- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, outgoing chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, may leave the panel altogether next year, in part so the Republican can free himself up for a re-election fight in 2008.

Mr. Roberts’ plans were confirmed by several well-placed Republicans, none of whom would agree to be quoted, saying the details had not been finalized.

“He is considering all his options,” said spokeswoman Sarah Little, declining to confirm or deny any reports about the senator’s plans.

Republican Sens. John W. Warner of Virginia, and Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, have been mentioned as possible replacements, though Orrin G. Hatch of Utah has seniority on the committee.

Mr. Warner is term-limited as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, where he has been chairman for six years, the maximum time allowed under the rules. He has said he wants to become ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, but Republican aides say he is also very interested in the intelligence slot.

In 2004, Senate rules were changed making the membership and leadership of the intelligence committee a matter of leadership discretion, rather than election or seniority.

But because Republicans lose seats on every committee with the change of control, one Republican Senate leadership aide compared the negotiations over committee assignments to a game of musical chairs “with a lot less seats, suddenly.”

“The music hasn’t stopped yet,” said the aide, adding the assignments should be finalized by Friday “if not sooner.”

Mr. Roberts has been a member of the intelligence committee for 12 years and chairman for nearly four.

“If he’s leaving,” said another Republican official, “It’s because he wants to.”

The official said that the intelligence committee is “a tough committee to be on … when you’re up for re-election,” adding that it absorbs up to 80 percent of the time of senior members.

Another committee assignment would offer “more political flexibility,” in the sense of greater opportunities to keep an unpopular administration at arm’s length, and more chances to talk about successes.

Intelligence committee chairmen “rarely get the credit or the criticism they deserve, because it’s hard to talk about what you have done … [and so] there’s very little you can say in your own defense” when criticized.

The official added he thinks Mr. Roberts was also “tired of the partisan bickering” on the committee.

Charles Battaglia, former Republican staff director for the committee, said that the greatest challenge for incoming Chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, was to “bring [the committee] back to a bipartisan basis,” reversing what he said was a decade of increasing politicization.

The Republican official acknowledged the conflicts but said it was the Democrats who had made the committee a partisan battlefield. “They picked that fight,” the official said.

Democrats have said they will push much more aggressively in their oversight of some of the most-secret intelligence programs used in the war on terrorism, such as warrantless wiretapping and interrogation of so-called “high value” detainees.

Mr. Rockefeller told National Public Radio recently that oversight was needed “so that we can call [the administration] up short when they’re doing something, which we think is wrong. And right now we think some things they’re doing may be wrong.”

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