Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - While Democrats were lambasting Republicans for an alleged White House leak of a CIA officer's identity, the Democratic staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was apparently planning to use the committee's probe of pre-war intelligence gathering about Iraq to damage President Bush politically just before the 2004 elections.
Republican senators responded angrily to a memo about the plan leaked Wednesday, suggesting that it may violate Senate rules. Even one Democrat called for the firing of anyone involved with the memo's creation.
Democrats on the committee should "prepare to launch an investigation when it becomes clear we have exhausted the opportunity to usefully collaborate with [Republicans]," according to the memo written at the direction of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee. "We can pull the trigger on an independent investigation of the administration's use of intelligence at any time, but we can only do so once.
"The best time would probably be next year," the memo concludes, adding that, "Intelligence issues are clearly secondary to the public's concern regarding the insurgency in Iraq."
Republicans fear memo will 'undermine the committee's work'
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the committee, seemed disappointed by the memo. He reminded his colleagues that the panel must work in a bi-partisan fashion to effectively oversee intelligence efforts to protect the American people.
"It is critical that all of this take place in an atmosphere of good faith and mutual trust," Roberts insisted. "Secret plans to undermine the committee's work are examples of neither."
But Rockefeller dismissed Republican complaints about the apparent plan to use Senate oversight of U.S. intelligence operations as a vehicle to attack President Bush during an election year.
"We have heard charges that a draft memo, taken from the Intelligence Committee spaces, and provided to the media, somehow represents a plan to discredit what the Intelligence Committee is doing and to politicize the inquiry," Rockefeller noted. "These charges are inaccurate and unfortunate."
The West Virginia Democrat tried to deflect attention from the contents of the memo by focusing on how it came into the possession of conservative talk show host Sean Hannity.
"At some point very soon, both the committee and the Senate are going to have to explore the chain of events surrounding the draft memo, since it raises serious questions about whether the majority is obtaining unauthorized access to private, internal materials of the minority," Rockefeller said, "and who made the decision, in this case, to leak the draft and unofficial memo to the press."
Rockefeller speculated that the memo was, "likely taken from a waste basket or through unauthorized computer access."
Its contents should be mitigated, he said, by the fact that "the draft memo was not approved, nor was it shared with any member of the Senate Intelligence Committee or anyone else."
Kyl calls for investigation of possible Senate rules violations
But Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who previously served on the committee for eight years, called the memo, "reprehensible."
"It is a disgusting possibility that members of the Senate would actually try to politicize intelligence," Kyl said on the Senate floor Wednesday, "especially at a time of war, even apparently reaching conclusions before investigations have been performed."
Kyl referred specifically to a portion of the memo that stated, "Our additional views will, among other things, castigate the majority for seeking to limit the scope of the inquiry."
"In other words, before something is already done, the plan has already been devised about how they're going to criticize the majority for something it hasn't even done yet," Kyl observed. "This is blatant partisan politics."
The Arizona Republican also suggested that a probe should be conducted into possible violations of the Senate rules by the author or authors of the memo.
"It is, for example, improper under Senate rules to impugn the motives of fellow Senators," Kyl said. "Additionally, committee staff should never be involved in partisan political scheming, most especially Intelligence Committee staff members, who in the past have always acted in a nonpolitical, bipartisan fashion."
Democrats claim memo indicates 'staff frustration' with White House responses.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the committee, disagreed.
"If that memo expressed the frustration of many senators on the committee that we have created this firewall to protect the administration," Durbin claimed, "then the memo, frankly, speaks to real feelings."
Rockefeller picked up on that same theme of "frustration" with the Bush administration's refusal to grant Democrats blanket access to deliberative documents concerning the White House decision-making process prior to the decision to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein.
"I do regret the impression, most sincerely regret the impression, that the draft memo has apparently given some of my Republican colleagues," Rockefeller said. "But it clearly reflects staff frustration that the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation has not tackled all of the tough issues and frustration with the difficulties we have had obtaining information from the administration."
The West Virginia Democrat also tried again to divert the focus of the intense media scrutiny the memo's publication had generated away from its contents.
"It is disturbing that individuals are seeking perhaps, perhaps not, perhaps to score political points," Rockefeller concluded, "that a draft paper describing the rights of the minority to push for a full and fair review of the issues of the committee is being so grossly mischaracterized to try to deflect attention from the real issue."
'Heads should roll'
Republicans and one Democrat urged that staff members involved with the memo be fired.
At least one member of Rockefeller's own party questioned his arguments.
"I think heads should roll," Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) told Fox News Channel's DaySide with Linda Vester . "You don't aid and abet the enemy. You don't inhibit or compromise intelligence at a time like this.
"They should make those staff members, that they think might have put this together, take a lie detector test," Miller continued, "and anyone who was part of this should be fired."
Kyl agreed. "If Senators continue to attribute this memo to staff, then those staff members should be fired," Kyl urged.
"Additionally, I call on Senator Rockefeller and Senate Democratic leaders to immediately disassociate themselves from this partisan attack plan," Kyl continued. "A failure to denounce this memo publicly would clearly seem to be an acknowledgement of its authenticity."
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) serves with Kyl on the committee. He warned that, if Democrats did not take definitive action against those involved with producing the memo, it could have an even more negative impact on the committee if not the Senate as a whole.
"It's going to make it very difficult now for us to complete our work in a fair and objective way," Lott told Fox News Channel. "This is a very damaging thing. It shows the Democrats are trying to use this issue jut to play politics coming up on the presidential election year.
"I know that doesn't surprise a lot of people," Lott continued, "but, usually, the Intelligence Committee, which is a very serious committee and a very serious operation, does not do this sort of thing."
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