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Conyers Hammers Milbank

Dear Sirs:

I write to express my profound disappointment with Dana Milbank's June 17 report, "Democrats Play House to Rally Against the War," which purports to describe a Democratic hearing I chaired in the Capitol yesterday. In sum, the piece cherry-picks some facts, manufactures others out of whole cloth, and does a disservice to some 30 members of Congress who persevered under difficult circumstances, not of our own making, to examine a very serious subject: whether the American people were deliberately misled in the lead up to war. The fact that this was the Post's only coverage of this event makes the journalistic shortcomings in this piece even more egregious.

In an inaccurate piece of reporting that typifies the article, Milbank implies that one of the obstacles the Members in the meeting have is that "only one" member has mentioned the Downing Street Minutes on the floor of either the House or Senate. This is not only incorrect but misleading. In fact, just yesterday, the Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid, mentioned it on the Senate floor. Senator Boxer talked at some length about it at the recent confirmation hearing for the Ambassador to Iraq. The House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, recently signed on to my letter, along with 121 other Democrats asking for answers about the memo. This information is not difficult to find either. For example, the Reid speech was the subject of an AP wire service report posted on the Washington Post website with the headline "Democrats Cite Downing Street Memo in Bolton Fight". Other similar mistakes, mischaracterizations and cheap shots are littered throughout the article.

The article begins with an especially mean and nasty tone, claiming that House Democrats "pretended" a small conference was the Judiciary Committee hearing room and deriding the decor of the room. Milbank fails to share with his readers one essential fact: the reason the hearing was held in that room, an important piece of context. Despite the fact that a number of other suitable rooms were available in the Capitol and House office buildings, Republicans declined my request for each and every one of them. Milbank could have written about the perseverance of many of my colleagues in the face of such adverse circumstances, but declined to do so. Milbank also ignores the critical fact picked up by the AP, CNN and other newsletters that at the very moment the hearing was scheduled to begin, the Republican Leadership scheduled an almost unprecedented number of 11 consecutive floor votes, making it next to impossible for most Members to participate in the first hour and one half of the hearing.

In what can only be described as a deliberate effort to discredit the entire hearing, Milbank quotes one of the witnesses as making an anti-semitic assertion and further describes anti-semitic literature that was being handed out in the overflow room for the event. First, let me be clear: I consider myself to be friend and supporter of Israel and there were a number of other staunchly pro-Israel members who were in attendance at the hearing. I do not agree with, support, or condone any comments asserting Israeli control over U.S. policy, and I find any allegation that Israel is trying to dominate the world or had anything to do with the September 11 tragedy disgusting and offensive.

That said, to give such emphasis to 100 seconds of a 3 hour and five minute hearing that included the powerful and sad testimony (hardly mentioned by Milbank) of a woman who lost her son in the Iraq war and now feels lied to as a result of the Downing Street Minutes, is incredibly misleading. Many, many different pamphlets were being passed out at the overflow room, including pamphlets about getting out of the Iraq war and anti-Central American Free Trade Agreement, and it is puzzling why Milbank saw fit to only mention the one he did.

In a typically derisive and uninformed passage, Milbank makes much of other lawmakers calling me "Mr. Chairman" and says I liked it so much that I used "chairmanly phrases." Milbank may not know that I was the Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee from 1988 to 1994. By protocol and tradition in the House, once you have been a Chairman you are always referred to as such. Thus, there was nothing unusual about my being referred to as Mr. Chairman.

To administer his coup-de-grace, Milbank literally makes up another cheap shot that I "was having so much fun that [I] ignored aides' entreaties to end the session." This did not occur. None of my aides offered entreaties to end the session and I have no idea where Milbank gets that information. The hearing certainly ran longer than expected, but that was because so many Members of Congress persevered under very difficult circumstances to attend, and I thought - given that - the least I could do was allow them to say their piece. That is called courtesy, not "fun."

By the way, the "Downing Street Memo" is actually the minutes of a British cabinet meeting. In the meeting, British officials - having just met with their American counterparts - describe their discussions with such counterparts. I mention this because that basic piece of context, a simple description of the memo, is found nowhere in Milbank's article.

The fact that I and my fellow Democrats had to stuff a hearing into a room the size of a large closet to hold a hearing on an important issue shouldn't make us the object of ridicule. In my opinion, the ridicule should be placed in two places: first, at the feet of Republicans who are so afraid to discuss ideas and facts that they try to sabotage our efforts to do so; and second, on Dana Milbank and the Washington Post, who do not feel the need to give serious coverage on a serious hearing about a serious matter-whether more than 1700 Americans have died because of a deliberate lie. Milbank may disagree, but the Post certainly owed its readers some coverage of that viewpoint.


John Conyers, Jr.

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Rep. Conyers' letter is an excellent response to Mr. Milbank's petty editorial.

After reading Ray McGovern's letter to Mr. Milbank, I wrote as well. I hope many readers here did. Here is my letter:

Dear Mr. Milbank: Your June 17 editorial on Rep. Conyers’ June 16 hearing is out of step with my understanding of events. As a reader, I am writing to give you my two cents.

The hearing was not a "mock impeachment inquiry". Its purpose was to discuss a possible Resolution of Inquiry and to educate the Members and the American public about why such a Resolution might be necessary. Thus, the contents of the Downing Street minutes and other evidence were considered at the hearing. The big question, of course, is whether the President of the United States and his administration lied to Congress and the American people in order to get the war in Iraq started. According to Rep. Conyers, a formal inquiry is necessary in order to determine whether there is a solid basis for a call for impeachment. He is proceeding carefully, step by step, leading from a place of personal integrity and deep concern for our Constitution (as is his duty as a Congressman and a ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee).

In your article, you say, "As Conyers and his hearty band of playmates know, subpoena power and other perks of a real committee are but a fantasy unless Democrats can regain the majority in the House." Mr. Milbank, you are aware that it took but very little time for Mr. Conyers’ to acquire over half a million signatures of very concerned American citizens which he delivered to the White House with his letter to President Bush? And you have seen the recent plummeting poll figures demonstrating the lack of Americans’ confidence in Congress (not to mention lack of confidence in President Bush and the entire conduct of the war in Iraq)? This Republican Congress is answerable to its constituents – public pressure will cause it to respond to their concerns. We are already seeing this in the recent bipartisan Resolutions for an Iraq exit strategy. I predict that it won’t be long before the Downing Street minutes are adequately addressed in Congress and Rep. Conyers gets his
Resolution for Inquiry passed. Why? Because the American people don’t like being lied to, especially about something as important as an unnecessary, expensive war. The People, Mr. Milbank, are not pleased.

You seek to paint Rep. Conyers and his colleagues who attended his hearing in a childish light. But consider this – the hearing was held in a teeny, tiny basement room because that is the only space the Republican leadership would allow for it. Yet attendees of the meeting later discovered that lots of larger committee rooms were vacant in the relevant time slot. To make things more difficult for Rep. Conyers, eleven important House votes were scheduled during the hearing – in an effort to scuttle attendance by Democratic members. So who was more childish? The Republican leadership – who petulantly sought to hinder a legitimate, popular investigation as to whether or not the President had deceived Congress – or Rep. Conyers, who was doing his job to the best of his ability under difficult circumstances? What impression do you think the Republicans’ actions will make on all the voters who want Rep. Conyers’ inquiry to go forward?

Something of great historical importance is happening here. An outraged Citizenry is demanding answers – in spite of a lack of coverage by the major media in this country. Finally, the media is catching up on the real story rather than the Administration’s spin on it. Mr. Milbank, I have every confidence that you will, too.

Sara Reed
Huntington Beach, CA

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