- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday said an independent commission is needed to investigate the September 11 terrorist attacks and that he wants the Senate to act on such a proposal soon.

But Republicans said the Democrats were playing a cynical game of politics.

"A public commission investigating American intelligence in a time of war is ill-conceived and frankly irresponsible," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, cited "a troubling trend that is now under way [with] regard to the administration's unwillingness to share information within the bureaus and the agencies of this White House and of the administration itself, as well as with Congress, regarding the attack of September 11th."

His comments came after several days of criticism and backtracking by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt regarding reports last week about intelligence warnings the administration received before the September 11 attacks. Mr. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, yesterday reiterated the need for an independent blue-ribbon commission. "We need a commission to try and make recommendations and at least get the facts out there on what exactly happened and how it can be better coordinated," he said.

The White House opposes a blue-ribbon panel and Mr. Daschle until yesterday had not publicly endorsed it. Mr. DeLay bluntly accused the Democratic leaders of promoting the investigation for political purposes.

"It's telling that this commission has been called for by those who aspire to be president of the United States," Mr. DeLay said, referring to both Mr. Daschle and Mr. Gephardt. Many Democrats view both men as potential candidates for the 2004 presidential election.

Mr. DeLay said several other issues are "political fair game" but that "terrorism and our fight to eradicate it are not political issues."

He said a public commission would be "duplicative and detrimental to our efforts in the war on terrorism" and would "make waste out of months of work and resources" by the joint, bipartisan House-Senate Intelligence committees' investigation, which has been examining intelligence failures leading up to the September 11 attacks.

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, pointed out that since hundreds of terrorism suspects are at large and an investigation is ongoing, a public commission would put agents in danger and basically "blow the case."

Republicans called on Democrats to instead support the supplemental bill, which provides funds for homeland security and the war against terror and helps rebuild New York City.

Meanwhile, both Mr. Daschle and Mr. Gephardt cited news reports that the attorney general and FBI director were provided with an FBI memo last summer detailing attempts by Arabs to obtain flight training, but did not share it with the president until recently.

"This isn't a question of why didn't the president act," Mr. Daschle said. "This is a question of why didn't the agencies work? Why didn't the information get to the appropriate officials: the president, members of Congress? And I think it all the more requires the Congress and others to begin looking more carefully at all of these facts."

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, has a bill to establish an independent commission to review the entire government's efforts and problems regarding the September 11 attacks. Democrats said they likely would try to attach such a proposal to a larger bill in the Senate in the next few weeks.

House Democrats earlier in the day also called for legislation to make the director of homeland security a Cabinet-level office, confirmed by the Senate and complete with budget authority. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee headed by Mr. Lieberman is planning today to mark up legislation he is sponsoring aimed at making the director's position attain the rank of a Cabinet official. Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, has sponsored a matching bill in the House.

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