Roberts blasts closed session 'stunt'
Deal struck to advance investigation on prewar intelligence
Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer, Harry Reid and Dick Durbin, from left, said their action was necessary.
Rule XXI: Session with Closed Doors
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, invoked this rule when he asked that the Senate close its doors to discuss prewar intelligence.
1. On a motion made and seconded to close the doors of the Senate, on the discussion of any business which may, in the opinion of a Senator, require secrecy, the Presiding Officer shall direct the galleries to be cleared; and during the discussion of such motion the doors shall remain closed.
2. When the Senate meets in closed session, any applicable provisions of rules XXIX and XXXI, including the confidentiality of information shall apply to any information and to the conduct of any debate transacted.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that Democrats knew progress was being made in the investigation of prewar intelligence on Iraq when they called for a rare closed session.
Appearing on CNN's "American Morning," Roberts said his staff informed Democrats of the status of the investigation "just two days ago."
He said his staff told Democrats the committee was completing "Phase 2" of its investigation.
Roberts accused Democrats of pulling a political "stunt" when Minority Leader Harry Reid made the motion Tuesday.
Democrats said the move was necessary to overcome Republican efforts to "obstruct" a full investigation and a reluctance to investigate how administration officials handled the intelligence used to sell Congress and the public on invading Iraq. (Full story)
Reid and other Democrats could not be immediately reached to comment on Roberts' remarks.
The move, which Majority Leader Bill Frist said he took as an "affront" to his leadership, came during a time of partisan tensions in the Senate.
Those tensions could be heightened this fall when the body takes up President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito, and budget cuts meant to help pay for the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
Roberts: 'Blindside attack'
"There is nothing that hurts the truth so much as stretching it," the Kansas Republican said. He referred to Democrats' use of a rarely invoked rule to shutter the Senate as a "stunt" at least half a dozen times.
"As far as I'm concerned it was a blindside attack," Roberts said. "That's not the way to run the intelligence committee. We really politicized it, and I think that's most unfair."
The inquiry would be a follow-up to the July 2004 intelligence committee report that blamed a "series of failures" by the CIA and other intelligence agencies for the mistaken belief among U.S. policymakers that Iraq had restarted its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. (Full story)
Bipartisan group formed
After Reid made his motion for a closed session Tuesday afternoon, the Senate reopened about two hours later after members agreed to appoint a bipartisan group of senators to assess the progress of the intelligence committee's investigation, the office of Majority Leader Bill Frist said. (See video about the closed session -- 3:05)
The three Republicans and three Democrats are to report back to Senate leaders by November 14.
During the closed session, senators from both parties traded acrimonious broadsides in the Capitol hallways. (Watch video on Capitol Hill acrimony -- 1:23)
Frist said Democrats had "hijacked" the Senate, and Democrats threatened to close the chamber each day until Republicans agreed to move forward with the investigation.
"This is an affront to me personally," said Frist, a Tennessee Republican. "This is an affront to our leadership. It is an affront to the United States of America, and it is wrong."
Frist said Senate Rule 21 -- which requires everyone but senators and a few aides to clear the chamber until a majority votes to reopen -- had been invoked only rarely and with "mutual conversation" between the leaders of both parties.
Reid: 'Zero regret'
"There's nothing more important to a Congress or a president than war," said Reid, a Nevada Democrat. "I think the American people are entitled to know how we got there. That's what this is all about."
There was no reaction from the White House.
Reid said the GOP leadership in Congress has "repeatedly chosen to protect the Republican administration rather than get to the bottom of what happened and why."
He said he had "zero regret" about the move: "The American people had a victory today."
Rule 21 has been invoked 53 times since 1929, according to the Congressional Research Service.
It was invoked six times during the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton for senators to organize the proceedings and deliberate on his eventual acquittal.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the intelligence committee's ranking Democrat and vice chairman, said the Democratic maneuver was necessary for Americans to learn who was accountable for the way prewar intelligence was used.
Democrats seek accountability
"Everything is about accountability to the American people, accountability of the executive branch ... [and] accountability of the oversight of the Congress," Rockefeller said.
He said the committee's Republican majority has refused to request documents from the White House about how the Bush administration crafted arguments for the invasion.
"What disturbs me the most is the majority has been willing, in this senator's judgment, to take orders from this administration when it comes to limiting the scope of appropriate, authorized and necessary oversight investigations," Rockefeller said.
Roberts said his committee has been working on the Phase 2 investigation since May and "we have what we think is a pretty good report." He said the committee will take up the matter next week.
"However long it takes, working in good faith, we will look into Phase 2 and see what we can do and finish that product," Roberts said.
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat on the panel, expressed his doubts. "Assurances have been made for months that progress is being made," Levin said. "We have not seen any evidence of it."
Democrats last year had pushed for the second part of the panel's inquiry to be completed before the November 2004 elections.
Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, a Republican member of the intelligence committee, said Democratic complaints against Roberts were "terribly unfair and unfounded."
Bond said the panel's 2004 report found no indication that the mistaken assumptions about Iraq's weapons programs were the result of political pressure.
"Even after they signed on to that, they contend that somehow this intelligence was misused," he said.
CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.
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