The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, November 03, 2003

Senate Intelligence Committee: can there really be a freelance Democrat enquiry?

This is a genuine, rather than rhetorical, question.

Last time we left the subject of WMD intel (November 1), I was bemoaning the inertia of the Dems in general and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member and Vice Chairman John D Rockefeller IV (aka Jay Rockefeller) in particular in exploiting the issue.

One suggestion referred to in the piece seems to be coming to the fore - though without any great ballyhoo: that the Dem members of the Committee might launch an investigation of their own on the broader intel issues that the current narrow SIC investigation will not be covering.

A piece (October 29) in The Hill says that
Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are discussing whether to launch an independent investigation of how the White House handled pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

To prepare for such a possible move, they have already obtained from former CIA officials the names of intelligence operatives who would be willing to testify in such an all-Democratic forum behind closed doors.

So far, it sounds like something unofficial. But the implication of the rest of the piece is that the Dem investigation - if it happens - will be as official as any other by the SIC:
In addition to launching investigations and issuing subpoenas, the Democratic vice chairman can preside over the committee, hold meetings without the presence of a majority member of the committee and authorize witness interrogation by committee staff.

It quotes from the rules of the SIC [1] - which do indeed seem to authorise the Vice Chairman to initiate investigations and issue subpoenas.

However, my understanding is that a Dem-only investigation would be a first - and, like the British Civil Service, the US Senate has a reflex response to Never do anything for the first time.

Which leads one to wonder whether or not there's a catch. The simple route to stymie the Dems - for Chairman Pat Roberts just not to call any meetings - is forestalled by Rule 1.5, which allows five members to force a meeting; under Rule 6, five is also the magic number of members required to request an investigation.

The provisions for issuing reports in Rule 4 allow for any member or members to issue an report in the event of the whole committee being unable to agree (Rule 4.2).

Can the Chairman keep a report such as that from the possible Dem WMD investigation off the agenda? Are there quorum fun and games to be played?

If it's as easy as it looks for the Dems to start a broad investigation into WMD intel under the aegis of the SIC, you have to ask, Why didn't they start a long time ago?

The The Hill piece says that
...even with his unique power as the top Democrat on the committee, Rockefeller has been hesitant to defy Roberts, whom he regards as a friend.

He is also said to be keenly aware of the obstacles to embarking on what Republicans would consider a rogue investigation.

Friend? Obstacles? I get the feeling somehow my chain is being yanked.

At least, I can't trace any sign of the media pack on the trail of this story. Plenty about whether USG has complied with the demand to hand over documents for the SIC investigation that is already underway. But nothing much on the Dem-only project [2]: in an AP piece (October 24) Rockefeller is quoted as mentioning the possibility of five Dems triggering a separate enquiry - but I don't get the impression that it was meant to be taken as an imminent threat. He's a tad more convincing-sounding in a Globe and Mail piece (October 25):
"We're going to get this one way or the other," Mr. Rockefeller said yesterday, referring to Democrat determination to probe whether the White House pressured the intelligence community to shape its assessment.

And the London Daily Telegraph (November 2) flags up the possibility of a second investigation, quoting Sen Richard Durbin (D-IL) on the subject.

[A CSM piece (November 3) says that
...last week, Congress broadened its probe into prewar Iraq intelligence to delve into the roles of the State Department, the Pentagon, and the president's National Security Council.

The rest of the piece is clearly referring to the SIC investigation - the current one, not any potential Dem extra. Was the current investigation broadened last week? I'm confused. The loose wording of the piece - referring to Congress, rather than the SIC - does not inspire confidence. Unless I missed a Joint Resolution or something (which is quite possible...).]

It's a pretty thin field. Whether the muted reaction to the possibility of a seperate investigation by SIC Democrats is an artefact of pack journalism or sign that the story's a dud, I can't tell. Any chance of a steer from Robert Novak, I wonder?

  1. They don't make these easy to find. The best I can do is a page with all the Senate Committee Rules - Find on intelligence - there's far too much to scroll!

  2. The The Hill story is the only one returned by a search on Google News on "senate intelligence committee" "rule six".

UPDATE (November 5)

It seems that the Dems may be trying to get something going: the LA Times (November 5) has a leaked memo from Democrat staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee
outlining strategies for "exposing the administration's dubious motives" behind the war.

Both Chairman Roberts and Vice-Chairman Rockefeller are shocked (in the Captain Reynaud sense), the former at the Dems cruel spurning of bipartisanship, the latter at the sheer sneakiness of the leakers,
saying it "was likely taken from a wastebasket or through unauthorized computer access."

Sounds to me like a Dem scam designed to show Rockefeller as reluctantly and statesmanly forced to bow to the implications of GOP stonewalling and pull the trigger on the separate investigation of Iraqi intel. But who can tell?

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