WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans slammed Democrats Wednesday for even thinking of using intelligence information about the Iraq war against President Bush as a means to embarrass him during his 2004 re-election campaign.
"I never saw the kind of blatant partisan politics that has apparently emerged as revealed in this memo," Sen. John Kyl (search), R-Ariz., said on the Senate floor. "It is a disgusting possibility that members of the Senate would try to politicize intelligence, especially at a time of war ... it is reprehensible."
Democrats used the incident to fuel their argument that only an independent commission can effectively probe just how the intelligence was used leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Sen. Dick Durbin (search), D-Ill., said the memo flap demonstrates "now, more than ever" that there needs to be "transparency, credibility" in the intelligence investigation and that can best be reached through an independent commission.
Fox News obtained a document believed to have been written by the Democratic staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (search) that outlines a strategy for exposing what it calls "the administration's dubious motives" in the lead-up to the war in Iraq.
The memo, provided late Tuesday by a committee source, discusses the timing of a possible investigation into prewar Iraq intelligence in such a way that it could bring maximum embarrassment to Bush. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., (search) ranking member on the panel, acknowledged it was written in draft form and not meant for distribution.
The purpose of the memo, which Rockefeller said nobody saw before it was leaked, was to ensure "the minority works with the majority to get as far as we can in this effort," he said.
If the majority continued to refuse to give Democrats information or to stonewall them, he added, "then the minority should be prepared to point out shortcomings." Asserting the rights of minority "in no way amounts to politicizing intelligence," Rockefeller said, adding that a difference in opinion is "no ground for partisan politics."
But Republicans said the fact that the memo was even drafted was bad news.
"There's no question this is totally politics," Sen. Trent Lott (search), R-Miss., told Fox News. "For the Democrats to come out with this blatantly political document … is totally irresponsible and it really has damaged, for now at least, the relationship between Republicans and Democrats on the intelligence committee and to do the job we need to do."
"I am disappointed that the discussion in the presidential primary has totally ignored or forgotten the old adage that 'politics stops at the water's edge' -- we should not be getting into political battles when we have troops in harm's way," Sen. Kit Bond (search), R-Mo., said on the Senate floor.
"It's clear from this memo that it suggests, at least at the staff level, a Democratic game plan to make the intelligence committee a focal point for the 2004 presidential debate."
Both parties called on Democrats to repudiate the memo.
Democrats "should resist the urge to play politics with our nation's intelligence agencies," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill (search)., said in a statement. "We are in a war against terrorism and terrorists, and our nation must be united as we fight to protect our freedoms."
"I think heads should roll," Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., (search) added on Fox News. "We're in war ... they should make those staff members that they think put this thing together take a lie detector test. Anyone who was involved with this should be fired ... they were playing political games with that memo."
The intelligence committee is usually extremely bipartisan because of the nature of its work and is usually not a place members try to score political points.
"This is a different road from which the intelligence committee on the House side as well as the intelligence committee on the Senate side has been down before," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga (search). "And it's not the kind of road which the intelligence committees should be traveling down."
The memo calls for Democrats to: "pull the majority along as far as we can" on questionable conduct by administration officials; "castigate the majority" for trying to limit the scope of the inquiry and prepare to launch an independent investigation if the majority won't collaborate.
"We have an important role to play in the revealing the misleading -- if not flagrantly dishonest methods and motives -- of the senior administration officials who made the case for a unilateral, preemptive war," the memo states. "The approach outline above seems to offer the best prospect for exposing the administration's dubious motives."
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., (search) chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the panel can only effectively investigate intelligence matters if there are no efforts under way to undermine the process.
"Our goal is to discover the facts -- not to target any individuals or to serve any agenda," Roberts said.
Noting that the panel has spent six months poring over thousands of documents related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, terrorism ties and has interviewed 100 people, Roberts added, "It is critical that all of this take place in an atmosphere of good faith and mutual trust. Secret plans to undermine the committee's work are examples of neither."
Rep. Mark Green, R-Wis., (search) a member of the House International Relations Committee, told Fox News that the politicking is "a real disservice not just to your views but to the men and woman overseas"
Democrats: 'Our Credibility Is at Stake'
But Democrats say the GOP is stonewalling them and that Rockefeller has been more than patient.
"Our credibility is at stake," said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind (search). "We need to get to the bottom of this and determine if they [weapons of mass destruction] do exist and what we can do root them out and if they don't exist, why we were led to believe that they do."
Noting that the intelligence committees have a close relationship with the intelligence agencies, the committees "are really not in the position to do a thorough and independent investigation because political views will get in the way from both sides of the aisle," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., (search) told Fox News.
Committee members have complained about the slowness of the administration to provide requested materials. Last Friday was the response deadline. While some agencies have complied with their request, the White House has not completely agreed with the request.
Durbin tried to take Roberts to task, asking him to say publicly whether the investigation will not only look into conduct and activity of intelligence agencies but also how the administration used intelligence information to determine if the White House "in any way exaggerated or distorted the intelligence gathered in portraying the case to the American people."
Roberts said the CIA, State Department, White House and other bureaucratic corners have demonstrated a "spirit of cooperation" and that Durbin's question will be answered at a later time.
"That, I believe is the source of frustration on this committee," Durbin responded. "If that memo created the frustrated of many members of this committee that there is a firewall to protect the administration, then the memo, frankly, speaks to real feelings."
Rockefeller, who opposes the idea of an independent commission, said he has tried to get Republicans to work with the minority to probe how the administration used the intelligence.
But "my entreaties have been to no avail," he said.
[Maybe the memo imbroglio will] "embarrass us enough to bring us all together," Rockefeller said. "I hope that we can put this incident behind us ... we must pursue this inquiry to the end."