Bush says lawmakers leak secrets, restricts access and then offers truce

Wednesday, October 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush, in a breakfast meeting with chastened lawmakers on Wednesday, backed off his decision severely restricting congressional briefings on the war against terrorists.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle pledged that members of Congress were committed to handling sensitive information with ``more discipline and greater discretion.''

``The president's made his point. We all are going to be careful,'' said Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott.

Bush, the lawmakers said, offered a truce: congressional committees on armed services and foreign relations would continue to be briefed on anti-terror diplomatic and military operations. Bush ``also authorized others to come and share information with the general membership about the operations ongoing in Afghanistan,'' Daschle said.

In what has become a weekly breakfast huddle with the president, Lott, Daschle, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt met at the White House Wednesday to discuss with Bush his angry accusation that lawmakers leaked secrets to the news media last week, just before the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan.

Those leaks prompted Bush to order his Cabinet secretaries, CIA director and FBI director to brief only the four congressional leaders plus the chairmen and vice chairmen of the intelligence committees.

``I intend to protect our troops,'' the president said on Tuesday, when asked about the order outlined in an Oct. 5 memo.

``It is unacceptable behavior to leak classified information when we have troops at risk.''

Just after Bush made that statement during an appearance in the Rose Garden, one lawmaker who would be barred from the briefings, California Rep. Tom Lantos, top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, showed the president a law that requires the State Department to keep his and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees ``fully and currently informed with respect to all activities and responsibilities within the jurisdiction of these committees.''

And Daschle on Tuesday had insisted Congress must be able to carry out its constitutional oversight role, and that means several committees must get secret information.

Speaking outside the White House on Wednesday, Lott agreed that information on the ongoing anti-terror operations and their effectiveness ``is the sort of thing we need to know to know how we can be prepared for the future.''

Rep. Bob Stump, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he had no objection to being excluded from the top secret briefings.

``My philosophy is the fewer people who know about some of these things, the better off we are,'' Stump, R-Ariz., said in an interview Tuesday. ``I firmly believe in the need to know. Many times, there really is no need to know.''

A few grumbled, however, at potentially being kept out of the loop.

``I understand there may be some heartburn on Capitol Hill,'' Bush said, ``but I suggest if they want to relieve that heartburn they take their positions very seriously, and that they take any information that they've been given by our government very seriously because this is serious business we're talking about.''