President Backs off Briefing Limits for Congress

One week after President Bush fired off a memo to Congress announcing he was severely limiting intelligence briefings to members, the president has changed course and dropped restrictions. 


Bush got a call Thursday from Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., and Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who told the president they had instituted reforms to rein in their members, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

"The president said, 'OK, I'll let full briefings resume,"' Fleischer said.

The decision comes the same day the House ethics committee issued a memo reminding members that violations of the Classified Information Oath are also a violation of House rules and are sanctionable.

"At all times and especially in this time of our country's war on terrorism, the Committee on Standards takes the obligations imposed by the Classified Information Oath with the greatest seriousness," read the statement, issued by House Standards on Official Conduct Committee chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., and ranking member Howard Berman, D-Calif.

Members of Congress are required to take an oath that they will not disclose any classified information received in the course of their duties as representatives.

The statement says that when in doubt about the secrecy of information, members must make a "good faith effort" to determine whether the information is classified before "disclosing it in an unauthorized manner."

Bush was said to be very angry by leaks coming out of Congress following an intelligence briefing last week. Some of the leaks ended up in newspapers, but the White House was able to dissuade reporters from revealing other information they had learned. 

Bush responded by telling congressional leaders that he was limiting briefings by his Cabinet members to the leaders of the House and Senate and the leaders of their respective intelligence committees.

The president loosened that restraint Wednesday after an appeal from members of Congress, saying he would include leaders of the armed services and foreign relations committees as well.

The House code of conduct has a range of sanctions, from a letter of reprimand from the committee to censure or possibly expulsion.