Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hypocritical DeWine AWOL From Intelligence Committee

The television ads that Ohio Republican Mike DeWine has run against Democratic Senate opponent Sherrod Brown have not surprised Ohioans. After all, they were treated to a bombardment by the Swift Boat Liars before the 2004 presidential election, so seeing DeWine doctor a video of the burning World Trade Center towers in an ad depicting Brown with the photos of the 9/11 hijackers, must have seemed like a routine page from the GOP slime book -- in fact, that ad was produced for DeWine by the same people who made some of the infamous Swift Boat ads.

And, of course, DeWine's going to do everything he can to make himself look strong on defense -- "While they're fighting for us abroad, he's fighting for them at home," intones one ad -- and, in particular, he's castigated Brown at every turn for allegedly being opposed to a strong American intelligence capability.

What's important for Ohio voters to know is that, while DeWine talks a big game about being strong on terror and a champion of our intelligence services, he has a nasty habit of missing a huge number of meetings held by the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he is fortunate enough to hold -- but not often occupy -- one of 15 critical seats.

According to the Government Printing Office and c-span.org, DeWine has been absent from almost half of all public hearings in the Intelligence Committee, missing at least 48 of 101 meetings held since first receiving the coveted committee assignment in 1995. Indeed, DeWine's attendance ranks as among the worst of anyone on the Intelligence Committee, with only one other member missing more meetings.

DeWine's defenders would incorrectly assert that all of the important business on the Intelligence Committee takes place in closed sessions, so the public hearings that DeWine seems to dislike so much aren't that important. Not so, says people who know something about how the Senate and the Intelligence community operate.

"The public or the open hearings, while they are unclassified, still represent an important part of what the committees do," said Rand Beers, President of the National Security Network and former member of the National Security Council under Presidents Clinton and Bush. "That is because the director of the CIA and now the Director of National Intelligence appear before those committees and make public statements about either the general state of intelligence issues around the world or about particular issues that they may want to talk about -- and that is a way in which the public is in fact informed about the views of the intelligence community."

"Participation by members in those meetings, the asking of public questions for the illumination of the public is an important task. So to suggest that nothing happens there and that they're hardly worth attending is I think a misstatement."

Beers was speaking on a recent conference call of leading national security and intelligence experts, that also included Peter Rundlet, vice president for National Security at the Center for American Progress and former counsel for the 9/11 Commission, and Denis McDonough, senior fellow and senior adviser at the Center for American Progress and former International Relations Committee staff member. Rundlet and McDonough are co-authors of the book “No Mere Oversight: Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken.”

Rundlet was especially strong in asserting that any Senator failing to show up for so many public Intelligence Committee meetings means that they are doing little oversight over intelligence or the White House, an abdication of critical Constitutional responsibilities.

"On the intelligence committee, if you don’t show up for the public hearings, you aren't conducting oversight," said Rundlet. "Real oversight is supposed to take place there, because the American public is basically being asked to trust the executive branch to do what's right and trust the Congress to oversee that. We need to see our representatives, our Congressmen asking tough and fair questions of the executive branch and that happens through these public hearings."

Since it's no secret that the Republican-led Senate conducts oversight on the Bush White House about as often as Mark Foley rejects a free subscription to Teen Beat magazine, it's easy to see just how much of the national problem DeWine really is.

And what kinds of boring, old Intelligence Committee meetings did DeWine miss? There's so many, I'm going to go with a bullet-pointed list:
  • 17 nominations/confirmations for top-ranking intelligence positions
  • 5 annual assessments on the worldwide threat by heads of the U.S. intelligence community
  • 3 hearings on disclosures to Congress
  • 3 hearings about reforming the intelligence community
  • 2 hearings on the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001
  • 2 reports of the Director of Central Intelligence
  • Hearing on 2/7/01, in which then-CIA Director warned about Osama bin Laden
  • Hearing on 6/8/2000, “Report of the National Commission on Terrorism”
  • Hearing on 9/18/1997, People’s Republic of China
  • Hearing on 8/1/1996, “International Terrorism”
Nothing that important, right?

And this from the same DeWine who so stridently lectured Sherrod Brown in their October 1, Meet the Press debate, saying to Brown "You do not understand that this is a global war on terror."

The panel of security and intelligence experts also slapped down the notion that DeWine is more of a behind-the-scenes, go-to guy on the Intelligence Committee who does the real heavy lifting when nobody is looking.

Based on conversations with staffers of Intelligence Committee members, Beers asserted of DeWine that "his attendance in the closed meetings is about the same as in the open meetings and he is not a particularly active member," which goes against a recent statement made by Republican Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, who has said that Ohioans are well served by DeWine's presence on the committee.

But to see how DeWine crows about his participation on the Intelligence Committee, one would think he actually shows up and gets something done there.

DeWine's campaign web site highlights how he "has become a recognized national leader in efforts to improve our Nation's ability to gather intelligence to protect us from terrorists." In addition, the web site tells us that "he knows that our safety and the safety of our loved ones is intrinsically linked to the quality of our intelligence, and through his membership on the Intelligence Committee, he is doing all he can to improve our information-gathering capabilities and protect us from terrorist threats."

Of course, there is no mention of the fact that he voted against investigating intelligence failures leading to the Iraq war and that he joined fellow, rubber-stamp Republicans in dismissing a critical report which concluded the war in Iraq is increasing the terrorist threat to America.

"The Intelligence committee is no different than anywhere else in the country and that is that you can judge the committee by the fruits of its labor," said Denis McDonough of the Center for American Progress. "And in this instance, unfortunately, the judgment is very poor. Judging by the fruits of their labor, the Senate Intelligence Committee and its members are not living up to their responsibility."

How telling is it about DeWine that McDonough is being that hard on members who actually bother to show up.