Democrats close Senate to shed light on Iraq intelligence

Bill Frist, fuming, calls it a "stunt" and a "slap in the face."

Published November 1, 2005 8:00PM (EST)

Democrats have just forced the U.S. Senate into a rare closed session in the hopes of shedding light on the Bush administration's use or misuse of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin says that Democrats will use the closed session to push Republicans to move forward on the long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the administration's use of intelligence.

In February 2004, the Senate voted to have the Intelligence Committee investigate the intelligence that led to war. The investigation was to happen in two parts: The first, focused on intelligence gathering, was completed before the 2004 presidential election. The second, focused on the administration's use of intelligence, was to take place after the election was over. But when George W. Bush won re-election in November -- the "accountability moment," he called it -- Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts put the brakes on Phase II of the investigation, and no report has been issued.

With the death toll mounting in Iraq and a member of the president's administration indicted on charges of trying to cover up his role in discrediting a critic of the administration's march to war, there's new impetus for Phase II of the investigation now -- at least for the Democrats. On the Senate floor this afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said it's time for a "searching investigation" into how the Bush administration took the nation to war. As the Senate chamber was cleared so that the closed session could begin, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a member of the Intelligence Committee, told reporters gathered in a Capitol corridor that the "degree of frustration" over the stalled investigation is "impossible to explain."

A few minutes later, Senate Majority Bill Frist appeared in the same hallway to declare the Democrats' move a "stunt" and a "slap in the face" to the Republicans who control the body. "The United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership," he said. "It shows the Democrats use scare tactics. They have no principles, they have no convictions, they have no ideas."

A single senator, provided that he can get a second from another senator, can move to put the Senate into closed session. A majority vote can take it back out again. With Republicans holding a 55-44 majority, the Democrats' closed session probably won't last long. But Durbin suggested that the Democrats might begin making a closed-session motion every day until the Intelligence Committee moves forward on its report.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Harry Reid Iraq War Richard J. Durbin D-ill.