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Inside Politics

Convention security subject of congressional briefings

From Ed Henry and Kelli Arena
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House members received a private briefing Wednesday from top federal officials about possible terrorism before the November election.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and John Brennan, who serves as director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, were among those who briefed lawmakers .

Wednesday's "members-only threat update" -- as described by a notice about the briefing -- followed one Tuesday night at the White House for for House and Senate leaders.

Another briefing is planned for all members of the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, told CNN that the Tuesday night meeting at the White House -- in what's called the Situation Room -- focused on "homeland security issues" related to the Democratic and Republican national party conventions this summer.

The four-day Democratic convention kicks off July 26 in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Republican National Convention begins August 30 in New York City.

Frist said federal officials have particular concern about threats in "the next few months" because terrorists may try to affect the U.S. elections in November. Terrorist bombed commuter trains in Spain this year just before national elections, a move many believe affected the outcome of the race.

"There's a general recognition that what happened in Madrid could happen here and that during the time around the elections and conventions people need to increase their guard," said Frist, who declined to provide any detail about the urgency of the White House meeting or any specific information about threats.

Officials said there was no specific information regarding Boston or New York -- or the conventions themselves -- but that given the importance of the events and the VIPs sure to be present, the conventions could be seen as what one described as "tempting targets."

Frist revealed that he is planning a similar security briefing for all 100 senators that will be held Thursday or Friday in a secure room of the Capitol.

The White House meeting was attended by Vice President Dick Cheney, Frist, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Among the executive branch officials who attended were outgoing CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General John Ashcroft, the FBI's Mueller, and Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson.

When asked why it was necessary for Tenet, Mueller and Ashcroft to be present at the meeting, one official said it was important for political leaders to hear about the current threat status "straight from the horse's mouth."

Congressional sources said that White House Chief of Staff Andy Card called the offices of Hill leaders on Tuesday morning. They were asked to attend the evening meeting but keep the session off their public schedules because it dealt with sensitive issues.

The information discussed at the meeting was sensitive, officials said, although not all of it was classified. Much of it has already been discussed publicly, they said.

"If there was something specific the public needed to know, we'd tell them," one official said.

The timing of the meeting had mostly to do with the availability of the players -- members of Congress who were back from a break -- and the upcoming Democratic convention, the officials said.


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