New Charges Fly Over Leaked Democratic Intelligence Memo

Posted November 7, 2003 at 2:25pm

Contrary to earlier statements, Senate Republicans possessed a copy of a Democratic memo laying out a strategy for exploiting allegations of intelligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq, according to a GOP member of the Intelligence Committee.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) told home-state reporters on a conference call Thursday that Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told him about the existence of the memo late last week.

Hagel’s comments go against an official statement from Roberts in which he blasted the Democratic memo Tuesday, saying he had “just learned” of its existence.

But during his call with Nebraska reporters, Hagel asserted that Roberts had shown him the memo late last week and that it had been discovered “in the Senate Intelligence Committee staff room.”

“Chairman Roberts brought the copy of the memo to me last Friday morning, actually Thursday morning — when he first found out about it,” Hagel said in the conference call. “The way it is written, it is literally a campaign document. It is a political roadmap.”

A spokesman for Hagel said the boss “misspoke” during the conference call, but then offered conflicting answers himself about when the Nebraska Senator first viewed the memo. After clarifying that the Senator first saw the memo on Monday of this week, Hagel spokesman Mike Buttry changed his statement.

“Senator Hagel found out about it on Tuesday,” Buttry said.

The memo’s existence was first reported Tuesday afternoon by Sean Hannity on his nationally syndicated radio talk show. That disclosure sparked a national firestorm, with Republicans charging that Senate Democrats were trying to politicize intelligence failures in advance of the 2004 presidential election.

But Senate Democratic aides told Roll Call on Friday that Hagel’s comments suggest that Republicans knew about the memo sooner than they let on, and that this week’s complaints about the memo formed a pre-meditated political attack.

“The question for Pat Roberts and other Republicans on the Intelligence Committee is what they did know and when did they know it,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “If it’s true that they had it for so long, it appears indignation grows slowly among Republicans.”

Republicans who had already planned to discuss the memo on the Senate floor Friday also criticized those who said Roberts was engaged in partisan warfare.

Roberts, meanwhile, released an official statement criticizing Democrats for trying to politicize the issue.

“We are talking about the integrity of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has a more than 25 year history of bipartisan commitment to safeguard our national security and the Democrats want to talk about timing,” said Roberts. “That is a red herring so they don’t have to answer the charge that they have politicized national intelligence oversight.”

A spokeswoman for Roberts would not address when the Kansas Republican received the memo, saying only, “We are not talking about timing — we are talking about the issue and what it means to national security.”

In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, noted it was a draft memo that “was not approved by me, was not given to any other member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, nor to any other staff person.”

He also questioned how the memo ended up in Hannity’s hands.

“At some point very soon the committee and the Senate are going to have to explore the chain of events surrounding this draft memo since it raises serious questions about whether the majority is obtaining unauthorized access to private internal materials of the minority, and who made the decision in this case to leak the draft of an unofficial memo to the press,” Rockefeller said.