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Bush, Blair deny memo assertion of 'fixed' intelligence

Joint statements follow criticism by Iraq war foes

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain for the first time yesterday jointly addressed a question that has persisted for the past month: What was the truth about a leaked 2002 memo written by a British official suggesting that the United States had ''fixed" intelligence to justify an impending invasion of Iraq?

Both leaders denied that the July 23 memo, written as a description of a meeting between Britain's top intelligence official and members of the Bush administration, accurately reflected events.

''The facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all," responded Blair, who noted the memo was written before the United States and Britain went to the UN saying Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and seeking support for action against him.

''There's nothing farther from the truth," Bush said, adding that that military force was ''our last option."

But Bush's critics say the so-called Downing Street memo speaks for itself and represents the smoking gun that they have been looking for to prove that the Bush administration knew that it was going to war on shaky grounds.

''We now have official government minutes of an official government meeting putting down what a lot of people suspected," said David Swanson of AfterDowningStreet.org, a coalition of Democrats and peace advocacy groups that is pressing for a House of Representatives inquiry into whether the contents of the memo are grounds for impeachment. ''If these minutes are accurate, Bush lied to the American people and to Congress."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, has put news of the memo on his campaign website, with a form that supporters can fill out to ask their own senators to speak out on the issue. Dozens of other members of Congress have asked the administration to explain the memo's contents.

But the mainstream American press has been criticized on the Internet for paying relatively little attention to the memo, which was first published May 1 by the Sunday Times of London.

The lack of attention moved Bob Fertik of Democrats.com, an online community of activists, to offer a reward of $1,000 to any reporter who could get Bush to give a yes-or-no answer to the question of whether the United States had fixed prewar intelligence, as the memo asserts.

''We're trying to get somebody to ask George Bush to ask the question which has been on the minds of millions of Americans," Fertik said in a telephone interview.

Late yesterday evening, after watching the news conference on television, Fertik said that Steve Holland, the Reuters reporter who questioned the leaders about the memo, was ''eligible" for $250 of the reward, even though Bush did not answer ''Yes" or ''No."

But at the White House, Holland said he had never heard of the reward and had no intention of collecting it.

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