Changing the Subject -- Back

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, November 2, 2005; 12:12 PM

Well, it turns out that President Bush isn't the only guy in Washington who can change the subject.

Employing a rarely used parliamentary procedure, Senate Democratic leaders yesterday hijacked a news cycle that would otherwise have been dominated by Bush's Supreme Court nomination and his scary speech on bird flu.

Instead, they turned the media's attention back to Friday's indictment of top presidential aide Scooter Libby -- and the underlying question of whether the White House intentionally deceived the public about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Charles Babington and Dafna Linzer write in The Washington Post: "Democrats forced the Senate into a rare closed-door session yesterday, infuriating Republicans but extracting from them a promise to speed up an inquiry into the Bush administration's handling of intelligence about Iraq's weapons in the run-up to the war. . . .

"Beneath the political pyrotechnics was an issue that has infuriated liberals but flummoxed many of the Democratic lawmakers who voted three years ago to approve the war: allegations that administration officials exaggerated Iraq's weapons capabilities and terrorism ties and then resisted inquiries into the intelligence failures. Friday's indictment of top White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby on perjury and obstruction charges gave Democrats a new opening to demand that more light be shed on these issues, including administration efforts to discredit a key critic of the prewar claims of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

"Democrats were dismayed that President Bush made no apologies after the indictment and that his naming of a new Supreme Court nominee Monday knocked the Libby story off many front pages. As he stood on the Senate floor to demand the closed session -- a motion not subject to a vote under the rule -- [Minority Leader Harry M.] Reid said Libby's grand jury indictment 'asserts this administration engaged in actions that both harmed our national security and are morally repugnant.' "

Susan Milligan writes in the Boston Globe: "After the two-hour session, lawmakers emerged to announce that the Intelligence Committee would resume work on its investigation of the prewar intelligence next week. Republicans insisted the review was already scheduled to begin next week, but Democrats countered that the GOP had been dragging its feet on the inquiry since before the 2004 presidential election, as US casualties mounted and more questions surfaced about the war."

On CNN last night, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff joined Larry King and offered his analysis: "The administration is not eager to have an investigation into how they may have misused intelligence."

Just prior to the war, Isikoff said, "there was a new urgency given by the vice president's office and the Pentagon into the idea that there was an active reconstituting nuclear program by Iraq. That was -- went beyond where many in the intelligence community were prepared to go, and how that -- how the vice president's office, the Pentagon came to those conclusions has never been fully explored. And that's what I think the Democrats are looking for here."

Tim Grieve writes in Salon: "It's not often that Karl Rove gets outflanked, but it sure seems to have happened Tuesday. Rove and his colleagues had the president off on his Change the Subject Tour: On Monday, the subject-that-was-not-Plamegate was Sam Alito; on Tuesday, it was supposed to have been the president's plan to fight bird flu from Asia. But Harry Reid and a band of merry Democrats changed all that with the invocation of an obscure Senate rule, swinging media coverage right back to Scooter Libby and the Iraq war more generally and leaving Bill Frist looking like a whiner in the process."

And tomorrow morning, Libby gets arraigned in open court.


A big question these past five years, especially but not exclusively in Democratic circles, has been: Where's the congressional oversight?

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