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Saturday, June 17, 2006

ABC: Amid Iraq Debate, a Document Mystery

Talking Points, From Pentagon Office, May Have Been Illegal

June 15, 2006 -- Going into Thursday's Iraq debate in Congress, both sides had news points to bolster their arguments — for war supporters, it was recent the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the completion of the Iraqi cabinet; for war critics, the fact that U.S. deaths in Iraq today hit 2,500.

Both also went into the debate armed with political talking points. The most unusual came via a document sent out by Office of the Secretary of Defense to an assortment of congressional aides, as well as to the Iraqi Embassy and the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium. The 74-page document is an exhaustive rebuttal of criticisms of the war and a defense of the administration's conduct of the war.

The document, labeled "Iraq floor debate prep book," was emailed on Wednesday afternoon to a handful of Democrats as well as Republicans — and was then abruptly recalled. Thursday afternoon, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) sent a letter to Rumsfeld complaining that his office had spent "taxpayer dollars to produce partisan political documents." Lautenberg also suggested that the document may have violated laws prohibiting the Executive Branch from using taxpayer dollars for lobbying and propaganda activities.

The Pentagon later said the document was produced by the National Security Council — but did not offer an explanation as to why it was sent out by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Republicans on the Hill were not happy that the document was sent to Democrats — or that it was produced at all. "I've never seen anything like it," said one Republican aide, noting that the document went well beyond a Statement of Administration Policy. "I mean, a 74-page document — are you kidding me?" The aide added: "It did more harm than good for the Republican cause."



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