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Stonewalling at White House Press Briefing


WH Press Secretary Mocks 'Downing Street Memo,' as Congressman Calls for Inquiry
By E&P Staff
Published: June 16, 2005 4:25 PM ET

NEW YORK With a forum about to begin on Capitol Hill on the so-called Downing Street Memo, hosted by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), reporters at today's White House briefing by Press Secretary Scott McClellan naturally raised the subject, albeit briefly.

Rather than ask about details or implications of the 2002 internal British document -- which seemed to suggest that the Bush administration was determined to go to war against Iraq and that intelligence would be �fixed� to support it --the correspondents wondered if the White House was ever going to respond to a letter authored by Conyers and signed by 88 of his colleagues asking for information about the memo.

A transcript of two exchanges follows:

***

Q Scott, on another topic, has the President or anyone else from the administration responded to the letter sent last month by Congressman John Conyers and signed by dozens of members of the House of Representatives, regarding the Downing Street memo? Has the President or anyone else responded?

McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of.

Q Why not?

McCLELLAN: Why not? Because I think that this is an individual who voted against the war in the first place [Conyers] and is simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed. And our focus is not on the past. It's on the future and working to make sure we succeed in Iraq.

These matters have been addressed, Elaine. I think you know that very well. The press --

Q Scott, 88 members of Congress signed that letter.

McCLELLAN: The press -- the press have covered it, as well.

Q But, Scott, don't they deserve the courtesy of a response back?

McCLELLAN: Again, this has been addressed�.

***

Q Scott, on John Conyers, John Conyers is walking here with that letter again, as you have acknowledged from Elaine's comment. But 88 leaders on Capitol Hill signed that letter. Now, I understand what you're saying about him, but what about the other 88 who signed this letter, wanting information, answers to these five questions?

McCLELLAN: How did they vote on the war -- the decision to go to war in Iraq?

Q Well, you have two -- well, if that's the case, you have two Republicans who are looking for a timetable. How do you justify that?

McCLELLAN: I already talked about that.

Q I understand, but let's talk about this.

McCLELLAN: Like I said --

Q Well, just because -- I understand -- but if you're talking about unifying and asking for everyone to come together, why not answer, whether they wanted the war or not, answer a letter where John Conyers wrote to the President and then 88 congressional leaders signed? Why not answer that?

McCLELLAN: For the reasons I stated earlier. This is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed.

***

Later, across town, Rep. Charles Rangel was among Democratic House members who participated in the Conyers forum to air demands that the White House provide more information about what led to the decision to go to war in Iraq. Congress should conduct an official inquiry to determine whether President Bush intentionally misled the nation about the reasons for toppling Saddam Hussein, Rangle charged.

"Quite frankly, evidence that appears to be building up points to whether or not the president has deliberately misled Congress to make the most important decision a president has to make, going to war," Rangel said.

Conyers and a half-dozen other members of Congress were stopped at the White House gate later Thursday when they hand-delivered petitions signed by 560,000 Americans who want Bush to provide a detailed response to the Downing Street memo. When Conyers couldn't get in, an anti-war demonstrator shouted, "Send Bush out!" Eventually, White House aides retrieved the petitions at the gate and took them into the West Wing.

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