A group of 89 Democrats from the House of Representatives has written to Bush to ask whether the memo is accurate.
It recounts a discussion between Tony Blair and his military and intelligence advisers about the Bush administration’s views in July 2002, three months before Congress authorised the White House to go to war with Iraq .
The Democrat letter, drafted by Congressman John Conyers of Michigan , said that the memo raised “troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own administration”.
US administration officials tried to shrug off the letter last week. Scott McClellan, Bush’s spokesman, said the White House saw “no need” to respond to an affair that one newspaper dubbed “memogate”. Yet Democratic opponents of the war appear determined not to let the matter drop. “They (the Republicans) are trying desperately to wait it out and hope that nobody will bring this up,” Conyers said. “But this thing will not be snuffed out. ”
The memo was written by Matthew Rycroft, a foreign policy aide to Blair. It described a meeting on July 23, 2002 where Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6 who had recently returned from meeting CIA officials in Washington, was quoted as saying that Bush wanted “to remove Saddam (Hussein) through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD (weapons of mass destruction)”.
Dearlove also noted that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”.
Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, was quoted as describing the case against Saddam as “thin”. At the time Bush was still publicly insisting that no decision had been made to go to war and that he was committed to a diplomatic solution.
Conyers said the memo raised “very serious questions about an abuse of power , . . it is a very serious constitutional matter”. Under the US constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war, and it was not until mid-October 2002 that Bush obtained the necessary authorisation to begin military preparations.
“There are members saying that if they knew then what they know now they wouldn’t have given him those powers (to wage war),” Conyers said.
By sending investigators to London , Conyers hopes to stir the US media into re-examining a story largely ignored in America since Bush’s re-election victory in November.
“I deplore the fact that our media have been so reticent on the question of whether there was a secret planning of a war for which neither the Congress nor the American people had given permission,” Conyers said.
“We have The Sunday Times to thank for this very important activity. It reminds me of Watergate, which started off as a tiny little incident reported in The Washington Post. I think that the interest of many citizens is picking up.”
Another Democrat who signed the letter said that the affair could have repercussions on mid-term elections next year. “People are beginning to understand that those crying in the wilderness (opposing the war in Iraq ) were not without rationale,” said Congressman Danny Davis of Illinois .
“If we had a plan which people believed was going to take us out (of Iraq ) they would feel much better. But the fact is there has not been a real strategy to get us out.”