Add to My Yahoo!

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman rebuffs attempts to interview Administration officials in pre-war Iraq probe

John Byrne
Published: Thursday April 27, 2006

Print This | Email This

Powell's former chief of staff says he'll 'wait and see'

WASHINGTON – The Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has denied Democratic attempts to interview Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former CIA Director George Tenet and two former senior aides to erstwhile Secretary of State Colin Powell, RAW STORY has learned.

Intelligence Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) sought to interview Rice, Tenet and Powell's aides as part of a Senate inquiry into whether public statements by Administration officials about Iraq were corroborated by intelligence information. Recent reports – including one last Sunday from a former CIA chief in Europe – suggest that the Bush Administration was warned that Iraq did not have substantive weapons of mass destruction.

Rockefeller expressed his desire to interview roughly twenty Administration officials in a private letter to Sen. Roberts in January, though the names of the officials cited in the letter were not made public until today. In addition to Rice and Tenet, Rockefeller sought access to Lawrence Wilkerson, formerly Powell's chief of staff, and Richard Armitage, formerly Deputy Secretary of State.

Rockefeller's spokeswoman said the senator wants Committee staff to interview Powell aides about the Secretary's speech to the United Nations, in which he outlined Iraq's alleged threat.

"In areas where there is multiple and contradicting underlying intelligence it would be helpful to ask the person what they based their statements on," said Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for Sen. Rockefeller. "It would make sense to talk with Powell and his aides to find out what intelligence they used to support their statements."

Senate Intelligence Committee Staff Director Bill Duhnke, top aide to Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), said there was no need to interview Powell's former aides, saying the intelligence behind Powell's speech was already known.

"Secretary Powell's speech was coordinated with and thoroughly reviewed and approved by the Director of Central Intelligence," Duhnke told RAW STORY. "The Committee already knows what intelligence they used to support Secretary Powell's speech. That topic was thoroughly covered in the Committee's first report."

Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell’s former chief of staff, concurred with Duhnke’s assessment of Powell’s speech.

“Every word that Secretary Powell spoke on Feb. 5, 2003 at the UNSC was approved by [CIA Director] Tenet, [Deputy CIA director John] McLaughlin, and the key NIOs and analysts they chose to bring in to the preparations,” Wilkerson told RAW STORY Thursday. “These two men -- Tenet and McLaughlin -- were not simply speaking for the CIA, but for the entire U.S. intelligence community, not to mention the intelligence communities of several other allied and friendly nations.”

Duhnke said that the Democrats had already received numerous accomodations. He did not immediately respond to a followup email asked what the accommodations were.

"Throughout the oversight process Senator Rockefeller and other Democrat members have requested and received certain accommodations that are too numerous to list," he added. "Any characterization otherwise is simply not accurate."

Morigi said Rockefeller had no specific statement he wanted to question Rice or Tenet about, saying only, "they made a lot of public statements that were important in the debate."

Roberts' has rebuffed Rockefeller's attempts to interview current and former Administration officials, including Powell, Morigi said, though she would not identify others by name. They do not include President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney, she said.

The decision not to interview Powell's aides is the latest in a series of setbacks for Senate Democrats surrounding the Iraq probe. The party catapulted the investigation into the spotlight last year when Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) used a parliamentary rule to force the Senate into closed session, asserting that Roberts was stalling the second half of the pre-war Iraq intelligence investigation.

Though Democrats seemingly won the day and brought the issue to prominence in the national media, their efforts to advance the probe in other areas have been thwarted. Roberts has deferred an investigation into the Pentagon's nebulous Office of Special Plans and is expected to release the Phase II report piecemeal, allowing some of the less controversial sections of the report to be published while deferring others.

The report, dubbed "Phase II," is the second part of an oversight probe looking into pre-war Iraq intelligence and how it was used. Roberts has indicated his desire to wrap up the inquiry soon.

Wilkerson said he'd "wait and see" what happens as a result of Congressional action. "I expect that if one of the houses changes hands in November, action will be forthcoming," he said.

Staff director says Committee eyes intelligence, not beliefs

Morigi says interviewing Administration officials is important because it will help senators to understand how statements were made when intelligence was unclear or did not support what the official might have said.

Duhnke signaled that the Committee is not interested in what the officials believed, rather in the intelligence.

"If the Committee determines that a particular statement was substantiated by intelligence information, what the speaker believes isn't relevant," he said.

Roberts' staff director also said the chairman would allow interviews if the Committee decided intelligence wasn't supported. The Commitee, however, has a Republican majority; as such, Republican members could block efforts by Democrats to interview particular aides.

"Chairman Roberts stated early on that the Committee would give any official an opportunity to address the Committee should the members determine that a particular statement made by that individual was not substantiated by intelligence information," Duhnke said. "Because Ms. Morigi is not privy to what takes place during the conduct of the Committee's business, she is not ideally situated to comment in an informed manner."

Morigi, however, believes the interviews should be conducted before drawing conclusions.

"Senator Rockefeller believes that it would be important to interview people and review documents related to their public statements before drawing conclusions about them," she said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will meet today. The Committee's eight Republicans and seven Democrats are expected to begin considering drafts of at least three sections of the report.

Roberts has deferred an investigation into whether the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans conducted "unlawful" and "unauthorized" intelligence activities. Last year, the Chairman requested that the Pentagon probe itself – and said he would not review the program until the Defense Department had completed their own examination. Former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, who is under scrutiny in the Pentagon review, has said he's done nothing wrong.

A spokesman for Pentagon Inspector General Thomas Gimble characterized the timeframe for the completion of the Pentagon's investigation into the Office of Special Plans and one of its creators, former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, as a matter of "months."

Feith, Rice named in Israeli lobby probe

FBI agents also questioned Feith in 2004 about a case in which a Pentagon Iran analyst was later convicted for passing classified intelligence information to a pro-Israeli lobbyist. Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, oversaw the convicted analyst, Larry Franklin. Feith has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Secretary of State Rice became embroiled in the case last week. Defense lawyers for the pro-Israeli lobbyists say the Secretary leaked classified national defense information in the same manner that Franklin did.

Rice’s lawyer rejects the claim.

Raw Story's previous coverage