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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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March 26, 2008 2:55 PM

Was McDermott's pre-war Iraq trip paid for by Saddam agents?

Posted by David Postman

It looks as if that's what the U.S. government thinks. AP just moved this story:

WASHINGTON (AP)- Federal prosecutors say Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agency secretly financed a trip to Iraq for three U.S. lawmakers during the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion.

An indictment in Detroit accuses Muthanna Al-Hanooti of arranging for three members of Congress to travel to Iraq in October 2002 at the behest of Saddam’s regime. Prosecutors say Iraqi intelligence officials paid for the trip through an intermediary.

In exchange, Al-Hanooti allegedly received 2 million barrels of Iraqi oil.

The lawmakers are not mentioned but the dates correspond to a trip by Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, David Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California. There was no indication the three lawmakers knew the trip was underwritten by Saddam.

I'm trying to reach McDermott or his staff.

In September, 2006, federal agents raided a Michigan-based Muslim charity that helped pay for McDermott's trip. I wrote about that here.

The charity, Life for Relief and Development, and the Church Council of Greater Seattle paid for the trip for McDermott and the other Democratic congressmen.

When I talked to McDermott spokesman Mike DeCesare about this in 2006 he said that McDermott was invited on the trip by the church council, not the Michigan group. And when he learned where the money had come from he reported it on his disclosure forms.

I just spoke with DeCesare. He is confident the Department of Justice will say that the congressmen knew nothing of the source of the money and violated no law. He says McDermott went to Iraq before the war "for all the right reasons, to see what was happening with children."

If some of the money came from sources with secret connections to Saddam, he said, that woud be "outside our purview."

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