- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

President Bush has relented on his threat to restrict the flow of classified information to Congress, telling Capitol Hill leaders yesterday that key committees will continue to receive top-secret briefings by Cabinet members.
A day after the president scolded members of Congress for leaking classified information, Mr. Bush decided to revive briefing for the full membership of the House and Senate Armed Services and foreign relations committees.
"I think it's fair to say: message received," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said after the president reiterated his concerns over breakfast yesterday with the four top congressional leaders.
"Having said that, the president did say this morning that he does want to make certain that the members of the Armed Services Committee, for example, can be briefed by Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld; that the members of the foreign relations committees can be briefed by Secretary [Colin L.] Powell, et cetera."
Mr. Bush issued a memo Oct. 5 announcing that until further notice, only eight leaders of Congress the top Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees would receive top-secret briefings.
The memo followed a report in The Washington Post that included information from a top-secret CIA briefing to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the likelihood of future terrorist attacks, apparently leaked by a member and published despite entreaties from the White House.
"There's a responsibility that if you receive a briefing of classified information, you have a responsibility. And some members did accept that responsibility, somebody didn't," a clearly angry Mr. Bush said in a Rose Garden ceremony Tuesday with German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
"I understand there may be some heartburn on Capitol Hill. But I suggest if they want to relieve that heartburn, that they take their positions very seriously, and that they take any information they've been given by our government very seriously," he said.
The heartburn spread as members of Congress returned to work Tuesday.
Some threatened to hold up legislation if Mr. Bush did not relent.
"The defense bill is not moving until we are included," said Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.
Mr. Fleischer said the matter has now been settled. "It's important that members of Congress have information that they need to do their proper oversight activities, while at the same time, the president will continue to remind members of Congress about the importance of keeping classified information classified."
The congressional leaders who met with Mr. Bush yesterday morning emerged from the White House a bit sheepish but full of a renewed commitment to safeguard secret information.
"I think it's clear to all of us that when information that is sensitive to high operations, sensitive in terms of national security, when that information is leaked, it does serious damage and it violates the trust that there must be between Congress and the administration," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
"We need to restore that trust, and we're all determined to do that," he said.
Said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican: "I think we'll get through this. The president has made his point. We need to be very careful about what we reveal."
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said everything is "back to normal here."
"Members understand better now that handling classified information is part of their responsibility. This is important business. We are dealing in dangerous waters. The president has underscored his view that information management is very important in psychological warfare," Mr. Goss said.
But Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, was still angry with the president after his concessions.
"The statement he made was off-base. If he has a problem with a couple of senators, he ought to come out and name them. You don't broad-brush everybody.
"The administration leaks more information for political purposes than any member of Congress. It works both ways. Nobody wants to see our country jeopardized."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide