Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Exclusive: Senate Democrats consider pressing for appointment of special select committee to investigate administration's pre-war intelligence claim

The Senate Democratic leadership over the course of the last several days has had discussions among themselves, along with senior congressional staff, about the possibility of pressing the Senate to appoint a special Senate select committee to investigate both the misuse of pre-war intelligence by the Bush administration to make the case to go to war with Iraq, as well as the Plame affair, according to at least three people who have been involved in those discussions.

"There is just a resolve on this issue that is not going to go away," said one person involved in the leadership discussions. One source said that although the discussions are preliminary, they were contemplating such a select committee in the tradition of the Senate Watergate committee, the Church committee-- which investigated abuses of the CIA and other intelligence agencies in the 1970s, or the joint congressional Iran-contra committees: "There is a historical model as to how this might be done."

Republicans have said that the Senate Intelligence Committee has more than adequately investigated the issues, and that Democrats have been holding up completion of the ongoing probe and have politicized the effort.

Although such discussions are at a preliminary stage, and perhaps hopes of such a select committee are at this time more wishful thinking than reality, Democrats sense a shifting public opinion and a weakened Republican leadership that might beat back their efforts.

It should also be pointed out that any further public pressing of the issue of a select committee might in part be a ploy by Democrats to leverage the Senate Intelligence Committee to finish the so called "Phase II", of its investigation of pre-war intelligence. And whether Republicans would ever agree to such a request, or if ultimately there would be enough public pressure on Senate Republicans to agree, is also another matter.

Emerging from the executive session last night, Senate Minority leader Harry Reid told reporters he thought that he had reached a satisfactory agreement with Senate Republicans as to how to complete the investigation: "Finally, after months and months and months of begging, cajoling, writing letters, we're finally gong to be able to have Phase II of the investigation regarding how the intelligence was used to lead us into the intractable war in Iraq."

The first phase of the investigation examined the role of the CIA and other intelligence agencies in wrongly concluding that Saddam Hussein had a viable program to develop biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, when international inspectors, and later U.S. military and intelligence teams could find scant evidence of such.

The ongoing so-called "Phase II" of the investigation has examined the more politically sensitive issue as to whether the Bush administration itself misrepresented the intelligence information to make the case to go to war. But that inquiry has been hobbled by partisan wrangling, and what both Republicans and Democrats have said to be efforts to stymie their inquiry by the Bush administration in not turning over relevant information to the Senate.

A confluence of various events over the course of the last several days led not only to the decision to unilaterally have the Senate go into executive session, but also consider the issue as to whether to press for the appointment of a special Senate select committee.

  • There has been a growing realization in recent days that Democrats and Republicans could not come to a consensus as to how to complete "Phase II" of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of pre-war intelligence, according to several congressional sources. Instead of coming closer to the possibility of completing a report, and then declassifying a final report on the issue, the parties appeared no closer than when they agreed to undertake the inquiry in early 2004.
  • Many members of Congress only learned in recent days from a National Journal article that Vice President Dick Cheney himself; I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the-then chief of staff to Cheney; and Cheney counsel David Addington, had played a personal role in denying the Senate crucial documents necessary to concluding the investigation.
  • The day after the National Journal story appeared, Libby himself was indicted on five counts of lying to federal investigators, perjury, and obstruction of justice, in concealing his role, and perhaps that of other Bush administration officials, in outing CIA officer Valerie Plame in an effort to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, IV, a critic of the administration.
  • After disclosures that David Addington, the counsel to Vice President Cheney, was involved in the efforts to prevent the turning over of information to the Senate investigation, Cheney yesterday appointed him as his new chief of staff to succeed Libby. "That didn't bode well that the attitude of the White House on this was going to change anytime soon," according to a congressional aide.
  • Although in the past, CIA leak special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, has refused to turn over any information regarding his inquiry of the Plame matter to Congress, during his press conference on Friday, he said it was not his role to advise Congress not to conduct their own independent inquiry.
Update: Nov. 2, 2005, 11:34 A.M. For those bloggers who think I write too long, Maureen Dowd has since written this column, which somehow encapsulates everything I have written into one two paragraphs: "Angry at the Scooter scandal, the Addington appointment and the Roberts stonewalling, Senate Democrats did something remarkable yesterday: they dimmed the lights, stamped their feet, and shut down the Senate. Tired of being in the dark, the Democrats put the Republicans in the dark."

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