In his speech, the president said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Senior intelligence officials said today that in the closed-door hearing on Wednesday, Alan Foley, a C.I.A. expert on weapons of mass destruction, said he was asked by Bob Joseph, the director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council, whether the president's address could include a reference to Iraq's seeking uranium from Niger.
The officials said that Mr. Foley's testimony indicated that he told Mr. Joseph that the C.I.A. was not certain about the credibility of the evidence concerning Niger and recommended that it be taken out of the speech.
The officials said today that, according to Mr. Foley, Mr. Joseph then asked him if the speech could instead include a reference to British intelligence reports that Iraq was interested in seeking uranium from Africa. The government of Prime Minister Tony Blair included that information in an unclassified white paper on Iraq and illegal weapons published last September.
According to intelligence officials, Mr. Foley said he told Mr. Joseph that the C.I.A. had warned the British that it was not sure about the information when the paper was published.
According to Mr. Foley's account — which the White House has said it could not confirm — when Mr. Joseph ultimately asked him whether it would be accurate to state that the British had reported that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa, Mr. Foley agreed. However, Mr. Foley did not tell the Senate committee that he felt pressured by Mr. Joseph, officials familiar with his testimony said.
Mr. Foley's testimony about his conversations with Mr. Joseph closely tracks with the version of events described last week by other C.I.A. officials, but his testimony conflicts with the version provided by the White House. Officials have said that Mr. Joseph does not recall Mr. Foley's raising any concerns about the credibility of the information to be included in the speech.
The conflicting recollections of the conversations between Mr. Foley and Mr. Joseph are now at the heart of the feud between the C.I.A. and White House over who is responsible for President Bush's reference to disputed intelligence in one of his most important public speeches before the war with Iraq.
A senior administration official, after checking with members of the National Security Council, today disputed Mr. Foley's recollection, saying that none of the drafts of the State of the Union ever contained a specific reference to Niger. The official said of Mr. Foley's comments: "If that was the testimony, it is not an accurate accounting of events. There was never at any time a mention of place or amount in any draft of the State of the Union."
The only question Mr. Joseph recalls discussing with Mr. Foley was whether to rely on the language on the uranium used in the classified National Intelligence Estimate or the public British white paper.
"An accurate accounting of events would show that the only conversation that took place was whether to use a classified or unclassified reference," a senior administration official said.
Another senior official, at the White House, said: "Nobody should be pointing fingers. This was a case of two professionals just trying to do their jobs."
In the speech on Jan. 28, the president referred to the fact that Britain had received reports that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa, and never referred to Niger. Three months earlier, at the insistence of George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, a specific reference to Niger was removed from a speech Mr. Bush gave in Cincinnati. Just a week before that speech, the American intelligence agencies had described attempted purchases in Niger — and in Somalia and Congo — in the National Intelligence Estimate provided to members of Congress.
The question of whether that information was reliable — and whether the White House pushed to make more of it than the facts warranted — has gained significance in the growing debate over the Bush administration's handling of intelligence before the war in Iraq.
Last week, Mr. Tenet took responsibility for the dubious evidence getting into the State of the Union speech, although he has said he did not read or review the speech.
The evidence concerning Iraq's supposed interest in acquiring uranium from Niger was discovered to have been based on false documents. But today Mr. Blair insisted that, because Britain had other sources, it was confident of its report that Mr. Hussein sought the material in Africa.
On Thursday, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and a member of the Senate intelligence committee, referred to the exchange between Mr. Foley and Mr. Joseph when he stated publicly that a White House official who had played a role in getting the uranium material into the State of the Union address had been identified in Wednesday's closed door hearing. Mr. Durbin suggested that the White House official had pressured the C.I.A. officer to approve the uranium reference.
"It was clear to me that there were people in the White House who were in the process of negotiating with the C.I.A.," Mr. Durbin said. He called on the president to hold his staff accountable.
"The president has within his ranks on staff some person who was willing to spin and hype and exaggerate and cut corners on the most important speech the president delivers in any given year," he said.
Mr. Durbin's statements prompted an immediate rebuttal from the new White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, who said, "I think that characterization is nonsense."
Other Democrats on the intelligence panel said they believed that Mr. Tenet, who also testified before the Senate on Wednesday, has been taking responsibility to ease the political pressure on the White House.
"I don't think there is anyone who does not believe that George Tenet has fallen on his sword here," said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the intelligence panel.
Republicans reacted angrily to the accusations, suggesting Democrats were trying to politicize the war and were "nitpicking."
"In their zeal to score political points, they've sacrificed the national interest on the altar of partisan politics and are making accusations that are grossly offensive against the president," said Senator Mitch McConnell of the Kentucky, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate.
Meanwhile, officials said today that the documents now believed to be forgeries were obtained by the State Department, which offered to have them reviewed by the C.I.A. But the C.I.A. did not do so until recently. As a result, they were not determined to be forgeries until March.