Reid's 'Secret' Session on Pre-War Intel Called 'Pure Stunt'

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

(1st Add: Includes comments from Sen. John Rockefeller.)

( - Senate Republican leaders were incensed Tuesday at Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) decision to hold a "secret" closed session to discuss the pre-war intelligence in the lead-up to the war in Iraq and the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis Libby.

GOP leaders said they were not informed about the closed door session ahead of time like in years past.

"Every time in recent history, it has been with mutual conversation with the majority leader, and the Democratic leader, between the majority leadership and the Democratic leadership," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who called the closed session "a pure stunt" performed by Reid and the Democratic leadership.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said on occasion, the use of Senate Rule 21 allowing closed secret sessions is necessary to discuss classified information, but the Democrats' use of it in this instance is "a totally inappropriate action."

Lott said the rule is usually invoked "by prearrangement and by agreement." It happened "at least two or three times" during Lott's tenure as majority leader, he said, and "once or twice in the 80s."

"Once again it shows the Democrats use scare tactics. They have no conviction. They have no principles. They have no ideas, but this is the ultimate," said Frist. He said not only was the Democrats' use of the closed session "an affront to me personally," it was also an "affront to our leadership" and America.

Democrats said the "extraordinary move" was needed because they have been trying for a year and a half "to get an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee into the use and misuse of" pre-war intelligence.

"At its core, this is about accountability -- Congressional accountability and White House accountability," said Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) in a statement. "Congress has a fundamental, constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight - that's what checks and balances are all about - and we have utterly failed.

"My colleagues and I have tried for two years to do our oversight work, and for two years we have been undermined, avoided, put off, and vilified by the other side. Any line of questioning that has brought us too close to the White House has been thwarted," said Rockefeller.

"At some point the majority needs to understand that we are willing to bring the Senate to a halt until they will join us in conducting the kind of investigation this situation demands," added Rockefeller. "The American people still want to know - now more than ever - why the United States went to war, whether they were misled, and whether our intelligence was misused.

"Whether these actions amount to crimes is not the litmus test for congressional oversight. [Special Counsel] Mr. [Patrick] Fitzgerald is investigating possible criminal activity by senior White House officials, and we won't and shouldn't get in the way of his work," Rockefeller said.

The closed session was an effort to focus Frist's attention on the need to conduct an independent Senate investigation, Democrats said, and Libby's indictment on charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice made such an investigation all the more necessary.

Because the GOP did not conduct such a probe, the Democrats were forced to take more drastic measures, they concluded.

"But the American people deserve to know not just whether this Administration committed crimes, but whether this Administration told the truth - the full truth, the straight story," Rockefeller said.

"And if they didn't - if they misled about the war and if they misused intelligence, then the American people need to know that the Congress will do everything in its power the make sure that it never happens again," Rockefeller concluded.

"I hope it does bring the Senate together," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). He said Democrats faced a procedural challenge because the motion could have been interrupted "before a second was recognized and to go into a quorum call that could have lasted 'til Thursday."

"That was the reality. That's the procedural reality, and so we notified the Republicans a few minutes before taking the floor as to what was going to happen and move forward with Senator Reid's statement, and I second the motion," said Durbin.

But Republican Conference Chair Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said the move was no more than a political tactic to try to settle "an old political score."

"This is pre-2004 election politics" from which "for some reason they can't move on. They can't move on to the important business at hand. They have to continue to replay the 2004 election," said Santorum.

And by calling for the "secret session," Democrats sidetracked the Senate from finishing business prior the Thanksgiving break on a deficit reduction package to control federal government spending, GOP leaders said.

The move illustrates the Democrats' hatred for cutting spending, Santorum said.

"They'll go to any extent to try to avoid ... any discussion about shrinking the size of government. Being more responsible with the taxpayers' dollars is just so painful that they had to go into private session to recoup and come out again hopefully soon so we can get back to the business at hand," said Santorum.

"We see it day in, day out around here. There is no agenda, there are no solutions to problems, there's no trying to get our fiscal house in order. Whatever it is, whatever the issue is, it just keeps snapping back. This, I understand, was particularly painful - talking about shrinking this government and doing ... less with more," Santorum added.

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