Bush initially opposed creating
the commission, but, under pressure from Democrats and some Republicans,
he signed an executive order Feb. 6 to form the nine-member commission.
But the president defined the scope of its inquiry narrowly, appointed
its members without consulting congressional Democrats and denied
it subpoena power. Bush also asked the commission to report back
by March 31, 2005, five months after the general election.
McCain is one of the commission’s most prominent members and
says it will be ineffective without the power to subpoena the administration.
“I just think you need to have the threat of subpoena power,”
McCain told The Hill.
He said he told Dick Cheney that on the phone recently but the vice
McCain’s plans to take the issue to the commission’s
chairmen, former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) and Laurence Silberman,
a federal appeals-court judge who served as deputy attorney general
in the Nixon and Ford administrations.
McCain also wants to extend the inquiry’s scope beyond the
limits set down by the president. Bush prescribed an examination
of the quality of intelligence gathered on Iraq, but he withheld
a mandate to scrutinize how the administration used the information.
McCain wants to examine how that intelligence was used by policymakers
to justify the Iraq invasion.
This thorny issue has split Republican and Democratic members of
the Senate Intelligence Committee for months. After much acrimony,
Republicans finally agreed last month to Democratic demands to review
the use of intelligence. One congressional source said giving the
independent commission subpoena power would be “huge.”
“If you don’t have it, you have no leverage,”
he said. “If you do have it, you have all types of leverage.
… It’s the sign of a seriously empowered investigative
Lt. Gen. William Odom, who headed the National Security Agency under
President Reagan, said that the Bush administration doesn’t
want to give the commission subpoena power because of fear the commission
will use it to “find a way into embarrassing material.”
“No administration ever says, ‘Please have subpoena
power,’” said Odom, who now studies national security
issues at the Hudson Institute. “Your political enemies are
going to use it.”
The Bush administration has battled for months over access to sensitive
documents with an independent commission led by former New Jersey
Gov. Thomas Kean, which is investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks. That commission has issued at least three subpoenas.
McCain has traded phone calls with Robb to set up a breakfast meeting
to discuss the commission, its agenda and other issues, including
“It’s interesting that McCain is initiating this because
he’s not the chairman,” noted one congressional observer.
McCain has appeared more active than Robb, the top-ranking Democrat,
in seeking wide authority. In a conversation with Bush prior to
his appointment, Robb assured the president he would not support
examining the administration’s use of intelligence, said a
Senate source familiar with the meeting.
“Robb bent over backward [to say] he did not support looking
at the users,” said the source.
Bush has made it clear to Robb that he must keep his distance from
Senate Democrats. Robb learned that he was to be appointed co-chairmen
only a few hours before Bush made a public announcement.
And Robb was warned that if he consulted with Senate Minority Leader
Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) before the announcement, he would be stripped
of his appointment, Senate sources said.
McCain’s activism is raising questions of whether he is settling
scores for the 2000 presidential race, which turned sour in South
Carolina. But the senator says his relationship with Bush is good.
At the request of the Bush-Cheney campaign, McCain attended an event
for the president in New Hampshire in January during the Democratic
presidential primary, acting as a surrogate for Bush.
“He supports the president for re-election and has cordial
relations with the president,” said McCain spokesman Marshall
At least five separate committees are investigating prewar intelligence.
They are the Senate and House intelligence panels, the Iraq Survey
Group, a CIA internal review team and the President’s Foreign
Intelligence Advisory Board.
Unlike the House and Senate Committees, the president’s independent
commission will not limit its intelligence review of weapons of
mass destruction programs to Iraq.
“Their scope is a little broader,” said Senate Intelligence
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) “It’s the systematic
challenge we’ve had.”
Roberts hesitated when asked if the commission should be given subpoena
power before finally saying “If they ask for it I think they
ought to have it.”