here was, allegations now that the president somehow manipulated intelligence, somehow misled the American people are flat wrong," Hadley said.
With public support for the war in Iraq waning and polls showing Bush reaching new lows in popularity, the White House has begun to strike back at critics who have said his administration misused intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to justify the war.
Bush used his Veterans Day speech on Friday to defend his use of intelligence, saying it was irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began and that his critics were sending the wrong signal to U.S. troops as well as to U.S. enemies.
Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, sharply criticized Bush's speech in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"The president didn't even tell the truth in his speech," Dean said. "He said that the Senate had the same intelligence that everybody else did. That was not true. He withheld some intelligence."
The administration's aggressive campaign followed stepped up charges by Senate Democrats that top officials, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, manipulated intelligence on Iraq and leaked classified information to discredit critics of the war.
Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a top aide to Cheney, was indicted last month for obstructing justice, perjury and lying after a two-year investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Plame's husband has said she was outed to get back at him for his criticism of the war.
Democrats earlier this month imposed a rare closed session of the Senate to push majority Republicans to complete a probe on whether the prewar intelligence was misused.
Administration officials have acknowledged the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was faulty, but said Democrats, Republicans as well as foreign intelligence agencies believed Baghdad had stockpiles of deadly weapons before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said on CNN that it is not just a question of White House officials pressuring analysts to change information. An earlier Senate investigation found no such pressure.
Levin said it was more a question of how the White House manipulated flawed intelligence, particularly as it related to the relationship between ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
"The intelligence community was dubious of that link, and yet the president of the United States made out that link to exist. He said there was no difference between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein," Levin said.
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