- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt yesterday announced he will introduce a bill to create a blue-ribbon panel to investigate the September 11 terrorist attacks in the wake of reports that Democrats were retreating from their criticism of the Bush administration.

"I hope the president will work with us," the Missouri Democrat said. "I hope the Republican majority will agree with me that this legislation deserves immediate consideration."

Vice President Richard B. Cheney reiterated Sunday that the White House opposes an independent investigation because it could reveal sensitive intelligence.

And congressional Republicans said yesterday they likely have the votes to block the creation of such a panel. Many Republicans favor going forward solely with a joint investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees.

"We have a current investigation," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. "Why don't we give them a chance to investigate? Republicans and Democrats are both involved in that."

In the Senate, a Republican leadership aide said the GOP probably could block a bipartisan bill to establish an independent commission, although he said momentum for the legislation seemed to be fading already.

"The steam is running out of it quickly," the staffer said. "Democrats are backtracking."

Mr. Gephardt on Thursday called for an "inquiry" into whether President Bush had advance warning that Osama bin Laden's network of terrorists planned to hijack American airliners. At the time, Mr. Gephardt did not specify whether such a probe should be included in an ongoing joint investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees or be done independently.

But on Sunday, Mr. Gephardt agreed with Mr. Cheney that the White House probably should not be required to turn over to Congress a classified briefing paper that the president saw last August. Those documents are being sought by Mr. Gephardt's Democratic colleague in the Senate, Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Mr. Gephardt's remarks led to press reports that Democrats were retreating in their criticism of the White House.

Frustration was evident among Democrats yesterday as they renewed the call for a commission.

"The vice president doesn't want you to talk about anything distasteful to him," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat. "I am really sorry he feels that way, but my job is to lead me to the truth. I like the idea [of a commission], but I don't know where it's going to go."

She disputed reports that Democrats have been stung by charges they went too far in criticizing the administration's motives.

"That's what the press is saying," Mrs. Boxer said. "No one has backed off."

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he doubted the Senate would act this week on the commission proposal. And he suggested that an independent probe might not be necessary.

Mr. Reid said he supports "whatever way we can get the information out and still protect the security of the country."

Administration officials have suggested that some lawmakers may have leaked sensitive information about intelligence assessments prior to September 11.

Congressional sources say the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is investigating whether any of its members may have leaked information about intelligence reports given to the White House before the terrorists struck.

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