Prosecutors: Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agency bankrolled McDermott’s prewar trip to Iraq

WASHINGTON — Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agency secretly financed a trip to Iraq for three U.S. lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott of Seattle, during the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

An indictment unsealed in Detroit accuses Muthanna Al-Hanooti, a member of a Michigan nonprofit group, 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.

At the time, the Bush administration was trying to persuade Congress to authorize military action against Iraq.

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

“Obviously we didn’t know it at the time,” McDermott spokesman Michael DeCesare said Wednesday. “The trip was to see the plight of the Iraqi children. That’s the only reason we went.”

During the trip, the lawmakers expressed skepticism about the Bush administration’s claims that Saddam was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Though such weapons ultimately were never found, the lawmakers drew criticism for their trip at the time.

Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles, the second-ranking Senate Republican at the time, said the Democrats “sound somewhat like spokespersons for the Iraqi government.”

In exchange for coordinating the trip, Al-Hanooti allegedly received 2 million barrels of Iraqi oil.

DeCesare said McDermott was invited to go to Iraq by a Seattle church group and was unaware of any other funding for the trip.

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