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Closing the Senate Every Day Until Republicans Do Their Duty
Senate Democrats Force Closed Session on Intelligence (Update1)
Nov. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Democrats forced a closed session of the U.S. Senate today to call for an investigation into the Bush administration's use of intelligence about Iraq, a maneuver Republicans dismissed as a political ``stunt.''
Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid invoked a rule that requires a closed session on the Senate floor in which the galleries are cleared of visitors. Democrats threatened to use the tactic daily until Republicans convene hearings into the administration's use of intelligence surrounding the war in which more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died.
``Be prepared to face this motion every day until you face this reality,'' said Senator Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist called the move ``an affront to the leadership of this grand institution.'' Typically, such sessions over intelligence matters occur only after the leaders in both parties agree, he said.
``The U.S. Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leaders,'' he said. Reid and Durbin orchestrated a ``pure stunt,'' Frist said.
Reid said the indictment Friday of I. Lewis Libby, vice President Richard Cheney's chief of staff, requires a full investigation that he said was promised by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts a year and a half ago.
``The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really about: how the administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions,'' Reid said.
Libby was indicted Friday and accused of lying to a grand jury and to FBI agents investigating who revealed the name of Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame to reporters in July 2003 after her husband publicly criticized the Iraq war.
Under Senate rules, the special session can be brought to an end by a majority vote. Republicans control the Senate with 55 of 100 votes, and Frist indicated that eventually Republicans will try to vote to end the session and return to debate over a budget-related bill.
To contact the reporters on this story:
Laura Litvan in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
The LA Times Version:
Senate Democrats Force Closed Session, Igniting Partisan Battle
By Richard Simon, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON -- A messy partisan struggle erupted in the Senate today, with Republican leader Bill Frist accusing his Democratic counterpart Harry Reid of breaching Senate courtesy in a fight that threatens to disrupt the chamber's agenda until next year's congressional elections.
The breakdown in comity demonstrates how rough it is likely to be in the months ahead as the Senate takes up a Supreme Court nomination that could determine the high court's direction for decades.
Tensions were heightened after Reid forced the Senate to go into closed session to take up what the Democratic leader complained was the GOP-controlled Senate's failure to complete an investigation into intelligence used by the Bush administration to justify the war in Iraq.
Frist complained that Reid had forced the Senate into a closed session without consulting with him, and declared, "From now on, for the next year and a half, I can't trust Sen. Reid."
Reid said he had acted because Senate leaders had failed to keep their commitment to investigate pre-war intelligence in order to protect the Bush administration.
Under Senate rules, Reid, on his own, could force the Senate into a rare closed session, which requires the sergeant at arms to clear the chamber of visitors.
Frist called Reid's action an `an affront to me personally" and labeled it a political "stunt." Defending the closed session, Reid's top lieutenant, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, said, "It is clear now that the American people were not informed properly before the invasion of Iraq. Intelligence information was distorted, was misused, and we have seen as late as last week the lengths which this administration has gone to to try to silence and discredit their critics of the misuse of this intelligence information."
He was apparently referring to the five-count felony indictment that charged I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff until Friday, with perjury, making false statements to a federal officer, and obstruction of justice, in connection with an investigation into the leak of the identity of a CIA operative.
"The Republican Congress in general, the Senate in particular, and specifically the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been derelict in its responsibilities of oversight over this administration," Durbin said.
THE NY TIMES VERSION:
Democrats Force Senate Into Closed Session Over Iraq Data
By BRIAN KNOWLTON,
International Herald Tribune
WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 - In an extraordinary sign of the depth of political acrimony here, Democratic leaders employed a rarely invoked rule today to place the entire Senate in closed session for more than two hours, saying that the Republican majority had reneged on a promise to thoroughly investigate flawed intelligence used to justify the Iraq war.
Afterward, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, announced an agreement with the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, to end the closed session.
Senator Frist said each leader would appoint three senators to investigate the Senate Intelligence Committee's schedule for completing its investigation. The panel is to report back by Nov. 14. It was not immediately clear what use would be made of the report.
Senator Reid caught the Republicans by surprise when he invoked Rule 21 - a move that Republicans said had not been taken in more than 20 years.
Senator Reid said that while the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, had promised a thorough inquiry into prewar intelligence, including the way the White House had used or misused it, he had not followed through.
"I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted," Senator Reid said from the Senate floor, "and in accordance with Rule 21, I now move that the Senate go into closed session."
Senator Frist appeared furious over the maneuver.
"The resort to this, this, this stunt - this political stunt - this scare tactic, is really deeply disappointing," he told reporters . But "if they want to get in the gutter, I guess that's what they'll do."
The closed session meant that only senators were to be allowed in Senate chambers. Television coverage was blacked out, and journalists, staff members, aides, visitors and others were excluded. Senators were not allowed even to carry cell phones or personal-data devices into the chamber.
Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, said that the special session was needed to press Senator Roberts and the Republican leadership about the investigation. "This is very serious," he told reporters outside the Senate's closed doors. "It's about how our government and our country ought to work."
Mr. Schumer said that Republicans had it in their hands to end the extraordinary session quickly: "If we get an agreement with proceeding on the investigation, there won't have to be any closed sessions."
The strains between the parties have become uncommonly raw.
The latest came on Monday with President Bush's nomination of Judge Samuel Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. Some Democrats, describing him as a man of extreme conservative views, have hinted at the possibility of a filibuster to block the nomination; Republicans, equally strong in support of Judge Alito, say they could invoke a rare parliamentary maneuver to force the nomination through.
Partisan tensions were also aggravated late last week with the announcement that Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis Libby Jr., had been indicted in connection with the investigation into the leaking of the identity of a C.I.A. officer whose husband, a former ambassador, had challenged the Bush administration on some of its prewar intelligence assertions about Iraq.
Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and a member of the intelligence committee, told reporters that Rule 21 had been invoked because the Senate Intelligence Committee had never completed the phase of its inquiry into whether administration officials had manipulated or exaggerated intelligence in an effort to mislead the country on the need to go to war in Iraq in March 2003.
"There's nothing but foot-dragging relative to the investigation," Mr. Levin said. "There's a lot of evidence that the administration went way beyond the intelligence that was provided to them."
In July 2004, the Senate committee issued a scathing report about intelligence on Iraq, saying that prewar assertions that Baghdad possessed chemical and biological weapons were made without information to back them. It was the failure to carry out the promised follow-up inquiries to this report, Democrats said, that prompted today's action.
Republicans suggested that the Democrats' motives were political - aimed partly at keeping attention on Mr. Libby's troubles and the continued investigation of President Bush's top political aide, Karl Rove, who has been implicated in the case.
"The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions," Senator Reid said.
To some Democrats, the unmasking of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Plame Wilson, was part of an administration effort to undercut Plame's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, for his having asserted that the White House had "twisted" prewar intelligence.
Senate Frist ended the impromptu news conference by turning to stride back onto the closed Senate floor, saying, "I've got to go figure out what we're going to do."
The closed session lasted a little over two hours, but, at least to Republican sensibilities, it violated Senate traditions of courtesy and consent, and the high emotions it engendered appeared unlikely to soon be forgotten.
Never before, said Mr. Frist, "have ever I been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of this grand institution."