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Lawmakers Urge End to Political Briefings for US Diplomats


U.S. lawmakers are urging the Bush administration to stop giving political briefings to U.S. diplomats out of concern it could politically taint the nation's diplomatic agencies. The Washington Post newspaper this week reported that White House aides have conducted such hearings since 2001. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The Washington Post reports that White House aides have conducted at least half a dozen political briefings for top U.S. diplomats.

The briefings included a presentation for ambassadors with senior adviser Karl Rove that named Democratic incumbents targeted for defeat in 2008, and a briefing at Peace Corps headquarters after the 2002 midterm elections.

Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, expressed concern Wednesday that the briefings could harm the standing of the U.S. diplomatic corps in the world.

"We have a reputation, and we have built a good one over the years, and to have it soiled, because people want to build it into a political operation is something I am not going to tolerate at all," he said.

The Washington Post cited documents obtained from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying the briefings included analyses of the political landscape surrounding key congressional and gubernatorial races. The newspaper said the documents highlight how the White House sought to ensure that political appointees involved in foreign policy were kept apprised of administration election goals.

Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking whether the briefings inappropriately politicize the diplomatic agencies or violate bans on political work by most federal employees.

The top Republican on the panel, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, urged the White House to end the briefings during a committee hearing Tuesday.

"I would hope that perhaps the administration would cease and desist from that," he said.

At a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Peace Corps budget Wednesday, agency director Ronald Tschetter confirmed that a political briefing occurred at Peace Corps headquarters in 2003, with about 15 political appointees attending.

Although he said attendance at the briefing was voluntary, Tschetter did question its appropriateness:

"I would not encourage that to take place, no," he explained.

Senator Dodd, who himself served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s, urged Tschetter to take action on the issue.

"I am deeply, deeply, troubled by it, and would hope that there would be some directive from you to Peace Corps staff and others admonishing anyone from engaging in political activities like this, particularly on Peace Corps property," he added. "The reputation of this institution suffers when that happens."

David Kotz, inspector general of the Peace Corps, told the committee that the office of special counsel is investigating.

The White House played down lawmakers' concerns. Spokesman Tony Snow told reporters that it is perfectly legitimate for the White House to brief appointees on its goals and objectives.

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