- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence demanded that the Republican chairman let go of any sore feelings about a leaked memo politicizing prewar Iraqi intelligence and let the committee get back to work.

Intelligence committee business has been stalled for two weeks since the internal memo was leaked to Fox News, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia said in a letter to committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas. Mr. Rockefeller asked Mr. Roberts to begin conducting joint hearings on committee business next week.

“There are pressing matters before our committee that need immediate attention. Not just the investigation into prewar intelligence on [weapons of mass destruction] but also the nuclear threat from North Korea and Iran, the insurgency in Iraq and the growing threat of al Qaeda around the world,” Mr. Rockefeller said in the letter, which was signed by all eight Democratic committee members.

The Democrats delivered the letter to Mr. Roberts on Wednesday, a representative from Mr. Rockefeller’s office said.

Mr. Roberts said earlier this week that he was shocked by the partisan plans outlined in the memo, saying it had “poisoned the well” in a committee that had been operating in a nonpartisan fashion for 30 years.

He said the memo prejudges the committee’s inquiry into President Bush’s statement in his State of the Union Address indicating Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Niger to pursue a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.

Mr. Bush was quoting from a British intelligence report, which later was found to be erroneous. The intelligence committee is investigating whether the White House was aware of the misinformation before the president’s speech in January.

The memo, which Mr. Rockefeller said was not a prescribed edict and was confidential, outlined a Democratic strategy for using the investigation against the Bush administration.

Mr. Roberts said he was not satisfied with Mr. Rockefeller’s response to his request that the Democrats acknowledge wrongdoing and apologize for the memo.

“The letter addresses none of the chairman’s concerns,” said a staffer familiar with the discussions. “They want to pretend like it didn’t happen and they don’t want to acknowledge the sentiments in the memo and the chairman is not willing to accept that yet.”

Mr. Roberts also is displeased that Democrats have accused Republicans of stealing the memo.

The committee has had briefings on the intelligence investigation and the Intelligence Authorization Act, but has not held any joint meetings on the matter.

“They will have to get together in conference next week to get the [Intelligence Authorization work] done,” said the staffer.

In a floor speech this week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he would not let the committee be misused for partisan gain.

Senators are discussing sanctions against the committee, including restructuring the rules. Under the current rules, a Democrat and Republican share chairmanship and either can preside over hearings.

“The committee meets every week to discuss ‘hot spots’ looking at the most significant areas of concern in the world and those have been canceled,” said Wendi Morigi, spokeswoman for Mr. Rockefeller.

“It was simply a memo for [Mr. Rockefellers] eyes only to look at options,” she said.

The real issue, the spokeswoman said, was that someone took the letter and gave it to the press, which is a violation of committee rules. But, she said, Mr. Rockefeller wants the entire issue dropped in order to move the committee forward.

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