Media overlooked Sen. Roberts's conflicting statements about investigation into Bush administration's use of intelligence before Iraq war

In reporting Sen. Pat Roberts's (R-KS) response to criticism from Democrats that he has stonewalled the portion of a Senate Intelligence Committee report dedicated to investigating the use -- or misuse -- of intelligence by Bush administration officials in the buildup to the Iraq war, the media overlooked Roberts's history of conflicting statements on the subject. Democrats say that stonewalling by Roberts and Senate Republicans on long-standing demands for an investigation into the use of pre-war intelligence prompted them to take the unusual step of invoking Senate Rule 21 and calling for a closed Senate session on November 1.

Roberts's conflicting statements on “phase two”

  • In a July 9, 2004, news conference, Roberts agreed with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) that determining whether administration officials manipulated intelligence to promote the war, in part, constituted “phase two” of the investigation, and was a “top priority” of his:

ROCKEFELLER: The central issue of how intelligence on Iraq was -- in this senator's opinion, was exaggerated by the Bush administration officials, was relegated to that second phase, as yet unbegun, of the committee investigation.

ROBERTS: As Senator Rockefeller has alluded to, this is in phase two of our efforts. We simply couldn't get that done with the work product that we put out. And he has pointed out that has a top priority. It is one of my top priorities.

  • In a July 13, 2004, press conference, Roberts elaborated that phase two would include three things: 1) “what the intelligence community said in regards to what would happen after the military mission was over”; 2) the role of the Defense Department's Office of Special Plans, led by undersecretary Douglas Feith; and 3) “the use question” in which the committee would “look at the public statements of any administration official and public official ... and compare it with the intelligence and what we have found out in regards to the inquiry.”
  • In March, Roberts appeared to redefine phase two, suggesting that the investigation would not examine how Bush administration officials allegedly manipulated the available intelligence, if the investigation was completed at all. In early March, Roberts said that the inquiry into the use of intelligence was “on the back burner.” Then, in a March 31 press release in which he commented on the release of phase one of the report, Roberts stated: “I don't think there should be any doubt that we have now heard it all regarding prewar intelligence. I think that it would be a monumental waste of time to replow this ground any further.” Phase one of the report determined that intelligence assessments were not impacted by pressure from policymakers, but it did not examine how those completed intelligence assessments were used by President Bush or policymakers in the administration and Congress.
  • Roberts again contradicted himself on the April 10 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, when he reaffirmed his 2004 commitment to include an assessment of the use of intelligence by policymakers in phase two of the investigation. However, in that appearance, he also downplayed such an endeavor as something other than the “real issue” and baselessly concluded that it would only show “that the intelligence was wrong and that's exactly why they [policymakers] said what they said”:

TIM RUSSERT (host): But as you well know, when your report came out there were many people who said that you were not going forward with phase two about exaggerations and shaping because you didn't want to involve yourself, influence the election. You made a firm commitment to do just that.

ROBERTS: Yeah, we're going to do that, Tim.

RUSSERT: The United States went to war --

ROBERTS: Tim, we're going to do that. I will bring it here. We'll have the 50 statements. We'll have the intelligence. We can match it up and you can do it with members of Congress, who are very, very critical, who made the same things, and you can say, “OK,” and you'll say, “Well, Pat, it just looks to me that the intelligence was wrong and that's exactly why they said what they said.” Now, I don't know what that accomplishes over the long term. I'm perfectly willing to do it, and that's what we agreed to do, and that door is still open. And I don't want to quarrel with Jay, because we both agreed that we would get it done. But we do have --we have [former U.S. representative to the United Nations and former Iraq] Ambassador [John D.] Negroponte next week, we have General Mike Hayden next week. We have other hot-spot hearings or other things going on that are very important. So we will get it done, but it seems to me that we ought to put it in some priority of order, and after we do get it done I think everybody's going to scratch their head and say, “OK, well, that's fine. You know, let's go to the real issue.”

  • In July, Roberts again reneged on his pledge to investigate the use of intelligence. After release of the Downing Street memo, a secret British intelligence document indicating that intelligence officials there believed that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” by the Bush administration to support its case for war, Senate Democrats -- led by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) -- wrote to Roberts and Rockefeller on June 22, urging them to “accelerate to completion the work of the so-called 'phase II' effort to assess how policymakers used the intelligence they received.” In a July 20 response to Kerry, Roberts disputed that the Senate Intelligence Committee had “agree[d] to examine the vague notion” of how policymakers used intelligence, and argued -- irrelevantly -- that the point was moot because the committee unanimously found that the intelligence community's assessments were not “influenced by political pressure.” Contrary to Roberts's argument, whether the intelligence was tainted by “pressure” is a wholly separate matter from how that intelligence was used once it was obtained by the administration.
  • In that same response to Kerry, Roberts also appeared to contradict his promise to Russert that he would “bring it [phase two of the report]” onto Meet the Press by casting doubt over whether phase two would ever be made public. Roberts wrote: “When the Committee has completed its work on phase II, we will determine the form in which the Committee will express its findings and whether it will be possible or prudent to release them publicly.”
  • Roberts's misleading statements about phase two have continued in recent days. While he has continued to suggest that phase two will be released in the near future, Roberts has also continued to dismiss the need to examine the administration's use of intelligence in the buildup to the war. On the November 1 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Roberts said:

ROBERTS: There's a part of me that says if you look in the rearview mirror, there's a little crack in regards to partisan lines, and figure out what somebody said two or three years ago, and was it justified by intelligence. I don't know the relevancy of that.

Roberts's past statements ignored by print, broadcast media

Roberts's history of conflicting statements about whether the Senate Intelligence Committee will, and should, examine the Bush administration's use of pre-war intelligence went unreported throughout the media. For example, November 2 articles by the Associated Press, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times did not report Roberts's contradictory statements about the investigation while reporting his claim that the move by Democrats to hold a closed session of the Senate to discuss pre-war intelligence was a “stunt,” that he had not slowed the inquiry, and that the phase two report would be shortly forthcoming. Roberts's conflicting statements also went unmentioned in the broadcast media, including the November 2 broadcast of National Public Radio's (NPR) Morning Edition.