'Iraqgate' inquiry moves closer to the President

THE GULF WAR was President George Bush's finest hour. But now he faces the distressing possibility that, at the climax of the election compaign, a special counsel may be installed to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by senior officials of his administration over Washington's ill-starred support for Iraq which preceded the war.

Following the formal request for a prosecutor from the Democrat-dominated House Judiciary Committee, the Attorney General, William Barr, has 30 days to make a preliminary ruling. Assuming a go-ahead, he could appoint a panel to name a prosecutor 60 days after that - on 7 October, less than four weeks before election day on 3 November.

Mr Barr retains the option of a further two months delay. But a watershed in what is dubbed 'Iraqgate' has been crossed. Out of a bewildering skein of leaks and accusations has emerged the possibility that the adminstration's backing for Saddam Hussein until the eve of his 1990 invasion of Kuwait may have defied not only common sense, but the law as well.

For Republicans, the growing Iraq controversy remains what President Bush called it a week ago - 'a political witchhunt' mounted by his foes to cause maximum embarrassment at the worst possible moment. But in a television interview from Helsinki yesterday, Mr Bush was uncharacteristically muted, saying his lawyers had advised him not to comment on the issue.

Democrats meanwhile are unequivocal. The 'stupidity' of the pre-Gulf war policy 'speaks for itself', said the House Judiciary Committee's chairman, Congressman Jack Brooks. 'Even the President has acknowledged it was an utter failure. What we are concerned about is that high administration officials, in their zeal to carry out this policy and then to keep it from being exposed, may have broken the law.'

The areas of possible criminal behaviour are several, including: claims that the Commerce Department deliberately doctored a list of exports to Iraq requested by Congress after the invasion of Kuwait; that officials may have deliberately misled Congress; and that the administration knew loans to Iraq in the 1980s by the Atlanta branch of Italy's Banca Nazionale del Lavoro were being diverted into Baghdad's arms build-up.

These suspicions grew further this week when it emerged that a White House lawyer telephoned Atlanta prosecutors probing the BNL affair in 1989, pointing out the risk of embarrassment for the White House.

If Mr Barr now authorises a special prosecutor - and precedent suggests he has little choice but to do so - Mr Bush could be facing double trouble from the direction of the Gulf. For quite apart from 'Iraqgate' the far older Iran-Contra affair is again lapping at the White House.

After the indictment last month of Ronald Reagan's defence secretary, Caspar Weinberger, the Iran-Contra special prosecutor hinted that cover-up charges could be levelled at other officials from the 'most senior levels' of the Reagan adminstration. These can only be the former secretary of state George Shultz, Mr Reagan himself - or then vice-president George Bush.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a Web Developer looking...

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015