Opposition Democrats Tuesday forced the Republican-controlled Senate into a rare closed session to demand an inquiry into whether the Bush administration misused intelligence to make the case for going to war in Iraq.
The Senate's top Democrat, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, took Republicans by surprise when he invoked a rarely used rule to force the Senate into a secret session. He wanted to know why Republicans were not making good on promises to investigate whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence in making its case for invading Iraq in 2003.
The administration cited weapons of mass destruction as the reason for going to war, although none has been found.
Senator Reid accused Republicans of being unwilling to hold the administration to account on the issue:
"Time and time again this Republican-controlled Congress had consistently chosen to put its political interests ahead of our national security," he said. "They have repeatedly chosen to protect the Republican administration rather than get to the bottom of what happened and why it happened."
His comments come just days after Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was indicted for obstructing justice, making false statements and perjury, after a probe into the leak of the identity of a CIA officer who was married to a critic of the administration's Iraq policy. Mr. Libby resigned his post shortly after being indicted last Friday.
Senator Reid offered this reaction to the indictment.
"The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempt to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions," he said.
Immediately after Mr. Reid spoke, the Senate went into closed session to discuss intelligence matters relating to Iraq. The chamber had to be cleared of staff members and tourists, and recording devices and television cameras were shut off. No vote was necessary for the action.
Republicans were caught off guard, and were furious. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee called Senator Reid's tactic a political stunt.
"It means from now on, for the next year and a half, I cannot trust Senator Reid," he said.
But it appears Senator Reid's tactic worked. After a two-hour closed session, Senator Frist emerged to announce that a bipartisan task force of six senators would meet and report back to Senate leaders on the progress of a Senate Intelligence Committee probe into Iraq pre-war intelligence by November 14.
Senator Reid was elated.
"The American people had a victory today," he said.
For his part, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, said his panel's investigation of pre-war intelligence has been on track all along.
Senator Reid's decision to force a closed session of the Senate comes amid declining public opinion poll numbers for President Bush.
In the aftermath of the federal probe into the publicizing of the name of the CIA officer, along with criticism of the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, and a mounting U.S. death toll in Iraq, Democrats appear more emboldened to challenge administration policy.