Agencies 'not cooperating fully,' Shelby says
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee had harsh words for U.S. intelligence agencies Saturday, accusing them of "not cooperating fully" with a congressional inquiry into intelligence failures leading up to the September 11 attacks.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, has been pushing for a full investigation, but said federal agencies in the executive branch that are part of the investigation, including the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency, are not following through on Vice President Dick Cheney's pledge that the administration would cooperate.
"They're not cooperating fully," Shelby said. "We are hoping that they're going to change their mind on some issues.
"We've got a meeting next week with the attorney general, and we're going to carry it all the way to the White House if we have to, because this inquiry has to be done," Shelby said on CNN's "Novak, Hunt and Shields." "It has to be done right, thorough and credible, to prevent attacks like that in the future."
Democrats have been pushing for public hearings on the failures of predicting September 11. But White House officials are arguing for more limited, closed hearings, saying information released in detailed public hearings could harm the ongoing war against terrorism.
Cheney warned Democrats not to play politics with any congressional inquiry into the pre-September 11 warnings Thursday night and hinted another attack could be being planned.
"An investigation must not interfere with ongoing efforts to prevent the next attack, because without a doubt, a very real threat of another, perhaps more devastating attack still exists," Cheney said.
In his remarks to CNN, Shelby said the FBI should have passed on information from field offices in Phoenix and Minneapolis that Middle Eastern men were taking flight training in the United States. He said the bureau only released that information after the intelligence committee demanded documents related to its September 11 investigation.
"The FBI was either asleep or inept or both," he said. "It was never furnished to the White House. It was never furnished to anybody. It stayed in the FBI. It was never furnished to the CIA."
Shelby said an intelligence report received by President Bush a month before the September 11 terrorist attacks, warning of possible al Qaeda hijackings, "was not new information" and echoed warnings Congress had received as early as 1998.
"There was not anything in there that most of us on the committee didn't already know," Shelby said. "I believe that this story that the president had strong information to act on -- that's a bogus story."
Newsweek poll: Bush popularity still high
On Wednesday, the White House touched off a furor by disclosing that Bush received an intelligence briefing on August 6 that discussed the possibility of the hijacking of a U.S. commercial airline by operatives of Osama bin Laden.
But a new national poll released Saturday showed that the revelations have not affected the president's popularity.
The Newsweek poll of 1,002 adults, conducted Thursday and Friday, showed that Bush's approval rating was at 73 percent, about the same level it has been since mid-February. The margin of error in the poll was 3 percent.
However, the poll found the public more divided on whether Bush did all he should with the information he received prior to September 11, with 48 percent saying he did and 39 percent saying he did not. Still, more than seven out of 10 Americans surveyed said they approve of the way Bush is dealing with the terrorist threat, both overseas and domestically.
Bush visibly displeased
In the wake of the controversy, the White House and its Republican allies have gone on the counterattack, criticizing Democrats for suggestions that Bush was forewarned about September 11. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, told CNN Saturday that Democrats were putting themselves "very close to the lunatic fringe of American politics" with such comments.
At a Rose Garden event Friday, Bush, visibly displeased by the suggestions that he had advance knowledge of the attacks, criticized what he termed the "second-guessing."
"Had I known the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people," he said.
Cheney warned Democrats to be "very cautious" about seeking "political advantage by making incendiary suggestions."
But a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, said Saturday that it is appropriate for members of Congress to ask questions about what went wrong.
"The Congress and the public appropriately placed their trust in the administration after September 11. And I do think it's a misuse of that trust to call anybody irresponsible who asks tough questions about what sure looks like an intelligence failure," he said in an interview on CNN's "Saturday Edition."
-- CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.
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