When we saw the teaser on the front page of the Hill this morning, we thought maybe somebody had mistakenly rerun a story from a couple of years ago. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts, it said, wants to "divide his panel's inquiry into the Bush administration's handling of Iraq-related intelligence into two parts, a move that would push off its most politically controversial elements to a later time."
If this sounds a little familiar, that's because it is.
In February 2004, Roberts, a Republican, agreed that his committee would investigate not just the failures in intelligence gathering on Iraq but also the ways in which the Bush administration may have misused or manipulated the intelligence it received. But as a condition of his agreement, Roberts insisted that the second half of the probe -- the part aimed at the actions of the White House -- be put off until after the 2004 presidential election. Then, once that election was over, the president declared that the "accountability moment" on Iraq had come and gone, and Roberts said that any further work on the probe would be a "monumental waste of time."
In November 2005, frustrated Democrats moved the Senate into closed session in what seemed like a successful attempt to force Roberts and the committee to start moving forward on the probe again. And over the past couple of weeks -- as we've learned more about the ways in which the Bush administration ignored contrary evidence on Iraq -- a number of reports have suggested that Roberts' committee is finally coming close to releasing a report on the intelligence-manipulation issue.
And then comes the Hill report. The paper says that Roberts wants to move quickly -- "quickly" being a relative term in an investigation that's already 2 years old -- to finish its work on 1) prewar predictions of what Iraq would be like after the invasion; (2) comparisons of prewar intelligence assessments on WMD and the postwar reality; and (3) the intelligence community's use of intelligence provided by the Iraqi National Congress. But, the Hill says, Roberts apparently wants to delay further investigation into whether administration officials' public statements before the war were supported or undercut by the intelligence that was available to them.
How long does Roberts want to wait? The Hill doesn't say, but it doesn't take an undue amount of cynicism to think that he's hoping to get past the midterm elections in November. With Republican candidates already struggling to find their way around -- or away from -- Bush on Iraq, the last thing they need just now is more attention on the way in which the president took us to war. On the other hand, if Democrats pull off an upset and win control of the Senate in November, Roberts may come to wish that he'd put the probe to rest a long time ago.