- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday said his nonpartisan panel will continue operating, but in a weakened capacity because of a Democratic memo that surfaced last week outlining plans for a partisan attack against the White House.

“What this memo has done is really poison the well,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who heads the panel, which has operated in a nonpartisan fashion for 30 years, handling sensitive and classified information.

“I was stunned by this memo, shocked by this memo,” Mr. Roberts told “Fox News Sunday.”

The memo, which outlined a Democratic strategy of using the investigation of prewar intelligence on Iraq against the Bush administration, surfaced last week as the work of a staffer working for Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat and a leading critic of the war.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said Friday the committee has become so politicized “as to render it incapable of meeting its responsibilities to the United States Senate and to the American people.”

Mr. Roberts said all committee activity will not be shut down, but “it’s going to be very difficult to put the committee back together again without somebody saying, ‘We’re not going to launch this attack plan.’”

“It really prejudges the whole inquiry. It says that we’re guilty until proven innocent, in regards to the use of the memo. We are about 90 percent done. Now, we have this very partisan attack memo laying out there, with some members of the Senate actually embracing it, reveling in it. They are destroying the nonpartisan history of this committee,” Mr. Roberts said.

Mr. Frist said the committee might be forced to wrap up its inquiry into pre-Iraq war intelligence quickly. According to Mr. Roberts, finishing the inquiry will be “primary duty right now” of the committee and sensitive briefings will continue. However, he questioned how functional the committee will be in the future.

In a floor speech, Mr. Frist demanded that Democrats “disavow this partisan attack in its entirety” and said he will not let the committee be “misused for blatant partisan gain.”

Senators are discussing sanctions against the committee, including restructuring the rules that make the panel unique in Congress.

The committee does not have a majority chairman with near absolute power and a ranking minority member who can do little more than object. Mr. Roberts and Mr. Rockefeller are listed as co-chairmen, and either can preside over a hearing.

The committee’s staff also is considered full time and not divided between the two parties, but rather works for the panel as a whole. The memo suggested taking advantage of the special rule that allows either party to begin an official investigation of its own by simply gathering the signatures of a majority of either party’s members.

The memo suggested that Democrats “pull the majority along as far as we can,” then “take full advantage” of the panel rules to “among other things, castigate the majority for seeking to limit the scope of the inquiry.” It said the best time to “pull the trigger on an independent investigation” of the Bush administration would be next year, when the president will be campaigning for re-election.

The Republicans hold a one-vote majority on the panel and could use that edge to reconfigure the committee’s rules and structure.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, refused to disavow the memo’s contents and said Republicans are the ones acting in bad faith to shift attention away from the inquiry.

“The purpose of the memo apparently was to lay out options. And I don’t disavow the options, including the words ‘independent investigation,’” Mr. Levin said.

“We have an important role to play in the 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,” said the memo, suggesting Democrats should “pull the trigger on an independent investigation.”

Democrats, including Mr. Levin yesterday, said the memo “was apparently swiped” from the Democrat staffer’s office and not seen by any member of the Senate.

“I want to finish the answer here. It’s very important. It should not be allowed to change the subject from the refusal of the Republicans to look at the use of intelligence by the administration,” Mr. Levin said.

“If a well is poisoned, it’s poisoned by people stealing a memo of a staffer, which is in a file apparently, and then dropping it in the well, and then saying, ‘Oh my …, the well is now poisoned,’” Mr. Levin said also appearing on “Fox News Sunday.”

“There must be an independent review. There should be an independent review,” Mr. Levin said.

Asked whether it will be possible to work with Democrats to complete their review, Mr. Roberts said, “It’s up to them. I hope so. It’s up to them.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide