WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) has agreed with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search) to hold a closed-door executive session for senators on pre-war intelligence and the search for weapons of mass destruction (search) in Iraq, Fox News learned Tuesday.
Democrats had been pressing the issue and were actively considering forcing the executive session (search), which under the rules would have simply required the presence of two senators to make it happen.
But Republicans are now dodging any possible public relations fallout from that scenario by agreeing to an open, off-the-record debate over how pre-war intelligence was handled. The details have yet to be worked out, though one source familiar with activities on the Intelligence Committee told Fox News that it would probably include presentations from members on both sides of the committee and/or their key staff members.
Also under discussion, according to the source, is the issue of whether to call CIA Director George Tenet (search) or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) to Capitol Hill to appear before Senate members.
Talk of forcing a closed-door session first arose in late January, before President Bush made his announcement that he would appoint an independent commission to discuss how the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction has veered so far from the evidence of weapons now being uncovered, or failing to be uncovered, as the case may be.
Democrats continued to keep up its demands for an executive session after they expressed concerns that a commission appointed by the president would lack true independence and the need would remain for a venue where members could address outstanding questions about pre-war intelligence.
A spokesman for Daschle said earlier this month that a report being prepared by the Intelligence Committee was expected to lay out perceived problems with intelligence-gathering, and be "narrowly focused on the collection, and not the use of intelligence," which is why members still wanted to force the executive session.
While the executive session could happen as early as next week, Intelligence Committee staff and Senate leaders have not held any discussion this week about logistics, and a Daschle aide said it's more likely to happen in the first week of March.
This meeting would be the first closed-door executive session of the Senate since the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. An executive session is closed, meaning no press or spectators are allowed in the gallery and cameras are turned off.
Fox News' Julie Asher contributed to this report.