- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

Republican opposition mounted yesterday to an independent investigation of the administration's response to terrorist threats, though lawmakers stopped short of saying they could kill such a probe.
"I am opposed to it, and I think most of us will be," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and chairman of the party's policy committee. "Do you want the administration to execute the war, or do you want a duplication of efforts that keeps them on the Hill all the time answering questions?"
Meanwhile, a Senate committee yesterday approved a bill that would make Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge's office a statutory position meaning there would be a new Department of National Homeland Security, with a Cabinet-level secretary confirmed by the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle this week announced his support for a blue-ribbon panel to probe the government's actions before September 11, in addition to an existing joint investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees.
The White House opposes another probe, arguing that it could reveal sensitive information and sources.
Mr. Daschle said the Senate would vote on establishing a new investigation shortly after lawmakers return from their Memorial Day recess.
"We need to find out what breakdowns happened before September 11, so we can make sure they never happen again," Mr. Daschle said. "If it requires hearings, we'll hold them. And if Republicans will agree on an independent commission, we'll appoint one."
Vice President Richard B. Cheney reiterated the administration's opposition last night on CNN's "Larry King Live."
"Our concern is that if we now lay another investigation on top of that we'll just multiply potential sources of leaks and disclosures of information we can't disclose," Mr. Cheney said. "If there are leaks from that document, if it's disclosed to people that it shouldn't be disclosed to, we will lose the capacity to defend ourselves against future attacks."
The commission would need to be created through legislation. The Senate will vote on a bill crafted by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, which establishes an independent commission and gives it broad authority to investigate the government and private sectors regarding the September 11 attacks.
A similar House bill has been introduced, but Republican leaders are opposed to it.
Mr. Daschle's spokeswoman, Ranit Schmelzer, said the procedure for bringing up the bill in the Senate has not been determined yet. Mr. Daschle could call it up as a free-standing bill, but co-sponsor Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, said Tuesday that Democrats would likely offer it as an amendment to another bill.
Nicholas Calio, the White House's top lobbyist in Congress, said he could not predict yet if the Senate would approve the commission.
"There's an awful lot of opposition to it," Mr. Calio said.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said such commissions typically are "slow in getting moving, they cost a good bit of money and they rarely produce very much."
Meanwhile, Mr. Lieberman's Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved the homeland-security bill yesterday on a party-line vote of 9-7, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing.
Supporters said it will give Mr. Ridge the statutory and budgetary authority he needs to coordinate efforts and referee turf fights between various agencies that deal with homeland security.
Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, said the White House should be allowed to continue its evaluation and come up with its own plan. The homeland security area of the government should be made statutory, Mr. Thompson said, because "Congress needs someone to hold accountable."
Homeland Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the office is exploring ways to reorganize.
By making Mr. Ridge's position statutory, lawmakers would be able to compel Mr. Ridge to testify before Congress. The White House has frustrated some lawmakers by refusing to allow him to do so because he is a presidential adviser and not a Cabinet official.

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