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President Bush, Congressional Leaders Agree on Access to Sensitive Information - 2001-10-10

President Bush and Congressional leaders have struck a deal on access to highly sensitive information about the war on terrorism. The President wanted to restrict top-secret briefings to just eight senior lawmakers. He relented after receiving assurances from top members of the House and Senate.

The President was furious when classified information from congressional briefings turned up in news reports. He ordered the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency to restrict their briefings immediately.

A directive went out last Friday, as Congress was leaving town for a long weekend recess. When lawmakers returned Tuesday, there was an outcry on Capitol Hill.

And so congressional leaders went to the White House to try to work out a compromise. They focused their weekly breakfast meeting with the President on the issue.

They emerged pleased with the results. President Bush backed off the new restrictions and the top leaders of the House and Senate put their members on notice that the public release of sensitive information will not be tolerated.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he understands the President's concerns. "I think it is clear to all of us that when information that is sensitive to our operations, sensitive in terms of national security, when that information is leaked it does serious damage and it violates the trust that there must be between Congress and the Administration," he said.

The Senate's top Democrat said lawmakers will handle this information with more discipline and greater discretion. Senate Republican leader Trent Lott agreed. "The President has made his point," he said. "We need to be very careful about what we reveal."

Details must still be worked out. The President said the Secretaries of State and Defense will brief the appropriate committees in the Senate and House. He also promised to provide all members with updates on military operations. But it appears these general briefings will take place after the fact, and it is unclear just how much classified information will be provided to the membership at large.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that members will "get what they need to know" and that operational secrecy will be maintained. He said it is obvious that Congress "got the message."