Democratic Senators Demand Answers on Libby

Democrats force the majority Republicans into a closed-door Senate session. Democrats are demanding answers about intelligence that led to the Iraq war and more information about the indictment of I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff and a leading advocate of the war.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

A dramatic afternoon in the United States Senate as doors closed and the halls were cleared for an unexpected closed session. It began without warning when Democratic Leader Harry Reid attacked Republicans for holding up an investigation on prewar Iraq intelligence. Senator Reid then called for a closed session to discuss the Bush administration's use of that information to go to war. Republicans angrily denounced the move as a stunt. Democrats say they made a point. More now from NPR congressional correspondent Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

The drama began shortly after 2:00. Senators were just finishing with their weekly policy luncheons. Minority Leader Harry Reid and his second in command, Richard Durbin of Illinois, walked into the almost empty chamber, and Reid began to read from a speech. It was highly critical of the Bush administration for mishandling intelligence prior to the war in Iraq, and it lambasted Republicans in Congress for failing to investigate the use of the intelligence. Then Reed dropped his bombshell.

(Soundbite of Senate session)

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Minority Leader): Mr. President, enough time has gone by. I demand, on behalf of the American people, that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted. And in accordance with Rule 21, I now move that the Senate go into closed session.

Senator RICHARD DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): Mr. President, I second the motion.

NORRIS: Republicans, caught off guard, were incensed. Majority Leader Bill Frist spoke outside the Senate chamber.

Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee; Majority Leader): Once again, it shows the Democrats use scare tactics. They have no conviction, they have no principles, they have no ideas, but this is the ultimate. Since I've been majority leader, I'll have to say, not with the previous Democratic leader or the current Democratic leader have ever I been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of this grand institution. Every other time--and, again, we'll have to go back and look at the history--there has been at least consideration for the other side of the aisle before a stunt--and this is a pure stunt that is being performed by Senator Reid, Senator Durbin and their leadership.

NAYLOR: For some two hours, the Senate remained closed. Through a glass door, groups of senators could be seen in discussion, but cameras were cut off and no visitors were allowed in the galleries. A little after 4:00, the doors were reopened, and Democratic Leader Reid came out and said his side won.

Sen. REID: Today the American people had a victory. The victory is that finally, after months and months and months of begging, cajoling, writing letters, we're finally going to be able to have phase two of the investigation how the intelligence was used to lead us into the intractable war in Iraq.

NAYLOR: What Democrats want is the appointment of a panel to report on the progress of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's investigation into prewar intelligence. In July of 2004, the committee released the results of the first phase of a probe finding there were flaws with the intelligence itself. But Democrats charged the second part of the probe into how the administration used that intelligence has been stalled. Republicans argued the investigation was to resume anyway next week. Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts.

Senator PAT ROBERTS (Republican, Kansas; Chair, Intelligence Committee): We have agreed to do what we already agreed to do, and that is to complete as best we can phase two of the Intelligence Committee's review of prewar intelligence in reference to Iraq.

NAYLOR: Democrats say the indictment last week of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was evidence the administration discredited those who questioned the use of intelligence and misled Congress and the public about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Their gamble today was that by calling for a closed session, Democrats would return the focus to the administration's problems with Iraq and the indictment of Libby, believing the president tried to change the subject with the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Republicans hope voters will see the Democrats' move as nothing more than politics as usual in Washington. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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