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Memo infuriates senators
Question of the Day
Senate Republicans expressed outrage yesterday over a memo that plotted a Democratic strategy for taking maximum political advantage of an investigation into U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.
The memo, written by a staffer for Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat and co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested Democrats “pull the majority along as far as we can.”
The Democrats then should change tactics and call for an independent investigation next year, when President Bush will be running for re-election, the memo said.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the intelligence panel, said he was “stunned” when he read the memo, and called it a “purely partisan document that appears to be a road map for how the Democrats intend to politicize what should be a bipartisan, objective review of prewar intelligence.”
Mr. Rockefeller released a statement saying that he had not approved the memo,”nor was it shared with any member of the Senate Intelligence Committee or anyone else.”
“Having said that,” Mr. Rockefeller added, “the memo clearly reflects staff frustration with the conduct of the … investigation and the difficulties of obtaining information from the administration.”
Former chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee, from both parties, have often expressed pride about the panel’s nonpartisan approach to its oversight of sensitive national-security issues.
Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, said yesterday that the memo comes close to a treasonous act against the United States.
“If this is not treasonous, it’s the first cousin of treason,” Mr. Miller said. “This is one of those committees that you should never, ever have anything politicized because you’re dealing with the lives of our soldiers and our citizens.”
“Heads ought to roll,” he said.
How the memo was made public is still not clear. Conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity broke the story by reading the memo to his national radio audience on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Rockefeller suggested that Republicans leaked the memo, saying it “was likely taken from a wastebasket or through unauthorized computer access.”
Sen. Jon Corzine, New Jersey Democrat, said too much was being made over “some concept memo that wasn’t seen by anybody else in the committee.”
“The whole discussion of this leaked memo … only reinforces my own view that we need an independent, bipartisan commission” to investigate the collection and use of intelligence before the war, Mr. Corzine said.
The document said Democrats have had “some success” in getting Mr. Roberts to go along with their goals of having the committee “look into the activities” of senior Bush administration officials.
“The fact that the chairman supports our investigations … is helpful and potentially crucial,” the memo says.
But the author adds that such cooperation is not enough and suggests that Democrats “take full advantage” of committee rules to “among other things, castigate the majority for seeking to limit the scope of the inquiry.”
Once Democrats have “exhausted the opportunity to usefully collaborate with the majority,” the memo says, “we can pull the trigger on an independent investigation of the administration’s use of intelligence at any time — but we can only do so once.”
“The best time to do so will probably be next year,” when Mr. Bush will be campaigning for re-election.
“Intelligence issues are clearly secondary to the public’s concern regarding the insurgency in Iraq,” the memo says in its conclusion. “Yet, we have an important role to play in revealing the misleading — if not flagrantly dishonest methods and motives — of the senior administration officials who made the case for a unilateral, pre-emptive war.
“The approach outlined above seems to offer the best prospect for exposing the administration’s dubious motives.”
Mr. Roberts said he was most disturbed by the Democratic plan to “discredit the committee’s work and undermine its conclusions … before those conclusions are even reached.”
“I have worked to ensure the minority’s voice has been heard at all times,” Mr. Roberts said. “There should be no legitimate question as to our approach or our dedication to following the information no matter where it leads.”
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that he hasn’t seen the memo and that the White House has been focused on helping the committee review the intelligence regarding Iraq.
“That’s what we will continue to do,” Mr. McClellan said. “I certainly hope that people are not trying to use this important issue for political gain.”
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the writing of such a memo is unprecedented and “shows a sinister motive” on the part of Democrats.
“At no time did anybody to my knowledge put out a memo to undermine the committee” when he was chairman, Mr. Shelby said. “If they did, we would have fired them.”
Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, said he is “shocked and appalled” at the memo because it was drafted by a staffer with knowledge of “our nation’s most sensitive secrets” and looked to exploit Mr. Roberts’ attempts to work with Democrats in good faith.
“Chairman Roberts is clearly trying to cooperate in a bipartisan way, and that is clearly being taken advantage of,” Mr. Smith said.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and former chairman of the committee, said that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle should conduct an inquiry to determine who wrote the memo and whether there were any senators who might have collaborated with it or approved it.
“If any senator is involved in this, it brings into question their competence to serve” on the intelligence committee, Mr. Specter said, alluding to the removal of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, from the intelligence committee in 1987 over charges that he leaked sensitive information to the press.
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