- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The top Republican lawmakers on defense and intelligence issues yesterday ruled out immediate public hearings on the intelligence that led to war in Iraq.

Some Democrats are attempting to exploit the failure so far to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“While I believe some of the criticism leveled on the intelligence community has been understandable … some of the attacks have been simply politics for political gain,” Mr. Roberts said. “I will not allow the committee to be politicized or to be used as an unwitting tool for any political strategist. That is not good for the committee, and it’s not good for our national security.”

Mr. Roberts made his claim at a press conference flanked by Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Mr. Warner said he knew of no evidence that White House officials “hyped or cooked or embellished” prewar intelligence on Iraq. He also said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, backed the decision against quick public hearings.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and new member of the Armed Services Committee, said Republicans are using accusations of partisanship as a distraction.

“I don’t think you should hide behind charges of it being partisan in order to avoid the inquiry that should lead to answers that the American people deserve to have,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Mr. Roberts said he plans to continue “our ongoing oversight of the intelligence agencies” in closed-door hearings because much of the information shared with Congress is classified.

“In terms of a joint, formal investigation [involving both the Intelligence and Armed Services committees] … I think, is very premature,” Mr. Roberts said, though he did not rule out eventually holding public hearings. “Let’s do our homework first.”

Mr. Roberts said his committee will begin holding classified hearings next week and “we’ll go about this in a very deliberate and bipartisan manner.”

“When the committee deems it appropriate, we will make whatever public statements that are necessary,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton and other prominent Senate Democrats had hoped Mr. Warner would break with Mr. Roberts and convene public hearings soon.

“This is a case where the public has many questions that deserve answers,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I don’t think this is the last word. I don’t think it’s sustainable to not have some public appearances by some of the key people.”

Mr. Warner, however, stood squarely behind Mr. Roberts yesterday, and asked the public to be patient in its desire for answers.

“I just urge the American public to give us time and to feel a sense of confidence that those of us here in the Congress are proceeding, as we’ve done for many years on issues not unlike this one, to assess the facts,” Mr. Warner said. “Then, at such time as we’re ready, [we will] let the members of the committee, hopefully in a hearing status, express their views on the ultimate findings after we’ve done our homework.”

That plan did not satisfy Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. He warned yesterday that he will use his status as co-chairman to force the issue.

“What [Mr. Roberts and Mr. Warner] appear to be doing is entirely inadequate and slow-paced,” Mr. Rockefeller said. “I’m not sure they really want to get all the facts about what happened. … I’m not at all sure that they have any intention of talking to any CIA analysts who disagree” with the Bush administration.

Mr. Rockefeller said he refuses “to have this become a partisan fight” and is meeting with Mr. Roberts regularly to press his case. Mr. Rockefeller would not divulge what steps he would take if a deal can’t be reached, but his co-chairmanship gives him power to force hearings if he gains the support of five senators.

Mr. Rockefeller said he would do all he could to avoid such a step, because it would cause the process to “sink into the swamp” of partisanship.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said he has proposed pooling the committee staff from both parties to produce a credible, bipartisan report.

“This has everything to do with the security of this nation and nothing to do with politics,” Mr. Levin said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush welcomes the review of prewar intelligence reports.

“We always work together with Congress on dealing with the threat of Iraqi possession of [weapons of mass destruction],” Mr. Fleischer said. “And we will continue to work with Congress on the facts that led previous administrations, Democrats, Republicans alike, to know that [Saddam Hussein] had [weapons of mass destruction].”

Mr. Roberts implied that many of the Democrats raising questions about the veracity of intelligence before the war don’t have enough information to make that assessment.

“The next time a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee expresses an opinion on this topic, I encourage you to ask them if they have done their homework,” Mr. Roberts said. “As chairman, I intend to do mine.”

The sharpest criticism of the Bush administration’s use of intelligence has come from Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, a member of the Intelligence Committee and a Democratic presidential aspirant.

Mr. Graham accused the Bush administration Monday of trying to quell opposition to the war within the government and dismissing intelligence reports that did not support the case for going to war.

“[Bush kept] America in the dark,” Mr. Graham told a group of Iowa Democrats.

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