Invoking a seldom-used parliamentary maneuver, Senate Democrats on Nov. 1 forced the chamber into a rare closed session. They questioned the intelligence the Bush Administration used in the run-up to the Iraq War and charged Senate Republicans with ignoring the issue.
At issue is the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation that began in mid-2003 into why the Administration’s prewar assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was so flawed. In July 2004, the committee issued a first-phase report that lambasted CIA failures. By agreement, the committee was to issue a second-phase report into whether Administration officials misused intelligence to justify going to war.
According to Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the Democratic vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, committee Republicans have repeatedly “thwarted” the second-phase report whenever it threatened to implicate White House officials. Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) fervently denied Rockefeller’s charge. He said he had informed Rockefeller last week of his willingness to reach an agreement on how to wrap up the probe.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he called for a closed session because completion of the investigation was made more urgent by the indictment of I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby last week. Libby, formerly Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, was indicted on five counts including giving false statements to a grand jury looking into who leaked the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), taken totally by surprise by Reid’s move, called it “a slap in the face” and a political “stunt.”
By the end of the secret two-hour session, however, Republicans and Democrats agreed to appoint three members each to assess progress made on the Intelligence Committee’s investigation. A report of their findings is due by Nov. 14.