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White House aide rebuts Tenet claim

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior White House counselor Friday dismissed former CIA Director's George Tenet portrait of a Bush administration that rushed to war in Iraq without serious debate. "The president did wrestle with those very serious questions," Dan Bartlett said.

Asked about Tenet's upcoming book, excerpts of which were reported Friday in The New York Times, Bartlett called the former CIA chief a "true patriot" but suggested he might have been unaware of the breadth of the prewar debate that led Bush to dismiss other options, such as diplomatic means, for reining in Saddam Hussein.

"I've seen meetings, I've listened to the president, both in conversations with other world leaders like (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair as well as internally, where the president did wrestle with those very questions," Bartlett said on NBC's "Today" show. "This president weighed all the various proposals, weighed all the various consequences before he did make a decision."

Tenet complains that his now-infamous "slam dunk" phrase, used at a 2002 White House meeting, has been misrepresented and used to shift blame to him. Explaining his remark for the first time in an interview taped to air Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes," Tenet said he was referring broadly to the case that could be made against Saddam — not the presence of his alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Tenet said the administration misrepresented his comment and used it to shift blame as the debate heated up about the legitimacy of the Iraq invasion.

Tenet, who served as CIA chief from 1997 to 2004, called the leak of the remark to journalist Bob Woodward "the most despicable thing that ever happened" to him.

Bartlett played down the significance of the "slam dunk" remark, saying the decision to go to war was shaped by intelligence reports and "a whole body of evidence and behavior by Saddam Hussein that led President Bush to believe that he had to be removed by force."

As to Tenet's take on the remark, Bartlett said, "I am a bit confused by that because we have never indicated the president made the sole decision based on the slam dunk comment."