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Mixed Congressional Reaction to Limits on Classified Briefings - 2001-10-10

President Bush is defending his decision to limit the number of lawmakers who receive classified briefings about his efforts to combat terrorism. Reaction from Congress has been mixed.

A clearly angry President Bush accused lawmakers of leaking secrets to the news media. "I want Congress to hear loud and clear that it is unacceptable behavior to leak classified information when we have troops at risk," he said.

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Bush would not elaborate on what prompted the decision. He issued his order in a memo to key cabinet members and the directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Bush notified Congress in a letter on Friday, just days after details from intelligence briefings on Capitol Hill found their way into news reports.

Under his order, just eight of the 535 members of the legislature will receive the briefings. They include the speaker and Minority Leader of the House, the Majority and Minority leaders of the Senate, and the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Reaction from Congress has been mixed.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California called Mr. Bush's decision 'an overreaction.'

But her Democratic colleague, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, would not go that far. "I understand the president's frustration," he said. "We are at war, and too often Congress leaks like a sieve, and that has to stop. At the same time, Congress has to be provided enough information to do its job of making intelligent decisions about what the country needs to be doing, and exercise its oversight capacity - the intelligence area being a good example of that. So, Congress is all too often its own worse enemy. We need to have more self-discipline up here, make sure the leaks don't occur. At the same time, the administration cannot go too far in denying legitimate information that is necessary for the appropriate functioning of government. So it is a balance that needs to be struck."

Meanwhile, Republican congressman Bob Stump of Arizona, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he did not object to being excluded from the classified briefings. In his words, "the fewer people who know about some things the better."

President Bush is expected to discuss the issue when he meets with lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday.