If federal prosecutors have this correct, let’s just say that the optics on this story will not help Democrats According to an indictment resulting from the Oil for Food scandal, Saddam Hussein footed the bill for three Congressional Democrats to visit Iraq and argue against military intervention:

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. …

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.

The trip cost Saddam 2 million barrels of oil. To give that some perspective, Saddam allegedly paid George Galloway about 18 million barrels for his consistent outspoken support as a member of Parliament. Millions of barrels went to other politicans in France, Russia, and elsewhere as the means to keep the UN humanitarian mission in operation and to keep the US from calling a halt to Saddam’s rule.

Bonior, Thompson, and McDermott apparently didn’t know about Al-Hanooti’s connection — but they don’t appear to have asked, either. Instead, they got snookered into a ploy by Saddam to buy some American dissent at a time when our nation still reeled from the deaths of 3,000 people in a terrorist attack. Wouldn’t the possibility of exploitation have crossed their minds — and shouldn’t the three Congressmen have asked the FBI to check out Al-Hanooti at the time?

In fact, the three of them broadcast the Saddam propaganda straight from Baghdad, as the Weekly Standard reported at the time:

The controversy ignited on September 29 when Bonior and McDermott appeared from Baghdad on ABC’s “This Week.” Host George Stephanopoulos asked McDermott about his recent comment that “the president of the United States will lie to the American people in order to get us into this war.”

McDermott didn’t backpedal at all: “I believe that sometimes they give out misinformation. . . . It would not surprise me if they came out with some information that is not provable, and they, they shift it. First they said it was al-Qaeda, then they said it was weapons of mass destruction. Now they’re going back to and saying it’s al Qaeda again.” When Stephanopoulos pressed McDermott about whether he had any evidence that Bush had lied, the congressman replied, “I think the president would mislead the American people.”

An American official floating unsubstantiated allegations against an American president during a visit to Baghdad would be troubling enough. But McDermott compounded his problem by insisting, despite its twelve years of verifiable prevarication, that the Iraqi regime should be given the benefit of the doubt on inspections and disarmament. Said McDermott on “This Week”: “I think you have to take the Iraqis on their face value.”

It helps to take them at their “face value” when they’re not hiding the facts. For instance, by this time the OFF program had put billions into Saddam’s pockets, thanks to the widespread corruption and kickbacks it generated. Saddam and his IIS had begun putting that money into organizations like Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Army of Mohammad in Bahrain, both groups part of the same al-Qaeda network that attacked the US a year prior to this junket.

I don’t think Bonior, McDermott, or Thompson deliberately sold themselves out to shill for Saddam’s propaganda machine. I think they were stupid enough to get caught in a trap and didn’t care enough about putting their own nation’s priorities ahead of their political careers to see the trap for what it was. They wanted their Baghdad photo op, and they got it — courtesy of Saddam Hussein.

Update: Don Nickles was prescient 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.”

I think he meant it figuratively. YMMV.

Update II: Galloway is Scottish, but doesn’t represent a Scottish district. I’ve made the reference more generic.

Update III: Debbie Schlussel has been covering this story for some time and has more details.  For that matter, so has the boss.