Media figures warned incoming Democratic majority against aggressive oversight

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

During recent discussions of congressional Democrats' reported plans to conduct extensive oversight on a wide array of the Bush administration's policies, various media figures have cautioned Democrats against "sound[ing] strident," "finger-wagging," "get[ting] into political trouble," or emboldening terrorists, while also warning that these potential investigations are "something that Democrats may find blowing up in their face."

For example:

  • On the January 1 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN correspondent Frank Sesno asserted that it is "enough to ask the questions that they [Democrats] think they need to ask and Americans want to get answers to, that the Congress has not pursued as part of their oversight responsibilities up to now" and then added: "[B]ut do they want to go so far that they sound strident and, you know, finger-wagging?"
  • On the December 30 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report, Wall Street Journal editorial page deputy editor Daniel Henninger said that if Democrats hold hearings "on the Patriot Act" and "on the warrantless wiretaps," then "they are simply opening the door for the terrorists to slide through and act."
  • On the December 26 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Newsweek senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe said, "Where the Democrats are going to get into trouble, political trouble really, is in things like investigating eavesdropping, interrogations of prisoners." Wolffe added that President Bush could counter their investigations by "fram[ing] it again as Democrats trying to undermine the war on terror." Host Joe Scarborough responded, "I agree with you 100 percent," and added: "If they do go in and start seeming like they're conducting investigations to protect the rights of terrorists, as opposed to the rights of Americans, or even on eavesdropping, I think you're right, it's something that Democrats may find blowing up in their face."

From the 10 a.m. ET hour of CNN Newsroom on January 1:

TONY HARRIS (anchor): Frank, let's talk about the president and this new Congress in a couple of weeks here. The Democrats are promising investigations. I don't know if it's a threat. For some it might sound like a threat. But will Democrats carry through with this notion of investigations, finding out what happened when, who knew what and when?

SESNO: Tony, there is no question that the Democrats, back in control in the Congress, are going to flex their muscles. They're going to do a little, you know, weight training. They've been doing that in the break here. Clearing their throats.

[Sen.] Carl Levin [D-MI], Armed Services Committee chairman, says, "I want to know about waste, fraud, and abuse. I want to know where the dollars are going." I spoke to someone who's quite likely to launch some hearings on why U.S. forces have not been better equipped and armed and protected up till now.

But they also need to walk a fine line and they've talked about this, too, is not going overboard with this. So, enough to ask the questions that they think they need to ask and Americans want to get answers to, that the Congress has not pursued as part of their oversight responsibilities up to now, but do they want to go so far that they sound strident and, you know, finger-wagging?

From the December 30 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report:

PAUL GIGOT (host and Journal editorial page editor): Radical Islam had a couple of very big successes in 2006. You could argue that the war in Lebanon was a victory for Hezbollah, Iran's proxies. Clearly, we're weaker in Iraq now than we were at the start of the year.

That -- if history is any guide, Dan, that sends a message to Al Qaeda and the Islamic radicals that we can be had. As Bernard Lewis [professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University] says, they only respect -- they only step back and don't attack us when they really fear us.

HENNINGER: That's right. And, you know, you've had the interior minister in Britain saying they have 30 active plot investigations going on over there. I mean, so this threat is up and running.

One thing to watch is whether the Democrats do follow through and hold hearings, intelligence hearings, on the Patriot Act, on the warrantless wiretaps, and try to peel back those programs. It seems to me that, if they do, they're simply opening the door for the terrorists to slide through and act.

From the December 26 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:

SCARBOROUGH: Richard, a recent Newsweek poll asked Americans if the Democrats should investigate the president's decision to go to war in Iraq. Forty-nine percent said yes, 26 percent said no, not a priority, 23 percent said they shouldn't bother with it at all. Do you expect the White House at some point, if these investigations come fast and furious, do you expect them to take the approach Bill Clinton took, and actually attack congressmen, saying, "Well, they're just more interested in beating me up than they are in doing the business of America?"

WOLFFE: Sure they will. They're going to present that kind of argument about the run-up to war as backward-looking. Although 49 percent is a high number, surprisingly high number. When you look at the contracts [in Iraq] question, the numbers are even higher, up to 70 percent. Where the Democrats are going to get into trouble, political trouble really, is in things like investigating eavesdropping, interrogations of prisoners. [Sen.] Pat Leahy [D-VT] on the Judiciary Committee is already committed to that. These kind of political fights the president has won before. I suspect he can frame it again as Democrats trying to undermine the war on terror. But when it comes to contracts [in Iraq], Democrats are on a much safer ground.

SCARBOROUGH: Richard, that's fascinating. And I agree with you 100 percent. If they do go in and start seeming like they're conducting investigations to protect the rights of terrorists, as opposed to the rights of Americans, or even on eavesdropping, I think you're right, it's something that Democrats may find blowing up in their face.

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