'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
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'