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Context of 'Before September 9, 2002 and After: Cheney Says Lawmakers Must Make Decision for War without Seeing Complete Evidence'

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld holds a “top secret” briefing on Iraq for selected Congressional members, including, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The briefing takes place in the most secure room in the Capitol, a small, windowless chamber that is ostentatiously swept for bugs before the briefing. At the outset, the lawmakers are sworn to deepest secrecy. But during the briefing, Rumsfeld tells the assembled members nothing they couldn’t learn by watching the nightly news. McCain abruptly leaves the meeting, and later says, “It was a joke.” Vice President Cheney has said that the administration doesn’t trust the 535 members of Congress not to leak classified information, and therefore they must make their decisions concerning war with Iraq without the benefit of complete intelligence briefings (see Before September 9, 2002 and After). McCain reflects the feelings of many members in expressing his aggravation with the administration. “It becomes almost insulting after a while,” he says. “Everyone that goes to them is frustrated.” Rather than give “pretend” briefings that convey little information, McCain says, President Bush should just suspend the briefings entirely. House member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says many members are skipping the briefings entirely to avoid signing a secrecy pledge that restricts what they can and cannot talk about. Menendez, briefed earlier by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, says, “I heard nothing that was new, compelling, or that I have not heard before.” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says, “The White House will continue to as fully inform as possible members of Congress, while also preserving sensitive intelligence information so no inadvertent disclosure jeopardizes sources or methods or missions.” The White House has had some success with Democrats who might be resistant to its arguments for war by choosing to give more complete briefings to a few selected Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO). As a result, Democratic leaders in Congress are more supportive of the push towards war than many of their rank-and-file colleagues. [Washington Post, 9/15/2002]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Menendez, US Department of Defense, John McCain, George W. Bush, Richard Gephardt, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet meet with senators Trent Lott (R-Miss), Tom Daschle (S-SD), Dennis Hastert (R-Ill), and Richard Gephardt (D-Mo) and, in the words of Cheney, “share the most sensitive information [on Iraq’s alleged WMDs] with them.” [New York Times, 9/7/2002; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 30] They show blurry satellite photos of buildings or warehouses that Cheney insists are Iraqi nuclear weapons sites, and shots of drone aircraft presumably capable of attacking Israel with biological and chemical weapons. They also share sketches of tractor trailers that Tenet says are mobile biological weapons factories. Daschle, a former Air Force photo analyst intelligence officer, is skeptical of the photos, but says nothing. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 30]

Entity Tags: Trent Lott, Tom Daschle, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Dennis Hastert, George J. Tenet, Richard Gephardt

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Vice President Cheney continues to argue his case for war with Iraq, this time during an appearance on PBS’s “News Hour with Jim Lehrer.” “We know based on primarily intelligence reporting [that Saddam Hussein] is continuing to expand and improve his biological weapons capability both in terms of production and delivery systems; we know he is working once again on a nuclear program.” Cheney goes on to say that Congress would have to make a decision on whether to authorize an attack on Iraq without being able to see the evidence that Cheney says exists. To brief Congress—535 lawmakers—about such “highly classified” matters would invite leaks that would potentially compromise national security. Instead, lawmakers who do not sit on the respective intelligence committees will have to make their decisions based on the limited amount of information the White House chooses to share with them. [Savage, 2007, pp. 157, 357]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Civil Liberties

Vice President Dick Cheney, formerly the chief of staff for President Gerald Ford (see November 4, 1975 and After), says, “Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the ‘70s served, I think, to erode the authority… the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area.” Cheney says that he and George W. Bush have restored some of “the legitimate authority of the presidency” that was taken away in the aftermath of Watergate. “I think the vice president ought to reread the Constitution,” retorts Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean comments that Bush and Cheney’s behavior “reminds Americans of the abuse of power during the dark days of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.” [Toronto Star, 12/21/2005; Werth, 2006, pp. 348]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Spiro T. Agnew, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Howard Dean, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, George W. Bush, Democratic National Committee, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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