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In shift, White House vows Iraq data access

WASHINGTON -- The White House reversed itself and promised the Senate Intelligence Committee access to all the materials requested for its inquiry into prewar intelligence on Iraq, the committee chairman said yesterday.

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, remained noncommittal, promising "a spirit of cooperation," but he gave no specifics. Duffy reiterated the administration's doubts about the committee's jurisdiction over the White House.

The CIA and the State Department had already turned over large quantities of documents ahead of the committee's deadline last Friday, and more material is coming, said Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas.

The White House decision, on behalf of the National Security Council, was announced to committee staff members late Friday along with notification from the Pentagon that it also would cooperate, Roberts said on CNN's "Late Edition."

The committee's top Democrat, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said he wants "to see the documentation before . . . I'm satisfied. I want to know that we really have it in hand."

Duffy, with President Bush in Crawford, Texas, said the White House agreement was "in a spirit of cooperation," but offered no concrete promises. He would not confirm Roberts's assertion that the White House has agreed to turn over the documents the committee seeks.

"We've had productive conversations about ways we can work with and assist the committee," Duffy said. "While the committee's jurisdiction does not cover the White House, we want to be helpful, and we will continue to talk to and work with the committee in a spirit of cooperation."

After the deadline passed Friday, both senators accused the White House of ignoring the committee's demand for documents and access to officials for interviews it needed in its work.

The committee is examining the accuracy of intelligence about deposed President Saddam Hussein's weapons programs and his alleged contacts with terrorist groups. That intelligence served as Bush's main argument for the US-led war.

"It is certainly good news that there is a spirit of cooperation with the White House," Roberts said. "The challenging news is, however, that we have to fold this new information into all of the work that we have done."

He said the committee would like to expedite its final report, "but the most important thing to do is to get an accurate and complete picture." A top White House official had promised every document requested would be surrendered, he said.

On Friday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan promised to cooperate with the committee even though he said it lacked the jurisdiction to ask for it.

Rockefeller took issue with that, saying the committee's job involves not only "rigorous oversight of the collection and analysis of intelligence, but also the use of intelligence. And that includes all of the US government. That includes policy making, defense, and national security."

The Bush administration also is in a battle of wills with an independent commission studying the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The commission, which has a May 27, 2004, deadline to complete its report, has threatened to issue subpoenas unless the requested documents are provided quickly.

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