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The Downing Street Memos

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

The Downing Street memos, they've been called.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: They are the leaked British documents that suggest that President Bush told Prime Minister Tony Blair as early as April 2002 of his intention to topple Saddam Hussein by force and was having the intelligence cooked to support his plan. The issue seems not about to go away in this country. On Thursday, Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee held a forum on the subject in the Capitol basement. The Republicans had refused the use of a hearing room. And at this forum, Charles Rangel of New York raised the question of whether Mr. Bush deliberately misled Congress to make the most important decision a president has to make.

The highly classified memos were an issue in last month's British election campaign, used by conservatives to support their claim that Blair was Bush's poodle. The memos surfaced on May 1st in the Sunday Times of London, owned by the conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. One document quoted Blair as having told the American president in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002 that he would support military action to bring about regime change in Iraq. In July 2002, the prime minister sent an emissary to Washington, who returned with word--and here I quote the memo--that "Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action and the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," unquote.

The memos became a late-blooming issue in American politics, seized upon by Democrats to assert that the whole buildup for war against Iraq, the search for weapons of mass destruction, the links to terrorists, were all simply a pretext to justify an invasion already decided. A small bipartisan group of House members, two Democrats, two Republicans, have introduced a resolution that would require Mr. Bush to announce by the end of the year a plan to withdraw American troops from Iraq. That resolution has little chance at this point, but in the debate over it, we're likely to hear about the Downing Street memos all over again. This is Daniel Schorr.

HANSEN: It's 22 minutes before the hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr passed away on Friday, July 23, 2010. See an obituary, photo gallery and an archive of Schorr's commentaries for NPR.