Foley Rejected Intel Panel Role

Posted February 13, 2004 at 6:07pm

Former Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.) turned down an offer to sit on the White House-appointed commission to investigate Iraqi intelligence failures after Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) expressed her concerns to him about the panel.

Republican and Democratic Congressional sources confirmed the Bush administration asked Foley to serve on the bipartisan panel it established by executive order last week. The White House commission, which has been widely criticized by Democrats, was set up to examine why inspectors have failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq despite pre-war claims by the administration that they had credible evidence of their existence.

Foley, a 30-year House veteran and former ambassador to Japan, confirmed in a telephone interview he “had some discussions with the White House” about serving on the panel, but declined any further comment about his consideration of a role.

“I think the panel is absolutely splendid,” he said. “I have the highest regard for the Members. I don’t want to comment beyond that.”

One House Democratic leadership aide said Foley and Pelosi spoke by telephone to discuss the offer, but the staffer insisted the Minority Leader did not recommend the former Speaker turn it down. The aide couldn’t provide additional details about the call.

“She didn’t tell him not to take it,” said the staffer. “She expressed her concerns about the commission. She said she had concerns about the commission, and he decided not to do it.”

The commission is assigned to look into whether U.S. intelligence agencies failed to adequately assess whether Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction. The White House has come under fire in recent months over allegations it misled the country about the Iraqi threat in justifying the U.S.-led war there.

Bush tapped former Democratic Sen. Charles Robb (Va.) and former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, as the commission’s co-chairmen. The president also appointed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Carter and Clinton White House counsel Lloyd Cutler, former appellate court Judge Pat Weld, Yale University President Rick Levin and retired Adm. Bill Studeman, a former deputy director of the CIA.

The White House wouldn’t comment on whether Foley was offered one of the slots.

“The White House doesn’t comment on personnel matters,” said spokesman Allen Abney.

Pelosi, former ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, has publicly criticized the creation of the panel, arguing it cannot be fully independent if the president appoints its members. Before the commission was created, Pelosi also penned a letter with several other prominent Democrats demanding that Bush allow Congress to create a commission through legislation.

“We had an opportunity to have a truly independent commission that could have brought fresh eyes to the subject,” Pelosi said Feb. 6 after the commission was announced. “Instead we have a commission wholly owned by the executive branch investigating the executive branch.”

A House Republican leadership aide, familiar with the White House offer to appoint Foley, said Pelosi’s intervention smacks of politics. The staffer accused the Minority Leader of trying to “play games” by urging Foley to turn down the administration’s offer.

“Obviously, the White House wants a real look into the intelligence and Mrs. Pelosi doesn’t want them to get any credit for that.”