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Iraq Document Kept From Hill

When called for comment about why the plan had not been provided to Congress, the Pentagon referred the question to the legislative affairs shop at the White House.

The White House press office returned the call and referred the question to Multi- National Force — Iraq.

“I do not know why the White House would refer you to us regarding these questions,” a Multi-National Force — Iraq spokesman responded. “We are in no position to answer questions regarding the Pentagon’s providing or not providing the newest Joint Campaign Plan to Congress, the GAO, or whomever.”

“Only the Department of Defense can tell you why they did or did not do something,” the spokesman added. “You are going to have to [go] back to the Pentagon.”

The Pentagon did not answer a further request for comment.

Rick Barton, co-director of the Post- Conflict Reconstruction Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the relationship between Congress and the Pentagon has become unproductive.

Barton and colleagues are releasing a new report called “The Steep Hill” about how to involve the legislative branch constructively in foreign policy.

“It’s our feeling that there just needs to be a higher level of transparency on the part of the administration, but then there has to be less of a ‘gotcha’ slam approach on the part of the Congress,” Barton said.

Tensions have been relatively high between the Defense Department and the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee since Democrats took control in January.

The first public spat came at an April 19 hearing in which a Pentagon lawyer interrupted testimony by lower-ranking Army officers because it was being transcribed against alleged Defense Department policy. The Army officers left the hearing on Iraqi Security Forces training.

“I’ve never, ever seen such a lack of responsiveness in terms of working with the committee,” ex-Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), then subcommittee chairman, told Army Times.

Lawmakers bridled at an April 16 memo penned by Robert Wilkie, the assistant secretary of Defense for legislative affairs and a former staffer for Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and ex-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).

That memo banned junior officers from testifying on the record before Congress. But lawmakers pointed to the fact that junior officers had been permitted to testify at hearings before other committees and that the policy appeared directly aimed at the oversight committee’s work.

After fierce complaints, Wilkie withdrew the directive on June 27.

“We will endeavor to do what we can to assist you as you carry on your important new duties,” Wilkie wrote in a conciliatory letter to Snyder.

But Democrats say it continues to be difficult to get lower-ranking officers to testify because the individual services like the Army feel intimidated by the previous Defense directive.

Members of the Armed Services Committee began asking for a copy of the Joint Campaign Plan in March and gave the Pentagon until March 30 to produce it.

In an April 11 letter to Erin Conaton, the Armed Services Committee’s staff director, Wilkie wrote that the department was receiving an “unprecedented number of requests” for documents from Congress.

“Even with the use of a full-time staff dedicated to this process, the work is time- consuming since we must determine what documents can be properly shared with the legislative branch,” Wilkie said.

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